Sergeant Abe Hubermeir cast an experienced eye over the terrain around the stone bridge that crossed Forge Run. On either side of the river there was about thirty yards of open ground where the river would expand when in full spate after the winter thaw. To the edges of that were boulders that though immovable to man had been casually tossed to their resting place by the forces of nature. It was in these, on the eastern side of the river, that Abe deployed his dozen men, pacing out the range to the bridge so as to ensure that any Rebels who attempted to cross it would find themselves met by the full power of the Sharps Military Carbine.
Captain Jebediah Butplug spat a stream of tobacco juice towards the standing crops that would be ready for harvest in the next few days. Not for nothing was the Shenandoah called the “breadbasket of the Confederacy”. With the Yankees so close at hand there were real concerns that in this part of western Virginia some of the harvest could be lost, and Jebediah’s company had been despatched to guard the crossing of Forge Run in order to ensure no blue-bellies could interfere before the wheat was safely gathered in.
Lieutenant Ethau Pickens had stationed his men in the rocks to the south-west of the bridge, scanning the far bank for any sign of the enemy. He signalled to Sergeant Beckwith to move across with ten men and the big man from Alabama immediately moved forward into the low-lying open ground that ran down to the large stone bridge. He had gone some dozen yards when the rocks to the north-east of the bridge crashed into life, a dozen breech loading carbines objecting to the Sergeant’s advances, one man falling dead before the rest made it into the lee of the bridge.
“Fire!” Captain Butplug had rushed his men out from the small wood and into the cover of the rocks from where they fired their muskets at the Union cavalry opposite. He could see Sergeant Beckwith down by the bridge, unable to go forward or to retire. The Captain’s instinct was to press on, his men were veteran troops used to whipping their foe wherever they met them, but these damned breechloader covering open ground could murder his force. For now he would attempt to shoot them out.
“Sergeant, I can barely see those northerners now!” The Corporal was right, over by the rocks the rapid fire from the Union cavalry was producing a cloud of thick dark, smoke that was now largely obstructing their positions. Sergeant Beckwith looked up to see Lieutenant Pickens and his men scrambling through the rocks, clearly intent on rushing the bridge while their foe was temporarily disadvantaged. He stood tall now and began to yell, his legs pumping as he rushed across the stone bridge, his men at his heels.
“Hold your goddam fire!” Sergeant Hubermeir ran along the rank of skirmishers, it was vital that he could see the bridge and by now he was concerned about the amount of ammunition his men were using up. “Holy cow, the rebels are coming, hold it boys, wait until they get within twenty yards”.
Up in the rocks Lieutenant Ethau Pickens called out to his men to stop. It had taken too long to cross the broken terrain and he could see that the smoke that had momentarily obscured the view of the Union cavalry had now, cruelly, been dispersed by a sudden breeze. Sergeant Beckwith and his men were beyond help, surely they could do nothing now other than seek the shelter of the bridge parapet?
Enos Beckwith was quite literally between a rock and a hard place, or at least the rocks and the hard cover of the bridge. For now, however, he was in the open ground and could see the Yankees crouching in the rocks, their carbines levelled. Any moment now the fire would begin. He ran on, braving the hail of lead that now seemed to fill the air all around him. He plunged his bayonet into the first blue-belly, turning to look for his men, several had fallen, and the remaining half a dozen or so were attempting to fire from the base of the rocks. The fire was simply too great to advance through, and, obliged to stand to reload his men were at a terrible disadvantage. Beckwith slipped back, now running for the cover of the bridge.
This was the opening engagement of our second playtest of the ACW variants for Sharp Practice which resulted in an interesting game. It was the first outing for the Union cavalry with their Sharps Carbines and they certainly proved to be a fun addition. Their fire was rapid, however not so totally dominating that it unbalanced the game, especially as there were only a dozen of them. In fact Sergeant Beckwith’s charge, combined with fire from twenty musket armed veterans under Captain Jebediah Butplug across the river combined to actually oblige Sergeant Hubermeir to withdraw his men back into the woods to rally them. However by this stage Captain Hyram Washington and a 60 man company of Union infantry had arrived to take up the fight with their Enfield rifles.
At present we are really focussing on balancing the weapons so that they “work” in terms of historical performance. We went on to find that whilst the Enfield was more accurate than the smooth bore musket that the rebels were armed with, they had a slightly slower rate of fire which, at the close ranges that the terrain dictated, saw them pretty much equal in the results they achieved when the rebels’ veteran status was taken into account. A promising start which, after last week’s fight in a farmyard saw the rebels scrape a winning draw to continue their unbeaten record.
The photo below shows Enos Beckwith attempting to cross the bridge while the Union cavalry are obscured by smoke. Unfortunately for them an immediate “Tiffin” card saw the smoke disperse rapidly and they were soon heading back across the bridge in the other direction. Captain Butplug’s men are in the rocks to the left in extended formation.
It is very easy to be cynical about the value of on-line polls, but I can assure everyone that we are very flattered to see Charlie Don’t Surf win the TMP Award for the best set of historical rules for 2010. This great result maintains our fantastic track record, winning first place with Sharp Practice