Friday, 29 June 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville – Turns 22-25

We played our fifth session of the game on Wednesday night - this is what happened…

General view of the battlefield looking west from the Confederate lines

With McLaws in full retreat Couch was able to get his II Corps rallied and back into the safety of the entrenchments. It had been a close run thing with the Rebs managing to penetrate to within half a mile of Union HQ causing Hooker a few anxious moments, but now the crisis had passed and the flank had held.

 McLaws Divison beats a hasty retreat pursued by the Yanks

Lee ordered Anderson and McLaws to disengage and form a new line about a mile east of Couch. This time it was Dave’s turn to feel nervous and he even took the precaution of moving his HQ a few hundred yards further south. However, he needn’t have worried because Couch’s forces were in no condition to counter-attack. Both sides have taken heavy losses and it doesn’t look likely that we’ll see any further fighting on this flank anytime soon.

 Lee's new defensive posture on the Rebel right flank

Dave was being much less cautious on the opposite flank however where he ordered Colston to renew the attack of Slocum’s position in the woods southeast of the Maury House. Hunt was able to pound the advancing Confederates with his Grand Battery for a while but they soon passed out of sight of the guns and entered the relative safety of the tree line.

 Colston's Divison advances

The Union forces here, although entrenched, had been weakened during the fighting on May 1st. To the obvious surprise of General Lee, the Rebels swept over the works and chased Slocum’s men deep into the woods leaving Hookers right flank wide open. It remains to be seen if Colston has the strength left to exploit this unexpected success!

 To everyone's surprise Colston storms the Union entrenchments

But now for the bit you’ve all been waiting for – Jackson! In the last post Dave explained how he opted to bring on Jackson’s eight brigades at the historical point of entry by Wilderness Church. It was quite a sobering sight for Howard’s XI corps as the grey horde threatened to engulf their line. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that an order had just arrived from Hooker ordering Howard to move his command towards Hazel Grove. With part of the corps in column of march, and part deployed to face the enemy, things didn’t look good at all…

 Jackson's Corps attacks!

…and then by a minor miracle, Howard countermanded the march order, swung his boys back into a rough line and blasted away at the Rebels with rifles and canister causing three of A P Hill's four leading brigades to fail their morale tests and stop in their tracks! Only on the extreme right flank did Jackson have any success where Krzyzanowski’s “Dutchmen” were charged and routed. The next turn it was more of the same and this time two Confederate brigades routed – Jackson’s whole front line had been broken up by Von Steinwehr’s green Union Division!

 A P Hill's broken Divsion stream back to the rear through the ranks of Rodes men

At the end of Turn 25 (12.00 noon) the army demoralisation levels are now 4 for the Confederates and 3 for the Union (the first side to reach 8 will lose the battle). After five playing sessions and 25 turns incredibly this battle could still go either way…

To view a map of the battlefield click here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville – Turns 19-21

Only three turns in this session but an awful lot of drama !  Click on images to enlarge . . .

XI Corps are uneasy - it's too quiet !
Jackson looms up out of the west
A.P.Hill's Division in front - Rodes behind
Krzyzanowski's Brigade realises it is in big trouble !

Having manoeuvred off-table since late afternoon on the previous day, General Jackson's command  finally appears at Wilderness Church on the extreme western flank of the Union position at 9:30 am on May 2nd. The rules gave me several options but I chose the historical deployment astride the Orange Turnpike ( entry point 2 on the map ) There is no possibility of Jackson receiving any fresh orders from Lee so he has come on in full Corps 'assault' mode – all or nothing !

Completing the authenticity, Ian had also chosen to deploy Howard's infamous XI corps in reserve at Dowdall's Tavern. The rules allowed him to speculatively ( and nervously ) face one brigade due west, although I notice he has sneaked a gun battery into that position too !  I don't think it will make any difference to the outcome. . . . . 

