Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hooker's Memoirs

Extracted from Battles and Leaders of The Civil War Volume III, page 215

In October, 1876, I accompanied General Hooker to the battle-field of Chancellorsville. It was the only occasion on which he visited the coveted ground since the day of battle. He had previously placed in my hands his official papers and memoranda for the preparation of a history of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
   Soon after leaving the open ground opposite Banks’s Ford we entered the dense forest, or “Wilderness”, which covers the entire Chancellorsville battle-ground. Every important position was observed and commented upon by the man who on those fierce battle-days had wielded, on this very ground, an army of one hundred thousand men.
   On approaching a pine-tree under which Generals Lee and Jackson had planned the mode of attack, General Hooker observed “It was under that tree that the mischief was devised which came near to ruining my army. My position at Chancellorsville was a good one and I felt confident when I reached it that I had eighty chances in a hundred to win. Early on 1st May I rode along the whole line, and personally examined every part, suggesting some changes and counselling extreme vigilance. Upon my return to head-quarters I was informed that a continuous column of enemy had been marching past my front since early in the morning. This filled me with apprehension for the safety of my right wing.”
   As we moved along the orange plank road to Dowdall’s Tavern we were greeted by the innkeeper who invited us inside and we feasted sumptuously there. After our meal the General’s mood turned sombre “I warned General Howard to take all the precautions necessary to resist attack from the west but he was negligent in his duty. I even bade him to move back towards our main position but instead he chose to stay and fight with Jackson unsupported. I am still blamed for this but in truth it was no fault of mine it was Howard and Sickles who lost us this fight!”
   Seeing that the General was becoming somewhat distressed I thought it prudent that we continue our journey to Hazel grove and thence along furnace road to the Maury House. As our carriage passed along the road the General pointed to a low hill to our right “There is where Hunt placed our grand battery and Slocum’s brave boys routed Colston’s division and, there in those woods, Couch held back an enemy force of nearly twice his numbers. If only all my commanders had behaved as well as Slocum and Couch how differently things may have been!”
   Finally we approached the Chancellorsville house and the General took me to the very place from whence he had directed the battle “I was standing on this step of the portico, when a solid shot struck the pillar near me splitting it in two and throwing me to the ground. It was due to my concussion that some delay occurred in the issuing of orders to General Sickles to support Howard. Of course, if that general had shown any sense at all he would have moved to the sound of guns of his own accord!”
   I ventured to ask the General why he did not attack Lee when he found the enemy had split his forces on the morning of 2nd May. “That,” he said “would seem to have been the reasonable thing to do. But we were in this impenetrable thicket.” At this, the General’s voice faltered and, turning towards the west, with his back towards me, I heard him mutter to himself slowly, “I guess I just lost faith in Joe Hooker.”

Army of the Potomac - 129 SP's (49%)
II Corps - 33 SP's (61%)
III Corps - 10 SP's (12%)
XI Corps - 43 SP's (79%)
XII Corps - 34 SP's (62%)
Cavalry - 9 SP's (50%)
Army of Northern Virginia - 118 SP's (56%)
Lee (McLaws & Anderson) - 38 SP's (59%)
Jackson (A P Hill & Rodes) - 45 SP's (70%)
Early (Early & Colston) - 27 SP's (42%)
Cavalry - 8 SP's (50%)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville - Conclusion

Unbelievably, at the end of the previous session (turn 28) Lee was ready to concede defeat. I had thrown away my substantial advantage on day one, having been seduced by the historical glamour of a Jackson flank march on day two. But when Jackson’s leading division swept out of the woods it was stopped in it’s tracks by accurate volley fire and cannister from Howard’s men, causing heavy casualties. Once shaken it was no longer able to press home with the bayonet, so the assaults that I was counting on to easily destroy the ’green’ Federal brigades, could not go ahead. In addition, Ian had overcome the limitations of Hooker and the Union command control system to put his reserves in motion towards the threatened flank - Sickles was on the march with two fresh, unengaged divisions and three batteries.
Also, on the eastern battle line, Colston’s attack against Slocum had gained some ground and forced the Union batteries to withdraw - but ultimately the division had been driven off in a ruinous condition. Although Union army demoralisation was high, it would mostly restore with the next round of rallying, whereas  Jackson’s situation was irreparably perilous. But this was the Army of Northern Virginia – I owed it to the lads to keep fighting ! – and  this is what happened . . . . .

