Regular readers of this blog will by now be thoroughly bored with all things Blue and Grey! But fear naught, the end is nigh! Here at last then, is the after-action report for our refight of the 2nd Battle of Murfreesboro (aka Stones River).
The game was played at the Wargames Association of Reading’s ‘Warfare 2021’ show at Ascot Racecourse over the weekend of 27/28 November 2021 and won 2nd prize for Best Demo Game. 🙂
I did adapt the scenario slightly for 10mm figures; the larger ground-scale meant that I could fit more of the map onto a 6×8-foot table and could therefore include the small cavalry action that took place on the western flank, as well as have some of the formerly off-table Confederate reserves actually on-table. I also added three fords that are noted on other maps of the battle, but not in the scenario; two near the northern edge of the table and one just to the south of Wayne’s Hill that was actually used by Breckenridge’s division during the battle.
The stats for the additional cavalry brigades are:
Wharton’s Confederate Cavalry Brigade (independent): 10/7/4 Exp SH (activated on Turn 1).
Zahm’s Union Cavalry Brigade (independent): 5/4/3 Grn RC (activated on Turn 3).
Above: My expanded version of the scenario map.
Here come the photos… There are rather a lot of them… In fact I think this might even be the greatest cure for insomnia yet posted on this blog! 🙂
Above: We were able to get into the venue on the Friday night to set up the game, so this was the first time I’d seen the terrain all set up. 🙂 I must say that I was very, very pleased with how my ‘wintry palette’ of flock colours looked. However, the fact that we were in a badly-lit corner (tucked under the escalators) means that the contrast between the ‘Earth’ flock of the woodland areas doesn’t have high enough contrast with the ‘Burnt Grass’ and ‘Yellow Grass’ flock of the open fields to really stand out in photos. Another problem was that the tables were rather uneven and as a consequence, the joins between boards were often disappointingly visible.
Above: As we were in something of a rush on the Friday night, the fences were rather ‘plonked on’… I actually went around on the Saturday morning and placed them somewhat better, but then forgot to take another set of ‘overview’ photos.
Above: I’m really pleased with how the bare trees looked on the terrain, but I could have used at least another hundred! There are 100 of them on the board, plus around 60 trees with foliage, but it’s quite surprising how many you need and I’ll try to double the amount of trees for this game’s next outing. There were also areas of woodland near the table edges (e.g. the strip along the table edge either side of Asbury Church) where we decided not to stick any trees, as they’d just get broken or stuck to the jumpers of players leaning in to reach the middle of the table.
Above: The starting overview from the same orientation as the map above.
Above: The bulk of Hardee’s Confederate Corps (McCown’s Division in the first line and Cleburne’s Division in the second line), advances against the Union right flank.
Above: The left wing of Polk’s Confederate Corps, consisting of Cheatham’s Division, prepares to join the assault on McCook’s Corps.
Above: The extreme right flank of McCook’s Union Corps. Johnson’s division forms a fish-hook around the edge of woodland, while Baldwin’s Brigade is encamped well to the rear with a battery, covering the open ground on the flank. The seemingly lost artillery limber represents a horse-team belonging to one of Johnson’s batteries, whose horses were out to pasture when the Confederate assault struck and cannot therefore move or withdraw its guns during the first turn of the scenario.
Above: On McCook’s left, Negley’s Division of Thomas’ Corps holds the centre, with Stanley’s Brigade being dug into a very defensible limestone outcrop that would later become known as ‘The Slaughter Pen’. Stanley’s Brigade included the 19th Illinois Zouaves (Ellsworth’s), who in the earlier part of the war wore a very fancy Zouave uniform. By the time of this battle the uniform had been simplified though was still very colourful, consisting of a plain blue coat and red trousers of a conventional cut, topped off with a red kepi with blue trim. By a happy coincidence, this uniform looked very much like that of the famous 15th Brooklyn Militia and I’ve already got those in my collection! 🙂
Above: On the northern flank of the battle, Crittenden’s Union Corps had been ordered to mount its own flank attack on the Confederates and Van Cleve’s Division had already crossed over the Bull Run at McFadden’s Ford when the attack was cancelled due to the sudden crisis emerging on the opposite flank.
