Friday, 10 December 2021

The Attack on Henry’s Hill - 1861

Yikes - flag fixed, thank's Alan

This is a boardgame and figure game mash-up adding activation chits to the Black Powder figure rules for random unit selection, breaking up the normal sequence of play. 

A few evenings ago, we played a boardgame on 1st Bull Run. Just as the Union were putting in their first attack against Confederate forces on and around Henry’s Hill, I took a few photographs and have now translated that moment into a figures game, using Black Powder rules and 12mm Kallistra figures. 

Our short boardgame session did not see us get very far into the game, but we felt that the Union were getting the best of it, as Confederate forces started taking heavy casualties. This Friday, we are gaming at my place, so I am putting this on as a figure game this time, to have another opportunity to examine that action.

This post looks at the scenario building, followed by a brief outline of a test game that I have played in preparation of our game session.

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

Note - the fact that I am introducing unit activation to Black Powder is not an indication that I am dissatisfied with those rules, rather, everything here is about replicating the boardgame and the way it goes about creating this battle.

Our face-to-face boardgame is called ‘The Day Was Ours’, published by Revolution Games (US), which is part of a series of games with units operating at the regimental level. It is a nice system using a chit draw that randomly activates formations to act and also inject some goodly chaos by the use of additional ‘event’ draw chits, together with a Combat Table that delivers all sorts of uncertainties.

The Photograph below shows the area around Henry’s Hill that I am looking to replicate. The detailed map is by the hand of the late Rick Barber.

We only played three turns of the boardgame, but by the end of that, the Confederates had suffered the most and the Union were pressing on Henry’s Hill, taking Robinson’s House and with artillery, forcing Jackson to retire from Henry’s House.


Turning the clock back a tad, to the situation I photographed just as the Union were getting ready to assault the hill, will be our starting point. It means that the troops, especially the artillery, already start very close to each other, but that is what the game delivered, so that is what we are getting. As it happens, I read an account highlighting that in the real battle, two artillery units duelled at just 300 yards!

I am just going to take those formations that in the game were concerned in the taking / defending of Henry’s Hill. The units at the periphery were too busy with the problems that they were facing to become involved in our tightly focused fight. 

My guide will be the situation given to us by the game when the photograph was taken, the requirements of the Black Powder rule set and additional information taken from the rather excellent book ‘We Shall Meet Again’ by JoAnna M. McDonald and published by Oxford University Press 2000.

Below - this will be our table. Young's Branch (stream) is narrow, very shallow and probably dry for the most part in the battle, so gamers can leave it off the table if they wish.

An important element of this early war battle is the inexperience of the forces involved, but melded with the various inherent troop quality differences between units and the two armies.

The boardgame deals with this by using activation rolls to see whether a brigade will be able to do the more complicated stuff such as manoeuvre and attack and also when an attack is declared, a test is taken to see how many regiments in the brigade can actually get going. I regularly had 4 - 5 units rearing to attack, but the system would only let me use two of them. Deliciously frustrating.

In our Black Powder game, we will represent this by basically giving five of the brigade commanders fairly flat (7) command ratings, making it harder for them to ‘get going’. Worse follows for Howard, but more of that later.

Order of Battle.

Note - units marked ** begin the game with 1 hit, as they were flipped with a step loss in the boardgame when the photograph was taken.

Union (Note all units are rifle armed unless specifically listed as smoothbore).

Porter (Command rating 7) 14th NY, 27th NY, 8th NY (smoothbore), US Inf Battalion, US MC Battalion** (small unit). Set up within 6” of Point A, but no further forward than Point A.

Franklin (Command rating 7) 5th MA, 1st MN**, 11th MN (smoothbore). Set up within 4” of Point B, but no further forward than Point B.

Sherman (Command rating 8) 69th NY (smoothbore), 13th NY, 79th NY (smoothbore), 2nd WI. Set up within 6” of point C, but no further forward than point C.

Howard (Command rating 6/7, see special rules) 3rd MN, 4th MN, 5th MN (smoothbore), 2nd VT (smoothbore). Set up - they begin off table, see special rules.

