Recently I played the Salem Church boardgame from Decision Games and an interesting moment fell out of that, which involved Confederate forces attacking Salem Church from two sides.
This post looks at converting this small slice of boardgame action at this part of the battlefield to a Black Powder figure game. Conversion notes, a downloadable scenario that just uses a 3’ x 3’ table and AAR highlights follow.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
As a reminder, here is a picture of the boardgame action at 0730 hours on 4th May 1863. It is the start of day two and the Union, occupying Salem Church, have been pressing McLaws, when suddenly, Hoke from Early’s Division appeared to their rear. As Hoke attacked the Union from the School House towards Salem Church, McLaws led Kershaw’s brigade to support that attack from the North side, somewhat recklessly ignoring the two Union Brigades to his flank. The Union suffered heavy casualties at the church, but held their ground. However, the attack was the undoing of McClaws, who was captured, while Kershaw’s brigade was destroyed by a sharp counter-attack from the flanking Union brigades of Pratt and Shaler.
Though a fairly compact battlefield with starting positions that should discourage a Confederate player from ignoring those Union flanking brigades, the uncertainty of the order system in Black Powder might help inject enough variables and tension into this game to see it open up a little.
We are just going to take a 3 x 3 hex slice of the above boardgame map for our game, which uses a hex scale of 350 yards to the hex and time scale of 90 minutes per turn. So we can think of our game as using a space of around 1000 yards wide by the same deep and representing an hour or two of fighting, without influence from adjoining areas of the battlefield.
The Union have 4 brigades and the Confederates 3 and to gain the nuances of this fight, we are best served by going to the lower level of regiments, at least that way, Kershaw can shield his flank with part of his brigade while still attacking the Church. However, each brigade here typically had 5 regiments, so I have decided to bath-tub each brigade down to just 3 regiments each (except Pratt’s Light Brigade will have 2 regiments).
This will go onto a 3’ x 3’ table, with unit frontages at 80mm (120mm for large regiments) and the Black Powder rules will be used with inches converted to centimetres. The photographs here show Kallistra 12mm ACW figures.
What must go into this scenario?
In the boardgame, there are some key elements that we need to reflect in our game, as follows;
This attack occurred early on Day 2 of the battle and on this day, the Union must test at the start of each turn for their level of initiative. There is a 33% chance of High Initiative, which means they will behave normally, but a 66% chance of Low Initiative, whereby they will have to have a leader present to take them into contact with an enemy and all attacks are first subject to a morale test, with the attack being called off if that test fails. To reflect such command problems in our game, the Command Rating of all Union Commanders at the start of play will be 8 and the first time that each Commander fails an orders attempt, their Command Value will drop to 7 for the remainder of the scenario (I quite like the potential for variety that can fall out of this as a mechanic).
McLaws is rated notably higher than Newton in the boardgame, but the above rule of Union Command reduction and McClaws own Command rating of 9 already adequately deals with that.
Salem Church and the School House both count as being fortified to the defenders in the boardgame. We will treat each as a ‘single block’ building, that can be occupied by one regiment, that will get a +2 Morale Bonus and a +2 Combat Bonus Result.
In the boardgame, which uses differentials (not combat ratio) in combat, three of the brigades have slightly better combat values. In our game one of the regiments belonging each to Kershaw, Hoke (Confederate) and Pratt (Union), will be treated as a Large unit, giving them slightly better hitting and staying power.
I like the Glory Hallelujah BP supplement rule that declares anything that moves more than once in its turn cannot also fire that turn (i.e. give up fire for extra movement), so we will be using that.
Victory Conditions will be based on the breaking of enemy regiments and occupation of Salem Church.
All of this is condensed into a scenario sheet, together with a complete ‘bath-tubbed’ order-of-battle and is available for download from my DropBox (Thank you DropBox) - see Resource Section below for the link;
Above - The photograph (click to enlarge) is showing the general situation of the four Union Brigades facing down two Confederate Brigades, when suddenly Hoke’s Confederate Brigade shows up in the rear of the Union on the hill.
