On to Richmond: Rediscovering a GCACW Masterpiece

by markacres on March 31, 2010 · 2 comments

I’ve been a board wargamer since 1967. In years past SPI took my $300 or so for a “lifetime subscription.” My wife despairs over the unrealized EBay value of the more than 400 board wargames that lurk on our upstairs library shelves and hide on the even larger collection of shelves in the dark recesses of the basement.

A chance to actually play still arises from time to time. When it does, playing a truly great game reminds me why I love the hobby and those great games so much. On the last day of January I began a campaign game of On to Richmond, published by Avalon Hill in 1998 as part of their Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series. (Multiman Publishing now holds the rights to the game and has continued the series most recently with the release of Battle Above the Clouds, a truly outstanding design destined to become a classic in its own right.) After more than 100 hours of play, my Yankee opponent, Dave Stevens, and I, are nearing the climax of one of the greatest games either of us has ever played.

Dave says that for him, playing the Union is like living in Steven W. Sears’ book, “To the Gates of Richmond.” Dave has patiently driven, prodded, die rolled, and occasionally gently cursed the sluggish elephant that is McClellan’s Army of the Potomac up the Virginia peninsula, along the north bank of the Chickahominy, all the way to the outskirts of the Confederate capitol. (The harshest thing Dave usually exclaims is “Gosh!” when he’s rolled badly for the eighth or ninth time in a row. I’m a tad less of a gentleman when the cubes of fate turn fickle on me.) So excellent is the game’s simulation value that Dave has experienced nearly all the problems the Union faced in the real campaign: torrential rains that slowed marches to a crawl; the ability of a handful of dug-in Confederates to resist huge Union forces, often because the Union couldn’t coordinate command even within a corps, much less at army level; the terrifying possibility of J.E.B. Stuart breaking into the Union’s vulnerable rear area depots; the reluctance of the Lincoln administration to allow reinforcements to leave the Fredericksburg theater; the need to contain Jackson in the Valley.

Playing the Confederates, I’ve come to appreciate at a gut level what a desperate campaign the Peninsula was for the southerners. Many a time I’ve silently prayed to Fate to let Joe Johnston suffer wounding so I could bring Robert E. Lee into the game. I’ve agonized over if and when to recall Jackson from the Valley to defend the approaches to Richmond. My stomach sank down into the floor somewhere below my feet when the C.S.S. Virginia sank, opening the James River to Union amphibious transport, and thereby opening a whole new front for my thinly stretched troops to defend.

We don’t know yet who’s going to win. The Union came within five miles of Richmond when Lee, Stuart, A.P. Hill, and Jackson launched a savage series of attacks near Beaver Dam Creek, driving the federals away in rout and ruin. But there’s still plenty of time in the game, and they’ll be back.

The one thing we both do know is that we can hardly wait to do it again.

If you love the Civil War by all means try one of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series. You’ll learn more about your favorite campaign than you ever could by just reading about it. You’ll learn deep down in your gut by facing some of the same decisions and the same tricks of fate that the actual commanders had to face. Don’t be daunted by the length of the rules or the length of time it takes to play. You can play using Aide de Camp or Vassal or Cyberboard, and keep those giant maps and stacks of counters stored on your computer – no table space required. And learning the game is part of the fun. See how many McClellan style blunders you can make in your first attempt! Don’t worry – the fate of the nation isn’t really in your hands, and, as David James Ritchie famously said, “These aren’t really simulations. After all, we don’t shoot the losers.”

Check out Beyond the Crater: The Petersburg Campaign Online!

Check out Brett’s list of the Top 10 Civil War Blogs!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryn Monnery November 12, 2011 at 11:10 am

Came across this because I was considering buying a GCACW game. I need to ask; who won?


CJ Maloney January 18, 2012 at 11:28 am

Currently reading Sears’ “On to Richmond”. IMO, he’s even better than Foote, and I love Foote’s work.

Have played a number of GCACW games. One of the best wargame series ever made.


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