Reflections on Gettysburg – The Tide Turns

Developed by Shenandoah Studio and published by Matrix/Slitherine

Boggit reflects on the Battle of Gettysburg while playing “Gettysburg – The Tide Turns” ~

Boggit, 29 July 2017

“I have bin in one battle, and that satisfied me with war, and I would beg to be excused next time”

Private Haban R. Foster, 34th Virginia Infantry, 1862.

 

I’m playing the First Day scenario. My view is that if Lee can’t get an easy win on Day 1, then he’s going to be facing an increasingly worsening attrition battle, one that even if he does win the battle itself will mean the end of his campaign and any prospect of actually winning the war due to excessive, and hard to replace losses.

 

Gettysburg – The Tide Turns is a game reconstructing the strategically decisive battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War (1861-65) between the Union (Northern) and Confederate (Southern) states in America. In many ways it was the first modern war where weapons development and tactics presaged the carnage that would be seen a few years later in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the early months of the First World War (1914-18) where modern weapons met Napoleonic tactics with predictable results.

So. Take the high ground objectives. Couldn’t be easier… 😉

 

The Gettysburg campaign arose from the success of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Chancellorsville (30th April – 6th May 1863), which being less than half the size of the Union Army of the Potomac nevertheless managed to inflict much heavier losses on them and forced them to retreat (however it was a Phyrric victory – the 3rd May being the second bloodiest day of the Civil War after the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg on 17th September 1862). Encouraged by his costly victory, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sought to seize the strategic initiative by starting a new campaign to invade the North and put an end to the war. Thus the Gettysburg campaign came into being.

 

Beginning Turn 3. I have advanced Heth’s division up the Chambersburg Pike with an intention of outflanking the cavalry. I’m not planning on going head to head with them. Davis’s brigade is raw, while they are veterans and élites. That will only end badly. Their guns have already demoralised a step in Archer’s Brigade making it combat ineffective for the rest of the day, unless it gets to heal in reserve. To the left of the map Union I Corps are moving up rather quickly, having the benefit of interior lines. They are also close to the objectives at the top of the map. How can I stop them from blocking my way to them?

 

The battle of Gettysburg was fought over 1st to 3rd July 1863, and was not intended as part of Lee’s campaign plan. It developed from an encounter between the infantry of Confederate General Henry Heth’s division, who hoped to find supplies in the town of Gettysburg, and a delaying force of Union cavalry under General John Buford into a full blown battle. Unfortunately Lee allowed his cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart too much latitude which allowed Stuart to conduct operations independent of the needs of the Army of Northern Virginia, with the effect that Lee was without the majority of his cavalry to screen and reconnoitre the Union forces, so he had very little idea as to what he was up against. The encounter battle between Heth and Buford would eventually draw in the entire Army of Northern Virginia and the entire Army of the Potomac resulting in the bloodiest battle of the war (being approximately twice the casualties suffered earlier in the Chancellorsville battle). It was strategically decisive in that the losses suffered by the Confederate army were so great that for the rest of the war the strategic initiative had passed to the Union, and (aside from the battle of Franklin (30th November 1864) the Confederates operationally went onto the defensive. In that respect it has become known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.

 

Well here is the start of turn 4. The game has an initiative segment each turn which decides who goes first, and adds a bit of uncertainty. Here the Union have won it and have a lot of troops on the objective. XI Corps reinforced I Corps by have marching up the “Tanneytown” Road (But shouldn’t that be Taneytown Road beta testers?). I plan to feint attack on Culp’s hill at the far top of the map with Heth’s and Pender’s divisions with reinforcements to give the impression I’m after that hex. Hopefully, they will concentrate on it while my reinforcements following on from Heth and Pender flank them on Cemetery Ridge.

 

Each day of the battle of Gettysburg was distinctive in terms of the options to the Confederacy having the initiative of the attack. In my view, the first day was the one that offered the greatest chance of victory for the Confederacy, as they had a local superiority of forces, and their greatest opportunity to seize the eminently defensible ground that would in large part determine the success or failure of the battle. The odds of success fell dramatically each day due to a failure to capture the dominating high ground, together with the burden of attack on an enemy that was rapidly increasing their numbers to the point that they outnumbered the Confederates. In the meantime the Union were digging in, which meant that any possible victory could only come at an eye watering price.