Setting up - Union set up first. Confederates cannot set up closer than 20cm (20” in Black Powder) to any Union Unit. Getting a closer look at the battlefield from the Confederate lines, we see the following;
Above - Right Flank, Semmes facing Wheaton over open ground. Each has put a regiment into reserve. They are fighting on equal terms, unless of course Wheaton’s Command rating drops!
Above - Centre Confederate, This is really both centre and left. Kershaw has split his brigade. 2nd and 3rd South Carolina are facing off to the left to guard the flank. 7th Carolina (a large unit) is amongst the fields, ready to attack the church (top of the photo). They are supported by the divisional 12 pounders. Major General McClaws is present.
Above - Centre Union, Eustis has split his brigade. 36th New York are holding Salem Church (placed adjacent to it) and are supported by divisional artillery, pointing towards Kershaw, while just behind the Church, 7th and 10th Massachusetts have turned to face the Confederate threat to their rear.
Above - Centre Confederate on the hill, the view from Hoke’s Brigade which has just arrived behind the School House. His plans are to advance and assault Salem Church.
Above - Left Flank, two Union brigades threaten Kershaw. Shaler’s three regiments are moving through the woods and are in skirmish order. Pratt’s Light Brigade of two regiments (one being large) are next to Shaler, in the open and well positioned to attempt to envelope Kershaw’s Brigade.
Newton commands the Union forces (he is at the church) and McLaws commands the Confederates (he is with Kershaw).
McLaws will take a defensive posture until Hoke’s attack is under way and his regiments content themselves by a series of firefights and opening an artillery duel with the enemy artillery on the hill.
Hoke’s Brigade advances from the School House towards Salem Church, inflicting two hits and a Disorder on Eustis’ brigade. The Union artillery also become disordered and with the Salem Church position now coming under pressure, Newton’s plans are to hold off Hoke, while his flanking brigades, Wheaton, Shaler and Pratt, complete the job, started yesterday evening, of breaking McClaws two brigades.
Union brigades are not wanting to make any unnecessary moves in case they fail their command roll and suffer a reduction in command rating. However, on the Union left, Wheaton’s reserve regiment, 98th Pennsylvania, notices the masses of Hoke’s Brigade moving over the high ground over to their right and they turn to fire into what looks like becoming Hoke’s exposed left flank. Wheaton must now mask his front with just two regiments while 98th attack the hill.
|Wheaton's reserve turns to fire at|
Hoke's flank on the hill.
Semmes (Confederate right) orders his third regiment up to join the line in an effort to overwhelm Wheaton. On hearing the gunfire on the hill, Kershaw, in the centre, sends 7th South Carolina forward in preparation to assault the church from the northern side and to assist Hoke.
On the Union left (Wheaton) 93rd Pennsylvania, with heavy casualties from a brief firefight with Semmes, are pushed back right into the path of 98th Pennsylvanian, who are getting ready to advance towards the hill to attack Hoke’s flank. 98th pause in the confusion, their attack on the hill cancelled by Wheaton and instead they are re-directed to take the position that 93rd has just retreated from and shore up the Union left flank .... a right old merry dance!
Things are not going well for Eustis at the Salem Church position with 7th Massachusetts breaking under fire and fleeing the field. Seeing the Church under such pressure to his left and Pratt’s Brigade disordered to his right (from fire), Shaler decided to move his brigade at best speed out of the woods and attack the Confederate centre (Kershaw). 65th New York are the first to leave the woods, forming from skirmish order back into line before moving on.
|Shaler's 65th NY have left the woods and|
are already at the fields.
