Thursday, 17 December 2020

Opening action at Henry Hill 1861



This is a very small action, ideal for the small table and a quick bit of fun. I have a super little book called ‘We Shall Meet Again’ The first battle of Manassas, by JoANNA M. McDonald and published by Oxford University Press.





It is a wargamers delight. Each part of the battle is covered and each of those parts is broken down into stages, each stage with a map. The part that deals with the battle for Henry Hill is covered in 15 stages and this post just looks at the opening stage, with roughly a brigade per side.


Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this page.



Stage 1. (1.30 PM to 2 PM).


Background. 


Keyes (Union), as part of Tyler’s Division had crossed Bull Run and been ordered “to take a battery on a height in front”


Keyes had four regiments and he pushed two of them forwards against the Confederate defenders who were in the vicinity of Robinson house (5th Virginia, Hampton’s Legion and 7th Georgia).


Hampton and 7th Georgia were in danger of being surrounded and they pulled back into woods on their right.


5th Virginia line the woods

5th Virginia stayed, but without support were forced to also pull back around 100 yards south of Robinson House, seeking cover in woodland to their rear. Here they formed up and gave devastating fire against the Union regiments, laying down intensive fire as their “muskets became hot and fouled”.





With increasing losses, Keyes chose to pull his two lead regiments back and retire the entire brigade to the other side of Young’s Branch. That ended the engagement ..... short and sharp!


For our game, we get the interesting options of what if Keyes had supported the wavering assault with his other two regiments? and for the Confederates, what if Hampton and 7th Georgia had become involved again?


Although a very small engagement, there is also a bit of fun to be had with the Black Powder unit attributes to bring some character to the game and to have a few special rules to stop the players having too much freedom with those extra units that didn’t actually become involved and due to that, together with few units in play and the impact that dice can have in a battle this small, it should give a fairly unpredictable game with several replays possible.


The plan is to do a 4’ x 3’ table with the Perry 28’s and then a 2’ x 3’ pinboard play with the Kallistra 12mm figures. Rules will be Black Powder, which some bits taken from the Glory Hallelujah ACW supplement.





Special Rules.

Confederates are Player One.


Fencing at Robinson House and the woods provide cover.


Visibility into the woods is 6”


Units that move more than once in a turn cannot fire in that turn.


When attempting to give orders to 1st and 2nd Connecticut, Keyes’ command rating suffers a -1 in addition to the penalties for any distance involved. Likewise Jackson suffers the same penalty when trying to order Hammond and 7th Georgia. This reflects the historical situation, which saw those units being kept out of the battle.





The table is set up as per the map, but there is no real need to represent the waterway on the table (I didn't). The 3rd Connecticut and 5th Virginia will start within smoothbore musket range of each other and would still be in range (maximum) if 3rd CT dropped back behind the fence. Keyes sets up 1” away from 2nd ME and Jackson sets up 1” away from 5th VA.


I used inches and measurements straight from the rules without any conversion. For the 3' x 2' game, I will halve measurements.


Unit Characteristics.

Units have standard stats except as follows;


All units are smoothbore armed, except that 2nd Maine have rifled muskets.

All units have stamina 2 except that 2nd Maine and 5th Virginia who are rated 3 (better).

1st, 2nd and 3rd Connecticut have hand-to-hand values reduced from 6 to 5.

5th Virginia are given the characteristics of ‘Tough fighters’ and ‘Pour it on boys’.  


Keyes has a command rating of 7.



Jackson has a command rating of 8.


Victory Conditions.

Both side’s forces count as being a single Brigade. The brigade immediately breaks when two of its regiments are removed from play. The side not broken immediately wins the game.


After Action Report.

The game played for longer than I thought it would, with musket fire traded back and forth, hoping for advantage and all the while with both sides trying to get their unengaged units into the action. The command penalty and the distance from the leaders meant that these took a while to get going and were tardy at best throughout the game.


The Brigade Commanders command range is stretched in this scenario and they generally need to stay at the heart of the action to help keep key units rallied.


The Confederates essentially stayed in the woods, while the Union were exposed in the open and despite the attempts of Keyes to keep his troops spirits up, it was the Union troops who took the greater casualties and disorder results.


Eventually, both 3rd Connecticut and 2nd Maine broke and left the field, forcing the rest of the brigade to break as well.





Having played once, I think the Union mistake was that 3rd Connecticut should have fallen back slightly to get cover from the fence at Robinson House, while their other regiments gathered to form a cohesive line.  Though if 5th VA had seen that happening, they may have been tempted to make a pre-emptive assault against the 3rd Connecticut position.





