Monday, 1 November 2021

THE BATTLE OF PORT REPUBLIC, 9th JUNE, 1862, with LONGSTREET

Continuing a series of larger one-off games, time for some ACW with our preferred rules, Longstreet. The actual battle took place outside the town of Port Republic during ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign, as his larger force launched a rapid attack on the Union division of General Tyler, to score a quick win and break the Union force in front of him, although Jackson didn’t have long, because General Fremont’s division marching after him.

Each side’s historical forces were worked out, as shown below for my Union defenders. We gave the Confederates the ‘Pressed for Time’ scenario special rule, forcing them to get on with it and agreed that, given their strong numerical advantage, they must launch an attack from Turn 1 and not just wait until all the reinforcements arrived to mass for one big attack… that wasn’t the way it went down on the day and, General Jackson just didn’t have the time to waste. The first weak Confederate attack by thr Stonewall Brigade was pretty doomed, but hopefully enforcing this would even the playing field for a closer battle (it did).

The Union got the ‘Desperate’ scenario special rule, which would mean they hung around a bit longer, hoping for the aid to come from Fremont’s Division (on the day it didn’t, as the river was between the two force and Jackson destroyed the only bridge once his entire force was across, so, on arrival, Fremont’s men played no part in the battle and could only watch-on).

We set-up the battlefield, the northern edge was the banks of the Shenandoah’s South Fork. The flat flood plain was farmland, classic ACW terrain, all crops and snake-rail fencing. The southern third of the battlefield was the rugged woods and first foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the main feature as a hill, ‘the Coaling’, which was heavily defended by Union guns on their left. The scenario rule for this hill was that guns on it could see out cross the farmlands and from their vantage point, crops did not block line of sight, so Union guns had a killing-field to the north, out to their maximum range. The thickly wooded, heavy undergrowth, rocks, ravines and marshy streams of the southern third of the field would all be difficult ground. It was through this hard-going that the main Confederate attacks came, with heavy fighting for the Coaling, which changed hands several times on the day. Lots of the Action cards would need to be spend to move in all the difficult ground (it takes 2 cards to move instead of 1).

With the battlefield set-up, we sorted our Action Card decks and deployed in historical(ish) manner. The game’s Shatter Point (when it ends) was set at 28 (half the Union’s lesser 56 stands). The Rebs, as attackers, would take first turn…


Early Turns
The Rebs set-out on their advance, moving regiments and batteries (they were well out-gunned, as ever), forwards, into the large crop field and through the rugged woods. Using marching columns, they came-on quickly, with no time to waste. This was the first wave of the day’s attack, behind, extra Reb units would arrive in 2 waves, the first after a D3 turns (2 was rolled), the second after a D3+3 turns (a 6 was rolled). There were no off-table reserves for the boys in blue, although I had 2 regiments held back on my rear table edge as a last mobile reserve, although one was the small 1st West Virginia Cavalry, who were attached but we could find no reference to what they did in the battle. I suspect they had other duties on the day and did not fight, but we included them, trying to even-up the odds a bit. 4 stands of Reluctant-Recruit cavalry would hardly be a game-changer. The Rebs had no cavalry on the day, it was off, doing important cavalry stuff…

The early turns saw the Union guns on the Coaling shelling into the cornfield and inflicting some damage, including to the just deploying Reb guns, which tried to return fire without much joy. Their attack columns shook-out into lines, and using a ‘Quick Step’ movement card, my line advanced to the cornfield’s fence-line and leveled their rifles (or muskets). In the woods, the Rebs instantly had trouble, with a ‘Trackless’ special card (we house ruled again here, as the card makes woods difficult ground, but it already was, so it became that a unit just cannot move for 1 turn in the woods instead - I think we’ll keep this, it's better). That card delayed them a bit, but also, the 66th Ohio, my flank guard, found the going too tough and were also delayed getting to the Coaling, by a ‘Trackless’ card, that would matter!

