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Subject: The defeat of Grant's campaign against Vicksburg rss

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Pete Belli
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Civil War Express is a strategic level game of the American Civil War. It is designed to be completed in less than one hour but players will find many of the crucial elements of the conflict contained in the rules. Civil War Express is a Do-It-Yourself game that uses some components from Settlers of Catan and an ordinary deck of playing cards.




The game also includes an 11" x 17" paper sketch map which can be used as a playing surface. Some of the illustrations in this Session Report feature that map.

Instead of forcing busy Geeks to struggle through a lengthy article covering an entire game this brief Session Report will provide a description of Grant's first campaign against Vicksburg in the fall of 1862.




This image shows the strategic situation. Bragg and Rosecrans are contesting middle Tennessee while Lee is awaiting Burnside's advance in the eastern theater. The Yankees have also sent a naval expedition to New Orleans.




This image shows two Union army units advancing into the Vicksburg hex. This would cost the Union player two command points because the Vicksburg hex is under enemy control. Entering a hex which is not under enemy control costs just one command point.

Historically Grant moved south along the railroad while Sherman prepared for an amphibious movement against the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg. The incompetent Union political general McClernand was assembling recently enlisted troops in Memphis.

Pemberton was holding Vicksburg. The bold Confederate leader Earl Van Dorn has a plan to halt Grant's advance. Rebel cavalry under Forrest was also in position to strike the Yankees.




The Confederate player decides to expend two command points to launch an attack. Battles usually cost two points but conducting offensive operations in an area which is in poor supply would cost four command points. The Confederate player also chooses to add a cavalry raid (presumably Forrest) to this battle. The red arrow shows Forrest's move north against the Federal troops guarding the railroads. This would disrupt any Federal supply lines running through that area.

Each player receives just a small number of raids (the Rebels get more cavalry early in the war until the Yankees learn how to use mounted troops effectively) so deciding where and when to use them is crucial. This cavalry raid adds one to the Confederate battle strength. Since both players now have a strength of two the odds are even.

Both players roll dice for leadership. A roll of five or six represents an active leader on the battlefield and adds one to the player's battle strength. Van Dorn wrecks Grant's huge supply base with a lightning fast attack -- in game terms the Confederate player rolled a six! The Union player rolls a three... historically Grant's advance ground to a halt while Sherman's assault on the Vicksburg defenses was repulsed because Pemberton did not have to face a pincer movement.




The difference between the attacking Confederate strength (3) and the Union defending strength (2) is considered to be +1 on the Confederate battle table. That column looks like this...

+1

1 = A
2 = --
3 = --
4 = --
5 = D
6 = D

...with A representing attacker defeated and D representing defender defeated. The other result is no effect; essentially a strategic stalemate.

The Confederate player rolls a five which results in a defender defeated outcome. The Union player is forced to retreat and withdraws to Memphis.

In spite of the numerical superiority of the Union forces the Confederate commander has used cavalry operations to halt the Federal advance on this crucial objective... with some help from those leadership dice.
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Peter Walsh
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Very interesting example!

When I look at the map and consider the way Grant's campaign was frustrated by Confederate cavalry raids I am left to wonder if Grant can continue the historical line of attack and use the river for supply (with all the problems that entailed in getting a foothold on the east bank of the Mississippi?)

I'm hoping that this example only reflects the failure of Grant's 1st attempt to take Vicksburg, but if there *is* an alternative to the overland approach to Vicksburg how do you prevent a player from using historical hindsight to avoid this situation altogether?
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Pete Belli
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Thanks for the comments!

Quote:
how do you prevent a player from using historical hindsight to avoid this situation altogether?


An excellent question.

Every private in both armies knew that Vicksburg was the key to the Mississippi. It wasn't really a question of "Where?" (because the answer was obviously Vicksburg) but a question of "How?"

Grant tried several gambits between the fall of 1862 and April 1863 but they all failed. A Union player in CWEx can push south against Vicksburg or try another maneuver... the strategy Grant originally planned to use.

In early April Grant explained his new plan to Halleck. Grant would bypass the Vicksburg defenses with his army and run the ironclads past the Confederate artillery batteries. He planned to establish a base on the Vicksburg side of the river and then "...send an army corps to Port Hudson to cooperate with General Banks."

These images illustrate this strategy in game terms:




Grant moves south from Memphis. (This costs two command points because Vicksburg is under enemy control.)




