Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stonewall Jackson's Way (MMP) - "From the Rapidan to the Rappahannock" [Scenario #6]

Game: Stonewall Jackson's Way (MMP)
Series: Great Campaigns of the American Civil War
Scenario: From the Rapidan to the Rappahannock
Participants: Jim "HeavyD" D, Myself
Time: Fri, 7/8 ~ 6.15PM - 9.30PM
         Fri, 7/15 ~ 6.30PM - 9.00PM

After a couple of warm up games of GCACW, HeavyD and I decided to start at the beginning with this series. I got Stonewall Jackson's Way back when it was released in '92. I played it a lot back in the day and have been playing it quite a bit here in St Louis. I even taught a co-worker of mine back in Atlanta to play, his last name was Pickett and in fact he was a descendent of that famous General. HeavyD and I have played a few scenario's to bring him up to speed on the game and the rules. The scenario's are mostly very good, but I think the strength of the series lies in the Campaign Games. Here the game truly shines.

As I was thinking through the various campaign scenarios (I have played them all sans OTR), I recalled that there was a short version of the of the CG in SJW and that it was a lot of fun. Then I started looking around for errata. The first three CG's in the series were notoriously unbalanced. I even recall calling poor Joe Balkoski (the series designer and a real asset to the hobby) up out of the clear blue to talk about the Gettysburg (RTG) CG as I had spent days doing the math and I was (rightly) convinced that the Union had not a prayer in that one. This was of course pre-Internet. I was thus a little concerned that this CG had not had an official errata treatment like HCR & RTG had. I posted on CSW and didn't receive anything like the official response I had hoped for. We did hear a general consensus that said the CSA player should be shooting for a Substantive (at least) or Decisive Victory to make the game even close. Undeterred, HeavyD and I decided to play this CG targeting the higher Victory levels for the CSA player.

After Set Up, Prior to play

We decided on giving HeavyD the potent Army of Northern Virginia and I would take Pope's hapless Army of Virginia. The scenario is eight turns long, starting when the campaign opened and leading up to Second Manassas (29-30 Aug). This you might recall included Jackson's famous flank march around the AoV. The campaign scenario is all about getting behind the Union Army and destroying its line of communication (Rail Road) back to Washington. Meanwhile McClellan's Army of the Potomac is moving up by boat from the Peninsula. Lee and Pope's Army's start off facing each other across the Rapidan River.

A close up view of the two Army's at start


As you can see, Lee's Army if tightly grouped up South of the Rapidan at the start of the scenario. Pope's Army has a free turn to move before the CSA can react. I quickly moved III Corps up to cover the Southern most crossings, having II & IX Corps cover the ones nearest Longstreet's Corps. I bunched up I Corps (future XI Corps in the AoP) as much as I could using two marches. If HeavyD decided to go through them I would at least have all the little advantages I could get to help slow him down.

End of the 1st turn

Turn 2 opened with Rain (current turn only). This of course is nearly a game breaker as it stops HeavyD from even trying to force a crossing of the Rapidan as he's not allowed to cross a major river at a ford in rain. Thus it really forced HeavyD's hand into moving East and trying to cross the next turn, hopefully before I could get there to cover the crossing sites.

End of the 2nd turn

We had a very exciting turn, with drama on each activation roll. He was trying to get across the River before I could through a division in front of the next ford. I was able to get to the crossings first and HeavyD didn't want to risk a frontal assault across a ford. I don't know if HeavyD was ever considering taking Jackson around my Right (as he did historically) but the rain last turn and this turn made it clear that this wasn't really an option any longer.

Drama in the Wilderness

Start of turn 4, in the Wilderness

The next couple of turns really reminded me of why I love this series. We did not have a single combat but the tension and drama around each activation roll was palpable. We were both running for the next river crossing. HeavyD was leading with Longstreet's Corps, with Jackson coming up behind him. I had two small Corps (Reno's 9th & Bank's 2nd), both of these Corps only had two Divisions and they were on the smaller side (between 6-9 SP). Longstreet has four divisions, each around 10SP. The further East we went, the worse the terrain got, we were entering the Wilderness. There were fewer roads and even fewer fords.

