Monday 30 September 2019

The Battle of Gettysburg, First Day - Fire & Fury, Second Edition

Brigadier General John Buford on the Chambersburg Pike, First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg

The battle of Gettysburg is one of the great encounter battles and marks a turning point in the outcome of the American Civil War.

Big battles for me, require the right set of rules that capture the feel for the period being modelled together with mechanics that facilitate easy play to handle the number of units involved in the action.

In addition scale is a big factor, something I have discussed in other posts, and for me 15/18mm is the ideal scale to allow for the compromise in ground scale to still allow a lot of battlefield to be modelled but with figures that have character and individuality that captures the look of the armies involved.

The American Civil War is not a period that has captured my imagination, not having the colour and 'scissors, stone, paper', combination of infantry, cavalry and artillery that Napoleonics has to offer, but I have been known to dabble in the period and enjoy the challenges 'Napoleonics on Steroids', to quote a friend, has to offer.

One of the rule-sets I have enjoyed in the past has been Fire & Fury, Brigade and Regimental level rules and having seen some of the chaps playing the second edition version of the Brigade Level set was really interested to see how they played.

It was really nice to see that the description of them emphasised the desire to keep what was good in the original first edition, of which I own a copy, whilst improving certain aspects in terms of better modelling.

I have to say that from playing them, I found the changes relatively seamless and didn't really notice the difference until they were looked at closely, which I really liked.

So it was with great anticipation that I met up with friends over at Chez Land, hosted by Steve L and his wife Paula to play Gettysburg, the first day, with close on 800 odd figures gracing the table and focusing on the fighting that erupted on July 1st 1863, north of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; as Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, 'bumped' the Army of the Potomac under General Meade, and more specifically the Union division of Brigadier General James Wadsworth and the Union cavalry division of Brigadier General John Buford sat astride McPherson's Ridge and the Chambersburg Pike.

The scenario map for our game with north at the top of the page 

The map above set out the positions of the initial troops, together with the key terrain, victory point areas and arrival points for the Union and Confederate forces, which sees the game recreating the events of the first day, July 1st 1863, over 21 turns with each turn representing half an hour of battle and with the game starting at 10.00 and finishing at 20.00.

We all gathered at Steve's to start play at 09.30 which we managed, playing our game through to 17.30 with a stop for lunch, and managing to complete twelve turns out of the twenty-one which stands testimony to how straightforward the rules are and seeing a game unfold uncannily like the historical battle, which might also say something for the rules.

The town of Gettysburg looking north-west with Cemetery Hill in the foreground and my command for the day, the Union divisions of Robinson and Doubleday, together with I Corps artillery marching north , top left of picture

Looking south-west with elements of Buford's cavalry seen deployed near Pennsylvania College and the Mummasburg Road 

Our battle commenced with the death of General Reynolds, failing to survive the test for his early demise, followed by the two lead Confederate brigades of Hill's Corps, those of Archer and Davis pushing forward on to McPherson's Ridge and up the railway cutting, to meet with fierce and accurate musketry from Wadsworth's division soon to be joined by Union guns from I Corps, as the divisions of Doubleday and Robinson closed up in support.

As the battle started to the west of Gettysburg, Buford's cavalry mounted up and headed to the top of Seminary Ridge just in time to deploy behind a stone wall to contest the arrival of other elements of Hill's Corps along the Mummasburg Road.

Doubleday's , I Corps artillery and Robinson's divisions marching behind Seminary Ridge

Buford's cavalry and attached artillery next to the Lutheran Seminary

First contact, as Confederate Brigadier General James Archer leads his brigade forward on to East McPherson Ridge to be badly shot up by the 'Iron Brigade' under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith, just as Major General John F Reynolds keeps his appointment with a rebel stray bullet.

As Confederate brigades deploy on and close to the railway cut, top left, the Union troops move in behind Seminary Ridge, whilst Buford's cavalry move off through the outskirts of Gettysburg to cover the north-west approaches to the town and slow the rebel deployment.

