Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Ghosts of Antietam

The Ghosts of Antietam

I stand where the raw recruits of Colonel Dwight Morris stood over 150 years before. The wind gently brushes my salt and pepper hair and ripples the long expanse of grass slowly rising in front of me to the wagon road, known throughout history now as The Sunken Road. The sun bathes the entire expanse in bright warmth.

A cloud crosses over me, briefly slightly darkening my little patch and giving my skin a respite from the sun. Did I hear the jingle of a harness and a muffled word? I look left and right. Perhaps it was an exclamation from a couple further up on the interpretive trail I had so recently left.

I step forward with a slow measured step, much like the boys of the 108th New York, greeting the elephant for the first time that fateful September day. I swear the truck so far away sounds like the drums beaten by the tiny drummer boys. It must be my eyes playing tricks (I forgot my sunglasses at the hotel) but the grass ahead seems to be moving and puffs of white appear, almost like skirmish fire.

The illusion grows as I take each deliberate step up the gentle slope. I can’t ignore it or make it stop. Now I hear the jostling of men nearby, though I am alone, the clunk of wooden canteens on cartridge boxes, the swish of woolen uniforms through the tall timothy. There is a roar as I reach a point 400 yards from the sunken road. I feel an extra gust of wind pass by and hear a grunt, like the canister has found the range.

A twinge of uncertainty affects me, as the untried men so far from home must have felt to see the effect of those crude weapons for the first time. Do I go on, and brave the building illusion, or go back? Reach for the objective or run for safety?

I push on.

As I expected the illusion continues to grow, gain form, substance, sensation. My mind paints the outlines of men, so close, with every detail present but hazy unless I concentrate when it pops out in exquisite detail. An officer on horseback rides forward only to fall in the next blast of canister. Ahead, the gray-clad skirmishers fire and retire until they drop into the sunken road a scant hundred yards ahead of me. Then a leveled line of black musket muzzles steadies on the lowest rung of the fence bordering the road and an illusory ripple of red flame and white smoke pours all along the line.

I feel more than see my ghostly companions recoil in the effect of the imaginary volley. All around me the ephemeral forms litter the ground or clutch at wounds as they stagger forward and back. Another thunderous volley, accompanied by a further gust of wind, and my blue-clad companions have had enough. They recoil and head back from whence I started, some running, others walking backwards, still more stumbling numbly. And as they move they gradually disappear, leaving the fields again empty under the modern summer sky.

Antietam holds the ghosts for me, more than any other site, even Gettysburg. They are everywhere and need very little effort to conjure into consciousness. Both sides; all over the field. Burnside at his bridge, the veterans of the Stonewall Brigade as they rush to save the day. Hooker’s men and McLaws’ in the West Woods struggling in the morning mists. Even Porter’s veterans as they stood by, desperate to add the coup de gras but restrained by the cautious hand of McClellan.

They swirl restlessly by at times when I am far from the battlefield. They worry about being forgotten; lost in the sands of time. Not while I’m alive, anyway.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Romans Against the World (hypothetical)

We play a set of Home Rules for Ancients. One of the guys in the club wrote the rules and painted the first 6 armies before we played a single game. They are relatively easy to play rules but they do capture the idea of all the different troop and weapon types of the long ancient period. Another member of the club recently raised two Roman legions, early Imperial. By a misunderstanding he raised them at about double strength of any of the original armies. One Friday in early October 2013 we decided to through a mess of troops, purely non-historical, at the two legions to see what mass would be necessary for an even fight. We didn't empty enough boxes!

The set-up was simple. One Roman legion (XX) would attack straight at a big Numidian army that was set up and defending a town. The second Roman legion (VIIII) was coming to support but would be surprised by an army of Helvetians/Gauls falling on one flank and a Persian army falling on the other.

This was the Numidians first time on the table. The battle went much as one would expect with the Roman heavy infantry inexorably pushing back the lighter but more numerous Africans. Unfortunately for the Numidians, their cavalry did not perform up to historical standards and were also pushed back.

