"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
This month represents the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War battle of Second Manassas, fought on August 29th and 30th in 1862. This scenario is not intended to be the definitive 2nd Bull Run experience for the ACW grognard. I created it for my own entertainment, like a kid building a model railroad layout.
The scenario uses several of my brigade-level rules (infantry fires a 3-2 pattern on the battle dice; artillery rolls a 4-4-3-2-1-1) with terrain types including woods, streams, hills, and the unfinished railroad. Any locations shown on the map as historical reference points (like the Groveton settlement) do not effect movement or combat. Four sets of Battle Cry miniatures were required to depict the 30+ infantry brigades in the Union army.
The map was created using a custom hex sheet and terrain stickers I created for the scenario. The grid is 22 x 17 hexes. The board measures 42" x 28" and it is huge. The scenario depicts the battlefield at approximately 1/4 mile per hex, and the compass would point North to the right of this image. The units represent brigades. The scenario begins after the first major Union assault, about noon. Many of the Union brigades are still on the march in response to Pope's confusing orders. The four Confederate units positioned along the western map edge represent formations which have not actually entered the game at this point in the struggle. These reinforcements will be released by an event card during play.
Five main elements will be included in this Session Report:
#1 -- Pope’s military objective at Second Manassas, and his command problems
#2 -- Lee's reluctance to interfere with his corps and division commanders during the battle
#3 -- the massive attack launched by the Confederates when Longstreet finally advanced
#4 -- the importance of morale and the effects of straggling
#5 -- Jackson's defensive position along the unfinished railroad
The confusion at Second Manassas is a good match for the random nature of the Battle Cry system. In fact, the left-center-right format of the game helps to recreate Pope’s command dilemma. The force Pope led into battle was a conglomeration that included formations from three different combat theaters. His newly formed "Army of Virginia" included three corps (Sigel and McDowell were at Manassas; Banks was guarding the supply trains) which had never served together. Two small divisions from the IX Corps had just arrived after conducting amphibious operations along the coast of North Carolina. Pope also controlled four divisions from McClellan's army, and this element of the Union command structure contributed to Pope's downfall.
Porter led the V Corps from the Army of the Potomac. He was detached and maneuvering on Pope's left (southern) flank. Porter was a devoted friend of McClellan and the V Corps commander hated Pope. After receiving a series of poorly worded orders from Pope the Union commander on the left wing did little more than skirmish with the Confederates for an entire day. Porter was later hauled before a court of inquiry and his career was ruined.
To reflect this, severe restrictions are placed on the actions of the Union formations on the left flank which represent Porter's V Corps. More on that later.
Pope was under the mistaken assumption that he only faced Jackson's wing (three divisions) of the Rebel army. Pope was a braggart and presented the appearance of supreme confidence. After Jackson humiliated Pope by destroying the main Federal supply depot at Manassas Junction the Union commander promised to "bag the whole crowd" during the next battle. Pope refused to accept information describing the arrival of Longstreet and the rest of Lee's army. He plannned to conduct a frontal assault against Jackson's position while Porter swept around the Confederate flank. Unfortunately, that approach was blocked by Longstreet with five divisions of Rebel infantry.
Lee's primary objective at Second Manassas was to inflict as much damage as possible on the Yankees before the two separate forces of Pope and McClellan could unite near the Washington DC entrenchments. Planning one move ahead on the military chess board, Lee anticipated a turning movement by Jackson around the Union right (northern) flank if Pope escaped. For this reason it was important for Jackson to remain in position near the fords on the Rebel left while Longstreet advanced.
Lee allowed his corps and division commanders to conduct operations on the battlefield with little interference from headquarters. After serving on the staff of Winfield Scott in the Mexican War the Confederate leader adopted the style and technique used by the conqueror of Ciudad de Mexico. This quote is attributed to Robert E. Lee:
"I do everything in my power to make my plans as perfect as possible, and to bring the troops upon the field of battle; the rest must be done by my generals and their troops, trusting to Providence for the victory."
