Monday, 16 December 2013

Fredericksburg -Again!

On Sunday 15th Dec 8 ACW buffs met at our local FLGS, the Hall of Heroes, Campbelltown, NSW, for a reprise of our Fredericksburg game. Long time followers of my blog will know that our last Fredericksburg bash, concentrating on the bloodbath at Marye’s Heights, was something of a stalemate…This time we attempted to widen the scenario to allow a much more challenging and mobile game, giving the Union players the opportunity to avoid the Confederate fixed defences. Certainly a much more exciting and enjoyable game ensued...

Looking from Skinker's Neck to Fredericksburg along the Rappahanock
Philip did some really innovative and imaginative scenario design for the game, and I can do no better than cut and paste snippets from his scenario:

Your Orders

Union – The Confederates are spread out along the southern bank of the Rappahannock River.
A rapid river assault could break through the Confederate line and open the road to Richmond…

Confederate – You have been following the Union army’s movements along the Rappahannock River.  You suspect they are planning to cross the river, but do not know when and where.
Counter any attempted crossing.

Preparation for the battle will occur in the following sequence:

1.            Confederate side deploys all infantry units (except Jackson’s reserves) on the table.  These units must be spread along the high ground to represent the Confederates being unsure of the Union crossing points. 

Whilst the Confederates are deploying their infantry, the Union side sets up all of their units off-table – These should be grouped into the three historical Grand Divisions.

2.            The Umpire places 10 markers to represent the real and decoy objectives.

Left hand assault goes in across Skinker's Neck
3.            All Union players must leave the gaming area whilst the Confederates deploy their Artillery and Cavalry units (Artillery must be deployed on high ground, but the Cavalry can be deployed anywhere >12” from the river).  The Union players cannot return until they have decided on the pontoon crossing point and selected the real objectives (See below).

4.            One Union player is allowed to return to the gaming area to view the Confederate deployment from the Union side of the table for a short period.  This represents observation by the Union Balloon observers. (That player was me, folks!)

The Confederates made full use of available cover..
5.            Before returning to the gaming area, the other Union players confer with the Balloon observer and advise the Umpire of the following decisions: (1) the position of the pontoon bridge crossing (This must be more than 4 feet from the ends of the table); (2) the two pairs of real objective markers (representing the planned paths through the Confederate lines); and, (3) the Grand Divisions allocated to each crossing point.  Whilst the Union players are conferring, the Confederate side sets up Jackson’s reserves on a side table (subject to availability of miniatures).

6.            Union players return to the gaming area and, if necessary, move their troops so each Grand Division is placed on the side table near their respective crossing point.  They then place the pontoon bridge, deploy their first brigades from the first wave and then have first turn.

The Rebels: L-R Terry, Jim, Caesar, Cameron, Vic.

Deciding Who Wins

The Union players win if they control a path through the Confederate lines (i.e. either pair of the real objective markers) at the end of the game.  They have forced the Confederates to fall back and the historical battle would not have occurred…

The Confederate players win if they prevent the Union players from controlling their chosen paths through the Confederate lines.  Burnside’s pre-emptive strike was unsuccessful.  Forced to retreat back across the river he will try again in a few weeks…

The Union players can only force a draw by controlling a special objective marker at the top of Marye’s Heights…

And so it passed. At the Union command pow-pow, we elected (nominated) Bryan as the Union CinC, on the grounds that a. He had read the scenario, b. Philip was Umpire so couldn’t exactly also lead the Union team, and c. I had smartly taken one step backwards when the call for volunteers went out!  That left me with the observer role - I spent my few precious seconds in the balloon spotting for Reb artillery concentrations, but had to rub my eyes when it appeared that both Marye’s Heights and Prospect Hill, from which the scenario allowed the Rebs to fire well emplaced and ranged in guns without the usual -1 penalty for overhead fire, appeared denuded of guns!

Cameron starts with the sledging...
So with Philip maintaining the tight lipped silence that behoves a player-umpire, Bryan and I debated our options. We had to nominate 2 sets of objective markers delineating our two routes across the table. Since we had troops already landing at Skinkers Neck, and coming on table to the East of Fredericksburg, it seemed logical to nominate these two as our main efforts, and use the rather more hazardous pontoon crossing as a feint in the centre, or at least the right-centre, to the west of the town. However, I was given 2 Corps to make it look like the real thing, with the added real objective of securing Philip's left flank from the considerable Confederate forces in the centre.

