Saturday, January 25, 2014

Battle of Hackett's Farm, 1863

1863 dawns for Thaddeus P Hardtack's Brigade, just outside of Fredericksburg in Northern Virginia.  The rest of the army is of to the west, tangling with Lee's army in the woods around Chancellorsville.  While waiting on this undoubted triumph for Union arms, Hardtack's force has been sent out into far more open and favourable country, to push a small rebel force back from his objective.  The place: the small walled enclosure of Hackett's Farm.  The enemy: wily Rebels under J. B. Gordon.  Time to get the fight on!

Bare minimum of terrain - only a small wood to cover the approach!

Initially Hardtack opts for a left-flank attack, swinging most of his larger regiments to the left around the wood, while his veterans hold the rest of the line and his artillery gets to work.  Sadly the gunners find that the rebels have concealed themselves mostly in the fields, with only a few Rebel guns positioned behind the walls to cover the front.  The Federals are soon blazing away, but even with Hardtack's help they struggle to land hits on the well-concealed Rebs.

Despite no signs of life to the front, the Confederate rear is a hive of activity!  One regiment sets to work frantically digging a fall-back trench to their rear, while another regiment double-quicks its way to the Rebel right, to Meet the oncoming Blue-bellies.

"Run!  Dig!  Run and dig!"
Three Federal regiments approach the end of their line, and firing breaks out.  A sniper very nearly brings down Hardtack himself, but thankfully his personal physician  Dr. Hackett intervenes and saves the day, by getting himself shot instead.  "He died doing what he loved: saving my life!" says a visibly stirred Hardtack.

Poor Surveying.  Again.  Where's that Yankee engineering genius when you need it?
The 27th Pennsylvania moves ahead but then discovers - shock! - that the army surveyors haven't been doing their job right.  A broken area of difficult ground lies ahead of them, bringing all forward movement to a halt in favour of a firefight while they also try to extract themselves from the confusion.  To their right, the freshly-raised 122nd New York moves through the wood and then plunges headlong straight at the wall where a rebel regiment has popped up.  With the bravery that only comes from a complete misapprehension of the dangers being faced, they storm dead ahead and send the Rebels reeling back.  Inspirational stuff!  

The 122nd New York goes in with its best, manliest 'Hurrah!'

Taking a larger view of the area, the 27th Pennsylvania struggles through the fallen timbers while a lone Rebel regiment fires away at them.  (Now that's just unfair...)
With the numerical odds heavily in favour of the Union, things seem to be going well.  To heighten the pressure, the Artillery continues to blaze away (although admittedly with more noise than actual results) and the veteran regiments begin to nudge forward to threaten the other end of the rebel line.  The luckless Reb diggers in the rear keep on extending their trench-line.

Approximately two hundred cannon-balls fired, and naught to show for it - although I believe a mule in the rebel baggage may have been decisively killed...
The rebel artillery continues to shoot down luckless US infantry in the distance and dodge incoming shells for a while before, accepting that it's hopelessly outclassed.  It tries to limber up, and at this very last moment it (finally!) takes the hits to wreck a gun that Hardtack was expecting from the get-go.  A valiant show from them, at any rate - they battered the poor 1st Massachusetts, despite having to battle with Bad Fuses.  

Elsewhere, the 122nd NY tries to push on beyond the scene of its earlier triumph, but stupid rivalries between the officers stop them from properly coordinating.  Firing along the line sees casualties mounting - can the Union push on?

In a further development, some Rebel cavalry arrive late on the field as reinforcements.  "Never mind lads, they'll never have an effect!"
With the Veteran Federals closing in on the other side of the farm, the rebel 31st Georgia - veterans, and the toughest unit on the other side - come out of the field and man the stone wall to prevent themselves from being outflanked.  Sadly this does bring them into view of the guns, who prove their ability to shoot the whiskers off a cat by landing six hits on them, sending brickwork and Rebel veterans flying through the air in all directions (war is hell, of course - but distinctly less so when it only involves 15mm lead models!)

Annoyingly, they also managed to pass most of their 'to kill' rolls!
A further stroke of luck for the Federals is that, after managing to extract themselves from the broken ground between their lines, the Confederate regiment itself is swept up in Confusion and rushes forward itself right into the same tangled mess!  Being hit with the Withering Fire of the Federals wasn't helping either (It's not unfair now - just tactics...  What?)

By this stage most Federal regiments had been whittled down by losses, but the Rebels were falling back.  Their rear-ward defensive position was prepared, and the regiments began to fall back through the fields to benefit from the new protection.  However, the luckless rebel regiment caught in the rough ground wasn't able to make it.  The rebel commander had only one option - move At The Double for a counter-attack, and try to rescue them from the Federal jaws!  

The battle-line, just before the counter-attack on the Federals
The Rebels in the fields doubled back into a defence like a Stone Wall, with the 31st Georgia repulsed by the 8th New Jersey.  The depleted 122nd New York also repelled its attackers through the crops thanks to the emergence of a truly patriotic hero, in the form of their Colonel Thucydides Ganderpoke.  Surely the Federal line would hold out, with two of the three regiments attacked standing firm?

