Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stonewall in the Valley 4 - The first battle.

Army of the Valley encounters Union troops coning the other way.

When, on 20th May 1862, the Army of the Valley stumbled into General Banks's command on the Strasburg-Front Royal road, the day was already well advanced - just two hours more of daylight to be expected.  Even so, General Jackson - the redoubtable Stonewall - was ready to fight, and his Union counterpart, whatever his feelings on the matter, was in no position now to decline the invitation.
Donnelly's Brigade deployed across the road; Gordon's
hastening to extend the right flank.
The following action would comprise just four game moves, each of half an hour.  That is not long for a decisive result to be achieved, despite the fact that my 1:900 ground scale and 1:30 time scale yield quite generous movement rates (especially on a 6ftx4ft (180cm x 120cm) table.  I enacted that, as this was a meeting engagement, both sides could deploy up to a foot (30cm) in from the long table edges astride the east-west road, 6 units - infantry, cavalry or gun - apiece.  The rest had to march onto the table.  I stretched a point by having the road branch to the south, and with Confederates entering from the south-eastern corner,  Even then, Trimble's Brigade of Ewell's Division would be starting off table. 
5th Connecticut draw first blood: opening up a very effective
long range rifle fire against 27th Virginia: 6 volley groups of 4
figured, Die Range 2 (only score of 1 or 2 count); 7 hits!
Those 7 hits worked out to 4 'casualties'.

The narrative.

The Union began the action with Donnelly's Brigade, supported by two batteries, astride the road about the walled farm, whilst the 1st Michigan Cavalry Battalion guarded the northern flank against a sweep by mounted Confederates along the Manassas Gap Railroad line that passed by a tract of forest. That forest was about to be occupied by 28th New York Volunteers.  Advancing into the walled field marched the 1st Maryland, and, on the other side of the road the 5th Connecticut kept pace.  Between the two deployed the rifled cannon of Battery F, 4th U.S. Artillery.

Taliaferro's Brigade moving up to support the Stonewall
Brigade already attacking Donnelly.
Leading the Confederate column were the two cavalry regiments, Munford's 2nd and Ashby's 7th - both Virginia Regiments - together with Chew's battery of 'flying' artillery.  They were followed by the already famous 'Stonewall' Brigade under Brigadier-General Charles Winder.  As the infantry advanced against the farm, the cavalry swung further north, where Munford's horsemen dismounted into a line of skirmishers facing the forest, where they were to be joined by Chew's Napoleon guns.  Ashby's remained mounted as a deep flank guard.
First action: 29th Pennsylvania opens fire at long range.
Following immediately behind the 'Stonewall' Brigade, Talioferro's Virginians marched up the road until reaching Broadchurch Tavern , where the roads met.  Taylor's Louisiana brigade leading the way, Ewell's Division was to attack the Union right, where Gordon's Brigade began to extend the Union flank.
The engagement has become general all along
the line, with the sun dipping towards the western
 mountains.  The Tigers pass though a small wood; whilst
6th Louisiana can find room only for its column formation.
Brigadier-General Gordon's lead regiment, 2nd Massachusetts, was soon to draw the undivided attention of two Louisiana regiments and the Louisiana Washington Artillery.  Though accurate and well directed fire eventually forced 7th Louisiana to fall back - albeit in good order - the pressure became too much for their Union opponents.  Before the rest of Gordon'e Brigade could offer effective help,  2nd Massachusetts crumpled and broke.  
Action on the Confederate left
This disaster did not come before some reverses on the Confederate side.  As before mentioned, the Massachusetts regiment had driven back one of the Louisiana units, and in the centre, Fifth Connecticut and its supporting battery of smoothbore cannon had so battered 27th Virginia, that that unit fell back in considerable confusion.  By this time, however, Taliaferro's Brigade stood ready to fill the gaps.  Tenth Virginia advanced into the space left by the 27th, while on the other flank, 37th Virginia  began to push into the line between 5th Virginia, and Munford's skirmish line.  The small battalion of Louisiana Tigers also came in for a terrible mauling, but these stalwart Irishmen refused to     budge,and gave as good as they got in the mutual blood-letting.  
Action on the Confederate right
 As the Confederates fed more troops into the battle line - as much as they could find space for - the Union resistance began gradually to falter.  The collapse of 2nd Massachusetts could not be made good.  29th Pennsylvania was locked in its deadly duel with the Louisiana Tigers and 27th Virginia, then, when the latter fell back,  21st North Carolina.  But 27th Indiana, still winding its way through the trees behind the battle line, was too far off to restore the flank before nightfall.  They lined the edge of the woods instead. 
Donnelly\s Brigade is hard pressed but holding it own.

