Since Salute (Saturday 28th March), I can’t quite believe how busy I’ve been, and yet I have also managed to cram in three games in under two weeks.
I won’t bore you with my recollections of Salute here, but suffice it to say that I didn’t manage to take a single photo of the show. Not one! I lugged my camera and bits bag around with me all day, but found myself having non-stop conversations and meetings. Rather like a chain smoker, it was only when the doors finally closed that I realised that I had over-indulged the vocal chords. Still, it was very rewarding, with a couple of potential new advertisers and, though I can’t discuss it at present, a probable book deal with a publisher. As ever, it was also extremely gratifying to have met and chatted with a host of Battlegames readers, and my thanks to all who took the time and trouble to come up and say “hello”.
It would also be churlish of me not to mention Andrew Hubback and his lovely wife Colette of Miniature Wargames who were at the show, launching their revamped magazine. My compliments to Andrew for the improvements he has made to the hobby’s veteran title, and my best wishes for the future.
After the show, I drove up to Suffolk, to the home of Major General (Retired) K J Drewienkiewicz CMG, (mercifully known simply as DZ or John to his friends!), who had invited me to participate in a gaming sleepover with himself and a group of his good wargaming chums. This fine fellowship turned out to include Battlegames stalwart Brigadier (Retired) Charles S Grant, who greeted me with his usual good humour. I was also delighted to meet Andrew Brentnall, Bob Carter, Tom Hutchinson, Adam Poole and his son Otto, and finally DZ’s own son Peter.
Saturday night was a very sociable affair. After a fine dinner provided by DZ’s lovely wife Christine, we repaired to the lounge and were plied with single malts and I was encouraged to have my first ever game of Command & Colors Ancients, with CSG as my opponent.
Quite apart from my curiosity about the game (and I seem to recall Neil Shuck enthusing about the system on his Meeples & Miniatures podcast), the visual aspect had been enhanced no end by Andrew Brentnall, who had substituted beautifully-painted 6mm miniatures for the standard counters. With the edges of their bases cleverly colour-coded to indicate the requisite troop types (light, heavy, medium, warband etc.), they were a delight to use. Sadly, that evening was also a picture-free zone!
The scenario was Magnesia, and I commanded the Seleucids against Charles’ Romans. I was impressed with the clever, card-driven system and equally innovative combat method using specially-marked dice. Suffice it to say that we had a highly entertaining encounter lasting around an hour, I suppose, at the end of which I managed to emerge the victor, having crushed the Roman centre.
The following day started early (after the clocks going forward an hour as well, I really did feel as though I’d been woken by reveille!) and the game to be played, having been kept secret by umpires DZ and Andrew up to that point, was revealed in all its glory. The American Civil War, Brandy Station, 1863, the biggest cavalry battle of the war.
I should perhaps explain that DZ is blessed with a free-standing games room housed in what he calls “The Bothy” in his back garden. Rather more commodious than a mere shed, this edifice houses his wonderful collection and wargames table. His favourite periods seem to number just two: the American Civil War and the end of the Dark Ages and onset of feudalism, namely Saxons and Normans. The latter collection uses 28mm figures, but his enormous ACW setup uses 15mm miniatures.
I managed to grab a few photos during an extremely hectic day, from which you can see that DZ also boasts some lovely terrain. A great deal of it was made for him by Keith Warren of Realistic Modelling Services. One of the stars of the layout was the zig-zag rail fencing: for every intact section, DZ also had a demolished version for when it had been pushed over by troops too lazy to vault it! He also wanted to demonstrate that he could do likewise for sections of corn (maize) fields, but the players studiously avoided fields “…where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye” all day long. Marvellous!
To cut to the chase, I was thrown into the ranks of the Confederacy, along with CSG and Bob Carter. The game began at dawn, with our men asleep in their tents as the Union forces splashed across the Rappanhannock to the East. With umpires like DZ and Andrew Brentnall in charge (ably assisted by Otto, whilst his father played the role of The Press, turning up at inopportune moments with camera and notebook in hand, just like the real thing) you can bet that the commanders on both sides were tested to the absolute limit! The Union forces were commanded by Tom Hutchinson, Peter Drewienkiewicz and new arrival for the day, Dave Hathaway. And to complete my weekend of new gaming experiences, the rules used were Fire and Fury, a novelty for me. DZ and Andrew, as keen ACW gamers, had made their own regimental-level adaptations, and an ‘official’ regimental level version, called “America’s Wars”, is also now available to download on the Web, with the printed version to follow soon.
My role was that of WHF Lee on the left flank, facing the might of Buford (Tom Hutchinson). In reality, WHF Lee was ill with rheumatism on the day, but for the game, he was restored to the ranks. With only four units at my disposal (2nd north Carolina, 9th, 10th and 13th Virginia, all cavalry), I wondered what on earth I might be able to achieve other than a glorious defeat. Well, let’s see.
To my right, holding the centre in an exposed forward position, was Charles Grant, with Jones’ Brigade (6th, 7th, 11th, 12th and 35th Virginia cavalry) and Chew’s Artillery brigade (Breathed’s, McGregor’s, Chew’s and Moorman’s batteries — Hart’s battery was deemed missing for the day). On our right flank, separated from Charles by the Culpeper Road and the railway line, was Bob Carter with Hampton’s Brigade (Cobb’s Georgia Legion, Jeff Davis’ Mississippi Legion, Phillip’s Georgia Legion, 1st North Carolina cavalry and the 1st and 2nd South Carolina cavalry).
Forward of our right flank, near the Rappanhannock, was Robertson’s Brigade of 1st Maryland, with the 4th and 5th North Carolina regiments. These were umpire-controlled.
