Category Archives: American Civil War

Move Swiftly, Strike Vigorously!

A couple of weeks ago four of us gathered for another Volley & Bayonet encounter. Given we have played a few Napoleonic games of late we decided on an American Civil War encounter set in 1862. The Union forces were commanded by Jon and Alastair, with Jon proving the Union forces. Opposing them were Robin and I with the Rebels from my collection.

Each army comprised 3000 points with the Rebels fielding two corps and the Union three smaller corps. While I follow the draft lists I tend to construct the divisions on actual orders of battle. For this battle the Rebel order of battle followed closely that of Lee’s army at Second Manassas in August 1862, which therefore defined the strategic situation of a Confederate advance north against Pope while McClellan removed his army from the Peninsula.

Using the Scenario System in the Volley & Bayonet rules the Rebels were found to be concentrated and therefore had the burden of attack. In contrast the Union forces were strung out in line of march yet they would be able to shake their troops out and reinforce the advanced and isolated Union Corps, if they could just hold the line. A photo report of the game can be found on my Volley & Bayonet blog here

Another great game and an excellent Friday evening.

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Across the Rappahannock 

There are several rule sets that are staples for me and one of these is Volley & Bayonet. I have been using these rules for something like 22 years now, yet they never disappoint. The rules capture the swirling battles of the Black Powder era and produce a narrative not unlike the historic battles of the period they represent.

The rules are ideal for refights of historical battles, of which I have organised many. However, they also work well in fictional situations. Last night’s game was no exception where with little preparation our group deployed two American Civil War armies on the table. The result was a challenging, realistic and entertaining game.

Several chilling events echoed historical precedent in our battle when two Confederate Corps clashed with three Union Corps. A series of critical attacks occurred around the “Angle”. Nearby brigades advanced through dense fields of corn, which me reminded me for a moment, of Antietam. All vivid memories of my visit to several Civil War battlefields last year.

A brief summary of the game can be found here.

Petersburg

I remain behind with my posts but before I get further behind I will post a few photos on Petersburg. I was rather enjoyed following Grant’s Overland Campaign, which started at the Widerness and included battles at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna and Cold Harbor. I visited three of these four yet have yet to post two photo reports. Instead I’ll skip ahead to Petersburg my most recent battlefield.

You are probably aware of the history of the Overland Campaign, but in brief terms Grant refused to go away and after the Wilderness, ignoring heavy casualties, he kept slowly moving towards Richmond until he was northeast at Cold Harbor. Despite further heavy casualties, with no gain, he then slipped south crossing the James River and came against Richmond from the south, via Petersburg. Pettersburg was the key supply route to Richmond. The campaign to take Petersburg began in June 1864 and ended with Petersburg and Richmond being lost in April 1865. It did not start as formal siege, but a series of battles centred around forts, often called batteries, and entrenchments. Later a formal siege resulted. 

The battlefield park covers a significant area, some 30 miles in length. The park is broken into three parts. The Eastern Front, the Western Front & Five Forks Battlefield. With limited time I only visited the Eastern Front section which is preserved in a single large block of land.

The park visitor centre has a significant display of artillery and howitzer barrels, without carriages, which proved extremely interesting. I for example didn’t realise that the Confederates produced some bronze rifles nor did I know that due to a lack of bronze in 1863 they started making iron 12pdr Napoleons.  

Of course the park focuses on the several forts, including the initial ones along the Dimmock Line such as Battery 5 below.  Each fort has a fascinating story to tell of course. Involving attack, counterattack and in some cases reuse. However, for me the lasting point was the evolution of field defences that had taken place over the Overland Campaign.

  

Above, a view of Battery 5 from the outside and below one section of the inside.

  

One of the monsters of Petersburg is the “Dictator” a 13″ sea coast mortar which fired a 225 pound exploding shell over two miles. The mortar below is not the actual Dictator, but rather another 13″ mortar. However, the Dictator was fired from this position during July, August and September 1864. To put the size of this monster in perspective it is slightly higher than me.

  

At one point in the park a reproduction of a fort is being built. It was rather fascinating and helped place the forts and trenches of the battlefield into a degree of perspective. The reproduction fortification is however the work of one volunteer who works on it as time permits. I had a most interesting talk with him, and he a break from what looked to be very hard work on a hot day.

  

It seems rain is a constant enemy to the works. 

 

The volunteer indicated the works deteriorate quickly, with fascines lasting just 12 months. Therefore he is both building and repairing now.  He is obviously taken some liberty with the logs to ensure they last but much of the material is sourced from the surrounding woods, which were not there in 1864.

 

Back to the tour. Another view of note was the crater, the result of a Union mine. 

  

This was the scene of horrific action, slaughter and where no quarter was given of African-American troops by Confederates during the southern counterattack. Arguably worse was that, Union white troops attacked African-American Union troops in an effort to ensure they may themselves gain quarter. The photo does not do the crater, in particular its depth or its width, justice.

Of course I’ve only covered a portion of the Petersburg battlefield here. That said, I found the development of trenches and fortifications over the duration of the Overland Campaign fascinating.

Malvern Hill

The final battle of the Seven Days campaign was Malvern Hill. Based on suggestions by others I had heard that the battlefield was generally well preserved, indeed it was. Historically the Confederate troops arrived on the battlefield in what can be described as a less than organised way followed by the attacks being piecemeal. Ironically, so was my arrival on the battlefield. I had a degree of trouble finding the battlefield and then finding the parking area. That said the battlefield was rather rewarding to visit.

As with Gaines’ Mill and other battlefields near Richmond only a portion of the battlefield is protected. However at Malvern Hill a significant proportion is. Further, that protected is in near historical condition.