Colston's Division lies shattered - the General himself badly wounded

 Slocum forced back - two of his six brigades removed from play

Sickles arrives to shore up the hapless remnants of XI Corps
Rodes division moved up to bolster A.P.Hill’s men, and Rebel guns galloped up to unlimber at close range.  As the morale of the Confederates steadied they could finally bring cold steel into the equation - and Howard's timid ‘dutchmen’  fell apart, leaving Von Gilsa's brigade hopelessly isolated.

Jackson watches as his men envelop the Federal right

2pm : Von Gilsa's brigade becomes isolated as XI Corps breaks up . . . . .

 . . . . . . and routs back through Sickles' batteries !

Jackson pushed his threadbare brigades onwards with grim determination towards the thickening wall of Yankees - it was all or nothing. Jackson, Hill and Rodes were all right in the front line exhorting their men to take the bayonet to the enemy, as Pender's brigade ran into a brutal storm of cannister at the crossroads.

Jackson adds his bonus to the morale die rolls

The Rebs bear down on Sickles' line

Pender closes on the batteries

The Confederates had assault orders - and so did Sickles' men. In the case of mutual assaults a morale test defines which side has the upper hand and which side must defend. Bonuses for Generals and just a little luck at the critical moment enabled the Rebs to come out on top - although one nailbiting combat had us re-rolling due to equal scores !

Iverson (down to one strength point!) routs Ward's brigade on the road

3pm - Lane (A.P.Hill's Division) breaks McLean (Birney's Division) in the woods ...
....  they think it's all over. It is now !

Union army demoralisation had crossed the threshold by a margin of one and a half points - a dramatic swing of fortune and a convincing win for Lee (I think!) at the eleventh hour. This game had gone on for an astonishing 31 turns representing more than 24 hours of real time and the outcome was in the balance right to the last hour !
A gripping and memorable contest with a very realistic Civil War feel to the flow of events !

Endgame positions

Breaking News!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Battle of Chancellorsville – Turns 26-28

Howard had bought a little time by repulsing A P Hill but Dave had no option other than to pile on the pressure and commit Rodes division to renew the assault, and his fresh brigades were soon hotly engaged with Von Steinwehr and Devens. This time the Rebels brought their artillery up to the firing line and gradually Howard’s line began to crumble.

Jackson - in more danger from the enemy than his own men this time around!
 The desperate fighting continues around Dowdall's Tavern

Despite their success Jackson’s men were taking heavy casualties as they pushed forward and it was starting to look unlikely that they would be able to advance much further. To make things worse Sickle’s two fresh divisions began to emerge from the tree line a few hundred yards east of Dowdall’s Tavern bringing Howard some much needed support.

 Sickle's men arrive in the nick of time

Meanwhile over near the Maury House the Confederates were having a better time of things. Colston’s division was beginning to look unstoppable as it moved up through the thick undergrowth sending the Union infantry running for the rear. Only Hunt’s Grand Battery remained to oppose the Rebel advance and being equipped with rifled guns they could not fire canister, which greatly reduced their effectiveness at close range.

 The Union 'Grand Battery'

Neither of us were sure how this would go as our Grand Battery rule is a new one, to be honest I thought Dave was about to punch a hole clean through my centre. I nervously rolled the 4 dice for my guns, I only needed a 5 or 6 with one of them to hit and force a morale test on the Rebs – doh!

 All I needed was one 5 or 6!!!

My entire Grand Battery was broken and I began to move the guns and limbers to the rear while Dave gleefully moved his infantry up to the hilltop. Then luckily for me Dave remembered that he should have taken a morale test after all because he was assaulting a position on higher ground. This time his luck ran out and my guns were reinstated to their old position - the steam had finally run out of Colston’s attack.

Lee's centre and right at the end of turn 28
Look's like Stuart is back in the game!
Hooker resting against a pillar at the Chancellorsville House... what could go wrong now?

Unbelievably that was our sixth playing session of this game but we have decided to go for one final session next week. The current demoralisation levels stand at 7 for the Union and 4 for the Confederates. This is a bit deceptive, as the Union level will come down next turn as I have several brigades that will rally. It may just be that numbers will decide this one in the end and as Hooker has the advantage there I’m quietly confident of a Union victory!