Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Battle of Oak Grove, June 25th 1862

Summer is finally here in Virginia and it hit a sweltering 96 degrees this past Sunday. So I figured it was a fine time to combine a few of my favorite summer activities:  wargaming interspersed with dips in the pool, and ice-cold beer.

I've been wanting to set up a wargaming table outside for a while now. After ensuring that the weather was going to cooperate (nothing like a rain storm on wargame terrain...ugh) I set up the Oak Grove scenario from the Guns at Gettysburg On To Richmond scenario book and proceeded to use my new favorite ACW rules Pickett's Charge.

It was hotter than hell and we had to take multiple breaks, but the game was a blast and solidified my opinion of Pickett's Charge; these rules are outstanding !

A view of the initial set-up with the Confederates defending on the right and the Union infantry advancing through the wooded terrain on the left side of the table

The Scenario: On the 25th of June, 1862, General McClellan was focused on gaining the high ground at Old Tavern in order to place the heavy batteries of the Union army and pound the Confederate capital of Richmond. In order to accomplish this, the Confederate forces had to be pushed south of the Chickahominy River. While the main advance was at Old Tavern (to the left of the table), this action at Oak Grove represented Brigadier General Hooker's attack on the Confederate right flank. Two brigades under Major General Huger defended the King Schoolhouse Road and awaited the Union advance through the woods into the open fields.

Historically, Hooker thought he was outnumbered by the Confederates, but threw Sickles' and Grover's brigades ahead anyway. The 71st New York actually bolted as the action commenced, but Sickles rallied his brigade and continued the advance. After being initially repulsed, General McClellan made an appearance and ordered the attack to continue. Although the Federals advanced to the King Schoolhouse Road, the Confederates under Huger held their ground and the battle fizzled out at sunset. Old Tavern to the left of the table, remained in Confederate hands as night fell. In the Oak Grove sector, Union casualties were 626 while Confederate casualties ended up as 441.

For this scenario, the Union objective is to occupy (or advance past) over half of the King Schoolhouse Road. The Confederate objective is to deny the Yanks the road.

Hooker's lead two brigades under Sickles and Grover were deployed in march columns in the wooded terrain on-table. Two supporting brigades under Carr and Robinson would arrive as on-table reserves at the beginning of turn three.

Major General Huger had two brigades at his disposal and decided to deploy Ransom's North Carolinians to the left of the line near Brick Chimney while Wright's Georgians and Louisianans  deployed to the right of the line.

While the Union troops definitely had the numbers, most of the Yanks were green troops. The Confederates, although outnumbered approximately 2:1, had quality on their side. Major General Huger's infantry were equally split between regulars and elites.

 View from the Confederate side of the table with North Carolinians, Georgians, and Louisianans lining the King Schoolhouse Road

Grover's brigade to the left and Sickles' regiments on the right advance to the attack through the woods

The Game: On the first turn, Hooker had command and control issues and Grover's brigade was hesitant. Sickles' brigade and an attached 3# rifled battery advanced into the open field. Immediately, the Confederates made their presence known as their own battery deployed on the flank devastated the Union guns while limbered (and at long range), proceeding to roll "boxcars." The battery did pass the "See the Elephant" test. Not a good start to Hooker's attack !

The Confederates rolled well at the beginning of the battle, while using ADC's for rerolls, continuously keeping both brigades under orders

Brigadier General Hooker struggled with command and control in the early going, with poor ADC availability rolls, but managed to get "squared away" as the game went on

The next turn saw Grover's brigade continue to be "hesitant," even with an attached ADC. Meanwhile, Sickles' brigade, which was made up of green troops, began to change formation and assume an attack formation. The beleaguered battery attached to Sickles' brigade continued to get hammered by Confederate artillery.

Turn 3 saw Carr and Robinson's brigades arrive on-table as reserves. With an attached ADC, Grover's brigade finally started to move, but Sickles' brigade now became "hesitant." Due to the limited availability of Union ADC's, no ADC's could be spared to activate the two reserve brigades, so they sat on the edge of the table.

Although Turn 4 saw Sickles and Grover's brigades continue to advance, the Union battery couldn't catch a break. After deploying and firing at Confederate infantry, the battery rolled so poorly that a "fatigue casualty" was inflicted. After the Confederate guns throttled the battery again, the Yankee guns reached their dispersal point and routed away. The few Union guns that Hooker had proved to be entirely useless in the attack.

Union infantry approaches the Confederate line

Another angle showing the Federal advance

Turn 5 finally sees Hooker solve his command and control issues. Robinson's brigade becomes activated and all troops with the exception of Carr's brigade are under orders. Now that the Union guns have dispersed, the Confederate guns have now targeted the infantry of Sickles' brigade. The 71st New York has also come into musketry range of the 3rd Georgia, which takes its initial shot, causing 3 hits at long range. The Yanks are beginning to be bloodied.