Above, Confederate artillery looking across to Malvern Hill. The modern West House, built on the original West House on the battlefield in 1862, can be just seen on Malvern Hill. It’s a useful marker. Jackson’s artillery was effectively at 90 degrees left of this house, when viewed from here. This results in the Union gun line turning 90 degrees around the area of the West House. The James River is off, some distance, to the right and obscured.

The Confederate artillery were however deployed piecemeal and suffered to Union counter battery fire.

“Entering the field at the point where our artillery had been posted, I came upon numbers of dead and dying horses, who, with the drivers and gunners, laid in a pile together; their several dismantled guns, their caissons, fired and blown up by the enemy’s balls – all presenting an aspect of desolation and ruin.” John S. Hard, 7th South Carolina Infantry.

I walked from left, through the woods, having started at the remains of the parsonage. In the woods a significant number of Confederate infantry sheltered from the Union artillery. Having walked across behind the Confederate cannon I walked up the the right flank. In this area there was a noticeable, but gentle, slope down from the Confederate guns to a dip that ran across the battlefield where the woods on the left end. From that point the ground rises again to the Union gun line on Malvern Hill.

The photo below is taken around halfway up Malvern Hill around the area of the Slave Cabins which were historically behind me. It marks the forward position of Confederate infantry in their attacks.

It is worth noting that the Confederates were also under bombardment from Union gunboats operating on the James river.

Below, a photo from the Union gun line looking towards the Confederates. This shows the dip on the ground more clearly. The battlefield had both wheat and corn planted in 1862. To the front of the guns is corn. Given the date of the battle the corn would have been reasonably low. It was when I visited in most parts, due to the lack of growth.

Union guns of which there were 30 to 40, deployed across half a mile frontage. One battery, having six 12 pounder Napoleons, (Company A, 5th U.S. artillery) alone fired 1392 rounds of shell and canister.


I always seem to be surprised by a few aspects of each battlefields, Malvern Hill was the short distance between some Union infantry and Confederates. Below, on the right flank of the main Union gun line deployed forward were Union infantry under Couch (left) and Barlow (right). Confederates were around 150 metres away in the woods and Parsonage.


The Parsonage, included here as it looks rather odd, with only the chimneys remaining.


Another very interesting battlefield.

Gaines’ Mill

Due to some technical difficulties I’ve fallen behind with my posts. To keep things fresh I’ll post a short post on the last two battlefields visited today, forming part of the Richmond National Park area, then catchup on yesterday’s battlefields. The Richmond Battlefield Parks are actually a series of battlefields and historical sites in and around Richmond with most being east of Richmond. I’ve decided to visit three main sites in the outer Richmond area. The first I will cover is Gaines’ Mill, from the 1862 Seven Days Campaign.

Gaines’ Mill was one of the early battles of the Seven Days Campaign, fought soon after Lee had taken command. Unfortunately the battlefield park, like many others in the Peninsula Campaign, covers only a portion of the battlefield. Despite the limited area it was a very enjoyable visit.

The battlefield is focuses on the Confederate right flank. One of the more obvious features of the battlefield is the historical Watt House, which isn’t actually open to the public. Unfortunately, the picture below isn’t that great given the lighting on the day.

The house sits behind the Union front line. In front of the house, behind where I’m standing, is Boatswain Swamp and beyond this the Confederate positions. Behind the house is Turkey Hill.

This photo provides greater perspective. Watt Lane is bordered by split rail fencing, in the distance is Watt House. Boatswain Swamp is down the slope on the left of the photo running parallel to the lane. Union troops used the historical fences to create hasty fortifications in the woods to the left.

As you can see Watt House sits on is reasonably flat area but the slope down to Boatswain Swamp is surprisingly steep. The Confederate attacks came across this swamp, which lies in a gully, and up the Union slope eventually exiting the woods on the left.

Interpreting the signs the wooded area that now covers the area of the swamp and hillside I believe the wood is historical, but expanded. With such things interpreting the original terrain verses the current can be confusing. Given the location of Watt House I imagine the woods were “farmed” so thinned and generally open.

Above, in the area of the Union line that ran along and in the woods. The slope runs down to the swamp on the right. The Watt House plateau to the left. John Bell Hood’s Brigade of Texans crossed the swamp a little further from where this photo was taken.

When I visited the swamp was more of a creek, but as I moved further south the creek widened to a narrow but notable swampy area where Longstreet’s troops crossed, shown below.

Slightly further along, still heading south, was the following memorial to the Alabama Brigade of Longstreet’s Division. Again, the lighting was not kind to my photography.

The memorial reads:

“Brigadier General Cadmus M. Wilcox. Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade, Longstreet’s Division, Army of Northern Virginia, CSA. Near here on June 27, 1862, three Confederate brigades under General Cadmus M. Wilcox ascended this hill, broke the Union line and later assisted in capturing a battery of artillery. Wilcox’s own Alabama Brigade spearheaded the charge. Losing nearly 600 men killed and wounded of the 1850 soldiers in the four regiments.”

Finally, Union artillery, which were able to fire through gaps in the trees at Confederates across the swamp. These guns represent the 5th Massachusetts Battery that engaged Confederates breaking through, before retiring themselves.

“They rushed through the woods over the brook, now filled with dead bodies, closing their ranks as fast as our fire mowed them down…The woods were full of smoke, and the bullets buzzed round our heads like a swarm of angry bumblebees…My horse had a bullet in its flank and one sergeant’s horse lay dead on the ground.” Lt. Charles A. Phillips 5th Massachusetts Battery.

A small battlefield park, but one that highlighted some very interesting aspects of this battle.