Jebbediah Butplug took a long draw on the stone jar of whiskey and sighed; he was a contented man. He’d whipped the Yankees twice in the last two weeks and seized supplies that his men were now taking back to the main army around Manassas, but for now he could take his time to enjoy the warmth of an unusually clement early spring evening in the Valley. He’d licked them blue-bellies for sure, they wouldn’t be back…
Captain Abner Spiderweb looked back at the men who marched behind him; they were a fine body of men, but there could be no doubting their despondency. They’d been in the field for only a month and they’d been beaten on both occasions, however the rabble of greenhorns they had once been had emerged, despite all, as a drilled body of tested men who could adequately perform the manual of arms and who had now “seen the Elephant”. In the week since he had assumed command, following the polite but firm removal of Hyram Washington to a more suitable position on the staff, he had even attempted to introduce the Gymnastic Pace so beloved of the New York based Zouave company he had served with before the outbreak of hostilities.
The previous evening had been pleasant, but the night was now quite cold, although his men were warmed by the march and the chance to catch the Rebs on the hop. Old Ma McInnerney had ridden in their camp on the Potomac in the late evening with news that the traitors were encamped at Brokeback Farm from where their singing and general demeanour suggested that they were taking strong drink and troubling the livestock. Here was a chance for the newly promoted Captain to face his baptism of fire and to lead his men on to some kind of victory that would raise their flagging spirits.
Lieutenant Justice T. Lovetrain attempted to focus as he stood by the fence rail that marked the edge of the Farm. The land sloped gently down to where the ford passed Old Ma McInnerney’s smallholding and then rose up to the woods on the far bank. Among the trees, their movement seeming to flicker in the dappled light that penetrated the boughs that overhung the track, a body of men marched in column of fours. For a moment the Lieutenant stood transfixed, his brain sluggishly assessing the situation, overly encumbered by the residual effect of the evening’s embibement to work with its normal alacrity, until at last the true was upon him. “Hot diggity dog; Yankees!”
It was more by luck than judgement that a small party of riflemen was at that moment heading out towards the woods. Intent on using their Kentucky long rifles to provide a breakfast of woodland critters to fortify them for the morning’s march, but now their presence stood as the sole resistance to the advance of the Yankee column. Lieutenant Lovetrain ran for the encampment amid the wheat field while behind him he heard the first shots from the slow loading but accurate riflemen.
Captain Spiderweb swung his column into the trees to the south of the road, throwing forward Sergeant ‘Dutch’ Kapp with a party of men in extended order to move down towards the stream. Conferring with Lieutenant Bouldermeir he rapidly decided that rather than engage the riflemen ensconced behind the stone wall at Brokeback Farm he would attempt to outflank their position, moving through the cornfield and across the stream to the south where, he hoped, the small orchard would provide his force with some cover.
“Yankees, dang nabbit! Never trust a gol’ durned Yankee to fight fair” Captain Jebbediah Butplug was not a happy man as he was roused from his whiskey induced slumber. “Call out the guard! Summon up the company! Find me ma britches!” In the Confederate camp chaos reigned as men emerged bleary eyed from their tents.
Sergeant Red O’Malley was a veteran of the Mexican War, a man of few words but with an understanding and appreciation of things military that surpassed his rank. He had sat aside during the evening’s excesses and now retained a clear head. Climbing a small tree by the farmhouse he was now able to use his height to spot the Yankee movement to the south and direct the fire of the riflemen. It was clear that their accuracy was taking its toll on the Union men, as each part of the column came within sight they would break formation and scuttle into the trees or down the small path at the rear of Old Ma McInnerney’s home. He could but hope that the disruption caused would allow his comrades to form up and resist.
Lieutenant Ethau Pickins (rumoured to be overly familiar with chickens) grabbed the first group of men he could see and ran for the orchard. He could see that Sergeant O’Malley was pointing in that direction and that some of the riflemen had now moved round behind the snake rail fence to bring their fire to bear in that area. Slipping into the trees a the jog his men now loaded buck and ball into their muskets. If the Yankees came that way they would find a welcome for them.
“With me Sergeant Kapp, let us attempt the ‘Gymnastic Pace’ of which I told you”. Captain Abner Spiderweb almost seemed to skip as he leapt the small creek with one athletic bound and ran on into the cool safety of the orchard. His men were following him, equalling his speed if not his grace. Perhaps, wondered Spiderweb, red trews and a Zouave cap would be most fetching for the men of his company.
“I do declare, gennelmen, that there Yankee seems to veritably fly upon the air” Ethau Pickens could not fail to be impressed, “Let us send him our own flying response” and with that the muskets crashed out from their hidden positions behind the apple trees, the range being so close that almost every shot hit its mark.
