Friday 24 January 2020

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign 1862 - Into the Valley

After last week's trial game to get back into the swing of things with Black Powder, it was time to properly kick off our ACW campaign. Ours is broadly set around the famous Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862, with our action taking place in one of the side valleys. CS Grant's 'Programmed Wargames Scenarios' would provide the action in the form of the mini-campaign contained as the back of the book.

In advance of the start, I had randomly rolled for the map of the valley as laid out in the book, as well as sending Dave his force list as given in the book. I would be taking on the roll of the Confederates, who are defending the valley and have the advantage, if you can call it that, of knowing the terrain in advance. Dave's Union troops on the other hand has little knowledge of what lay ahead, other than some rudimentary sketch maps, whose accuracy could not be attested to.

Union Army Orders
'Stonewall' Jackson is causing some problems in the Shenandoah Valley. General Rosecrans has ordered your Division to explore a side valley in an attempt to cut his lines of communication, which could lead to him being defeated in detail. It is known that the valley is defended by Confederate troops, but where and in what strength is unknown.

To reconnoitre the valley route through the mountain range in order that the exit may be secured.

  • Send back detailed reports of the route.
  • Press on as far as possible defeating enemy opposition within the force's capability.
  • Move at best speed.
  • If the valley exit itself can be secured the force should do so. If this is not possible then a detailed appraisal of what the enemy consists of, what their defences are like and what force would be required to take it.
OOB (with Dave's usual flair for names!)
Major General Brad Wurst (Divisional Commander)
“He was not the wurst of a Brad bunch”
Brigadier Sly T. Lone … a street brawler, hard to understand at times
1st New York Infantry
3rd New York Infantry
79th New York Infantry
5th Avenue Zouaves
Lone Artillery Battery
Brigadier Donald D. Gump … Momma used to say he was a bit orange
Boston Grenadiers
New York Gumpers … Loyal to the Donald, nobody knows why though
New York New Yorkers … so good they named them twice!
Colonel Shirley J. WayneJust don’t call him surely
1st Union Cavalry
2nd Union Cavalry
1st Independents
1st Lonesome Rangers (Light Infantry Skirmishers)
81st New York Jagers (Light Infantry Skirmishers) … Germans!
2nd Independents (Cavalry)
3rd New York Bootleggers (Marauders) … fellas who were kicked out of the gangs of NY
4th Bostonian Botanists (Marauders) … intellectuals who felt the call

Confederate Orders
Your force is stationed at the head of the valley to give early warning of any Union troops movements. You are to send a rider back to the next position post haste, whilst your units are to remain in contact with the Union troops, but must not be outflanked.

Colonel Rhett Butler
1st Georgia Legion Cavalry
2nd Georgia Legion Cavalry

Map Deployment
Dave was given a basic map upon which to draw out his line of march. When this was done, he was given a second map with some more information and an indication of where the Confederate troops were, but not exactly how many and of what type.

    • Rebels troops can be seen in and around the woods on the hill. From a distance they appear to be cavalry.
    • The terrain is fairly open, with some areas of cultivation and broken ground.
    • The valley is flanked by hills.
    • As far as is known there are no rivers or streams.

    So with all the pre-game stuff sorted, it was time to get the toys on the table and to start the campaign.

    An overview of the table, with the Confederates on the hill in the middle. The Union troops are ready to appear on the left hand side of the table.

    The Confederate troops about to be in for a big surprise.

    Turn 1
    Colonel Wayne's cavalry came forward on the right flank and seeing Reb's on the hill, dismounted in the rocky terrain to secure the flank. On the left the Union cavalry pured forward and dismounted by the cornfield North of the Reb's position. Following on behind where the skirmishers and Brigadier Sly T'Lone's infantry Brigade.

    Seeing the mass of enemy arriving, Colonel Butler ordered a rider, Sergeant Paul Revere, to be 'gone with the wind' and report on the Yankees arrival. Following his orders, he mounted his troops up and started pulling back but keeping the enemy in view.

    The end of Turn 1.

    Union cavalry on the left flank threaten to turn the Confederate position.

    Colonel Wayne's cavalry in the rocky terrain, in case of ambush by the 'Injuns' Reb's

    Brigadier T'Lone's Brigade, preceeded by a cloud of skirmishers.

    Turn 2
    Colonel Wayne is reluctant to leave the cover of the rocks, but the cavalry on the left flank push forward and shoot at the Reb's, but fail to hit them. In the middle, Brigadier Gump's Brigade arrived and moved to the left flank due to the traffic jam of troops in the centre. With such overwhelming force facing them, Colonel Butler has no option but to move back to the snake fence line to hopefully wing a few Yankees before withdrawing.

    The end of Turn 2.

    A view of the Confederate cavalry by the snake fencing and the threat facing them.

    Yankee cavalry and skirmishers put pressure on the Reb's right flank.

