|The forces arrayed. Union (L) Confederate (R)|
On June 24th, 1863 Wilder's Brigade deployed as part of the Army of the Cumberland's vanguard in the opening moves of the Tullahoma Campaign. Wilder's objective was the Easternmost mountain gap where the Manchester pike ran between Murfreesboro an Manchester along the route to Chattanooga. (The modern day route of Interstate -24) . His mounted infantry quickly outstripped the rest of the Reynold's division and they captured the southern access to the gap after a mounted attack through the town of Beechgrove. Wilder established defensive positions west of the Pike on the high ground overlooking the primary approaches from the southwest. He placed three regiments forward with on held in reserve to guard against movement along either high speed avenue of approach. A small detachment of two companies from the reserve force were placed to the east of the Turnpike in order to screen the approaches from the east.
Two confederate brigades from Stewart's division responded to attempt to retake the gap. The initial attack by the 4th GA sharpshooters and 20th TN under Bate's Brigade was launched in the afternoon, but was repulsed by concerted fire from the 72nd. A second attack developed later with forces from both Bate's Brigade and Johnson's Brigade attacking from the southwest.
|Image taken from TFP Games "Hoover's Gap"|
Several events aligned to inspire me to try out this solo scenario:
- I recently picked up a 6'x4' neoprene game mat from Strategem on Amazon.com. I was looking at picking up one of these from Deep Cut studios or one of the other European suppliers, but the steep shipping charge left me feeling a little leery. I found this one from a US supplier for $60usd +free shipping through PRIME. I had a $50 gift card, so it seemed a safe trial run. The mat is heavy, so I understand why Deep Cut and others need the steep charge. The material is very durable and drapes tightly over the terrain. Not too many wrinkles, and enough surface friction to hold bases in place. I picked up the hex map, because it was cheaper at the time. Overall it looks good, although there is some blurring to the images in the center.
- I have been itching to try out my "lightning brigade" minis. I painted these figures over a year ago, so they were long due for a trial game. I picked them up as an impulse buy, adding them as the 'prestige unit' to my Western campaign force. (I consider Zouaves to be the prestige units for Eastern Campaigns.) While reading articles on the unit history I stumbled upon this battle as their 'baptism by fire' as mounted infantry with repeaters. The formation itself appeals to me as they represent a revolutionary step forward in mobility, firepower and survivability.
- The recent action at Brawner's Farm exposed me to Regimental Fire and Fury. My ACW gaming in the 90's included the brigade level rules, but most of games were fought using Johnny Reb III. I found the rules to have a good mix of simplicity with a tendency away from radical outcomes. The command and control system is an interesting mechanic. Most importantly, I knew there was a re-fight coming, so I wanted to ensure that I actually understood the rules.
- The scenario is ideal for solo play. The Union Troops are in a relatively static position, so I could develop a fairly easy decision matrix for them. Detailed knowledge of the actual disposition and equipment of troops would make the decision making process very a-historical for the confederate player. Otherwise I think this game would be relatively uninteresting as a two sided affair.
I found a scenario write-up by TFP games on the battle from Wargames Vault that served as the basis of my scenario design. It was only $1.50US and provided a decent summary of events, OOBs and recommended COAs. It was written for a specific ruleset but I found it readily adaptable.
The first thing I noticed is that the actual break down of forces paints a different picture than the historical vision of the battle. The scenario reads like something of a legend: Wilder seizes the Gap, but is ordered to fall back. He refuses the order and steadfastly commits his force to hold the ground. A badly outnumbered Union Brigade holds its own against a concerted attack by confederate division.
The attack on the 72nd IN by the 4th GA and 20th TN sounds like an overmatch until you realize that the two CSA regiments only had about 400 men between them and were facing a regiment of 500 mounted infantry holding the high ground armed with repeating rifles. All told, the two confederate brigades numbered around 2800 men in all, and it is questionable on how many took part in the historical battle. (Wilders brigade comprised roughly 2000 mounted infantry with Spencer repeating rifles.)
Secondly, the terrain does favor the defender. It was raining the day of the attack, and the hills were covered in thickets and areas of dense underbrush. This would serve hide the overall number of soldiers, and the volume of fire put up by the Spencers would definitely lead an inexperienced opponent to conclude they were facing a much larger force.
Those defenders also have the marked advantage of being mounted infantry with repeaters. This is a revolutionary development in terms of:
- Mobility - Rapid deployment using horses allowed them to overwhelm the opposition and also outstrip their support
- Firepower - The volume of fire produced by the weapons allows them to rapidly defeat a determined close assault. They are punching well above their weight in bullets downrange.
