Wednesday 21 September 2022

Jacob’s Hill - American Civil War

While browsing through the One-Hour Wargames book by Neil Thomas for a suitable scenario to use as a test bed for various rule sets and periods, I came across Scenario 17 - Encounter.

This is a very uncomplicated plain battlefield with a hill in the centre. Reconnaissance has revealed the hill and both Red and Blue armies are marching to the objective to secure it. Both forces have 6 units each, with one unit on each side starting within 6” of their respective baselines and the rest coming on as reinforcements, but their arrival is randomly generated over the course of several turns and this underpins the dynamic and chaotic nature of the scenario.

This is a meeting engagement and victory is dependent upon sole control of the hill.

For the first outing, I will be using my 28mm ACW figures, my own ‘Two Flags - One Nation’ rules and a 3½´ x 3½´ table.

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

The One Hour Wargames book has been widely discussed on many blogs, including here, where it has its own subject tab in the right margin of this blog. Essentially it is a book of very short rules covering several periods, together with a collection of 30 scenarios.

Note this schematic is my own device, copied from
the black and white version in the book.

Scenario 17 (Encounter) gives us a mirror battlefield, so both sides face the same terrain layout (i.e. just the hill in the centre of the board). It also gives us 6 units per side, so it makes a good ‘benchmarking’ scenario for examining various rules. It does however mix it up a bit because the armies are randomly selected and built from a ‘unit availability’ matrix and so we start with a die roll for each side and get quite an interesting difference in troop types for todays game.

Red Army (Union)

Infantry x 4, artillery x 1 and Zouaves x 1

The book is actually just using the title ‘Zouave’ to represent elite troops, so that is how we will treat this particular unit …. regardless of what uniform is worn! Though of course, we shall be using the splendid looking Perry Zouaves, after all there is no reason for them to be kept in barracks, when they can be marching in style on the tabletop. Under my own rules, they will be referred to as Superior.

Blue Army (Confederate)

Infantry x 3, artillery x 2 and cavalry x 1.

In the scenario each side has one unit set up with 6” from their own baseline.

One thing to note about the scenario maps in this book ….. they are very sparse. Neil Thomas is only giving us the terrain that is key to the battle, nothing superfluous is added, nothing to distract. However, for the sake of aesthetics, it is nice to dress the table a little, so we will add a field, some rough boggy ground and some trees, just for visual interest, they will not exist for game purposes ….. yet you can bet your bottom dollar that I will try and occupy the non-existing field and conform to its boundaries!

One Hour Wargame scenarios always last for 15 turns, with the Thomas rules always allowing units to either move or fire, not both, which as happens is also true of my rules, so perhaps with 15 turns as a useful guide, today we shall say that we have 12 turns and see how that goes. We need encouragement to throw the troops in as they arrive on the table rather than allow them to build up before an attack and there is no better way to do that than have a tight time-table. Anyway, the scenario objective is to be in sole control of the hill, so we will just see how that plays out with the Two Flags - One Nation rules, which are ‘attrition of unit’ based. 

Fresh units have good offensive capability and then as the unit gets 3 - 4 Heavy Casualties, performance dips and once 5 Heavy Casualties are reached, reliability becomes a bigger ask. At 8 Heavy Casualties, they are removed from play - routed / dispersed. 

In the scenario, you can choose which unit is the one that is allowed to set up first, so with most rules it would make sense for the Confederate to deploy their cavalry for a fast grab of the hill …. However, in my rules, the cavalry generally move the same speed as infantry, but can do a one off ‘fast move’. They have lungs not engines, I have never been sympathetic to rules allowing cavalry a move boost turn after turn. Still, the Confederates will deploy their horse first, perhaps because they just should!

I have changed the scenario to allow Blue Army to go first, simply to acknowledge that their lead element is cavalry.

The immediate problem that this scenario creates for several rule sets is that the Thomas rules don’t use command and control (or morale for that matter) and so for those sets that do, there will be a difficulty bringing units on in such a haphazard way, while trying to move forwards to fight, creating a rather ‘spread out’ force that might be difficult to command. 

Perhaps as a standard rule we should at least say that all troops that enter play will be in command on the turn that they enter and perhaps even consider for some rule sets the introduction of more than one commander.

Above - at start table’ plus the turn 1 reinforcement. The force nearest the camera are Confederate.

Each turn, there is a 50% chance that a side will get one of their reinforcing units arriving - this is going to matter, so we have a little bit of Lady Luck to contend with.

Toys - Figures 28mm Perry, hill by Last Valley, field by The Tree Fellas, rough ground - a resin by Coritani with my embellishments added, cloth by Geek Villain, trees various.

Opening action.

At start, both sides successfully get one reinforcement, each chooses an infantry unit. The cavalry reach the hill, dismount and go into skirmish line, but they are chased off by a determined Union infantry charge. On their left, the Union charge against the 40th Mississippi is repulsed.

The Union have better luck getting their reinforcements onto the table and soon their overwhelming numbers cause the Confederates to pull back away from Jacob’s Hill.

Above - The Union have received four out of their six units, the Confederates have just two in play. As the Union consolidate Jacob’s Hill, they bring their gun battery up and place it in the centre of their defence.

