After Action Report: John Tiller's Battleground Civil War - Second Battle of Bull Run
As the Rebels, Martin Lampon stands his ground against a superior Union force in John Tiller's historical "Second Battle of Bull Run" scenario. Will he own the field after two days of bloodshed?
It's been a while since I've played a game from John Tiller’s Battleground series, so I became interested to see how it would stand up after all these years. I have always played these series of games with all of the optional rules “on”, hopefully to make it as challenging as possible. For this after action report (AAR) I will be playing John Tiller’s Battleground Civil War as the Confederate side. I deliberately tried not to read up on the historical battle, in the hope of having to react to what goes on during the game and not anticipate what should have been happening in the real battle. The scenario I have chosen to play is the historical “Second Battle of Bull Run” game, which lasts for 78 game turns over two days.
My initial plan was simply to consolidate the position I had at the start of the game; with Jackson's troops deployed along a line from Sudley Church on the left flank, through Groveton Woods and Stoney Ridge, to the right flank at Brawners Farm. I ordered my troops to create as many breastworks as possible to take cover behind, and get my reinforcements into positions to support my main line. Then I would let the Union attack. If I manage to hold the Yankee attacks off on the first day, I will then move to the offensive on day two. Let's see how it went.
The Confederates start building breastworks immediately in anticipation of any Union attack; and reinforcements begin to arrive from Gainsville. I use the reinforcements of Longstreet to create a second line behind the main front so I can rush extra troops to any point that may come under assault from Union troops. I also push JEB Stuart down Pageland Lane to occupy the undefended victory hex there.
It's not long before the Union troops begin to appear up Sudley Road and start pushing up into Groveton Woods. For now I let my troops engage in skirmishing and firefights, waiting to see what develops, but continue to build breastworks where possible. The initial Union attack in Groveton Woods is pushed back, but was this a feint? The much stronger attack seems to be coming up Sudley Road, to the church.
After holding off the Union assaults around Sudley Church, a much bigger enemy attack suddenly appears through Groveton Woods again, heading towards “The Dump”. This new attack presses my line very hard, and I have to start committing reserve brigades to help hold the line. The men along the defensive line that I created at Stuarts Hill and Pageland Lane, now also detect Union troops advancing on my right flank. The Union attacks at Groveton Woods and Sudley Church are successfully held-off, but only after the Union forces manage to take a couple of the victory hexes. However, I resist the temptation to follow-up. Confederate troop formations are generally smaller than their counterpart’s, and some of their weapons are less effective with shorter ranges. So picking the time to get into hand-to-hand combat is quite tricky. What may look like certain victory in melee can easily result in a whole regiment being destroyed in a reckless assault. I don't want to risk destroying any formations with so much of the battle still ahead of me.
The Union attack on my right flank is gathering momentum, so I reinforce the line there, as well, with more reserves from my second line. Fortunately dusk arrives—which restricts visibility—and the Union attacks peter-out, appearing to fallback. At the end of the first day I still occupy all the ground and victory hexes that I had at the beginning of the scenario.
During the night, I continue to build breastworks in anticipation of more attacks in the morning. As the last of my reinforcements arrive from Gainsville, I continue to spread them along the whole line shoring up some already exhausted troops. It is important to try and rest, or relieve, the formations in the front line to help bring down the fatigue levels. As I suspect, there is going to be a long days hard fighting in the morning.
As dawn breaks, I decide to send out my cavalry on both flanks to locate and figure out what the enemy is doing, and where they are going. My left flank cavalry manage to get all the way down to Warrenton Turnpike. Here they can safely observe any Union movement. As a bonus they cheekily take the victory hex at the Centreville Road entry point. The left flank cavalry under JEB Stuart are able to ride across the map and not detect any large formations of the enemy, eventually linking up with the left flank cavalry and creating a strongpoint behind the enemy lines at the Stone Bridge and van Pelt farm. Hopefully this will create a diversion, to encourage the Union to take troops away from the main front line to deal with them. I will have to try and relieve the cavalry once my flank attacks get under way, as the position they are in is quite exposed and I suspect they would not be able to hold out for long if attacked by a significant force.
It doesn't take long for the Union to renew the attacks at Groveton Woods and Sudley Church, which again are repulsed with very heavy losses to both sides. I have to commit even more of Longstreet's reinforcements into the main line to hold off these attacks.
Because of the casualties I have forced on the Union, I now decide the time is right to start pushing my flanks forward. I also use the Rebel formations around Stony Ridge to start pushing through “The Deep Cut” in an effort to shorten my front line. The fighting is quite intense in the Sudley Road and Groveton Woods areas, and the Union forces are steadily forced back. The Confederate troops advancing from “The Deep Cut” and along the Warrenton Turnpike also manage to occupy Groveton itself and its victory hex! Thinking the Union left flank is quite weakly held, I push my right flank forward some more, with the thought that I might be able to encircle the whole Union army?
After heavy fighting the Union right flank has started to collapse, but the effort has taken its toll on my troops. I decide to halt the advance here for now, as my formations are all exhausted and I don't have any fresh troops to throw in to the engagement. I have affected a link-up with the cavalry strong point though.
My right flank attack has itself now come under attack by some reasonably strong Union forces. How come JEB Stuart did not detect these troops with his raiding and scouting earlier? My planned flank attack has become a desperate defence, as the Union forces make a serious attempt to take the victory hex at Pageland Lane. I have to divert the last of my reserves from the centre to try and hold onto the ground around Stuart's Hill.
The Union now attack Groveton Woods as well. The situation is starting to get serious as my troops are very fatigued, with my commanders continually rallying troops all along the line trying to get them back into action. I also re-crew artillery formations to try and help keep the Union forces back with artillery firepower. It is also crucial to use the in-game supply units as well, and keep as many formations resupplied and rearmed as possible.
Early afternoon sees the Union start to make a demonstration towards Groveton itself, in an attempt to retake the victory hex. But this attack is smashed with heavy losses by some well sited artillery batteries that I have around 'Battery Heights'. Fortunately, at this time, the attack at Groveton Woods is again halted after the victory hexes swap hands a few times. The Union is proving to be very persistent!
I now push my left flank forward again in an attempt to take the victory hex at Dogan Ridge. But finding quite strong Union forces, I decide not to risk my flank collapsing. And retire a little, settling for the gains I have made.
The fighting at Pageland Lane is getting to a crucial stage. Every available formation has now been gathered together to make a last stand on the hilltop in an attempt to hold onto the victory hex and prevent the Union from outflanking my positions by taking the Gainsville Road entry point. I have to send my very last fresh formation, Early's Brigade, to Meadowville Lane to distract the Union attack. Thankfully, they help stall the Union assault as the scenario finishes.
With the left flank and centre positions secure and the right flank holding, the battle finishes as a “Major Union Defeat”. Which is very satisfying, but the Confederate army is utterly exhausted. I have no reserves left and any new Union attacks would be very difficult to hold off—I suspect most of my troops would break and run. This was a very enjoyable scenario to play, with the AI being quite tenacious in its attacks.
I'm pleasantly surprised that John Tiller's Battleground Series still gives a challenging game. And I recommend that anybody who hasn't played them when they were originally released by Talonsoft, can still pick them up from Matrix Games. I look forward to playing another one soon. I hope you have enjoyed reading this AAR.
After action review written by: Martin Lampon, Staff Writer
About Martin Lampon
Martin Lampon is a graphic designer who has been a wargamer, board gamer and PC gamer for nearly 40 years. He has a particular interest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars, but will do anything to pursue knowledge in military history subjects of any era.
Forum username: MartNick