Franco-Prussian Excursions

Several years ago I had the good fortune to visit several Franco-Prussian War battlefields in France. It’s an interesting war which, among other factors, has the impacts of technology on the battlefield front and centre. From an infantry perspective both main armies are equipped with breechloading rifles, though with very different capabilities. Artillery is being transformed with the Prussians benefiting from their modern Krupp guns. Not to be outdone the French are facing tactical challenges with the introduction of the Mitrailleuse.

At the time of my visit I undertook to purchase a number of 6mm miniatures to refight some of these battles. Fortunately one of my favourite sets of rules, Volley & Bayonet, models this period well. It was therefore a logical extension. Unfortunately, for one reason or another my painting progress stalled. There just never seems to be time to complete one project before being distracted by another. Last year however the first batch of French figures, which can be seen below, were ready.

At the same time one of my regular opponents posed something of a challenge, by asking if we could play some smaller than normal Volley & Bayonet games which could be resolved in around two hours. Intrigued, I pondered options. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I put together a small scenario which used both the limited forces available and would utilise an equally limited gaming window. Despite these limitations the French would deploy most of a single corps, some 22,000 infantry, 72 cannon and 12 Mitrailleuse. Advancing towards them the Prussian commander would have 30,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 96 cannon. A reasonable number and well representative of a smaller battle.

Everything was set for a challenging game. For those interested I have tried to summarise our fictional encounter in the following report. Hopefully you find it of some interest.

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Dusting off the Austrians

Our Napoleonic gaming kicked off last Friday with our first Volley & Bayonet game of the year. Despite a range of armies to hand I was particularly keen to see my Austrians take the field. Further, while we have been playing a few 1813 games of late I find the 1809 campaign equally interesting and worthy of a game or three.

Why, well the 1809 campaign has a mix of battles of various sizes. These range from the massive battle of Wagram and the equally dramatic battle of the Aspern-Essling to the smaller, but equally fascinating, battles in Italy.

However, despite a good selection of historical battles we thought a good place to start the year was a fictional engagement.

Both the French and Austrians deploying some 3000 points of troops which for these armies amounts to around 50,000 troops. Now, who better to command the Austrians than Archduke Charles. With the 6mm miniatures deployed we were set for a great multiplayer game on a Friday evening. If you are interested you can find a short report here.

The Year That Was

Here we are in the middle of January and I am acutely aware how long it has been since my last post. Certainly 2018 has been a hectic year for me and there have been aspects that have caused plenty of challenges. Yet I am fortunate that I have had a good group of friends with which I have spent many hours rolling dice and moving toy soldiers around the table. A tonic and sometimes an escape from the day to day challenges we all face.

During 2018 I managed to play most of the game systems I enjoy. Spearhead and particularly Modern Spearhead featured heavily during the early part of 2018. Unfortunately they have been absent most recently due to those players interested in these rules being distracted by work. Hopefully regular Spearhead games will soon appear on my calendar.

Volley & Bayonet has been a solid Friday evening game system during the course of the year. Always an excellent multiplayer rules system I can’t for the life of me see why they are not more popular.

They provide excellent fictional games such the American Civil War Game illustrated above and below.

However, they are also ideal for refighting historical battles. Last year I was even fortunate enough to enjoy a few Napoleonic refights as well as an outstanding multiplayer Volley & Bayonet game in Tennessee, a refight of Stones River. It will be a game that I will remember for many years.

In addition to all of the above DBA has also provided much enjoyment, most frequently on Tuesday evenings. For those interested in such things you can find various reports on my Ancient Wargaming Blog. During the year some games were of particular noteworthy and were recorded, one was Flaminius’ Legions. This report documents the first battle with my reconditioned Polybian Romans which have been languishing on the “to be painted pile” for a long time. More recently my son and I made good use of his holiday in Christchurch for several DBA games. A few of these games are recorded in The Revenge of Peucestas and Epeirot Adventures.

I’m rather looking forward to 2019. It promises to be busy of course, but there will be some interesting games to play while sharing a few tales with friends. I may even post here a little more regularly…

Stones River

Stones River has been on my radar for many years. I recall first reading of it when I was a lad and obtained a book from the local library. Today, I was joined by Eric, another wargamer and Murfreesboro resident, on a tour of the battlefield.

