Interview with SOW: Chancellorville Order of Battle Designers Jim Weaver and Larry Tagg

by Brett Schulte on December 21, 2012 · 1 comment

Editor’s Note: I’ve got an interesting interview today for those of you into wargaming the Civil War.  NorbSoftDev’s latest release, Scourge of War: Chancellorsville, was released in mid-November 2012.  It’s the latest in their real time tactical simulator line of computer games which recreate Civil War combat at the regimental and battery level.  I’ll be bringing TOCWOC readers several of these interviews based on who worked on what portions of this amazing new game.  First up are order of battle designers Jim Weaver and Larry Tagg.  Jim has been NSD founder Norb Timpko’s right hand man for years, keeping track of all of the work which needs to be done and often handling scenario design and anything else which needs to get done.  Jim is essentially the Project Manager of each game release, also serving other roles where needed.  For this release, Jim worked mainly on OOBs, chipping in with several scenarios and some map research work.  Larry Tagg is an accomplished musician and the author of numerous Civil War books, including the upcoming THE BATTLES THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union.  Larry’s main task was to come up with unit and leader attributes.  It’s something I worked on a bit on this series’ original game, Scourge of War: Gettysburg, and I can tell you it is a time-consuming process.  As you’ll see below, Larry’s started to standardize this process to such an extent that he’s even writing a new book on Shiloh which utilizes his experience in this area.  The interview is divided into questions followed by Jim’s answers first, and then Larry’s.  Left click on any of the screenshots to see a full-screen view of some of the battlefield vistas this game brings to life.

Buy Scourge of War: Chancellorsville Today!

TOCWOC: Can you tell TOCWOC readers a little bit about yourself?  What got you interested in the Civil War?  What’s your background? 

Camp Pope Publishing

JW: My day job is to direct laboratory research in the general area of understanding mechanisms of drug toxicity and developing improved methods to detect the same. I grew up in Vermont and have extensive family connections there. My interest in the Civil War derives from family history. I have two direct line ancestors who fought in Vermont regiments. One was in the Sixth Vermont who was wounded at Chancellorsville and one who was in the 14th Vermont and who was lightly wounded during the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble action at Gettysburg. Siblings and cousins fought in several other Vermont infantry regiments.  I currently live in the Mid-Atlantic area and have visited the battlefields where they fought. While seeing the ground helps understand the battle there is a long distance to go to understand their experience as line soldiers in the infantry. I was first invited to participate in the development of Civil War: Bull Run which was the first game in the Take Command/Scourge of War series. My role in that game was to provide the historical ground truth to guide the development of the units on the battlefield. From that start  I built a couple of the scenarios included in that first game. Things have expanded over the course of the development of the game series to where I now serve as the lead design person for the entire game. This frees up Norb to concentrate on coding while I coordinate the rest of the excellent development team to produce the maps, graphics, data files and scenarios that must be pulled together for a full release. Our goal is to get as close as we can to simulating the experience of Civil War combat command without actually going around and shooting at players. We think we have done a fairly good job at this and one measure of our success is that two different parts of the U. S. Army have purchased Scourge of War: Gettysburg to use for officer training. Personally I think I owe it to the soldiers on both sides to help make this game as historically accurate as we can.

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LT: My background is in music, writing, and teaching.  I had my own band in the eighties, called Bourgeois Tagg, that had a couple of hits and toured America and Europe.  Then I played bass and sang with Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates in the nineties.  Then I was a staff songwriter for Warner Chappell Music for a few years.  I’ve written two books, The Generals of Gettysburg (which you were good enough to put on your “Top Twenty Books About Gettysburg” list) and The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln, and am currently writing The Armies at Shiloh, which will include my research for the Shiloh game we are planning at Scourge of War.  I’m now an English teacher at a high school in Sacramento, California.  So be careful you don’t end any sentences with prepositions when you’re around me!

I got the Civil War bug when I was about twelve, growing up in Dallas, Texas.  The book that hooked me was The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, which had the maps with the little soldiers drawn in to show the battles.  I’ve always been a heavy reader, and by the time I was in my late twenties, I was out on the road with a rock band, but on the tour bus I was always in the bunk with a Civil War book, and all the musicians knew I was just weird that way.  My interest in gaming was a holdover from my teens, and I always collected numbers that I planned to one day use in the ultimate Civil War game.  And in the last few years I have been fortunate enough to meet the folks making that game–Scourge of War—and, Brett, you were the man who introduced me to them!