Artillery (brigaded with a Command rating of 8, this is just a notional rating to determine movement management of each individual battery) Griffin (6 rifled guns, set up adjacent to Porter), Arnold ( 4 rifled guns, set up behind Franklin), Ricketts (6 rifled guns, set up adjacent to Franklin)

Confederate (Note Robinson’s House cannot start the game occupied. Note all infantry and artillery units are smoothbore armed. The cavalry are carbine armed)

Stuart (Command rating 8) 1st VA Cavalry (smoothbore carbine). Set up at point 1 exactly.

Jackson (Command rating 7) 2nd VA, 27th VA, 4th VA, 5th VA, 33rd VA. Set up within 6” of point 2, but only on Henry’s Hill.

Bartow (Command rating 7) 7th GA, 8th GA**. Set up within 4” of point 3, but no further forward than Point 3.

Amalgamated under Nathan Evans (Command rating 8) Hampton’s Legion**, Bee’s 4th AL**, Evans 1st LA Infantry Battalion. Set up within 4” of point 4, but no further forward than Point 4.

Artillery (brigaded with a Commanding rating of 8, this is just a notional rating to determine movement management of each individual battery) Imboden** (4 Smoothbore guns, set up with Jackson), Pellam (4 Smoothbore guns, set up with Jackson), Jackson (4 Smoothbore guns, set up with Jackson)

Special Rules - These rules are to reflect the situation that the boardgame gave us, not necessarily the historical situation.

To replicate the random nature of the boardgame formation activation. Prepare a chit for each command in the game (i.e. Bartow, Howard or Union Guns etc) and place them into a draw bag at the start of each turn. One by one, during a turn, draw a chit and then fully do the entire Black Powder Sequence of play with that formation only. Once done, draw the next chit and do the same until all commands have had a chance to activate. Once done and all chits have been drawn, replace the chits in the bag, remove Disorder markers from the table and start the next turn.

Again to replicate the chaos in the boardgame via its Event Chit Draw mechanic. At the start of each turn, add an Event Chit into the draw bag together with the formation chits. As soon as it is drawn, roll a D6 on the Events Table and immediately execute the result. I have added a ‘Friendly Fire’ event due to it being a notable occurrence in his battle (due to similarities of uniform), according to ‘We Shall Meet Again’ by JoAnna M. McDonald.

To use the 12mm figures, I am gaming on a 4’ x 3½’ table and converting inches (used by Black Powder) to centimetres.

Howard starts play off table. In the boardgame he repeatedly failed activation - His command rating starts at 6. He can roll for orders each turn, using a brigade order to bring him on at point D or anywhere between there and the woods. However, the first time his brigade pass their command roll, they don’t enter play, instead, their command rating increases to 7 permanently. After that, in a subsequent turn, they can attempt to enter the table normally if orders are given and received.

Hampton, Bee and Evans start as fragmented commands in the boardgame scenario. For Black Powder purposes, we shall brigade them together under the notional command of Nathan Evans.

In the boardgame, the artillery units of both sides have their own phase, which is separate from the activations and actions of other formations. To blend that into Black Powder usage and to maintain the integrity of the boardgame, artillery has been brigaded into one command per side, though without any leader or command distance penalties and will activate and fire at the same time as a single unit type, when their chit is drawn, just like any other formation. The command rating is simply to manage any movement they may individually wish to attempt.

The buildings. These are just houses that can be ‘absorbed’ into the regimental line rather than them being physically occupied by a whole unit. They had fences of no great value. To replicate all of that in our game, the buildings are not 'occupied' by a unit, rather, one regiment can anchor itself on the building and claim a defensive cover rating of just ‘1’ (light cover). In any post combat morale checks, there will be a modifier of just ‘+1’ and a value of 1 when looking at hand-to-hand bonus. The line will simply fire as line and not as units ‘IN’ buildings. A building can only be ‘used’ by one unit as part of their line at any one time. 

I will be using some of the additional rules found in the Glory Hallelujah, the Black Powder ACW supplement, the most significant of which is that if a unit moves more than once during its turn, it cannot fire in the upcoming Fire Phase.