Yanks approach the Confederate line

The entire table as the Federal attack takes shape

The following turn saw Carr's brigade activated as well as the other three brigades acting under orders. General Hooker seems to have shrugged off his initial command issues and is on a roll. Sickles and Grover's brigades were within effective range of the Confederate line now and were punished by all of the front-line Confederate units opening up with initial volleys. The Confederate musketry punished the Union troops, most of whom were green in quality.

The action heats up !

Musketry at close range

Sickles and Grover are fully engaged with Huger's Confederates

Turn 7 sees Hooker attach 3 ADC's to Robinson's brigade, ordering it to move at the "double quick" and ensuring that there is a reroll in place. Grover's brigade becomes hesitant. After the brutal Confederate vollies, the Union infantry opens up on their adversaries, causing moderate casualties. Robinson's regiments move up fast, threatening the Confederate right flank.

Robinson's Pennsylvanians move up at the double-quick to hit the Confederate right flank

Turn 8 saw Union ADC's being committed to Carr and Robinson's brigades to keep them moving forward. The strategy worked, although Sickles and Grover's brigades became hesitant. It was especially important for Robinson's regiments to keep moving due to Wright's Confederate brigade becoming hesitant and unable to react effectively. The entire . Caline erupted in musketry, casualties becoming heavy on both sides. The Union infantry begin to get the upper hand in the vicious firefight that was erupting.

Robinson's brigade continues to move around the Confederate flank

The next turn saw the first charge of the game, as the 11th Massachusetts of Grover's brigade attacking the 3rd Georgia. The formation test for passing over the fence line was passed and the Georgians' defensive volley was pitiful (the unit had lost fire discipline during the preceding turn). Although the 11th Massachusetts didn't close into melee, the unit opened up with a powerful volley in the face of the Georgians. The 3rd Georgia was definitely in trouble. Carr's brigade moves up to support Sickles, whose brigade has been heavily damaged. The good news is that the green New Yorkers have caused some damage on Ransom's Confederates as well.

The 11th Massachusetts charges the 3rd Georgia

On Turn 10, Grover's brigade became hesitant, which was exceptionally bad timing as the 3rd Georgia was about to break. This turn was pretty dramatic as the Confederates launched charges on both flanks to regain the initiative. The 25th North Carolina charged, routed, and dispersed the 74th New York, causing Sickles' brigade to falter. On the right, the 22nd Georgia boldly launched an attack on the 105th Pennsylvania, whipping it, and causing the 57th Pennsylvania to become unformed behind it. The Confederates were taking control.

The 25th North Carolina crashes into the 105th Pennsylvania

At this point, Sickles' brigade was faltering. In the next command phase, his brigades moves to the rear with a "catawamptiously  chewed up" result. Wright's brigade, with the dispersal of the 3rd Georgia (dispersed finally due to casualties from the trading of volleys with the 11th Massachusetts), also became faltered. On their command roll, Wright's brigade was forced to retire.

The difference, at this point in the game, was that Carr's brigade was in support of Sickles' retreating brigade, while Wright's Confederate brigade had zero support to the rear. The Union numbers were finally beginning to force the issue.

In the final two turns, Grover's brigade advanced and passed the King Schoolhouse Road in the void left by Wright's retreating brigade. Although Ransom's brigade was still in decent shape, Carr's troops were fresh in front of the Confederate infantry. Surprisingly, Wright's brigade failed a second falter test and continued to retreat. The die was cast. The Yanks had occupied over half of the King Schoolhouse Road and were threatening Ransom's worn troops. There didn't seem to be any conceivable way for the Confederates to re-occupy the road, so the game was declared a Union phyrric victory.

Grover's brigade advances past the King Schoolhouse Road in pursuit of Wright's brigade

Ransom's troops were now being pressed to the front and now on the right flank

The rules provided an outstanding game. The command rolls at the end sealed the fate for the outnumbered Confederates,  whose lack of reserves yielded the field to the Yanks. As for casualties (I have my own system for determining end of game casualties), the Union suffered 825 and the loss of 2 guns, while the Confederates absorbed 700 casualties. The game also proved a bit more bloody than the historical action, but that's the way we like it. I was disappointed that my Confederates ended up withdrawing from the field, but the Union player fought well and used his reserves smartly.

Pickett's Charge excelled in the tactical aspects of the game, but I think that the command and control system truly shined and kept the commanders on the edge the entire game. There was uncertainty and drama throughout...........truly a story that unfolded on the table. Now, it's time to hit the pool and cool off !

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