Friday, March 31, 2017

Stonewall in the Valley 13 - Bartonsville.

Map of the early action: Gordon's attack, and Confederate arrival times.

Moving off at the crack of dawn - if 'crack' can be said of the soggy dawning of 23 May 1862 - the Army of the Valley set off northward after the battered corps of General Banks.  Outnumbered though he knew his troops to be, nevertheless, making up in pugnacity what he lacked in military expertise, Banks determined to take the fight to his opponent.  As General T.J. Jackson's army approached the line of the Opequon Creek at Bartonsville, he found Union forces coming forward to meet him.
...
The Union army prepares to advance to meet the foe/

Crossing the swampy Opequon (I've supposed it to be so for the sake of this campaign) was not going to be a simple matter in the face of the enemy, given that it would take half the morning for his whole army to come up. Should he wait?  No: that would allow the Union Army to scuttle clear.  
Stonewall Brigade crossing Opequon Creek.
First to arrive was the Stonewall Brigade itself, somewhat to the east of Bartonsville.  The crossing here was easy enough, as despite the drizzle, the creek was not in spate.  Nor was it opposed, as Banks had decided to refuse that wing, keeping Donnelly's battered Brigade in a fairly strong position some distance behind the creek.  As the stream proved impassible to vehicles, the artillery accompanying the brigade headed for the Bartonsville bridge.  Ashby's 7th Cavalry arrived a half-hour later, but splashed across the creek to provide cover behind which Cutshaw's battery could deploy.
8 a.m. Taylor's Brigade arrives up the 'Middle Road'
Meanwhile, Brig-Gen R. Taylor's Louisiana Brigade had been marching up the minor road running parallel to and west of the all-weather Valley Pike.  They had made good time to arrive a mere hour later than the Stonewall Brigade.  It was on this wing that the Federals were to make their attack. The Louisianans were to find their celerity of marching would have to be matched by their toughness in a fight.
Confederate right.
Hopes by a body of Union cavalry to catch part of the Stonewall Brigade whilst crossing the creek were dashed when the latter were able to clear the obstacle and form line before the horse could mount a charge.  Their numbers too few to entertain thoughts of a rifle and carbine duel, the Federals made off back to their infantry line.
Louisiana Tigers encounters Union infantry upon the
wooded ridge.
The real action opened on Taylor's front.  Crossing the bridge, 7th Louisiana swarmed into a timber mill and yard hard by the stream, where they were soon engaged in a fire fight with 27th Indiana. The Tigers crossed to the right of the bridge, scaled the slopes of the ridge beyond, and plunged into the crowning woods. They were almost at once assailed by slightly superior numbers of 2nd Massachusetts advancing to meet them.  A half hour later, the right wing of 29th Pennsylvania added to the numbers against the Tigers. For a further hour, the Tigers clung tenaciously to their foothold on the ridge (having to pass two morale checks the while. Both rolls were sixes - the Tigers sure love a fight!). Eventually, having nothing to do waiting behind 7th Louisiana, the 6th moved eastwards, then crossed the stream to the right of the Tigers. This relieved the pressure before the Tigers could be evicted from the woods.
Developing action on the Confederate right.  
By this time, the General Winder's Stonewall Brigade had made contact with elements of Donnelly's Brigade.  Hoping to tie down the artillery and centre of Donnelly's line, 33rd Virginia advanced boldly into a frontal attack.  In the woods 5th Virginia still had some distance to advance before engaging Donnelly's flanking regiment (46th Pennsylvania) and the 27th Virginia was even further off.  This ill-coordinated assault was to have endure some rough moments before it could gain any success, but it was the chance that had to be taken in the interests of time.
Trimble's Brigade arriving.  In the foreground, Ashby's
cavalry take shelter behind Bartonsville.
Ashby's cavalry could not help much.  It's covering role to protect the Confederate artillery crossing the bridge and debouching from the Bartonsville hamlet had proved more costly than their colonel found comfortable.  Reduced by more than 25% of their strength, the Rebel horse fell back behind the stream.  This was to have implications later.
Early action between 2 Massachusetts and the
Louisiana Tigers
As its right wing struggled to edge the Louisianans back across Opequon Creek, the remainder of Gordon's Brigade - 3rd Wisconsin - continued its sylvan sweep below the ridge, hoping to reach its banks.  Too late-- just too late. Trimble's Mixed State Brigade had arrived betimes and were beginning themselves to cross the stream. Under fire, this was a costly and dangerous business, but Trimble had hopes that superior numbers would force their way across.
Looking along Donnelly's line.
The bold attack by 33rd Virginia seemed momentarily to be yielding dividends. Great chunks were being torn out of the opposing infantry, 1st Maryland, but, supported as they were by artillery, the latter were damaging the Virginians at least as much. It was the Virginians who finally gave way, and fled back over the the Bartonsville hill.
Arrival of Taliaferro's infantry and Munford's cavalry.
By this time, the morning was well advanced  Just about the whole of the Army of the Valley was up and ready for action.  Whilst the artillery massed about the only convenient crossing, the Bartonsville bridge,  Munford's cavalry crossed the stream to the right of the settlement.
General view of the Confederate right
As late as 10a.m. the main action was still on and about the Sandy Ridge forest and the Shady Elm woodlot.  Despite the casual cover offered by the latter, the Confederates occupying it began to get the worse of the firefight.  Lusk's battery, deployed south of the river could offer no direct help to the infantry, and engaged in a long range counter-batter duel instead with Union guns deployed further up the road.  In this at least, the Confederates enjoyed some success, as losses eventually force the Union guns to pull back out of range, lest the guns be silenced for good.
General view looking eastwards


