Friday, 2 October 2020

Burnside Bridge 1862 Part 1

This is the first of a series of three posts, which will see playing of the Burnside Bridge scenario as a boardgame and then lift an appropriate slice of action from it, present it as a figure scenario and then finally AAR that bit of action as a figures game.

I am not sure which rules to use for the figure game yet and will probably wait until I see what situation falls from the boardgame.

For the rest of this post, please use the ‘read more’ tab.

The boardgame is Antietam 1862 from Worthington Publishing. I played the Bloody Lane scenario last week and that blog post gives some explanation of how the game works (see link in the Resource Section below), so none of that needs to be repeated today.

Today, we are just playing on the southern portion of the map, which I have marked off with a line of blank blue counters. The main feature on the map is Antietam Creek, which can't be crossed except at Burnside Bridge.

On the Confederate side of the creek, there is a hill with steep slopes that offers the Confederates an excellent defensive position.

Historically, this part of the battle is all about desperate and repeated Union assaults to get over the bridge and secure a foothold on the other side, while Confederates control local high ground that makes this a tough and costly venture for the Union, who take heavy casualties in just trying to reach their own side of the bridge, let alone cross it. 

There is a special rule that allows Union units to leave the map on the south edge to explore further along the creek to seek out another crossing point. Units that leave the map will ultimately find a place to cross and they will show up later in the game on the Confederate side of the creek, emerging from the woods on the right, but the time they take to do this is randomised.

Starting positions

The Union player starts the game with 4 divisions (Sturgis, Willcox, Scammon and Rodman), forming IX Corps under Burnside. Each division only has a couple of brigades, together with their artillery, but they are large units and therefore in this system, powerful and can stand a lot of punishment.

The Confederates have a single division in play under DR Jones, plus Munford’s cavalry. The division has more brigades, but they are relatively weaker and so more fragile as they will reach ‘shattered’ status faster. Toombs is forward of the main force, holding the heights in front of the bridge, which dominate the bridge exit.

The time at start of play is 1100 hours. AP Hill will bring his Confederate division in as a Confederate reinforcement at 1400 hours. Both of these divisions are under the Command of Longstreet. Can Jones hold on long enough for Brigadier General Hill to come to his aid?

At some point, I expect this game to throw up one or two good situations to transfer to the figures table in due course.

In our game, the Union player moves first, which gives an opportunity for the divisional commander Willcox to lead Welsh across the bridge in a dash to contact Toombs before the Confederates can react and move up. Welsh has double the numbers of infantry, but Toombs has the better morale .... already it looks like we have a good action with some interesting contrasts to use for a figures game.

In the game, Toombs’ defensive fire is ineffective and that really matters because in the real battle, the attackers were hammered by what the game calls defensive fire, making no headway. In some ways this is off-set by the Toombs passing their morale following the Union assault fire, so the turn ends with a sort of stand off, but with the Union still on the Confederate side of the bridge - off course this could all have gone different ways, but if this is the situation we choose to use for the figure game, then we should try and model it on the figure table.

For those thinking that this is a very 'unlikely' Burnside Bridge situation, it must be remembered that we have only played the Union part of the turn and to get a proper idea of how this first hour of battle plays out, we should into full account the Confederate part of the turn.

Rodman (Union) takes his brigade off map to explore along the creek for another crossing. He rolls the worst result, so he will not find the ford and re-enter the map on the Confederate side of the creek for 5 more turns. When he does arrive it will be via the woods on the Confederate right.

The Confederate reaction

Jones gets his division moving into position to counter-attack Welsh, while Munford’s cavalry move over to the right and dismount in the woods. This will be the location that Rodman will later re-enter play.

The Confederate counter-attack pushes Welsh back across the creek and repeated Union assaults over the next few hours fail as they come up against Toombs on the heights and their supporting brigades.

As time moves on, Jones’ Confederates are becoming increasingly weakened from the repeated Union assaults and enemy cannon fire, with some of their smaller units going ‘shattered’.

Hill brings the Confederate reinforcements onto the right flank and as they occupy the space between Jones and the woods, they clash with Rodman, who’s arrival from his flanking march slowly escalates into a full divisional battle and a major distraction to Hill, leaving Jones to become increasingly concerned at his casualties at the bridge.

After several hours of fighting, the battle subsides. Rodman has been totally defeated at the woods and Longstreet was unluckily killed by long range artillery firing at his exposed command post. The bridge remains contested with Toombs hanging grimly onto the heights.