    The Union troops struggle to move up the single road.

    Colonel Wayne is waiting for, well I'm not sure...?

    The mass of Union infantry.

    Turn 3
    With the Confederate's under a lot of pressure, the Union cavalry on the left flank mounted up and moved onto the hills to threaten their line of retreat. Sadly Colonel Wayne still sat in the rocks, but the infantry continue to push forward and the skirmishers managed to get some shots on target, leading to a Confederate unit being Disordered. With fire coming from the front and movement to their flank, Butler's cavalry moved back to the relative safety of the cornfields.

    The end of Turn 3.

    Colonel Butler and his Georgia Legion cavalry are facing a formidable amount of troops.

    The Union cavalry on the hill.

    A view from the Union right flank.

    The mass of Union infantry, who are hampered in their movements by the sheer mass of men.

    Turn 4
    Suddenly someone shouted "action!" and Colonel Wayne mounted up his troopers who raced forward to save the homesteaders the snake fence, ready to attack the Reb's cavalry. All the other Union troops advanced, but no one was able to shoot as they had moved too far. With the situation no longer tenable, Colonel Butler ordered his troops to retreat. When a trooper complained to him, he said "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn!"

    The end of turn 4.

    Colonel Butler exits stage right.

    Colonel Wayne arrives too late for his moment of glory in the spotlight.

    Union troops pour forward.

    The Union battleline finally shakes out from the bottleneck.

    The hand of God moment.

    End of Game and Off Table Movement
    With that came the end of the game. Whilst we were playing, I had also been rolling to see how far Sergeant Revere managed to ride 'off table' and fortunately he had reached the next Confederate position to warn them that a sizeable Union force was on its way down the valley.

    With the 'on table part' of the game over, I diced to see how far Colonel Butler could move with his Georgia Legions. Not far enough it turned out and he was 'caught' by the Union cavalry. However Dave decided not to initiate combat a this stage as he did not know what was coming and couldn't affored to possibly lose any cavalry so early on in the campaign. He decided to shadow the Rebs cavalry, which was a wise move and one I was also happy with.

    In preperation for the next game, I quickly sketched out a map to give Dave an idea of what the next engagement would entail, but more of that in the next post.

    Post Game Thoughts
    So a funny old game where not a lot happened in the traditional sense, but was intriguing nonetheless. As always plenty of thoughts on the game and in no particular order:
    • Hindsight is a wonderful thing and to be honest this game could probably have been played out with some counters and on a simple map, as it's mainly a 'battle' of manouevre. My cavalry might have been able to inflcit some casualties on the Union troops, but as they had carbines, they were outranged by the infantry, so had no choice but to retreat. also they had orders to follow.
    • With both sides having specific orders to follow was quite a refreshing change, as we both had to bear these in mind. Plus of course with it being a campaign, neither side could afford a Pyhrric victory. 
    • As Dave only had a rough map to follow, he had no idea of what might be awaiting him on or off table, which gave a very effective Fog of War. With his advance plan of action which he stuck to until he made contact with the enemy, also added to the feel of the game. through out he could be sure if there might be flank attacks coming in, reinforcements arriving etc, so used his cavalry to provide that protective sceen to his main force.
    • Dave's die rolling was exceptional, with most units, apart from Colonel Wayne's cavalry, getting 2-3 moves per Turn, which meant they whizzed across the table. Having been used to the rather sedate nature of 18thC Linear warfare, this was a bit of a shock. Still nice to play something different and it certainly gave the feel of an open ACW battle.
    • When Black Powder II came out I had not planned on buying it. However as Dave had bought a copy it made sense to try and get one. Luckily I found one at a very good price and was very glad I bought it. It is, IMHO, a great improvement over the original, as it is better laid out, has a great index and contents page and the changes are, fomr what I can see, for the better. We have kept things fairly vanilla for this campaign so we can get a good handle on the core mechanics. After all we don't want to run before we can walk.
    • The 'Glory Hallelujah!' supplement is simply excellent and well worth getting if you want to play the ACW with BPI or BPII. It even has rules for river boats which is extremely tempting...
    • Having been put off the ACW by my old club many years ago (everyone had the Iron Brigade, the Louisiana Tigers etc) I'm really enjoying gaming this conflict, along with reading up on it. Recently I bought books on Chancellorsville and Gettysburg by Sears and, having started reading the former, have been entranced by his writing style as well as the wealth of information contained therein. For once a book has tempted me away from my laptop at night, which is a good thing as I had planned to read more this year.
    • I aim to improve on my maps next time around, as I want to try and achieve something like these as seen on Peter's Blog. I did try some colour, but my old pencils weren't up to the job, so bought some felt tip pens instead. Let's hope they work.
    • I'm still trying to get the feel of an ACW table, but I think I'm getting there. My plans has been to make some more fencing, but this has taken a back seat to some figure basing, more of which in another post.
    • A Divisional sized game with a few Brigades per side plus some support, is more than adequate for our mid-week games on my 4' x 4' table. For those who like this sort of game, it is worth checking out Norm's Blog to see what can be done with even smaller forces, yet still have a good game. His transfer of the action from a boardgame to the table is very well done and something I think we could all aspire too.
    Well, I think I've waffled on long enough. Next week we will have a 'proper' game, with the Union troops having to force a river crossing against an unknown number of Confederate troops. Maybe I'll call it the Battle of Fredericksburg...

