Thursday 7 December 2023

Ferocious fighting at Chickamauga (1863 ACW)

Chickamauga was one of the biggest ACW battles, with about 60,000+ men on each side. I've fought it a couple of times before, back in 2016, but I see I only wrote brief reports (see here and here). Still, even seven years later I remember these were great games, so I suggested it for our club night this week and Crispin duly obliged. We had a good turnout so there were three of us on each side, plus Crispin as ref. Chickamauga is a good scenario for such a multi-player game because it is easy to just divide up sectors of the line and share the troops out on both sides.

The history is that in September 1863 (two months after Gettysburg), Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee, reinforced with a corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, crashes into Rosecrans's Union Army of the Cumberland south of the strategically important town of Chattanooga. The Confederates are trying to right hook and outflank the Union army to cut it off from Chattanooga, but it doesn't really work. Instead, it degenerates into a big line-out among the woods, a battle lasting two days with reinforcements for both sides turning up from various directions.

Our game pretty much replicated that. I can't be sure - despite only having three or four units to command on the Union extreme right, I found the action there so intense and absorbing that I don't have much idea what was going on elsewhere. I also only took a couple of photos at the start and then forgot to take any more. Let me offer those pics to orient the reader somewhat, then a brief summary of the game so far as I can provide it, followed by some reflections.

I commanded the Union extreme right, including Van Cleve's 3rd Division of Crittenden's XXI Cps. Here we see Van Cleve arriving from the right (southern) table edge to close the gap in the line around the Brock and Viniard farmsteads (white objective markers). Reynolds (4th Div of XIV Cps) and Palmer (2nd Div, XXI Cps) are visible top left of picture. Top right is Hood's ANV I Cps, part of the Confederate storm about to break over the Union line.

View from behind the Poe farmstead (white objective counter) in the Union center. Baird and Brannan (1st & 3rd Div's of Thomas's XIV Cps flank it and hold Kelly's field to the left and Brotherton's farm to the right. Bedford Forrest's cavalry visible on the Confederate extreme right (top left) and Walker's corps top center.

The battlefield all looks like this, mostly wooded with some patches of open ground, criss-crossed by trails. There are two lines of objectives representing the Union defensive lines. The Confederates must hold two of the first line objectives at game end for a draw, plus one second line objective for a win.

How did the battle go? Roughly: the Confederate center was sacrificed in furious charges. Although these did not breach the line, they took so much US effort to repel that Forrest's cavalry were able to seize a couple of objectives on the US left. The US left wing eventually managed to drive the Confederates out of some but not all, but was unable to spare any support for the US right. Meanwhile, a Confederate left hook, eventually supported by a Confederate grand battery in front of the Viniard property, was able to break through in a couple of places and seize two objectives to earn a draw.

The whole game was intense, everyone really engaged, bloody fighting, objectives taken and retaken, ebb and flow and heart-in-mouth moments. It could easily have gone either way. Honourable draw was a fair result.


Ebb and flow, no 'pivotal moment': Last week's Franco-Prussian game prompted me to write a whole 'Reflections' essay on 'Pivotal moments in wargames'. The heavily wooded terrain on the much denser battlefield at Chickamauga made it much harder for a defender to cover gaps, either with fire or by moving reserves across quickly; on the other hand, it also made it much harder for an attacker to exploit success and roll up flanks or dash through to green fields beyond. There were plenty of tough fights, gallant charges and big swings of fortune, but they only had local consequences. The dense terrain created 'firewalls' between these local actions and made it difficult for them to produce rapidly cascading effects.

Cover yourselves in glory, lads! When the troops are first put on the table, they all look a lot alike. During the course of the game, though, one little bunch of bits of painted metal can really distinguish itself from the rest. That was the case for several here, even just on our Union right wing. On the US side, we pinned high hopes on Negley's 2nd Div of XIV Cps, with their famous Colt revolving rifles. Unfortunately, Negley let us down badly: the first rebel yell sent his boys reeling back to the field in the SW corner of the battlefield, where they spent most of the game rallying; eventually they pulled themselves together to try to retake the Glenn house (lost partly due to their absence from the line), but bounced feebly off.

On the Confederate left, by contrast, a couple of the units facing us distinguished themselves, much to Luke's satisfaction as their commander. The greenhorns of Preston's division belied their Raw rating, fighting hard throughout and keeping many Union troops busy. Cheatham's division suffered terrible casualties early on, as a result of which they then spent most of the next four turns in involuntary retreats almost back to their baseline - only to rally near the Alexander house, form a march column, and race up the road in time to seize the Viniard objective on the penultimate turn.

Thus, in their different ways, all these three units stood out. It's always nice when our little metal men take on a character of their own like that.

Commanding cavalry is a distinct art. Cavalry can be a potent weapon but as the nineteenth century goes on it becomes harder to use them right. I've noted before that it's not my forte. This time, I handled them better and caused the Confederates some problems on their left. But meanwhile on their right, Dave W (whose entire command in this game was all the Confederate cavalry) discovered that he's "no JEB Stuart".

The Chickamauga scenario is available from the BBB group files here.


  1. Nice writeup. Can't wait to get my 6mm ACW ready for the table down the line.

    1. Cheers, Fred! 6mm is great for making big ACW battles manageable. Good luck with getting your armies into action.

  2. Hmm, sometime when I know we can get 4 Fencibles together. Between busy schedules and Real Life, a tough thing.

    1. And you might need a slightly less leisurely style of play than usual! Worth playing this if you can muster your troops for it, though.

    2. Looking back, we played this 2017. The first time we played 4 hours but guys didn't want to come back next session just to play the last two turns.

      We tried again but couldn't get two experienced players per side. In two sessions we played for 7 hours and got an extremely bloody tie. Great scenario, must try again when we can muster 4 of us. A goal for next year.

  3. I found that the best use of cavalry in this period is to grab defenseless or weakly held objectives and pull reserves after them, but avoid at all costs getting stuck in a serious fight. Of course there is the temptation to use it to pursue and crush a spent infantry force, but often even a badly mauled infantry force will beat up up a fresh cavalry force.

    If I remember the best use of cavalry in our games, it was I think one of the Russo-Turkish War battles, and a cavalry unit found itself plowing into four artillery units. It devoured two of them (getting the overrun) and forced the other two to skedaddle. That said once it reached an infantry unit it got blasted away into smitherins.

    Onur was very good at using cavalry to threaten objectives and draw reserves away from more crucial sectors.

    1. We found cavalry very useful for forcing the guns to retreat or if lucky destroying them, as well as threating LoC. But in a stand up fight, not much use at all.

  4. Excellent game and as always very enjoyable post game musings:).


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