Friday, December 27, 2013

The Battle of Antietam, 1862

The tides of war have rolled Thaddeus P Hardtack up against the Confederacy once again.  September 1862, the Maryland Campaign.  Hardtack has missed out on the disaster of Second Bull Run, while he had to retire briefly on sick-leave to shake a hankering for 'Hackett's Nerve Elixir'.  Still, with his personal doctor now firmly briefed to confine his efforts to bullets alone, he'c back to the war.  Not a moment too soon, since the Army of Northern Virginia is invading Union soil!  Hardtack marches off with McClellan once again, arriving for the battle along Antietam Creek.  After a morning waiting before crossing the creek and advancing forward, Hardtack is brought out of reserve and ordered to seize one of the low ridges around Sharpsburg which a Rebel force is defending.  

The Deployment

On deploying, it quickly becomes obvious that Hardtack has got a serious numerical advantage - very nearly twice as many infantry as his opponent, and a full artillery compliment.  Only in cavalry, and the advantages of terrain, do the Rebels have the edge.   

The 'old' regiments are in the centre, while the rookies are on the right where a small stream can watch their flank

"Courage lads!  Your bravery shall be well reflected in my promotion prospects!"

The advance begins cautiously enough, so it turns out to be the rebels who move the most!  A few blasts from the artillery batteries - directed by Hardtack's experienced eye - shows just what Yankee artillery is capable of.  The rebels pull back, getting behind the hill-crest and with their cavalry pulled back into reserve, to save themselves from an unnecessary pummeling.  

 Working with the terrain, the original Massachusetts regiments slip in behind each other, into the woods between the two hills.  The rebel artillery moves up opposite, to try and get a few oblique return-shots on the Union, but without exposing themselves to the more numerous cannon firing back at them.  

 The battery in front of the main Rebel hill redeploys slightly, as the right-flank peak is obviously going to be the focus of the battle (the left-flank peak is covered in woods, and basically impregnable - most of the rebel force is massed on the other).

Suddenly, the response that Hardtack has been probing for gets provoked!  When one rebel regiment falls victim to confusion and exposes itself on the forward slopes, the Confederate general clearly decides 'what the hell' and throws the rest forward!   

Who'd have thought it?  The Rebel cavalry is thwarted in its attempt to charge the weaker of the rookie regiments by a marshy area around the stream, which nobody has noticed before now.  Good fortune indeed!  The 27th Pennsylvania gets charged, but the simple size of the regiment allows it to resist the impact and throw them back.

In the woods however, less of a good show!  The 11th Massachusetts tries to skirmish with the Rebels on the left-flank wooded hill, only to realise that the Rebel regiment has companies of sharpshooters attached.  A few minutes' firing reveals how badly outclassed they are!  This is followed up by the Rebel charge off the right-flank hill bearing down on them, as it turns to enter the wood.  In turning, the rebel line exposes its flank to the artillery, who are not slow to take the chance.  

 The Rebel line charges in, yelling away.  The 1st Mass. gets sent reeling, and then after it the 16th Mass. is similarly flung back.  The Confederate infantry has swept the woods clear.

 Hardtack is frustrated in his efforts to get a charge of his own going, as the numerous rookie infantry can't charge against cavalry - most annoying!  Still, they keep blazing away, and over time the numbers firing and the artillery support means that there is a steady drain of Confederate casualties each turn.

 Desperate fighting continues around the fringes of the wood, as the three Massachusetts regiments try to hold the line and stop the centre of Hardtack's brigade from collapsing.  Things aren't helped by the pesky Rebels, who seem to have found some local assistance from pro-secession Marylanders.  
 Having lost almost half their strength, the rebel cavalry gives up against the rookies and joins the fight against the centre, where things appear more hopeful.  

The fighting is close-up and personal; rebels charging forward and falling back, only to charge again.  Their losses are steadily mounting, but the same applies on both sides.  Major Hercules Spatchcock is cut down in the middle of the line, where his regiment - the 16th Mass. - gets overrun and routed by the Rebs.  Finally, the Union pulls back in much-reduced form from the woods.  The Rebels can't exploit any further forward however, as the rookies on the flank have now pressed forward.  The rebs are caught in a salient in the woods, with artillery batteries firing away at them, and the hill to their rear now in danger of being taken while most of its defenders are down in the woods.

Finally, the rebels have to pull back as their losses become insupportably heavy - rather in-keeping with the general Confederate experience at Antietam, you might say.   The Union has won, and Hardtack has his first ever battlefield victory under his belt.   True, he never even went near the hilltop objective, and scored precisely no Epic charges of note, but a win's a win, in his eyes!  The Confederates can even console themselves that they racked up twice as many Epic Points as their enemies (or at least the survivors can.)

Hardtack finished the year satisfied with his progress.  Divisional command still eludes him after such a 'workmanlike' victory, but his brigade has gained a certain 'something' to its reputation.  Experience, in a word - the two surviving 'original' regiments, the 1st & 11th Mass. are now seasoned veterans.  So too is the relatively new arrival 8th New Jersey Infantry.  Other names drop off the brigade lists - the 16th Mass. and 15th New York Infantry are both disbanded as their losses prove so high, and so is the 3rd Pennsylvania cavalry - Hardtack now unambiguously commands an infantry force alone, with no mounted force.  To strengthen him up, two new Rookie infantry regiments are drafted in: the 122nd New York, and the 83rd Ohio.  Hardtack looks forward to a decisive 1863, and hopefully an end to the war.  

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