Despite that encouragement, 7th Louisiana had soon to give up its position in the timber yard, and scrambled back across the creek. For a brief time the Indiana Regiment occupied the ground just won, but very soon gave it up.  In this they were discouraged by the Napoleon guns of Lusk's battery and the 7th Louisiana men were soon rallied along the river bank as well.  Something of a deadlock descended upon this part of the field for the rest of the action.
The action becomes more general.
Having failed to force the Tigers off the end off the ridge, 2nd Massachusetts and 29 Pennsylvania found themselves in a deadly duel with 6th Louisiana as well.  True, the Tigers had got the worse of the earlier exchanges and it looked at least a couple of times that they might break down the hill (the two morale rolls, both for receiving 10% losses in one turn).  Once the powerful 6th Louisiana joined the fight, the Union impetus was brought to a halt. But it was not enough to force them back.  That left only 3rd Wisconsin unengaged.  That unit might have descended upon the flank of the Louisianans, but for the arrival of 21st North Carolina from Trimble's Brigade.

Confederates forcing a passage across the Opequon |
Creek in the face of enemy fire.
True, the North Carolinians had to make the crossing under fire (unable to fire back whilst still in the stream under my rule set), but having forced their way across, were able to hand in a few licks of their own.  A short distance to the right, 15th Alabama was swinging around to enfilade the Wisconsinites' flank.  Twenty-first Georgia, still crossing the stream, acted as a reserve,
Pressure builds against the Union left.

As the fight escalated in the Union right, it was on their left that the more ominous signs of defeat were beginning to loom.  One Confederate regiment had been thrown back, but by now the isolated 46th Pennsylvania were being assailed by double their numbers of Virginians.  Worse still, the whole of Taliaferro's Brigade were marching up behind Winder's men.  Long odds for Donnelly to face.  
Munford's cavalry charge.  The result was a costly
tactical draw, but the Union infantry that had to face it
we pretty much wrecked as a unit.
Eyeing the weakened state of the Union infantry in the road, supported solely by a gun battery, Colonel Munford thought the time propitious to chance his arm in a charge.  Surging off the ridge, in the teeth of shot, shell and canister from the Union Napoleon guns, and rifle fire from the Marylanders, the Confederate horsemen rode in with shotgun and pistol.

