Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy July Fouth -- Musings on July 4th, 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg was a very hard-fought three-day battle, so it's not surprising that the fourth day was quiet. Both armies were exhausted.

But they were in very close proximity, and disengaging was going to be a tricky affair. And there was always the possibility that one side or the other might try for the decisive victory that had eluded them so far.

Lee, in particular, apparently hoped that Meade would move onto the offensive on July 4th and provide Lee with a chance to strike a counter blow as he had done so often in the past.

Meade, however, was content to sit on the victory already won rather than risk it with some sort of counter offensive. He was still new to the command, of course, and while he may have suspected that the Rebels had been badly hurt, he knew for a fact that his own army had been severely damaged. Several corps commanders were dead or wounded. A couple of corps were shattered and a number of units were jumbled up after three days of parrying blows. It was true that he had a fresh corp, the Sixth, and it was the largest corps in the Army of the Potomac. But it represented his last fresh troops and Meade was undoubtedly unwilling to throw in his last reserve unless it ensured victory.

On the Rebel side, Lee's artillery had fired off the bulk of the ammunition brought north and no resupply was possible until he returned to Virginia. On the other hand, he did have enough ammunition for a defensive fight. So Lee elected to stay of the field while his trains of supply, loot and wounded prepared to head back south.

Gettysburg is one of the most simulated of battles in wargaming. The very first historical wargame was about Gettysburg, and just about every wargame company and designer has taken a stab at depicting the battle.

But relatively few have tried looking at a possible fourth day's battle.

One of the ones that includes a possible Day Four is the exhaustive This Hallowed Ground game from The Gamers, which shows the battle at the regimental scale, but I'm not sure how many people would be tempted to set up that giant game to play out that special case. I suspect that most people who make the effort to get that monster set up do it to play out the entire battle and not a hypothetical Fourth Day. The historical orders listed for all the corps on both sides are defensive in scope and it starts to rain at 2:30 p.m., meaning that the chances of pulling together something decisive under the rules are not good.

Perhaps a better depiction of the July 4th situation is found in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series supplement The Skirmisher No. 1, which includes a Fourth Day scenario for Roads to Gettysburg. A portion of the map area for this scenario is shown above.

Actually, it's two scenarios. Variant A is the historical scenario. Lasting two days (July 4th & 5th) it covers the beginnings stages of Lee's retreat, and the major measure of Rebel success is getting the wagon trains away.

Variant B assumes that Lee retained enough ammunition to make a serious fight on the Fourth. This is a straight up fight, a final showdown that will leave one army or the other destroyed.

Time is short in both scenarios, however, because the rain is still coming. In deed, the second day of the two is a whole day of rain, and it may start on the first turn. Players track how many times they tie on their initiative rolls. The fifth tie brings the rain.

I think it's an interesting situation to test out. Was Meade wise to hold back, or did he miss an opportunity to win the war.

1 comment:

  1. Happy July 4. I think that most battles are lost due to a combination of stupidity and arrogance which together allow basic tactical mistakes to occur.