General Couch looks on in horror as his men are swept away !
Perry's Brigade drives the Yankees
Wilcox breaks through

Back at the main engagement . . .  General Anderson heroically accompanies Perry's brigade over the Union fieldworks, driving and breaking Zook's brigade – which rallies . . . then breaks again ! But Perry is isolated and despite Anderson's bonus to the morale die roll the brigade breaks at reduced strength and is permanently removed from play. But the Rebel assault continues and it is now Wilcox's turn to storm across the Union works and drive back a second Federal brigade.

A courier searches for Lee with bad news from McLaws
Whipple's Division deploys with 'assault' orders
McLaws tries to rally his men - the right flank is shattered

To relieve the increasing pressure he was under, General Couch took Whipple's Division (attached to his command from III Corps ) and flung it at the Confederate line north of the McGee house with spectacular success. The Rebs crumbled – half of McLaws Division broke and fled back towards the Duersons Mill Road.

Fully laden wagons prepare to move out
A Union grand battery at last

The Union wagon park is finally established with ammuntion re-supply up and running. On the high ground south of the Maury House, a grand battery has been set up by Ian's only 'A' grade General, artillery commander Henry Hunt.  It is shelling Early's position to the east – the sole  activity at the moment on that section of the line.

Stuart is forced to turn and confront Pleasonton again
The Rebs dismount - their horse battery has retired, out of ammo

Pleasonton anticipates Stuart's movements and intercepts him at Catherine Furnace for round two of their encounter. But he loses the mounted melee and as Stuart's men dismount and draw their carbines, the Union troopers are forced back into the woods.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville – Turns 12-18

With nightfall approaching both sides were reluctant to bring on a general engagement. However, Lee’s half-hearted attempt to turn Slocum’s right flank did at least result in the first exchange of volley fire of the battle as Paxton’s Confederate brigade engaged with Ruger’s northern boys in the thick undergrowth of the Wilderness. It was too little too late for the Confederates and the fighting fizzled out as the daylight faded.

The Rebels press Slocum's right flank during the last two daylight turns

As darkness fell there was much relief at Hooker’s HQ at Chancellorsville. The Rebels had held the upper hand all afternoon outnumbering the boys in blue by 4:3 but they had failed to capitalise on their advantage. Now, with Sickles large corps finally arriving in support the moment of crisis had passed.

Nightfall, time to pull back and regroup

  Dawn on May 2nd...

During the night turn our rules allow for both players to carry out a limited amount of troop movement by a process of mutual agreement. Hooker took the opportunity to pull back Slocum’s corps further into the woods and out of the reach of the Confederate artillery whilst all along the front line the men were ordered to construct entrenchments. Lee meanwhile ordered Early to disengage from Slocum and reorganised the forces on his right flank in preparation for a morning attack.

The new Union line, now entrenched

The Confederate line - Anderson's division is forming up for attack on the far right

Meanwhile the Union reserve artillery column had finally arrived at Chancellorsville containing 4 batteries of rifled artillery, 1 caisson and 6 wagons, in a column that stretched back for nearly two miles! The lack of artillery ammunition for the Union guns had become critical with most of the batteries in the front line down to their last round but now the means of re-supply was on hand.

Hooker breathes a sigh of relief as the wagon train trundles past his HQ

And what of Jackson? Still no sign! Hooker had left Howard’s XI corps back at Dowdall’s Tavern to protect the rear of the army while Sickles remaining Divisions were being kept in reserve at the Fairview clearing. Stuart meanwhile was probing north from Catherine Furnace but Pleasonton was hot on his heels and a new cavalry action is developing in Hazel Grove.

It's round two for Stuart and Pleasonton

As we reached turn 18 (8.30am May 2nd) Lee’s orders to “assault” had finally reached Anderson whose lead brigade surged forward and attacked Zook’s brigade behind the Union entrenchments. To succeed in an assault on entrenchments is quite hard in our rules but by a fluky die roll the Rebels did just that and Zook’s men were sent streaming to the rear while the jubilant Rebels occupied their old position.