Nope!  On the end of the line, the 27th Pennsylvania is engaged to the front by the Rebels-in-the-Rough.  All seems to be going well, until that tardy regiment of Confederate cavalry joins in by descending at speed on their flank!  Too much to handle, frankly.  The green recruits of the 27th take to their heels and flee - although frankly it's hard to see how even veterans could have withstood the avalanche of Grey heading their way.  With the collapse of one of their larger remaining regiments, it becomes clear that the Federal machine has run out of steam for the day.  

The 27th Pennsylvania, about to disappear - as if by magic!  And swords.

As night falls, the Rebels continue to hold their objective in their new trench-line behind the farm, while the Federals dig in by the captured stone wall.  The farmers' fields are now the new No Man's Land, so although Hardtack lost the battle he can (and does) at least claim that a cereals-rich diet has been denied to the Confederacy.  Amazingly, this seems to be enough for the War Department, who promote Hardtack for his work and bump him up to divisional command level!

Attending to his division, Hardtack is gladdened to see that what's left of the 27th Pennsylvania and 122nd New York have endured being bloodily mis-handled for long enough to be considered veterans.  His 1st Massachusetts veterans are disbanded due to expired enlistments and combined with the 11th Massachusetts, forming a provisional regiment.  To go with this, his constant pestering of the ordnance office sees a two-section battery of the massive 20-pounder Parrotts, adding even more heavy metal to Hardtack's artillery.  As well as this, he gets the 13th Delaware Cavalry regiment attached (causing some raised eyebrows - Hardtack was glad to be rid of cavalry last time, so surely the rout of the 27th Pa. hasn't changed his mind about the value of having some?) and also another remarkable new unit - the 45th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment.  Naturally a profoundly old school, pre-war-Army type like Hardtack will have about as dim a view of them as he does of any new recruits, but they'll be keen to defeat the Confederacy at any rate - which definitely counts for a lot in his eyes!  

[Next up, if all goes as planned, Hardtack will be commanding on the field of Gettysburg in a multi-player game of Longstreet being played out by the FDWC!]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A field, somewhere in England, 1461

Some time ago, I mentioned that my Wars of the Roses campaign was heading towards a monster, everybody-fights-for-the-crown battle spectacular, which would definitely be deciding the fate of the Lancastrian and Yorkist houses.  This idea was first floated in - I am amazed to say - April of last year!  Over the summer I organised and gathered miniatures, then over autumn I painted them up.  Now, in winter, I have finally been able to resolve the great clash of arms.  

First, I thought that I should take a bit of time and explain what the thinking was behind me setting up the field.  I wanted to pick somewhere that was vaguely semi-plausible as a historic battlefield, and hopefully add in a little 'flavour' to the terrain.  

I knew from the campaign that the Lancastrians were marching from London to attack the Yorkists massing at Gloucester.  I searched maps along the rough route of the land where they might have met, and wound up selecting - basically at random - an area slightly to the north of Cirencester.  Partly it was from 'old fashioned' roads in the area such as the Fosse Way, and partly it was because of a nearby small river (I had river sections of terrain I wanted to use!)  I settled on an area close to a tiny village called Baunton, just east of the river Churn.  

The pic above is from Google Maps, of course.
After looking around a little, and checking old historical WOTR battle maps on wikipedia, I reasoned that I had a good notion on an approximate realistic 'size' of battlefield.  Here's the rough sketch, with the proposed wards in place for 'The Battle of Baunton', very roughly to scale:

It assumes, as per the scenario setup, that the Lancastrians have marched west and the York army has adopted a defensive position from which to fight, and where Henry VI's army cannot simply bypass them.  I then sketched up a rough notion of the significant battlefield terrain:

The Yorkists are on gently rising farmland, with the River Churn protecting their right flank and a roughly-wooded and steep-banked area, called Wiggold Covert, protecting their left.  To their front are the odd isolated clump of trees, perfect for breaking up the formations of any attacking army.  The trees, and indeed most of the terrain, is straight off a modern map and therefore probably has only the lightest resemblance to how it would have been historically, of course - what we're after here is inspiration, not an accuracy which is probably impossible anyway!  Here it is, done up with a bit of colouring-in:

And when realised on the tabletop, it looks like this!

Viewed from the north-west, so the Yorkist table-edge is on the left and the Lancastrian edge is on the right
Also, I have added in captains for all the units.  I actually managed to do them all historically, with appropriate 'real' people - I only had to add in three fictional ones, which were for the Burgundian mercenary pikemen (I used an online medieval German name-generator) and one captain for some mercenary spearmen who I named after a friend of mine that stays up near Dingwall - so I named him Lord Walldingham, to give him something suitably Anglicized.  

That's it: nothing left for it now but to heat up some dice, get on the tabletop and have ourselves a game!