Whereas the XX and the Numidians were battling over fairly even and clear terrain, the approaching VIIII Legion had some rough terrain to march through. It had the further complication of dual Consuls having been appointed to command and they were bickering over the distribution of the various ancillary units.

The (completely ahistorical) allies struck simultaneously from each side of the Roman relief column. Unfortunately for the attackers they were discovered far enough away from the column by scout dogs that the VIIII was able to deploy to meet the concentric attacks.

On the Roman right, the associated warbands of the Helvetian tribes struck. Their cavalry and chariots heading off the column, cutting them off from the city. Unfortunately for the alpine tribes, this left them overextended and they were meticulously pummeled by the Roman cohorts.

The Persians struck the Roman left and had better initial success. Their massive tower elephants pushed back a veteran cohort and their hoplites engaged in a stand-up slaughter with two more cohorts. However, there was just not enough weight to the Persian attack and it withered under the midday sun.

The end of the game found the relieving VIIII laagered comfortably, watching the Persians and Helvetians trail away while the smoke began to rise from the distant city.

One final, humorous anecdote. We have a single unit of hapless mercenaries which are often added to one army in our ancients games. This hapless unit is painted as Thracian medium infantry from the period of Alexander. It is understrength, having only 12 figures (most medium infantry being 16 or 18) and it is rated D class (one of very few to have this least desirable rating). In this game, however, they had their moment of glory as, unopposed, they marched up to a Roman battery of scorpions and charged!

If you enjoy this post, or any of the others here, please spread the word.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Early Spring 1777 - New Jersey (hypothetical)

Colonel Ebenezer Driscoll’s American brigade stomped out of their winter quarters in search of some rations and shoes. General Howe dispatched Brigadier Dirk Patch to spoil the American’s excursion and keep them hungry and barefoot.
The two columns met near Dricut’s Store on a cold sunny spring day.
Major Scudbucker had been stripping Farmer Northey of what was left of his larders when word arrived of the British advance. He sent a courier thundering (actually trotting, the horse was too lean to do much more) to Driscoll and called his men into formation. Captain Forrester’s Connecticut Light Infantry stretched out to cover the American south flank in an open wood lot. He then deployed his two companies of Pennsylvania Continentals behind fences and outbuildings on Northey’s farm supported by a section of 3-pounders. Scudbucker deployed his German Flats militia behind and in support of the guns.
Driscoll had personal control of the rest of his small command. He deployed his Connecticut Line to cover the American north flank in thick woods. The 5th Company of the 4th New York Line deployed on an open hill to the right of the Nutmeggers. His small detachment of riflemen moved to a copse of walnut trees between the hill and Northey’s farm. Coming up from the rear, where they had been “guarding” (more like looting) the already filled supply wagons, were the 3rd and 4th companies of the 4th New York.
Patch deployed his force in a long thin line opposite the Americans. Quickly the two forces were heavily engaged. The 42nd Highlanders led down the farmer’s trail with a 6-pounder lumbering by their side.  A slugging match ensued between them and the American riflemen on one side and the First Pennsylvania on the other.  The uneven struggle fixed the Americans’ attention to fatal consequences.
Major Jonathan Dimsdale led the 33rd Regiment of Foot sharply through the woods and into line in support of, and just north of, the Highlanders. From behind the Highlanders a company of Marines moved into the farm building opposite the Pennsylvanians and took up shooting positions under cover of the thick log walls. This, despite the New Yorkers deploying in support of the Pennsylvanians and delivering a measured volley.
The tide of battle, a battle only 15 minutes old, now turned distinctly in favor of the redcoats. While the Highlanders fell back the 33rd decimated the riflemen with rapid volleys, forcing them to likewise retire. On the far northern flank the dismounted 17th Light Dragoons started to drive the Connecticut lIne through the woods, though stubbornly opposed.
At the same time three companies of grenadiers approached Scudbucker’s center.  The Pennsylvanians did their best, standing stoically behind Northey’s fences but the balls arrived with much too great a regularity. One by one the Continentals fell out of line, dead, wounded, or just done in by the ferocity of the British fire. The cannons banged away but mostly ineffectually, getting only a single telling canister shot in that beheaded a poor lieutenant of the 23rd Foot and cut an entire section in half.
The coup de main in Scudbucker’s area was when the Grenadiers of the 5th Foot moved forward, bayonets glittering in the sunshine. The Americans had had enough.
On the far south flank the Light company of the 10th Foot methodically cut up the American Light Infantry and then chased away the militia, bravely led forward by Captain Van Eyken, with a deliberate fire by platoons.
With the riflemen and the Pennsylvanians falling back it was now the turn of the 5th New York company to be
decimated on their exposed position on the naked knob.
In apoplexy Driscoll watched his command melt away under the British fire. Captain Iverson’s company of New Yorkers and Miller’s Connecticut line, from cover of woods west of Northey’s farm, checked the British pursuit long enough for the remnants of the American brigade to slink away. All in all the Americans lost 211 men out of only 1120 engaged. Another 55 simply disappeared into the countryside, never to return to their units.  Patch’s regulars, by contrast, brought 1400 men to the fray and suffered a bare 96 men lost to all causes.
This battle was fought in 25mm in January 2013. We use A Continent in the Balance rules.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Battle of Bennington August 16, 1777 (history)

