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Pete Belli
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Brandy Station 1863 -- a Civil War cavalry battle with a huge map and 250+ miniatures




Brandy Station is known as the largest cavalry battle of the American Civil War. Before dawn on June 9, 1863 two columns of Union troops began crossing the Rappahannock River and surprised Jeb Stuart with a powerful reconnaissance in force. After several hours of fighting the Union soldiers withdrew but Stuart's reputation had been tarnished. Union cavalrymen gained new confidence following their strong performance against the formerly "invincible" southern cavaliers.






An epic battle deserves an epic Battle Cry scenario. The playing surface was created using TWO boards from Memoir '44: Breakthrough plus a customized map extension. It measures more than 56" by 34" and can accommodate the sweeping action of the battle. The combination of these components to portray the struggle at Brandy Station illustrates the flexibility of the Commands & Colors system developed by Richard Borg.

The compass would point north to the right side of this photograph. The map is not exactly to scale; the northern section where most of the fighting took place is shown in greater detail. The southern section where the complicated maneuvers took place is represented almost like a schematic diagram to speed play. Taken as a whole the map works quite well.






Pleasonton commanded the Union cavalry. He had an unfortunate tendency to gather laurels that were not his own and had ascended to this position using that method. After the battle he skipped over the obvious Union errors and made exaggerated claims of success. Part of the problem was an inherent flaw in the Union plan.






This map from Wikipedia shows the strategic situation. Two widely separated columns were expected to meet near Brandy Station and crush Stuart between the jaws of these pincers. However, information regarding Confederate strength and deployment was sketchy. This was a recipe for potential disaster. To paraphrase Lieutenant Colonel Mark Boatner in The Civil War Dictionary a concentric advance -- or concentration of separate attacking columns on the battlefield -- is a maneuver attractive to amateur strategists that almost always leads to their defeat in detail. Stuart's inadequate security precautions saved the uncoordinated Union advance from that fate but the battle was hanging in the balance for most of the day.






Stuart had been preoccupied with a candlelight dance attended by Confederate dignitaries and a series of elaborate cavalry reviews that featured mock charges and blank rounds fired by the horse artillery. The criticism he received after the battle gnawed at Stuart. One of the Confederate player's objectives in the scenario is to avoid embarrassing setbacks while making the best of a bad situation.






Jeb Stuart is represented by a miniature with special leadership abilities. The general can become a casualty if the Confederate player is careless.






This photograph shows the general in action near St. James Church. The figures with the butternut color represent the "Laurel Brigade" that had recently joined Lee's army. These formations do not have the same abilities as Stuart's cavalry. This image also depicts dismounted cavalry; units may fight mounted or dismounted in this scenario.






This is the Right Wing of the Union army that crossed the river at Beverly Ford. Each column included an infantry brigade; these regiments are depicted with light blue miniatures. The size of a Union cavalry regiment varied wildly with some formations having only a fraction of their companies present. In these cases two regiments have been combined to form a single unit. Essentially, each miniature is supposed to represent between 150 and 200 men depending on the quality of the troops.






This column was commanded by the capable John Buford. He later gained fame for his heroic performance on July 1st at Gettysburg. It was Buford (and not Pleasonton, accompanying the Right Wing) who provided the battlefield leadership at Brandy Station.






Two cavalry divisions and an infantry brigade comprised the Left Wing under Gregg. His uninspired performance delayed any meaningful contribution to the battle around Brandy Station until later in the day. This photograph also shows the infantry brigade deployed to guard the approach to the river crossing at Kelly's Ford.






Two large regiments of less experienced cavalrymen recently arrived from the Carolinas under Robertson blocked the road leading north from Kelly's Ford. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, Robertson remained largely inactive during the battle. His regiments suffered only a handful of casualties. In this photograph a Confederate staff officer (waving sword) is trying to get the brigade into action.






A list of notable officers present at Brandy Station would include the legendary George Armstrong Custer, the cantankerous "Grumble" Jones, and the reckless Judson Kilpatrick. On both sides of the firing line cavalry regiments often attracted leaders who were ambitious, bold, colorful, or demented. Alfred Napoléon Alexander Duffié is a perfect example. He served in the French army but left France under ambiguous circumstances. Many of his claims to military accomplishment were not substantiated. Duffié joined the Union army in 1861 and after clashing with a number of officers was eventually appointed colonel of a Rhode Island volunteer cavalry regiment. Following an aggressive performance during a skirmish early in 1863 Duffié was given command of a mounted brigade and then assigned to lead a small division at Brandy Station. His lackluster performance (along with a fundamental dislike of foreign officers among some Union commanders) led to a demotion






The division led by Duffié approaches the Union objective of Stevensburg. A small detachment of Confederate cavalry fought a stubborn delaying action but the eventual arrival of the Union cavalry in the town is probably inevitable. The best hope for the Confederate player is a large expenditure of Union commands to achieve that goal, with minimal southern losses.






