Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Grant View of the ACW

Yesterday I was pleased to take delivery of a copy of Charles Grants' "Wargame Tactics". You'll remember that Peter B recommended I lay my hands on a copy. I've really only had a chance to read it in a cursory way due to various non-hobby, real-life pressures. I did stop and look fairly carefully at the chapter in which Grant explains the American Civil War to his audience.

This is interesting to me as it tells me something of what he believes to be the main points of interest in the weapons and tactics of the Civil War differentiating this conflict from others for the wargamer. It goes without saying that these points will form the underlying assumptions for his ACW rules.

It seems to me that central to his understanding is the role of infantry firepower. The accuracy and relatively rapid firing of the rifled musket made a close order approach in column or even conventional line suicidal. He cites the Union experience at Fredricksburg as evidence. Open order was the new formation for attacks over open ground.

The topic of open order infantry tactics leads Grant on to talk a little about sharpshooters as used by both sides, dwelling especially on Berdan's Sharpshooters. Considering they get most of a page to themselves, one may doubtless assume rules appertaining to their use!

Grant spends some time on entrenchments and their role in the war. In the following battle set-piece, Grant's Confederates make use of field fortifications in the form of three redoubts. Some of the rules for their creation are in fact alluded to.

Then there is the cavalry. His understanding was that cavalry could no longer fulfill its' role on the battlefield and became a dragooning force of mounted infantry. Of raiders who, when confronted would dismount to fight. Cavalry fights became the exception rather than the rule. Cavalry were now for reconnaissance and for employment as mobile infantry. This was down to a few factors as he saw it. The heavily wooded and rugged nature of the North American landscape made cavalry operations difficult whilst the increase in infantry firepower made conventional cavalry tactics out of the question. In the chapter he dwells at some length on the role of the Union Cavalry's superior repeating carbines and I think we might assume some bonus here.

The Gatling Gun gets a mention and therefore also I would guess, a pertinent rule. No clues, though although he mentions a 600RPM rate of fire and note that surely this could only be kept up for a short time.

Then we move onto the artillery. As I see it, Grant thought the artillery had a lesser role than during - say - the Napoleonic Wars. It looks to me as though he viewed the 12pr "Napoleon" MLSB as the main arm of both sides. As he seems to have viewed the matter, the new rifled artillery, although a vast improvement from the twin standpoints of range and accuracy, was rather let down by the nature of the ammunition. Poor fragmentation characteristics lessened the lethality of shell. Shells tended to bury themselves and lessen the force of their detonation and so forth.

Canister was used and could be deadly, but the canister blast was outranged by the minie ball, and the gunners suffered accordingly. This led to them being protected by field fortifications with negative consequences for the mobility of the guns as those serving them would be naturally reluctant to expose themselves.

In terms of morale, he views the Southerners as having the edge at the start of the war that made them more battle-worthy than the Federals who would start to turn their situation around as the War progressed. By the end of the conflict, as defeat and exhaustion took their toll upon the Confederates, Grant is of the belief that there may have been little to choose between the two sides. Indeed for a wargame, he believes it sufficient that the same rules apply to both.

He leaves us to ponder the dispersed nature of a regiment as it fought might make it possible for different parts of it to have different morale results. Indeed, this seems certainly to be part of his rules as his recount of the fight at the Sawmill Village illustrates.

Grant briefly mentions the effects of the steam locomotive and the electric telegraph on the strategic scene for those interested in running a campaign.

To sum up then, what was Grants’ conception of the American Civil War? We’ll allow him to sum up as is his right:
…an American Civil War battle on our wargame table will be much infantry skirmishing, attacks in open order, and possible entrenching in defensive positions by infantry and artillery, the latter having less effect on the fighting than it might have done in former years. Cavalry – sometimes in considerable numbers – will be used as mounted infantry and at times have a decisive effect on a battle; the overall action will be dominated by the very effective fire of the Minie rifled musket.


Archduke Piccolo said...

Concerning the use of columns, I think one has to take the usual wisdom with a saline accompaniment. There were a few occasions, even quite late in the war, in which columns were deliberately chosen and proved very effective.

Here is not the place to go into details, and it is true special circumstances existed, but check out Spotsylvania Courthouse (May 1864) and the Beverly Ford/Kelly's Ford operation (7 Nov 1863) as two very good examples.


Ross Mac said...

I don't have my copy to hand but the Gettysburg game in WC has a Reb inf regt which is describes being in open order, being badly mauled by a union cavalry charge.

Old School ACW said...

Thanks Ion. I'll check as you suggest. I just was able to get Keegans' ACW; i think that's a pretty good reference. Thanks Public Library! Doesn't get more Grant than that...

Hi Ross - yes, Grant Sr let his son get some cavalry on the flank of his old favourite, the 6th Alabama. The cavalry were nearer than Grant estimated (no measuring allowed it would seem) and they made a 12" battle move and an 18" charge. The 6th were in open order and unable to bring sufficient fire to bear and were cut up badly; they must have sustained 50% casualties and retired because they regrouped with the 7th Louisiana later in the game.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Very little to disagree with in Grant Sr's summation of the war though I think I might be a little kinder to the artillery... they could be a battle winner, and the napoleon 12lbers were much sought after by both sides for their cannister effect at close range...

If you fancy reading more I fully recommend Paddy Griffith's book on the ACW ( for some very well argued theories....