The Rebs moved up in the corn, to brave the first Union volleys, and I forget to skirmish fire, so they caught a break! Rules rusty… I can fire into the corn if its just skirmish fire, but not volley until the range closes - oops! (fog of war). Still, thankfully, the Rebs could only do the same in return and there were no losses yet (phew!). In the woods, the first reinforcements were moving up and the two lead Virginian regiments were preparing to assault up the hill.

My main firing line finally got going and good dice saw the Reb's punished… they lost 6 bases (it’s a lot) in a turn to Union musketry and cannon fire… I had the early advantage. 

Union right and centre deployed, the main line facing the cornfield. Reserves behind.

The wooded hill, the Coaling, bristling with Union guns.

66th Ohio, behind the hill, ready to move to hold the summit objective.

Confederate line, first wave of the Stonewall Brigade.

Whilst the the others navigate the difficult ground of the southern woods.

Blue line from the Coaling.

Reserve, 1st West Virginian Cavalry, soon to dismount and play a far larger role than thought, I wasn't going to commit them at all.

Virginians approach the Coaling, in a hard slog. Union sharpshooters have been taking their toll.

The Rebs advance into range and skirmish firing begins. Union soon get the upper hand.

 Middle Turns
The shooting duel soon became one-sided as the Union inflicted the pain and took just a little in return. The Reb first wave was being cut to tatters and soon withdrew rather than face more punishment for little gain. Just as on the day, Confederate first wave was rebelled. Now, could I hold the Coaling? The 66th Ohio had now moved up and their sharpshooters were doing good business with the Rebs in the woods, picking off some stands and in all, I had inflicted 11 stands of losses and taken just 3 back. If this continued we’d hold easily. The Rebs were being mauled. It didn’t continue - of course!

Now, having husbanded the cards, the Rebs unleashed an assault up the hill, at my guns, with the (I hate it!) ‘Rebel Yell’ special card to aid them. Screaming and whooping the Rebs charged with bayonets fixed, into the cannon fire and the first attack overran a gun battery, but at heavy cost to incoming canister fire! I still had guns and the 66th Ohio holding the hilltop objective. The 66th Ohio didn’t counter-charge, instead volleying into the Rebs and cutting them down, they fell-back, serious damage done, but also taken.

It wasn’t over though, another Reb charge, another ‘Rebel Yell’ card, another assault overrunning an artillery battery, with 1 6 pdr gun escaping on its limber to flee down the hills far side and escape. Only 1 gun was left in action on the hill top, and it canistered the assault, but to little effect. Worse, more Louisiana regiments were behind the lead Rebs to press if needed. At the foot of the hill, more troops had emerged from the woods and charged the 1st West Virginia Infantry, putting them to flight! Oh no, the left flank was collapsing, fast. I directed both my reserves units over there and they marched at the quick, the cavalry now dismounting to fight as extra infantry. They needed to hold or my entire line to the river would be doomed. The score in losses at had become very even, something like 12 -14 to the me, but close now. Those Rebel Yell charges had hurt a lot.

Instead of waiting, I now ordered my main line forwards, the best form of defence is attack, so I would try to win the day where I could, quicker than the left lost it. The musket firing in the cornfield resumed, my line with its big advantage in numbers, but then, on Turn 6, Stuart’s Brigade arrived, and streamed in fast columns onto the tabletop at speed to take-over the Reb attack in the cornfield, suddenly, the enemy had the numbers and the edge. Momentum was now with the Rebs. Steady boys, steady!
 

The Rebs approaching the Coaling, with their deck full of Rebel Yell cards...

Reserves, soon to be called away to the left, at the quick!

Reb's in the woods, they are coming, and soon broke the first Union boys here... first sign momentum was changing. 
Drive them off boys! The cavalry, and 1 light rifle, do just enough to see off the Louisiana's first charge and hold the line. Mere Reluctant-Recruits indeed!

66th Ohio, last chance to hold the hill, as the final 6 pdr limbers-up and escapes.

I've lost 5 guns on this hill, only 1 remains, and not for long. 66th Ohio in the woods behind, a brief counter-attack, only resulting in disaster.  

The cavalry have to hold out, against the odds, they do!

The Rebs take the Coaling and an objective.  66th Ohio broken and running.
 