    Thursday 16 January 2020

    The Bridge at St. Ulrichsburg

    With our ACW campaign due to kick off next week, we thought it wise to reacquaint ourselves with the rules we plan to use, namely Black Powder, with the amendments from the excellent Glory Hallelujah! supplement. Given that we hadn't played these for at least a couple of years, it seemed a sensible idea.

    To keep things simple, Dave suggested we use the first scenario from the Honours of War book as the basis for our game. So I laid out the table and added in some fields and fences to try and make it look like an ACW game. We could move this around as we saw fit, as the main aim was to try out as many options in terms of cover and its effect on movement and firing etc.

    We kept things really simple, with both sides having generic troops, so as not to complicate things. The command ratings for both sides we set at '9', to try and keep things moving as much as we could. The following 'photos should give an idea of how things went:

    An overview of the table, with the Confederates (me) deployed in front of the bridge and the Union troops arriving in march column from the left.

    The Union troops arrive and are faced with cornfields and fences.

    The town of St. Ulrichsburg. I was really happy how these buildings looked on their new bases.

    Confederate troops ready to move forward to the snake fence line.

    The Union troops push forward.

    Both sides seek what cover they can along the various fence lines. The Union cavalry have dismounted in the wood on the top right of the 'photo.

    After sustaining quite a few hits, the first Confederate unit breaks. Fences are no protection against artillery!

    The view from the Union lines.

    Recycled troops cross the bridge to keep the game going.

    The troops crossing the bridge are very vulnerable to fire whilst in march column.

    The Confederate troops somewhat outnumbered.

    Post Game Thoughts
    The scenario worked well and provided us with plenty of opportunities to try out the rules. So a few thoughts on the game, rules etc:
    • To say we were a little rusty might be a bit of an understatement. We broadly rememered the rules, but spent the early parts of the game checking a few things which we had simply forgotten. So it was a good move to have a run out before things kick off in earnest.
    • Dave had BPII whilst I was using BPI, but we deferred to the new rules if there was any difference, which we couldn't really spot to be honest. Both of us had planned to have a read of the rules in advance, but work and other things simply got in the way. I'm sure things will run more smoothly next week.
    • The Glory Hallelujah! supplement is great and really does make tweaks that allows the action to feel like an ACW battle. I'm not sure how much we will use in our campaign as I have to have a re-read, but we will certainly use the unit stats for the 1862 period as a base.
    • It was good to have a variety of terrain to see how this affected movement etc. I'm so used to setting up European games and how much terrain there is in comparison to the ACW theatre, that it feels quite naked in comparison. This is certainly true of our campaign which will be loosley based around the Shenandoah Valley. 
    • The rules did give a good game, but they seemed so quick in terms of movement compared to BBB or Honours of War, that it came as a bit of a shock. Having a unit or Brigade that can make 3 moves in one Turn makes for a potentially fast game. 
    • We found that the firing by both sides can take time to take effect or can suddenly lead to a unit routing off the table if the break test roll is poor. Again this takes a bit of getting used to but does add a nice dynamic to the game. I can see why gamers may not like these rules, but they are easily tweaked to suit your style of play etc.

    The next step is to familiarise ourselves with the rules and for me to knock up some unit reference sheets, as well as sending Dave the first maps to give him an idea of the terrain ahead and where the enemy might be. So plenty to be getting on with before next week.

    Alongside of this I'm reading up on the Gettysburg campaign to improve my limited knowledge of this conflict. I have also ordered some books on Gettysburg and Chancellorsville by Sears, which were great value and look to be excellent reads. So until next time...

    Friday 10 January 2020

    Battalion in a Box

    As mentioned in my end of year review, storage is a bit of an issue, as it is for many gamers, so I've been toying with the idea of trying to get a Battalion in a Box. This is relatively easy to do for my WWII battlegroups, but maybe a bit more tricky for my 18th & 19th C ones. However with my aim of getting around 12 units a side, give or take, it may not be a hard as I imagine. It certainly focusses ones mind on what you really need for an 'army'. This is all very much a work in progress, but I thought I'd take a few shots to give you an idea of what I'm trying to achieve.

    A US Airborne Battalion with organic support for BKCII. There is still space for a few more units should I wish to add them. The box is only about 9" wide.