Owing to a shortage of Union players, Bryan, on the right in the black T shirt, kindly agreed to turn his coat for this game - here he appears to be having second thoughts?
For their part, the Confederates, ably led by Caesar, appeared to have spread their troops widely across the field, although we did not of course know where Jacksons' Corps would turn up. Once our troops started crossing the Rappahanock, and the Rebs thought they knew where our main efforts were, they off course limbered up their artillery parks, which we had studiously avoided, and headed for Marye's Heights. This would give them a good field of fire over my disembarkation area, so I resolved to race for the Heights and hope to get there before their guns did!
From Fredericksburg looking WNW
Bryan's fording at Skinker's Neck immeadiately came under Rebel pressure, and Terry was clearly going to assume an early and all out active defense from the get go....

A lodgement at Skinker's Neck...
Whereas on our extreme right Philip seemed to be facing a more of a strategic defense, with young Cameron seemingly adopting a 'wait and see' approach rather than being suckered into deploying too far forward. Yet even his light screen of skirmishers left behind in Fredericksburg did a lot of damage both to my forces coming off the pontoons, and also managed to defend the town fiercely from Philip's assaults...

In the right centre, the usual poor Union command values meant that our reorganisation off the pontoon
crossing was slow and sedate, allowing Jim to bring forward his infantry in a covering battle...

The Rebs redeploy to meet the Union 'Main Effort' - or is it?

 while he made the strategic redeployment of 4-5 batteries right along the line to Marye's Heights. This strategic mobility aspect of Black Powder rules is one I really like, but it was a pain this day!

The Rebs along the centre of the line had nothing to do and appeared to be forgotten...these guys will probably be the ones featured in the press!
The actual center portion of the long table saw very little action at all, but no doubt suspicious of further Union landings the Rebs did not redeploy the skeleton forces defending the river bank.

The Union centre feint...Of course had it suceeded it might have been renamed...
So my two corps were getting squeezed between Jim's repdeployed infantry 'pouring it on' from our left flank, and getting it in the neck from Cameron's skirmishers on our right from the town, all the while watching the Rebs steadily assemble a hellacious collection of heavy ordnance on Marye's Heights to our front! Fortunately, we had a few guns of our own...

The guns about to speak...

Bryan was still doing it tough across at Skinker's Neck, gradually inching forward...

Bird's eye view of the action at Skinker's Neck - the water was pretty shallow here!
And Philip was doing really well over on the right, eventually taking Fredericksburg to secure one of the objectives on that side of the table...
The Union retakes Fredericksburg...
So this was now the halfway point of the game, and Philip regenerated as the Umpire once again and asked the Confederate team to nominate which pairs of objective markers they thought we had picked. Well, our feint had worked and they had thought we had chosen the centre pathway across the table, as well as the route at Skinker's Neck, which they correctly divined, no doubt from Bryan's dogged tenacity. With due ceremony Philip revealed that, as well as the Skinker's Neck route, we were aiming to go up the extreme right hand route - where he had been making good progress!

Jackson turns up at the right place - 3 days early!
At this stage in the battle they were allowed to start deploying Jackson's Corps, and not unnaturally Caesar nominated a spot directly opposite Philip's forces!  
Phil close - so close - to his second objective...
And so the game moved towards a cliff hanger finish - would Philip be able to beat off Jackson's corps and seize his second objective?

But not close enough...
Despite, or perhaps because of (?) some support I was able to give him from the centre, it became clear that he would not be able to fight his way through an entire Corps in the time we had remaining to us, and we conceded what had been a hard fought and challending game. But, winners and losers, as we packed up, we all felt a sense of achievement from what had been an extremely interesting and entertaining scenario.

This really had been wargaming at its best - lots of great looking troops, fought over, thanks to Terry and Bryan, some lovely looking terrain. Thrilling scenario design had resulted in great opportunities for teamwork, leadership, intel guesswork and strategic assessment, and a cliff hanger result. I think that this scenario is set to become an annual favourite at the Hall of Heroes! 


  1. Bloody impressive if I must say...loads of troops, a massive table and great terrain...bloody well done.

  2. Another no holds holds barred production. Keep up the good work Mr Sparkles.

    von Peter himself

  3. Lovely work Ralph! I like how the scenario was kept relatively simple.

  4. Wonderful looking pictures...again!

  5. A great looking game brought alive with an excellent narrative and photos!

  6. Thank you all very much Gents. Of course this was a collective effort by all concerned.

  7. Hi Sparker.

    I look at all these images with amazement at the detail and passion you all have.
    I'm writing to you in connection with another thread you posted on a miniatures website. It concerns vet WO Basher Bains. I am aware of one such Basher Bains in England - he was CO for the 79th Armoured Division at the Top Secret Duplex Drive Tank Facility at Fritton Lake. I have numerous images of him as well as details of his activities 1943-5. Perhaps we discuss this further?

    Stuart Burgess Fritton Lake Country Park