Only a portion of the historic battlefield is today part of the park, and that in two parts. These two parts comprise the Union centre and a portion of the Union left. It took me sometime to orientate but I found the most useful references were the old Nashville Pike which remains a public road and the historic path of McFadden’s Lane, a small road that runs north south within the park. Both are shown on historic maps and the excellent maps on the American Battlefield Trust website, though McFadden’s Lane is often not named.

If you visit the park a have some pointers. On arriving of course go to the Park Visitor Centre, collect a copy of the driving tour. In addition make sure you download the OnCell Park Service App for your mobile phone. Further, download the Battle Trust App, or ideally print the four maps prior to your visit. I found the combination of all important for my interpretation of Stones River.

The tour driving path comprises just six driving stops but they are logical. However, interpretation signage is limited so your maps are important. Now, to my actual visit.

Above, two guns from Palmer’s Battery. Initially on the 31st December 1862 they were in the area of Hazen’s Union Brigade. Later they would form the south corner of the Union line which is aptly described as a pocket knife that is being closed. The eight guns were to engage the enemy for four hours from around this position, reorienting during the course of the battle.

Charles Parsons, commanding the battery writes: “At about 8am our infantry came falling back through the pinewoods… our batteries were swung around and bought into action… when he arrived within about 300 yards we opened on his first line… [with] canister… the enemy fell back beyond our view. He reappeared shortly afterward to our left, but again, receiving our fire, fell back beyond our view… At about 12 [noon] just as I had nearly given out of ammunition, I received orders…to retire.”

Further down McFadden Lane you will come to the Slaughter Pen. This area is larger than I expected and clearly provided an ideal defensive position for Miller’s Brigade.

Above and below views of the Slaughter Pen, both viewed from a Union perspective.

As the Union right collapsed the troops defending the Slaughter Pen provided valuable time for the Union line to form along the Nashville Pike. In fact the Union right had moved to a position almost 90 degrees to its original position. In between the Union line and the Confederates was the Cotton field. Here a few photos capture the views.

Above the view from Confederate lines looking out towards the Union lines now formed along the Nashville Pike. The Union infantry line was reinforced by some 38 Union cannon. The park brochure notes a Texan recollection “the artillery opened up on us… and it seemed that the heavens and earth were coming together”

Above, the view from the Union line, just in front of the historic Nashville Pike. While below a view from across the pike where much of the Union artillery was deployed. This shows a slight rise in the ground. It is very open here!

Further along the Union line, parallel with the Nashville Pike, we come to the area held by the Union Pioneer Brigade and the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. The Confederate Brigades of Ector and Harper attacked here. For clarity we are slightly northwest of the Cotton Field now.

From around noon the advancing Rebels conducted three attacks. Despite at one point advanced to within 50 yards the attacks were held by the Union forces. The battery here fired some 1300 rounds during the afternoon action.

Above and below, further photos of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery.

The park tour now moves south east and across the Nashville Pike to the Round Wood or Hell’s Half Acre. From the location of the photo below Hazen’s Union Brigade stretched to the left, across the railway line that marks the park boundary. From here the Union line was extended further by Wagner’s Brigade to the banks of Stones River.

The combination of the river and deployment creating what the maps indicate is a funnel into which the Rebels advanced. The visuals of this location, above, are unfortunately reduced as it sits on the edge of the park with the main wood to the rear.

The final tour stop is across the rail line in a different sector of the park, and again on the park edge. Here on the high ground another massed Union gun line decimated the Confederate attack on the 2nd January 1863. Initially the Confederate attack was successful in driving Union troops from the east side of Stones River.

Today, at least on my visit, long grass and trees obscures the historic Union gun line from the Rebels who advanced on the east side of Stones River. The historic gun line is behind this position.

Thomas Crittenden, commanding the Union Left Wing wrote: “The sound judgement of Major John Medenhall, my chief-of artillery, enabled me to open 58 guns almost simultaneously… turn[ing] a dashing [rebel] charge into a sudden retreat and rout, in which the enemy lost… 1800 men in a few moments… The very forest seemed to fall… and not a Confederate reached the river.”