Above: The target for Crittenden’s cancelled attack was Wayne’s Hill, which is defended by the entrenched Hanson’s Brigade of Breckenridge’s Division. This division is detached from Hardee’s Corps.
Above: Breckenridge is separated from the rest of the Confederate army by the Stone River. South of the river, Withers’ Division of Polk’s Corps is dug in, defending the key arteries of the Nashville Turnpike, the Wilkinson Turnpike and the Nashville-Chattanooga Railroad.
Above: Withers’ Division faces the centre of the Union army at The Slaughter Pen.
Above: A view along the route of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo…
Above: At the northern end of the battlefield, the Union army commander, William Rosecrans, conflabs with Crittenden, the commander of the Left Wing Corps. Wood’s Division is formed up behind them, in column facing north, as until being halted they were originally heading for McFadden’s Ford to join Crittenden’s abortive attack. Deployed near McFadden’s Farm is the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, which is the only ‘pure’ battery of rifled artillery on the table. Most of the artillery on moth sides consists of obsolete smoothbore pieces, though some batteries (especially on the Union side) have a few rifles mixed in to provide some long-range hitting power.
Above: An overview of the northern end of the battlefield. At present it’s largely quiet in this sector as both sides wait to see what unfolds in the south, though the powerful Union artillery is quick to open fire on the few visible batteries in the Rebel entrenchments.
Above: As dawn breaks, the men of McCook’s Corps are still cooking their breakfast when the ‘Rebel Yell’ is heard! Willich’s Brigade, holding the ‘hook’ of the right flank, is quickly thrown out of its position and the Ohio battery, lacking horseflesh to move its guns, is captured by McCown’s jubilant men. Kirk’s Brigade meanwhile, is utterly smashed and is soon fleeing north in complete disorder, accompanied by General Johnson.
Above: Willich somehow manages to rally his men and forms up on the edge of woodland, on Baldwin’s left. Nothing however, can be done to halt Kirk’s flight and the Rebels start to roll up McCook’s Corps, quickly ejecting Post’s Brigade on the right of Davis’ Division.
Above: However, the Rebels don’t have everything their own way. In the north, the massive superiority of Union artillery immediately smashes Breckenridge’s artillery.
Above: Withers’ artillery is similarly destroyed in very short order and the Union guns turn their attention to the Rebel infantry. The shallow entrenchments provide scant cover and Hanson’s and Chalmers’ Brigades are soon suffering constant attritional losses.
Above: As Johnson’s men flee before them, Hardee’s Corps storms through the vacated Union positions.
Above: As more of Hardee’s brigades charge home, Davis’ Division, its flank now exposed by Johnson’s withdrawal, completely disintegrates!
Above: With Davis gone, the ridge is completely overrun by Hardee’s men and it’s now Sheridan’s turn to have his flank rolled up. The Confederates at last have sight of their initial objective; the hill between the Harding House and the Gresham House (McCook’s headquarters location – the hilltop command group with the red flag in the picture above). The Confederates plan to form a massed battery on the high ground and then use their local artillery superiority to batter the Slaughter Pen position into submission.
Above: Sheridan’s forward unit (Sill’s Brigade) still holds the end of the wooded ridge, but is outflanked and now has Cheatham’s Division of Polk’s Corps assaulting across the stream in front of him. Confident of victory, the Rebel artillery follows close behind Cheatham, who personally urges on his leading brigade (Loomis’ Brigade).
Above: Loomis is initially stalled by fire from Sill’s men, who sell their lives dearly in order to buy time for the artillery to withdraw. However, as a second brigade moves up to support Loomis, Sills is crushed and the remnants flee north across the Wilkinson Turnpike.
Above: Some remnants of Davis’ Division attempt to make a stand on the Gresham Lane, but are hard-pressed by Hardee’s men, who push them inexorably back toward the Gresham House (the large grey building) and the Wilkinson Turnpike.
Above: Some of Davis’ and Johnson’s Divisions have already reached the Gresham House!
