Monday, October 11, 2010

General Oliver Howard at Pickett's Mill Part 2

Unfortunately, having decided to conduct a mere reconnaissance-in-force by sending in only one brigade under General Hazen with dubious and late support from Colonel Scribner’s brigade, Howard then proceeded to reinforce Hazen when it was obvious the initial attack had failed. In continuing the assault Colonel Gibson’s brigade suffered even more casualties than Hazen. Shortly after he sent Gibson forward (or acquiesced to the division commander, Brigadier General Thomas Wood sending Gibson forward) Howard received an order from Sherman to cancel the attack. This likely influenced the decision to have Colonel Knefler’s brigade advance to cover the other two brigades until nightfall. A prudent decision, but it only added to the casualty rolls and sent many of his men on their way to Andersonville prison when Granbury boldly launched a night attack to clear the ravine to his front. Instead of a feeling the enemy’s defenses, Howard ended up sending a division to attack by individual brigades and piecemeal. Had he stuck to his reconnaissance, only Hazen’s men would have suffered severe casualties. Having decided not to attack with all of his force, why did Howard then send in most of it anyway in a piecemeal fashion after the assault had begun? There has never been a satisfactory answer.

Nor did Howard perform well tactically or personally. He failed to coordinate the movement of the forces he had on hand. For one, he did not send in Scribner’s brigade to follow Hazen on the left for at least half of an hour. If Scribner’s division commander, Brigadier General Richard Johnson was too slow in issuing the order Howard certainly wasn’t on hand to demand faster action, or didn’t have the presence to do so. He also didn’t call Johnson to task for Scribner’s timid advance right there and then when it could have made a difference. In addition, Brigadier General Nathaniel McLean’s brigade of the Twenty-Third Corps had been assigned the task of connecting the two divisions to the rest of the Union army by a thin skirmish line, as well as protecting the flank of any attacking force; a nearly impossible task in its own right. However, when Hazen’s attack began McLean did not send whatever men he had on hand forward to occupy the Confederates to his front. Howard apparently did nothing to intervene and personally make sure that McLean followed through. It is interesting that McLean ended up losing his job because of his lack of aggressiveness, while Howard kept his by the mere appearance of aggressiveness. The appearance of boldness at the expense of his men’s lives at that. Finally, Howard failed to withdraw Knefler’s brigade from in front of the enemy in a timely manner. For three hours the brigade stayed in front of the enemy, ostensibly to provide cover while rescuing the wounded and trapped men from the previous assaults. However, it appears doubtful that many of the wounded actually made their way to safety, and many of Knefler’s troops ended up casualties or prisoners in their own right as a result. Howard did nothing to speed the progress of helping the wounded or recall Knefler before it was too late.

In short, Howard found the enemy’s flank shortly before nightfall. He decided on a half-hearted measure, staying neither on the defensive, nor throwing all of his men forward in a determined assault. Having chosen a timid move, he then failed to follow through and withdraw when confronted by a powerful enemy and responded aggressively at the wrong moment, all the while failing to coordinate the rest of the brigades under his command. It was a total command failure. It’s hard to image a Hancock, Gibbon, Logan, or even a Joe Hooker (who was performing well as a corps commander in Georgia) losing control of the situation in such a manner.

Would a bold attack have made a difference? It is not unreasonable to assume that five brigades attacking in column could have taken the ridge near Pickett’s Mill. Only Granbury’s Brigade and Kelly’s cavalry skirmishers opposed them at the time. Even with the ability to quickly reinforce their lines, which the Confederates took full advantage of during the actual battle, it is likely the five brigades could have stood their ground against the counterattack, and possibly have gotten pretty close to Due West Road along the level ground near Pickett’s Mill Creek. How would have the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston have reacted? No one can say for certain. However, similar instances encountered by Johnston during the campaign may serve as a guide. The appearance of Union troops at Lay’s Ferry led Johnston to abandon the line at Resaca. Union troops making their way down the Sandtown Road close to the Chattahoochee River led Johnston to abandon the Kennesaw Mountain line later in the campaign. Is it unreasonable to guess that Johnston might have withdrawn from the New Hope Church line if his direct access to the Western & Atlantic Railroad was threatened? Of course, we’ll never know, but there is a reason the phrase “fortune favors the bold” is ancient and serves as the motto of several military units. More often than not, bold action brings positive results, and Oliver O. Howard was not a bold man.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