General John Burgoyne’s expedition to split the rebellious New England colonies from the rest of the nascent United States was running short of supplies by the beginning of August 1777. Adding to his unease Burgoyne had not had any contact with General William Howe in New York City who was supposed to be leading a column north up the Hudson to join with him. Loyalist scouts informed him that there was a well-stocked depot at Bennington, Vermont. He determined to send an expedition to seize anything of value.

Burgoyne detached a force of about 800 men under Hessian Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum on August 11 toward Bennington. Baum was seriously hindered by his inability to speak English, the roughness of the track he was forced to march down, and the inappropriateness of his dragoons’ riding boots for marching through the American wilderness. The progress of his force was well-known to the Patriot leaders well before it reached the depot.

Brigadier General John Stark rallied a militia force variously described as being between 1500 and 2000 strong to meet the raiders. Baum received word on August 14 that the militia had been raised and that more than 1800 men held the Bennington depot. He sent back word to Burgoyne, halted his column and dug in. Unfortunately for Baum, he spread his small force widely in the broken country, with about 200 of his men (Tories and Canadians) on the south side of the Walloomsac River and the rest of his command to the north.

Colonel Moses Nichols led his regiment around Baum’s force to attack from the north.  Colonel Samuel Herrick led his regiment to attack from the south and rear. Colonels David Hobart and Thomas Stickney attacked the Tory redoubt south of the river. Stark, with about 1000 men led the main attack on Baum’s main position, the “Dragoon Redoubt”. The American attack was launched about 3:00 pm and, incredibly, went off without any serious hitch.

Stark is reputed to have exclaimed as he exhorted his men forward, “There they are! We’ll beat them before night or Molly Stark will be a widow!” Baum’s Indian allies, having been unreliable from the start, abandoned him completely when the battle began. Hobart and Stickney quickly overran the Tory position. The Canadians, like the Indians, simply melted away. Likewise the other small outposts were overrun but Baum held desperately for two hours in the Dragoon Redoubt.

The German determined to cut his way out with his survivors about 5 pm. But then a bullet mortally wounded Baum and the remnants of his force surrendered. Only nine men of Baum’s column managed to return to Burgoyne’s army.

Meanwhile, on the morning of August 15, Burgoyne had sent a relief column based on Baum’s alarming report of American strength. This force, of 642 men under Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann, arrived late in the afternoon, after Baum’s fate had already been decided. Stark’s forces were badly scattered by their victory and could have been decimated by the new column but Breymann had the misfortune of running right into Seth Warner’s Vermont militia who arrived on the battlefield at the precise moment of need from Manchester.