In the last turn (1900 hours) Nagle (Union) at last takes the heights above the bridge, with Ferrero covering his left flank. There is enough breathing room now for other Union brigades to cross the bridge .... if only there were more turns to play, but the Confederates are yet to play their half of the last turn and they counter-attack. Most of Jones’ units are shattered, so they cannot move into the attack, but Hill is now free of Rodman and can act.

As Nagle (Union) consolidates the heights, he moves into point blank contact with the enemy artillery reserve and his brigade is shattered, but the brigade still holds on, while Ferrero to his left also becomes shattered from Hill’s intervention. Their morale breaks and they rout.

Looking at the map at the end of play and assessing who could do what, it is obvious that Nagle is in a very precarious position and likely to be put to the test by Hill’s division. However, the Union still have one powerful fresh Division (Scammon) that has been held in reserve and so in terms of where the fight could go now, if there were more turns left, between these two exhausted forces, it is too close to obviously call.

However, the scenario victory schedule gives us our result. We see that the Union have failed in getting their geographic objective (cutting the supply road into Sharpsburg) and have taken horrendous casualties (5600 men compared to the equally appalling Confederate losses of 2800 men), mainly due to the total defeat of Rodman and so the game victory point schedule dictates that this is a Confederate victory.

And so there we are. The game to my mind generated two areas of interest for a follow-on game in miniature. One was the clash or at least part of it, with Rodman’s division and Hill at the woods, but my preference goes to that initial crossing of the bridge where Welsh catches Toombs before the rest of the Confederate division can come to Toombs aid. This does have the benefit of being a small action that could fit a small table and small figure collections.

As for the boardgame itself - excellent. This scenario had twice the number of units as the Bloody Lane  scenario (see below) and the slickness of the system is appreciated to keep things moving and very manageable, which I think will become even more obvious when the full battle is played. I am enjoying this purchase.

There were plenty of good narrative points in the game, which played in a weekday evening session. I am looking forward to the full battle scenario, but will try the ‘Morning Attack’ scenario first.

The next post will look at generating the Welsh / Toombs scenario ready for the figures table.


Resource Section.

Blogged AAR of Bloody Lane, which gives some commentary about the game mechanics and flow of play. LINK

Part 2, the scenario design is now up. LINK

Part 3, the actual figure fight is now up. LINK


  1. As I've just started reading Sear's account of Antietam, this timing is perfect and I look forward to getting to this part of the battle so I can follow the historical action vs the game action. As always looking forward to seeing the transference from board to table and figures.

    As for the game itself, it does sound good and as mentioned before, I love the look and the game mechanics.

    1. Steve, Sears is a classic account, for sure. There are so many good accounts on the battle, I suggest adding one or two addition narratives if you are interested in the battle.

  2. Thanks Steve, I have Sear's and forgot about it, so will dig that out. I quite like that what falls out of a boardgame, whether right or wrong, does have an element of authentic story telling from the range of possibilities that are within the game and so any subsequent scenario has a bit more credibility than anything tat I might just make up.

    1. Being able to zoom in from a larger action does give you possibilities that most of us wouldn't come up with as you rightly say. I like Sears as an author and find him easy to read, yet he still gives plenty of detail without getting bogged down in detail etc.

  3. Norm, this looks like an interesting exercise but the game map does not reflect the actual ground around the bridge. Hexes 4009 and 4108 are not clear and level ground. From recollections of my battlefield walk (and confirmed by a look through my photo archive), the Georgians are on high (and very steep) ground from where they are actually looking DOWN upon the bridge. The steepness of the embankments meant the going was rough. There is no 250 yards of clear terrain between the Georgian positions and the bridge. The Confederate held end of the bridge is very steep and rises from the road passing across the bridge. If attacking across a bridge in column was not bad enough for the attackers already, they would be subjected to a crossfire (from hex 4108 which is also high ground) on both the approach and in crossing. There is not much room to deploy a brigade here. Less than 500 Georgians repulsed multiple Federal attacks and only gave up their position after having run low on ammo. To me, this doesn't look right and I have plenty of photos from my battlefield walk to confirm my perspective.

  4. Thanks Jonathan, I suspect the gap is there on the boardgame because of the system, zocs and the combat result table. A sort of 'design for effect' thing.

    It looks like the designer is trying to get the same effect as the real geographic dynamic, but has had to 'manage' the terrain, much the same way as the creek is forced to follow the hex grid.

