Pat Hirtle was the winner of TOCWOC’s recent After Action Report contest. His winning entry will be featured in this series of blog entries over the next few weeks.
Johnny Reb II is the only set of miniatures rules that I have played extensively. The rather elaborate account below is the result of a meeting engagement that I played out last year. I should point out that I don’t play JR as a “true” miniatures game, as I have neither the time nor the patience to paint hundreds of little lead men. Instead, I play with counters (matching the base sizes in the rules), with top-view drawings that I did in PhotoShop:
This allows me to print out and deploy a corps in less time than it takes to paint a single stand of miniatures. The map is similarly 2D, creating in effect a hexless boardgame. I’ve been doing this for twenty years now, and find it much more practical and flexible than using real miniatures and 3D terrain.
What I expected to be a well-balanced meeting engagement ended almost as soon as it began, as a result of some truly incredible die rolls – devastatingly good for the Confederates, and catastrophically bad for the Union (including several automatic routs).
This lopsided outcome got me to thinking. Of course as a player I can quite correctly point to the dice as the source of the Union’s misfortune, but my historical counterparts were not allowed this defense. What would have happened to such an unlucky brigadier in the real world of 1862? I decided to conduct an Enquiry to find out.
(Note: Generals Grant and Sherman are of course historical characters, as is Sherman’s adjutant J.H. Hammond. Everyone else is made up, and so are the units involved. I picked random numbers for the regiments, so I hope no Civil War buffs will be offended if I’ve placed their favourite regiment in the wrong theater for July 18th, 1862.)
By order of General U.S. Grant, Commander, Army of the Tennessee, this Board of Enquiry was convened on October 4th, 1862, to consider the conduct of Brigadier General John Waters during the course of an engagement with enemy forces in the vicinity of Brewer’s Farm, Tennessee, on July 18th last.
The Board was comprised of Major General O .T. Howell (center), Colonel David Perarce (left), Colonel Henry Talbert (right):
The Board heard testimony from Brigadier General Waters, as well as from each of the regimental colonels in the brigade, Captain Hewlitt of the Battery B, 3rd Ohio Artillery, Major J.H. Hammond, Adjutant, XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee, and Colonel R. T. Gregg, 27th Wisconsin Cavalry.
Major Hammond, duly sworn.
[The Board’s questions were posed by Lieutenant Colonel E. D. Smythe of the Judge Advocate General’s Office.]
Col. Smythe: Major, you are currently the Adjutant-General of the XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee?
Maj. Hammond: Yes, sir.
S. And what was your rank and position July last?
H. Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General of the Fifth Division, Army of the Tennessee.
S. And in that capacity, did you issue, on the authority of General Sherman, this order, marked Orders No. 51, on July 17 of this year?
HDQRS. FIFTH DIV, ARMY OF THE TENN.,
ORDERS, No. 51, Moscow, July 17, 1862
I. The division will march to-morrow at early daylight on the State Line road westward in the following order: Denver’s brigade, McDowell’s Brigade, Smith’s brigade. The head of the column will halt beyond La Fayette at a distance to bring the rear of the column opposite the depot, and will rest until afternoon to enable McDowell’s brigade, now at
La Fayette, to fall into its appropriate place. The column will hold itself prepared to march the same evening to some point 5 or 6 miles beyond La Fayette for camp.
[Items II-III contains details not relevant to the current matter.]
IV. Water’s brigade and Hewlitt’s battery will march northwestward on the Haygood road to the vicinity of Brewer’s farm to secure the bridge over Apollochie creek. The brigade is to position itself on the eastern bank of the creek, with the guns deployed in battery to cover the bridge. No enemy activity in this quarter is anticipated, but skirmishers are to be deployed during the march, and pickets posted on both banks of the creek to warn of any hostile movement. The brigade is to hold itself in readiness to re-join the division upon being relieved by Colonel Gregg’s cavalry brigade.
By order of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman:
H. [Examining the document] I did.
S. This order called for the movement of the Fifth Division from Moscow to a point some miles beyond La Fayette?
H. With the exception of Waters’ brigade and one battery, that is correct, yes.
S. And what was the purpose of this march?
H. This movement was part of a general advance by the army upon Memphis.
S. And what was the specific purpose of the orders issued to Brigadier General Waters?
H. General Sherman ordered the detachment of Waters’ brigade and a battery of guns to cover the division’s right flank during its march. We had received reports of enemy cavalry operating in the area, and the general was concerned that an enemy force could cross the Apollochie and fall upon our wagons while the division was in line of march. The bridge at Brewer’s Farm is the only crossing point along the Apollochie for some miles.
S. Was this considered a serious threat?
H. I never discussed the matter with General Sherman directly, but I was under the impression that this was more in the nature of a precaution than a response to a real threat. At the time, all intelligence indicated that the enemy was withdrawing in some haste.
S. Did General Sherman indicate to you any particular reason why General Waters was to be given this assignment?
H. Yes. General Waters’ brigade was newly formed, and was attached temporarily to the Fifth Division at General Grant’s request. Three of the regiments were raw recruits, and General Waters himself was newly commissioned and without combat experience. General Sherman felt that in light of these factors, detaching Waters’ brigade on flank duty would cause the least disruption to the rest of the Division. The general also expressed some reservations as to the division’s preparedness to participate in offensive operations.
S. Would you say there was any animus toward General Waters on the part of General Sherman?
H. Certainly not. He didn’t know the man. More to the point, he didn’t know the brigade, and given the temporary nature of its attachment, preferred not to involve it too closely with the operations of the division.
S. I see. Did you yourself convey Order No. 51 to General Waters?
H. I did.
S. And did he question his orders at this time, or at any time subsequently?
H. I recall we had some brief discussion as to the amount of food and ammunition he should bring, and when precisely he was likely to be relieved by General Gregg. I suggested it would only be a matter of a day or two, and that he should proceed on that assumption. I don’t recall any further discussion with him prior to the next day’s march, though I did ask the quartermaster to make the necessary arrangements for food and ammunition.
S. Did the rest of the Fifth Division complete their orders for July 18th?
H. Yes, the Division marched westwards some miles beyond La Fayette as planned.
S. And when did you become aware that there had been an engagement at Brewer’s farm?
H. We were informed by courier on the morning of the 19th that General Waters had been in a sharp fight. We learned later in the day that his brigade had been set upon by an enemy force at Brewer’s farm, been badly mauled, and had fallen back to Moscow. Soon after we were informed by General Gregg’s headquarters that his cavalry brigade had secured the bridge, and that the rebels there had withdrawn back to the western side of the Apollochie and were drawing away to the southwest.
[Questions by Colonel Talbert]
Col. Talbert: You say you conveyed Order 51 to General Waters. Did you do so verbally or in writing?
H. The orders were conveyed to each of the brigade commanders in writing, by courier. As General Waters happened to be present at headquarters, I also conveyed his orders verbally.
T. I note that his orders include this sentence: [reading] “No enemy activity in this quarter is anticipated, but skirmishers are to deployed during the march, and pickets posted on both banks of the creek to warn of any hostile movement.” Do you agree that these sentences seem somewhat contradictory on their face, and might lead to some confusion?
H. With respect, sir, not at all. General Waters was ordered to march his brigade to a place where no enemy presence was expected, but was warned to exercise due caution nonetheless. I believe the intent was quite clear, and hardly out of the ordinary.
READ MORE TESTIMONY NEXT WEEK!