SOW Antietam: Stuart Exploits the Right Flank

So Doug at Cry Havoc's excellent blog about battlefield preparation and reconnaissance has got me thinking about the American Civil War Confederate General J.E.B Stuart.

In the days leading up to the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, Stuart's poor positioning and reconnaissance cost Lee and the Confederates greatly.  The information Lee did receive about Union movements was wrong or in the case of Gettysburg non-existent.

Scourge of War Antietam has a what-if scenario "Stuart exploits the Right Flank" that covers General Jackson's order to Stuart on the September 17th, 1862.  Jackson ordered Stuart to exploit the right flank and look for a weak point in the federal line.  Stuart concentrated his brigades and began to barrage the Union left with artillery, however massive counter-battery fire answered his units and he decided not to launch this attack.

This scenario explores the "what-if" possibilities had he launched the attack and so that is where I begin...

I began my movement in the afternoon of the 17th with the Jeff Davis Legion.    Poised on the right flank near the West woods my men cross the fields between the Confederate and Union lines. Dunker Church is to my left off screen.

Riding hard I push my the Legion up through some trees on the Union left.  I can hear Union artillery popping off just beyond the edge of sight.  My hope is to bag them before their infantry can protect them.  Fearful of being flanked I also order Hampton's 2nd South Carolina forward to reinforce the Legion.  Pushing through the trees my men dismount as a the 1st Minnesota regiment marches past me through a cornfield.

While the Legion is engaged further up the slope with at least 3 Union regiments, I move the 2nd South Carolina into a supporting position.

I need to take the pressure off the Legion and the 2nd South Carolina fighting in the trees in the distance.  I move General Lee's brigade of cavalry forward to attack the Union artillery.

What's left of the Legion is retreating back while the 2nd South Carolina covers the retreat.  I suffered heavy losses and lost my stomach for the the fight ahead.  

 In 29 minutes my battle was essentially over before it began.  My probe which was supposed to exploit the Union flank, failed to find a hole in their lines I could take advantage of.  I think my first mistake was that I committed too quickly.  I managed to maneuver the Legion very close to the Union line but the ground I chose to fight on was sloped and wooded so that I could not see completely what was moving up on my flanks (in this case a brigade of Union troops uphill from me).  That flank pressure and enfilade fire eventually broke the Legion and ended my attack for all practical purposes.

I also attacked too broadly.  In the vicinity of my probe with the Legion, I only had the 2nd South Carolina.  Fitzhugh Lee's brigade was close-by but they would have had to cross the battlefield under fire in full view of the Union lines to reinforce the Legion.  To make up for this I pushed Lee across the center and against the Union line.  I believed this would take pressure off the Legion but in the end, more Union troops moved into position, screened by woods before me.  I should have moved Lee into a reinforcing position before I pushed forward with the Legion.

I started this scenario last night because I read Doug's post about reconnaissance and wanted to see what reconnaissance on a Civil War battlefield felt like. I ended this scenario convinced a reconnaissance role was incredibly hard to fill.  You would have to be incredibly spread out to see all of the enemy formations that might possibly impact your movement.  Speed even with cavalry elements is also problematic.  Getting into a fight and having to dismount to fire takes time and slows your ability to respond to danger.  Attacking with cavalry would also be incredibly dangerous and costly especially if you didn't have terrain that would screen your movements.

The terrain you fought from was also incredibly important (I had forgotten that some after looking at Command Ops' topographical maps for so long from a bird's eye view instead of a view from the ground).  Elevation really matters,especially if you like to play SOW from an eye-level point of view like I do. Picking my way through the Maryland countryside to find a hole in the Union flank found me pushing for higher ground to get a good look around.

Well I need to wrap up this blog and start some work.  If you get a chance I encourage you to try this scenario.  You won't be disappointed and it represents a real challenge.


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