Pickett’s Charge, A Post-Colours Report
With Pickett’s Charge soon to be charging towards the printer’s, we asked the author and designer, Dave Brown, to tell us how the recent pre-publication demonstration game went at Colours, held in sunny Newbury on 10th September. Dave’s was running the game with his motley crew of associates (henchmen?) from the Loughton Strike Force, with the scenario based on the opening moves of the Battle Cedar Mountain during the 1862 campaign in northern Virginia, following the end of the Federal peninsular campaign against the Confederate capital Richmond.
During a hot August Stonewall Jackson strove to attack Federal forces under General Banks as he advanced to threaten the Orange and Alexandria railroad. On the 9th August both sides met on the Culpeper Road and saw the Federal forces under Banks attempt to defeat Jackson’s command as it struggled to deploy from the march. If Banks could attack swiftly defeat the forward Confederate brigades he could severely maul Jacksons command. However time was not on the Union side as more and more Confederate brigades would arrive on the field as the day progressed.
In this game, the Federal force consisted of six brigades, five infantry brigades commanded by Crawford, Gordon, Geary, Prince and Green along with one of artillery; all of these are classed as Regulars. One of the infantry brigades, Gordon started in Reserve and could not be deployed until Turn 4. Banks’ objective was to defeat Jackson in detail before the Confederate general can regroup his forces strung out on the march. The Confederates under Jackson consisted of a larger command but it has been badly held up on the march, thus only four Confederate brigades are initially available, (Garnett, Taliaferro, Early and the artillery reserve), this would rise to six on Turns 5 and 6 when Thomas and Branch’s brigades arrival on table via the northern slopes Cedar Mountain the Culpeper road respectively. All Confederate brigades are classed as regulars though there are many small regiments to represent the tired nature of these troops.
As this was a demonstration game both forces were deployed in a fairly historical manner, we also allowed Thomas to enter over on the far right via Cedar Mountain by the delay of an extra turn. As we are following a historical scenario Banks elected to immediately attack on his right using Prince and Crawford’s brigades covered by the artillery as they advanced. Jackson decided his plan will be to hold any Union advance until he has two more brigades on table and then launch a counter-attack. (The rules do allow player to deploy their forces using blinds or fog of war cards, but as this was a demonstration game we dispensed with these and went for the full frontal set up!)
The initial action began with an artillery duel between both Federal and Confederate gun lines. Neither side gained any particular ascendency in this engagement, though the more accurate Union rifled batteries did cause some significant damage to the Confederate gun line but failed to actually drive any batteries from the field. Banks seeing his artillery bombardment was rather ineffective decided to hand over command to two wandering Colours participants, (having completed their initial shopping run!). Both players took over the Confederate side while yours truly and another valiant guest controlled the Federals. None of the new players had played before but were soon into the swing of things, having grasped the core game mechanics within two turns!
One aspect that did cause our participants to pause was the command phase. The key to command and control in Pickett’s Charge rules are ?Staff Officers?. Each brigade in the player’s command will provide the C-in-C with one potential Staff Officer. So Banks initially starts with five Staff Officers which would rise to six once Gordon arrives on table. Jackson however only has four available brigades and so started with just four Staff Officers, again this would rise by one Staff Officer for each reinforcing brigade. At the beginning of each turn both players roll 1D6 per Staff Officer to ascertain how many they will have available for tasking this turn. This represents a fluctuating command ability, as your C-in-C cannot guarantee receiving all his Staff Officers each turn and therefore must plan carefully to ensure his battle plan is not overly-complex or heavily reliant upon staff officers. What actually do Staff Officers do? Staff Officers carry out command tasks on behalf of the C-in-C, these can be ?brigade attachment, provides a brigade with a command reroll should it go hesitant, (i.e. the C-in-C is making sure that brigade gets moving! Hesitant status is explained below.), ordering ?artillery assault fire? (used to initiate a rapid fire bombardment by your brigade artillery batteries), order brigades to ?Double Quick?, (so increase their movement), or sow confusion into the ranks of the enemy by ordering spies and “deserters” to influence the command roll of an opposing brigade! The differing command tasks will become clear as our game progresses. Here the two guest Confederate commands deliberated over how their Staff Officers assigned? One player wished to have Staff Officers to ensure that his artillery kept up intensive fire upon the Union guns, while the other suggested using the Staff Officers to ensure his brigades obeyed orders and avoid becoming Hesitant in the face of the Federal advance. What to do? What decision would prove effective as the turn played out?
The next aspect of command and control is the Brigade Command Roll. In the command phase and after staff officer postings, the players roll one die for each brigade to ascertain if the brigade is currently obeying orders or is hesitant. When a brigade is obeying orders the player may maneuver the brigade as he sees fit, in accordance with his battle plan. When a brigade fails its individual command roll the brigadier and his brigade is considered Hesitant. The brigadier and his officers are perhaps intimidated or uncertain of events, slow to react to orders or simply reluctant to obey orders! The brigade is then marked with a hesitant marker. Hesitant is only a temporary status but imposes restrictions upon movement, with no charges or forward movement permitted, while firing is restricted to effective range or less. All hesitant markers are removed at the end of each turn. This is a simple game mechanism designed to introduce friction into the command process. Our Confederate generals decided to abandon the artillery duel (the Confederate guns would still fire but not at the increased rate of fire required to decisively win the artillery duel) and decided to elect upon brigade attachments. This tasking provides a brigade with a command reroll should its initial command roll result in a hesitant result. And as it turned out, well planned as several initial hesitant command rolls were overturned by these postings enabling the Confederates to face off the Federal attacks. The Federal commanders had elected to ensure that their initial brigades attack went in quickly and hopefully decisively. This we opted for issuing Double Quick taskings, thus providing increased movement to two brigades. This saw Crawford’s brigades swiftly advance through the wheatfield, front regiments in skirmish, rear regiments in line of battle. In a coordinated effort Prince’s brigade advanced in the centre heading directly for the cornfield and the front line of Taliaferro’s Confederate troops.