    If the high ground was put adjacent to the creek, a Confederate defender when fired at would have a fair chance of retiring and the attacker advancing after combat into a height hex and then being harder to shift in the Confederate part of the turn. Even if pushed back, repeated Union attacks could likely get this effect.

    In the game as designed, the Union must advance over the bridge and stop, being then subjected to defensive fire from one or more units, but whatever happens to the unit, it is blocking other follow up units getting through - it makes the position tougher while not needing all of the Confederate units to surrounding the the lead Union unit, as they have in my photo, because that level of adjacency actually makes the surrounding Confederate units very vulnerable to Union fire from the other side of the bank and the Confederates simply don't have the strengths to stand that one out, so basically, the location of the hill allows Toombs to dominate the bridge exit with minimum risk (in game system terms).

    It is an abstraction, but it seems to work, as in my game, the Union had a hard fight in gaining a foothold on the other side and of course, effect has to be seen across the full turn of 1 hour.

    What it doesn't convey is the terrible casualties that the Union got in just getting their regiments to their side of the bridge due to the combined Confederate musket / artillery fire, that would require the Confederate to line the creek with infantry to fire their 'hex' range to dominate the other side of the creek.

    But we are back to the problem that the Confederates would be giving the Union a gift by allowing themselves to be 'contacted and met by huge volumes of Union fire from their bigger regiments / brigades.

    So in effect, it appears that the current arrangements gives the Confederates their best hope of pinning the Union to the bridge location at arms length (important). Though I must qualify that by saying I have only played the scenario once and who knows what direction a second set of decisions and dice rolls might take :-)

    The Victory conditions require the Union to cut road in the Confederate rear for a decent 15 VP's, failing that, it goes to casualties, which in my game was quite tight .... until Rodman, having crossed the creek downstream, threw himself on the Confederate sword, which really opened up the scale of Union defeat.

    So in the end, the game gave a Burnside result, with the creek eventually crossed and the bridge ultimately opened, but at high cost and significant delay, but it is somewhat system abstraction doing that, rather than as you say, an intuitive simulation of the geographic exactness.

    My figure game will be a compromise of the game situation and the historical fact that rifled Confederate musket fire could strike the Union on their side of the bridge, from the Confederate position of high ground.

    I will be giving the Union their walled ploughed field, fenced road and small cornfield on their side of the creek.

    1. Excellent explanation and interpretation, Norm. Thank you. I look forward to your battle situation converted to miniature.

  5. Interesting write up and also clarification above of how the game designer achieved a historical result within the confines of the game system.
    Best Iain

  6. Thanks Iain, I may be wrong about designer intent, but his design notes say that he walked the battlefield and results seemed right.

    1. Norm, even in the "Design for Effect" school of thought, I cringe when the "right" result is produced for the wrong reason.


  7. Hi Jonathan, yes, I know what you mean. In this particular instance, I’m not sure that the system can replicate the heavy casualties that the Union suffered on their side of the creek as they approached the bridge in a way that is intuitive to the history. In the scenario, the Union player goes first, so can advance before there is adequate Confederate units in place to lay down effective defensive fire (though I think it would be a worrying tactic for the Confederate player to get drawn into closer contact, as their units are generally weaker and they will come off worse with such contact), but a secondary area I need to pursue is the placement of artillery, I am quite sure that I could have placed the artillery to give greater effect, though in this system, it is not particularly strong, though you only need to create a morale check and you then create the opportunity that the target may rout.

    The play experience and conversation here has made me want to explore this further and to run the scenario (which I liked), a couple of more times to see whether I can get closer to getting the best Confederate response to that initial turn.

    Interestingly, we both have different reservations, yours, that the terrain immediately in front of the bridge should be better represented and mine that the Confederate fire should be able to cause a lot of strife to the Union units on the other side of the creek.

    Regardless, I am fairly sure that the design in one way or another is ensuring that the bridge behaves like a choke point that is tough to cross, but it is whether the use of units or the range of results via the dice rolls can swing outcomes that significantly changes how effective the choke point is and this is probably just something that needs exploring by way of further playing ..... and if the Union do manage an early break-through, is that a bad thing or just part and parcel of variables that can create / influence a situation.

    The whole of Jones’ division can react in their part of turn 1 to pretty much seriously harm a successful first strike by the Union, which they can only do with one brigade anyway (Welsh), so perhaps knowing this after a first play, in future games, a Union player may not be inclined to ‘rush’ the bridge on turn 1.

    It is always interesting to be become absorbed with ‘one hex’ on the map, I find these sort of design debates intriguing. Thanks.