Above: On the Union right flank, Johnson is making a stand with Baldwin’s Brigade and the 5th Indiana Light Artillery, who proceed to make life miserable for Rains’ Rebel Brigade and Wharton’s cavalry. However, the deteriorating situation across the rest of McCook’s Corps soon results in Baldwin retreating (albeit in reasonably good order) back to the line of the Wilkinson Turnpike.
Above: The arrival of an ambulance at McCook’s headquarters indicates that his corps has already taken heavy casualties [in game terms a permanent -1 on all Manoeuvre rolls by all brigades in the corps and also a Victory Point for the Rebels]. The shock and speed of the Rebel assault is indicated by the fact that Laiboldt’s Brigade in front of McCook’s HQ, is still deployed in column when they are struck by the seemingly unstoppable General Cleburne, at the head of L. E. Polk’s Brigade.
Above: By some miracle, McCook, Johnson, Davis and Sheridan keep managing to rally brigades and maintain a semblance of a line south of the Wilkinson Turnpike. They keep getting pushed back, but little by little are inflicting a steady trickle of casualties on the Rebels (every little helps…).
Above: Instead of collapsing, Sheridan’s division has wheeled back in the face of the Rebel assaults, its left flank anchored on The Slaughter Pen and bolstered by the artillery that somehow managed to escape the earlier slaughter in the woods. Casualties are heavy on both sides as the Bluebellies doggedly fall back in the face of ferocious attacks from Cleburne and Cheatham.
Above: As Hardee’s Corps continues its assault past the Gresham House, Hardee orders his artillery to unlimber on the Gresham Lane, just in case…
Above: While many of their comrades continue the fight, some of the Union troops have simply had enough…
Above: On the extreme western flank, Zahm’s Union cavalry and Wharton’s Rebel cavalry finally encounter each other. Zahm is outnumbered, but Wharton has already suffered 20% casualties thanks to long-range fire from Johnson’s Indiana battery.
Above: On the Rebel left flank, some of McCown’s and Cleburne’s men are dragging their heels.
Above: Another view of the intense battle around the Gresham House.
Above: A short while later, the Rebels have pushed the Bluebellies back to the Wilkinson Turnpike, but they seem to have found fresh spirit and are now giving almost as good as they get! Confederate casualties are mounting at an alarming rate and the assault is staring to stall just short of the turnpike [in scenario terms, the Wilkinson Turnpike is a key objective; as soon as a Rebel infantry brigade crosses the road, every Union brigade south of the road will attract an additional -1 Manoeuvre modifier (on top of the -1 already suffered due to heavy casualties)].
Note that some bugger has now removed the Gresham House from the table… It will soon return to play, but on the wrong side of the road… Honestly, it’s like casting pearls before swine…
Above: Out to the west, Zahm has decided not to fight the Rebel cavalry while mounted and has instead ordered his green troopers to dismount and defend the woods on foot. As Wharton charges, Zahm’s carbines empty a few Rebel saddles but fail to stop the charge. Nevertheless, Wharton’s cavalry, now disordered by enemy fire, ‘Worn’ due to 25% casualties and struggling in the terrain, fail to make a great impact and only push the Union troopers back to the northern edge of the wood, where both sides take a pause to lick their wounds.
Above: Sheridan’s Division earn their pay this day as they beat off repeated attacks by Cheatham’s Rebels (recognisable by their ‘Polk Battle Flags’, which look somewhat like the flag of Norway). Loomis’ Brigade in particular suffers considerable casualties in the face of point-blank musketry and canister fire from at least two batteries. Undaunted, Cheatham brings up two more brigades.
Cleburne also has a go at Sheridan near the (temporarily absent) Gresham House, but is beaten off with heavy losses. The veteran Brigadier S. A. M. Wood’s brigade suffers the worst of it and Wood himself suffers the loss of a loyal aide de camp, who takes a bullet meant for the general!
Above: An overview of the battle at the end of Turn 5 (0800hrs). In the foreground the Rebel divisions of Withers and Breckenridge continue to suffer losses from incessant Union artillery fire, but in the distance McCook’s Union Corps has been rolled all the way back to the Wilkinson Turnpike.
Above: Negley’s Division, with their corps commander General Thomas in attendance, awaits developments at The Slaughter Pen.
