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Stones River: Battle Report

Posted by John Simmons on 30 Apr 2024, 15:26

We finally completed our Stones River/Murfreesboro game this past weekend. Here is a report on the action. The first portion of the game was played under two special rules, designed to mirror the actual conditions at the start of hostilities. Both Johnson's and Davis' divisions, on the far right of the Union line, play with a "Surprised" designation, which severely limits their ability to fight and move. The Union commanders in the center and left (Rosecrans, Thomas, and Crittenden) play the first portion of the game without knowledge of the events unfolding on their right.

Here is the disposition of forces at the start of the game: at roughly 6:00 am on December 31, 1862.

Rosecrans' headquarters at the Walker house:

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Rousseau's division (of Thomas' center wing), held in reserve through the first portion of the game, while the Union command tried to figure out what was happening:

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Van Cleve's division, most of which had crossed to the east side of the river when the Confederate attack began at the other (south) end of the field. Bragg and Rosecrans had parallel battle plans, each intending to hold the center and right of their own lines while turning their opponent's left. Bragg's troops just got started a little earlier than Rosecrans':

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The Union right wing, commanded by McCook:

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Sheridan's division, centered on the Harding house. Sheridan's was McCook's left-most division. It was also, astonishingly, the only one of the three divisions in McCook’s wing that was awake, breakfasted, and ready to fight at 6:00, when Hardee's attack began:

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Davis' division, holding the hills above the stream:

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Johnson's division, the far right of the Union line, anchored on the Smith house. Johnson refused his flank, but this still left the end of the line extremely vulnerable. Johnson had a brigade in reserve (Baldwin's) that could have been used to extend his line to the more formidable obstacle to an attacker, namely, nearby Overalls Creek:

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Hardee's entire corps was already advancing as the sun rose, poised to attack the Union right. McCown's division was leading the way, with Cleburne's behind and slightly to the right:

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Cheatham's division (of Polk's corps) was intended to attack as well, covering Cleburne's right. That attack did not occur. One of Cheatham's brigades (Donelson's) was still east of the river, and another (Stewart's) had just crossed when the general attack began. Cheatham's tardiness has generally been blamed on his heavy drinking the night before, though there is debate about this. Cheatham’s other two brigades remained uninvolved, in position near the river's bend:

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Hanson's brigade (the "Orphans brigade), is the forward-most unit of Breckinridge's "Reserve Corps" (which was actually just a large division). Breckinridge guards Murfreesboro and the Confederate right on the east side of the river. Hanson's brigade is entrenched on Wayne's Hill with an attached battery, there facing Van Cleve's division and any other Union forces that Rosecrans decides to send that way:

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The main Confederate line is lightly entrenched on the hills to the west of the river. The line is mostly held by Withers' division (of Polk's corps). Their principal job (at least at first) was to hold fast while Hardee rolled up the Union right:

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Meanwhile, on the north end of the Union position, Rosecrans directs traffic in ignorance of the state of the Union right, initially sending two brigades of Wood's division in behind Van Cleve. Their object is to cross at McFadden's ford, backing up the Union assault around the Confederate right:

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The Union center, held by Thomas' wing, defends the area around the "Slaughter Pen." Negley's division holds the line, while Rousseau's division waits in reserve:

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The Union right extends to the "Round Forest" and is held by Palmer's division (of Crittenden's wing), along with one brigade (Wagner's) of Wood's division. Palmer's line extends right to meet up with Negley's left:

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An overview of the Union center and left, reaching from roughly the Slaughter Pen to the Round Forest:

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A view north over the entire field:

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Thus far, this has all just been an (incredibly longwinded) preamble to the actual game. At this point, the dice started rolling, playing their part in how the re-fight of the battle unfolded.

First, the "surprise" attack by Hardee's corps on the Union right. The complete "surprise" of the attack to McCook's command was (and remains) puzzling, given that the two sides were camped the night before only a few hundred yards apart, even engaging in joint singing and dueling band music:

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As in the actual battle, McCown’s division crushes the unprepared Union right. Most of Johnson’s division is captured or casualties, with some “skedaddling” off the field:

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Cleburne’s division moves up and joins in on McCown’s right, driving two of Davis’ three brigades away before it:

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Two excellent dice rolls save Baldwin’s brigade (in reserve for Johnson’s division) from the same fate. While Baldwin’s brigade is also designated as “Surprised”, the friendly dice allow it, along with the battery attached to it, to retreat in good order. They both take up a new position just to the southwest of the Griscom house:

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The small remnants of Johnson’s and Davis’ divisions attempt to fight on; but they are still handicapped by their “Surprised” designations and are quickly overwhelmed:

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The Confederate batteries attached to Hardee’s corps advance:

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As in the actual battle, “Little Phil” Sheridan saves the day for the Union right wing. His “Excellent” commander rating enables him to take charge of Davis’ left-most “Surprised” brigade (Woodruff’s), re-order it, and use it to refuse his open right flank. He then moves his own reserve brigade (Laiboldt’s) to extend Woodruff’s line out to Grisham Lane (and to Baldwin’s shaky left flank):

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In an attempt to complete the destruction of the Union right, most of Withers’ division then advances to strike Sheridan’s right and center:

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Sheridan responds by advancing his left-most brigade (Roberts’ Illinois troops) to hit the open right flank of Withers’ attack:

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Meanwhile, over on the Union left, at the north end of the field, Rosecrans (still unaware of the crisis on his right) consults with Crittenden (the left wing commander). Rosecrans has the options of halting Van Cleve’s attack or continuing it. Unlike in the actual battle, Rosecrans elects to continue the flanking move, sending Van Cleve’s last brigade across McFadden ford and ordering an assault on Wayne’s Hill. Wood’s remaining two brigades are divided between guarding the ford and reinforcing the Round Forest defenses:

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The whole of Van Cleve’s division now advances against Hanson’s Orphan brigade on the hill. If taken, control of Wayne’s Hill would threaten Murfreesboro and the Confederate rear, pin Breckinridge’s troops in place before the city, and give the Union control of another Stones River ford:

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I’ll continue this battle report (to cover the second half of the game) when I can find some more time.
John Simmons  United States of America
 
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17 Apr 2020, 14:12


Posted by MABO on 01 May 2024, 06:29

Amazing gaming table. Can you say something about number of figures, trees, buildings etc.? Must be a joy to play this game representing this famous battle of the Civil War.
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MABO  Europe
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Posted by PaulRPetri on 02 May 2024, 01:23

Holy Hannah that is one hell of a wargame table! Great report!!

What rules were you using?
PaulRPetri  United States of America
 
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02 Apr 2019, 00:59

Posted by C M Dodson on 02 May 2024, 13:27

Hello John.

Again, what a fantastic tour de force , as always.

The scenery and figures are straight out of Mr Greenspans marvellous picture map of this event.

You can feel the chill lifting from the pictures like a rare perfume.

Well done for preserving with the ‘slow down’ when posting, the evidence confirms the effort !

Looking forward to part two.

Best wishes,

Chris
C M Dodson  United Kingdom
 
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Posted by Rich W on 02 May 2024, 15:53

Super stuff! There is a lot going on on that table of yours!
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Posted by Peter on 03 May 2024, 16:55

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing! :thumbup:
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Peter  Belgium

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Posted by John Simmons on 21 May 2024, 14:11

Thanks very much for the encouraging comments.

To Chris: I've loved David Greenspan's maps since I was a boy. I confess that I had Battle Maps of the Civil War open to his Stones River map while I was setting up my table.

To PaulRPetri: We use the Fire and Fury rules. But We've been using them for so long that we now employ quite a few variations and additions. We've used modified Fire and Fury rules for AWI and F&I War games, too, and we've used their WWII rules (Battlefront) a few times as well.

To Mabo: I'm surprised to say that I actually have some answers to your question. One of our group was convinced this was the biggest game we'd ever played, so he actually wasted some time counting. His count (not mine) was (roughly) 1800 foot figures, 65 mounted (cavalry operated only out on the perimeters of the main fight at Stones River), 30 stands of artillery, 45 limbers (caissons, wagons), and 25 structures. The game was a lot of fun, except for the early parts, where most of the action took place in the very middle of the 6 foot wide table. Happily, one of our group had very long arms.
John Simmons  United States of America
 
Posts: 62
Member since:
17 Apr 2020, 14:12

Posted by John Simmons on 21 May 2024, 15:14

I forgot to mention the trees! There are about 450 of them on the table. Given the time of year of the battle, they needed to all be either bare trees or evergreens. I didn't have anywhere near enough of those to fill up all of the wooded areas on the battlefield. So a lot of the bare trees on the table were just hastily cobbled and glued from the various twigs and stems that I found out in my yard.
John Simmons  United States of America
 
Posts: 62
Member since:
17 Apr 2020, 14:12


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