General Oliver Howard at Pickett's Mill Part 1

General Oliver O. Howard’s orders as given to him by General William Tecumseh Sherman were to find the end of the Confederate line, attack it, and drive the enemy from his dug-in position. Did Howard accomplish this goal? No, he did not. The question then becomes, why not?

When examining the reasons for Howard’s actions it is paramount to consider them in the context of what he knew at the time, not with the hindsight we have today. So what did Howard know on the morning of May 27th? The left of the Union lines ended at the Dallas-Acworth Road (present day Mount Tabor Church Road) and at the time, the Union high command did not know of the shift in the Confederate lines, i.e. the movement of Stevenson and Cleburne’s divisions to the east of New Hope Church. Sherman’s orders in the early pre-dawn hours charged the Fourth and Twenty-Third Corps to advance down the Dallas-Acworth Road and seize higher ground to the south. Active skirmishing at first light revealed that the two corps were no longer at the end of the Confederate line, and this caused a change in plan. Sherman then ordered Howard to take a division from his corps and another from the Fourteenth Corps and march past the Union flank, find the end of the Confederate line, and attack enemy’s flank.

Howard dutifully complied, but it took longer than expected. He deployed the two divisions ready to fight, each regiment in line of battle. This slowed the advance considerably. Each regiment had to at least attempt to keep its formation, and also its alignment with the other units of the brigade, all the while marching up and down every ravine and draw, and through every briar patch and thicket.

His first attempt at navigating in the backwoods of Paulding County was a failure. He ended up behind the end of the Union line, instead of beyond its flank. He then had to reform the column facing east and march three quarters of a mile past the end of the army. Only then did he find the end of the Confederate line. By this time his men were understandably tired, if not exhausted. It was also 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There were only about 2 hours left before twilight, and another hour of rapidly diminishing daylight before total darkness around 7 o’clock. He would have to attack, break through the enemy’s defenses, consolidate his gains, and reform his attacking force against a possible enemy counterattack before nightfall. All the while almost a mile beyond and out of reach of the main body of his army. That’s a pretty daunting prospect for any general.

Howard had three options. He could aggressively launch most of his command at the enemy, perhaps prudently leaving a brigade behind as a last reserve. This option obviously had the most to gain, and the most to lose. If he drove the Confederates away from their position he could place himself beyond the end of the Confederate lines. Once there he would threaten the enemy’s direct line of retreat; the Due West Road was only half a mile away, with no defensible terrain feature in between. However, if he failed he would find himself isolated from the rest of the Union army with two divisions of tired, demoralized, and disorganized men. A commanding officer had to expect an aggressive foe to counterattack and destroy or capture such a force. It takes a bold and aggressive general to take that kind of gamble. Unfortunately, nowhere in Howard’s career had he exhibited that type of aggressiveness and daring.

His second option was to do nothing. He had prolonged the Union line considerably, and reinforcements would easily be able to fill the gap between himself and the Twenty-Third Corps the next day. While prudent, it was not what Sherman had ordered. Sherman had already taken Major General George Thomas to task for not attacking immediately at New Hope Church two days before. While this proved to be unfounded and unfair to Thomas, at the time Howard would only have taken it as a reprimand against an officer that Sherman deemed to slow or unwilling to bring on a battle. Since Sherman had sent him to find and attack the Confederate flank, to dig in without attacking would appear to Howard as a damaging or unwise career choice.

The third option was to attempt some course of action between the two. A reconnaissance-in-force would involve sending only a few of his units forward to feel the Confederate defenses. If they were successful, then Howard could order more brigades into action to support a breakthrough. If not, then he could call off his attack with minimal casualties (overall at least) and report the enemy too strong to assault. This would appear to be the course of action Howard decided to take.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Pickett's Mill finished!