 

Start of turn 6. Again the Union have gained the initiative, but are taking the bait and moving up to defend the Culp’s hill area. I will try to move Heth’s division even further to the left to McAllister Hill with Pender supporting. This is to spread the Union further from the Cemetery Ridge objectives, and to interdict reinforcements coming up the Baltimore Pike. In the meantime my divisional artillery for Heth and Pender are slowly coming up and will be used to bombard Cemetery Hill prior to an attack by Rodes’s and Early’s divisions coming from the left side of the map. I don’t want to precipitate any serious attacks until I’m good and ready… At the moment the numbers favour the Union.

 

Day two saw fierce fighting along the whole line, with a particularly intense fight at Little Round Top, which if taken would have allowed the Confederates to flank the Union line – although given the number of Union forces involved (and the available tactical reserves), I suspect they would have had difficulty due to the availability of fresh Confederate reserve troops to exploit that advantage decisively.

At the very least the heavy casualties suffered so far in the battle, and the fact that the Army of the Potomac under General George Meade had so far held their ground make me think that by day two, Lee should have realised he was in a poor position for a successful victory and withdrawn. By withdrawing when his army was still capable of fighting, and having had his cavalry return, Lee retained some useful options. He could have manoeuvred his force to ground of his choosing, or to force the Union to defend vulnerable points, whether that is politically important territory, or their lines of communication.

 

Start of turn 7. At last Rodes has arrived. Fighting has started north of Culp’s Hill with Lane and Pegram’s guns getting hurt, but at the cost of Paul’s brigade for the Union (and a little damage to Devin’s cavalry). Now is the time to ramp up the pressure with my reinforcements from the south of the map in the shape of Anderson and Johnson’s Divisions assaulting Cemetery Ridge – my real objective!

 

On the third day, fighting continued although the main event was Pickett’s suicidal charge at the centre of the Union line, which finally convinced General Lee to call of the attacks and retreat.

 

Still on turn 7. The firefight around Culp’s hill is going my way. The Union’s Schimmelpfennig brigade is smashed, with Devin’s cavalry shattered. On my side Lane’s brigade needs taking out of the line unless von Gilsa overwhelms it.

 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. On the one hand, were I Robert E. Lee, I would have withdrawn after day one if I had not managed to seize the high ground necessary to dominate and win the battle. Battles in this period were very bloody – as Lee would well know from the battles of Antietam and Chancellorsville – making victory a Phyrric proposition. To take on the burden of attack when tactically at a disadvantage, and with a rapidly deteriorating situation was in my opinion ill judged. Even if he won, the cost could easily be too high for him to easily replace his losses necessary to further prosecute the campaign. This wasn’t anywhere like the same issue for the Union with their much deeper pool of recruits, and resources.

 

Start of turn 8. Turn 7 has yielded mixed results. Around Culp’s hill Pender and Heth are progressing well, but at Cemetery hill Doles brigade has shattered, and Daniel’s brigade seriously damaged. However, Cutler and Baxter’s brigade has followed up down the hill, so opportunities for counter attacks exist. Early’s division has now arrived and is marching on Cemetery Hill/Culp’s Hill.

 

Moreover, Lincoln from the first year of the war had allocated substantial forces for the defence of Washington DC, which even if Lee had beaten the Army of the Potomac he would still have had to face. Not just them but whatever remnants of the Army of the Potomac, and other emergency reinforcements (from the other fronts – all of which had a Union superiority of manpower) could provide, making it a priority that he retained enough troops to finish the job, if indeed it was possible to finish it – which I seriously doubt on military grounds. The Army of the Potomac was Lee’s main contender in the East, but in the event of a decisive victory, there were many more Union reserves to continue the war. Even a successful exploitation of his victory needed his Lee’s casualties to be light, while the Union’s to be catastrophic. Like Hannibal after Cannae, even a massive victory that could not be exploited due to Lee’s army needing to recover after the battle meant that Gettysburg provided only a remote chance of ending the war.

Lee’s most realistic hope was that his succession of previous victories topped with Gettysburg would be enough to persuade Northern politicians to cave in. The problem Lee had is that even if he won convincingly, the odds were still stacked heavily against him. By this time in 1863 the war was being prosecuted on three main fronts, and on the West and Trans-Mississippi fronts the Union was doing well. The Union naval blockade of Southern ports was choking their economy and an important conduit to supply their forces with imported war supplies. If Northern politicians as a whole recognised their strategic advantage had hit a road bump with Gettysburg, it still remained that ultimately the South would be ground down by attrition if nothing else.

 

Starting turn 9. I advance on Culp’s hill, and grab a victory location on Cemetery Ridge after I counterattacked the Union brigades following up off Cemetery Hill. I might even grab a couple more, now undefended. Even if I lose Culp’s Hill now I might win. The strategy is paying off.

