Thursday, 25 January 2018

Bloodbath in Miller’s Cornfield, 28mm ACW

I’m a long time big fan (massive) of Sam Mustafa’s Longstreet rules and have played the campaign twice now… loved both (one win, one loss). It’s a set of rules that never fails to give a good, tight, dramatic battle that feels like it tells the story of an ACW battle.

I’ve never used for a straight historical re-fight though, and I wondered how it would fair at reproducing an actual battle, or in this case, part of battle. Having read ‘Landscape Turned Red’, a very good history of the battle of Antietam, blow-by-blow, I decided I had enough information and maps to recreate part of the battle (the entire thing would be far too large for these rules). So I set about writing an accurate scenario.

First things first, Longstreet is a brigade-level game, you command a brigade, with its 4-5 sub-regiments. That wasn’t going to work here. Real battles, being very large affairs, meant a single brigades action at Antietam would simple be a line of men marching across one field under artillery fire. Not much to-and-fro and not much to get your teeth into. Also, the game’s weapon ranges looked miles out for recreating a brigade action at 28mm (too short, a common wargaming short-cut, although I understand why and agree with it). Better, I felt, to recreate a Corps-level action. Here you’d have some more elements and a more varied battlefield to fight over, and the weapon ranges would start to feel about right too.

So, I wrote the scenario for 1st Corps’ first attack at Antietam (begin at the beginning) at 6am, until about 7.30am. This lead-off attack, the Union’s right against the Confederate left, see-sawed back and forth across the infamous Miller’s farm cornfield. It saw heroic actions by both sides and a complete slaughter for an hour and half in ferocious fighting, sometimes at close quarters. It left the Texas brigade (in)famously ‘dead on the field’ after their counter-attack. That sounds like a real game.

So, map drawn to centre my tabletop battlefield on the Miller’s cornfield, forces worked out (at roughly 50-1 in men I think - in which Longstreet is very generous in the size of regiments, because at Antietam they were far smaller). No cavalry, but hey, this is the ACW, horse and musket without the horse… I don’t feel they have a very realistic role in most ACW games anyway… too prominent and too often used in charges… that rarely happened against formed infantry with rifled muskets… the only result was a slaughter of men and horses.

Anyway, an all infantry (and cannon) fight suits me better and would feel more like the ACW anyway (and that’s how it was on the day). Cavalry played almost no part in the Antietam battle.

Here are some shots of an afternoon’s gaming, all over in 2.5 hours.

We deployed in the historical positions, with roughy correct force sizes over terrain that was pretty close to right. So, given what happened on the day, how did Longstreet stand-up to recreating that, or something like it?

I’d say… not bad, 3 out of 5 for a score… but not perfect either, here’s how and why.

The Union attack at dawn was a big one, hoping to turn the Confederate flank and thus defeat Lee’s position on the slightly higher ground around Sharpsburg quickly. The Rebs fought like hell, under Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, because he knew it was vital not to lose this ground, or the day would be lost all together. Lee committed his best reserves to the fight to shore-up the lines, including the Texan brigade.

Our game was close. Actually far closer that it looked. The Union force broke at its ‘Shatter Point’ just as I was starting to get the upper hand, but the game didn’t require the Reb reserves to arrive to save the line… the Texans were not required (although the Reb player could have called upon them, and was about to when my force broke).

On my right, it was as on the day, losses on both sides, skirmishing forces through the west woods, and the Union halted just south of Miller’s farm. I was getting the upper hand, but not fast and not decisively.

In the centre, again, a lot of Union dead in the cornfield, advancing under cannon fire, and a horrid slaughter when the Reb’s opened up their first volleys (7 stands lost in one turn hurt a lot). But my boys in blue caused serious loses back and their charge, aided by a ‘Cold Steel’ card, almost overwhelmed the Reb centre (behind its field fortifications). 1 more casualty scored would have seen the centre broken and the ad-hoc fieldworks overrun. Instead I lost the assault and my attacking units were hurled back, with severe losses, which broke me. Oh for a slightly better dice roll… all or nothing in those charges, and this time it was nothing - drat!

On the right, through the east woods, this was very hard fought contested ground on the day, but here the Rebs let me have the woods, didn’t counter-attack and dug-in instead, but my unit and their sharpshooters won the skirmish fire duel and whittled them away anyway, in a prolonged exchange of fire. Digging in seems to be a ‘no brainer’ for a defender, perhaps it happens too quickly in real time terms in the rules.

The Rebs were not as aggressive in defence as on the day, going pretty much static and digging in… but you have to command a battle the way you see fit (that’s part of the fun of playing). It was a good game and an interesting experiment, which inspired some prolonged post-match analysis… and revealed that 1 more hit (from my 10 attack dice) would have broken the Reb centre and meant he urgently needed those reinforcements or the blue-boys would have been swarming through towards his artillery and the Dunker’s Church (just off the tabletop).

It’s worthwhile trying again, but I think I’ll do it with a slightly different scenario… how about 12th Corps attack, across the same ground, about 1 hour later… to see if the Union can replicate their success against the now battle-weakened Reb line. After that, a scenario for the ‘Bloody Angle’ in the Reb centre in front of Sharpsburg… we could replay all of one day at Antietam in about 5 scenarios I think, as a mini-campaign.

The scenario sketch map an deployment, Union moving north (top) to south (bottom);

Anyway, without photos it didn't happen (so they say)... so some pictures of the action.

Union start lines around Miller's Farm

 Union guns start out front, and their impact was... minimal. 

 Reb start lines either sdie of the Hagarstown Turnpike

Crowded start lines as the regiments and guns squeeze in on the Poffenburger'd fields

 Into the Miller's cornfield

 Reaching the far side into a storm of fire. Pelhams battery (off-table) also taking its toll from the highground to the west (scenario special rule).

Union right at the Miller's farm house (and barn). Under incoming shelling. 

 Along the turnpike, still with incoming, about the face the lead storm. 

Union boys have the East Woods, sharpshooters harassing the Rebs (now dug-in)

The crux of the battle (as on the day), trying to fight forwards from the edge of the cornfield. 
Raking fire from both sides, but the blues come off worst. 

 Charge! Blue reserves move through the front firing line and press home with cold steel. 
Heavy losses on both sides, but the Rebs just (just) held, with 2 stands left (all others gone and that cannon overrun). Thrown-back, the blue-bellies had had enough for this attack.

PS: This game was fought out in December, before Xmas. I thought I'd posted it, but on reflection, it seems not. So, better late than never.