Friday, 15 July 2016

First Bull Run (MMP/The Gamers) Game Report

In June and July, local gaming buddy Roger and I decided to get acquainted with the Civil War Brigades series of games from The Gamers/MMP, by starting - logically enough - with the battle of First Bull Run. The battle is otherwise known as First Manassas.

To ably set the scene, I recommend a spot of period music. This is Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel - set to photographs and performed by the brilliant Bobby Horton:

We played scenario 6.3: First Battle of Bull Run, from the excellent Three Battles of Manassas game.
I played the Union, while Roger took the Confederates.

This map, taken from our Vassal game, shows the situation north and south of Bull Run at nine in the morning of July 21st, 1861:

Commanding the Union, General McDowell had initially sought to turn the Confederate right flank, but discovering it to be heavily defended, he then personally travelled westward (the Union had no cavalry to speak of) to seek an opportunity on the Confederate left. This delayed an already postponed attack, allowing further rebel brigades to arrive. In fact, Beauregard had intended to launch his own surprise attack, further downstream, on the morning of the 21st.

Finding the Sudley Springs Ford unguarded, McDowell hatched a plan to send two Divisions across the Ford and down the Manassas-Sudley Road, while Tyler's 1st Division created a diversionary 'demonstration' near Stone Bridge.

So, as the scenario opens, having already received their orders, my Union troops are beginning to cross Bull Run at Sudley, while Roger is sending Evans and a handful of other CSA Brigades towards Mathews Hill and Dogan's Ridge, north-west of Henry House Hill.

In this game, each turn represents half an hour. Fast-forwarding the game, here is the situation north-west of Henry House Hill, at 10:30am:

The rebels are preparing a reception committee for the advancing US troops, with Bee and Bartow extending their line. 'Shanks' Evans traded fire earlier with the Union vanguard and has staged an emergency retreat, his men already complaining that ammo is running short.

The fighting intensifies as the Federals push on Henry House Hill. This is the situation as the Union prepares to move, an hour later - 11:30am:

Bolstered by artillery, Evans has taken up a defensive position on Henry House Hill. Wade Hampton's finely uniformed 'Legion' (one of the South's richest men, Hampton financed and equipped his own brigade) has arrived and taken up position alongside Evans. Stuart's cavalry (which can act independently, requiring no orders from senior command) guards the road east of the Hill, in case the Union First Division makes a move to cross Stone Bridge.

Bee's boys have just taken a full Union volley and routed down the Sudley Road, before gaining some cohesion (now marked 'DG' - disorganised). Beauregard has arrived too. His presence means that orders can quickly be relayed to troops in his vicinity. But whether they'll be promptly obeyed....or obeyed at all, is up to the dice gods.

During this turn, Hunter's Division continues to cross Young's Branch, and Heintzelman's 3rd Division marches along Sudley Road, soon to add to the push for Henry House Hill.

Meanwhile, over on the Union left, I tried to kick Miles' Division into action by rolling for his initiative. Not an easy thing to do as Miles is rated '0' for command, meaning that only a 12 on two dice would succeed. Well, I succeeded alright.....for the rebels that is, rolling a double one! This delivered a 'loose cannon' result, meaning that instead of me, Roger could order Miles!  He promptly sent Miles' division on a merry goose chase into the forest due east of his position. Such an order applies for one turn.  Looking up the history, I was amused to discover that Miles had been reprimanded for being under the influence of liquor at Bull this was a great example of game-play mirroring history!

At midday, the battle reaches a new level of ferocity as Union troops storm Henry House Hill, in an attempt to dislodge the Rebs and seize the position before Confederate reinforcements - including Jackson - can arrive. Brigades under Porter and Burnside are locked in close combat with the hard-pressed Rebs under Evans and Hampton. Here is the result, after resolving close combat and completing the Union move:

With the support of his artillery detachment, Evans succeeds in repelling the Union assault. Shaken, Porter's boys retreat one hex. Further along the ridge, it's a better story for the Union. Ramming into Hampton's thin ranks, Burnside's shaken brigade dislodges the Rebels from the crest of the Hill.

For those of you unacquainted with this game system, you may be puzzled by the absence of 'attack' and 'defence' strength values on the counters. One of the cool aspects of Civil War Brigades is that the fire strength and losses taken by brigades is kept secret, with each player keeping records of strengths, casualties and stragglers on their respective Loss Charts.

Back to the battle. The Rebels are now in a precarious position on the Hill....and throw everything they have into a defensive volley.