- Survivability - Quite simply, they can lie down and take cover. Spreading out out the line does not dilute their fire. Their mobility allows them to withdraw rapidly if in danger of being outrun. I would argue that the ability to lay down a continuous wall of fire would also help to fortify their resolve. It should not be a surprise that these units managed to hold even as other US regiments began to fall back in other engagements.
Finally, there is no way to really model the confusion evident on the day of battle. The initial mounted sweep of Beechgrove led the Confederates to believe they were facing a light cavalry force. The volume of fire generated by the repeaters, coupled with the tight terrain led the Confederate commanders to conclude they were facing a much larger force. There was also a battle developing in Liberty Gap to the West that would influence the decisions of the Corps commanders.
I therefore decided, to set up the scenario as a reinforced version of the second attack. Wilder's brigade would start in their historical positions, but the two confederate brigades would attack on-line. I misread the scaling factor and used 1 gun for every 3 guns present rather than 1:2, this is somewhat mitigated by the debate over how many of the batteries present actually participated in the battle. I further underestimated the FP calculation for the infantry stands. (I used 1 for the CSA and 2 for the Repeater armed USA troops) This led to consistently low modifiers for fire and thus stretched out the fight.
I opted for a few simple modifiers to reflect the battlefield conditions
- Units received a blanket -1 on the command table to reflect battlefield confusion.
- CSA units received a -2 to command table for the first two turns after receiving a disorder marker from repeater fire for the first time.
- No double quick. Ground counts as broken.
- 98th IL cannot displace until CSA units base the bend in the road to the SW (i.e. there is a threat to the flank)
- Mounted Infantry count as extended line (-1) and defended position (-1)
- Low ammo: USA units with a low ammo status cannot resupply
- Dense brush: Additional -1 to all combat outside close range.
Initial OOB: (Union is outnumbered 3:2, both sides had 12x guns present for the battle)
US 4x 5 stand regiments with 10/7/4 CRK, 2xLR guns, GALLANT commander
CS 2x BDES w. a 6/5/4 stand regiment each + 1xLR and 1xLS gun. 5 stand regiments are CRK, others are veteran. ABLE commanders
A brief summary of the action:
|Wilder's brigade in initial deployments|
|Bates Brigade launches an attack on the union center. Johnson advances on the left.|
|Results of the first turns of fire. Markers are for casualties and disorder|
|Spotting the approach of Johnson's element, the 98th IL moves to secure the flank.|
|Johnson's BDE comes on-line whel the 4/20 TN close assaults the 72nd IN|
|4th GA/20th TN in action against the 72nd IN|
|The assault is repulsed with light casualries|
|CSA units start to fall back under the fusillade.|
|Confusion reigns in Johnson's command as units are pushed back through each other.|
|The attack begins to faulter|
|CSA regroups and attempts to renew the attack.|
|Union center is hard pressed by repeated assaults. Disorder is stacking up on the CSA side|
|In turn 12, this was the CSA command roll. Those both count as '1s'|
|CSA forces loose confidence and withdraw in disarray. Nightfall brings an end to offensive actions|
|Remaining CSA forces at games end Bate's brigade was roughly handled.|
|Surviving Union Forces The majority of the casualties fell to the 17th IN and 123rd IL|
- I should have doubled the Firing Point calculations for all of the infantry units. I was habitually counting each INF stand as 1 FP rather than 2, and the RPTs stands as 2 instead of 4. That meant I was consistently applying low die roll modifiers that significantly reduced the lethality of fire
- The forces are too close in actual size to give the CSA a sporting chance. I need to add in the possibility of Clayton's BDE becoming involved with the battle. (Historically he did not arrive until well after dark.)
- I need to downgrade the lethality of the Union BDE somewhat. I kept the 72nd IN at crack and put the others down to VET. The 98th IL is reduced to four stands to reflect the forces deployed East of the Turnpike. The BDE will be holding a defensive position and in extended line, so that should be enough positive modifiers to give them some survivability.
- I need more artillery on both sides. Historically the 72nd IN was supported by 2 12lb howitzers in their position. I opted to go 1 stand for every 2 guns.
- The new OOB is below.
- Clayton's Brigade becomes available after turn 4. They arrive on a 6+, +1 per turn. On a 1-7 they approach from the road to the SW. On a 8-0 they arrive along the Turnpike SE of Beechgrove.
I plan to run a re-fight to see if the new scenario has the right feel. Following that I want to try to develop a scenario for the simultaneous action at Liberty Gap where another mounted infantry regiment took part.