As discussed in my last post, our American Civil War campaign had reached a crucial point, and potentially and decisive battle. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, leading the XIII and XV Corps of the Federal army, has brought the Army of the Mississippi, under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, to battle just south of Vicksburg. Steele's Division, of Sherman's XV Corps has advanced to engage the enemy, drawing them out of the defences surrounding Vicksburg, and now awaits reinforcement.
The Union army has a slight advantage in numbers, but is arriving piecemeal to face a concentrated enemy. Victory for Grant would allow him to place Vicksburg under siege, and open the way to achieving his campaign objectives. Defeat would force the Union away from Vicksburg and possibly buy enough time for Confederate reinforcements to arrive from Jackson.
The terrain around Vicksburg has the fortified city in in north, by the Mississippi River. The railroad from Jackson heads off east, but no help is arriving from that direction. To the south, towards Warrenton, are the woods from which the Union army will slowly emerge.
With 6 Union Divisions facing off against 5 Confederate Divisions, both sides would have to break three enemy divisions to seal victory.
The Confederate forces are massed around Vicksburg: Forney's Division are in the city itself; Smith's Division facing off against the advancing Federals; Loring's Division are positioned along the railroad; and Stevenson's large division is holding the left, aware of the dangers of a Union flanking movement.
Steele's Division, of Sherman's Corps, are the only Federal troops in the field and emerge cautiously from the woods to engage the enemy.
Federal reinforcements begin to arrive in the form of Smith's Division, of McClernand's Corps, threading their way along the road (yes, I know you can't see it, but it's there) towards the ford.
The Rebels also receive support from Bowen's Division, arriving from the west. However, they arrive in march column worryingly close to the enemy and take fire from Steele's artillery.
More of McClernand's Corps, Hovey and Carr's Divisions, arrive and split their forces. The artillery is sent along the road to support Steele, whilst the infantry break into skirmish formation and begin to thread their way through the woods, aiming to keep Stevenson from moving to where the battle is developing.
Tuttle's Division arrives on the western flank and engages Bowen, breaking one of his brigades with the shock of their arrival.
With two divisions apiece engaged, the battle is now fully engaged, but the Confederates seem unable to stem the Federal tide (a series of terrible rolls from Pete fails to inflict any damage on the Union line).
Meanwhile, in the east, Osterhaus's flanking force arrives, but finds Stevenson's Division ready for them. Not only are they unable to get around the Rebel flank, but they are heavily outnumbered and the rest of McClernand's Corps are still slowly picking their way through the woods (Matt was repeatedly failing orders tests for the divisions in the woods).
Taking full advantage of the Rebel inaccuracy, Tuttle advances into close range and breaks Bowen's Division with a powerful volley. (Union 1 - Confederacy 0)
With this, the Rebel flank was exposed. Smith's (Confederate) Division was now significantly outnumbered. To make matters worse Smith's (Union) Division finally reached the end of the woodland road, and the final Union reinforcements arrived from the West in the form of Blair's Division of Sherman's Corps. Thinks looked bleak for the defenders of Vicksburg.
Major General William T. Sherman took full advantage, and began to pour fire into the exposed secessionists, hoping to completely turn the Rebel flank.
Despite the successes in the west, Osterhaus's Division finds itself completely outmatched by Stevenson, and begin a holding action designed simply to keep Stevenson's large division from moving to support the Rebel's collapsing right flank.
Smith (Confederate) holds his ground as Loring's Division (which so far had remained in reserve) moves up to stem the Federal advance. The artillery of Forney's Division also moves out of the fort in support. Worryingly accurate cannon fire allows the Confederates to inflict damage on Smith's (Union) Division, and disorders Tuttle's Division and stopping the flank being fully turned.
Stevenson's Division continued to inflict massive damage on Osterhaus's Division, but the beleaguered Federals hold on in grim defiance, despite their cavalry breaking.
However, any hope of respite is removed with the rest of McClernand's Corps lost in the woods, despite being joined by Grant himself.
With Tuttle's Division halted, Blair's Division is moved up to take over the assault at close range...
...breaking Smith's (Confederate) Division and completely collapsing the Rebel right flank. Only Forney's small division, occupying the city itself, stand between Sherman and victory. (Union 2 - Confederacy 0)
A new, hastily assembled line is put together amidst the wreckage of the Confederate right flank. Could Loring's fresh division invoke the spirit of Stonewall Jackson at Bull Run and rescue the Confederacy?