The game starts with the assumption that the Confederates control Henry’s house and were the last to control Robinson’s House. The game will end at the conclusion of turn 7. At that time determine which side can claim to control each of these two buildings, which are each worth 1 victory point. Based upon this control, one side will win or there will be a draw.

Sudden death victory - At at the conclusion of any turn in the game that the Confederates control Stone House, the game will instantly end with a victory for the Confederate player.

The Confederate line braces itself

The game’s the thing!

Turn 1 - Surprisingly Howard (Union) activates. He is off table and this activation allows his rating to increase from 6 to 7. Elsewhere, Sherman on the Union left makes a superb command roll and gets to make 3 moves forward. However, Porter on the Union right is less fortunate and is suffering from accurate Confederate artillery fire, sited on Henry’s Hill.

Turn 2 - Howard again passes his command test, so can enter play, he starts his advance down Sudley Road. Porter continues to suffer at the hands of Confederate artillery, but holds on. Nathan Evans on the Confederate right has been somewhat caught out by the sudden advance of Sherman. Two of his regiments are in skirmish order in the woods and a lone unsupported regiment is out on the right flank.

Howard arrives on Sudley Road

Turn 3 - Nathan Evans is the first chit to be drawn, his activation allows his skirmishers to pull back deeper into the woods and the lone unit to also fall back, but Sherman pursues and the first charge of the game sees Sherman hit that lone regiment on Nathan Evans right. Their defensive fire is not enough to hold Sherman back and the clash goes ahead with gusto, but the Confederates hold on (a draw). What is going on with Franklin in the Union centre? He is just sitting on his hands!

The overall Union situation is that the right is pinned, the centre has stalled, but their left is attacking.

Turn 4 - Bad for the Confederates. Nathan Evans has lost a regiment to Sherman’s attack and his other two regiments remain in skirmish order in the woods. Sherman is now pressing both Evans and Bartow. Franklin in the Union centre is still not moving. Sherman sends him a curt note to get his men moving up to support him.

Bartow under pressure from Sherman
at Robinson's House

Turn 5 - A shock for Sherman, he is significantly repulsed by Bartow near to Robinson's House, losing a regiment in the process. On the Union right, further bad news as Griffin’s battery (supporting Porter) is lost to the heavy artillery and infantry fire coming from Henry’s Hill.

Turn 6 - At last! Franklin gets his attack under way, charging the centre and overrunning the Confederate guns (Jackson Battery), but his attacks against the neighbouring infantry recoil.

Turn 7 - Porter, bringing two fresh regiments up, charges up the hill, sweeping another Confederate battery away, but to his left, Franklin is having mixed success and loses a regiment while assaulting the hill.

Alas, the conclusion of turn 7 ends the scenario and we must call a Confederate win, as they lay claim to controlling both houses on the hill …… however!

If we look at the start of a potential turn 8, players are obliged to check for brigades breaking. On the Confederate side, Jackson (main defender of Henry’s Hill) would break and retreat due to three of their regiments being shaken. Likewise on the Confederate far right, Nathan Evans would break, with one regiment lost and another shaken.

The Union would not go unpunished, with Franklin breaking for the loss of one regiment and another shaken. The bigger Union picture is that Howard’s fresh brigade has arrived on the right and would no doubt be able to take the hill and Henry’s House, but on the Union left, Sherman would be too weak to eject Bartow from either the hill or Robinson’s House.

So within the overall timescale allowed by the game, it seems fair to assess this as a Confederate win, tempered by the fact that an 8th turn would likely see that change to a draw. I am hoping that this closeness bodes well for our face to face game.


Replicating an action created in a boardgame gives the interesting opportunity of doing something not quite purely historical, but playing something that has still been created from within the historical potential range of outcomes of that battle.

The test game played out rather well, but raised two concerns. Firstly by dampening down the Command ratings, the Union can struggle to get enough forward momentum to get the job done in 7 turns and secondly, in Black Powder, buildings too readily behave like strongpoints, which these two houses on Henry’s Hill were not!