The Pickett's Mill section of Civil War Virtual Tours if finished! Come take a tour!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I've had the contour lines done on the larger Pickett's Mill campaign map for a while. In two days I've knocked out the opposing forces as they stood at dawn on the day of the battle, May 27th 1864.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time for Pickett's Mill

I've spent the last three months working on Historic Imagination products. First, I've released a Civil War scenario book that features eleven fictional scenarios. They are pick-up games, and are not meant to re-fight a specific battle. Instead they allow players to explore tactical situations often encountered during the war without players knowing every detail about the battle beforehand.

I've also released a new line of American Civil War flags, for use with miniature games.

Historic Imagination Civil War Flags

I occasionally have to go off on tangents and work on the money-making aspects of my hobby to pay for the expenses. Enough of that for now. Its time to start work on the Pickett's Mill section. I've been busy on that front on the research side. I've been to the battlefield several times this year, and sat down and talked to the head ranger at length about many aspects of the battle. I can't wait to get started!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chickamauga pages are done

Well, the September 20th map pages are all done and linked together. Visually, all the map, video, and picture pages for Chickamauga are done. In the future, I will work on the individual regiment pages in the order of battle. For now though, Chickamauga is done, and its time to move on.

I feel I've accomplished something.

Review of River of Death

A great review of The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga by Brett Schulte over at his blog The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed.

The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed River of Death Review

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Near the end

Finally finished up the Chickamauga September 20th maps. Now I have to resize and organize the maps, create the web pages, and put them all together. I'm hoping to do a lot of that in the next month. After the Sept. 20th map section is completed most of the Chickamauga work will be done. I'll finish up the unit pages and the monument section at a later time. Pickett's Mill and Fort Pulaski are next.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

September 20th Maps

Still busy working on the Battle of Chickamauga September 20th maps. Progress is going faster than I expected. I had previously made the maps up through 12:30 PM, when I stopped and put up the Allatoona Pass and Chickamauga Day 1 sections. It only took me a week and and half to revise those Sept. 20th maps with new information I've received since then. Here are two of the maps.

The situation in Brotherton Field, scene of the Confederate breatkthrough, at 11:10 AM. The Confederate attack is just starting.

This one shows the attack of Breckinridge's Division at Kelly Field at 11:10 AM.

Monday, March 1, 2010

September 20th

Hard at work on the September 20th maps.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chickamauga Wargaming Scenario Book Released

I'm proud to announce the release of Historic Imagination's first book. It is a downloadable .pdf file.

The River of Death:
Regimental Wargame Scenarios for
The Battle of Chickamauga

Refight the Battle of Chickamauga with these thirteen scenarios designed for the miniature wargamer in mind. From the opening volleys at Jay’s Mill to the final shots at dusk on Horseshoe Ridge, try your hand at fighting history. Or changing it!

These scenarios are designed to be used with almost any American Civil War regimental level set of rules. Rules are included for figures based on 20, 30, 40, 50, and 100 historic men per figure/stand. Times are given for 10, 15, and 20 minutes per game turn. Maps are in full color, as are the numerous color photographs of the modern battlefield. Also included is a full and complete Order of Battle for each side.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Debunking the Myth of Confederate Numerical Superiority at Chickamauga

I have finished revising the Chickamauga Order of Battle, thanks in large part to the release of the book Maps of Chickamauga. The book contains a complete Order of Battle, including regimental strengths for every regiment. I’m sure the author had access to archive reports and morning reports that I don’t. So, along with the Official Records and unit histories, a complete and accurate Order of Battle for Chickamauga can now be constructed.

After all this work on an Order of Battle, years work really, I have come to one inescapable conclusion. The Confederates did NOT outnumber the Union army at Chickamauga. At best they equaled the Union army in strength, but in most cases, they were still outnumbered.