Having all the units rated as Stamina 2 except for two of them being 3 (better) added some local interest and together with VA’s other attributes, would have made them an interesting counter-attack force. Stamina 2 makes both sides nervous as to their ability to stay in the field, which probably reflects the subject quite well.





Overall, the game did feel like an early 1861 engagement and passed a pleasant hour. This would make a good midweek game. Now to try in on the 3’ x 2’ space with a smaller scale, I might drag the hexes out and try out a ‘Two Flags - One Nation’ bit of action with 12mm forces


Hampton and 7th GA boxed in at the woods

Resource Section.
A PDF copy of the scenario downloaded from Dropbox. You don’t have to have a dropbox account to download this document. LINK


35 comments:

  1. Good post Norm. I think this approach recreating a section of a battle can make for very interesting games.

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  2. Thanks, I agree and this book in particular offers lots of slices of action, so there is much to choose from. These sort of games are also useful for exploring what is going on out on the flanks.

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  3. Thanks for the 'heads up' on the book Norm, as it sounds very interesting and, as you say, perfect for us wargamers. Nice to see an action on a small table and i like your thoughts on tweaking unit stats etc to reflect each unit. I look forward to seeing it games in 12mm.

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  4. Steve, I picked the book up at a wargame show and think it would meet with your Glory Hallelujah interests. There are not that many books that are so wargamer friendly.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Sorry for the deletion but when one leaves out a key word in the text, sometimes it becomes meaningless...

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  6. Very good, Norm! The book is a new one to me too. I may need to search it out. It sounds very suitable to the wargamer. This was a small slice of the action. With only three or four units per side, was this action large enough not to allow fate to play too big a hand in the outcome?

    In an unrelated discussion during a game with one of your countrymen earlier in the week, he mentioned that he did not care for the ACW since it was "a tactically uninteresting affair." I reserved my commentary at the time since I was the only American present but what do you think of that comment?

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    1. An interesting discussion point re: whether the ACW is "a tactically uninteresting affair." I would probably have agreed a year or so ago, but my reading of Sears books this year and especially McPherson's 'Cry Freedom' have made me re-assess my viewpoint. The latter book especially has put the battles in the context of America at the time, allowing a novice such as myself to understand to some extent why the battles and campaigns turned out as they did.

      One could of course argue that battles during the APW and FPW were, at times, rather uninteresting as well. One reason I love playing Bloody Big Battles is that, having read the history and then played the game, you can get a much deeper understanding of why a battle played out as it did.

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    2. Steve, WWI has probably suffered likewise.

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    3. (Nice AAR, thanks, Norm.)

      Superficially, ACW can seem "tactically uninteresting" because in weaponry and tactical doctrine, at least, the opposing armies are so symmetrical; certainly when compared with eg APW or FPW, where you see very contrasting doctrines and armament creating distinctive tactical challenges. I admit this perceived symmetry put me off blue vs gray for a while, but these days I am a big fan of ACW. At the grand tactical level (which is where I like to operate) there are some fantastic games to be had.

      Chris

      Bloody Big BATTLES!
      https://groups.io/g/bloodybigbattles
      http://bloodybigbattles.blogspot.com/
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/1412549408869331

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    4. Hi Chris, good point on symmetry, though at some points in the war, even symmetry is ‘disturbed’ to a degree by one side having a quality (or quantity) advantage over the other.

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    5. Yes, absolutely agree - you can have armies of very different character fighting each other, even if they are almost entirely infantry with the same rifled musket. Variations in troop quality and command capability present strengths and weaknesses to exploit.

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    6. Cough cough gasp sputter spit-take
      TACTICALLY UNINTERESTING??!!!!

      Ridiculous! Double ridiculous! ACW has the perfect level of tactics, especially if played at the regimental level. ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€

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    7. Stew, all is not lost, as this period become tactically uninteresting, I will help out and buy your 15mm armies off you for a Guinea and a pickled egg :-)

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    8. Hmm, I was trying to sound like I thought the idea of the ACW being tactically uninteresting as a ridiculous notion. But no, you may keep your guinea bc I wholeheartedly believe that the ACW is the Best-CW. ๐Ÿ˜€

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    9. It does make for some fine gaming!

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    10. Chris said, "Yes, absolutely agree - you can have armies of very different character fighting each other, even if they are almost entirely infantry with the same rifled musket. Variations in troop quality and command capability present strengths and weaknesses to exploit."

      While certainly a quality vs quantity tradeoff, doctrinal and leadership differences rear their heads as well at the tactical level. Style of battle tactics is important too. While one side can hang on for a war or battle of attrition, the other must maneuver is order to gain local superiority to defeat the enemy. Battles not won decisively in the end are losses to those trying to avoid attritional confrontations. I find the conflict tactically interesting...