The house thing is easy to correct. Now, they cannot be occupied by a unit, but rather the building is simply drawn into the unit's line (sort of anchored on it), so now basically the two buildings will each give a unit the benefit of light cover for morale tests and a bonus of 1 in close combat (Special rules above have already been corrected to do this).

I am less sure about the command ratings being changed. Upgrading them for this particular battle, might make the brigades too experienced looking and more capable than they are in the boardgame. Rather, I will continue to allow the more sedentary ratings to give the armies a ‘plodding’ character, but deliberately bring Union forces within 12 centimetres of the enemy so that the more certain ‘initiative command’ mechanic can take over, making them more effective and responsive. I have however pushed up the Confederate cavalry to a rating of 8. This seems fair and might make the security of Stone House a bigger deal for the Union. 

Howard got lucky with some early activations, he is less likely to do this again in our next game, but then he was totally inactive in the boardgame, so we are not out of kilter here.

Using a chit pull activation method has been a big change to Black Powder and I quite like it.  Since the activated brigade still has to test for orders, the activation does nothing more than break up the sequence of play, to go back and forth between the players throughout the turn rather than the strict ‘I Go You Go’ routine of the standard two player turn sequence of play. 

The cellular way that Black Powder deals with brigades actually facilitates these changes anyway. It does help create the uncertainty that the boardgame drives as to which formation will act next.

Including the Sudden Death victory condition for the Confederates is a bit of a stretch for them. The Union would have to be doing particularly badly for Jackson to be able to move down Henry's Hill and threaten Stone House. However, Stuarts cavalry on the Confederate left could give the Union something to think about as it can more readily strike at Stone House or at least threaten to.

The scenario stretches my 12mm ACW collection enough with 27 regiments and 6 gun batteries, that I will have to drop down from 3 to 2 bases to represent each regiment, but that makes a better fit for the table anyway. A gun battery is represented by one model for every two guns. Three Warlord Games Epic infantry bases have been added to the Union army to make up the numbers.

It has been a busy week, doing the admin for the cross-over game, the writing (and re-writing!) of this post, the creation of 6’ of fencing, the touching up and re-inking of the three resin buildings and then finally the play test and then two days later setting up again for our face-to-face. 

I am literally posting this just a couple of hours before Mike arrives for our weekly game. All worthwhile I think (and hope!).

As a hosted game, this should work well. The test game played through in what we would normally set aside as a standard gaming session and there was enough going on to give both sides a good game, so I am fairly hopeful that this will work for us tonight. I will add an edit here once we have played. 

EDIT - A very enjoyable face-to-face session ending in a draw. Some similarities to the test game, Porter comes under a lot of pressure due to Confederate guns on the Hill, Sherman puts the Confederate right flank to test and Howard turns up in time protect the Union right and put pressure on the hill positions.

There were some differences as well. Franklin broke into the Confederate position at Robinson's House and broke Bartow and the Confederates lost their guns.

Considering this is a small table, the battlefield did feel like it was broken up into left, centre and right and that different things were going on in each, that kept both players both fully engaged.

We both thought that the chit draw made for a good addition to the Black Powder rules.

Resource Section.

A link to Revolution Games.

My sister web space COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.


  1. Your 12mm figures look great, very nicely painted, and the table looks great as well.

  2. Thanks. I am quite pleased that this all fits into this space.

  3. A grand post Norm, really like your adaptations, I particularly like the chit activation. I will certainly steal the event chart for future use.
    Look forward to hearing how the main event goes.

    1. Thanks Phil, BP lends itself to chit pull surprisingly well.

  4. Thanks Norm some really interesting ideas. I would really like to play through your scenario using my house rules…..but I need to get a chance to get it on the table. Watch out we will see if we can do it. I am fully behind the chit/dice pulling approach to turns as this breaks up the I go u go standard formula,👍

  5. Hi Matt, that would be interesting. I quite like the way that a boardgame can produce a situation, it somehow has more cred to me than, say, in this instance, just doing a fictional assault aimed at a hill. I did the chit pull just for the needs of this game, but can see myself using it quite widely in the future.

  6. The chitpull action is no different than the Bolt Action die draw in Warlord's own Bolt Action, so it brings BP and BA together!