TOCWOC: What role did you play in creating the order of battle for Scourge of War: Chancellorsville?

JW: My part was to confirm the overall structure and to make sure that units that were there are represented and that units that were elsewhere are not in the OOB listing. In addition I had primary responsibility for unit strength numbers for infantry and for weapons assignments for both infantry and artillery.

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LT: My contribution to the game has been in systematizing the method we use to arrive at the Attribute numbers in the Order of Battle files for the regiments, the batteries, and the commanders in the game.  It’s those numbers that determine how well or poorly those units and commanders behave in a fight.  As with everything at Scourge of War, those Attributes for the units and commanders have to be their historical Attributes—if they’re not historical, you might as well throw in the elves and orcs, I say!  The job of researching every unit and commander is so massive that everybody on the Scourge of War team contributes to the research, using my system and a spreadsheet that Jim has devised to streamline the job.

The system will be featured in my next book, The Armies at Shiloh.  Ted Savas, my publisher at Savas Beattie, shares our excitement about idea of quantitative analysis of Civil War combat— in particular, the analysis of Civil War units and their commanders— and is awaiting my manuscript.  I’m about three-quarters through with it.

TOCWOC: Chancellorsville strikes me as one of the easier battles to come up with troop numbers for, relatively speaking.  I know, for instance, that the Osprey Civil War series book on Chancellorsville had unit numbers down to the regimental level.  What sources did you use, and what kind of challenges did you face?

JW: The Osprey book was a primary source for unit strengths at the start of the battle. However CV was a four day event and some units were engaged on multiple days. So we not only had to come up with the starting unit strengths, we had to have estimated strengths for each of the four days of the battle. This involved looking at each unit, determining which day(s) a given unit was engaged, and if it was engaged on more than one day, trying to make a plausible division of casualties among the days of action. This involved developing an extensive spreadsheet to track casualties across the full OOB by day and to make sure that the total numbers of casualties matched the reports found in the OR. There were no recorded interim roll calls taken during the battle so it was necessary to rely on descriptions of the intensity of the fighting to allocate the casualties among the various fights.

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LT: N/A

TOCWOC: Could you briefly describes the various ways a unit is rated in the game?  Also, could you cover the ranges for each rating and what each means?

JW: The leaders and fighting units have separate rating parameters except for Experience which both types share. Leaders have: Ability, Command, Control, Leadership, Style, and Experience. The leader attributes are on a scale of 0-6 except for Experience which is 0-9.

The fighting units have ratings for: Experience, Fatigue, Morale, Close, Open, Edged, Firearm, Marksmanship, Horsemanship, Surgeon, and Calisthenics. These are all rated on a 0-9 scale except for Fatigue which is on a 0-6 scale.

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LT: Each commander, from brigade leader on up, is rated in six categories:

1)  Ability (0-6): The commander’s natural skill in the business of battlefield command.

2)  Command (0-6):  His skill in choosing and executing the correct commands to accomplish the desired battlefield movements of his subordinates.

3)  Control (0-6):  His ability to control his troops on the battlefield.

4)  Leadership (0-6):  His ability to inspire men when they see him—a commander’s personal bravery and charisma come into play here.

5)  Style (0-6):  His aggressiveness.

6)  Experience (0-9):  His experience, especially at his present grade, or level of command.

 

Each fighting unit (each infantry and cavalry regiment and artillery battery) is rated in eight historical categories (all are graded on a 0-9 scale) :

1)      Experience:  Determined by the unit’s time in service, its combat experience, and the quality of its leadership

2)      Closed Order:  Determined by its ability in drill in the basics of close-order fighting. The higher its rating, the faster it can wheel and change formation.

3)      Open Order:  Determined by its ability in open-order fighting, or skirmishing.

4)      Edged Weapons:  Determined by its ability in drill with the bayonet.  The higher its rating, the better it performs in close fighting, or melee.

5)      Firearms:  Determined by the quality of its firearms.  The higher its rating, the faster its rate of fire.

6)      Marksmanship:  Determined by its facility with its firearms.  The higher its rating, the more accurate its fire.

