I recently had the good fortune to review Brad Butkovich’s new wargame scenario book The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864, a look at the first half of the Atlanta Campaign from a miniatures war gaming perspective. Major battles covered include Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Gilgal Church, and Kennesaw Mountain. In addition to the review, I was able to “sit down” with Brad remotely and have him answer a few questions about the new scenarios.
1. What’s your background in the study of the Civil War? How long have you been interested in this period of military history?
A: I first remember trying to read a book from the local library on First Bull Run when I was younger. I couldn’t get through it. I thought the mention of so many different units, and each one having their own name and number, was too confusing. What a change from now! But one day in high school I picked up a copy of William A. Frassanito’s Gettysburg: A Journey in Time. I was fascinated by the before and after photographs, and the maps showing the position of each one. I began playing Civil War miniature games in college. My first real battle study that I bought and devoured was Peter Cozzens’ This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga. I’ve been reading, and now writing, ever since.
2. Tell us a little more about the work you’ve done in publishing scenario books and your excellent battle studies of Pickett’s Mill and Allatoona Pass before we get to your latest effort. What is Historic Imagination?
A: Historic Imagination is the company I formed to publish my work. It began in 2008. I got the idea to translate Frassanito’s ideas of before and after photos into the digital age. So I began designing the website Civil War Virtual Tours (www.civilwarvirtualtours.com). It takes battles and breaks them down into 15 or so minute intervals, and using multiple maps, shows how the battle progressed. I also used modern photographs to show what the battlefield looks like now, and period photographs where available to show what it looked like at the time of the battle. There are even video links as well. The battles so far are Pickett’s Mill, Allatoona Pass, Chickamauga, and Fort Pulaski. After I had completed Pickett’s Mill and Allatoona Pass, I thought why not write historical studies about them. I’d already done most of the research and map-making. But first, I used the knowledge to publish miniature scenario books for Chickamauga and Pickett’s Mill.
3. So you’ve done some work on Pickett’s Mill in the past, both wargame scenarios and a battle study. Did this “toe in the water” influence you to continue on with more focus on the Atlanta Campaign?
A: After writing the battle studies on both Pickett’s Mill and Allatoona, I knew I wanted to publish another scenario book. I have quite a hefty list of future projects. I knew Atlanta would be the most popular, so I choose that one first. I also knew from the outset that it would require two volumes.
4. Now that we’ve set the stage, tell us more about your latest project, The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864.
A: There are so many engagements in the Atlanta Campaign that call out for miniature scenarios. I enjoy tactical games and battles. Johnny Reb 2 is my preferred set of rules. I also realize that many people enjoy the grand tactical level, such as attempting to play the whole of Resaca at the regimental level with the appropriate rules. Still, I wanted to focus on the brigade and division level. So I knew I would have to break down even the larger battles into several components. I also wanted to highlight the heavy skirmishing that marked the campaign. Skirmish rules in many wargames are often under-utilized. It’s easy to understand why. By their design, unless you are using hidden movement rules, skirmishers don’t serve their historic purpose on the game table. Still, I wanted to provide a few scenarios that at least attempted to game this type of fight. So, I designed the book with a mix of large and small scenarios. And despite it being 1864, not all of them are headlong assaults against enemy earthworks.
5. How did you choose which scenarios made it into The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864? In other words, what kind of criteria did you use to either include or exclude certain scenarios?
A: Playability was the main criteria. There are plenty of battles to choose from, but making them fair and playable was the challenge. For example, it would have been fun to create a scenario for the Battle of Dallas, or Cassville. However, Dallas would be too one-sided, and Cassville too large. The same with Kolb’s Farm. There’s just no way the Confederates can win that one if set up historically accurate.
6. The maps in The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864 look very professionally done. Did you farm out that work or did you do these on your own? If so, what kind of software did you use to make the maps?
A: I make all of my own maps. I have since I began creating Civil War Virtual Tours. I make all of my maps in Photoshop, and it’s all self-taught. It’s been a long journey of trial-and-error, but very worth it. I’m still learning too. I look at map makers such as George Skoch and Hal Jesperson, and see what I can do to get better. After all this time, I’m still not happy with my map icons for trees and forests. But I don’t want to copy other artists either. So I’m always trying to improve!
7. You made some compromises in terms of scale in order to make The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864 work with the largest number of rule sets possible. Could you go into some detail about the choices you had to make, and why you made them?