The Confederates at last gain another reinforcement and they choose artillery, so that they can get some fire quickly against the hill, but before they can even unlimber, Union artillery causes them heavy casualties and disorder, forcing them to stay limbered and pull back.

Though things appear to be looking good for the Union, the 40th Mississippi on the Confederate right have steadily been dealing out deadly effective fire, pretty much seeing off one regiment. 

Above - the Zouaves move up into the gap and prepare to assault the weakened 40th, but over just two turns, the 40th deal out murderous fire and the Zouaves fall back and to the shock of the Union commander, start to rout.

Turn 7

The Confederate cavalry, now re-mounted, make an ill-advised charge against a Union regiment. To start with the attack is half-hearted (failed charge capability test) and a determined pre-charge volley by the relatively fresh defenders, drive off the cavalry.

The ill-advised cavalry charge!

The cavalry (on the left) have retreated and put themselves out of command, to rectify that, they move to the right, but as they do so, their gun battery, takes heavy losses from the Union artillery on the hill. In panic, they limber up and pull out, crashing through the cavalry, causing further disorder - what a mess!

What a mess!

The Confederate 2nd battery arrives and over two turns badly mauls the Union artillery on the hill, who are forced to pull out and flee.

Perhaps surprisingly, the tide is slowly turning in the Confederates favour. The last two Confederate infantry regiments have at last reached the battlefield. One stabilises the left and the other moves up to join 40th Mississippi, who by now are really racking up casualties, but tenaciously stay in position.

Above - with two infantry units and an artillery unit routing from the field, the Union have lost their offensive capability. Only two Union regiments are fresh enough to stay in the fight. One is just approaching the base of the hill, urged on by their commander waving his hat and the other regiment on their right now faces a fresh Confederate regiment and two gun batteries.

It will be an unequal fight and it is time to concede the field. On the Confederate right, their cavalry has managed to stay intact and they are now ready to pursue the fleeing Yankee regiments - victory will be beyond dispute and the game is called at the end of turn 11.

The Confederates were very tardy getting to the battlefield, but the 40th Mississippi, stood its ground and inflicted great harm on the Union. On another day, the 40th might likely have buckled early with less lucky dice. But it remains the case that until the 2nd Confederate gun battery got into place, it was the 40th that saved the day for the Confederates. 


Well the contest for the hill between two forces throwing newly arrived troops at it, certainly works well and can witness some dynamic action. The tight time-table discourages a player from amassing forces before assaulting. 

One of the casualties of that in my rules is that units don’t really get a chance to assault with supports to their rear, which would help the attack (as happens in several rules including Black Powder).

The attriting of forces works well to highlight the importance of bringing fresh troops to the fight … though our Zouaves rather disappointed in that regard! As their ranks were quickly shot to pieces.

An interesting part of the action was when Confederate cavalry frontally charged into a fresh Union infantry regiment and was promptly repulsed with heavy casualties. The rules are designed to discourage such acts to prevent the over-use of the cavalry charge against fresh formed infantry and it was good to see here that the mechanics cowed the cavalry and reminded this player …. not to do it!  

The thing that was really striking about this outing was that such a good game, with plenty of twists, fell from just 6 units per side and really the full armies were not all on the table until past the halfway point of play. 

This game has re-emphasised for me how the ‘small battle’ pretty much meets my needs entirely in terms of collection, game space, playing time and no desire to paint huge armies.

My own rules continue to evolve and todays exercise and situation revealed areas to strengthen. Firstly, units that pass a Capability Test can both change formation at the start of their movement and still move, those that fail, change formation, but don’t move. There is an exception for artillery, which can attempt (test) to change formation at the end of movement to represent unlimbering, failure keeps them limbered. That exception is now being extended to cavalry so that they can move and then attempt a dismount, to take up an effective skirmish position.

Secondly the rules do not prevent units using ‘fast / double move’ (like extended movement) as part of charge movement. This loophole has now been closed down.

Finally, the fast / double bonus move can now enter difficult terrain, but pays the additional costs to do so (double). This came to light when the cavalry needed to fast move onto the hill, which I considered to be difficult terrain - though the scenario does not demand this.

What next for Jacob’s Hill? or should I say Scenario 17 - Encounter. Well, I had thought that I might re-run it with Black Powder for ACW or travel forwards in time to Hill 234.2, mid war, WWII with my own ‘Into Action’ or Dave Brown’s ‘O’ Group. 

A ‘compressed’ Black Powder game would be fine, with the command rules adding chaos. For a WWII game, I think I would need to actually add that extra terrain in, because in One Hour Wargame rules, tanks only fire at 12´´ range, while any other rules I use would almost certainly have longer fire ranges and all of that open expanse would just become a killing ground, with little tactical satisfaction to be gained. This is just one of the more obvious examples of external rules not always getting the best out of OHW scenarios, which are intended for the Neil Thomas provided rules.

Stop - Press, Perry Miniatures have just put up links for a download to their new easy play Napoleonic rules. These have me quite interested and its hard not to have them jump the queue, so perhaps an Epic scale (13.5mm), napoleonic scrap for ‘Windmill Hill’ might be on the cards!

Anyway, either way, more to come for these small table, small force affairs!

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