Pope could be energetic but he was ineffective. Lee, possibly under the battlefield influence of Longstreet, remained patient while evaluating his options. So... the Union player receives four command cards while the Confederate player receives six cards.
The scenario uses a special "hot" deck with a mix of just 36 cards. Several unnecessary or unwanted cards (cavalry hit and run, entrenchments, supply shortage, etc.) have been removed. To speed play all of the skirmish cards and most of the probe cards have been pulled from the deck. Several of the special order cards have been converted into random event cards. For example, the appearance of a leadership card requires the Confederate player to immediately draw the top card from the deck and play it at once. This double move is an attempt to illustrate the avalanche effect of Longstreet's assault, with a touch of randomness to recreate the Lee/Longstreet dynamic. The original counterattack card requires the active player to immediately draw the top card from the deck and play it at once, reflecting the chaos and uncertainty that drenched the battlefield. The fog of war was thick at Second Manassas.
The original rally card signals the arrival of twilight. This card triggering a special night game turn is placed in the bottom third of the pile before the deck is reassembled and will appear randomly.
With a large map and more than fifty infantry brigades in action it is obvious that the ability to conduct additional maneuvers is essential to a successful scenario. Each player has a headquarters unit which functions at the center of a leadership web that includes staff officers, couriers, and division commanders. This headquarters unit never moves and if it is forced to withdraw when the enemy approaches the special command ability of the headquarters is lost for the following turn.
In this photograph a Confederate staff officer (with field glasses) has been attached to a Rebel brigade. A formation accompanied by a staff officer does not require an order from a command card during this turn. In most cases a staff officer can be sent anywhere on the map. However, to reflect the poor coordination between Pope and Porter no Yankee staff officers may be assigned to the Union left wing. Each player receives three staff officer minaitures and the figure can be reassigned at will. They are never "killed" in battle.
Division commanders like John B. Hood and Philip Kearny performed crucial roles during the battle. Bold officers directed assaults and added weight to an attack by bringing forward reinforcements or an extra artillery battery. This photograph shows a mounted Union division commander leading a Yankee brigade. A formation led by a division commander requires no order from a command card and rolls an extra battle dice during combat. Each player has one division commander figure. The general is never "killed" and can be shifted from briagde to brigade (the officer miniature does not represent a specific general) from turn to turn.
Both players dispatch couriers from headquarters. A courier can order a unit to use march movement which doubles that formation's normal maneuver allowance. Couriers can ride anywhere on the board. The number of couriers actually available to each commander will vary during a turn, based on the roll of the dice. However, there is a special Black Horse Cavalry rule for the Confederate player. Lee had formed a group of scouts and couriers by taking a selection of picked men from the 4th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. The horsemen performed brilliantly during the campaign, so the Confederate player always has at least one courier available. The use of couriers will speed formations to the firing line, but march movement may not be used near the enemy.
Several rules have been developed to capture the flavor of the fighting at 2nd Bull Run. One of the dramatic events during the battle occurred as Stonewall Jackson’s troops were defending the unfinished railroad embankment. After the Confederates repulsed a strong Union assault the supply of ammunition began to run low. Desperate soldiers threw stones at the Yankees, a scene frequently recreated in battlefield paintings like the image posted here.
Yankees Get Stoned At Manassas
No game about this struggle would be complete if it didn’t include rules for rock-throwing Rebels. I’ve given the Confederate player two small pebbles requisitioned from a potted plant on the porch. These rocks represent the Confederate response to a temporary ammunition shortage on Jackson’s firing line. When an infantry brigade is defending an unfinished railroad hex the CSA player can decide to expend one of these two stones and immediately receive a bonus roll of the battle dice after conducting normal fire at close range. The player rolls one die. If a flag appears the targeted Union formation must retreat. In this example a Yankee brigade has been subjected to a shower of stones and might be forced to withdraw.
