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Subject: Once more into the Breach (Illustrated) rss

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This minigame on the Fort Donelson Breakout (now available as free download) was inspired by playing Jon Southard's Unconditional Surrender in 2012, a very nice game, but which made me wonder how the situation would play out in my Age of Rifles system in half the time. The AAR is a 2-player playtest session against the chief playtester and design critic, Baron Nebauer. [Detailed combat results etc. are in brackets, greyed out or blue depending on who attacked.]

The battle was the breakout attempt of Confederate forces from Fort Donelson, which dissolved in confusion after initial successes against Grant's lines. Jon Southard used the brilliant notion of letting the Confederates find out their victory conditions during the game, which I copied. (The choices are between being expected to break out with a significant part of their force, or holding the fortifications after significantly bloodying the besiegers.)

The Union starts with Defend orders which pretty much limits their options unless they decide to let a division commander make a local decision, for which they are not really suited, especially since they were given a verbal shellacking by Grant a bit earlier after McClernand, who apparently was a bit of a glory hound, attacked the fortifications prematurely. In this case the Union decided not to let them do anything which might have been a mistake, since C.F.Smith is good enough to work on his own nonetheless. As a result, most of the Union troops sat idly by in the initial assault.

Unlike the historical assault which went in mainly on the eastern wing against McClernand's 1st Division, the Confederates decided not to brave the difficult-to-cross thickets on that wing and their attacks went for the center. Around 6am, the Confederates under Buckner had picked their way across the ravines and open ground and attacked Wallace's rather weak division. Head and Heiman's brigades went in against Thayer, with both sides taking heavy losses. Among these were both division commanders, Buckner and Wallace being wounded and carried back to their own lines. (Only a 1 in 6 chance for either, if he is with troops that take a loss.) The Union troops still stood their ground, but the leader loss was more nefarious for the Rebels as the Confederates recoiled back into their fortifications.

The retreat of Buckner's division causes the replacement leader to end up right next to Floyd, the army commander, who therefore in the 7:00 command phase immediately gives an order to relaunch the attack. [On a roll of 9, the replacement gets a "R4" result.]

At 7:00, Pillow's division came forward to attack Cruft's brigade on the right of the 2nd division with Baldwin and McAusland's brigades. [Strength 9:5, DR 5:9, 1:1 losses] Again, both sides took heavy losses, but in this case Cruft's inexperienced Union troops recoiled from the attack. The Confederates lost another division commander, as Pillow left the battlefield. (He's a pretty crappy commander, so having him replaced is not so much of an issue.) However, it was not too surprising then that Pillow's division, too, lost confidence and abandoned the assault for the time being.

Around 9:00 a short lull develops in the battle. With Cruft's reduced brigade out of the way, the Confederates occupy most of the 3rd Division's setup area and now know what their victory goals are. (The Union player, at this point, did not know!) But Buckner's division has succeeded in their original orders and will not move further for the moment.

By 10:00, the Confederates renew their assault, with Pillow's division attacking the left (inner) flank of McClernand's position. McArthur's brigade is routed, but the position is (for now) held by the Union artillery. In the meantime the first Union reinforcements have appeared on the map - six regiments that are formed in to two ad hoc brigades which will join the remnants of the 3rd Division.

At 10:00 Clernand decides that he has to do something and sends Oglesby's brigade to counterattack the left flank of the Confederate assault. Oglesby's attack peters out though. [I think both sides rolled something like 3 or 4 in combat on 2d6.]

At 11:00, the battle on the left reaches fever pitch. Oglesby attacks Wharton's brigade again and again fails to budge it. That is his last chance, as the Confederates now counterattack. Wharton's troops sweep Oglesby's brigade before them, causing heavy losses and disrupting the Union troops. Meanwhile, Baldwin's brigade overruns the battery that has so far withstood the assault.

In addition, at 12:00, Johnston's division now enters into the fray. Johnston leads Simonton's brigade, with heavy artillery support, across the open ground and assaults Morrison's brigade, bringing up his artillery close for support. This turns out to be a costly error, as Johnston is wounded, without his support, Simonton's troops are forced back by Union first fire across the open ground, and the guns are lost to a counterattack. In an incredible stroke of bad luck, all 3 Confederate division commanders have been lost on their first turn of engagement.

Predictably, Johnston's replacement aborts the attack and again withdraws.

By now, it is 13:00 and Grant has appeared on the battlefield. He rides over to C.F.Smith and orders him to counterattack the Confederates. But it takes forever to get the attack orders out to the brigades camped in the woods for miles around. [Smith rolled a '5' for order compliance.]

With Buckner's and Pillow's divisions not moving, another lull falls across the battlefield. Oglesby's brigade is patently incapable of reorganising. Wallace's 3rd Division has joined up with the reinforcements and is again a reasonably credible fighting force if the Confederates should try to break along through the central road, although it has lost virtually all its guns.

Only at 16:00 do Smith's troops finally move out to the attack, and fall on Buckner's division's right flank, held by Brown's brigade. Being fresh, they attack strongly and Brown's troops are routed. [8:6, DR9:4, 2:0]

By 17:00, the Confederate reaction is clear - they are retreating back to their fortifications! [Buckner's division accepted its orders] This fires up Smith's men, and Lauman and M.L.Smith's brigades attack Head's brigade in a gap in the fortifications and eliminate it. [7->5:3, DR9:?, 2:0] Meanwhile Cook's brigade attacks the rifle pits from the north and is repulsed! [5->3:1, DR5:9, 0:1] Despite Cook being disrupted, Smith's division is now about to enter the fortifications.

At this point the Confederates resigned. They turned out to have defensive victory conditions, as indicated by Buckner's falling back to the fortifications. The Union had 12 losses, so the 15 required for a Confederate victory would have been achievable. But with Smith's units already in the fort, it was unlikely though not impossible that the Confederates would be able to drive them out again. Personally, I would have sent Pillow in for a counterattack, but them's the breaks. Had the Confederate victory chit ended up requiring breakthrough, the Confederates would have been in a good position to try. They did well given the immediate loss of all their division leaders.

We took 2 hours for the whole game, including teamaking time.

(This AAR was originally posted on CW in March 2013.)

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