Grant bypasses Vicksburg and joins forces with Banks. (In CWEx units may move from a "contested" hex into another "contested" hex at a cost of one command point.)




The combined Union armies attack Port Hudson (at a cost of two command points) defeating the Confederates and clearing the southern portion of the Mississippi River. Grant can now move north against Vicksburg from a secure base.

This total cost of five command points is slightly higher than the average number of command points available in a typical turn (four points) but several event cards would offer the Union player an opportunity to combine these actions.




The Confederate player is now facing a strategic dilemma. A retreat to Vicksburg leaves the gulf coast to the enemy. If the Rebels withdraw to Mobile the Union player can slash the Confederate supply line in the Trans-Mississippi region with a rapid advance on Shreveport. If the Confederates retreat to protect Shreveport the Yankees can capture Mobile and use that coastal area as a secure base for an advance on Atlanta.

---------------------------------

Regarding hindsight... that is a fascinating aspect of this campaign!

Grant's two closest friends (Sherman and McPherson) along with most of the members of his staff thought the plan to "run" the Vicksburg defenses was risky and imprudent.

After Grant boldly moved inland to get between Pemberton and Joe Johnston to defeat them in detail Halleck sent Grant a message in the middle of this campaign complaining about Grant's lack of cooperation with Banks!

Pemberton is often faulted for his performance in this campaign but his response to Grant's daring move after the Union army crossed the river was right out of the military textbooks... Pemberton sent Confederate troops to sever Grant's supply line leading to the river. One problem: Grant didn't have any supply lines to sever and Pemberton was caught completely out of position.

Hindsight? Even with the information we have today it might be difficult to make the correct decisions.

Thanks again for the contribution.


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Peter Walsh
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A few more questions:

Is the first example predicated on the fact that the Union advances into the Vicksburg hex and stops handing initiative (and the opportunity to play a cav. raid) to the Confederates? Or does the Confederate have the ability to interrupt the Union move to play a cav. raid?

Is the level of abstraction here such that we might say that if Grant repeats the same move into Vicksburg without the Confederate player using a raid then Grant is presumed to have now dealt with the cav. either by avoiding them (using river supply and movement for example) or suppressing them (for the time being)?

Trying to abstract events from the real world/history will mean that doing the same thing on the board may not always necessarily represent exactly the same real world/historical event. I'm just curious how far that goes in this game.
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Pete Belli
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Thank you for the insightful comments.

Quote:
Is the first example predicated on the fact that the Union advances into the Vicksburg hex and stops handing initiative (and the opportunity to play a cav. raid) to the Confederates?


Yes.

Quote:
Or does the Confederate have the ability to interrupt the Union move to play a cav. raid?


Excellent question. The event cards do allow the initiative to change during a turn but this momentum shift occurs at the beginning of a player's move, not during the actual maneuver. Your previous question analyzed the situation correctly.

Quote:
Is the level of abstraction here such that we might say that if Grant repeats the same move into Vicksburg without the Confederate player using a raid then Grant is presumed to have now dealt with the cav. either by avoiding them (using river supply and movement for example) or suppressing them (for the time being)?


Yes. Grant could also use a Yankee cavalry raid against the Confederates (if the Union player has one available... the Rebels have a big advantage in cavalry until 1864) or the Union player could use an "Aggressive General" event card to give the blue forces a battle advantage. The number of cavalry raids available during the three seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall) of a year's play is also limited so even the Confederate player must choose the proper time to launch the raids.

Quote:
Trying to abstract events from the real world/history will mean that doing the same thing on the board may not always necessarily represent exactly the same real world/historical event. I'm just curious how far that goes in this game.


Exactly. This is certainly true in CWEx since the game is intended to be on the low end of the complexity scale.

In some games of CWEx the Union player occupies Vicksburg but can't prevent the Confederate player from "contesting" the hex, even in 1864. In historical terms this might represent Forrest operating around Jackson or Meridian in central Mississippi while Kirby-Smith and Taylor put pressure on the western approaches to Vicksburg from their bases in the Trans-Mississippi region. This will give the Confederate player an extra victory point while the Union player still gets credit for occupying the crucial Mississippi River hex. Not historical, but possible in the game.

This CWEx thread...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/439479

...has more information about event cards and initiative.

Thanks again for some excellent questions and comments.
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