Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas 1864

Battle lines around Richmond and Petersburg in Fall 1864

By December of 1864, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had been entrenched around Richmond and Petersburg Virginia since June. Grant's stranglehold of these cities has taken its toll.

The following is an excerpt from "Reminiscences of War" by John B. Gordon.

"Christmas (December 25, 1864) came while we were fighting famine within and Grant without our lines. To meet either was a serious problem. The Southern people from their earliest history had observed Christmas as the great holiday season of the year. It was time of times,  the longed-for period of universal and innocent but almost boundless jollification among young and old. In towns and on plantations, purse strings were loosened and the restraints relaxed.
The holiday, however, on Hatcher's Run, near Petersburg, was joyless enough for the most misanthropic. The one worn out railroad running to the far south could not bring us half enough necessary supplies; and even if it could have transported Christmas boxes of good things, the people at home were too depleted to send them. They had already impoverished themselves to help their struggling Government, and large areas of our territory had been made desolate by the ravages of the marching armies. The brave fellows at the front, however, knew that their friends at home would gladly send them the last pound of sugar in the pantry, and the last turkey or chicken from the barnyard. So the facetiously wished each other "Merry Christmas!" as they dined on their wretched fare. There was no complaining, no repining, for they knew their exhausted country was doing all it could for them.
At my headquarters on that Christmas day there was unusual merrymaking. Mrs. Gordon, on leaving home four years before, had placed in her little army trunk a small package of excellent coffee, and had used it only on very special occasions- "to celebrate," as she said, "our victories in the first years, and to sustain us in the defeat at the last." When I asked her, on the morning of December 25, 1864, what we could do for a Christmas celebration, she replied, "I can give you some of that coffee which I brought from home." She could scarcely have made an announcement more grateful to a hungry Confederate. Coffee- genuine coffee! The aroma of it filled my official family with epicurean enthusiasm before a cup was passed from the boiling pot.If every man of us was not intoxicated by that indulgence after long and enforced abstinence, the hilarity of the party was misleading."

Reminiscences of the Civil War by John B. Gordon. Ch 26 pg 378-379.

defensive works outside Petersburg. Va

Contemporary map of Petersburg by Capt Jed Hotchkins

13" siege mortar outside Petersburg Va. Nicknamed  "The Dictator."
This 17,120 lb gun fired a 197 lb shell a maximum range of 4,300 yrds.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hardtack Raid. A cavalry battle

The Union forces in the area are running low on supplies. Two wagon trains are being escorted by a brigade of cavalry. The Confederate force needs those supplies as well.

The Union Cavalry Brigade will start out with two regiments on the table escorting the two supply wagons. The objective is to make it across the table and exit the opposite table edge. The other two regiments are on reserve off table.
The Confederate Brigade will start off with two regiments on the table and two in reserve off table.
Starting on turn 3 both sides will roll dice for reenforcements. Then they will roll for which table edge they will enter from. This represents the Cavalry being scattered.

Turn 1. The Federal Cavalry with the wagon train in the top left corner.

The Confederate Cavalry making their way along the turnpike.

The General decides to split his force and send one regiment ahead
while the second regiment escorts the wagons.

The Rebs travel the road in search of the wagon train.
The Rebel General knows that the wagons travel faster on the roads.

One regiment travels the roads while the other cuts across the open terrain.

The advance party makes it way. No sign of the Rebs yet.They can't go too far forward.

The convoy only travels as fast as the slowest member. In this case the wagons.

Turn 2 Sees the forces coming closer.

The Confederate regiment on the road spots the Union Cavalry on the hill. They move off the road into in. The second regiment in the field follows suit. The probing Union regiment goes into line and makes for the regiment by the tavern.

The Federal general scratches his head as he watches the wagons move onto the road at a painful pace. It is at this time he realizes The road has woods on both sides. The words "Natural Bottleneck." thunder through his mind.

It is at this moment that he decides to send the escort forward to support the advance column.

The troops face off at each other and engage with small arms.

.......and the wagons lumber on.

Turn 3. Sees the first reenforcements appear. A regiment of Union Cavalry coming from
the bottom right corner. They heard the sound of the guns and came a runnin'.

"There they are! Forward Ho!"

The reenforcements come onto the table in the nick of time. The Leading Federal
regiment breaks and retreats into the woods.

"Keep firing, boys! That wagon train is almost ours!"

The escort breaks off and retreats up the hill. However there is no time to rest.
The 3rd Union Regiment is wearing out horses to get into the fight. Coming up on their rear. 

The Brigade commander turns to look down the road and see the wagons coming

The broken Federal Regiments in the treeline.

Turn 4. Finally the Rebs get their first reenforcements on the field. They com on the table BEHIND the wagon train. Their position places them by the woodline. They are in a good position to capture the wagons.

However, to their left The 4th federal Cavalry regiment also appears on the table parallel to them.
 "....Oh boy, someones in trouble if they don't act quick."

This random chance encounter came down to who won the initiative.

The Confederate Colonel draws his sword and points it to the left at the unaware yankees. "CHARGE!" the Rebs likewise draw swors and pistols and charge headlong into the Federal column.

The attack worked and drove the Federal Regiment off the table edge.
"They came, They saw, They skedaddled."

Elsewhere on the table, Fortune favors the bold. After engaging the Yankee Cavalry and driving them up the hill in retreat, One of the Reb regiments turns and attacks the Federals coming up behind them. The 4th Confederate Cavalry regiment comes out of reserve and enters the field.

The Union cavalry regiments on the hill finally rally and reform.
The Union cavalry that attempted a rear attack fell back from  but reformed.
 They then counterattacked the tired Rebel Cavalry and drove them back up the hill to their original position.

Troopers fresh for the final push.  The last reserves enter the field and look up the hill. The Union men on the hill rally and reform their lines.

"Shift the line left. Cover the rear of the wagon train!" You there, Get those damn mules moving. The rebs are on your tail!"  The General prepares for the final desperate attack.. He checks his colt pistol one last time. Bringing his sidearm up, he clicks the hammer back. "Prepare to defend yourselves!!"

Tired and broken, A Confederate Cavalry regiment continues their rout only to be stopped by the
Federals on the hill. With no avenue of escape they surrender.

Through a hail of bullets the foes finally meet in a clash of sabers and  rattle of gunfire. The air is filled with the sound of men cursing and dying.  Horses and riders alike fall to the grass.

One Yankee regiment collapeses and surrenders. The trailing wagon is captured by the Confederates

The final push.

A Confederate victory.  The Confederates only lost one regiment.
Two Union regiments driven from the field. Two more broke and ran. stragglers surrendered. And the wagon train captured. Along with one very unhappy Federal General.