Major General Newton, on seeing 7th Massachusetts flee, understood immediately that his artillery was in danger of being overrun to the rear by Hoke. He rides over to Eustis and tells him to pull the artillery out of the line. At this rate, Hoke could quite well overrun the Salem Church position even without the aid of Kershaw. So far, the Union command ratings are holding up well.
[note - the army general can attach to a brigade commander, so that if the brigade commander fails their order roll, they can do a re-roll. This is exactly what happened here and the artillery were only able to limber up and pull away because Newton caused a re-roll, in fact one so good that the lucky artillery got 3 moves, a limber-up move and then two 12 cm moves down the Orange Plank Road].
|The Union artillery limber up just in time,|
Confederates can be seen in the background.
Hoke, ever the patient commander, resists the temptation to charge into Eustis’ position at the church, instead, he positions his two leading regiments to give devastating fire against 10th Massachusetts, though despite the weight of fire, 10th hold out. Looking down to his left he notices the retreat of Wheaton’s 93rd Pennsylvania and orders his reserve regiment, 21st North Carolina, to charge down into their rear / flank, but the officer carrying the order is wounded and the order doesn’t get through, certainly an opportunity lost!
|The firefight against the 10th on the hill rages.|
Below we see 93rd Pennsylvania's exposed flank.
In the centre, Kershaw turns the Confederate guns to face the left to meet the looming threat from Shaler’s leading regiment, 65th New York. The fire shakes and disorders the 65th.
Shaler’s Brigade has now fully left the woods and the whole brigade is formed up in a column of regiments, while Pratt to his right has his regiments advancing in a continuous line. The weight of these two brigades is about to fall onto Kershaw’s position, leaving McLaws nervous and deliberating whether to recall 7th Carolina, which had been demonstrating in front of the Church and have them instead firm up the defences against Shaler’s manoeuvre.
|Shaler and Pratt advance on the much smaller|
confederate left - McLaws is worried.
The Union artillery halts its retreat on the Orange Plank Road, a safe distance from the activity around Salem Church and unlimbers, getting a quick, but unsuccessful round of fire off into Kershaw’s 7th Carolina Regiment that is facing the Salem Church position.
Both commanders have cause to worry, everything hangs in the balance. The Union left (Wheaton) is vulnerable, as is the Confederate centre / left (Kershaw).
As Hoke presses his attack against Eustis’ Brigade, 10th Massachusetts disintegrates, leaving 36th New York, occupying Salem Church as the only surviving regiment of that now broken brigade. Being in the protection of a building allows them to hunker down rather than retreat.
On Hoke’s left, the 21st North Carolina at last get into position to attack 93rd Pennsylvania on the lower ground on the Union left, but the 93rd have had enough and flee anyway, leaving the rest of Wheaton’s Brigade to keep up the fire against Semmes. The fighting intensifies and Semmes loses 50th Georgia to breaking. Neither side in this part of the field seem able to get a firm advantage over the other.
Out on the Union right flank, Pratt is re-organising his brigade due to effective Confederate fire and Shaler is pressing on against the Confederate guns. From Salem Church, Newton judges the Pratt / Shaler advance as likely to bring about the critical point of contact that will decide the battle by crushing Kershaw. He moves across to personally support Shaler.
With Hoke feeling like a break-through on the hill is imminent, he tasks 6th North Carolina with taking Salem Church and pushes 54th North Carolina down the right flank of the hill, by-passing the church and directly threatening Shaler’s flank. 21st North Carolina continues to assist Semmes by attacking Wheaton.
But, Hoke has over-stretched his brigade and the now unsupported 6th break themselves against the defences of the church.
On the Confederate right, Semmes’ 51st Georgia charges at Wheatons 62nd New York, who puts up a strong defensive fire, but are pushed back anyway. Despite the seeming successes for the Confederates on this right flank, results are not sufficiently decisive and there is something of a stand-off developing.
|51st Georgia charge into 62nd New York. The|
yellow dice of 3 indicates 62nd are shaken.
