Initial Assault on the Union Right Flank
27th June, 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. Whilst not entirely accurate (especially the
maps) they do allow an interesting game based (albeit sometimes very loosely) on a historical battle.
The Battle of Gaines's Mill took place during McClellan's Peninsular campaign of 1862. This is my favourite ACW campaign. Gaines's Mill is
also my favourite ACW battle due largely to the fact that it was one of the earliest wargames I ever played. I was only eleven, and had been
gaming properly only a couple of years, when my best friend produced an old book (long since forgotten) of the campaign and battle. Thirty
odd years on I recollect it was fought using our own basic rules, over the space of a week, after school had finished for the day, and using
hundreds of unpainted Airfix figures on my friend's old train table. Even then I was drawn to the Federals, who I recall scored a major victory.
Since then the battle has always drawn me to it.
The scenario depicts the best chance the Confederates had of breaking the Union line, early on in the fighting. Gaines's Mill was the most
bloody of the Seven Day's battles and was incredibly hard fought and bitter.
For more details on the campaign go to the excellent The Peninsular Campaign Civil War Animated page.
As is the norm now, 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 a valuable resource for TCHAE and can be found in the
files section of TFL Resources Yahoo Group.
Full order of battle and deployment CLICK HERE. The action was fought on a standard 6' x 4' table. Set up is shown below;
Paul B took command of the Confederates with Nige and myself donning our blues as the Federals.
The Rebel force consisted initially of two infantry brigades, those of Branch and Gregg (both Inexperienced), each of five regiments, which
were allowed to be deployed anywhere along the length of, but no further forward than, Boatswain's Creek. This feature ran through woods
rated as difficult going. The creek could be crossed at half speed anywhere, but If a unit was opportunity charged before it had completed their
move, the troops would count Disordered in the ensuing combat. Also any unit attacking over water would count as Disordered in the
Dorsey Pender's (Professional) brigade of four regiments was due to arrive on turn three at Cold harbour, where the Confederate C-in-C A.P.
Hill's (Gifted) blind was deployed.
The victory conditions set are for the Confederates to gain a foothold on McGehee’s Hill, with at least two steady regiments, or have at least as
many steady regiments across the Boatswain’s Creek as there are steady Union regiments remaining on the Union bank by the games end.
The Union forces have to prevent these conditions to win.
This was a tough task for the Confederates as the Federals had four brigades on table at the start. Running from west to east along the
Boatswain's Creek were Griffin and Warren's (both Inexperienced) brigades, with Lovell's (Professional) brigade in support on the Union base
edge. Federal C-in-C Sykes (Inexperienced) and Buchanan's (Professional) brigade were deployed on McGehee's Hill, though the latter wasn't
allowed to move until turn three.
As I knew what forces both sides had I played the roles of Griffin and Buchanan, allowing Nigel be C-in-C in control of Sykes, the reserve
under Lovell and Warren.
The Confederates were allowed to deploy their blinds after the Federals. Paul actually misread his briefing and deployed his blinds on the
table edge, but as it happened this actually helped his plan. Faced with two enemy blinds protecting the creek Paul made the only sensible
decision and decided to try to roll up the Federal open right flank. The Union blinds card didn't get drawn for the first couple of turns so using
his Confederate Grand Tactical, coupled with the close terrain adjoining the creek, Paul made multiple moves sending one blind around the
Boatswain's Creek and advancing a second to pin the Union defenders holding the line.
"There goes the flank boys....."
Nige and I could both see it coming but our blinds were all on hold orders initially and without the Union cards coming up friction set in and
Sykes couldn't get new orders off quick enough to counter the bold Confederate move. This was beginning to feel all too familiar....
At last our blinds card came up and we managed to successfully spot all the Confederates on table. Branch's five average rated regiments
and a battery of medium smoothbores in front of Warren's blind. Paul deployed two lead regiments in skirmish order with the battery up front,
with two further units in line in support. The remaining regiment acted as a reserve.
Gregg's brigade of five veteran regiments with two batteries of light smoothbores attached was spotted about to ascend the slope of
McGehee's Hill. Again Paul opted for two regiments in skirmish order, with the artillery to the fore, with two in regiments line in support and a
further one in reserve.
The Confederates successfully spotted Warren's command lining the banks of the Boatswain's Creek. Two regiments of Zouaves with
another of U.S. Sharpshooters, a battery of medium smoothbores and another of light rifles, a formidable force.
