Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crisis on the Nishnabotna River - Part 1

Sometime in the first half of 1863; somewhere along the Nishnabotna River (it really does exist); Joe Wheeler's cavalry stood in anxious anticipation of the arrival of the Yankees.  Having just arrived a bit before the Union forces there was no time to do anything but spread out to thinly cover the bridges and the general area of rumored fords.  Five regiments of elite cavalry and a rifled battery of borrowed guns to cover a huge amount of ground.  Buford's cavalry was coming up fast and Polk's infantry corps was also marching hard, but the Yankees would get there first.  Lots of 'em.

The Nishnabotna was considered impassable except at the bridges and a ford.  Two sections of river were designated as being candidates for a ford.  Each turn spent at the river earned the roll of a d6.  When the total of the rolls got to "12" a ford had been found.  So in theory in two turns, or more likely four.

Turn 1 the Yankee cavalry under Crook came on table.  A full 9 regiments and one battery strong.  They were evenly divided and each initially headed for the bridge in front of them.  A remarkable salvo from Wiggin's Arkansas battery scattered the lead regiment and fled back the way they came.  On the Rebel left the two regiments defending saw cavalry and artillery coming at them.  They had chosen to defend the most forward of the two bridges along the fork in the river dismounted.  Two to one odds and Yankee artillery did not bode well.

Next turn on the right the Union cavalry, apparently not noticing their fleeing comrades, pushed on and likewise were greeted with a staggering shot at normal range.  Cavalry in march column against artillery is not a good thing and they joined their brigade mates in precipitous "advance to the rear."  The left however saw the Rebs remounting and attempting to get away from the soon to be barrage of firepower.  As some Yankees dismounted to bring fire on the reforming Rebs a strong regiment slipped across the bridge, did a crisp wheel by troops to form line and faced the remounted Rebs.

Turn 3 Buford's cavalry started to arrive but by different routes so by default some were out of command.  On the left the two opposing regiments charged each other while the second Reb regiment, who had mounted up facing away, headed for the second bridge and momentary safety.  A cannon shot emptied a handful of saddles but as the two lines met the Rebs held the slightest of advantages.  To no avail as the Union troopers overthrew their opponents and threw them back in disorder.  A brief discussion and we decided that since they had to carry on with the charge they would pursue their nearby original target rather than the inviting backs of the other Reb unit.  The subsequent melee left the Rebs short one unit with a damaged Union one in return. 

On the right the Union cav started to get out of the way of the infantry as well as out of normal range for the rifled cannons.  Wiggin's failed to replicate their remarkable run to this point, only putting a single hit on their intended this time.   Adding to the Reb discomfort a long column of "blue bellies" from 1st Division, XIV Corps began arriving as a sign of things to come on Turn 5.  It took three turns to get the whole three divisions on table, though in nothing yet resembling battle array.

Turn 7 the only thing giving the Rebs hope was the traffic jam at the bridges.  "Get that cavalry out of my way" snarled the divisional officer of the lead division on the Reb left.  As the Reb cavalry moved away the hungry Yanks followed in what was looking to be grim.  On the right the Yankee infantry shook itself into battle order and started advancing.  The Reb artillery found the range again and a fourth Yankee cav regiment headed back to their recruiting depot.  None had been rallied to this point.  In the distance Ben Cheatham's division was arriving but had a lot of ground to cover before they could come to grips.

In order to buy time and delay the Yankee advance, the 1st Tennessee and 1st Alabama cavalry expended themselves in charges.  The cost was great but it was necessary to give the Rebs a chance.  With two brigades of Wither's division, along with all of Cheatham's division arriving, the Rebels might have a chance to crush the Yankee force already across before the others could get over the ford in strength or rush the other bridge.

So there is the situation, the table has been set.  The Yankee cavalry is largely ineffective and the Confederate cavalry has only three regiments and an "out of ammunition" battery.  The Union army has infantry across the river in two places and threatens the third.  Difficult choices face both commanders as they have to decide between bold advance(s) or measured assaults. 

Rules are Johnny Reb III with a few amendments.  Six players were present and roughly nine or ten turns were played.  We have the luxury of leaving it up though with the upcoming holiday it will be two or more weeks before we can finish it.  Everyone agrees that it is one of the most dramatic ACW games we've had for quite a while.  Tune in for the exciting conclusion....