McClaws is determined to gain the initiative across the battlefield to get a final push. On the right, Semmes prepares for yet another assault against Wheaton.
|Wheaton's 98th Pennsylvania try desparately to|
pull back as they are hit in the flank by 21st NC.
In the centre, Hoke’s 54th re-orientates from the planned move against Shaler’s flank to instead prepare for an assault on Salem Church and on his centre / left, all of Kershaw’s regiments, plus artillery are now arrayed in line to prevent the Union envelopment by Shaler and Pratt.
|Kershaw's full brigade and artillery are now|
faced off against the threat to the left flank.
Note the deployed Union artillery up the road.
Despite this manoeuvring, nothing decisive occurs, indeed, on their far Confederate left, Kershaw’s 2nd South Carolina are shaken and have pulled back to prevent Pratt carrying them off the field!
It is in the centre that matters are decided. Surprisingly, Hoke’s 54th North Carolina also break themselves in an assault on the church, the defenders are so close to falling, but they manage to hold on and see off their attackers.
With two of his regiments now broken from assaults on the church, Hokes Brigade is classed as broken and since everywhere else, the fighting is dying down into a stalemate of sorts, both sides called a halt.
A side gets one VP for every enemy regiment removed from play and then 1 VP goes to the player who currently holds Salem Church. The casualty list shows that each side had lost three regiments, so the Union control of Salem Church, gives them the extra VP needed to win. The battle had been tight, but the Union have come out on top ..... just!
Well I have to say, for a first playing of a chance scenario, that was a really enjoyable game. Nothing was certain throughout and of course the variables that underpin the orders system in Black Powder, meant that we got some interesting moments and also lost opportunities (good).
With the scenario falling out of an actual boardgame moment, it gave an interesting ‘what if’ situation without feeling too contrived or needing historical exactitude and so in the end the dispositions and bath-tubbing of forces worked fine.
I really like the idea of the reducing Command Rating for the Union leaders during play. The effect is telling, but the application potentially can take a while to fully kick in. During our game, Wheaton, Eustace and Pratt all failed command rolls and had their command ratings drop. Shaler and Newton had better luck.
Having Shaler starting in the woods in skirmish order also adds an extra dimension as the units need time to shake back out into line as they slowly emerge from the woods. One regiment (that fell victim to Confederate guns) was chased back into the woods and had to return to skirmish order.
Having three units designated as large, helped replicate the boardgame situation and all of these things taken together helped add interest and balance to what is a small game in what otherwise looks like a straight fight that might significantly favour the Union.
I really like the rule from the Glory Hallelujah ACW supplement that prevents firing if a unit makes more than 1 move. This seems the perfect balance to tame the potentially large BP movements on our small battlefield. Manoeuvres seemed to happen at a more sedate pace and the sense of ‘the determined charge’, which can still cover more ground, by contrast does feel quite ‘charge-like”. I think the Napoleonic supplements also have this rule, so it surprised me that Black Powder 2nd Edition didn’t adopt it.
I am not sure whether Salem Church is too strong defensively and whether it might be better to dampen down the bonus values to 1 rather than 2, but at the moment I feel that the dice could have been friendlier to the attackers and that perhaps more importantly, they should have better supported their attacks, rather than allowing individual regiments to assault - Perhaps in the end, Hoke tried to do too much, forgetting his primary mission!
Anyway, it worked well and another thumbs up for a 3’ x 3’ game.
The idea of using boardgames to generate figure battlefields has worked out okay each time I have done it and I hope to do a bit more of this sort of thing.
My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.
The boardgame AAR that inspired this game LINK
The Scenario can be downloaded here LINK
Terrain suppliers - Buildings are from Battlescale (Church) and Escenografia Epsilon (east front building standing in for the wood plank school house), the Hill and Trees are from S&A Scenics, the fields from Timescale, the fencing from Pendraken and 4Ground and the road is homemade. The figures are 12mm from Kallistra.