May 28, 2020

Serendipity - more tools!

I was reading through the Official Records of the War of Rebellion, or just called the OR. I was looking for examples of Corps level movement orders. Why you might ask?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends, who is a former colleague at IDA and a serious war gamer, invited me to participate in a multiplayer, play by email wargame. The subject of the game is Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign. The game is at operational level, so that units are brigades and divisions and each turn is one day. He is loosely basing the game on a commercial board game called "Long Roads to Gettysburg," which is a highly detailed simulation of the campaign. The photo below shows the starting positions.  But, he is running the game more like a traditional Kriegspiel, where he is is the umpire and the players represent individual commanders on both sides. We submit all our orders to him in writing.  He then forwards the orders to the appropriate commanders, delaying them if necessary or even losing them on occasion.

The game includes the usual movement and combat, but it also includes rail and sea borne movement, supply, force marching, fortifications, troop fatigue, terrain effects. All of those are standard fare in most wargames. The coolest thing about this game is that he is simulating the fog of war via a double blind system. That is, not only do the friendly players not know where the enemy is, you also don't know where your own units are, unless your units can see them or they are less than five miles away, which simulates runners going back and forth with information. There are opportunities for scouting, spies, telegraph lines, and balloon observations to add to the mix. In addition, we can detach sub units to picket a line or do raids. The game master/umpire is also taking communication delays into account. For example, reports from cavalry unit a long distance from the nearest telegraph line might not arrive at HQ until a day later.

The game has just really gotten started as we are in turn three. Approximately 25 players, most are in the local Washington DC area, but some as far away as United Kingdom, are playing along. I am playing General Winfield Hancock, II Corps commander. I have three infantry divisions and an artillery brigade under my command. I have 6 aide de camps that I can use for scouting and sending messages.

I am also playing the role of Herman Haupt, the USMRR superintendent.   This role is mostly for color  as the railroads are not active players, but they do factor in the game. In fact, many of the games victory conditions involved destruction of railroad facilities. Whether we abandon Aquia Landing during the game, like the Union did in the actual campaign,  remains to be seen.

The main victory  condition is the capture of Washington. If the rebels capture the capital, they automatically win. If we hold Washington, then victory will go to the side that causes the most damage to the other. There is a complex list of ways to accrue points for damage. Losing a major battle is one of the best ways to lose the game, but not the only way. It is possible that we never fight a major battle in the game.

So far, I have to say that this is the most "realistic" wargame I've played. Using multiple players and very limited intelligence of the situation, really captures the feel of civil war maneuver. The game includes some mechanics that make coordinated attacks very difficult, which was also a feature of civil war combat. I don't know if he will randomly make our units get lost, another event that happened all too frequently. Anyway, I will let my readers know what happens as the game progresses.

But back to serendipity and my opening line, In the OR I found a message from Herman Haupt to General Burnside that I don't recall ever seeing before. Here it is,

November 17, 1862-11 a.m.
Major-General BURNSIDE:
I have just returned from Aquia Creek. Some stores were on transports yesterday afternoon, ready to be landed at Belle Plain. Several companies of the Engineer Brigade on transports are probably now ashore.
The wharf at Aquia is not entirely burned, but is worse where the track was laid. I have ordered the track to be moved over, and reconstructed on the side least damaged. Cars and engines will be loaded immediately, and sent to Aquia to be unloaded as soon as the track will bear their weight. Eight small cars will be sent to-day, landed by lighters, loaded with tents, tools, and rations, pushed by hand to the broken bridge, and accompanied by carpenters with escort of engineer troops, to have bridges repaired, if possible, by the time cars and engines are landed and put on track. As soon as bridges are repaired, and even five or six cars landed, we will begin to run in supplies to Falmouth, to relieve wagons to that extent, and increase daily. The construction of a floating wharf, or new pike wharf, at Aquia is not a question for present consideration, when time is so much of an object. No new construction could be made in double the time required for repairs of former structure.
A machine-shop will be extemporized at Aquia by sending lathes, planer, portable, small tools, and shafting. Army forges will furnish smith-shops.

The last line is what caught my attention. Haupt describes a machine shop at Aquia Landing. This may have later been moved to Fredericksburg. But, I will assume it is back in Aquia Landing in the time I model. This means that I can build a nice machine shop scene with all those cool tools that are available as O scale castings. There are several sources for these kind of parts.  For example, these from Wild West Models. The key will be to have belt driven machines powered by steam, vice electrical machines that would be anachronistic. If you know of any other sources of these parts, please let me know.

I have an engine house inside the wye at Aquia Landing. Now I need to figure out a way to add a machine shop extension and fill it with tools. As a tool junkie, this excites me no end!


  1. I haven't played many, but I love double-blind war games. Your scenario sounds awesome!

  2. An animated machine shop would make a great scene on your layout. I know I have seen belt driven animations on some narrow gauge HO & O scale layouts before.