Above: Davis, having rallied part of his broken division, managed to hold the Rebels at the Gresham House for a while, but has now been pushed back once again, conceding possession of the Wilkinson Turnpike to the enemy. Nevertheless, he once again manages to rally the shattered remnants of two brigades alongside one of Johnson’s brigades, in the woods north of the road.
Johnson meanwhile, still has Baldwin’s strong brigade in position on the road. Baldwin boldly extends his line to the left in an attempt to block the Rebels’ capture of the turnpike, but it all goes horribly wrong as his brigade is shot up and falls back to join the rest of McCook’s shattered corps.
Above: Cleburne rallies the remnants of L. E. Polk’s Brigade, but they are now totally Spent thanks to the fruitless assaults against Roberts’ Union Brigade on the north slope of the hill. S. A. M. Wood manages to rally his brigade, but they are now worn and perhaps only have one charge left in them. Cheatham’s division continues to batter itself against Roberts, but to no avail.
It is at this point that Hardee rides over and attempts to lead Loomis’ Brigade in one more charge against Roberts, only to be shot out of the saddle by a Union sharpshooter! It really served him right for attempting to add his leadership bonuses to a formation that wasn’t even his…
Above: The heroic last-ditch Union defence of the Wilkinson Turnpike finally crumbles and the Rebels surge forward once again to take this objective. McCown’s Division is the first to cross the road, smashing one of Davis’ rallied brigades as he does so. In the foreground, Zahm’s cavalry have remounted and fallen back across the Wilkinson Turnpike in some disorder.
Above: McCown’s Rebels may have taken the Turnpike, but the leading brigade has suffered terrible losses and soon becomes the target for Baldwin’s rallied brigade. However, McCown’s boys are made of stern stuff and repulse Baldwin.
Above: The central battle of attrition continues and the bodies are really starting to pile up; particularly on the Rebel side, as Cheatham struggles to make headway against Roberts’ fanatical defence, which is aided by three batteries. However, a mass of Rebel artillery has deployed on the high ground and immediately opens up with canister on Roberts’ supporting gunners.
Above: As the damaged Union batteries pull back past the Blanton House, Cheatham renews his assault. With the Wilkinson Turnpike now cut by Rebel infantry and his right flank being shredded by canister, Roberts at last withdraws.
Above: With all of Cheatham’s Rebels sucked into the battle with Sheridan’s Division, Negley’s Division at The Slaughter Pen (which will now surely have to find a different name?) still haven’t fired a shot! Nevertheless, Stanley’s Zouaves extend their line in order to refuse their right flank. Just in case…
Above: At long last, the rest of the Union army is on the move. Rousseau’s veteran division, which had been held in reserve, is now on the march to stabilise the collapsing right wing.
Above: And not a moment to soon, as the landscape in front of Rousseau is filled with fugitives from McCook’s Corps.
Above: Meanwhile. back at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Chalmers’ Rebel Brigade has been steadily whittled down by incessant fire from four Union batteries deployed between the Slaughter Pen and the railroad. Chalmers’ entrenchments provide very little protection and the mounting casualties cause his men to waver. The Bluebellies seize their moment and three brigades (Cruft and Hazen from Palmer’s Division and Wagner from Wood’s Division) charge across No-Man’s Land , closely followed by the 6th Ohio Battery.
Above: Chalmers’ battered command doesn’t stand a chance and is completely smashed by the Union onslaught!
Above: As the jubilant Union troops overrun the entrenchments and deploy their artillery to enfilade Hanson’s entrenchments to the north, the shocked Confederate General Withers redeploys his division to face this new threat.
Above: The time is now 1000hrs (Turn 9). McCook’s Corps has suffered horrific casualties, but elements are still holding out against the Confederate assault, which is now starting to stagnate. On the left of the picture, McCook and Johnson rally some of the shattered remnants behind Baldwin’s Brigade, which is still managing to make a good show of things. In the woods to their left, Davis has once again managed to rally some of his survivors and form yet another rough line. Opposite them, Generals McCown and Cleburne of the late General Hardee’s Corps exhort their men to advance once again, but the ‘Rebel Yell’ is now starting to sound a little thin.
