Friday 3 March 2023

The balloon goes up at Chancellorsville!

Back in January I had a fantastic time fighting Chancellorsville. This week we rolled it out again for a different set of players at OWS.

To avoid repeating myself, let me direct you to my previous AAR for some background on the battle. Here I'll just offer a brief summary of how it went this time, a few annotated photos, and then some further reflections.

Our Union plan was basically to press forward with our right hook from Chancellorsville initially, unleashing the left against Fredericksburg once the Confederate defenders there had been forced to thin out and head west. This broadly worked, aided (a) by an entire Confederate division being wiped out on Day 1 in a sanguinary struggle with Sykes's regulars and (b) by Banks's Ford being left unguarded for us to infiltrate across overnight before Day 3. Even so, it was a see-saw game: Day 1 seemed to go very well, but Confederate redeployment overnight saw them smash some big holes in our right wing on Day 2. On Day 3 our left wing came into play and, thanks to the division that crossed at Banks's Ford, closed in and took the Tabernacle Church, the objective we needed for victory. Even so, there would still have been time for the Confederates' superior infantry to rally, storm back in and not only retake the Church but actually seize Banks's Ford and claim a win. Fortunately for us, the three divisions in question all missed their movement rolls and we hung on. Hurrah for the Union!

Reflections and some other info follow after the pretty piccies.

The balloon of the title of this post. The Union had not one but two observation balloons in action in this battle: Eagle and Washington. This model is from Irregular Miniatures, complete with the correct generator wagons, correctly painted up as Washington by Crispin. Here it is spying on Fredericksburg.

The initial setup. Crispin needs to invest in some more lichen ... US forces are those with darker bases. The right hook is massed around Chancellorsville (centre right edge of pic) while the left sits mostly behind the Rappahannock (lower left corner) facing the line of Confederate entrenchments.

How it looked from my point of view as we were about to launch our right hook forward from Chancellorsville (the two buildings and white objective marker in the left foreground).

Serious battle about to be joined. Anderson's Confederate division will step out of its defences (centre of pic) and advance to mutual massacre. Lower right, US divisions head south, both to fend off Stuart's cavalry (out of shot) and to threaten Confederate lines of communication. Another Confederate division marches to respond to that threat (top right).

Situation at start of Day 3 (I think). Top of pic: Confederated have pulled back from Fredericksburg to shorten their line. US left follows them. Lower right edge, Confederates have neutralised the threat to their LOC from that direction. Upper left (just below and left of the counter tin), a US division has snuck across Banks's Ford. It will be joined by others left and right of it converging on Tabernacle Church (white counter, centre of pic), where the climactic big fight determined victory.


Replay value! The third time of playing this scenario and it was very different again from the previous two, with the clear potential for the game to go in many different directions. I can see this one being played again and again.

Changing situations mid-game: the two strategic redeployments overnight really make the game. They give players the opportunity to make major game-changing decisions, they create some drama and tension and surprises, and they capture something of the nature of the historical battle. See also my essay on this topic in my series of Reflections on Wargaming.

The scenario is now in the BBB group files.

It is also likely to be one of the participation games at the next BBB Bash Day convention, to be held in Leeds UK on Saturday 1 July, the day before Baccus's wonderful Joy of Six show in Sheffield. If you like the look of this scenario and are in striking distance of Yorkshire, make a weekend of it!


  1. Great game Chris. I'm going to try this scenario out with my regular group.

    1. Great! I'll be interested to hear how it goes, Martin.

  2. A wonderful game of a great historical action, that really captures the look of it when seeing maps IMHO.

    1. Thanks, Steve! It really was a revelation to me to discover the battle by researching, writing and playing it.

  3. Looking forward to seeing this at the BBB Bash Day in Leeds on 1st July!


Comments welcome!