Warner’s regiment and about 300 men that Stark rallied met Breymann on the road. A furious firefight ensued. Breymann attempted to flank the American in the woods but was bloodily repulsed. His ammunition running low and his force disintegrating, Breymann ordered a retreat. If not for the colonel’s personal bravery and skill, his force would have met the same fate as Baum’s. Wounded, with 5 bullet holes in his coat, Breymann personally led a small rear guard that held off the American pursuit of the broken column. As it was Stark and Warner captured both of the relief column’s cannons and inflicted 200 casualties on the small force, forced to halt their pursuit only by the fall of night.

Burgoyne was thus deprived of much needed supplies. His Indian allies almost completely abandoned the main army, and he lost about 900 combat troops killed, wounded, and captured. The Patriot victory at Bennington was a major contributor to the later ultimate defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga. American losses were 30 killed and 40 wounded.

Order of Battle – Baum’s Column
Brunswick Dragoons (dismounted, 200 men)

Jager Detachment (50 men)

Brunswick Infantry Detachment (37 men)

Hanau Artillery (2 3-pounders, 13 men)

British Light Infantry (50 men)

Peters’ Queens Loyal Rangers (about 150 men)

Local Loyalist companies (about 150 men)

Canadian Militia (about 100 men)

Indians (about 100 men)

Order of Battle – Breymann’s Column

Brunswick Grenadiers (about 330 men)

Light Infantry (about 280 men)

Hanau Artillery (2 6-pounders, 30 men)

Order of Battle – American (General Stark – about 2100 men total)

Gregg’s New Hampshire Militia

Nichols’ New Hampshire Militia

Herrick’s Vermont Militia

Hobart’s New Hampshire Militia

Stickney’s New Hampshire Militia

Langdon’s New Hampshire Militia

Simond’s Massacusetts Militia

Warner’s Vermont Militia


Eggenberger, David. A Dictionary of Battles. Thomas Y. Crowell, New York, 1967.

Morrissey, Brendan. Saratoga 1777: Turning Point of a Revolution. Osprey, Oxford, 2000.

Peckham, Howard H. The War for Independence. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979.

Wood, W. J. Battles of the Revolutionary War. Algonquin, Chapel Hill, NC, 1990.

Map from The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History by Grace Greylock Niles, published 1912.

The Battle of Cax Station (hypothetical)


Rosecrans decided to send a strong reconnaissance in force to tear up the Vicksburg and Chattanooga railroad and feel out the Confederate left for a possible advance. To this end he dispatched Brigadier General Larry’s Division reinforced by McClernand’s Brigade. The column travelled light with five days’ cooked rations and 80 rounds ammunition per man. Wheeler almost immediately reported the movement and Hardee ordered Hindman’s Division to intercept. The two equally matched forces met at the remote Cax Station of the Vicksburg and Atlanta Railroad deep in the woods of western Georgia. Both generals deployed their divisions out of the line of fire and plunged into the woods on either side of the station in long irregular lines. Hindman deployed, from north to south, Vaughan, Anderson, Manigault, and Deas. Larry countered with Raith, McClernand, Tuttle, and Patton.

Hindman Deploys Deas is at the bottom with Manigault and Anderson astride the railroad. Vaughan is lost in the upper arm of the picture.
Corresponding deployment by Larry. From bottom, Patton, Tuttle, McClernand.

McClernand crested a small hillock overlooking the town and sent Lieutenant Charles David racing back to the 46th Ohio. The order – double time over the hillock and storm the town. As the regiment advanced  Major Garrett King said to his former law partner from Maumee, Joshua Churchill, “The Rebs have us in a death ground. The General has killed us!”
 The 46th Ohio on the left; Tuttle to the right.

True to the Major’s premonition Anderson calmly deployed his veterans amongst the buildings of the station, the 7th Mississippi and 10th Mississippi in the front rank, supported by Garrity’s Alabama Battery and opened an even devastating fire, resting behind fences, hitching rails, water barrels, windows, etc. To Anderson’s right the 11th Tennessee from Vaughan’s brigade added its fire from the schoolhouse yard.
The Ohioans fell in windrows. Their return fire was scattered amongst the plethora of targets and desperately ineffective. The few survivors huddled on the ground, looking for support that was nowhere to be seen. McClernand, of course, being distracted by the slow advance of Raith to his left. Instead of calling up support he left the Ohioans to their fate. Within 20 minutes the 50 still present survivors slunk back behind the hillock.