    1. I enjoy these debates as well! In fact, these discussions are or should be important parts of the hobby.

      When you say,

      "Interestingly, we both have different reservations, yours, that the terrain immediately in front of the bridge should be better represented and mine that the Confederate fire should be able to cause a lot of strife to the Union units on the other side of the creek."

      I agree with your part of the conundrum too. If the terrain was historically represented on the map with the Georgians deployed adjacent to the bridge on high ground then Federal casualties would naturally be much higher on the eastern bank of the creek. How this game allows the Federal troops to march across a narrow bridge in column, deploy for battle, and then attack the Georgians on the first turn, unmolested, is a BIG puzzle.


  8. It is, though for the Confederates to line the bank to be able to fire their 1 hex range, would also subject the Confederates to high volume fire from the Union big units and in the defensive / offensive fire mechanic, where in a turn both sides get to fire twice, that is a very large volume of fire, that I doubt the Confederates could survive and almost certain that they would be lost before the Hill reinforcement could arrive.

    By inclination, having now played the scenario once, I think I would be reluctant to put any Confederate brigades on the banks unless the pay-off was highly significant.

    Maybe we are asking this divisional / brigade game with turns of one hour to do a job that would be handled differently by a more zoomed in approach that a regimental game and lower map / time scale would deliver.

    There are a range of possibilities on the Union turn 1 advance. Firstly Toombs gets defensive fire first. That may put some casualties on Welsh, but not significant at this stage, what any positive DF result will do is force Welsh to take a morale check from which he has a 70% of passing and a 30 chance of routing.

    Then immediately Welsh can offensively fire against Toombs, but he has the best morale, with 90% chance of passing, plus a benefit for being on high ground that has a steep slope to its front, so they have a very good chance of standing their ground - though a 10% of routing, that of course will happen in some games.

    If Toombs does rout and he advances onto the heights, in their part of the turn, the Confederates are placed to cut him off, deliver a multi directional attack on Welsh and if Walsh is routed, he would suffer further losses by routing via enemy ZOC’s, that would throw the Union back to a starting position of being back on the other side of the choke points (bridge).

    It will be interesting for me when I run my figures game, to also re-set it with Welsh still on their own side of the of the creek and exploring as a single zoomed in exercise, the actually action of getting to the bridge and then crossing it, of course that would in effect be doing a true Burnside Bridge scenario and while interesting in its own right will not replace my efforts to replicate the slice of action that the game generated.

    The system is a big battle system, which probably benefits the full campaign battle most of all and that is likely where it will shine.

    The benefit of the smaller scenarios being that they are. Great introductions and can easily fit into those small play time slots that gamers have and allow a wider group to enjoy the package more often. Within the big picture of the full battle, the delay at Burnside Bridge will perhaps have played its part and done its job - with a chance that in a game a different set of parameters is possible and then there is the influence in the full battle that other local divisions might have.

    I am going to get the game back to the table this afternoon, perhaps the best indication that I am enjoying this game.

    1. Norm, the Georgians were very small regiments and spread out covering a long swath of ground. I would think of them as a skirmish line, dug in, and offering a great deal of harassing fire. Full regimental volleys from the Federals on the opposite bank may not have affected the Georgians much in their dug in and dispersed positions.

      I am very intrigued to watch your interpretation of this very small slice of the action play out on your gaming table.

  9. It is on the table today as I work through the main elements.

  10. Man, I got around to typing out my comment much too late to say anything useful! All the ground has been covered already.
    I’ll just chime in to say that a game that wants to be able to do the entire battle of Antietam will struggle with the action at Burnsides Bridge just because of the different sizes of the combatants and important areas.
    Overall all though I found your account of the game fun to read and am keenly interested on how you will present this as a miniature game, along with the chance of seeing your splendid ACW miniatures. 😀

  11. Thanks Stew, I think you are exactly right. My 'slice of action' project draws me in to the macro level of the game, which as you say is on a different track than a game designed to show the sweep of full battle is going to deal with.

    I have not played the full battle yet in the boardgame, but I think at that time, it will show that Burnside Bridge was a choke point that delayed the Union army and caused high casualties, which is probably as much as a grand view of the battle needs to show.

    The scenario is written out and ready for posting, the miniatures game has reached the table and the Union have taken their pre-game losses that they picked up when crossing the bridge ... more to come :-)

  12. Interested to see the transfer to the table in due course.

  13. All in hand now Phil and an AAR should be up soon.


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