Reno Checks Longstreet's Crossing

Reno's IX Corps came through with some impressive marches and was able to get in front of Kemper as HeavyD finally made it across the Rapidan. Given time HeavyD could have brought in a couple more Divisions for a Corps Assault that would have overwhelmed the one Division I had managed to get in front of him, but in this scenario the clock is ticking and HeavyD has to get past my Army.

As turn 4 started I had no idea if HeavyD would try and fight his way out or continue to try and get around my army by moving further East into the Wilderness. This then is the real genius of this game. The tension created by the unknown order of activation (each player rolls a die, the CSA wins ties) coupled with the again unknown movement die rolls (once a unit is activated, you roll to see how many movement points it has) translate into some of the most intense enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever had. If HeavyD can string together 2-3 activations in a row, he could blow through my lone Division and he would be off to the races. I had no idea what HeavyD was thinking at the time. I didn't even know if he recognized the potential here or if he had already decided on continuing East, making for an uncovered river crossing.

HeavyD heads East instead of fighting through Reno's Corps
HeavyD decides to keep marching, not wanting to fight now. He moves for the next ford over and again Reno is able to slip over just in the nick of time to interdict that crossing. Banks 2nd Corp is marching up to help out while I & III Corps are falling far behind due to poor marching rolls. This is limiting my options as now if HeavyD wants to fight I will only have these four divisions to face him.

HeavyD senses that now is his chance and he decides to extend march Longstreet's entire Corps. They respond (rolling very well for movement) and make it out of the Wilderness. Jackson follows and the entire ANV is bunched up at one point along a single road. Soon they are streaming out of the Wilderness unhampered by the Rapidan River. I decide that discretion is the better part of valor and keep Reno and Banks in the Wilderness, not wanting to expose them in the much more open terrain with Sigel and McDowell lagging so far behind. Reynolds Division has marched over from Aquia Creek Station and is suddenly very much in the presence of Lee's entire force. I decide to dig them in and await Porters arrival (bringing another Brigade) as well as Fairchild's now released Division marching up from Fredericksburg.The turn ends with HeavyD's exhausted force out of the Wilderness and with a clear road up to Manassas.

 End Game

Turn 5 (Aug 23rd) opens with Jackson's Corps on HeavyD's right, exhausted with a Division or two disorganized due to marching. Reynolds is behind Breastworks blocking one of the roads North. Porter is nearby with another Brigade and Fairchild is closing from Fredericksburg. I am again concerned the HeavyD might elect to go after Reynolds by trying to encircle him. Instead he decides to again bypass my units and continue North. I hold Reynolds back until a couple more divisions arrive as reinforcements, but now Jackson has a real lead on me.

Start of Turn 5

Stuart by now has made it up to the rail line and begins by burning the railroad station at Manassas Junction. HeavyD also destroys the Union Depot there. HeavyD sends most of Longstreet's Corps North as well but not before hitting a Division of Reno's 9th Corps, sending them running. Anderson's second attack gets stopped cold. Sigel and McDowell are still marching very slowly towards the sound of the guns.

Anderson's fight with Reno's IX Corps

Turn 6 see's little action as we both find most of our units out of supply. HeavyD makes small marches while I elect to stay in place and hope to get most of my units back in supply in the recovery phase. I end up rolling very poorly and most of my units start the next turn out of supply. HeavyD is also mostly still out of supply and many of his units are now starting to get disorganized.

Longstreet's Ending Position
 At this point we decide to call it as there is little chance that I'll be able to catch up with Jackson as he is out in front of me. Longstreet is well positioned to block my approaching force as well. We do the math and decide that HeavyD is likely going to get around 45-60 VP's with little that I can do to stop him. This is a solid Marginal Victory and close to a Substantive.

Ending positions

The rain on the 2nd turn certainly limited HeavyD's options early on, then Reno and Banks we able to further deny him crossing the Rapidan for the next couple of turns. Without that rain on turn two this would have been a much different game. Still, we both had a great time and will be playing the Here Come the Rebel's CG soon.


  1. Great post again. Keep them coming. Nice shots!

  2. Wonderful AAR. Thank you for sharing. One of the better AARs I've recently read.