The brigade of Wade Hampton played a crucial role in the battle. In this photograph the formations are deployed on a low elevation near the Gee house to challenge Buford's advance. The mounted regiment has just arrived from a reserve position guarding a ford.







Hampton was one of the wealthiest men in the Confederacy and had equipped troops at his own expense earlier in the war. Although he had no previous military experience he proved to be a natural leader. After the death of Jeb Stuart in 1864 it was Hampton who eventually took command of Robert E. Lee's cavalry.






All of the artillery formations in this scenario are considered to be horse artillery with the ability to move up to three hexes.






An intrepid Union officer (brandishing pistol) has ordered a cavalry regiment to advance. This is a similar action to the charge of the 6th US Cavalry and the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteers that was shattered by Confederate artillery fire in 1863.






Dismounted cavalry supported by infantry attempts to drive these Confederates away from a stone fence. Union dismounted cavalry receives a special firepower bonus to reflect their breechloading carbines.

"...we have not had many dead cavalrymen lying about lately."

Major General Joseph Hooker, November 1862

"Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?"

Infantry soldier's frequent complaint during the Civil War

Cavalry units practiced hit-and-run tactics and seldom slugged it out with the enemy. In this scenario all mounted and dismounted cavalry units will take a flag result and withdraw before any losses can be inflicted. So... in a battle with three dice and a result of two flags and a cavalry symbol the retreats have priority over the symbol that would normally cause a loss. The slippery cavalry unit would retreat two hexes and take zero casualties.

Casualties at Brandy Station were severe by cavalry standards but practically miniscule compared to a typical infantry battle.






These pack animals represent the Union supply column near Kelly's Ford. The unlucky 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment lacked horses and was assigned to escort duty. I try to include a reasonable amount of "chrome" in every scenario. The decision in 1863 by the Union high command to move these supplies across the river might be questionable.






The road network can be used to move an entire "column" of cavalry with a special rule. An officer can order a "column" of cavalry (a continuous line of units including horse artillery, all on the same road) to move along that road. In this photograph a North Carolina regiment from Robertson's Brigade is attempting to slow an advance by Gregg along the Fredericksburg Plank Road. This did not happen in 1863 and that Union division slipped through to Brandy Station, triggering a crisis for Stuart.






This scenario uses my random Event Card rules. In this example three regiments from "Fitz" Lee's Brigade under Munford have arrived at the northern edge of the board.






The aftermath of a Confederate cavalry charge near Stevensburg. The charging unit (indicated by the flag on a wooden stand) has conducted two charges and forced two Union cavalry units to withdraw. Both of these formations are instantly disordered. A disordered unit may not attack but it may move and defend normally... plus an officer can "rally" a disordered formation at the beginning of the next turn. The charging cavalry unit is also thrown into disorder. This happens after every charge.

Since the town is a Union objective this might be a good time to explain the victory conditions. There are five Union objectives that must occupied at least one time during the session...

Brandy Station
Fleetwood Hill (represented by either of the peak hexes)
Miller House (on Fleetwood Hill...Stuart's HQ)
St. James Church
Stevensburg

...and two Confederate objectives...

Capture Union Baggage Train
Inflict Heavier Union Losses

...if the final additions and subtractions equal four or more the Union player is declared the winner. In 1863 the Yankees entered four objective hexes but could not claim a victory because Pleasonton did not "disperse and destroy" Stuart as Hooker had ordered.






Regiments from Wyndham's Second Brigade clash with formations from the Laurel Brigade near Brandy Station. These Confederates are equipped with Enfield rifles that have a longer range than the cavalry carbines.






A special Leadership random Event Card has allowed the Union player to immediately dispatch his staff officers anywhere on the map. At the end of this extra phase the door to Brandy Station is wide open.






During the confused fighting near Brandy Station a Union cavalry regiment has made a mad dash for Stuart's headquarters on Fleetwood Hill. This will be humiliating for the southern general.






Here is a view of the terrain around Fleetwood Hill. Stuart's headquarters was at the southern end. The high ground to the east is Yew Ridge, an important strongpoint in the Confederate defensive line.






A bold Union thrust in the direction of Fleetwood Hill has been blocked by the arrival of Confederate reinforcements.






