Another fun American Civil War game took place at Wally HQ on friday night. We fought part of the Battle of Fair Oaks during McClellan's
Peninsular campaign of 1862.
The scenario was adapted, for Too Fat Lardies 'They Couldn't Hit an Elephant' ACW rules, from Paul D. Stevenson's excellent 'Guns at
Gettysburg Scenario book 3 - On To Richmond' (Partizan Press) available from Caliver Books.
As usual I used Brian Wethersby's excellent article on ACW commander listings from the TFL 2009 Xmas Special to work out the individual
commander ratings, using Todd Fischer's research for Johnny Reb. This is an incredibly useful resource for TCHAE and can be found in the
files section of TFL Resources Yahoo Group.
Heavily outnumbered Union General Darius N Couch's scratch force is pounced on by Confederate General William H.C. Whiting's Division.
General John Sedgwick rushes to reinforce and support Couch before he is overwhelmed.
For more details on the campaign go to the excellent The Peninsular Campaign Civil War Animated page.
For the purposes of this game both sides are tasked with holding the greater part of the Duanne’s Bridge Road. Alternatively, victory goes to the
side which forces the opposition to retreat in defeat if 50% of units are permanently defeated, routed, destroyed or captured.
Paul B and Max took command of the rebels, with Clive and myself taking charge of the Federals. I adopted minor roles as I knew what troops
both armies had. The other players didn't know who, or what, they faced. This allows me down time from playing also to take pictures of the
(Clive) Darius N. Couch (Inexperienced/inspirational) (Max) Gustavus W. Smith (Political)
(Clive) John Sedgwick (Professional) (Max) William H.C. Whiting (Political)
(Clive) Willis A. Gorman (Inexperienced) (Paul B) Evander M. Law (Inexperienced)
(Kev) William W. Burns (Political) (Max) Wade Hampton (Bold/Professional)
(Kev) Napoleon J.T. Dana (Inexperienced) (Paul) J. Jonhson Pettigrew (Professional)
(Max) Robert H. Hatton (Inexperienced)
Table Set Up
The woods are difficult going whereas the open wood is light going.
Couch's blind defends close to the Adam's cottage, astride Duanne's Bridge Road. Law's blind occupies the small wood with Pettigrew on Nine
Mile Road in support. Smith and Whiting share a blind and are at Fair Oaks Station with Hampton's blind just arriving. Law is on attack orders
with Pettigrew on orders to support him from the rear. Hampton is on orders to support the rear of Pettigrew and Law. Smith is limited to staying
within 8" of Fair Oaks Station for the entire game. Hatton is due to arrive turn 4, in Hampton's position, on the end of Nine Mile Road. The
Federals are to be reinforced too. Sedgwick's Division is to arrive with the brigades of Gorman, Burns and Dana arriving successively from
turns two to four respectively.
Right from the start things didn't go at all well for the Federals.
With spotting limited to only one attempt per blind on the table, the Confederate Grand Tactical Card not surprisingly played a big role. Clive
attempted repeatedly to spot what exactly Law's blind was, only to fail dismally. The Confederates, with many more chances to spot (5:1 in fact),
managed to successfully identify Couch's small force defending Adams's Cottage.
The Cautious/Political card didn't come up at all initially, so Whiting easily moved up Nine Mile Road and issued new orders to Hampton to
manoeuvre along Nine Mile Road to support Law's right flank. With 'Coffee' arriving in quick succession, and the difficult terrain, Clive, as Couch
still hadn't been able to identify his enemy, which were closing on him rapidly. He had managed to expand his frontage however to make it more
difficult to be outflanked. Sedgwick, accompanying Gorman's blind, arrived with Burns and Dana in tow, but Hatton's blind then arrived for the
Confederates. Still the Political card failed to turn up and so Hatton received orders from Whiting to manoeuvre round Law's left flank, and
behind Couch's position.
Couch was aware that the trees in front of him were packed with rebel soldiers, but still they hadn't been spotted. Law's Brigade, no doubt with
a loud rebel yell, charged out of the dark trees and straight into Couch's serried blue ranks, two aggressive regiments leading the way with cold
steel. Most of the rebels were armed with shorter range smoothbore muskets, or inferior 2nd rate rifles, but the inability of the Union to spot the
enemy negated the longer range of the Federal rifled muskets. The rebels hadn't stopped to fire anyhow.
The right hand Union regiment were forced to retreat further into the trees but the left hand unit's decisive combat resulted in a firefight with the
Confederates. Forced to retreat due to the Confederates being better class, the Federals had inflicted greater casualties on the enemy.
Using the 'Inspirational Commander' card Clive attached Couch and sent the Union regiment straight into the meat grinder. Though his enemy
were better status, they could only use their aggressive rating when attacking, not defending. Couch's addition raised the combat value of the
Federals by +2 which tipped the balance in the favour. The rebel regiment routed straight back through a regiment behind it. Huzzah!
Couch's charge was one of the only high points on the Union side though .Their artillery repeatedly failed to cause many casualties as the rebels
opposing them were mostly skirmishers put forward to screen the enemy artillery. The Union blinds card was also failing to be drawn and
Sedgwick's men seemed unsure of what to do. The Confederate cards all seemed to be coming up though and Hatton now attacked the flank of
Couch's regiments. I might add at this point that we all take turns to draw our poker chips from the hat, so no one person was responsible for
the impending disaster. After each Coffee card we pass the hat to the next player. We are philosophical about this sort of thing and indeed it is
one of the attractions of Too Fat Lardies rules. Reading personal accounts of the period one is struck by the lack of coordination and what
Clausewitz calls 'Friction'. A wargame without such 'friction' may be a good game to some but its not a good representative of what happens on
a battlefield. Returning to our action, the disorder caused by being hit in the flank saw the Union troops rout back through each other as the
unstoppable wave of grey and butternut descended on the panicking blue ranks.
