The battle of Gettysburg is probably THE most famous and well known battle of the American Civil War. It was the high tide mark for Confederate forces and probably the best opportunity for the South to win the war. As the battle lasted for three days and involved close to 200,000 men, it is a challenge to wargame in full for all but the most determined and committed of wargamers, usually involving an entire club or team effort. So today we have selected one section of that epic battle; Culp's Hill.
From the map on the left of the entire battle, you can see that Culp's Hill stood at one end of a ridge of high ground south of the town which extended west then south to include the probably more well known Cemetery Ridge before ending with the two promontories, Little Round Top and Big Round Top.
The Battle of Gettysburg was actually not planned, but rather an escalation of opposing scouting parties meeting and through engaging, gradually sucking in more and more reinforcements from their respective main armies, until eventually one of the largest battles of the war was created.
The first day of battle largely saw a build of men on both sides and initiatives being taken by divisional and brigade commanders, as both the Union's General Meade and the Confederate's General Lee were some way back in their respective lines of advancing troops. Like I said, this battle wasn't planned, or even desired at this location, but happened purely by chance and circumstance.
As evening drew in on the first day, the Union realised that the high ground south of Gettysburg was critical if the battle was to be won, and so they took up defensive positions along this long ridge, using timber and rocks to create a line of barricades where they could, and then readied themselves for the Confederate assault that would surely come the next day.
Culp's Hill saw some of the most ferocious and continuous fighting of the battle, starting on day two and going on throughout the third. Our Battle For Wargamers today is the beginning of this two day struggle for Culp's Hill, with the forces initially deployed on the morning of the 2nd July. On the following day both sides would send in reinforcements, but for the purposes of this article and to keep the battle to a manageable size for most, we are looking at just the first day and as to whether the Union defenders can hold the hill against the Confederate attacks long enough to be reinforced that night for the next day.
As there are so many different rule sets for the ACW including the much awaited Epic Battles by Warlord Games, with regiment sizes ranging from maybe a dozen figures to sixty, we have opted this time not to suggest unit sizes by the number of figures, leaving that to your choice depending on your preferred rules.
ORDERS OF BATTLE
Brig.General James S. Wadsworth - Commander In Chief - experienced, inconsistent, respected leader
I Corps - 1st Brigade - (The Iron Brigade)
Brig.General Solomon Meredith - Sub-Commander - experienced, determined, inspirational leader
19th Indiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
24th Michigan Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
2nd Wisconsin Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
6th Wisconsin Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
7th Wisconsin Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
Steven's Artillery battery - experienced, solid morale, 12lb Napoleon guns
I Corps - 2nd Brigade
Brig. General Lysander Cutler - Sub-Commander - experienced, excellent tactician, respected leader
7th Indiana Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
76th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
84th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
95th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
147th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
56th Pennsylvania Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
XII Corps - 3rd Brigade
Brig.General George S. "Old Pappy" Greene - Sub-Commander - veteran, excellent tactician, inspirational leader
60th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
78th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
102nd New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
137th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
149th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
Kinzie's Artillery battery - experienced, solid morale, 12lb Napoleon guns
Rugg's Artillery battery - experienced, solid morale, 12lb Napoleon guns
XI Corps - 1st Brigade
Colonel George Von Amsberg - Sub-Commander - veteran, experienced leader
82nd Illinois Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
45th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
157th New York Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
61st Ohio Regiment - experienced, solid morale, musket
Major General Edward "Clubby" Johnson - Commander In Chief - veteran, temperamental, respected leader
II Corps - Steuart's Brigade
Brig.General George H.Steuart - Sub-Commander - veteran, inspirational leader
1st Maryland Battalion - veteran, solid morale, musket
1st North Carolina Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
3rd North Carolina Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
10th Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
23rd Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
37th Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
II Corps - Williams' Brigade
Col. Jesse M.Williams - Sub-Commander - veteran, inexperienced of brigade level command, respected leader
1st Louisiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
2nd Louisiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
10th Louisiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
14th Louisiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
15th Louisiana Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
II Corps - Jones' Brigade
Brig.General John M. Jones - Sub-Commander - veteran, inspirational leader
21st Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
50th Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
42nd Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
44th Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
48th Virginia Regiment - veteran, solid morale, musket
THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED
Most of the Union soldiers defending Culp's Hill had seen action the previous day before being ordered to take up position on the high ground. Brig,General Wadsworth had followed the orders but in line with his inconsistent leadership, he failed to order his brigades to "dig in" and it was only thanks to his brigade commanders, such as "Old Pappy" Greene who had been a civil engineer for a period, that orders were given to create field fortifications. As his brigade had been given a mile and half stretch of the ridge to defend, it was good foresight on his part.