Meanwhile, the Stonewall brigade had pressed on despite the defeat of its left-hand regiment. The lead elements of Taliaferro's Brigade added themselves to the line, and gradually, with steadily mounting casualties, the Union troops began to edge back.  The protection of the stone wall and the forest trees notwithstanding, 1st Maryland and 28th New York were both driven back a good 100 yards (4 inches or 10cm).  Having been driven from the protection of the stone wall, the New Yorkers' loss mounted rapidly.  They were to lose a quarter of the total Union battle losses, but, surprisingly, they remained in the battle line.
5th and 33rd Virginia close up to the stone wall -
 point blank range!
Night drew in with the Union line under heavy pressure, but with no decisive success for the Confederates.  The Brigades of Taliaferro and Trimble had hardly become involved in the action, only 37th Va and 21 N.C from each having fired off their rifled muskets.
A view of the field at the end of the day, looking north.

After the Battle.

For all the brevity of the action, hard knocks had been taken and given.  The total losses were 42 Confederate - 38 from the Stonewall and Louisiana Brigades, and 47 Union. Donnelly's Brigade on the Union left, incurred well over half, despite the protection of cover for most of the action. Considering the odds and the closeness of the fighting, it could have been a deal worse.
Two regiments of Taliaferro's Brigade waiting to be unleashed...

Donnelly's Brigade about to be driven in.  28th New York
still lines the forest edge but not for much longer...
With nightfall, it lay with General Banks what now to do.  The options were:

1.  Fall back at once overnight.  Now, I didn't allow night marches as such, but a retreat of one map hex was allowed as an option.  This, however did impact upon the total battle losses.

2.  Wait until morning and then retreat.

3.  Resume the action the following day as a species of delaying action.

After the battle, the battle losses were treated as dead, wounded, missing and ... stragglers.  If the army remained on the field at the end of the day and overnight, half the losses (rounded down) were classed as stragglers, who returned to the colours.  But the army that had to abandon the field, even voluntarily,  received just one-third of those losses back.  The remainder were regarded as prisoners of war.

CSA left flank advancing.

In this case, The Army of the Valley got back 21 men, distributed according as the losses were incurred.  Munford's Cavalry having lost three figures got just the one back to balance the two figures returned to 37th Virginia, which also lost three.   Whether Banks's command got  23 figures back or 16 depended upon his decision. 

This was decided by a straight die-roll .  Banks elected to remain on the field overnight and make his way back to Strasburg the following morning.  There was no real need to 'program' Jackson's decision.  

"The enemy is there," he declared, "and there I will strike him."

General view, with light fading.  Nightfall closed the action.

To be continued... 'Hard marching: hard fighting.'


  1. Nice, intense and bloody looking battle!

    1. Thanks, Phil. I like a fast moving game, and I like a rule set in which losses can be 'felt'. When you see your assault columns melt away like ice in the sun, it can really test your fortitude and determination. That American Civil War (along with the Napoleonic) battles were characterised by rear areas infested with large numbers of stragglers, skulkers and shirkers (and people who had simply lost their units), one can justify returning a good proportion of the battle losses overnight.

  2. An excellent article and that blanket\table mat looks great. I am sorely tempted to try a simple game at home now.


    1. The table mat is actually a single bed quilt I bought in 1976. It has considerably faded from its original chocolate brown colour.

      On the matter of temptation: give in. You know you want to...