Anderson's men (on the left) eject the northerners from their entrenchments

And so ended the third playing session of the game. It had been looking quite good for Hooker but Anderson’s attack is now causing some concern at Union HQ and the uncertainty over Jackson’s whereabouts means we will be in for a very interesting session next time.

To make sense of this narrative take a look at the map here.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville ~ Turns 6-11

Click to zoom in

3:30pm – General Lee arrives! A field headquarters is set up and couriers bring news of the enemy dispositions. I have to say I didn't display the audacity and courage of the great man himself at this point – the Confederates should have launched an all out assault while they had local superiority and an artillery advantage. I remained strangely paralysed, worrying irrationally about the following day, and what to do with Jackson !

Looking south down McLaws position as the artillery comes up  

 Looking west towards Couch

McLaws remains drawn up at the McGee House in front of Couch's II Corps line – artillery deployed and engaged, Anderson moving to support the left flank, the upper hand gained on the skirmish line – but still no aggressive orders from Lee !

Gordon's Brigade at the Alrich House

On the skirmish line

Overview of Slocum's position opposite Early

Early and Slocum are now fully deployed and two very large skirmish lines clash for most of the afternoon in the clearing west of the Alrich House. 

The brigades of Paxton and Jones  head the flanking movement
Lee finally rouses himself and orders Early's second Division under Colston to ' find Slocum's southern flank and turn it . . . '  The Division approaches the Union forces in the woods who must pass command tests to react defensively and refuse their flank.

Our first 'grand battery' - and it's a rebel one ! 
Lee also instructs Pendleton to take his newly arrived artillery reserve and deploy a grand battery in the centre of Early's line. Pendleton has already established  his wagon park and  begun distributing ammunition. Due to clogged roads, Hooker's guns are not likely to see any ammo wagons this side of nightfall, giving the Rebs a big advantage! The new 'grand battery' rules mean that Pendleton's rifled guns are having a morale effect as well as causing a lot of casualties.

Hooker's HQ

 Birney's Division in reserve

XI Corps on the march
Meanwhile, Hooker establishes his headquarters at Chancellorsville, while just to the south the huge Union column on the Orange Plank Road reaches the Fairview clearing. Birney's division of Sickles Corps adopts the block formation that we use to indicate 'reserve' status. A mile or so behind them, the 'dutchmen' of Howards infamous XI Corps reach Dowdall's Tavern on their journey towards destiny !

Pleasonton vs Stuart

…. and what about that cavalry action way down by the Carpenter House ? Pleasonton rallies and reforms a mile up the road, and both sides dismount and engage briefly. Getting the worst of the firefight and lacking ammunition for his horse guns, Stuart reluctantly backs off – much to Ian's relief I think !


All in all a very cautious session again - more manoeuvring and not a single infantry volley yet fired by either side! But there are only two turns remaining before nightfall. Tomorrow will certainly see mayhem on an epic scale . . . and of course Jackson's Corps, already committed by Lee to some form of flank attack, will finally make an appearance!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Hooker's View - Turn 5

At the end of Turn 5 we have a rather unusual situation developing as the battle is about to be fought across the narrow side of the table (4 foot) rather than along its length (8 foot). This could be quite a disadvantage for Hooker as it will be difficult to make the most of his superior numbers.

 General view of the table at the end of Turn 5 (click the image to expand it)

The Rebs on the other hand have their own problem - when and where to commit Jackson? Too soon and the element of surprise is lost, too late and Lee's divided army risks defeat.

Pleasonton's boys "redeploying" (that red marker will go yellow next turn as they are no longer in an enemy zone of control)

General Pleasonton strongly denies any suggestion that the Union cavalry have been whipped. He is currently "redeploying" one of his brigades slightly to the rear.

Hooker is now heading for Chancellorsville to take personal charge of the battle

Fighting Joe has at last put in an appearance on the table. Any suggestions on a suitable strategy for the Union side will be gratefully received at his HQ.