The Confederate division commander, Major General Edward Johnson was also not without his failings. On the first day he had failed to attack Cemetery Ridge before it was properly defended; action that if taken could have ended the battle there and then, but then on the evening of the 1st July, having re-positioned at the foot of Culp's Hill, he directly refused superior orders to attack immediately, stating he would rather rest his men and for morning, which gave the Union soldiers time to create barricades and fortify their position.
Lee's plan on the morning of the 2nd July was to attack the ridge at opposite ends simultaneously with Longstreet's I Corps attacking Little and Big Round Tops while Ewell's II Corps would attack Culp's Hill. However Lee did not want II Corps to fully commit, but rather just cause enough of an attack to hold all the Union troops on the hill in place and not be sent to the other end as reinforcements. Ewell initially used artillery (off map) to shell the hill, but this failed to do the job intended and several Union brigades left Culp's Hill to reinforce further along the ridge, leaving the troops as laid out on our suggested set-up map. At this point Ewell saw no alternative but to launch a frontal assault, and the three Confederate brigades made their first attempt at scaling the slopes. By now it was late afternoon and in the wooded slopes visibility became strained, especially with the clouds of gun smoke that hung in the air.
On the Confederate right flank, Jones' Brigade found things the hardest going. It was here that the slopes were steepest and littered with boulders, which although offered some protection also broke up their formations as they advanced. Advancing and firing as they went, the Confederates were suddenly confronted by Greene's fortifications which seemed impassable. the 60th New York regiment poured fire down on the southerners from behind their barricades and Jones' men were forced back. Jones himself suffered a serious leg injury and was carried from the field. Despite the apparent ease with which the Union soldiers had stopped Jones, several of their officers admitted that had it not been for the barricade Greene had insisted on, then they would have been overwhelmed on the ridge by both the ferocity of Confederate charge and the density of their musketry which had largely been absorbed by the fortifications.
In the centre the Louisiana regiments made their assault, dusk was turning to darkness and for the Union defenders it was only when flashes of musket shots appeared that they could see where their enemy was. The ground here was a little easier than where Jones had tried, but was still an exhausting challenge, especially in the dark. Upon closing in on the Union positions, Williams' men were also aghast at the substantial defences running along the ridge, but a firefight that lasted several hours ensued. Finally the Confederates began to fall back as their casualties grew from the musket fire of the 78th and 102nd New Yorkers.
Steurat's men on the left flank made the best progress, advancing again in the dark, they were a difficult target for the Union defenders. The 3rd North Carolina regiment made contact first, but unfortunately where the defences were strongest and a point blank range volley of muskets from the Union men felled them in droves, scattering the survivors down the hill. Further to the left though, the 23rd and 10th Virginia regiments managed to outflank the 137th New Yorkers, forcing them back to a new position at 90 degrees to their original one in an attempt to hold back the Confederates. This was the most success of the night for the southerners, and they inflicted over 30% casualties on the 137th NY. Miraculously, the regiment held the line, for had it fallen at this end it would have likely opened up a route that that Confederates could have exploited to get behind the Union fortifications and capture the ridge, not just at Culp's Hill, but potentially all along the Union lines.
The intensity of the fighting here, was heard along Cemetery Ridge, causing so much concern that Union reinforcements were sent along the line to support the Culp's Hill defenders. Likewise, for the Confederates, that tenuous but definite foothold on the ridge on their left flank, would give them sufficient hope to bring up reinforcements too. The following morning the battle would recommence in even greater numbers and would see some of the most sustained and intense fighting of the entire Battle of Gettysburg, but we will share that scenario another day.
WARGAMING THE BATTLE
At first glance the battlefield may look a challenge for recreating, but it is in simple terms just a long piece of high ground easily represented with foam blocks or "books under the cloth" as we did back in the day, with a few trees scattered along the slopes to represent the pine trees covering the hill. The creek on the right plays no significant part in the battle so could be omitted is it makes life easier.
The important thing is to play to an agreed time scale, so you represent the passage of time and to end the game at around midnight when reinforcements for both sides would start to appear and completely reshape the engagement for the following day.
If the Union manages to hold the line as it did on the 2nd July it should be considered a Union victory, but if the Confederates manage to either break the line or turn the flank as they almost did that evening then a Confederate victory should be declared.
Even though this is just a small section of the overall Battle of Gettysburg, it is still quite a sizable tabletop game to play, probably lending itself to smaller scales such as 10mm or the new "Epic" scale when it releases next month. But whatever scale you use we would love to see some pictures come in of your recreation of this engagement and we will feature them in our new "Gamers Gallery" that we are starting soon to share the hobby with others.
And finally don't forget you can still pre-order the Epic Battles Bumper Bundle for just £99.99 if you hurry, we have only a handful left at this price. Just click on the image below to see the full details and order yours.