Death of the 46th Ohio 1 Raith attacks the schoolyard on the left.
McClernand had three additional regiments but he failed to issue orders to them either to support the 46th Ohio or to apply pressure to either side. Battery B, Missouri Artillery rolled up the hillock and engaged Garrity but definitely got the worst of it when a caisson took a direct hit and battery commander Lieutenant Francis Borman stopped a 12-pound ball with his legs.
Instead McClernand spent the afternoon cap to cap with Brigadier General Raith, “explaining” to the latter how politicians in Illinois could move faster than Raith’s bluecoats. Raith, however, his nose red and his breath smelling strongly of Kentucky mash, calmly allowed McClernand to make his explanations and issued orders to his inexperienced Zouaves.
Raith launched his 114th Pennsylvania and 9th New York against the school and its fenced yard with the equally inexperienced 11th New York Battery in support. Meanwhile he maneuvered the 11th New York Infantry and the 5th New York, the latter fresh from the east around the Confederate right.

Raith's advance
Against Raith, Colonel Vaughan deployed his Tennesseans. Scott’s Battery took a position in the firing line between the 11th Tennessee which faced left and was pummeling the 46th Ohio and the 47th Tennessee who occupied the main part of the school yard. The line was then extended by the 13th Tennessee with the 29th Tennessee in support across the lane from the school.
The easterners advanced boldly against the yard and suffered devastating buck and ball from the smoothbore-armed 47th and rapid blasts of double canister from Scott’s howitzers.  The 9th New York managed to briefly close to the fence and poke its bayonets at the 47th but, in the end, was forced to fall back. The 114th Pennsylvania had but 103 men answer the call to colors the next day from the 375 men that advanced at the start.

High Water Mark at the Schoolyard
Vaughan, true to the form that had thus far kept him from gaining his general’s star, issued no orders to advance out of the school yard and capture the now exposed cannon of Lieutenant Jones’ New York Artillery. He had pushed forward both the 13th and 29th Tennessee to engage the 11th new York Infantry. However the 5th had continued around and had achieved a position beyond Vaughan’s flank. But more on this later.
Manigault had advanced to the station and had posted Waters’ Alabama Battery snugly between a small woodlot and the Cax County Bank. The 10th South Carolina occupied the bank, the station house and its outbuildings to Waters left and the 34th and  24th Alabama moved up in support of Waters to his left. Manigault’s 19th  Palmetto regiment formed a second line.
Advancing on Manigault was tobacco-chawing, hard-swearing Lawrence Tuttle.  Tuttle posted his Battery D, Illinois Light Artillery between McClernand’s hillock and the woodlot. The battery would pound the station the entire afternoon, inflicting dozens of casualties on the 10th Mississippi and 34th Alabama, despite the advantages of the buildings.  Tuttle had an entire brigade of hardened veterans. Leading was the 48th Illinois on his left and the 2nd Minnesota on his right. Both regiments pushed forward in skirmish order through the woodlot. Behind were the 11th Indiana on the left and the 11th Illinois on the right.

Tuttle's Deployment
Manigault, known for his aggressiveness, ordered the 34th to charge just as Tuttle ordered the 11th Indiana to charge through the 48th Illinois. Both regiments were surprised to find the other careening through the woods but the veteran Yankees held their ground and the less experienced Alabamians fled.

Climax of Tuttle and Manigault
Manigault leading the charge
Unfazed, Manigault ordered the 34th Alabama forward. The 11th Indiana, already stunned by the first charge, stubbornly fell back on their supports but Waters was now safe and added discharges of canister to add to the discomfort of the Hoosiers. Tuttle, cursing and spitting (literally spitting mad) ordered the 48th to continue the assault. By now, however, the momentum was gone and the woodlot full of dead, dying, mangled, and cowering. Despite prodigious amounts of cursing, the attack had failed.