Late Turns
It was my turn to fallback, through the cornfield, back to the ‘safety’ of the fence line. Here my main line would again hold, my brief counter-attack over. But the Rebs had to shake-out of their columns into lines and deploy some guns, so their attack was slow. The battle would not be decided here, but in the woods and on the Coaling.

Time for the boys of the 66th Ohio to show their mettle. They advanced up the hill’s slope and retook the lost objective on it summit. The last gun had been lost, but the 'Eager-Veteran' farm-boys were a very tough unit. They hammered the Reb line with a volley, but they found two Reb regiments in place to charge them. With another damn ‘Rebel Yell’ card… disaster struck! The 66th Ohio was overrun and wiped out, the panicked survivors fleeing back down the hill. 6 stands gone in one melee! (awful dice rolls by me). The left was gone.

Meanwhile, my dismounted cavalry had their moment, volleying to good effect and then resisting and driving back the Louisiana charge (no Rebel Yell card this time!). That bought time for the main reinforcements, the 84th and 110th Pennsylvania combined, to open a galling fire into the Louisiana-boys on the wood’s edge. I might just hold.

By now, I could start rolling to win the game. With 22 Reb stands lost, I need a 6 to win (Shatter Point 28)… I rolled and nope, we fought on…

As Stuart's Brigade waited, holding their attack to see if the flanking force could win it, the Rebs moved up and secured the Coaling objective, he could also now start rolling to win it, and had an objective too. He rolled, nope, we’d go on…

Next turn, I volleyed as I could, then needed a 5 to win it… nope! He volley back, no damage, rolled to win it - nope! You can see where this is going...

Neither of us was willing to take any risk in the cornfield, it came down to the scrap by the woods and at the foot of the Coaling. My volleys scored 1 more stand of loses and so I needed a 4+ to win it… nope! We go on. Argh!

The Rebs moved down the Coaling, swing around my flank. I positioned the poor dismounted cavalry in their path, could these recruits hold, again? They had already gone above and beyond to be fair. Volleying, 1 more casualty inflicted, so a 3+ to win it…surely! - nope! I cannot roll to save my life (or win a game).

The Reb charged again, and again they had husbanded a ‘Rebel Yell’ card to aid the melee. His Virginians overran my meagre dismounted cavalry and drove them back with 2 stands of losses. He rolled to win it and …. well, it had to come… passed, and the game was over. Confederate win.

So close, so close… but a great fight, a desperate, tense, scrap at the end and with 4 chances fluffed to end the thing, I feel it 'should' maybe have gone to the Union, but in the end, my left flank collapsed, the reserves sent to hold it were now running, my tactical position looked hopeless. Tyler had to retreat now or be surrounded and pinned against the river… so away the Union fled. Top game, Longstreet shining as ever, what a fab set of rules it is… no better way to spend 4 hours. Pleasingly, very much as the actual day… although it was closer than the real battle, it was the decisive loss of the Coaling that saw Tyler’s division concede the field.

I took loads of pics, first use of a new phone camera.

Forward boys... a counter-attack into the cornfield to finish off the first wave.

The reserve regiment (actual 2 combined), rush left to help the poor cavalry hold here, and arrived in time to hold the line and stop the first attack from the woods.

The Blue-tide is coming, so the Rebs fall back again through the cornfield.

Overview of the battlefield, from the Rebs table edge, during my brief counter-attack.

More Rebs arrive through the southern woods, it was an overwhelming attack on the Coaling, but I thought I done enough damage, obviously not.
Stuart's Brigade arrive in force.

and deploy into lines, but they did not press the attack.

My reserves are in place and holding the Rebs back, phew! But the danger is further left, from the Coaling, as the Rebs swing back to get behind me.

The Uniosn lines await the finale... but no frontal assault came...

As it stood in the final turns... 6pdr got away! Dismounted cavalry have the end of the end now it has folded back.

Last action, another Rebel charge, another defeat, as my dismounted cavalry are forced back by the Virginians storm down from the Coaling. They are behind us! Time to go... sound the retreat!

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