Following the command, charge and movement phases is the fire phase. The fire rules are straight forward enough, with the usual modifiers for cover, troop quality, having moved, and so on. There’s no figure counting here, players simply select the appropriate casualty line for their respective units and read off the casualties inflicted. That’s it. (The term casualties is used to reflect battlefield shock and includes fatigue, loss of morale as well as dead and wounded.)
The next turn saw Clausewitz’s friction at its best. Both players rolled for Staff Officers and only achieved two apiece. Hardly a command phase filled with dramatic command decisions! Both C-in-C’s opted simply to keep their forward brigades on brigade attachment, while the Federals had Gordon’s brigade available to be released from reserve. This required a Staff Officer to do so with an indication as to where Gordon would join the battle line, thus Gordon was ordered to advance directly up the Culpeper road in support of both Crawford and Prince.
Charges! It was now or never for the Federals as more Confederate reinforcements could be seen approach the battlefield – thus both Crawford and Prince were ordered to charge! Our guest commanding Crawford sent in a supported charge (three regiments in all) across the front of Garnett’s brigade which was holding behind a stonewall. As with many civil war engagements attempting to close against fresh troops behind cover is fraught with danger and this was exactly what happened – Crawford’s charges halted prior to contact, halting to deliver a series of ineffectual close range volleys, as the men refused to press any further forward. Prince has slightly better success but still could not force Taliaferro’s men from the cornfield. The rules covering charges are deliberately skewed to the defensive and as players found out, charging headlong against well positioned opponents is generally a recipe for disaster. As casualties mount it becomes more and more difficult to get your men to advance again, a retreat or retirement will generally follow! The rules do permit brigades to fall back and rally off limited casualties but this again requires command effort from the C-in-C and cannot be done directly under the fire of enemy troops, thus Crawford’s men would just have to endure until Gordon could come up. The remainder of the turn was filled with general volleying and skirmish fire, all guest players had now fully grasped the straight forward mechanics and needed no input from the umpires!
The next turn saw far better command luck with both players gaining all bar one of their potential Staff Officers. The Confederates command aim was clear – as they were holding off the Federal attacks it was time to ensure their reinforcements arrived and advanced quickly, thus all Jacksons command effort went to brining Thomas’ brigade on table and issued with a Double Quick order, advancing against the wide open left flank of the Federal line, (apart for the Union guns only Greene’s small two regiment brigade held this part of the line which was until now the quiet sector!) The Federals has only one option, advance Gordon’s fresh brigade forward as quickly as possible to break through in-between the brigades of Garnett and Taliaferro.
The final turns of our demonstration game saw Gordon move past Taliaferro’s flank and take up a position to the right of Crawford’s struggling brigade; however the Confederates had anticipated this and diverted Early’s brigade to launch a counter-attack to stop the Federal attack. Our gallant Confederate guest formed up in a brigade column, three regiments deep with sharpshooters to the front, ultimately charging against Gordon regiments that had now been forced to deploy across their left flank. In the next charge phase Early’s entire brigade attacked in one large supported charge! (Under the rules a single regiment can be supported by flanking regiments, one left and one right, and up to two rear supports, each support provided the lead attack regiment with a reroll of one of its two D6 attacking dice. This can be a great boon to an attacking force that rolls low, however the downside is that any reroll result must be accepted! If the idea that a support could be a disadvantage disconcerts you, consider the possibility of supports blundering into the lead unit or mistakenly firing at the lead charge unit!) So with the scent of victory in the air for the Confederates the two charge dice were rolled (these provide a base score to which the standard wargames negative and positive modifiers are applied); and scored a 1 and a 2! The Federals rolled a straight 10, (two fives). Distaste for the Confederates! So now starts the support reroll procedure always initiated by the attacker. Clearly the Confederate player started by rerolling the score of 1, he did so and now scored a 2! Over to the Federals, as their defending regiment had one flank support – did he want to reroll one of those fives – the answer was quite obviously no, despite some hopeful persuasion by the opposition! As the Confederates had two rear supports they were entitled to another support D6 reroll, of course this was rolled as the situation was desperate – and rolled another 1! Clearly the supporting Confederate regiments have begun firing into the backs of their own men in the confusion, (and not an uncommon situation in the civil war!). Early’s entire brigade attack collapsed and was forced to retire, taking extra casualties due to this reverse.
So that concluded our demonstration game as all players accepted that Banks, like his historical counter-part, was now on the back foot and with more Confederate reinforcements arriving would be lucky to hold the field let alone defeat Jackson! In addition to enjoying a great day of gaming in good company, we had the opportunity to show and explain the rules to a wide range of gamers who got to join in the action. The feedback we received was really encouraging and it’s good to know we have a cohort of ACW gamers looking forward to playing Pickett’s Charge once they are published.
Pickett’s Charge rules will be heading to the printer’s very soon, more news on that to come in the next week. We will be taking advanced orders once we have the printer’s proof approved, so watch this space. The rules will be fully support on the soon to be launched Reisswitz Press forum which will coincide with our taking advanced orders, and via Dave’s well-established General de Brigade forum. We will look forward to answering any questions you have there. Over the next few weeks articles and updates will appear outlining the way the rules work, and outlining how to play through the mechanisms, right up to the publication date. Indeed, Rich and Nick will be joining Dave at his secret headquarters this coming week to play Pickett’s Charge, so we will report back after that game.