Thursday, 28 January 2016

Shiloh First Day - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

Following on from our previous ACW game a few weeks ago, this week was the turn of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. This promised to be a very different type of game, with a quite narrow battlefield combined with most of it being wooded, naturally limiting visibility and hampering movement. Once again Dave took on the role of the Confederates whilst I the Union.

As before I will not dwell on the details of the scenario as there is so much detail to be had via the internet. The map from the BBB Yahoo Group should suffice to give a good idea of the table layout and initial deployment of forces.

Table Set Up & Deployment
The table was layed out as close to the map as possible, given the limitations of my felt roads and rivers. The fields were the only open areas, with the rest of the table being wooded. The Union player has an option to deploy Prentiss' 6th Division further forward than their historical deployment. After some thought I chose the historical option as it fitted in with my plan of trying to form a defense in depth, with successive lines of troops to try and hold off the Confederates for as long as possible.

The Game
As this was a somewhat unusual scenario that required quite a bit of concentration due to the terrain and dispersed nature of the Union forces at the start, I did not have time to make any notes. Hopefully the pics will jog my memory so that I can give a good account of how the battle unfolded. So without further ado...

The forces deployed for battle. The Union troops are widely spread out, encamped in the various fields in and around Shiloh church (given a Tudorbethan makeover for this game;). The Confederate troops are massed on the left hand table edge on both roads, with re-inforcements ready to arrive.
The view from Pittsburg Landing towards Shiloh and the Confederate troops.
The Confederates troops move quickly along both roads, with Hardee's III Corps moving towards Shiloh, whilst Wither's 2nd Division closed with Prentiss' 6th Division.
As Sherman's 5th Division battles at Shiloh Church, Prentiss' 6th Division has a hard time of it against Wither's Division, that has Ruggles' 1st Division moving up in support.
The Union troops come off worse in the combat, with Prentiss' Division ceasing to exist and Shermans' Division pushed back Disrupted and Spent. The only hope is that the Confederate troops will be delayed looting the Union camps, thereby allowing the Union forces time to try and get a second line of defence organised.
The Union troops have started to form what resembles a second line of defence as the Confederates are enjoying bacon and beans for breakfast.
Shermans' troops have formed up behind a stream, whilst Hurlbutt's 4th Division has managed to get to the Sunken Road in front of the Hornet's Nest.
Stuart's 2nd Brigade bravely moves up to try and anchor the Union left flank by the Sunken Road, supported by some artillery.
Wither's and Ruggles' Divisions finally leave the Union camp and mass for the attack on the Union left flank, whilst the Confederate Right Flank is still stuck in and around Shiloh Church. The Confederate troops are struggling to find room to manouevre as the wooded terrain is significantly hampering their attempts.
The Confederates Right Wing and Centre start to attack.
Stuart's 2nd Brigade under severe pressure, but somehow manage to hold on in the face of overwhelming numbers.
The Union plan of Defence in Depth is taking shape and holding its own, for now.
The battle rages all across the front line.
Hardee's III Corps are struggling at Shiloh Church, whilst Hurlbutt and Stuart are giving as good as they get against the Confederate troops arrayed against them.
The Confederate Right Wing is beginning to advance, albeit more slowly than they would like.
The Confederate troops have managed to begin to turn the Union left flank, but Sweeney's 3rd Brigade has managed to form a strong defensive line to hopefully shore up the flank.
Pressure finally starts to tell, as both Union flanks are pushed inwards, with the centre still holding out on the Sunken road. Depsite losing Sherman's 5th Division, the Union forces are benefitting from interior lines, allowing them to move their forces more quickly than the Confederates to where they are needed.

At this point we simply ran out of time. Having played for nearly 3 hours and with another 3 odd Turns still left to play, we called it a day and a draw.
Post Game Thoughts
So this was certainly a very different, challenging and yet still very enjoyable game of BBB. One that certainly got the grey cells working and gave us plenty of things to talk about as the game unfolded. So as always a bit of a post game critique:

  • This particular battle showed the limitations of using my felt roads etc to recreate the battlefield on the wargames table. For this scenario the following approach is much more appropriate and relatively easy to achieve.
A painted table (or cloth, I'm not sure which) by one of the members of the Yahoo BBB Group. Very simple but very effective and better in game terms IMHO.
  • This is a challenging scenario for both players. The Confederate troops have better troops and more of them, but struggle to be able to deploy their troops when and where they want them due to the few roads and the wooded terrain. In contrast the Union troops are generally all pretty poor, widely dispersed and hard to get moving. However they benefit from Interior Lines which enables them to deploy their troops more easily and quickly to where they need to be.
  • A heavily wooded table took some getting used to. Not only does it limit the fields of fire, but it imposes quite severe movement restrictions on troops, especially artillery. This impacted the Confederates more early on, as they required a Full Move to allow them to deploy from Column of March into Line and move only 3" (half movement allowance for changing formation and 3" penalty for Woods).
  • The scenario works well, even though it is still only a draft version. We both realised how hard it must have been for both sides to have maintained any semblance of control in the real battle. 
  • In game terms Stuart's 2nd Brigade did a sterling job of holding up Wither's 2nd Division long enough to allow the rest of the Union troops to form a decent defensive line. If Wither's Division had made short thrift of Stuart's Brigade as it did of Prentiss', then it would have been a very different game.The Union artillery punched above its weight, adding greatly to Stuart's Brigades efforts as well as Silencing a lot of the Confederate artillery in and around Shiloh Church. 
  • Sadly time got the better of us as the game was nicely poised. Even though there were 3 - 4 Turns still to play, we felt that the Union forces could probably hold out long enough for night to fall and their re-inforcements to arrive. 
So next week we may play out day Two or may move onto another scenario entirely. Dave should be bringing along a colleague who is putting together 2mm forces for BBB, so it will be good to meet him and hopefully see his figures in the flesh as it were. I've tried 2mm before but it never really grabbed me. 6mm is as small as I'm likely to go for my games, with 10mm still my preferred option. However 6mm really does work for this game.


  1. Good report Steve, 6mm always give you the scope for sweeping moves, but I understand you challange with the roads.