The Battle of Chancellorsville 1863

The Battle of Chancellorsville 1863, possibly Lee’s greatest triumph, dividing his force not once, but twice in the face of the enemy.
Re-playing this on the table top would take some careful planning.

Knipes Brigade

Knipes Brigade of Williams division begin the advance.

On the edge of the Wilderness the battlefield is very heavily wooded, I chose to make the woodland dense and spread over 150 square feet of woodland around the tabletop. The next challenge would be the element of surprise for the Union ! Stonewall Jackson took the largest part of the Confederate army and performed a huge outflank manoeuvre, which took Howard’s corps completely by surprise. The outflank was more of a “Sur la Derriere” in my opinion. So how could we manage the surprise element.

One of Andersons Brigades digs in.

Andersons men dig in.

Well the first thing I did was look at how we could fully utilise the full fifteen feet width and the entire length of the tables. If I moved the map three feet across, the battle would take place across the full scope of the table top.

Charge, head on!

The battle begins in earnest.

Friday evening arrived and the sides were decided. The Union commanders looked at the five corps available to them and began to strategise, the Confederates looked at the two divisions they had available initially and (I have to say this) gulped at the fact that they were so vastly outnumbered initially, Still they had Lee, what more did they need ? I made the Confederates aware of their reserves programme, Jeb Stuart may make an appearance early on, bringing four brigades of his excellent cavalry to support McLaws and Anderson, who were detailed with holding the line until Jackson turned up. They also knew that Jackson would be turning up at some point and the size of his corps. They just needed to weather the Union storm.

Edge of the Wilderness

The edge of the Wilderness, the confontation picks up a pace.

The Union players held one of their corps in reserve, Slocum’s XII corps, deploying Meade (V Corps) on their right flank, Sickles (III Corps) along with Howard (XI Corps) in their centre and Couch (II Corps) on their left flank. The setup on their left was restricted in that Meade was not allowed to deploy within four feet of the board edge, (this would set an air of caution on the Union part for the dreaded outflank ).

Brigades clash

The battle intensifies.

The Union started the ball game advancing in an orderly fashion restricting their movement to “tardy” (half speed) on most occasions to ensure that they kept an orderly line. Meade and Howard suffered from being within the dense woodland and their progress was slow initially. Couch however manoeuvred his Corps around looking to flank the confederate line of defence on Anderson’s right.

The cavalry

J.E.B. Stuarts Cavalry arrives.

Early on J.E.B. Stuart arrived with four brigades of the south’s finest cavalry, thundering toward Couch in an effort to slow him down. McLaws and Anderson opened fire along their front and managed to sow great disorder among the Union brigades. The Union however seemed unstoppable and reorganised their ranks and stepped forward again. Hooker ordered the centre to press the attack and Meade to close on the Reb left and outflank McLaws.

The Union advance

The Union advance along the line, with McQUads brigade in the foreground.

In the early afternoon of the first day of the battle Slocum began to move forward to support the centre, which had begun to suffer frightful casualties from the divisional artillery of the Confederates. On the Rebel right, Stuarts Cavalry dashed headlong into the Union lines, charging like wildcats, only to be slowed and stopped by the disciplined volleys of Gibbon’s division. The only blessing was that the rash manoeuvre by the Rebs had caused the Union to slow their outflank move, so job done I suppose, but at what cost, two of the cavalry brigades were already worn.

Turn the flank

Schimmelpfennig’s brigade engage McLaws troops.

Not long after Slocums advance, the woodland behind the advancing Federals became alive with all manner of creatures fleeing the undergrowth! Stepping into the light of the sun was A.P. Hill and Colston’s division from Jackson’s corps. The Union were aghast, they had just moved Slocum, so all their forces were facing the wrong way and most of the reserve corps was in column of march. A.P. Hill’s division was due west of Chancellorsville and double-quicking either side of the Turnpike, heading straight for Birney’s division, as they in turn looked to garrison the house at the crossroads They weren’t about to give this up without a fight. The Union responded by turning Slocum on to the threat of Colston, re-deploying the corps artillery and standing ready to take on Colston’s boys. Artillery fire from Jackson’s corps silenced a number of the Union guns and nearly obliterated one of Slocum’s brigades, rolling on they were looking to sweep the Union before them.

Defending the makeshift barricades

Troops from McLaws division defend the makeshift barricades thrown up to help repel the advancing Union troops.

On the other side the Union pressed home the attack all along the front. A wild counter attack by a Reb brigade offering some relief, before being swallowed up by the advancing hordes! J.E.B. Stuart saw a chance and took it, riding to the head of Fitzlee’s brigade he led them on into the glades beyond the woodland into an extended line of blue bellies, the combined fire on the way in sowing disorder and plucking several riders from their saddles, the cavalry checked their pace and tried to re-organise, more fire poured in, more men fell. Seeing the desperation of the situation Stuart asked his men for one more effort, they charged pell-mell into the extended line! Gun batteries spat canister and the volley from the infantry couldn’t stop the charge, the fight was bloody, seventy five percent of the brigade was down, the remainder fighting bravely on, all was lost though when Stuart was plucked from his saddle ! The first Reb commander to become a casualty !