Hill's Corps made a determined effort to force a passage along the rail cutting, but Union fire proved particularly effective with a continual picking away of Confederate bases seeing Archer's brigade removed from the table once down to just two stands, and driving the Confederate follow up units to come on north of the railway in support of the early arrivals from Ewell's Corp in the north

These rebel advances were met by the cavalry under Buford, forcing the 'Rebs' to deploy, before remounting and falling back to a new stop line, incurring delays on the Confederate advance and allowing Union arrivals to press forward, via the town.

The Union infantry hold off Archer's and Davis' brigades as Union guns start to deploy around the Lutheran Seminary. Note the blue marker indicting our various victory point positions and in this case where the ridge line lies, 

The battle in the railway cutting in full sway as Heth's Confederate division deploys to support the forward brigades of Davis and Archer

Union troops push out northwest of Gettysburg to support Buford's cavalry as I Corps guns mass on the west of the town (bottom of picture) to stop the advance of Hill's Confederate Corps

Buford's cavalry dismount and line the stone wall on Seminary Ridge close to the Mummasburg Road, fighting yet more of Hill's Corps pushing on to the table

With no obvious opening along the approach to Seminary Ridge or via the cutting, both armies rushed to get forward north of the town whilst sniping at each other with guns until the two infantry lines closed up and the serious musketry could begin.

This process occupied the morning of the battle, but by the end of it, all the Corps except Reynolds were carrying significant casualties and all was set for the next big attack by Ewell's Corps.

The Union guns of I Corps, in the thick of the fighting, continually rotate batteries backwards and forwards from the gun line to replenish ammunition and reorder close to the Seminary 

The Union brigades of von Steinwehr arrive on the battlefield at midday, turn five

The Union Iron brigade prevents the Seminary Ridge being turned on its southern slopes with some formidable die rolling and another '8' on the table

Rebel infantry start to retire along the cutting after taking heavy casualties from Union guns and infantry around the Seminary

The early brigade attacks from Ewell were met by the same unerring Union die rolls that had been dished out to Hill's lead troops earlier that day, but the build up of yet more Confederate brigades, allowing them to feel around the Union right flank, looked ominous, particularly as it forced the Union line to fall back into a shorter one, on more defensible terrain.

As the attacks developed in the north and northeast of the town, Hill's troops started to move south from the cutting as the Union line fell back from McPherson's Ridge, seeing I Corps artillery withdrawn from their positions around the Seminary and behind Seminary Ridge ready to move up it in support of the infantry above.

Union guns massed around the Seminary

By early afternoon, Union troops push out north from Gettysburg to set up a perimeter around the town as the pressure starts to build with a steady build up of Confederate reinforcements in the north and north east approaches

Howard's Union XI Corps deploys on the northern outskirts of Gettysburg looking to hold back and damage the approaching Confederate brigades of  Ewell's Corps

Union troops around the Seminary have fought the Confederate troops of Hill's Corps to a stalemate along the railway cutting, but cannot stop the Confederate build up in the north which is stretching the Union defences around the town

Looking across the battlefield from the north east, Confederate brigades of Ewell's Corps feel out the right flank of the Union positions nearest to camera, with the Union lines still unformed and with yawning gaps.

However the final big push in the north finally succeeded with the Union line driven in to the northern outskirts of Gettysburg in the late afternoon, forcing I Corps guns to change direction and gather atop Cemetery Hill able to bring fire support in and around the town as required should the line be forced still further back.

Ewell's brigades enter from the north

The remains of Buford's cavalry still fighting in the early afternoon are driven back to the Pennsylvania College

Our white board keeping track of the casualties for each of the Union and Confederate Corps. The number in brackets indicates the number of stands they need to lose to award the opposition a VP for inflicting heavy casualties. Reynolds has lost 7 from 18 by midday and Hill's 10 from 22.