TOCWOC: One of the keys to creating a historically accurate representation of the Battle of Chancellorsville is to get troop ratings which match historical records.  Could you go into some detail of how you went about creating the ratings for each and every one of the hundreds of regiments and batteries which participated in the campaign?  For instance, did you try to rate regiments how they did specifically from May 1-4, 1863, or did you take into account their overall performance during the Civil War?

JW: The OOB ratings are based on the experience of the leaders and units prior to the battle. We did not find it necessary to adjust these ratings to get historically plausible behavior in the scenarios. Larry devised the rating system and the entire development team researched unit histories to provide the input data. I devised a spreadsheet to take these numbers and do the calculations from Larry’s system and come up with the numbers in correct order and format to be copied directly into the Master OOB spreadsheet.

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Camp Pope Publishing

LT: According to the system I developed for Scourge of War, commanders and fighting units are not rated according to their performance in a particular battle (Chancellorsville, in this case), but according to their preparation and experience leading up to that battle.

For the commanders:

1)      A commander’s Ability is determined mainly by his record of promotions before and after Chancellorsville.  Poor commanders tend to pass quickly out of the army or are “promoted” away from the army, like Drayton was from Lee’s army after Antietam.  Good commanders continue to rise within the same army.  Also, if parts of the officer’s command were taken over by other commanders during the battle, this indicates other commanders’ lack of confidence in that officer’s Ability.  To find this information, our team read widely and used any anecdotal evidence, including other officers’ recommendations (keeping in mind, however, that after-battle commendations in the Official Records are always to be taken with a grain of salt, because they are “for the record” and corrupted by army politics).

2)      A commander’s Command rating takes into consideration his Ability and his Experience.  In some cases, commanders were noted—by their men or other commanders—for knowing nothing about the drillbook or tactical orders, and are rated down for Command, according to this anecdotal information.

3)      Control is the only rating that is affected by the circumstances of the present battle—in this case, Chancellorsville.  Some terrain was extremely hard to control troops in: the Wilderness at Chancellorsville, for example. If parts of the officer’s command were taken over by other commanders during the battle, this also indicates other commanders’ lack of confidence in the officer’s Control. Subordinate units that passed beyond the officer’s command at Chancellorsville or any battle indicate a lack of Control. Also, we take note of the number of missing and captured: a large number of missing and captured often indicates low Control, a small number of missing and captured often indicates high Control.

4)       Leadership is determined by anecdotal testimony concerning a commander’s inspirational influence on his troops.

5)       A commander’s Style, or aggressiveness, is determined by reading about his battle record—before, during and after Chancellorsville.  Highly aggressive commanders always get reputations for it.  High casualties may be an indication of a highly aggressive Style; however, we have to be careful—high casualties may also be a result of low Experience or Ability.

6)      For a commander’s Experience rating, we use a complicated system that takes into account his pre-war training and experience in earlier wars, his time in Civil War service in lower grades and at his present grade, and his combat experience at lower grades and at his present grade.

 

For the fighting units:

1)      A unit’s Experience is determined, much like a commander’s, by a system that takes into account its time in service, its experience in combat, and the experience and ability of its colonel (or captain, in the case of artillery batteries).  Colonels are researched much like the more superior officers.

2)      A unit’s Close Order rating is largely a function of its experience, although some elite militia regiments had a reputation for being extremely well drilled.  Other regiments, too, got reputations—either good or bad—for their drill.

3)      A unit’s Open Order ratings are usually low, since basic drill did not include open order drill.  Exceptions are Zouave units, who were specially drilled in open order tactics; and veterans of battles, since most regiments learned the value of a skirmish line in battle.

4)      A unit’s Edged Weapon rating is largely a function of its experience, although some units did not receive bayonets and were unfamiliar with their use.

5)      A unit’s Firearms rating is determined by research into the unit’s weapons.  Some units, especially in the West, were carrying shotguns and flintlocks from home, and some European muskets, such as the Lorenz, were notorious for being unwieldy and difficult to fire.

6)      A regiment’s Marksmanship rating is a function of its recruitment area.  I did research on 1860 maps of urbanization in the United States, and made a list of the urban counties and the rural counties.  The more rural a regiment’s recruitment area, the higher its Marksmanship rating, since it was most likely to be familiar with rifles, either hunting for sport or shooting for food.

