Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Gaming




Well, Memorial Day is almost here, but you wouldn't know it around these parts seeing how unseasonably cool it is!  So much for global warmi...er, "climate change". With that in mind, I guess it isn't out of the equation that I am going to be spending less time grilling and more time gaming.  But what type of gaming is suitable for a national holiday?

Memorial Day is all about remembering the valorous fallen who have given "the last full measure of devotion" while defending this nation throughout its glorious history.  Well, that is what most of us understand Memorial Day to be about, but apparently not President Obama who seems to think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a documentary....





He's so smart.

I have noticed that when it comes to Memorial Day, most people seem to think its origin is found in the tremendous carnage of World War II.  I guess that is understandable, especially seeing how television loves to show WWII movies all day long,  but it is also false.  Memorial Day's genesis was actually found in the wake of America's greatest war, the Civil War:


Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. 

...

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee. 


With that in mind, I think I know what game I am going to being spending most of my Memorial Day with: Norbsoft's fantastic Scourge of War series.  You know, with the plethora of gaming choices available in my Steam library alone, I think it says something either about the quality of this game, or the sad state of mainstream gaming, that I have spent more time with this title than I have with just about any other title in recent weeks.  I am currently on my fourth (fifth?) sandbox battle and just cannot get enough of this excellent Civil War title.  Like I wrote before, there is something magical about the openness of this game; how it allows you to take command of anything from a artillery battery all the way up to an entire army and just sandbox it out in a way that is most similar to...Minecraft?  Maybe that is it: maybe Scourge of War is the wargame equivalent of Minecraft!

Or maybe I just really, really like Civil War games.  :)

Whatever the reason, here is my latest Scourge of War AAR, entitled Night Fight!  This time, I took command of a Union brigade and tried out the Chancellorsville expansion's night map.  Night combat in 19th Century warfare?  Yes, it was rare, but did happen:

By nightfall, the Confederate Second Corps had advanced more than 1.25 miles, to within sight of Chancellorsville, but darkness and confusion were taking their toll. The attackers were almost as disorganized as the routed defenders. Although the XI Corps had been defeated, it would be incorrect to characterize the action as thousands of men simply fleeing for their lives. The corps suffered nearly 2,500 casualties (259 killed, 1,173 wounded, and 994 missing or captured), about one quarter of its strength, including 12 of 23 regimental commanders, which indicates that they fought fiercely during their retreat. Jackson's force was now separated from Lee's men only by Sickles's corps, which had been separated from the main body of the army after its foray attacking Jackson's column earlier in the afternoon. By 9 p.m., Sickles's men had struggled back to Hazel Grove, but their day was not finished. Between 11 p.m. and midnight, Sickles organized an assault north from Hazel Grove toward the Plank Road, but called it off when his men began suffering artillery and rifle fire from the XII Corps.

 I have to say that this night map added an almost spooky air to the battle.

In this battle, I took command of Col. Hannibal Day's First Brigade, of the First Division, First Corps.  820 men...all marching though the night, right past this spooky house (as always, click on the image for its full size):



I really must remember this map for some Halloween wargaming.  You can almost hear the hoot owls in the trees:


So after a rather spooky trip in the middle of the night, we eventually got close to our objective near some farmland.  Nothing happened - no enemy in sight - but I knew something was up when a bunch of couriers galloped right past my unit with a lot of haste:


Before long, we heard shooting pick up in the distance.  As we drew closer to our destination, we could see that the bulk of the division was in a fight to our front.  As I watched, I could see the Rebs split off a regiment or two and try to flank our engaged men.  I immediately deployed my own men and engaged them:


The boys were doing a good job holding them up, too.  Unfortunately, Division had other ideas and ordered everyone to fall back to a crossroad about a mile to the rear.  My men pulled out of battle in good order and off we marched into the night once again:


The division actually halted about a quarter mile from the crossroads.  Looking around I decided to place my brigade to the left of the main road, along a tree line.  The men deployed quickly, and without incident.  Everything was creepy quiet again.

In the words of Early Cuyler: "Fruit don't talk. Fruit just listens...and waits."  So, like good fruit, we just listened.  And we just waited.  After about ten minutes, we could hear the division picket engaged in another fight just out of sight of my men. We held our breath...and nearly jumped out of our skins when suddenly a mass of men charged us!


"Hold fire!"  It was our own men, retreating in chaos.  Not a good sign.  "Get ready, men...."

Sure enough, hot on their heels were some rebs.  "Open fire!"


The rebs must have been real cocksure of themselves, before they didn't stop and engage us as I expected, but kept on coming without stopping to fire!


"They're going to charge us!"


And they did!  And with gusto!  They succeeded in breaking the 6th regiment! Those Texas boys were tough!

It got so bad, I had to throw in my reserve regiment, which was quietly sitting to our rear:


It worked.  The Texans flew back to their lines:


Close one.

Nothing much happened on our side of the division flank after that.  I was getting a bit impatient when word arrived that we needed to reinforce the right where our division was getting hit pretty hard.  So we marched on over and engaged more rebs...lots more!

On the right

This was clearly the main fight because the rebs were throwing in everything they had.  I had to use all my regiments just to create a barrier to prevent the rebs from enveloping us on one flank or the other:

On the left
At one point, one of my fellow brigade commanders got so desperate that he charged the rebs to give us some breathing room:


That was a mistake.  Even if he succeeded in breaking one unit, there were lots more waiting to takes is place.  We needed to husband our strength at this point.

Before long we were up to our eyes in reb soldiers.  My entire brigade was engaged - left, right and center:


It was just too much.  I ordered a withdrawal to some more defensible terrain about 100 yards to our east, behind some fencing and other cover:


But they still came!  And they still were constantly trying to flank us!  I eventually had to throw in my reserves to cover the rebs approach through a crop field:


With everything thrown in, my position resembled a '[', as you can see here:

My troops arc from the left of this pic to the middle

Still, we couldn't hold them.  It was just too much.  We were being overwhelmed from all sides, especially once the rest of the division ran off and left us alone!  I kept sending missives to HQ for reinforcements, but it was clear that we were on our own at this point, and fighting an impossible battle.  Reluctantly, I sounded the retreat and fell back a third of a mile.

Our first fallback position:


And still they came.  We fell back again:


Interestingly, it was at this second fallback position that we discovered our commander, Brig. General James Barnes (he has the white flag on the right), wandering around the woods.   So naturally we put on a good show for him.  But it was still to no avail.  While we did chase off one or two regiments, the confederate commander just kept sending more at us.  They must have been as exhausted as we were, but it was still just too much.  So, with not other choice, I sounded a final retreat and we headed on out and ended our night fight.

I was surprised to see that the game considered it a victory for us, even though we didn't hold the objective!  I guess we really gave them a bloody nose, making it a Pyrrhic victory for the CSA.  With a fresh regiment or two, we probably could have really won the day!  

Regardless, this session also brought home the real purpose of Memorial Day: to commemorate those who have fallen in battle.  In this one skirmish game, my division lost close to 800 men!  Figure a third of those were killed outright, that means 250~ fathers, sons, brothers would not be coming home.  What a sad thought.  And it becomes all the sadder when you realize that this game is based on a real war where 600,000~ men really didn't come home....


Have a patriotic Memorial Day, everyone!  God bless the troops past and present!

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