A charge has been made against the Union dismounted cavalry. Units which are being charged must roll to discover if they will stand or withdraw before contact is made. If a flag result appears the targeted unit must retreat one hex. Artillery, dismounted cavalry, and infantry are less likely to withdraw in the face of a charge... and these units get an extra opportunity to fire at charging cavalry.

This particular Union formation failed to stand and retreated. Such units become disordered.






A mounted cavalry formation's best defense against a cavalry charge was a rapid advance; training manuals from the period emphasized that tactic. In this example a Confederate officer (with sword) has ordered a countercharge against a charging Union formation. Both units are marked with flags.

The countercharge has several benefits. No dice are rolled to see if the defending unit will stand. The extra battle die for the charging attacker is eliminated. Any additional charges are prohibited even if the initial charge is successful. However, an officer miniature is required to order a countercharge. A cavalry formation executing a countercharge is always disordered.






The fleeing Union cavalry is cut to pieces as General Stuart joins the battle with part of the Laurel Brigade. Adding insult to injury, a Union infantry unit is needed to restore cohesion to the line.

Severe casualties have damaged the Union player's chance for a victory and the final result is nearly identical to the outcome in 1863... four objectives reached minus heavy losses equals a narrow Confederate win.






Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.

This is the third American Civil War scenario to use my "quick & dirty" cavalry rules. It was the most enjoyable so far. Up next in this series is Brice's Crossroads, an 1864 battle featuring Nathan Bedford Forrest.
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David Cassidy
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Re: Brandy Station 1863 -- a Civil War cavalry battle with a huge map and dozens of miniatures
This is really fascinating. Thanks for sharing!
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Mayor Jim
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Re: Brandy Station 1863 -- a Civil War cavalry battle with a huge map and dozens of miniatures
+1thumbsup Thanks Pete...another fantastic scenario!
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Pete Belli
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Here are the miniatures used in the scenario:

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Paul Kallio
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Pete Belli, I wish you were my next-door neighbor!
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Dan Long
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WOW! Where did you get the 'chrome'...pack mules and pieces that are obviously not from Battle Cry?
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Pete Belli
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El Supremo wrote:
Where did you get the 'chrome'...pack mules and pieces that are obviously not from Battle Cry?


The pack animals are from an IMEX Lewis & Clark playset.

The mounted and dismounted Union miniatures (plus all of the horses and artillery in this assortment) were produced by Eagle Games.

The rest of the toy soldiers are HaT 1:72 figures with a sprinkling of Italeri 1:72 miniatures for the officers.
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Jim Cavallari
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Pete, this was just great! Thanks for the report. I'd love to see more games published featuring cavalry battles during the ACW.I think it would be a fantastic topic for print-and-play.
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Chris Strabala
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Quote:
Cavalry units practiced hit-and-run tactics and seldom slugged it out with the enemy. In this scenario all mounted and dismounted cavalry units will take a flag result and withdraw before any losses can be inflicted. So... in a battle with three dice and a result of two flags and a cavalry symbol the retreats have priority over the symbol that would normally cause a loss. The slippery cavalry unit would retreat two hexes and take zero casualties.


This would be an interesting house-rule to incorporate into standard Battle Cry play. It may make Cavalry more useful and less likely to be taken out by the unit they attacked on the very next turn....
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Minot
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crsluggo wrote:
Quote:
Cavalry units practiced hit-and-run tactics and seldom slugged it out with the enemy. In this scenario all mounted and dismounted cavalry units will take a flag result and withdraw before any losses can be inflicted. So... in a battle with three dice and a result of two flags and a cavalry symbol the retreats have priority over the symbol that would normally cause a loss. The slippery cavalry unit would retreat two hexes and take zero casualties.


This would be an interesting house-rule to incorporate into standard Battle Cry play. It may make Cavalry more useful and less likely to be taken out by the unit they attacked on the very next turn....


That would, IMO, make them too powerful . . . the evasion rule from Napoleonics is probably better suited (auto-retreat two spaces, but ignore flags and any crossed saber hits).
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Pete Belli
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NimitsTexan wrote:
That would, IMO, make them too powerful . . .


A valid point.

Here is a quote from the article:

A charge has been made against the Union dismounted cavalry. Units which are being charged must roll to discover if they will stand or withdraw before contact is made. If a flag result appears the targeted unit must retreat one hex. Artillery, dismounted cavalry, and infantry are less likely to withdraw in the face of a charge... and these units get an extra opportunity to fire at charging cavalry.

The units mentioned (artillery, infantry, dismounted cavalry) that stand for a charge are allowed to fire a quick volley (two battle dice) at the charging cavalry before the mounted formation can come to grips with the enemy.

This rule was explained in greater detail in a previous Session Report.
 
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