A: Most regimental rules sets vary with a ground scale from 25 to 50 yards per inch. I choose 33 yards to an inch as a compromise. First, it just looks right. If you look at how many units actually fit into a certain space, this scale seems to work out well. Many miniature unit frontages are far too large. Have you ever been to Gettysburg and seen the flank markers and how small of a space many of those regiments fit into? Second, 33 yards per inch equals roughly 100 feet per inch. That scales nicely with 1 inch elevations, especially when converting a topo map to a game map. I have what I call the Golden Rule in the beginning of my books. Basically, I think if a player disagrees with something in the book, whether it’s a unit strength or a map feature, then I wholeheartedly encourage them to change the game to fit their needs. I do it myself. I recently played one of my Chickamauga scenarios at a convention. The map in the book is 4’ x 5’. I was using Johnny Reb 2, and with five stands per unit they tend to take up more room. So I stretched the map to 4’ x 6’. The Gods of Accurate Scale did not descend from the heavens and smite me, everybody had fun, so everything worked out OK.
8. Tell us a little about how you playtest scenarios once you have a rough draft written. Who helps you out? What kind of feedback do you get and how does that help you tweak the rough drafts into published scenarios?
A: Honestly, I don’t playtest my scenarios to any great degree. I do set many of them up and playtest them solo, but never with other players. I strive to set them up as historically as I can, and tweak them constantly until publication. If I miss a minor rule or set-up I’m confident the players can improvise. Besides, no book is ever going to be perfect, whether you playtest it or not.
9. I noticed a gap as far as the “Hell-hole” battles of late May 1864. Having no Pickett’s Mill scenarios makes sense given your earlier scenario booklet on that battle, Criminal Blunder: Wargame Scenarios for the Battle of Pickett’s Mill. Were the battles of New Hope Church and Dallas just too one sided to produce a competitive scenario?
A: Essentially yes. With a corps on each side topping out at about 20,000 men each or more, New Hope Church was just too large for the scale of the book. There is also no way Bate’s Division and Armstrong’s cavalry brigade are going to be able to win a game on the miniature table against the whole Union Army of the Tennessee, plus Davis’ division, plus the Lighting Brigade. I did toy with a scenario involving Cheatham’s Division attacking a division of the Army of the Tennessee on May 27th, but I decided it was just too much new research in too short of a time. It’s a fascinating small unit battle though.
10. You mention in the book that you had to make educated guesses in many cases as far as unit strengths, particularly for the Confederates, and marked those strengths in red to show that the level of certainty is less. Could you go into some detail about the sources you found to be most useful and the methods you used to fill in those strength gaps?
A: I always start with the Official Records, then look for the regimental unit histories. Many state archives also have a wealth of information available online. Even if you don’t have the exact strength for a battle, you can sometimes add or subtract known casualties from another known fixed date before or after the scenario you are trying to recreate. You can also sometimes find the strength of the parent brigade and begin your guesswork from there. But you know what, at the end of the day sometimes you just have to guess. I’m proud of my work and the research that goes into it, but I’m also not going to get hung-up on finding the exact number present for a regiment if the research just isn’t there. I could eventually find it if I went to a state archive and did hours of research, but that type of effort and expense is simply beyond the scope of a miniature scenario book. I think it’s more important to make a best guess, and get those minis out on the table for a fun game.
11. As many readers probably noticed in the title, The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864 focuses on the first half of the Atlanta Campaign and does not include the battles around the city itself. I’ve heard you mention at TMP that you plan to do second volume soon. Would you care to share any details around that upcoming project?
A: Yes, I will eventually come up with volume to that will encompass the battles in July and August. And maybe September too, if I throw in the last day at Jonesboro in there. I have a nice list of battles already, both large and small, including more cavalry battles thanks to the mounted raids in August. Peachtree Creek will be in there, as will the Battle of Atlanta. I’ll probably break Atlanta into 3 parts, with options to combine at least two of them into a larger scenario. I’m not sure about the playability of Ezra Church. I’m looking forward to Earl J. Hess’ upcoming book on the battle, and hopefully reading a detailed study of the battle will provide inspiration.
12. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864. I really appreciate it!
A: It’s always a treat talking with you Brett. Thank you for the chance to answer your questions!
For those of you interested in obtaining your own copy of The Road to Atlanta: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Atlanta Campaign May-June 1864, it is available in paperback at Amazon.com. The PDF version can be found at Wargame Vault.
If you have more questions you’d like Brad to answer, please post them in the comments below and we’ll see about getting you an answer.