Friday, June 6, 2008

This Hallowed Ground: Civilians at Gettysburg

Civilians rarely show up in any explicit sense in wargames. This comes as no surprise. Naturally wargamers aren't particularly interested in modeling the tragic details of war's suffering in their games, even though it's inherent in real war. The suffering of the soldiers gets little enough attention, the suffering of civilians even less.

The all-encompassing nature of 20th Century combat occasionally prompts some wargame acknowledgement that civilians are around, but civilians are very easy to ignore in black powder era games. The limited range and destructiveness of the weapons meant it was relatively easy for civilians to remove themselves from immediate harm, and societal values tended to mitigate some of the worst abuses against civilians, at least outside of colonial warfare. Directly targeting civilians was common enough in ancient warfare and would become so again in the 20th Century, but the American Civil War was in the middle of an era that was relatively mild for noncombatants, especially considering it was a civil war, which tend to be especially brutal. While Sherman's March, for example, became infamous, it's worthwhile to remember that nearly all of the "outrages" inflicted were directed against property, rather than persons.

So civilians rarely figure in Civil War era wargames, making the appearance of two of them in This Hallowed Ground rather remarkable. John Burns and Jenny Wade often rate a mention in accounts of the battle, and were particularly singled out in the early historical accounts, but rarely appear in wargames on Gettysburg.

Partly this is due to scale. In games depicting large formations of men in brigades or divisions, it's hard to justify focusing on any individuals. Sometimes even generals don't make the cut. This Hallowed Ground, however, brings the battle into a close force, with units measured in increments of just 50 men and leaders depicted down to the brigade command level.

At such a level of detail it's much easier to justify depicting the presence of these two famous individuals on the field.

Of the two, John Burns is perhaps the most straightforward. He was the 70-year-old town constable and a War of 1812 veteran. During the first day's battle he picked up his personal weapon and joined the Union firing line, fighting all day and being lightly wounded several times. That having a random civilian, particularly such an elderly one, do such a thing was uncommon is attested to the notoriety Burns received. He was widely feted for his feat in his lifetime and a picture of him often appears in Gettysburg books even now.

In game terms he is likewise treated straightforwardly. He gets a counter and is treated as a leader for rules purposes, except that his only effect on Union units is to provide a morale benefit. He's automatically removed at 6 p.m. on July 1 unless removed as a casualty before then. This seems like a very spot-on depiction of his effect, providing a little bit of color in the game without any likelihood of a major game effect. Providing a slight morale boost for one hex worth of Union troops won't change a game.

The second civilian is a little more problematical. "Jenny" Wade (her real name was "Ginnie") was a 20-year-old woman who was the only civilian resident of Gettysburg killed during the battle. She died after being hit by a stray shot on July 3 while kneading bread in her kitchen at the south edge of town. Based on our 20th Century experiences we might expect a lot more impact on local civilians. A major battle that killed just one bystander would be miracle these days. Miss Wade's fiance died from wounds he received in battle just a few weeks later and the tragic story of two young lives lost amid the larger tragedy of the war struck a chord among contemporaries and made her famous.

In the game Jenny Wade is treated in two different ways. The first is as the "good" Jenny Wade, basically sticking to the common story. Miss Wade's counter sits on the map and if anyone shoots into her hex there's a chance she will become a "leader" casualty. If she should happen to die, the Union gets 1 victory point, a significant benefit equal to shattering an infantry brigade. Because of this, the game effect will tend to steer action around that particular hex, which isn't especially realistic. I'd think a better solution from a game standpoint would be to roll for the chance of a "Jenny Wade" casualty anytime any hex of Gettysburg is fire on. There wasn't anything remarkable about Miss Wade compared to the other residents of the town except for her being more unlucky.

Even played with the rule as written, the "good" Jenny will have minimal effect on the game and most of the time she can be expected to survive the battle. The same can't be said for the "Naughty" Jenny.

This version of the rule asserts that Miss Wade was actually the local town prostitute and includes a fairly long and detailed rule (4.1) detailing her game effects, which can include immobilizing whole brigades of Confederates who happen to "visit" her hex and even including a 33% chance of killing Gen. Lee with a heart attack if the Rebel player should be so incautious as to place the general (famous for his rectitude) in her hex.

Dean Essig (Dave Powell makes it clear it's Dean's rule) is obviously having a little fun here. It's unlikely folks playing such a demanding game would take the chance of having it affected by such a crazy rule, so I rather doubt it's ever been played. And the "slander" against poor Miss Wade is, so far as I can tell, completely baseless. There's no evidence outside of this game that any such accusation has ever been made against Jenny Wade, who was born and raised in the small town, which was hardly the kind of metropolis that would support such a career choice.

"Naughty" Jenny does provide a little comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious game, though, and excuse for a counter showing a little leg.

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