My older son and I have once again taken the plunge into a tabletop wargame. This time the subject is the Battle of Antietam, (Sept 14, 1862). The game is part of SPI's Blue & Gray set (1975); SPI was James Dunnigan's game company. This was the battle where Union General George McClellan squandered an opportunity to deal a decisive blow to General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Some have argued that if Lee had been crushed here, the War Between the States might have come to an end in 1862. I don't know about that, but I've been interested in this battle for several years, after visiting the battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD, and discovering that my side of the family has an ancestor who fought in this battle, Benjamin F. Jamison, of the 125th PA Regiment (1Bde, 1Div, 12th Corps). When I covered this battle in my military history class last year, I used this book from the Army Center of Military History: Antietam Staff Ride.
My son elected to play the Confederacy, which is the less complicated side to play. All the Confederates have to do is survive and be able to exit the map via ferry over the Potomac by the last turn. The Union's task is to capture/eliminate as many Confederates as possible and secondarily to capture Sharpsburg. The Union has one big limitation, though. To model McClellan's indecisiveness, the Union side can move only 10 units per turn, while the Confederates have no restriction.
Five turns into the game, and very little of significance has happened. The Confederates have retreated and massed around Sharpsburg, they have units protecting the ferry and are maintaining a decent perimeter. The Union forces, such as I can get to move, are across Antietam creek, but so far have had no luck in getting past the Confederates to cut off their retreat. I am in position to get troops into Sharpsburg; possession of the town is a major victory point consideration. The Confederates managed to isolate, surround and destroy two Union brigades, pinning them against the Potomac upstream from the ferry.
The last half of the game proved to be much more exciting. The Union forces momentarily broke the South's hold on Sharpsburg but lost it on the next turn; the Confederate counterattack was costly to them, but effective. Then on the following turn, a small Union force cut off the bulk of Lee's army from the ferry with a picket line of units. On the last turn of the game Confederate forces launched a costly assault on the western end of the picket, which succeeded in turning the Union flank, and were able to break through to re-open the line of retreat to the ferry. With the setting of the sun, the Union forces were ordered to hold in place, and watched in frustration as nearly all of Lee's force marched away to safety on the far side of the Potomac.
I haven't studied the battle sufficiently to really venture an opinion in print as to whether another Union commander would have been more successful, say Meade for example. In the game, though, the movement restriction on the Union forces meant that over half of my forces spent the battle sitting on their setup hex, never getting orders to advance. There were maybe 20 brigades out of the over 40 on the field that did all the fighting. Simply infuriating to see opportunities open up that I couldn't exploit simply because I didn't have enough units to move into the area.
In the final analysis, while I picked off over a dozen Confederate units while losing only four myself, the accomplishment of his two objectives meant that my son won a substantive victory. Next we're going to try Chicamauga, and see how that plays out. A good game, over all.