There seemed little doubt to Captain Spiderweb that his men were running faster now than when attempting the Gymnastic Pace, but in the wrong direction. As they ran a second volley cut down four more men and saw the captain run past Sergeant Kapp and his men on the edge of the cornfield and off into the woods at the top of the hill. “Okay boys, let’s give them Rebs some pepper of their own”, and from the field two groups of Union soldiers in extended order began a steady fire into the orchard.
After several hundred yards Captain Spiderweb realised that, despite his Zouave training, his men were outpacing him. Alone in the shaded woodland he gave up the chase and turned to collect his thoughts. This was not the most auspicious start to a military career, if he carried on like this he’d be following Captain Washington to command a mule train. He would need to do better. Wandering to where they cornfield met the trees he could see that Lieutenant Bouldermeir was now down the smallholding and seemed to be trading fire with the Confederate riflemen on reasonable terms. Down towards the orchards Sergeants Kapp and Franklin were also standing their ground and trading fire. The longer ranges were suiting the rifled muskets of the Union force now, the buck and ball of the rebels less effective. Drawing his sword he strode once more into the fray.
It was with some surprise that ‘Dutch’ Kapp saw the new Captain return, and this surprise was increased when the Captain moved along the line, steadying the men, dressing their ranks and then forming them up into one extended body. Moving forward to the stream they directed a steady and overwhelming fire into the orchard, obliging Lieutenant Pickens to fall back to the wheatfield where he now met with Lieutenant Justice T. Lovetrain who had brought a party of men forward from the camp.
Lieutenant Robin Reliant had seen the action to the south develop as he came up with the rear of the union column. He had been a late arrival as his platoon had been out foraging when the order to march had come through. He had almost caught up with the main force under Captain Spiderweb when it reached Brokeback Farm, however he had not spoken with the Captain and now felt he had some freedom of action. With the rebels seemingly drawn down towards the action in the orchard he took his force swiftly through the woods to the north of the road, forming them up in extended order among the trees and then pushing on towards the snake rail fence that ran by the creek. They were greeted by a volley from a party of rebels among the rocks on the far side of the stream, however this was ragged and suggested that their rapid manoeuvre to the north had surprised the men in gray. A concerted volley crashed out from the Yankees and in moments the rebels were running back for the farm. Lieutenant Reliant now brought his fire to bear on the Rebel riflemen that still held the centre and, added to the fire from Lieutenant Bouldermeir’s men this was sufficient to drive them back into the large barn.
Captain Jebbediah Butplug drew up his reserve for a counter attack just in time to see Lieutenants Lovetrain and Pickens come running back. He could see his men were jumpier than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “’tenant Lovetrain, you pull yo’ self together and get the men to haul their no good asses out o’here. These blue boys got their punch in this time, and I have no intention o’ sittin’ here and taking more of this. We fight again tomorrow”. And with that he about-faced his men and marched from the field.
So ended the latest playtest for the ACW variant of Sharp Practice. All in all we had a force of around 70 Union and 50 rebels on the table. It was an interesting action as we saw the Union forces somewhat shocked by the accuracy of the rebel riflemen early on and attempting to deploy into action straight from march column. In truth this resulted in a messy advance that saw the lead Union elements dealt a bloody nose by very small groups of Confederates when they advanced into short range, and especially when they were ambushed by hidden force. That said, the Union forces did manage to shake themselves out into a respectable firing line and now at a longer range their Enfield muskets began to take their toll.
Captain Abner Spiderweb was humiliated in his early attack, but then pulled himself together, rallied his force and formed them up to make a significant attack. A relatively green force such as the one he commanded was never going to hold its formation together for long, in extended order an inexperienced force tends to break down into smaller clumps which are then harder to control, however he did manage to get them forward and to drive off the rebs in the orchard and the fields behind them.
As with all new rule sets we are seeing the playtest group learning the tactics of the period. We had precisely the same thing with TW&T where the first few games were VERY bloody with people attempting Hollywood tactics, with the games improving hugely once they began reading up about real period tactics and using them. We had exactly the same with Charlie Don’t Surf as well, so this is part of the fun of a new period. In the post game discussion (a hugely important part of developing any new rule set) the union players rued the fact that had they formed up in cover and then advanced a co-ordinated force against the rebels they could have got the same result but at a lesser cost. We live and learn.
So, in our valley campaign Nate Bouldermeir has recovered the secret papers for his father, Brigadier Bouldermeir. Next week we will be meeting the Colonel’s Lady as Captains Abner Spiderweb and Jebbediah Butplug fight it out in the Shenandoah Vally.
Well, I have just about recovered from the trip to Crisis, as always it was a hectic weekend which combined great wargaming, great food and great company. This was the first year we have taken seven of us along, and the chaps played a huge part in helping us with the Best Participation Game of the show. Here’s