Nige turned the guns onto the flank of Gregg's advancing brigade, though unfortunately with little effect.
Unfortunately Nige admitted that he had forgotten that in 'Elephant' all regiments can operate in skirmish order and so deployed his entire
force in line.
As turn three came and went a Confederate blind arrived at Cold Harbour, and Buchanan's blind was spotted advancing towards the
Confederates over the crest of McGehee's Hill. I deployed two regiments in skirmish order and kept a regiment in reserve in line. You can see
Sykes in the background, who was also spotted, along with my newly painted Union band trying to bolster morale.
As the 'Coffee' card came up early several turns in a row Warren and Branch's regiments broke into a desultory musket battle in which the
closer ranked Union regiments suffered accordingly. Paul had deployed in such a manner that two regiments of Confederates and a battery
were able to concentrate their fire onto 10th New York (National) Zouaves. In no time at all they were at 50% of their starting strength and
Stung by casualties Nigel deployed the remaining Zouave regiment, 5th New York (Duryea's) into skirmish order. Sods law, the next turn saw
the Johnnies cross Boatswain's Creek and assault the 5th N.Y. Although disordered, the rebs outnumbered the New Yorker's by over two to
one, and so forced back the Zouave's.
Again, using the reduced zone of contact of the Federals in the difficult going of the woods, Pender's blind multiple advanced rapidly and bore
down upon Griffin's blind. Both sides were subject to auto spotting at Coffee.
Things looked bleak for the Union centre, with the 5th NY and U.S. sharpshooters fighting for their lives as the Confederates crossed the creek
and began to outflank the Federal first line. Fortunately the US artillery switched from Gregg to pivot towards Branch. Cannister decimated
one reb regiment which routed, and then began to take a toll on the advancing rebs.
On McGehee's Hill, a dearth of card activations had meant that a both sides had sent their skirmish lines towards each other but very little
else. One of Paul's regiments had thrown a double six in distance shooting, which according to our houserule renders them low on ammo
and subject to penalties in further shooting and decisive combat. As the Confederates suddenly lurched forwards, and finding myself
outnumbered 5:3, I turned onto the flank of one of Paul's rebel regiments in desperation, even exposing my own regiment's flank.
It was a foolhardy thing to do but desperate times call for risks. Lady luck was not with me as Gregg's brigade activated before mine and Paul
managed to launch an assault on my regiment. I then failed to turn to face and was routed by whooping rebs. Not a wise decision that, Kev?
Paul's victorious Confederates climbed to the crest of McGehee's Hill.
Back at Boatswain's Creek, Griffin's brigade's lead regiment launched a desperate assault on Pender's two lead regiments crossing the
watercourse. Another risky manoeuvre considering I was rated as fightin' at the time. This time I threw well however and managed to rout
both reb units, killing Pender, and then pursuing into the bargain. It seemed that the Confederate high tide might have been defeated.
With time ticking away however, Branch's North Carolinians were now crossing the creek in large numbers and Gregg's South Carolinians
were on the crest of McGehee's Hill. Paul was therefore very close to achieving his victory conditions.
Time methought for more desperate action. I sent in Buchanan's brigade on McGehee's Hill only to be pushed back in defeat. Griffin's
pursuing regiments were allowed to charge into Branch's flank. With a significant advantage clearly on my side, I then managed an appalling
roll with my regiments being defeated and forced into retreat pushing back their supports. Nasty stuff. Nige too had really rough luck when an
assault from Lovell's reserve upon Branch also was defeated when he rolled spectacularly low. At that point we decided to call it a night.
Although the Union forces hadn't been broken A.P. Hill had managed to successfully cross the Boatswain's Creek, albeit with heavy loss,
forcing back the Federals. Gregg had managed to occupy and hold McGehee's Hill and defeated its Union defenders.
Nige and I had made some awful rolls at critical times. However, both of us had made a couple of howlers. Nige, by not deploying in skirmish
order and myself by gifting Paul the flank of a regiment on McGehee's Hill. That said, all credit to Paul. By adopting a bold strategy to flank the
main position, and not assault frontally, I had been forced to make some desperate moves to try to get some initiative back for the Union.
Continually it felt as if we were forced to respond to Confederates without calling the shots and being unable to dictate anything . An
interesting though frustrating experience played in the best of spirit as usual.
Union figures Peter Pig, owned and painted by yours truly, who also took the pics.
Confederates mostly Old Glory and a few Essex Miniatures from the collection of Paul B.
NEW COLD HARBOUR