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    11. Yes, things like the the McClellan factor are difficult to bring into a game if doing an historical battle without scripting that players (or at least one of them :-) ) might not enjoy. I forget which rules do it now (might be Peter Pig), but they have categories of leader that allow for politically appointed and West Point trained, which seems a good way to introduce the variables on how a fight might be conducted, feeding into style.

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  7. Thanks Jonathan, the very first dice fest for firing was made by the Confederate 5th VA, in history this fire decimated the Union regiment opposite, in my game ....... the fire totally failed! So yes, right from the go I was getting variables in a small game doing skewy things, but, by the end of the game, the Union had struggled to do anything useful with their ‘other 2 regiments’ and the Union Brigade was obliged to retire, so the flip side is that the variables eventually came together to give an acceptably histroical result.

    Not only does having fewer units allow the dice to be ‘persuasive’, but Black Powder itself is a rule set that hangs it’s hat on introducing game variables in the name of chaos.

    As for ACW, I look at the triangle of ACW - AWI - Napoleonic and see each as being sufficiently different that it compliments the other two and there-in (for me) is the tactical interest and a reason to collect an army in each of those periods.

    Tactically, I see napoleonics as having a rock-scissors-paper element concerning the three arms (which I think some designs over-emphasise anyway), while ACW doesn’t so much, rather the ACW tactically has elements that draw more from unit size and resilience. I’ve never really thought about ACW being in some sort of tactical wilderness and I don’t think it is a typical British observation as most wargame shows here seem to have an ACW game represented.

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  8. This looked like a great little action Norm...the attraction of smaller scale games seems to grow greater and greater!

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  9. Thanks Keith, having an interest in so many periods means that smaller armies are a more user friendly way for me to game, plus it does seem to highlight individual action more, where everything matters, even the small things add to the story.

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  10. A splendid post Norm, that book is certainly one to look out for at some point. A post that belies the myth you need large armies and tables to play Black Powder too.

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    1. Thanks Phil, the Black Powder worked perfectly, I even used the full measurements taken straight from the book. The lory Hallelujah rule that prevents units firing if they make more than 1 move helps keep movement down to more practical levels for the small table. Also spreading one brigade across this size of table did bring some command difficulties for the commanders, bringing more tension to the game.

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  11. A lovely, sharp little action, Norm! Black Powder, it seems, gave a great game with some nice nuance even with a small number of units on the table. Frankly, I feel that is one of BP's greatest strengths and one of my "must uaves" with a horse and musket set of rules - that you can get a good and satisfying game with many units, or a few units on the table. Cant wait for the smaller figures to see action next!

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  12. Thanks Steve, I actually made a conscious decision to write more about the scenario and less about the AAR, so there was much more nuance in the game going on than I recorded and I actually enjoyed the game a little more because I was not so much in the ‘recorders seat’.

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  13. It is always surprising how these smaller games can prove themselves to be very enjoyable.

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  14. It wasn't until I started writing it up that it hit home that there were just 7 units in the whole game, something that has made the whole thing feel more impressive for that.

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  15. Thanks Norm really interesting scenario, we have played something from the battle but i might give this a go. I have been thinking about some of the Antietam scenarios recently. I might try this with R&P ?

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  16. Thanks Matt, R&P would be a good fit.

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  17. Nice post Norm and I appreciate you going into the details of where you set all the dials for BP. I can’t believe that I have never tried out BP for the ACW yet....

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  18. Stew, I think even without the core BP rules, you might enjoy the Glory Hallelujah supplement just for its own sake as interesting source material.

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  19. Interesting write up and debate in the comments section! I have to admit to being less than taken with the ACW, it might be all those airfix 1/72 figures I had as a child or the comparative drabness compared to the Napoleonic or Franco Prussian war,I'm not that keen on the Crimean war either for some reason, so it isn't anti American!My nephews are doing it in 28mm ,I guess I'll end up playing it at some point, what's this ,3/4 posts just with 28mm figures I fear that your losing your core values !
    Best Iain

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  20. Hi Iain, I think your gloriously colourful Italians Wars stuff is making the ACW bland by comparison. Core values returned this afternoon with 15mm fighting their way across hexes, yep, hexes :-)

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    1. Funnily enough my nephew has just texted me about the new warlord 20mm ACW range that he's probably going to get,in addition to 28mm!
      Best Iain

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  21. Iain, looks like the new Warlord ACW is 13.5mm foot to eye, so probably just coming in at bang on 15mm. There is going to be a free sprue on the next Wargames Illustrated magazine.

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