Gaming the American Civil War

14 11 2010

Ok… so now that we have established that I play with toy soldiers for fun, I should probably take a moment and point out that my current project is from the American Civil War.  The American Civil War (or ACW as it is referred to by war gamers and people who like acronyms) is a really popular war gaming period.  There are a TON of documentaries, histories and literature about the war and, growing up southern, a good deal of pop culture as well.  It is dead simple to research this period and its a blast to see a table turned out for this game with blue and gray figures along with period flags.

Gaming this era is done at a number of scales:

  • Skirmish – Each unit represents one or just a few men.  A battle might be an action to take a building or be an isolated cavalry fight
  • Company – Each unit represents dozens of men.  This would be a good scale to fight little round top at as there where only a few hundred men on either side
  • Regimental – Each unit here is a regiment of 300 – 500 men.  Too small for Gettysburg but just the right size for a front in that fight such as the devil’s den or Pickett’s charge.  Smaller battles will fit very nicely at this scale.
  • Brigade – Each unit represents a Brigade of 1500 to 3000 men.  Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam… no problem.  It is possible to get 300,00o troops on a nice size table.
  • Naval – Each miniature is an ironclad or a wooden vessel of the period.  Obviously not for land fights but naval war gaming in the ACW is wildly fun.

I will be painting miniatures and building terrain for the regimental scale.  (I am also a a fan of Ironclads but that’s another blog.)  There are a number of reasons I like this scale:

  • The terrain scale is sensible at an inch of table equals 50 yards.  if you go much bigger then buildings and trees are so out of scale it just looks goofy
  • Units at this scare are green, veteran or elite.  Regiments were formed all at once and stayed together getting more more experienced (and smaller) as the war dragged on.  At a higher level experience typically gets blended together and you just have unit size.
  • Generals are stand alone units.  Most systems at this level (and certainly mine) have  command and control as a concept of the game (a general’s ability to know what is going on a coordinate their troops).  You KNOW you need to move your troops.  Does your General?
  • I’ve always gamed at this scale and know what I am doing.  Brigade level war gaming sounds awesome but I’m not sure that I can’t handle the scale shift*

*I should point out that miniature war gamers tend to specialize.  Once they get familiar with an era and scale they tend to stick with it.  I have been to several conventions where ACW was played at one of the other scales I mentioned above and it looked wrong.  It’s like driving a pickup truck for 5 years and then getting behind the wheel of a Volkswagen.  I’d rather change periods than scale at this point.

The American civil war, as viewed from the regimental level, is interesting for a number of tactical reasons:

  • The weapons matter.  The rifled musket became widely used for the first time in this era.  Early in the war however many units (mostly confederate) fought with period muskets or shotguns.  The difference comes through at this scale. 
  • Cannons came in two flavors; rifled and smoothbore.  Oddly enough, you needed both.  Rifles where accurate and had a longer range but you had to hit what you were shooting at.  A riffled artillery shell burrowed into the earth when it struck whereas a smoothbore projectiles tended to bounce, and therefore, kill more.
  • Units had to create mutually supporting positions.  It took a great deal of coordination to either hold or take a position as effective fire could rarely be delivered in more than one direction.
  • Reserves mean a lot.  Units get exhausted and need to be replaced.  This isn’t represented at a larger scale (it’s assumed to be happening and is not represented) or smaller scale (It’s simply out of scope).
  • Units deployed in a number of formations (column, line, skirmish) as the situation dictated.  This is very well represented at this scale and is totally abstracted in others.

There we have it.  I am not just a historical war gamer…. I am a regimental level war gamer of the American Civil War.  Huzzah!




3 responses

2 12 2010

I literally laughed out loud at “So now that we have established that I play with toy soldiers for fun…”

19 06 2013
alan holmes

Hi Just found yor blog, and what i’ve read is good interesting stuff. Out
of interest what rules do you use. I am also starting a 6mm project, based on Corinth, stones river or champion hill, I’ve not yet settled on one, I need a set of rules best suited to handle one of these moderately sized battles. You may be able to solve my rule prblem at least. Cheers.

28 06 2013
Douglas G. King

HEY!!! Sorry for the slow response. I am taking a break from blogging so I am pretty slow to respond these days. I am producing my own rules for fairly complicated reasons but had I never played a game called Piquet I would be happily using Johnny Reb III for my ACW gameing. Both Piquet and JRIII are GREAT but totally different. JRIII is very focused on accuracy and gives a great feel. Its got plotted commands which is great fun. Piquet on the TOTALLY other hand is about fog of war. You don’t so much play Piquet as much as Piquet plays you. I play both with the same setup.

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