TOCWOC: Another difficult endeavor is trying to get the weapons which units carried into the battle correct.  What kind of sources were available to determine exactly what weapons the Stonewall Brigade carried into battle during Jackson’s Flank Attack on May 2, 1863, for instance.  What did you do when you couldn’t find specific weapons for a given unit?  Lastly, how do you model units which carried two or more main weapon types into battle?  Do you just choose the weapon carried by the most men, or do you model “mixtures” of, for example, Springfield rifles and smoothbores if a regiment carried that mix into the battle?

JW: This is an exercise that ranges between hard history and complete educated guesses.  For CV, we could take advantage of the extensive research that we had done for Gettysburg, which was fought only two months later. We made the simplifying assumption that units were carrying the same weapons in both battles so any unit in CV that was also in the GB OOB was assigned the same weapon type. For new units, there are also some useful sources. For Union regiments there are usually weapons listings in ‘American Military Equipage, 1851 – 1872, Volume II – State Forces’ by Frederick P. Todd and collaborators. Occasional CS units will be listed but this is not common. After that, it is digging into sources such as OR reports, soldiers letters, listings on reenactor sites, and any other information about the unit that Google can find out there. If there is totally no information that can be located, I will make an arbitrary assignment based on the known proportions of documented weapons type in the OOB. In cases where there is clear documentation of a substantial mixture, we do have weapons types in the game to represent this fact. By this time in the war, most units had standardized on infantry weapons that would all accept the same type of ammunition to keep supply less complicated. While units with mixed SB and rifled were fairly common in the early part of the war, this was rare in the AOP and ANV by the summer of 1863.

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LT: N/A

TOCWOC: Did you model any what-ifs such as having Longstreet reach the field with some men from the Siege of Suffolk, for instance?

JW: We have what-if’s both as part of historically based scenarios and scenarios that are total what-if’s. For example in CV03 the scenario starts out with the historical setup of the CS troops badly outnumbering Sykes on May 1st. The player has control of the CS forces under McLaws and starts out with the orders to push Sykes back, which can be done without huge difficulty. To make the scenario more of a challenge, we entered alternate history and assumed that the courier from Hooker recalling Meade got lost and that in the absence of orders Meade marched his corps south to the sound of the guns. Having Fifth Corps pitch into your flank when well engaged with Sykes makes for an interesting time for the player acting as McLaws.

A pure what-if scenario is CV13 which assumes that on May 3rd Hooker agreed with Meade’s repeated requests and allowed Fifth Corps to attack the flank of the major CS forces fighting for the Hazel Grove/Chancellorsville area. The player is given control of Meade’s forces and ordered to attack the Confederate forces and do as much damage as possible. While the opportunity is there, the issues of command and control in the heavily wooded terrain make this a challenging scenario for the player.

There are two Longstreet scenarios in the CV Extras package that RebBugler put together on his own initiative. These are fun to play, but historically at variance with the logistical difficulties of moving large bodies of troops over a single track railway that was run by a Union sympathizer. The CS government was unwilling to put the railroads under full national or military control and the operator of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad only ran a limited schedule. This resulted in chronic supply issues for the ANV forces stationed around Fredericksburg and made rapid troop movements very difficult to carry out.

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LT: N/A

TOCWOC: What’s Next?

JW: Glad you asked. In the first quarter of 2013, we hope/expect to release a map pack for the Battle of Brandy Station. This will be one map and a half dozen or so scenarios covering this large cavalry action. This will complete all of the official releases for this generation of Scourge of War. As soon as we get Brandy Station out, we will begin working on the next generation of Scourge of War. We will be working to develop a major expansion in the capabilities to simulate command in the Civil War. We do not want to go into any detail until we are sure that we can make this work to our standards. Larry and I have already begun working to collect the foundational historical information needed to support this expansion. If we can pull this off, it will take the game to a whole new level.

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LT: N/A

I want to thank both Larry and Jim for taking the time to not only answer my questions, bu to provide a lot of detail in doing so.  I’m looking forward to seeing what this team accomplishes next, and I’ll be buying whatever they put out.  I’m especially intrigued by Larry’s new book project and Jim’s hints surrounding the next generation of the Take Command/Scourge of War engines.  If you are still unsure about these games, try the free demo of Gettysburg today.  You’ll be amazed…

Camp Pope Publishing

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