Lessons Learnt in the Valley – More ACW Sharp Practice
“Dang nabbit, we gone and dun it. I always said that half o’ this war stuff was jes’ a case of gitting there fustest with the mostest!” Jebbediah Butplug spat a stream of brown tobacco juice into the pile of rocks at the side of the road. He had reached the crossing at Cedar Creek before the Yankees, he was sure of it, however if he wanted to block the road he would have to move quickly. “Lieutenant Pickens, git your riflemen along that rail fence, if them blue-bellies show their faces you show them what the Kentucky Rifle can do, keep them over there ’til I get the rest of the company in order.”
“Oh but Mr Bouldermeir, I do declare that I have not a clue to what you refer.” Miss Angel Delight’s eyelids fluttered as she spoke, the young Lieutenant seemed to sense that her smile was mocking him. The news that she was his cousin and on the way to visit her Uncle, General Bouldermeir had come as a shock to Nate Bouldermeir. He had been raised always understanding that he had no living relatives, let alone one as comely as Angel Delight. His mind raced that the thought that Miss Delight could be an imposter, or, and he prayed that this was not the case, a Spy in the pay of the Confederacy.
“Miss Delight, I have been told that you and I are kith and kin, yet I have spent these past twenty-two years entirely unaware of your existence. Pray tell me, how is it that we can be cousins and yet no nothing of the other’s existence…”
“Mr Bouldermeir, sir, please come forward to the head of the column, the Cap’n things there may be Rebs up at the bridge.” The young soldier had been running, and even as he finished speaking there was the sounds of rifle fire from across the creek. If Nathaniel Bouldermeir could learn anything from Miss Delight it would not be now. There was a war to fight first.
“I must leave you now Miss Delight, I would ask you to remain with the waggon until we can drive off these traitors, once that is done I do trust that we may continue our conversation.” The Lieutenant turned away and ran towards the small house that stood by the side of the road. Up ahead he could see a small group of men under Sergeant Kapp who were hunkering down and taking cover from the solid structure of the stone bridge.
“Ah, Bouldermeir, I am sorry to drag you from the bosom of your family, however more pressing matters seem to be to hand. The rebs are deployed north of the bridge and look to me to be in some strength. Their riflemen are playing Hell with our boys’ nerves. Draw up your men on this side of the road, I will take the bulk of the company through the orchards and try to drive the enemy off. Once that is done we will have to rush the bridge.”
“Keep movin’ get the men into the corn field on the far side of the road, we’ll give them a peppering when they come across the bridge.” The rebel infantry were advancing quickly eastwards, passing Bridge Farm and heading into the wheatfield beside the bridge. On their right one Group of eight men were in reserve in the woods whilst on the rail fence the riflemen were keeping the Union forces off the bridge with their accurate fire. Fortunately their enemy had yet to cotton on to how slowly the Kentucky Long Rifle took to load as a quick dash could have secured the crossing.
“Forward you men, form up along that there fence and keep up a fire on those skirmishers, a few volleys will see them off.” Captain Spiderweb was facing the age old problem of deploying into action from a column of march. He had sixteen men forming up on the fence and ran back to the small crossroads to bring more men from the march to reinforce this line. The enemy skirmishers were causing far more problems that they should for a handful of men, and whilst it was a drastic measure to deploy the bulk of his company against them he had no intention of sending his men forward into the march ground by the river. They use the cover of the fence and drive the Rebels off with weight of fire.
“Sheesh, then Gol’durned Yankees are slipperier than a bucket of snakes. They should be comin’’ over the bridge now, but they ain’t!” Captain Butplug was incensed. He had marched his men down to Bridge Farm and the fields beyond them, only to find that the enemy’s main effort was in driving off his skirmishers on the right. He could see down the lane that Lieutenant Justice T. Lovetrain III was bringing forward the reserve from the wood to support the Long Rifle men, but at that range their effect was minimal. He could see Ethau Pickens was pulling his men back from the fence and the Yankees were now cutting down the men remaining there with thunderous volleys that resonated across the flatland by the river. “They jes’ don’t play fair.” Jebbediah spat again.
“Lieutenant Bouldermeir, move your men down into the orchard by the bridge. I am going to bring up more men along the fence at Orchard Farm and with support on both flanks I would like you to rush forward and form an extended line across the bridge. Use the marshy ground by the river. I do not want you to press home your attack. These rebels have pulled off from the fence line but they’ll be waiting for your attack. Just skirmish with them, give me time to bring the rest of the force across. Understand?”
Nathaniel Bouldermeir understood all too well. The Confederates had been driven back by the rifled muskets of the company, but even so they could counter-attack at any moment. For a few minutes he formed his men up in loose order in the orchard ready to make the run. Along the fence by Orchard farm two dozen fresh men were forming up and preparing to fire under the watchful eye of Captain Spiderweb. Then the Captain’s sword flourished above his head and Nate ran for the bridge. A smattering of musketry came from the wheat field, but the stone bridge provided some cover. Ahead along the road several well aimed shots saw two of the leading men crumple to the floor obliging the young Lieutenant to leap across their bodies as he careered forwards. A crashing volley sounded out to his right and the rebels in the wheatfield could be seen staggering backwards, firing as they went, but overwhelmed by the close order lines that were supporting the attack. On the men in blue ran.
“I am jes’ about fed up with this! These pesky Yankees are too much for us to hold here. Lieutenant Pickens, where in tarnation is Lieutenant Lovetrain? Last I saw of his he was over with you on the fence…Gone, gone where? Never you mind. I think it’s time we were all gone”. And with that Captain Jebbediah Butplug signalled a general retreat for the second time in a few days. How far now were the Confederates from their initial elation after their first two victories. The Yankee troops were advancing across the bridge in numbers now, their despondence of only days ago replaced with the self-belief that only victory can bring. The men in gray were despondent as they withdrew, but one thing was for sure: they would fight again another day.
A very interesting playtest game this week. After last week’s game we found that our group were falling into the wargamers habit of doing things “because they can”. Because their troops could operate in extended order (somewhere between formed line and skirmish) they all decided to do everything in that formation, which led to lots of ineffective skirmishing. We had a bit of a discussion about real tactics in the civil war, and this week the two Union commanders really took the lesson to heart and used a mix of formations to suit the situation. Somewhat unfairly the Rebel commanders hadn’t been present last week, so they stuck to using independent Groups in extended order and, when they came up against the Union Formations in line of battle were just overwhelmed by the firepower and obliged to fall back and rally out of line of sight.
We have also found it pleasing to see the differences between the weaponry mirroring historical results. Smooth bore muskets loaded with buck and ball are GREAT for taking on your enemy in a close range firefight, indeed were we fighting in the Wilderness, for example, I’d prefer them to the Rifled Musket, however, they are pretty useless for anything else. The long rifles, somewhat antiquated but still serviceable, are very accurate in the hands of good troops in a good position, however their slowness to load is a real handicap for anything other than harassing an enemy from distance. Ina stand-up fight they really don’t cut the mustard. For all-round performance the Enfield or the Springfield are the better weapons. They load as fast as a smoothbore, but their range and reasonable accuracy make them a good all-round tool.
All in all we have seen excellent progress this week. The game incorporated a full range of random events and bonus cards, like the original Sharp Practice rules, and they added to the general Civil War feel of the game. That said, it seems that Nate Bouldermeir will have to wait to learn more about his mysterious ‘cousin’, the delectable Miss Angel Delight.