First let me say, I can no longer look at any unit strength for a Civil War battle without asking myself “are they referring to ‘effective strength’, ‘present for duty, equipped’, or ‘present for duty strength’.” I can’t just take a single number at face value anymore. So here’s a quick rundown. For the Union, Present for Duty, Equipped (PFDE) counts just the soldiers on the firing line. It normally includes both officers and enlisted men. Present for Duty (PFD) includes everybody that actually marched into combat. It normally includes a few non-combatants such as regimental musicians, stretcher bearers, teamsters, etc. While they may not be shouldering a musket, they are just as essential to the function of the unit as those standing on the line. For the Confederates, Effective Strength (ES) counts the soldiers on the line actually firing a weapon. However, it usually does not include officers. The Confederates also used Present for Duty, with much the same definition as the Union army. In addition, I have added a definition for the Confederates called Effective Strength + (ES+). This is simply the ES plus officers, since almost every listing does indeed give the number of officers present.

Let’s look at the big numbers, PFD. On the first day of the battle, September 19th, the Army of the Cumberland had about 62,000 men in the area, not including the Chattanooga garrison and Post’s brigade detached to guard the 20th Corps wagons. It breaks down to 54,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry. The Army of Tennessee had a total of 63,000 with 49,000 infantry and 14,000 cavalry. Only about a 1,000 man edge, and the Confederates were still outnumbered in infantry. Its entirely possible that the PFD number for the Confederates is low, since this classification requires the most guess work. Still even given that, the number wouldn’t grow too much, maybe 3-4 thousand at most.

Now let’s look at PFDE and ES+. I won’t say these two designations are an exact match. There may be a non-com file closer that the Confederates don’t count and the Union does, small things like that. However, I think they are pretty close, and the margin for error would be fairly small. Also, these numbers are much more accurate and we have many more of them in the records. At the start of the battle, the Union army had 60,000 PFDE, with 52,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry. The Confederates had 58,000 with 45,000 infantry and 13,000 cavalry. Clearly, the Confederates have the edge in cavalry, but the Union army is still superior in infantry.

The second day of the battle is much more difficult to judge. There is much more guesswork involved, especially if you are trying to figure out how many casualties a unit took on the first day of the battle, but you only have casualties available for the whole battle and no breakdown day by day. Still, the records are more complete than you might think. Even with Confederate reinforcements arriving on the night of the 19th, they only enjoyed a small margin of numerical superiority with 57,000 vs. 53,000 PFD. However, almost all of that was cavalry. For infantry it was about even with the Union enjoying a slight edge: 45,000 Union vs. 44,000 Confederates. The PFDE vs. ES+ infantry disparity is even greater, with the Union having 44,000 PFDE and the Confederates 41,000 ES+.

So in conclusion, if the numbers are off and you increase the Confederate totals a little, at best they are only going to break even. The only way you can get the Confederates to have a clear numerical superiority is if you add together all the Confederate units in the campaign, including those still in transit, and add them all together as they stood for the evening of the 19th. That number would put approximately 62,000 PFD Union soldiers against 68,000 Confederates, maybe 72,000+ if you included the four brigades in Hood and McLaw’s Divisions that did not make it in time for the battle. It appears as if the Union Army actually outnumbered the Confederates in most cases, especially where they faced each other rifle to rifle and you only count those units immediately available for battle.

Chickamauga Order of Battle updated

The Chickamauga Order of Battle has been revamped and updated. Now every single regiment has been accounted for and the Order of Battle is complete.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Working hard

Things have been quiet on the blog, but I've been working hard. I have just finished the first draft of a book for wargaming the Battle of Chickamauga in miniature. It will be available as a .pdf file. I'm about to begin editing, and then working on the publishing. Since I know the company that will be publishing it, I don't think that will be a big issue. The book has 12 scenarios, and can be adapted for use with any set of ACW miniature rules. I expect it to be out in March or April. Then, its back to the website. I'll probably update some Sept. 19th pages. New information is always becoming available. Then it's back to the big work. Getting the Sept. 20th maps finished and uploaded. My goal is to have the entire Chickamauga site up by the end of the year.