The unfinished railroad embankment was not the fortress described in some accounts of the battle. At a few points the bank was too steep for defensive purposes. At other locations the Confederates actually defended in the woods behind the embankment, using the unfinished railroad as an anchor for the skirmish line. However, there is no doubt that the unfinished railroad served Jackson well. An infantry brigade defending an unfinished railroad hex can ignore the first retreat/flag result on the battle dice.
Other rules place an emphasis on maneuver instead of a toss of the battle dice. A crossed-sabers result only hits if the target is adjacent. Units can be displaced during a retreat, so a division can't be destroyed because it was performing a typical ACW tactical move like advancing in a line of brigades two deep. There is also a special rule for stragglers. When a player's formation has been reduced to one figure that unit can be removed from the board as "stragglers" by expending an order. These formations never return to the game but only count at 1/2 value for victory point scoring.
Army morale is an important element of the scenario and a common rule found in classic wargames has been used... the first player to lose 10 brigades is demoralized and suffers severe command restrictions. For all practical purposes, that player has probably lost the game. During the special night game turn a few depleted brigades can be rallied and gain an extra miniature if a roll of the dice favors the player. I prefer a slow drip-drip-drip of losses instead of sudden casualties which remove units from the map at a rapid pace. Confederate reinforcements also arrive during the night turn, but no combat occurs.
Developing the victory conditions was a major challenge. Pope had his own agenda, and he was obsessed with defeating Jackson. The larger strategic goals of Lincoln or Halleck played little part in his tragically flawed decision-making process during the battle, so I used Pope's personal objectives as a yardstick to measure victory.
To score victory points the Union player must advance against Jackson's position on the Federal right while pushing forward on the left (in Porter's V Corps sector) to get on the Confederate flank. Now this is going to be nearly impossible, so perhaps the Yankee commander will try a different strategy. OK, but he better finish strong. The Federal player absolutely will not win unless the Union flag is planted on at least three unfinished railroad hexes, and a big pile of Rebel brigades should be wrecked.
Destroying many, many, many Federal units is the key to a Rebel victory. The Confederate player can score huge points for interdicting the Union line of retreat at the Stone Bridge and along Bull Run. The CSA player also scores if the northern ford is still under Rebel control because Lee needed to use that route for his planned turning movement.
I've played this scenario four times. I can recreate the historical situation but I haven't (at least not yet) been able to duplicate the historical result. Pope slams into Jackson's line add suffers heavy losses to score those points but sooner or later enough Union couriers get through to Porter and the V Corps. As these brigades slowly slide north Longstreet's chance to defeat the isolated Yankees or crush the exposed Union flank evaporates. No rational Union player will be foolish enough to leave Porter inert and alone on the left, so even if the entire right wing of the Federal army melts away Pope can still block Longstreet.
I've added to the Union victory point burden on the left flank by requiring Porter to (eventually) advance in accordance with Pope's garbled orders or else take a beating on VPs. That worked in the last session, or at least it forced Porter to do something beyond drifting to the right.
This is my most ambitious Battle Cry scenario yet. I plan to try it several more times. There is something magical about the panorama of a large board packed with figures. I'll never grow up, but I don't give a damn.
Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy Session Report.
- Last edited Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:53 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Aug 17, 2012 1:52 am
pete belli wrote:
"Next Lincoln said to Pope: "You can make the trip I hope,
I will save the universal Yankee nation.
To be sure of no defeat I'll leave no lines of retreat,
And I'll issue a famous Proclamation."
But that same dreaded Jackson, that fellow laid his whacks on.
And made Pope by compulsion a seceder.
Pope took rapid flight from Manassas' second fight.
Twas his very last appearance as a leader."
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Great little poem.
Pope came from the western theater. He did issue a proclamation after he arrived, and the arrogant tone of his message angered the soldiers of the eastern theater:
...I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and of "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear...
These words would haunt Pope during the campaign.
Pope had powerful friends in the capital because he joined the faction strongly opposed to slavery and because he advocated a tough policy against the Confederacy. McClellan missed the mark on both of these political positions. Pope's early success along the Mississippi River against mediocre Rebel leaders could not be repeated when he faced Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet.
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Here is an unobstructed view of the map: