Sometime around Spring, 1863. Lower Hicksville Valley, “somewhere in the Midwestern States of America”. A swampy river and marshy area with a grand small farmhouse (the old Mitchell farmhouse) from a past attempt at scratching out a living from farming, logging and mining in the valley.
Recently abandoned, the old Mitchell farm gives its name to one of the two basic badly damaged plank bridge crossings (Farm Bridge and Rocky Bridge) over the Hicksville River.
Dividing the western river bank in half is an impassable sheer rocky outcrop crested with dead trees known as Dead Tree Ridge. On the other bank, dense tangled pine forest runs down the centre of the valley towards the Eastern river edge leaving very few clear areas to cross the raging river, fuelled by snowmelt. Patches of impassable swamp grass, scrub and pools dot the edges of the valley.
Cavalry scouts on either side reported from afar off possible enemy movements and smoke from encampments in the remote rocky and swampy valley.
A small scratch scouting force of Union troops from the USCT and 26th Minnesota Infantry (Wobegon Volunteers) led by Captain Bunsen some 30 strong were spared to march North up the Lower Hicksville Valley to investigate and secure if needed any river crossings.
Over this jumbled territory a small slightly larger force of 39 Confederate infantry (the source of the campfire smoke?) are marching South down the Eastern bank of the Lower Hicksville River.
The Blues and Greys are destined to clash near the farm and plank bridges, ahead of larger forces, fighting for control of the bridge crossing and any possible mining and forestry resources.
The Greys or Confederate infantry marching North were split into two. First to arrive were a unit of 18 scruffily attired ‘Butternut’ Infantry, a small part of a Company C of the 16th Tennessee (Nashville) Infantry in slouch hats and grey / brown motley Butternut uniforms which blend well with the rocky forested terrain.
They are followed by the rest of their Rebel force, a small part of 20 more sprucely attired grey coated Confederate infantry, Company B of the 24th South Virginia Infantry in light blue kepis and trousers, led by their young Lieutenant Wallis.
The Blues or Union infantry (3/4 smaller in number than the Confederates) are similarly split into two small units, a small advanced scouting section of 8 USCT (United States Coloured Troops). These former Southern slaves who have escaped to the North are led by a white Yankee sergeant. These USCT troops are moving along the forest edges on the Eastern side of the river.
USCT troops often being former slaves were sometimes very badly treated if captured by the Confederates.
The other larger force of 28 Yankee infantry of A Company, 26th Minnesota Infantry (Wobegon Volunteers) are led by their officer, Captain Bunsen along the rocky Western bank of the river.
Neither side has any cavalry or artillery support. They are travelling light and carrying several days rations, living off the land by hunting and foraging and any farmsteads they find as their horse and baggage supply train would find this current terrain almost impassable without engineers to assist with bridging and road building.
For both sides, the troops are travelling as light and bivouacking as best they can. Heavier back packs and greatcoats are piled in base camps further up the valley. The infantry are carrying rifles, bayonets at the ready, and an adequate supply of dry rations and ammunition.
Setting out the troops – dispositions
Before the first Turn, a d6 (standard six sided dice) was rolled for each side. The resulting dice score was the number of figures removed from each side as having fallen out sick or left on guard in base camp along the march. The Greys left one man behind, the Blues left five infantry behind from their respective dice rolls.
As this game was being played solo, I needed to randomise arrival and disposition of forces over the randomly generated terrain.
Once the territory was mapped out into game or map squares, 2 d6 could be rolled for which of the 12 letter squares A-L and one d6 for the number square axis the force would appear at.
Once this was arranged, a d6 was thrown for each of the four smaller groups as to which turn they would arrive on the board at their respective points. None threw a 1!
Aims or Victory Conditions
The aim of both sides is to hold the crossings and see off the enemy, inflicting as many casualties as possible.
A d6 roll was rolled to decide when the retreat or fight on situation begins for each force. Roll 1-3 when down to a quarter of the troop numbers, roll 4 – 6 when down to a half of the troop numbers, throw a d6 to see if they retreat (1-3) or fight on to the last man (4-6).
In this situation, we rolled a 3, meaning that this retreat or fight situation will be triggered when down to below 10 Confederates and below 8 Union troops.
Turn 1 began with no troops on the board on either side.
In Turn 2 the first USCT troops emerged onto the western bank, heading fast for the Mitchell Farm and bridge crossings.
In Turn 3 the Tennessee Butternut infantry appear to the north on the eastern bank heading for the bridge. Such is the bottleneck of marshy ground and narrow river bank that only 12 of the 17 Butternuts make it on to the board area, being confined to 4 men per hex.
In Turn 4 the USCT reach the crucial bridge crossings and narrow neck of the valley between the forest edge and the river. In Turn 4 the rest of the Union (Minnesota) troops appear to the south on the Eastern bank, their view of the Confederate troops obscured by the impassably steep high rocks and skeletal boughs of Dead Tree Ridge. They too head for the Farmstead and the crossings. As with the Confederates, only 20 Minnesotans make it onto the cramped edges of the river bank, 4 are still in the troop trays off the board.
The Confederate bottleneck becomes more of an issue in Turn 5 as the first 11 of the dapper Kepi-clad Confederates from South Virginia make it onto the board. All 21 Butternuts of the Tennessee (Nashville) Infantry are now on the board.
Finally by Turn 5 the first units had sighted each other and the first shots were exchanged between the USCT and the Tennessee Butternut infantry exposed crossing the bridge. The first Confederate Butternut is killed.
Crossing Rivers dice throw rule – throw the same number of d6 as there are troops who cross or are on the bridge. A dice score of 1 means that person has fallen into the river and is lost unless a further dice throw of a 6 is thrown as a casualty savings throw.
Union troops throw highest d6 to move first. The USCT move forward to the lee shelter of the woods overlooking the Farm bridge, whilst the first 8 of the other Union troops begin to cross the Rocky Bridge. D6 are thrown – No Union losses into the raging Hicksville river. The Butternuts crossing the bridge are not so lucky, one of their number falls in and is lost (failed casualty savings throw).
Bottlenecked into the river crossings area, the line of sight for Union and Confederate troops is often obscured by their own men at this stage. This is checked using a Lionel Tarr style Reverse Periscope. Fortunately the troops on each bridge have a good clear view of each other. These small groups exchange fire; the USCT troops shoot 1 Butternut on the bridge and in the Confederate return fire at the USCT troops on the bank, one USCT infantryman is killed.
More Butternut infantry fire at the exposed Union troops crossing the bridge leads to 3 Union troops killed.
Casualties in Turn 6 – 2 Confederate Butternut infantry, 4 Union troops.
Greys dice and move first, having highest score. By now all South Virgianian and Tennessee Butternut Confederate infantry are on the board.
The first 4 Butternuts over the bridge surge into melee with three USCT. (No impetus bonus used and no melee casualty savings throws)
1 Confederate and 1 USCT infantryman each are killed, several coloured d6 thrown – the USCT sergeant is the casualty! The remaining 2 USCT infantry lose the melee morale throw but retreat in good order.
To decide what to do with these 2 USCT troops on their move, I set up a d6 throw: 1 – 3 push into melee back up or 4 – 6 circle round to Farmhouse. They throw a 3 so circle around past the gravestone and a patch of forest towards the farmhouse.
In turn the remaining USCT infantry move forward into Melee with the three Butternuts; in the ensuing melee all three Butternuts are lost along with a further USCT infantryman. (No Melee Morale Throw is needed as all the Butternuts involved have been killed).
The Tennessee Butternuts and the Union troops from Minnesota fire at each other, one Butternut on the exposed bridge is killed but who is the Union casualty? After rolling a coloured dice amongst the appropriate number of d6 for the Union targets, it turns out to be their Union Officer Captain Bunsen who is hit (who fails his casualty savings throw).
Casualties of Turn 7 – 5 Butternut Confederates and 2 Union infantry (USCT sergeant and Union Officer).
A brief pause of a day to gameplay at the end of Turn 7.
Bird’s Eye / aerial view at end of Turn 7.
Union forces have the highest score on dice roll so move first, to a Melee by 4 Union infantry into the flank of the 4 Confederate Butternut infantry on the bridgehead. 3 Butternut infantry are lost for the cost of 1 Union soldier. The Union soldiers lose the Melee Morale Throw d6 so retreat 1 hex but in good order, able to fire this move.
Note: No impetus bonus being used in this game so no melee extra +1 on first round for assaulting the enemy flank.
Disastrously 3 of the Union troops crossing the dilapidated Rocky Bridge lose their footing and are swept away and lost, failing their throw a six on a d6 and survive savings throw. Some engineers are needed on these rickety bridges!
Confederates move second – the 5 Butternut infantry at the bridgehead check orders on which way they are to turn. We reuse the Union d6 decision throw from Turn 7: roll 1-3 head for Melee, 4-6 circle round for farmhouse.
Melee is the outcome – 4 Butternut infantry head straight for 3 U.S.C.T infantry. All 3 USCT are lost at the cost of one Butternut infantryman. (No Melee Morale Throw required as Union USCT troops are all gone from that Melee hex area.)
The remaining light blue kepi-clad South Virginian Confederate infantry cross the bridge or take up firing positions along the bottleneck of the Western Bank.
Disaster strikes as the officer and standard bearer rush across the river by the Farm bridge. The Standard bearer of the South Virginian Infantry slips and is swept away downstream (failing casualty savings throw) with the unit’s flag.
Rule idea to ponder – what effect should the loss of a sergeant, officer or standard bearer have on the rest of the unit? Should it trigger a morale throw?
Union forces fire first. One Butternut infantryman is killed heading up the slope towards the cover of the Mitchell Farmstead, ahead of two nearby USCT troops. 7 Union (Minnesota) infantry in firing range kill two more Butternut infantry.
Confederates return fire, including a group behind a log barrier ‘cover’ on the Western Bank, firing from under cover gives them a 5 or 6 to hit on a d6, increasing their killing power. 3 Union troops on the Eastern bank are killed. Other Confederate forces cannot fire without hitting their own men or are just out of range.
Turn 8 – summary – 8 Confederates lost including standard bearer, 10 Union troops lost (4 in Melee, 3 crossing river, 3 shot).
Interval and Ideas from the Wargames Hermit
Between turn 8 and 9 there was a game pause of several days. Figures were left in place on the portable boards, photographs taken and a few end of turn notes made. During this time, I read the game reports by fellow Peter Laing enthusiast John Patriquin The Wargame Hermit blogger in the USA at http://wargamehermit.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/two-skirmish-wargames.html
John had been gaming an American Civil War skirmish using cluttered terrain and two sets of rules for comparison. The first game was with my amended Close Little Wars rules, the second with Horse and Musket 2.0 rules.
In a good looking (Close) Little Wars game with Peter Laing figures, John decided that Featherstone style savings throws were slowing everything down so abandoned them quicker skirmish.
I do this when time is short, so opted to play the second half of the Hicksville skirmish with no savings throws for Melee or Firing.
Turn 9 – The Confederate officer Lieutenant Wallis and two infantry have glimpsed two USCT troops heading for possession of the Mitchell Farmstead and so they too head toward the house, screened from Union fire by the other South Virginian troops.
These two groups heading for the Mitchell Farmstead clash in Melee. The last Tennessee Butternut infantryman is lost but so too are the last 2 USCT troops. The Confederate Lieutenant Wallis survives. No Melee Morale Throw needed.
In the exchange of firing, two Union Minnesota troops and one Confederate South Virginian infantryman are killed.
Turn 10 – Union forces dice highest so move first into a series of two melees at the bridgehead area, followed by Confederates moving into Melee on their move – six Union and three Confederate troops are killed. During this brutal slugging match, the Confederate officer and his infantryman escort move into the Farmhouse. One further Union infantryman is killed by Confederate fire.
Casualty summary of Turn 10 – 3 Confederates and 7 Union lost. This now brings Union forces to a quarter of their number, so triggering the retreat (throw 1-3) or fight to the last (throw 4-6) d6 dice throw for the Union Minnesota Infantry (Wogebon Volunteers). The dice throw of 1 means the Wobegon boys will retreat to fight another day for the Union.
Turn 11 – the Union Retreat
Which way will the last few Union infantry retreat? Will it be risking the crossing of the bridge to the East bank (1-3) or remaining and retreating via the West Bank (4-6)? The dice is thrown and staying on the West bank chosen.
Far away from their officer, the South Virginian troops decide how to react to the Union retreat (roll 1-3 give chase, 4-6 head back to find their officer). Swept up in heat of the skirmish, with a Rebel Yell the South Virginians chase off after the fleeing Union troops. Disastrously three of them running across the Farm Bridge slip and fall into the Hicksville River and are swept away (each failed saving casualty throw of a 6). These rickety bridges are proving as lethal as Yankee guns, boots or bayonets.
Despite the pursuit and retreat, each side looses off shots in the firing phase leading to one further Union and one Confederate casualty.
Casualties in Turn 11 – 4 Confederates (three lost in river) and one Union casualty.
Turn 12 – The Confederates roll highest on d6 to move first, meaning they can catch the rearguard of the retreating Union troops. In the ensuing Melee another Union infantryman is killed alongside 2 Confederates. However the Confederates lose the Melee Morale Throw and retreat one hex backwards in disorder, unable to move or fire until a 6 is thrown.
This infantryman is in effect “pinned” and a dice placed next to him to remind me of this. He is also partly blocking the flow of Confederate pursuers and firing range / line of sight. Again sporadic wildly aimed firing takes place as they pause to reload and catch breath but with no casualties.
Turn 12 Casualty summary – 2 Confederates , 1 Union killed.
Turn 13 – the last two Union infantry move first with 5 Confederates in close pursuit. During the firing phase, one further Union infantryman is killed.
The final Turn, Turn 14 opens with the dice throw, the Union score highest so move first.
The remaining Union infantryman retreats rapidly off the game board to safety with a dozen or so Confederate men behind him, thankfully most of whom blocked each other’s shots.
Will the surviving Union infantryman raise the alarm?
Surely this last Union Infantryman from his decimated small unit of Minnesota Infantry (Wobegon Volunteers) deserves a name. As he did some pretty fast running (whilst the Olympics was on television in our house afar off during each gameplay), he is christened Private Bolt.
After the Battle
The victorious Rebel troops gather at the old Mitchell Farmstead to listen to their officer, the young Lieutenant Wallis.
The battle, he said, may be over but only for a brief while. Soon they must dig in and await reinforcements. A scouting party must be sent to find the other Confederate forces. Sentries and pickets must be posted. There are dozens of dead to be found and buried. The missing colours to be found downstream …
The Lieutenant starts dividing his men up after a quick meal into different working and sentry parties. The Confederates left a guard with their haversacks, greatcoats and baggage in a base camp further up the valley. Other supplies of weapons , ammunition and supplies can be scrounged from the Union and Confederate fallen.
How long will it be before more Union forces arrive attracted by the sounds of skirmish?
When will the Confederates be able to reinforce them to secure the valley crossing?
The fleeing Minnesota Union infantryman has five sick colleagues further down the valley, also guarding the baggage. How soon will they be able to contact the rest of the Union forces for reinforcements? Will Confederate scouts find them first?
An interesting scenario is emerging in my mind as a follow on – guided by Private Bolt, but unsure of surviving Confederate numbers, some Union reinforcements head back into the valley to attack the surviving dozen prepared Confederates. A dice dictated element of turn delay for the Confederate reinforcements could be interesting.
Post Mortem Questions
The Officer problem – what effect if any does their presence or loss have on a small skirmish game?
Similarly what effect does the loss of their colours or standard have on troops in this backwoods skirmish kind of situation? Protecting their standard could be written into the scenario aims.
Falling off a slippery plank bridge accounted for a high number of drowned casualties, maybe the savings throw could be adjusted to something less harsh than throw a 6 to be saved. To be fair in most periods and areas before the early 20th century, the average person probably couldn’t swim, especially not encumbered with heavy uniform and kit in the raging spring snowmelt torrents of the Hicksville River.
The joy of random dice throws for the solo gamer to create decision paths works well for me, creating the ‘random’ or unpredictable element of another player’s decisions or of the chaos and heat of battle / fog of war etc.
Did the randomly generated (d6 /map coordinates) terrain points with a river with few crossing points create too much of a bottleneck? Did it and the forest and rocky ridge barriers dictate too much of the flow of battle?
Probably not, as Close Little Wars and Featherstone’s wonderfully short original rules thrive on the simplicity of impassable forest, sheer rock face, limited visibility and restricted movement choices. Real battles are also partly dictated by trying to choose whatever natural advantage the ground gives.
I was also surprised how little effect the rapidly built John Mitchell tribute “Mitchell Farmhouse” had on affairs, but it was randomly plotted fairly out of the crux of events between the two crossings.
I look forward to using the same terrain layout / boards for the follow up skirmish or the second Battle of the Lower Hicksville valley, and for trying different periods and scenarios out over the same limited ground. Next on the painting board is a WW2 skirmish group of Peter Laing originals and conversions …
Naming of Parts – naming figures and units somehow changes your (emotional?) relationship to them. What will happen to Private Bolt and Lieutenant Wallis in the next exciting instalment? Will they live long enough to achieve promotion? Maybe the eleven other surviving Confederates require or deserve names?
Picking up and stopping the game at several points was like interrupting a ‘page-turner’ of a historical novel or cliff-hanger TV series. It’s also tempting after contemplating the Angria Rebooted scenarios based on the Bronte’s tiny books and early juvenilia to use it as a basis for rewriting in different point of view styles as a historical fiction, rather than a dry battle report.
This is the first time these newly painted American Civil War Peter Laing figures have been in action and whilst they lack the finer detailing of another rainy day’s painting, they looked good enough to me on the game board.
The Peter Laing figures who survived on either side had ‘Hicksville’ inscribed on the underside of their bases, their first battle honours. Private Bolt is also now named on his base. The dead had simply a small “H” inscribed underneath in one corner.
This hectic game with simple aims or motivations for the troops on either side, despite several day or two pauses in game play, worked well for me as a solo game. I looked forward to picking up where I left off.
This ACW game of Close Little Wars was played in the spirit of the American Civil War general quoted in Donald Featherstone’s 1970 book Battles with Model Soldiers:
Perhaps the American Civil war cavalry leader, Bedford Forrest, best summed up the situation when he said that his principle of war was “to get there fastest with the mostest.”
Blogposted by Mr MIN, Man of TIN, 21st August 2016