Tuttle Repulsed
On the far right Brigadier August Patton advanced his large, inexperienced brigade through an open woods toward Prince Goddard’s mansion and Roger Dalton’s orchard across the road. Tuttle’s 2nd Minnesota led the advance through the woods, the veterans moving efficiently and coming to the edge of the woods as the Confederates reached the edge of the split rail fence surrounding the orchard. Straggling just a bit behind was Patton’s 78th New York to the westerners right. Extending the line were 5th West Virginia and the 5th Connecticut with the raw 111th Pennsylvania in the far right rear and the 3rd Maryland behind the New Yorkers.

The Battle for Goddard's and Dalton's
Opposite Patton was the old coon hunter General Deas. At the head of this experienced brigade was the 17th Alabama Sharpshooter Battalion. Dent’s Alabama Battery deployed down a tiny wood cutter’s lane on the far left of the line. Between were the 25th and 39th Alabama with the 22nd and 50th Alabama in reserve.
The sharpshooters reached the edge of the orchard as the Minnesotans reached the edge of the woods. Five minutes later the New Yorkers entered the fray.  The gophers, drilled to make every shot count in the Indian confrontations of the previous year matched the sharpshooters hit for hit. Add the devastating fire of the New Yorkers and their brand new Springfield muskets and the elite Rebs were destroyed.

78th NY and 17th Ala SS
The 22nd Alabama stepped forward and, in the face of their resoluteness, the gophers backed away into the woods. Now it was the turn of the 78th New York to fall back from massive fire effect combined by the 22nd and 39th Alabama. Meanwhile Dent was pounding the 5th West Virginia.
The 3rd Maryland now took its position opposite the orchard and a slugfest ensued between it and the 22nd Alabama.

High Water Mark at the Orchard
It was now 4:00 pm and Major General Larry had received reports from Patton that he was unable to push through the Confederate left, from Tuttle that the station was too strongly held, and saw for himself the confusion of McClernand’s intact regiments and the debris that was left of the 46th Ohio. Only Raith reported he was still capable of attack; and Captain George Donner of the 114th Pennsylvania, his arm in a bloody sling, was at headquarters reporting his regiment destroyed. Larry sent his ADCs galloping off with order to withdraw.
Lieutenant Barfsdale reached Raith at the head of the 5th New York just as that regiment was poised to turn the Rebel flank. “You have been recalled!” shouted Barfsdale. Raith bellowed back, his face red and eyes bloodshot looking clearly the mad genius, “I am about to turn them!” Barfsdale, a bartender before the war, had seen many like Raith before. “Orders supercede opportunity, Sir! You have been recalled!”

Raith Denied
With that, reluctantly, Raith, ordered his regiments to fall back and regroup.

The Zouaves before recall
Cax Station cost the Yankees 2500 casualties and 3 guns. The Confederates lost 1600 men and one gun. More importantly the Confederates ate well with the stores at Prince Goddard’s, the fruit in Dalton’s orchard, and the stores at the Station.

Waters (and Manigault) triumphant
Battle was fought by the Long Island Irregular Wargaming Club in 2011 using Mr. Lincoln's War rules. Figures are 15mm from a variety of manufacturers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013



Admiral of the Fleet at a young age!

Back in the day of computer punch cards and plastic soldiers I fought endless imaginary battles on the floor. The imagination was the thing - sailing ships with World War II howitzers and boarding planks!

There have been tremendous changes since that idyllic time. But always there has been a balance - the  quest to KNOW the history and understand what the participants felt - and the comraderie and enjoyment of the wargame, with varying degrees of historical accuracy.

This blog will explore both of these parallel interests. Here you will find both hard-boiled history, either written by me, or reviewed or referenced, as well as historical fiction - the replays, the made-up scenarios of a bunch of like-minded enthusiasts.

Come by, read, contribute a positive comment, enjoy. Follow my blog with Bloglovin