Above: Two of Cleburne’s brigades (next to the Gresham House) are now completely spent, but the other two are still reasonably fresh and Cleburne pushes them on, to finally smash Davis and break through to the Nashville Turnpike!
Above: With casualties rapidly mounting, Sheridan (with the red flag) has finally pulled the remnants of his division back to the north side of the Wilkinson Turnpike, but there is no let-up from the Confederate bombardment.
Above: On the extreme western flank, Zahm’s cavalry suffer a crisis of confidence and head to the rear, broken! Now is the ideal time for Wharton’s Confederate cavalry to make their long-awaited strike on the flank of the Union infantry…
Above: Oh dear, never mind… It seems that Wharton has also found urgent business to attend to in the rear…
Above: Rousseau has now arrived to shore up the right flank. Rosecrans has also ridden over to assess the situation for himself.
Above: Over on the Union left flank, Crittenden’s Corps is also on the move as T. Wood’s Division heads south. His guns continue to conduct a long-range bombardment of Breckenridge’s Rebels.
Above: Aside from losing Cobb’s Battery in the very early stages of the battle, as well as a few attritional losses to Hanson’s Brigade atop Wayne’s Hill, Breckenridge’s Division is still fresh and unengaged (there are another two brigades and a battery still off-table). However, Breckenridge remains stationary and dark rumours begin to circulate, suggesting that Breckenridge himself is rascally drunk in a Murfreesboro tavern!
[In scenario terms, Breckenridge is stuck in place until Turn 14 (we’re on Turn 10) or until Union forces come within 6 inches of the white building in the woods (Point A on the map)]
Above: Van Cleve’s Division doesn’t seem to be too inclined to get stuck into Breckenridge at the moment.
Above: As Sheridan pulls back over the Wilkinson Turnpike, some reinforcement columns arrive at his rear; Beatty’s Brigade from Rousseau’s Division and Grose’s Brigade from Palmer’s Division. However, they are already taking fire from the powerful Confederate battery on the high ground south of the Turnpike.
Above: Back at the entrenchments, Withers is organising a counter-attack with his two reserve brigades (Stewart’s and Donelson’s) on the Union incursion into his entrenchments. Carnes’ Battery (deployed on the Turnpike) is already doing damage to Hazen’s Brigade, while musketry from Anderson’s Brigade, in the entrenchments to the left, is discomfiting Cruft, whose men are already starting to waver.
Above: Sheridan makes his last stand at the Blanton House (which some bounder has removed from the table)! Closely observed by his corps commander, Cheatham throws everything he can into this final, desperate assault, including the seemingly unkillable Loomis! In addition to Roberts’ remarkable brigade, Sheridan has managed to rally the remnants of Sills’ Brigade, who form up on Roberts’ right, but they are now taken in the flank by Cleburne’s Rebels.
Above: Seeing Zahm’s cavalry fleeing to the rear, the army commander and his entourage ride over to steady them.
Above: As McCook attempts to rally the fleeing remnants of his corps, Rousseau deploys his division behind the crumbling right flank.
Above: Sheridan’s Division has been thrown back from the (missing) Blanton House and Cheatham urges his troops onward. However, Beatty and Grose have now deployed their brigades along the edge of the woodland and now open fire on the approaching Rebels. The supporting Rebel gunners do what they can, but Rebel brigades are now starting to intrude into the danger zone, forcing the gunners to cease fire or switch to a different target.
Above: Once again the gallant General Davis rallies his troops and once again is charged by Cleburne…
Above: By some miracle, Johnson is also still in the fight! He stands with the last remnants of Baldwin’s Brigade as McCown’s Rebels come on in the same old way.
Above: Over on the opposite flank, things are finally moving, as Van Cleve carefully exploits a flaw in the scenario design…
Above: Morton’s Independent Pioneer Brigade, recognisable by their blue & white headquarters flag, is also on the move, aiming to cross the ford in front of Breckenridge’s entrenchments and join Van Cleve’s assault.
Above: On the other side of the railroad, General Palmer has withdrawn Cruft’s and Hazen’s Brigades from the captured entrenchments. However, Wagner’s Brigade (from T. Wood’s Division) refuses to withdraw and becomes the target for Withers’ counter-attack!