In reserve was Munford’s Brigade of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Virginia regiments. In the real battle, he had taken over WHF Lee’s brigade; in our game, he was simply an obstinate and elusive reserve who remained off-table for most of the day!
Our objective was to protect the Carolina Road leading West at all costs. General JEB Stuart’s headquarters was located atop Fleetwood Hill, running roughly North-South along the rear of our position. Without specific orders from my Commander-in-Chief General Lee, or his lieutenant JEB Stuart (in fact orders had been sent for me to withdraw, but they didn’t arrive until move 12 or thereabouts, by which time Stuart had changed his mind and sent me fresh orders to continue doing precisely what I was already doing!), my troops finally awoke to see blue-coated cavalry and artillery pouring towards my flank in huge numbers, and heard Jones’ forces to my right engaged in heavy fighting. I decided that the best way to help him extricate his exposed forces was to attack in as aggressive a manner as I could, in order to stall the Union advance and force them to commit forces to my flank that he might otherwise use to threaten the route heading South-West, through the heart of our position. Little did I know the storm I was to call down upon my fragile forces!
Just like a real battle, my recollection of the day’s events outside my own sphere of influence is sketchy at best, but I do know that Charles managed to extricate his artillery in a most skilful manner, sending them back to eventually unlimber again in a covering position atop Fleetwood Hill. One battery was left behind to buy time, but they managed to do most dreadful execution to the onrushing bluecoats, giving them a decidedly bloody nose. Charles’ cavalry also did extremely well, covering the retreating artillery and charging repeatedly around the St James’ Church area to blunt the Union advance in the centre before moving back to cover the St James’ Church Road at the foot of Fleetwood Hill.
As for Bob Carter and our right flank, I can say very little other than I believe he stuck to his task in a most steadfast manner against growing odds and the machinations of umpire Andrew Brentnall whose sparkling intellect supplied him with a biting wit and a plethora of cunning devices to trap the unwary, including bosky terrain that concealed all manner of surprises to unwary troops!
For my part, I ordered the largest of my regiments to move straight forward from its encampment on the extreme left flank towards the settlement of Cunningham, attacking targets of opportunity along the way. By so doing, I hoped it would buy time for the rest of the brigade to organise itself (it did), and grab the attention of Buford’s large force that seemed, to my horror, to be growing every move. In fact, this part worked a treat; as the Virginians appeared around the corner of Yew Hill to their front, Tom Hutchinson took them very seriously indeed and chose to halt his forces alongside the settlement and on the road, unlimbering a large battery of artillery and opening fire on the oncoming greycoats.
Meanwhile, the 13th and 10th Virginia cavalry mounted up and headed up the road towards their nemesis, now gathering in great force to the East. The 2nd North Carolina followed up to their left, initially lining the stone wall, but they soon realised that their place was in direct support of their fellows in the open space between the road and the woods that formed the right flank of my brigade.
What followed still seems something of a blur, but can be divided into two, distinct parts: the ‘death ride’ of the 9th Virginia on my left; and the ‘ride to glory’ of the 13th Virginia on my right, who were awarded the nickname of “The Lucky 13th” by the end of the day.
Having been spotted by the Union artillery, the 9th Virginia soon came under effective fire. Their advance was hindered by the walls of an enclosure that lay between them and their tormentors, but I realised that they just had to press on and attempt to come to grips with the gunners. As the distance closed, I had to grit my teeth but, at last, they came within charge range and summoned the courage to press home their attack at the very moment, unfortunately, when the Union commander had some of his best dice luck of the game. The poor 9th Virginia were scythed down by a terrible volley of canister, and their broken and bloody bodies littered the ground beneath the very muzzles of the guns. General Buford opposite me grunted in satisfaction, but though I swore at the loss of so many men, I knew they had done their job and pinned the enemy in place for several moves.
To my right, the 13th and 10th Virginia steeled themselves for the inevitable onslaught, and it wasn’t long in coming as a wave of bluecoat cavalry crashed home — and bounced! The Confederate cavalry fought with the fury of ten men each, and as melee followed melee, the unthinkable became possible. Inch by inch, charge after charge, and the Union troopers were forced back. The 13th Virginia won nine, yes, nine melees in a row! By the end of the game (move 18), these exhausted and bloodied warriors were unbeaten, and had forced the Union cavalry back almost to Green’s Mill Road. The 10th Virginia, doing their best to emulate this incredible feat, were also making steady headway against their opponents on the road. The 2nd North Carolina were unengaged until the last couple of moves!
Now, it must be said that in the combat phases, I was blessed with above-average dice rolls, but this was not the case with my brigade orders. Meanwhile, poor Tom Hutchinson opposite me had, perhaps, a few below-average rolls in these melees, but I think it would be false modesty to say my success was all down to the luck of the dice. I love cavalry, and have always enjoyed using this arm in my games in what I feel is the proper manner: aggressively and with a degree of coup d’oueil, that instinctive seizing of the moment that is difficult to describe but which you instantly recognise when you see it. It is, in itself, a form of calculated risk. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and you pay a terrible price. The poor 9th Virginia might have been basking in glory if the Union gunners had been abandoned by Lady Luck, but instead, horse steak was on the menu that day. On the other hand, the 13th Virginia might have been annihilated and scattered by the overwhelming odds, but they followed up every little success and pressed home every advantage until the tide turned in their favour. Success is won by many single sword-strokes.
Anyway, that’s enough for tonight. I’ll report on the other two games I’ve played recently — another ACW encounter and a Table Top Teaser with Old Schooler Graham Knight and a host of Spencer Smiths — very soon. Goodnight!