    An Early War German WWII Infantry Battalion with organic support. Another box would be needed for the change in support units throughout the war, but could easily be stored in just one other.

    The other advantage of this system is that it is easy to get what you need from your storage as it's all in one box. This has a big attraction as currently I have my figures an armour in a variety of different sized boxes. Once I have sorted out my dedicated storage unit, it will be easier to figure out what box size works best across a variety of periods.

    Damaged Buildings and Bomb Craters

    One of the joys of our hobby is scratch building things, whether they be terrain, buildings or vehicles. As a child I used to love the articles in the Airifx magazine where they seemingly created wonderful conversions out of a few bits of plastic etc. Maybe this is why I ended up in the design and modelmaking business.

    Over the years I have had a go at making my own bomb or shell damaged buildings, originally for when I had 15mm BKC battlegroups. But other projects started and these lay by the wayside almost unforgotten. However with France 1940 beckoning later on in the Spring, it was time to re-visit my original efforts.

    It was quickly obvious that my buildings were way too large but I still liked the look. So I quickly knocked up a trial piece more suitable for 10mm, just to try out some different materials. These broadly worked but they need refining. Alongside this I painted up my Pendraken shell craters that I bought at Colours last year. For around £4 they were too good to pass up and was one less thing for me to make. I gave them a simple drybrushed finish of different shades of brown and added some lacquer to the bottom of some, to represent them being filled with water.

    One of my 15mm buildings with Pendraken 10mm US Airborne for scale. The Pendraken shell holes add a nice touch to explain why it was destroyed.

    Another building.

    The first one I made that has quite a Mediterranean feel to it.

    My quick and dirty trial of a 10mm building.

    Another reason for getting the craters is that I can use them to represent damaged/rough ground to hinder movement or maybe provide some cover to troops in BKCII. Afterall the early Allied bombing in Normandy left craters so deep that they did hinter tank movement. It's something I want to try but have yet to do so, so a few trial games will be required to see if my ideas work. More on this in the future.

    Sweet Corn Fields

    With the start of our ACW campaign drawing ever nearer, I've been busy making some more terrain that fits the period and theatre, namely sweet corn fields. I'd made some a year or so ago, using artifical grass samples from a local company. However I needed more so dug out what I had left and based them up in the same way as before. All I had to do was trim them to a similar height.

    The only downside with 10mm is that it is a tad tricky to get terrain such as this looking right. In reality the sweet corn is spaced a foot or so apart, so has quite a linear look to it, which is easier to achieve visually in the larger scales. I've seen aquatic plants used instead of the artifical grass and can look pretty good. Anyway, this solution works for me and is very durable and once on the table looks fine IMHO.

    These will be used for AWI, ACW and Eastern European games, whether at a skirmish level with Rebels & Patriots, or with BKCII, BBB etc. For the latter theatre, they will represent maize which is grown for animal fodder for the Winter.

    A few of the fields together.

    Pendraken AWI Militia give a sense of scale.

    The height works well for me as I've seen sweet corn 7' - 8' tall.

    Again Pendraken cavalry to help visualise the size of the fields.

    I've enjoyed making these, but they do take some time, mainly due to glue, filler and paint etc drying. However the actual time for each process is quite short, so not too bad at all. It would be quicker in the Summer when I could probably get three of the processes done in one day.

    Saturday 4 January 2020

    American Civil War buildings and bases

    Like many gamers, for my buildings I use a scale down from my figures, so for my Pendraken 10mm forces I use ones from Leven Miniatures which are 6mm. These work well and originally I just put them on simple bases to represent a BUA or the like. However whilst perfectly functional, they just didn't work visually. So after Dave made a comment on this, I set about having a play around with some options before Xmas, which in the end worked well. 

    So with our forthcoming ACW campaign due to kick off soon, I dug out some Leven Miniatures American buildings that I'd had about a year or so, painted them up and made a variety of bases to go with them, the results of which can be seen below:

    A fairly typical clapboard building with a classic picket fence. The fence was made from some 15mm railway ones I bought years ago and simply cut them in half to reduce the height.

    AWI Militia defend the property.

    A timber block house, the bottom half of which I painted white for some contrast.

    A nice log cabin or little house on the Prairie?

    A saw mill, to which I will add some log piles or sawn timber for detail.

    Another view of the sawmill.

    Another clapboard building, but this time without the picket fence.

    The buildings are removable with their footprint still visible which is useful for games play as...

    ... it can represent the buildings with troops in it, depending upon the requirements of the ruleset.

    I'm really happy with how these have turned out and still have some more to finish off. I'm going to do something similar with my other buildings for Italy and Europe, but not until they're required for other campaigns, as i'm trying to remain focussed!

    Other things in the pipeline are some more sweet corn fields and picket fences, plus other small scenic items to add detail to the battlefield. More on this as and when they are finished. So until next time...