Above: Outnumbered by odds of 2:1, Wagner is utterly smashed and Donelson’s Brigade breaks through to attack the Ohio battery beyond!
Above: The Union gunners stand no chance and are overwhelmed as Withers’ Division retake their entrenchments. Withers may have lost a brigade (one which was already heavily-damaged by artillery) to the Union raid, but this episode has cost the Union side the loss of a previously-fresh brigade and an artillery battery.
Above: There are however, still an awful lot of Bluebellies in front of Withers and presented with fresh targets, the Union guns once again open fire…
Above: As the Union line folds back, The Slaughter Pen becomes the corner bastion of the Union defence. Although The Slaughter Pen hasn’t yet been assaulted, it is now at last under Rebel artillery fire and Cheatham has kept his most powerful brigade fresh, in reserve and in position to mount an immediate assault on the rocks, should the opportunity arise.
Above: At long last, Cheatham pulls Loomis’ battered brigade out of the line. But what’s this? An ambulance has just arrived at Polk’s headquarters to signify that Polk’s Corps (Cheatham’s and Withers’ Divisions) has reached its Heavy Casualties threshold!
Above: At long last, every one of McCook’s brigades are either destroyed, broken or spent and all his artillery has been destroyed or captured!
Above: With the pressure in front at last eased, Cleburne’s Division pushes on in pursuit of the defeated Bluebellies!
Above: However, on Cleburne’s right, the battle at the Blanton House bogs down into a battle of attrition. The two Union brigades are stronger and they’re fresh, while Cheatham’s men are worn and demoralised.
Above: The Rebel artillery continues to hammer away at the enemy while Cheatham’s last reserve prepares to assault the Slaughter Pen.
Above: As Davis’ and Johnson’s Divisions evaporate, the exhausted but jubilant Rebels pursue them to the far edge of the wood… where they find Rousseau’s two fresh, veteran brigades, supported by two batteries, waiting for them…
Above: Sheridan, with the spent remnants of Roberts’ Brigade, withdraws behind Beatty’s Brigade, duty done.
Above: Much to everyone’s surprise, T. Wood’s Division of Crittenden’s Corps, instead of continuing on to counter-attack on the right, turns left at the crossroads to join the attack on Withers and Breckenridge.
The time was now 1200hrs (Turn 13) and sadly that was where we had to leave it. The Confederates had made a valiant attack and in the initial stages, managed to go through McCook’s Corps like a hot knife through butter. However, once they’d overcome their initial surprise the Union army managed to perform an unexpectedly dogged fighting withdrawal. inflicting a constant trickle of attritional losses on the attacking Rebs.
At the close of play, it seemed reasonably unlikely that the combined remnants of McCown’s and Cleburne’s Divisions had sufficient combat-power to defeat Rousseaus’ two veteran brigades, particularly given that they had two batteries in close support, as well as a potential morale-boost due to Rosecrans’s presence.
It also seemed unlikely that Cheatham would be able to defeat the two brigades in front of him and there was nothing stopping Negley from bringing Miller’s Brigade into the fight from the other side of the Slaughter Pen. Cheatham’s only real hope was for his artillery to quickly damage and disorder the defenders of the Slaughter Pen and then throw his last fresh brigade in (perhaps with assistance from Withers) to take that bastion from the Union.
Nevertheless, it seemed unlikely that the Rebels would be able to carry the day. Polk’s Corps had reached its Heavy Casualties threshold and the late General Hardee’s Corps was only one casualty away from achieving that same milestone, thereby handing two Victory Points to the Union. On the Union side, McCook’s Corps had reached its Heavy Casualties threshold and the Union army as a whole had taken far more casualties than the Rebels, thereby handing two Victory Points to the Rebels. However, they still held possession of the Round Forest and the Nashville Turnpike, so retained the deciding Victory Point. Inflicting Heavy Casualties on Thomas’ and Crittenden’s Corps would have given a further Victory Point to the Rebels (for each corps), but neither corps was anywhere near that point.
So all things considered, the Second Battle of Murfreesboro was a victory for the Union! Hurrah!
My thanks once again to Mark, Paddy, Dave, Mike, Richard and Richard for an excellent game and for giving people the impression that I have friends.