Monday 7 August 2017

Big Summer Napoleonic Game 2017

The big summer game, August 2017

Battle of Mateitna (aka Tranchantville by the French)
between the French under Napoleon and the Russian/Prussian Army of Kutuzov

From Generalissimo Kutuzov
Commander of the Allied Forces

April 1, 1813

While Napoleon’s forces far outnumber ours, we have forced him to retreat with his back against the Danube,  Now we can push him across and back to his home.

Our battle plan is simple.  Using successive blows to his one flank then the other, we shall weaken him so a final thrust up the centre will collapse his lines.

Each Corps will be assigned a time for their attack in a well coordinated sequence which will confuse and disorientate Napoleon and his underlings!

For our homelands, Victory! God willing.

Yeah, it is, of course, Antietam, the well-known American Civil War battle
( Mateitna spelt backwards, or Tranchant {sharp} ville {town} in French).

For the big summer Napoleonic game, I like to use the scenario from a real battle, not necessarily of the era, to offer a bit of fog of war for the players and explore the dynamics of that historical military engagement.

Building this scenario proved to be taxing, as the Union commander, McClellan - our Kutuzov - submitted his corps in a piecemeal fashion. Not very wargame like.  I countered this by having the Union/Allied player play only one corps at the start, with “activation” at the historical time and unknown to all,  together with a single roll needed of a 3+ on a d6 chance for that turn and each after, to give the effect of player control and unknown attack timing.

Of the Confederates/French, the scenario was easier to allocate.  With essentially only two commanders (Jackson=Oudinot, and Friant=Longstreet) the battlefield could be controlled as per the actual affair.
With a slightly lesser ratio of  1:1500  and  1 artillery pip = 4 batteries, I placed the commands historically adding a light cavalry element to each command  and in equal amounts to each side.  While cavalry was not present in most ACW commands, it hardly feels Napoleonic without some cavalry to give it that flavour!
The Union Allied reserves of Sumner Bulow and Franklin Wurttemberg

The commander names were obviously changed but with no real rhyme or reason but only if I had enough labels already completed!  The use of either Russian or Prussian was also only with consideration of availability.  It even surprised me somewhat that I had enough Prussians and Russians alone to provide the entire Union Army.
"Burnside's Bridge" with DaveB's hand moving adjusting the French forces.

All the players arrived on time, PeterM from this region, with DaveB coming in from Vancouver Island, Seth driving from Seattle that morning, a good two hour drive;  and JamesC and his friend Shawn making the trip from Portland, some 300miles / 470km !!  
The Confederate French commanders of Dave, Shawn, James and two Union Allied players of Peter and Seth (l-r)

Well, did the game follow history despite using Napoleonic troops and rules??  It did!  And closely I might add.  Hooker(Krafft) - PeterM -, and Mansfield(Tolstoy) -Seth- did finally take the Cornfield together with the West and East Woods after some heavy fighting forcing a French withdrawal to tighter defensive line.  This line was anchored by fortifications - aka the Sunken Road - unknown to the Allied commanders.  Like the real Kutuzov at Borodino, our “Little Mac”  in the guise of Kutuzov, was the only spot from which line of sight is adjudicated and like his historical counterpart would not move from his distance location. Also in the pre-battle briefing, I indicated the water was “deemed to be” unfordable.  I didn’t say they weren’t but like the Union troops that day only the bridges would be used.  The bridges, like the real battle, funnelled the Allied attacks. Sumner(Bulow) -Seth- and reinforcements under Franklin(Wurtttemberg) -myself- had no choice but to ‘go up the gut’ and the French held the line.  Barely.
Allies move through the Cornfield and East Woods as the French fell back to their defensive position.
The masses of Sumner's Corps await their orders to advance
the game-table looking from the southwest with Sharpsburg in the foreground and Antietam Creek along the top with the uncommitted Union corps 
Sumner finally has his marching orders

Likewise to the south, Burnside(Pirch) -PeterM-  finally activated at 10:30am game time (each of our turns being a half hour historically and which proved, once again, in all our historical scenarios to be very accurate time frame) to get across ‘his bridge’ but up against much more opposition than his historical counterpart.  From the moment of his activation, he tried to get across the bridge.  Finally, early in the afternoon, it looked like he would finally push DaveB/Friant off the hill, but, like the timing of D.H. Hill at Antietam, Drouot - JamesC- arrives (at his 3:30pm allocated time and place) to arrive and march up in position just in time to prevent any breakthrough!
The French right holding the high hill in front of Burnside's bridge with artillery support.  The defensive ring anchored on the Sunken Lane can be seen right.
The French centre with the fortifications standing in for the Sunken Lane.

The French under the capable guidance of JamesC as Jackson, his wargaming newbie friend doing well with the sub-command of McLaw and our veteran DaveB as Longstreet, somehow holding on to a thinning defensive line.  A couple of lucky, ’Southern Grit’ inspired? command morale die rolls with commands at the breaking point were made, and the game went on for 28 turns or until 8pm game time, well pass the actual battle’s end (just because we were having fun and to see if ANYONE would break first!)
Franklin's corps (Wurttemberg's Russians) move up over the maneuver restricting bridge.  As you may notice, one of Bulow's Prussian guns has been left behind as a result of the traffic jam.

As the French are on their last legs, so too are the Allies, with attacks repulsed, the battle as like the real event, petered out.  Even R.E. Lee would think it a near defeat but the French held on and were not forced to retreat over the Potomac or destroyed and the Allies would not win this day.
Just as Peter's Burnside in the guise of Pirch, thought the taking of the bridge possible, the historic occurrence of D.H.Hill arriving at the nick of time recreated itself in our game with Drouot arriving with his Guardsmen to save the day!

And like McClellan, I would not use Porter’s corps - who I had in the guise of the Russian Imperial Guard! - or Pleasonton’s cavalry (Prussian Cuirassiers) as this would tip the scales too much and more to the point not be historically accurate. In any event, it was doubtful they would arrive in the action before the end of the day.

I find that the behaviour of the real commanders and occurrences of the historic battle are certainly now understandable based on the events of our tabletop affair.  Interesting to witness, which is why for my Napoleonic collection we have only done historic battles thus far and I am quite willing to continue the "research".

Win or lose, the boys indicated they had a good time.  The historic result for me was satisfying suggesting the scenario was good, the rules again producing a realistic effect, and the rules themselves working well and fluid.
My newly painted French Field Ambulance indicating the LOC/ line of retreat for the French (Perry Miniatures)