Review: The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga

Butkovich, Brad.  The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga. Historic Imagination (2010). 144 pages, 12 maps, orders of battle, appendices, bibliography. $14.95 (Downloadable PDF).

I was excited to read recently about a new book of Chickamauga scenarios for miniature/tabletop wargamers at The Miniatures Page message boards.  Brad Butkovich’s initial effort at writing and publishing a wargaming scenario book has gone VERY well, from my perusal of the material.  The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga offers 13 scenarios over 144 pages on the Confederacy’s largest western victory.  The use of maps, illustrations, and modern day images of the battlefield add to the polished look of the package.

Brad Butkovich, the scenario book’s designer, had the following to say about which Civil War miniatures rules will work, including figures/stand and time per turn:

These scenarios are designed to be used with almost any American Civil War regimental level set of rules. Rules are included for figures based on 20, 30, 40, 50, and 100 historic men per figure/stand. Times are given for 10, 15, and 20 minutes per game turn. Included are full color maps, as well as numerous color photographs of the modern battlefield. There is also a full and complete Order of Battle for each side.

The one page introduction covers the relative lack of coverage, by both historians and wargamers, of the Battle of Chickamauga.  Author Butkovich convincingly lays out the reasons why Chickamauga deserves to be studied and wargamed.  He has studied and researched the battle for “years, if not decades.”  Time per turn can be played in 10, 15, or 20 minute increments and the number of figures per base can be 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100.  This decision opens up the book to a wider audience than if Butkovich had chosen to focus on one gaming system like Johnny Reb 3 or Fire and Fury Regimental, a wise decision in this reviewer’s opinion.  Despite catering to a wide variety of miniatures gamers, the book seems to handle various scales and basing methods quite well.  In the two page background section, Butkovich gives a short overview of the campaign.

Most gamers will immediately want to head to page 8, the start of the “How to Use This Book” section.  In it, Butkovich explains the shorthand scattered throughout the book and walks readers through the way each chapter is divided up.

The Orders of Battle appear to be very well researched.   Each unit’s stats include the number of men Present for Duty (PFD) and Present for Duty Equipped (PFDE).  What’s even more impressive is that the author is fully aware of the various ways in which Union and Confederate accounting differed, taking Confederate “effectives” numbers and converting them to the Union PFDE number by adding officers.  To further help those questioning his numbers, Butkovich lists numbers gleaned from primary and secondary sources in black, and those he guesstimated by using the known numbers of sister units are in red.  Unknown numbers, especially for units at the beginning of the second day’s fighting, are left blank.  The number of figures per base for a unit are listed for 20 men/base, 30 men/base, 40 men/base, 50 men/base, and 100 men/base systems.  The “Status” column is essentially a way to mark unit quality on a scale from 1-4, with 1 being untrained militia and 4 crack units with much battle experience.  Small arms and cannon tube types are listed in the “Arm.” column.  Like unit strength, known weapon types are listed in black while guesses (mainly for Confederate units) are represented in red.

The 12 maps scattered throughout the book coincide with each scenario in the book.  The size of each map in feet ranges from 2 x 3 to 5 x 8, allowing gamers with less room in which to play some options as well.   In the “How to Use This Book” area, a nice map key is provided along with an explanation of how tick marks on the sides of a map represent one foot between them.  Maps are represented in numerous colors, allowing readers to easily determine the placement of units and natural features.  Hachure marks are used to denote changes in elevation, and these come into play quite a bit on the Horseshoe Ridge map.

A typical scenario/chapter contains the following sections:

  1. Background: The historical background of the situation just as the scenario begins is covered.
  2. Game Overview: This section provides information on the specific portion of the battle covered in the scenario.
  3. Terrain: Any special terrain types or areas are listed, including how they affect gameplay.
  4. Deployment: The initial spots on the map for each unit are listed.  Specific stances of units, including whether cavalry starts mounted or dismounted and what formation units are in, are also covered.
  5. Victory Conditions: This is quite simply what each side must do to achieve victory in the scenario.
  6. Order of Battle: Butkovich’s deeply researched orders of battle list all units involved in a specific scenario including starting strengths when known.
  7. Optional Rules: Optional rules to add flavor to a scenario or alter the balance are provided.
  8. Map: The map used to play the scenario is shown in full color at the end of the chapter.

The River of Death includes the following scenarios:

  1. Surprise at Jay’s Mill: September 19, 1863 7:30 A.M.
  2. McCook’s Shooting Star: September 19, 1863 6:45 A.M.
  3. Cracking the Center: September 19, 1863 12:45 P.M.
  4. Viniard Farm: September 19, 1863 2:00 P.M.
  5. Diversion at Glass Mill: September 19, 1863 10:00 A.M.
  6. Fury at Dusk: September 19, 1863 6:00 P.M.
  7. Poe Field: September 20, 1863 11:00 A.M.
  8. Wood Holds the Line: September 20, 1863 11:20 A.M.
  9. Sheridan’s Stand: September 20, 1863 11:30 A.M.
  10. Preston Joins the Fight: September 20, 1863 11:30 A.M.
  11. Horseshoe Ridge: September 20, 1863 1:15 P.M.
  12. Saving the Hospitals: September 20, 1863 3:00 P.M.

The two appendices at the back of the book list out complete orders of battle for the Union and Confederate armies.  The orders of battle from the scenarios are basically subsets of these two master lists.  These orders of battle make the book attractive to not only wargamers but also to those interested in strengths down to the regimental level.  Butkovich chose not to use footnotes or endnotes to source strength information, making it less useful for serious historical researchers.  Perhaps the addition of sources for unit numbers would have taken up a large number of additional pages, making this less than cost effective.  I am curious if Mr. Butkovich has a spreadsheet or other form of documentation as to where he found his numbers.

The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga is a must own for Civil War miniatures gamers.  The impressive research, full color maps, background on specific actions of the Battle of Chickamauga, and the ability to convert the scenarios to a wide variety of miniatures rules are just a few of the reasons this is so.  The River of Death will also be attractive to computer Civil war gamers who wish to create scenarios for games such as Age of Rifles, Civil War Generals 2, and other Civil War wargames which allow “build your own” scenario creation.  Non-wargamers who are interested in regimental level unit strengths or in the Battle of Chickamauga will find the $14.95 price tag very reasonable.  Brad Butkovich has done a great job on the Battle of Chickamauga at the regimental level.  Here’s hoping he’s hard at work on a follow-up volume.

The scenario book is currently available as a downloadable PDF file from the Wargame Vault, although the author is looking into the possibility of also offering the book in Print on Demand (POD) format.

Editor’s Note: An electronic copy of this scenario book was provided gratis for the purposes of this review.


One response to “Review: The River of Death: Regimental Wargaming Scenarios for the Battle of Chickamauga

  1. Bill G Avatar
    Bill G

    This is a great book. Have not played any games yet just got lass week.
    Some battles are big enough for Volly and bayonet games.

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