Hope comes for the secessionists as Osterhaus's Division is finally broken, potentially freeing up Stevenson. (Union 2 - Confederacy 1)
Sherman masses his forces for what will hopefully be the final assault, whilst Tuttle's Division gets moving again and enters the outskirts of Vicksburg.
Loring's Division unleashes accurate fire which pushes Smith's (Union) Division close to breaking. It won't take much to make them go. Perhaps there's a chance that the tide could turn?
Grant finally gets the divisions in the woods moving, just enough to keep Stevenson's Division torn between helping against Sherman and protecting their own flank, and potentially being able to quickly break the weaker divisions in skirmish formation.
The strong Confederate defensive position allows them to inflict damage across the lines of Union soldiers, threatening to break them in numerous places.
With his line wavering at various points, Sherman orders a general advance into Vicksburg to drive the Rebels out of their positions. Tuttle is repulsed from the fort, but Blair sweeps one of Forney's brigades away with some vicious hand to hand fighting.
Despite taking casualties, Loring's Divsion grimly holds on and manages to fianlly break Steele's Division, which has been engaged since the very beginning of the battle. With all of the Federal divisions on the right flank wavering, could the battered Rebels snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? (Union 2 - Confederacy 2)
Aware of the need to decisive, Sherman risks exposing the flank of Blair's Division to enfilading fire to inflict as much punishment on Loring's Division as he can.
At the same time, the bloody remnants of Tuttle's Division pout fire into the fort in the vain hope of somehow breakings Forney's artillery.
Despite the volume of fire they are subjected to, Loring's Division somehow holds their ground.
With the battle hanging in the balance, the Confederate resistance is enough to drive back Blair's Division, but not break them. The Union are still able to unleash devastating fire at Loring's Division...
And this time it's enough to break the stalwart Rebels. (Union 3 - Confederacy 2)
Battered and bruised, Sherman's command had managed to drive off three of the four Confederate divisions they had faced. Stevenson had numbers and was still relatively fresh, and Forney still, just about, held the centre of Vicksburg, however the eventual arrival of two fresh divisions under McClernand was enough to drive Stevenson away from Vicksburg and split the Army of the Mississippi in two. Victory belonged to Grant.
The campaign isn't over, but the Confederate army is in disarray. A handful of units remain to hold Vicksburg, whilst Stevenson's Division and Loring's artillery have been driven north. This has allowed Grant to begin the encirclement of Vicksburg and made it incredibly doubtful that Pemberton can do anything about it.
Meanwhile, over in the east, McPherson's scattered divisions are closing in on Jackson. Unless reinforcements arrive, the Rebels look unable to prevent the city's fall. However, should reinforcements arrive, McPherson's isolated units look ripe for being picked off and pushed back. All is not lost.
Overall, this was a brilliant game. The campaign rules gave us a really interesting scenario with genuine consequences to consider. The desperate, and sometimes foolhardy actions of the Confederates almost snatched victory, but ultimately have left their divisions unable to function (I'm going to suggest merging divisions which currently have less than three units, as otherwise, they are just too fragile in game). Had they succeeded, however, victory would almost certainly have won the campaign for Pete and Wes.
The key events for me were as follows:
- The lamentable performance of Bowen's Division: being caught in march column, failing to inflict any damage on Tuttle's Division and then being driven off so quickly meant the Confederates were on the back foot almost immediately.
- Diverting Stevenson's Division. Keeping the largest Rebel division away from the main fight for so long was crucial. Matt and I deliberately threw Osterhaus's Division at them for that putpose.
- Piecemeal defence. The Confederates were perhaps a bit slow in bringing up their reserves, which allowed to combined weight of Sherman's Corps to engage a single division at a time. When they did manage to combine their defending units on the outskirts of Vicksburg, the battle was almost won.
- The long march through the woods. Initially we thought that repeatedly failing orders checks on the divisions on the woods was a bad thing as it left Osterhaus unsupported. However, Stevenson's Division would have had the opportunity to break either Carr or Hovey, potentially winning them the game.
- Blair's Division. Arriving late, Blair took over from Tuttle and broke Smith's Division, then charged in to drive Forney's troops out of their defences, and finally was instrumental in breaking Loring's Division. All without losing a single unit.
A great game.
There are still four more turns to play, however, it may be that there isn't another major battle in the campaign, and if there is, it probably won't be as big as both sides took damage. We've each lost a complete division and two of the remaining Confederate divisions have been reduced to a single battery of artillery. There might need to be a bit of re organising to make things make sense.
A battle in the east is possible, but the Confederates need a couple of turns of reinforcements before this can happen. However a few more skirmishes are possible in the interim.
It's definitely not over.