Well that summarises my visit to Stones River today, and a very interesting visit it was. On a side note, for those interested, I posted a few photos of a refight of Stones River which I participated in a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. You can find it here.

Chickamauga

I have just spent the last three days exploring the battlefield of Chickamauga. While I had planned to spend two days spread between the battlefields of Chattanooga and Chickamauga and another day on other activities.

The 18th to 20th of September mark the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga and my visit landed at the very beginning of the anniversary activities. My plans, fortunately flexible, quickly changed when I realised the depth of the programme.

Chickamauga is an extremely complex battle and one that I have always struggled to understand. Determining how I may describe my visit has also caused me some thought. For example would I summarise my thoughts based on each day of my visit – which didn’t follow the timeline. Perhaps I then wondered if I should follow the driving tour schedule. In the end I just opted for something different.

The Chickamauga Military Park is around 5,300 acres and encompasses much of the historical battlefield. Like most Military Parks it has a driving tour. The tour however does not take in any where the near all of the features. In my view you need to explore further. Even if you just focus on the main driving tour to fully need Chickamauga you need to park and really explore on foot.

The park is heavily centred on the LaFayette Road which runs north to south. From here there are some intercepting roads and a couple that generally run parallel, at least in part.

A couple of places worth considering including on your visit are are the Lee & Gordon Mills, just outside the park, as well the Chickamauga Creek that runs down part of the parks eastern boundary. The section of Chickamauga Creek above is near the Alexander Bridge where Wilder was engaged on the 18th. Both are well off the driving tour, but provide some context.

On the first day of my visited I was rewarded by three events. First was a living history event describing one of the Confederate advances. This was then followed by two historical walks led by Park Historian Jim Ogden. In the first we looked at Confederate General John Jackson and George Maney’s brigades on the 19th. The second explored the fighting in Brock Field, also on the 19th. Both lasted around two hours. Jim’s talks were extremely informative and given his audience is frequently military groups, I was fortunate to be able to join the tour.

The following day I joined two more of Jim’s tours. The first looked Robinson’s Brigade, Hood’s old Texan Brigade, and its attack as part of Longstreet’s attack. Starting off deep in the woods where Longstreet’s brigades formed we followed Robinson’s route of advance, moved with his brigade as it advanced towards Dyer Field, below, and watched as Hood was wounded rallying his old Texan Brigade.

Above, the South Carolina Monument is just visible in the distance across Dyer Field. Jim really bought this advance to life speaking generally without notes he described the advance as well as nearby events in detail. His frequent use of large map boards was also of course useful.

The second looked at Harker’s Brigade at the time of the breakthrough. Starting at the original position prior to 11am near Brotherton Cabin, above, and then as it moved north and the counter marched.

Of course there were many other parts of the battlefield to explore. One obvious was Kelly Field, below.

Below, a very small section of the Union line around Battleline Road on the 20th. Union works were strong I spent considerable time reading each of the brigade and battery markers down this long road as well as several opposite.

One of the fascinating aspects of walking a battlefield is it helps you understand a little more of the terrain. For example at Brotherton Field the very pronounced ridge line on which the Union guns were deployed on the 19th, below, but which was not held on the 20th. George Buell’s Union Brigade instead forming along a wood line in a reverse slope position.

Below, another view of Brotherton, this time showing Confederate guns deployed on the 20th, part of the area where Longstreet’s attack broke through.

What would a summary of Chickamauga be without a couple of photos of Horseshoe Ridge?

Above, the Union left and below one of the many monuments that mark the line as it extends to the right, this one of the 2nd Minnesota.

One of the challenges I have had understanding Chickamauga is the density of the trees. Today much of Chickamauga’s woods have a heavier undergrowth than they did in 1863. However, the park mechanically creates the correct level of undergrowth in some parts of the park and replicates that which was created by grazing by stock.

I have had a fascinating three days at Chickamauga. Trying to capture the visit in photographs has been difficult. If however you manage to visit I do encourage you to try and walk at least a few of the attacks as I did.