(An aside, here.  I prefer to allow cavalry charges in my ACW rule set, as I know of at least a half dozen occasions in which cavalry charges were attempted.  At least two, possibly three, of those were successful.  The failed charges (at Gaines's Mill, Cedar Mountain, and Hunt Morgan's at Shiloh, were each made by fewer than 200 men).  Bear in mind, too, that at least until 1 July 1863, at least the possibility of cavalry charges were borne in mind by infantry.  Witness two CSA regiments forming square at Gettysburg, when Buford's cavalry mounted and drew off to a flank.  That does not make such charges winning propositions, as you will see.)
7th Louisiana abandons the timber yard and retreat behind the creek.
The Union victory at the Shady Elm timber yard proved to be barren of real fruits.  Seventh Virginia rallied quickly enough along the riverbank, whence, supported by Capt. Lusk's Napoleons, they were not to be shifted. Nor could the cherished hope of falling upon the flank of the Confederates on the ridge be fulfilled, as that would have presented a flank to be enfiladed by gunfire.  Shortly after occupying it, the Federals abandoned the timber yard, and eventually fell back northward.
Firefight in the forest.
That left the three other regiments of Gordon's Brigade having to face off against five Confederate. That 21st North Carolina had within the hour to fall back exhausted across the stream hardly seemed to reduce the pressure.  Nor could the selfless attempt by 5th Connecticut to draw off the attention of 15th Arkansas, which had been threatening to roll up 3rd Wisconsin's flank. Twenty-first Georgia weighed in, the Alabamans changed front to engage the Connecticut men from cover, and the Union troops found the pressure just as strong as ever.
twenty-first North Carolina about to driven back
across the stream.
The action of 5th Connecticut to relieve some of the burden of the fight from Gordon's Brigade provided just the situation Colonel Munford decided would give his troopers the chance to pull off his charge.  Had he reckoned upon the effectiveness of the enemy musketry and gunnery, he might have taken a different view, but the decision was made, he had to abide the outcome.  Undeterred by their losses the Confederate raged in among the hapless Marylanders, pistols and shotguns proving more effective at close range than long rifled muskets. All the same, neither side could claim the ascendancy. As the Confederate horse made off after their charge, the remnants of the Marylanders could be seen retreating rapidly up the road towards their home State.

(Aside:  this was a pretty bloody affair on both sides, the Union losing 8 figures and the CS Cavalry losing 7 in the change and the hand to hand fight.  Reduced to less than 50% of their strength, the Marylanders fell back in rout.  Less badly off, the Confederates still had to withdraw, though they maintained a good order).
Munford's cavalry lose heavily, but the 1st Maryland even more so.
This disaster was followed shortly afterward by the sudden collapse of the resistance by 46th Pennsylvania.  Having held on for most of the morning against the gradual buildup of Confederates to their front, the odds, combined with a mounting threat to their open left flank forced them off their ridge and, they too, began their exodus from the field.
Even within the cover offered by woodlands, two to
one odds are too much to overcome.

27th Indiana begins it long retreat.

With the defeat of all three his three regiments - 15th Alabama having flung back 5th Connecticut's counter attack - Brigadier-General Donnelly had almost nothing in hand to stem the general advance on the Confederate right.  General Banks could see the writing on the wall and ordered a general withdrawal, but now the problem lay in extricating Gordon from the battle raging on Sandy Ridge. He still had 1st Michigan Cavalry, 5th Connecticut was still in hand, and his battery was still in action. But what were they against 5 CSA regiments and three batteries?
Munford's cavalry are out of the battle, but Taliaferro's infantry
is about to join in.
Urged forward by an impatient Major-General Jackson, the infantry surged forward, hoping to sweep Donnelly's exiguous command from the field, then to swing behind Gordon to cut him off.  Seeing the danger, Banks ordered 1st Maine Cavalry across from the right.  As the Michigan cavalry emerged to cover the retreat of the fleeing infantry, Colonel Ashby began to entertain thoughts of a glorious charge...
CSA pressure against Donnelly's exiguous line.
In receipt of orders to withdraw, Brig-Gen. Gordon began a gradual and well-ordered retreat.  Back he had to go, but he would not be hustled - not by Banks's urgency, not by Reb musketry, not by the parlous situation.  For their part, neither Taylor not Trimble saw any benefit of too precipitate a pursuit.  Both Brigade commanders opted for steady pressure and to follow up just closely enough to keep the Union infantry under fire.
It has taken all morning but now the Confederates
begin their advance in the woods.

Confederate right wing.
Seeing a chance for glory, and before any other Union troops could intervene, Col Ashby led his 7th Virginia Cavalry in a charge against 1st Michigan.  It was a disaster.  Getting slightly the worse of the exchange of pistol shots as they closed, the Virginians had no answer for sabres wielded by a desperate and angry enemy.  Taking three times the losses they delivered, the surviving Virginian horse were glad to break clear to retire behind their gun line.  Barely a third of their early morning strength remained with the colours.  Yet, for all that, Ashby's troopers remained in good spirits - perhaps more exasperated than defeated by their discomfiture (7th Virginia, having lost more than 50% on the day, have to retreat,  But a 6 rolled for morale - another one! - meant they remained in hand, and not routing all over the countryside).

Ashby's charge.  A slight edge in numbers did not help.
There is little left of the action to narrate.  Morning had some time ago passed into early afternoon, and time was becoming of concern to the Confederate commander, as much as it was to the Union.  A disquieting rumour had come to General Jackson from the direction of Strasburg.  It appeared that if that town were not yet occupied by forces from Fremont's command, the place soon would be.
Gordon's step-by-step withdrawal.

A look along the Union line.
Yet at the same time, Jackson wanted Banks out of the picture for a long time to come, if not for good and all.

Ashby's cavalry take heavy losses.
Had Ashby's charge been as much a success as it was a failure, he might have achieved just that.  But as it was, his cavalry were left out of the action. The infantry had to take up the pursuit.
The pursuit continues without cavalry.
As the day advanced it was becoming plain that the Union troops would get off with just about all that was left off their strength.  Once clear of the woods, Gordon's people would soon make off, and the rest were already well on the road north but for a few ragged remnants prepared to hold back the Confederate pursuit.  
One the retreat has begun, it can not be stopped...
At about 3 o'clock Jackson called off the action.  The damage to Banks's command he judged to be sufficient.  Now to see what, if anything, was to be done about Fremont.  By this time the rumour was confirmed, Fremont's Mountain Corps would be entering Strasburg, almost a half-day's march in his left rear.  If this rain kept up, it might well take longer than a half day to reach the place.
Close of the action
Defeated though he had been - once again - Major-Genl Banks was disinclined to take a pessimistic view of the situation.  True, it would take some time to refurbish his command.  Donnelly's Brigade in particular had borne the brunt of the fighting over the last four days, and had been destroyed, pretty much, as a fighting formation.  Yet there was no doubt about it: his men had given a very good account of themselves against overwhelming numbers.  Both Confederate cavalry regiments had been fought to a standstill, if not routed altogether.  The same could be said of at least three rebel infantry regiments.  Riding northward among the remnants of his command, General Banks was inclined to think the afternoon a deal less dark and grey than it looked.
The remnants of Donnelly's Brigade.  Four days ago it comprised
108 figures.  Here there are but 29 remaining.


6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Rather a long posting, but the action was certainly interesting. It was based, very loosely, on Cedar Mountain.

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  2. Glorious stuff - excellent account and great to see the Airfix figures take to the field once more. I like your Louisiana Tigers. Bob

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    1. Thanks, Bob. I have to admit, though, that had I known more about the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion, I would have kept their hats, painted then straw-coloured with a red sash about the crown. Even so, on table they generally live up to their billing.

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  3. I am enjoying this campaign and your reports tremendously

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Vintage. I appreciate the feedback!

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