  7. Yep, same principle, other than there is an event chit also thrown in the cup and when activated, the unit goes through the entire sequence of play, which also includes ‘attempts’ to gain an order, which it might fail and therefore not move or rally etc, but would still be able to fire in the shooting phase.

  8. I was just thinking exactly the same as Renaud above! A great little action but your Union sympathies are shining through in your report Norm....I like the fact they were able to hold on despite all their disadvantages! Having a set number of turns, or using the army tokens like To the Strongest, is a great way of setting a finite winning post, rather than grinding on til one side breaks, in my opinion.

    1. Hi Keith, I have been lucky that this situation has been so interesting and it worked. Tonight, I played the Confederates against Mike, so my sympathies are like shifting sand :-)

      Having a set number of turns to capture objectives certainly makes the Union just get on with it, important as with better ranged weapons, they could just sit back and deliver firepower.

  9. That's a really nice scenario Norm and, as before, great to transfer a piece of the action from the board game onto the table. The chit activation is a brilliant idea and perfect for adding some friction to solo games or even FtF ones. I can see myself trying this out in the future. Ditto the random events table. A TFL tiffin chit could be used too but I think this might take things too far down the randomness route.

    1. Thanks Steve, I did think about a Tiffin rule, as I am inclined towards it, however, I was trying in all earnest to replicate the boardgame and in that system, everything at least gets a chance to activate. I would definitetly recommend trying BP with the draw chit, I think you would like it.

  10. A spending and interesting post Norm. I enjoyed reading about the conversion from boardgame to tabletop and the rule mechanics carried across.

    1. That was meant to be splendid.

    2. Thanks Peter, I know you have dipped into the conversion thing several times and it has always worked, particularly your Tank on Tank game.

  11. Excellent post, Norm! Chit pull mechanisms work very well to create suspense and uncertainty in solo play. I have four of the games in Revolution's Blind Swords System but not this one...yet!

  12. Thanks Jonathan. they have just released two titles and this time have gone down the road of a series rulebook and then a separate battle specific book. I don't think they are backwards compatible, because the earlier games are so integrated into a single rules volume, bu it is going to help future games.

    There is a post or two somewhere here on Stonewall's Sword.

  13. You would get on really well with Phil, Norm, you both like to tinker with rules. Always enjoy seeing any ACW game though, even with the little people at 12mm.

  14. Thanks David, I fancy the 28's will hit the table before Christmas with Bonnie Blue Flag for a small action.

  15. Interesting the chit pull system is nice addition for BP.

  16. Gary, it would perhaps move BP closer to your favoured Piquet rules.

  17. Great sounding game, not my period but you always make it interesting!
    Best Iain

  18. Great looking gaming and figures, Norm. Ending in a draw after such a hard fought battle makes it sound like the rules and scenario worked well.

    1. Hi Dean, yes, I feel that is exactly right.

  19. Thanks Iain, both the solo and face-to-face run out gave good games.

  20. Hi, yes, it has pushed my Black Powder games into a potentially new direction. We both liked the increased interaction.

  21. Another interesting conversion of a boardgame action into a miniatures game. A lot of the fun would have been had in figuring out how to do the conversion. Glad it all worked out in the end!

  22. Thanks Shaun, you are right, doing this sort of thing is just another fun side of the hobby. What surprises me is that practically all of these ‘slice of action’ type of conversions have given good games. I think boardgames make for very good scenario generators.


  23. Awesome. I like these board games to miniature games conversions and I love me a good Henry Hill scenario and I double love the ACW so I feel like a winner here. 😀

  24. Thanks Stew, I can do no more to complete your delight than to let it slip that a box of 1066 Normans were opened and perused today!

  25. I like your idea of adding the chit-pull system to the BP rules. Seems like it would work well, especially for solo games. Your collection of Kallistra figures look great btw. If I ever decide to do ACW I would certainly consider those.

  26. Thanks for dropping by. I dither between the 12mm and the 28mm, so both collections only get painted very slowly! I am certainly gong to look for some more opportunities to use chit pull.


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