ACW Vicksburg Campaign Turn 1: The Battle of Bloody Creek

Stephen takes us through the first installment of the 2020 ACW campaign.

At the last meeting we had the first turn of this year’s campaign – an American Civil War campaign based around the Union attempt to capture Vicksburg.

Although the campaign background is historical, the forces are fictional. This is a chance for club members to carve their place in history as great generals and strategists!

Leading the Union corps is Major General John Roche with Generals Kim Heath and Alan Ockleford under his command. In control of the Confederate forces is Major General Mark Harris, ably assisted by Generals Jeremey Claridge and Tony Gibbs.

The campaign works using a map for strategic movement and when a battle occurs we move to the games table. Small skirmishes with pickets and scouts are not gamed and are resolved with a dice role.

Corps commanders were given a pack which included a map, orders of battle, mission brief, and objectives. They would have autonomy to achieve their goal anyway they wanted. Responsibility would fall on their heads.

Each turn a random event card is drawn. The two sides then put together their supply dice (based on how many supply depots they control). These can be used to move brigades up quicker, but are also used for actions such as burning/building bridges and for replenishing broken units.

So Turn One began!

The Union officers were quick to set up camp (in the far corner of the hall) and were promptly goaded by the Confederate players for their studiousness and planning. However, that soon changed when the full scope of what they had to achieve dawned on them – they also soon gave way to planning and plotting! In fact, when it was time to conduct the first move it was the Confederate players who dallied – still pouring over the map and making plans.

Each brigade, battery, and picket is given its own counter. Brigades from the same division can occupy the same square, but divisions are not allowed to mix. The Union set up their supply depot at Grand Gulf on the Mississippi, and deployed their corps in and around that area. The Confederate corps was more thinly spread, trying to protect the towns at Vicksburg and Jackson and the forests in between.

The first few strategic moves were cautious, as you would expect as players got used to how the rules worked and also their opponent’s demeanour.

The Union brigades kept coming up against Confederate pickets which were easily chased off but this also meant the Confederate scouts were able to identify Union troop movements and strength, which gave the Confederates some idea of what was coming. The Union corps didn’t seem to be using its pickets quite as efficiently, preferring to move entire divisions at a time to advance on the Confederates.

There then started a bit of jockeying for position with both sides trying to concentrate their divisions for battle, but one side or the other refusing to give battle until the situation suited them. General Claridge, commanding the Confederate 3rd Division protecting Jackson, started to bring his troops west to support General Gibbs and his 1st Division troops near Edwards Station who were being threatened by the Union 1st and 3rd divisions.

Meanwhile, further west, the Union and Confederate 2nd divisions started to coalesce around Warrenton.

When battle first came it was a surprise – it looked more likely to take place somewhere in the middle near Edwards Station, but in the end it was the two 2nd divisions that finally came to blows outside Warrenton.

Both generals gave the order to battle!

This initial action was a comparatively small affair. This was just as well, since it would give both sides chance to see how the battle rules work without too much at stake.

The Union deployed with their cavalry brigade, dismounted, along a creek. Behind them, in support, was Heselbrigge’s brigade, with the rest of 2nd Division and its artillery in the rear. The Confederates arrayed in line with their artillery protecting the flank and looking over a farm.

Rumour has it that Major General Roche had ordered General Ockleford not to cross the creek and, instead, to take up a defensive position and use the artillery to force the Confederates to either quit the field or attack their positions. It is unclear whether these orders never got through, or if General Ockelford decided to ignore them or if, in the heat of the moment, he acted rashly.

What happened was that the Confederates, realising they would take a pounding from the Union artillery, pulled back into the woods to take up a protected position in cover. This was soon followed by the Union brigades crossing the creek, ahead of the artillery moving up, to take the battle to the Confederates.

Not a good move! Not only did the creek slow the Union advance, exposing them to artillery and musket fire, but they then halted in the open without charging the Confederate line. Realising their mistake, they soon ordered the charge! But it had come too late. Advancing against the dug-in Confederates, and wavering in the open, had exposed them to withering fire.

The result? First victory went to the Confederates who named the encounter The Battle of Bloody Creek.

Time will tell if the Union have learnt their lesson.