 

For me, Lee’s battle strategy should have been a limitation of losses if he did not achieve easy success on the first day. Put simply – the Union could absorb the loss of troops far better than he could. If he did badly, it called into question the long term ability of the Confederacy to prosecute the war with any hope of success.

 

It’s the start of turn 10. The Union hold Cemetery Hill, but Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill and part of Cemetery Hill victory locations are mine. Both Union I and XI Corps are in severe trouble, but I have III coming up behind me, while Pettigrew and Archer’s brigades hold off XII Corps at the top of the map. So far so good.

 

By continuing into day two, I think Lee was acting rashly as he could not afford another Phyrric battle if he were to exploit any victory. He still lacked proper intelligence on his enemy due to the general absence of his cavalry, meaning that he didn’t have a good picture about what he was facing, and therefore in a poor position to sensibly commit to general battle. Any wishfulness he had about ending the war had to be balanced with his capacity to do so with regard to his opponent.

 

Turn 11. The final turn. I’m in a nice position now, but under threat to Culp’s Hill from Union I, XI, and XII Corps. Union III Corps is embarrassingly behind my main line, but hopefully Anderson’s division will hold it back. On Culp’s Hill I have a real problem with many of the Confederate brigades there now depleted or shattered. I hope to hold on this last turn…

 

I can understand Lee continuing into the second day on the off chance that he might still succeed, given that the first day had gone relatively well for him, since he hoped that a decisive victory now would end the war. However, the second day fighting was indecisive and marred by heavy casualties, particularly around the Devil’s Den, and Little Round Top. The ground was clearly in the Union favour, and it must have been clear to Lee that the Union were holding their ground and still being reinforced. With that in mind I think Lee should have recognised that he was now in an attrition battle, without local superiority of numbers, and where he was coming off second best. It was past time to call off his attacks.

 

I have my back to the wall, but have bagged 5 victory locations. The question is… will they hold? If so, I’ll win big, as I only need 2 victory locations to win here according to the initial advice.

 

For the third day, Lee has no excuse. His enemy were strongly placed, and outnumbered him, and his knew it by then. His colleague General James Longstreet warned him against it, as militarily unsound. Any largescale attack was against the odds, and pursuing it with Pickett’s charge was just irresponsible of him.

 

I’m in luck as I hold on by the skin of my teeth. But the job is done, and if the Union want to continue the fight the burden of the attack is now on them. That said attacking that ground caused me a lot of losses. With the fresh troops of Anderson and Johnson, I could stabilise things fairly quickly, although Heth’s, Pender’s, Early’s and Rodes’s divisions are all pretty fragged. A clear victory, but a Phyrric one.

 

As it turned out, the losses at Gettysburg did push him onto the defensive for the rest of the war, and as the world’s first truly industrial war, the resources available to the Union only increased while his diminished. The Confederacy should have asked for terms after this battle, rather than allow it to be ground down to utter inevitable destruction by two further years of war. I guess pride, rather than a rational reading of the future got in the way?

My thoughts on the game itself… It’s a fun game, which came as quite a pleasant surprise as looking at some early game screens did little to excite me about it. I was mistaken. The initiative system adds an element of tension both for moves and attacks, and losing out can make you react rather than stick to your plan. Overall I formed a very good impression of the game, with just a few – relatively small – flaws to it. The map is very pretty to look at, although given the level of care evidently lavished on it to make it look “right for the period”, you’d think that the misspelt “Tanneytown” road description (as one of the main roads in the game) would have been picked up early by a tester who wasn’t blind and also knew what the roads were actually called! The main thing I didn’t like was the map failing to snap to combats, such that if you were focused on another part of the map you could miss seeing the results of a combat.

Despite my minor gripes overall it is a nice fast play game that is both attractive to look at, and has a nice feel to the game mechanics. In particular, the idea of demoralised steps, and their healing when place in reserve (especially in the full campaign) encourages a player to rotate units as happened historically. The game offers a decent choice of scenarios – the grand campaign of the whole battle, the individual days of battle, the fighting around Little Round Top, and Pickett’s Charge. I’d recommend Gettysburg: The Tide Turns to any historical gamer who wants a decent game fast play game without too much detail, but which still captures the essence of the battle.

 

Additional Sources and Resources

Great video on the battle by the Civil War Trust

 

Good example of the cost in lives even on the first day

 

Assorted ACW period musical inspiration…


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