Pow:  Rebel defenders overlooking the Manassas-Sudley Road lay down a scathing fire, sending Porter's extended line reeling back, disorganised, with some troops fleeing the field. In game terms, I rolled a 62 and 56 for each unit respectively. The first number counts as '10s' - and the higher the number, the worse the result for the defender. Ouch.

Pow: Hampton's ragged ranks only manage a morale check on Burnside's victorious brigade on the crest of Henry House Hill. I'm relieved, then roll for morale. It's a:


That's the worst result possible and Burnside's boys erupt in panic and rout!! Victory is cruelly snatched from their grasp and it's an ugly spectacle for the civilians who have travelled from Washington to view the battle. I guess Burnside's boys must have looked sideways and seen Porter's troops skedaddle....and thought it was a damned good idea!

Due to the rout, Burnside can no longer maintain an extended line, so the brigade collapses and runs for the rear, failing a rally roll to send them streaming northward. Little do they know that Stuart's cavalry is waiting for just such an opportunity.

Within the next hour, Burnside's brigade will be completely eliminated, mown down by cavalry volleys in their flank and rear.

While this is happening, I got lucky with McDowell's orders to Tyler's 1st Division being accepted after only a short delay (I rolled a 1 or a 2 on a single die). Tyler is instructed to cross Stone Bridge and join the attack to seize that damned hill! His brigades move out.

Fast forward to 15:00.   Here is the situation on the Hill:

After their first assault is repelled, the arrival of Heintzelman's division - AND Tyler's division from the east - steadies the troops. Beside the Hill, Tyler's boys put increasing pressure on the Rebels, pushing them back and threatening to out-flank their Hill position. Jackson's arrival has shored up Rebel defences at the western end of the Hill, but without more troops, there is little the Confederates can do as the Union pushes further around the Hill.

At least in terms of this game, Jackson and his brigade are not going to have an opportunity to earn their famous 'Stonewall' sobriquet!

Eventually, the writing is on the (stone) wall and Confederate command decides to stage an emergency retreat (allowed when threatened by destruction or being surrounded), taking up positions south of the Hill. Further to the rear, Bee and Evans lick their wounds and recover stragglers.

While this is happening, fighting has broken out to the east - namely between Miles' division and a handful of CSA brigades under the command of Joseph E Johnston. After some delay, Miles had finally accepted my orders to advance down the Centerville Road so as to deter the Rebs from sending further forces to assist Beauregard. However, realising the poor quality of both commander and the bulk of his troops, I made it clear that should they face resistance from the enemy, then they were to adopt a defensive stance aimed at preventing the Confederates from moving northward.

At this time, Johnston's brigades have accepted his orders to attack northward, so the two forces are now clashing just north of Blackburn's Ford.

By 1830, this is how the battle has progressed:

By this time, the Union has consolidated its position on Henry House Hill. Most of the brigades are pretty beat up. Their original orders to take the Hill have been fulfilled, so they have gone on the defensive and set about recovering stragglers and distributing ammo. However, to keep the Rebs on the hop, I ordered Hunter's division to head west to Groveton, then swing south, along Lewis Lane and Compton's Lane, so as to threaten New Market from the west (black arrows, above).

Further east, the Confederates have succeeded in routing one of Miles' brigades and pushing his division northward, though at some cost to themselves.

With evening gathering, a zealous Hunter sends in Porter's relatively fresh (but small) brigade against Ewell's extended line, his boys charging to engage the grey ranks in close combat. Yet, the Rebs prevail, sending Porter's boys reeling back. Ewell's men follow up with musket and cannon fire, wiping out Porter's gallant brigade. Severely chastened, Hunter beats an emergency retreat.

The game draws to a close at 20:00. The Union is awarded VPs for holding Stone Bridge and Henry House Hill. After taking mutual casualties (points awarded for wrecked brigades) and occupying strategic objectives into account, the final result is a victory for the Union. Huzzah!

A great first game in our exploration of the Civil War Brigade series. On to Richmond!!! Ah, well...not quite yet....On to Second Bull Run!!


  1. Great write up. Thanks for sharing your experience. This game is pretty much the gold standard on brigade level American Civil War battles. I enjoy it more than the regimental level games due to the smaller counter density.

  2. I'm glad that somebody was able to make a VASSAL module for this one as I never got around to it (made some for other games in the series). CWBS works great in pbem mode (I have one going now for "Thunder") as well. I too really enjoy this scale for the battles; lower counter density and never more than two maps. ASL is my favorite game series of all time but this one is a close 2nd.

  3. Excellent write up Greg. I've certainly sharpened my order writing skills such as "wait for Brigade X to come alongside before attacking together along the main road to objective Y". Looking forward to game 2.