Fortunes twisted as for the next couple of turns Hatton's card failed to be drawn and Couch managed albeit temporarily to stop the rot.
Sedgwick and Gorman we spotted but arrived and supported Couch's left, facing off against Hampton's rapidly advancing blind. Just when it
was beginning to look like there was a slim hope of avoiding another Union disaster Law managed to turn some Confederate regiments onto the
flank of Couch.
Couch's artillery was taken in the flank, the guns captured, one regiment lost a colour and his entire brigade fled to the rear in disarray. Couch
himself was killed trying desperately to rally his fleeing men when the regiment he was accompanying was charged by whooping rebels. Lack of
an effective command structure when it was desperately needed, and successive Coffee cards, meant Couch's brigade began to melt away.
Hampton's Brigade now charged Gorman's front line, once more aggressive troops to the fore. Once again a firefight result occurred and the
Confederates, losing the firefight yet again, and only the same class as the Union regiment, were forced to retreat.
The blunting of Hampton's attack was only a minor dent on Confederate fortunes as Hatton's Brigade flanked the entire Union position from the
woods north of Duanne's Bridge Road. The Confederates now controlled over three quarters of the road and, according to the victory
conditions, indications of a clear and decisive rebel victory.
Still Gorman's brigade held up Hampton's advance and at last the Federal, rifle musket armed, infantry's superiority in distance shooting began
to make a difference. Hatton's command now reverted to hold orders and the Political card now started to come up preventing his brigade from
receiving new orders to advance and sweep away the Union reserve which was still on blinds in column of march.
At last though further Union reinforcements began to arrive and organise. They had arrived in column of march but then their card had failed
repeatedly to be drawn. Dana's brigade swung over to the north of the Duanne's bridge Road to engage Hatton, with Burns's brigade
attempting to shore up the gap that Couch's brigade had left.
A couple of Couch's regiments at last had time to rally and organise themselves but the Confederates of Law and Pettigrew were sensing blood
now and closing on the Burns's Brigade, the last line of defence.
With Dana's card being drawn, and rolling five PIPs I attached the General to one of his six base Veteran regiments. Supported to the flank and
rear, I sent the blue wave into Hatton's Brigade with a degree of confidence. Unfortunately I was using some lovely new ACW dice from EM4
Miniatures. I should have known better [shakes head]. My military zeal was sadly lacking. Snake eyes! The regiment was routed, Dana killed,
and its rear support burst through. It was damned ugly.
Gorman's Brigade was now attacked in the flank by Pettigrew and rolled them up in the same manner that Law had administered to Couch.
Successive lines of Federals were swept away as their card wasn't drawn, and they then failed to turn to flank in response to being charged.
After the Coffee card Clive and I called a halt and threw in the towel. We just couldn't take it any more. A truly awful game to be playing with
Union troops. Perhaps the most one sided game of 'Elephant' I've ever played in. In fact we agreed at times it was reminiscent of
Chancellorsville than Fair Oaks.
We were consistently outmanoeuvred and outfought throughout the game. Not only that, we consistently failed to have our cards drawn by
anybody and had to watch the opponent getting all the luck of the draw. Taking nothing away from our opponents, we had exacerbated this
however. Couch's inability to spot his enemy allowed them to coordinate their manoeuvres and launch an attack without suffering casualties.
Clearly the benefit of staying on blinds as long as possible was in clear evidence. This is particularly the case when facing 1862 Confederates as
they get to double move and spot using the 'Confederate Grand Tactical' card. The Cautious/Political card also didn't have much effect
whatsoever. Had it hit Whiting repeatedly, or even a few times early on, the ability to change orders for the Confederates may have led to Law's
attack going in to Couch with little coordination. The close terrain certainly made this more difficult but as Clive and I admitted had we had such
poor luck in more light, or even open terrain, the game would have been over in half the time. The main thing that slowed to Confederates was at
times the number of troops that they had. They kept getting into each others way!
Max and Paul wisely let their more aggressive units lead the way, and by staying on blinds longer could therefore choose where best to deploy
these powerful regiments. There were actually much fewer of these in number than more normally is usual for our 1862 games, and in fact
numbers of Veteran regiments on either side was roughly comparable. The Federals had much the better armament for their men but inability to
spot and close terrain made this disparity negligible. The Confederates also totally lacked artillery as historically the guns were left in the rear
and the attack was made in the end with some degree of desperation. So we should have done better.
The only positives for the Federals were Couch's attack using the 'Inspirational' card and also notably our ability to win every single firefight that
occurred. This really halted the Confederate advance at times. We were just marking time though as once our reserves failed to advance
speedily we just couldn't seem to get on top of things. Our decision making was responsive rather than aggressive. This is not a happy feeling
as both Clive and I are aggressive players by nature and used to taking the initiative.
With hindsight, were I to fight this again I would allow the Union player to have a dummy blind, perhaps in the woods, to Couch's right, to
possibly spot or at least make the Confederate players think they perhaps faced more troops than the enemy in fact possessed.
All said and done, we all really enjoyed the game. Summer is usually a quiet part of our gaming year when family holidays get in the way of
regular gatherings to play with toy soldiers. For most of us this was our first large game for over a month, and infact Max and I hadn't seen each
other for two months.
Played in the best spirit with great rules and good friends. Wargaming how it should be.
Figures from the collections of Clive, Paul B, Max, and yours truly, who took the dodgy pics
Nine Mile Road Duanne's Bridge Road
Union Reinforcements to arrive here
Fair Oaks Station
SMITH & WHITING
SEDGWICK & GORMAN