Artillery bombardment on the advancing Rebs

Couch’s Artillery open up on the advancing Rebs.

Along the Confederate line battle was joined, the men of the North repeatedly assaulting the makeshift barricades of their southern brethren. Headway was gained against Anderson and a gap appeared, riding to the front of Mahone’s brigade Anderson led the men back into the gap! He fell, the brigade panicked and faltered, the fire from the Union boys proving too much. McLaws faired better holding the line and having to refuse his right flank.

Zouaves

Zouaves advance along the front line to intercept Jacksons advance.

There was another card to play yet, Rodes, strung out on the march around the Union flank arrived, on the left flank of Slocum, who had stepped forward to engage Colston. Pouring disciplined volleys into the flank of the luckless Union brigade. The surprise for the Union was perfect, they pulled back their lines from the new front, turned their rear brigades from the fight with McLaws and Anderson on Lee’s front and moved to take on Jackson in support of Slocum and Sickles. Couch began to divert half of his untouched corps toward Chancellorsville in attempt to draw off some of A.P. Hill’s brigades. Meade and Howard pressed on. We called it a day and went to the pub for a bite to eat and a welcome drink.

The defence against Jackson

Devens division look to stop the advance of the outflanking Rebs.

On the Sunday, the battle continued, the Union were beginning to get a much more defensive line against Jackson, Couch moved over half his division in to support Sickles around Chancellorsville. Von Steinwehr’s division from Howards corps left the fight against Mcaws and turned toward the threat of the Confederate, Rodes, while Meade sent Humphreys division from his corps to help.

The fight for the road down to Fredericksburg began to intensify as Andersons division began to fight a bitter rearguard action while the Yanks of Howards corps pressed them hard. McLaws was now outnumbered by at least four to one and was going down fighting.

The main fight was going to be won by the men of Jacksons corps, Rodes pressed on, flanking the reserves from Meade hastening to the fight. A.P.Hill attacked the Chancellorsville house and was repulsed with heavy losses, the boys rallied and went in again, more men went down, still the boys from South Carolina would not give up, the fighting continued with many more brave men falling. The Confederates finally falling back, rallying for another assault.

Heth’s brigade of Hills division were maintaining the link between Colston and Hill and these plucky Virginians suffered a terrible pounding, advancing on to the teeth of the re-aligned Union defence they were reduced to a fraction of their strength and were foced to retire out of range to re-organise. Colston was faring a little better, some of his brigades forcing the Union artillery to re-locate for fear of being outflanked. Rodes was on a mission, he was already in sight of McLaws and was forcing his men on to break the Union Brigades that stood between them.

Charge of the Virginians

The Rebel cavalry move into position for a desperate attack.

The assault on the Fredericksburg road intensified, the Cavalry that was left from Stuart’s command were thin on the ground, Lee had ridden over to re-deploy them and organise what remained of his artillery. A salvo from the Union battle line roared out, a natural “10” was rolled followed by an “8”, Lee was grievously wounded and removed from the field. This heralded a couple of hours of bloody hand to hand fighting for McLaws division, that culminated in him being carried off the field with one of his brigades. Over on the Union line opposite A.P. Hill Sickles had his horse shot out from under him, Major Generals, Williams, Sykes, Birney and Owen were killed! To top it all, Hooker was hit by a stray shell and suffered a grievous wound! The assault on Chancellorsville broke down, Couch had orchestrated a flank manoeuvre on to the artillery of Hill’s division, taking it out of the game, Hill began to fall back decimated. Colston was not much better. Rodes succeeded in getting to the original deployment lines of McLaws, but the ground was strewn with dead Confederates and the rest of Meades men were falling in behind what was the original Confederate defences.

It was over, the evening was drawing in and the guys all agreed that it was a great scenario and a smashing weekend.

The new Fire & Fury Regimental worked well with the Brigade mechanisms, the Gallant generals work well while the various arms used added the variety needed. The whole weekend played out reasonable historically. The differences being Jackson surviving while Lee received a grevious wound! Overall the players were very, very pleased with the way the whole thing played out. So a good result.

Roll on Gettysburg!!

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3 Responses to The Battle of Chancellorsville 1863

  1. ray chalker says:

    Mark has done a brilliant job moving all (and I mean all ) the gear from Scarborough and designing an even better playing area. The fire and fury rules are excellent and lead to a fast and exciting game with you never quite sure what the dice will roll.

    Had a great time . Will be back.

    Ray Chalker

  2. steve switzer says:

    Great weekend – i had mc claws and rhodes but sadly couldnt get there in time to save mc claws
    v enjoyable – have booked prokorovka and will do another ACW because F and F is great fun

  3. Trevor Beckett says:

    Great battle great rules great company,Ill get the right result next time the bluebellies were dug into Chancellorsville deeper than an Alabama tic, but the south will rise again

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