More Union troops debouch from Gettysburg as the Confederates press forward over Blocher's Run

Union reinforcements arrive to support the remnants of Buford's troopers around the college

Union artillery started to take a steady toll on Hill's and Ewell's brigades as they closed in on Gettysburg from the north

The last brigades of Howard's Union XI Corps push out from the town to cover the northern approaches

The Union line starts to take shape, north of the town, anchored on the college

Hill's Corps artillery deploys off the Mammasburg Road 

Confederate troops occupying the western end of the railway cutting endured a continuous fire from Union guns around the Seminary

Confederate troops held off in the cutting as the Union troops reacted to events in the north

The Union line starts to form a perimeter around the town as the left flank falls back from McPherson's ridge to Seminary ridge behind. Reynolds I Corps artillery is starting to pull back from the Seminary 

The College (red house) occupied by Buford's troopers formed the corner of the Union line between Reynolds' and Howard's Corps

The Union troops had put up a stiff resistance and both Hill's and Ewell's Corps had taken severe losses and were both close to offering up their victory point allowance for taking heavy losses, however Howard's Corp was in a similar state, as the battle moved into its latter stage contest for the terrain based victory points in and around Seminary Ridge, Cemetery and Culps Hill.

The Iron Brigade on the left of the Union line fall back to Seminary Ridge

As Hill's corps look to stretch the Union line by feeling out the position in front of Seminary ridge after being stopped in their advance along the rail cutting, Union artillery pulls off behind the ridge occupied by Reynolds' brigades.

The fighting intensifies in the north as Howard's and Ewell's corps come to grips

The rebel attacks are driven back by combined infantry and artillery fire

The Union line is stretched on its right flank as yet more rebel brigades close in from the north-east

The Union left along Seminary ridge was relatively quiet as both sides sniped at each other as they deployed along opposite ridge lines

The Union guns of I Corps were originally intended to move up on Seminary Ridge, but with events unfolding to the north of the town were redirected towards Cemetery Hill 

However by the time we reached the latter stages of this first day's combat our actual day was drawing to a close and so we finished with a very interesting position closely following the historical events as the Union fought to hold a shrinking perimeter as it fell back through the town all the while seeing both sides batter each other in the process.

The two lines face off on the Union left

The opposing lines take shape prior to the Confederate push north of the town

Art imitating art  - Fighting on the Ridges by Dale Gallon, Gettysburg July 1st 1863

At 14.30 the Confederate line was assembled in the north and the Union line braced itself for the expected attack

The position at 14.30 (game time, turn 10), Hill's Corps have lost 13 from 22 after the fierce fighting around the rail cutting forced them back, to feel out the Union left along Seminary ridge, whilst Ewell's Corps on 15 from 21 have also taken a battering as they closed in on the Allied line to the north of the town. However Howard's Union corps have also taken heavy casualties fending off Ewell with 9 from 11 casualties suffered, leaving Reynolds' corps the better of the two with just half its causalities allowance suffered.

It's late afternoon, 16.30 and the attacks by Ewell's Corps have unhinged the Union line north of the town with Union brigades pushed back into the northern outskirts, Union I corps guns are setting up on Cemetery Hill, as Hill's corps faces off against Reynolds on Seminary Ridge

Union guns from I Corps battered from earlier battles in the day reorganise on a new rearward position as the Union line is pushed back

Howard's corps is pushed back into Gettysburg

Confederate brigades from Ewell's Corps enter Gettysburg in the north while Hill's Corps now occupies Pennsylvania College after a stout defence by Buford's troopers was finally overcome

Pennsylvania Collage occupied by Confederates as the Union line gives ground

The railway line looks set to be the next Union hold position if the brigades can stem the Confederate advance

I have to say as a non-ACW aficionado, I really enjoyed the game with Fire & Fury playing as well as I remember, with the original incarnation.

That coupled with Steve L's lovely table and impressive collection of figures really captured the feel of this pivotal battle.

Battered Confederate brigades indicate the resistance put up by the Union line in the north 

Thanks to Steve L for hosting the day and to Ian, Nick and Mr Steve (Confederate Commanders) and my fellow Union commanders Steve M and Stephen H for a great day of banter and wargaming.

Next up, the Peninsular War series of posts continues with a look at the battlefield of 'Bloody Albuera' and the fortress town of Elvas and with home improvements at Chez JJ coming to a conclusion, I am hoping to get some more pictures done of progress on the AWI collection.