Sunday, March 13, 2016

AAR, Black Powder, The battle of Fort Donelson February 15th, 1862

ACW, The battle of Fort Donelson February 15th 1862 AAR

Out of a whim I bought a Ironclad model from A company called Sarissa. The scale was 1/56. A nice piece made out of precision cut MDF. What do you next, when you built the model. In my case it took a while to figure out. Finally I decided to do something about it and wrote scenario for the game rules  Black Powder. I intended to create scenario in which I would use the this particular model. I scanned my sources and found a suitable battle. I found it in a scenario book that I bought as a pdf online. The scenario book was "Rebell Yeall- Yankee Hurrah" by George Anderson and Ryan Toews.
The Ironclad 

Union troops advancing towards the battle line

The River

The particular battle I decided upon was the battle of Fort Donelson 1862. It was a battle in the American civil war that featured both land troops as well as Ironclads. The battle is one of the battles which elevated Ulysses Grant to fame and fortune. It took place around a confederate fort in Tennessee that was supposed to protect the Cumberland River from a Yankee invasion. The fort fell as consequence of this battle and in the process so did a vital part of Tennessee. It was a major confederate setback.

The battle itself consisted of to major clashes. One in the morning of the 15th. The confederate a tried to make a breakthrough. They more or less succeed in breaking the Union line, but some bad decisions from the confederate commanders led to the halt of the confederate breakthrough, and the confederates returned to their original position within the fortifications surrounding the fort. The second part took place during the afternoon when the Unions forces decided to assault the fortification from the landside. The second attack led to irreparable damages to the southern morale. Furthermore the fort was by now once more encircled and back under siege conditions. This led to the eventual surrender of confederate forces the day after the attack. Much of the confederate failings in all this was put on the inept cofederate generals Floyd and Pillow. These two gentlemen ordered the confederate retreat back to the fort as well as boasting out a victory the evening after the battle, despite the obvious defeat.

The game itself was played using three standard gaming tables( 3 6ftx4ft tables). One of the tables was covered by river terrain. The one in the middle was covered by the field fortifications of the fort and the last one the area just south of the fort. The tables were connected together.

I could not use the orginal scenario in the scenario booklet since it had to be adapted to Black Powder and the restrictions given to use when it came to miniatures and space. The players commanded roughly one or two brigades each. Each brigade consisted roughly of 3 regiments. This does not really corespondent to the regiments present at the actual battle. Often in Acw battles the regiments have been grinder down to fragments of their orginal intended size and thus I often tend to merge units together in game scenarios. The main reason is to keep it all playable in this scale.  I had set the number of turns to 15. This proved to be unnecessary since the game was decided by turn 8. The main victory condition was that victory would be decided upon who was in charge of the outer defenses by the end of the game.
The Union side started the game by advancing their main force towards outer defenses. The Union would eventually gain a number of reinforcements, but they had the bulk of their force fielded at the start of the game. The southern side had only a few units within the fort when the game begins. This is due to the fact that most of the confederate units had just been ordered to fall back to the fart following their breakthrough attempt earlier that day. In game terms this means that the Confederates arrive piecemeal on the battle field. This will give the Union players a few turns in which they can rush forth troops to get a superiority in numbers that will enable them to storm the confederate fortifications. If the Union side is stalled or u decisive the Confederates will shore up the defenses with newly arrived troops.

How did our game evolve?

Well, the Union advance without hesitation towards the outer defenses, while the confederate soldiers did have some initial difficulties to get their troops back behind the trenches( the confederate players failed a number of command rolls, which delayed the arrival of some of their units). The Union side headed strait toward a part of the defenses that lacked a defending unit, apart for one single unit. A quick assault follows and the Union side had a number of units on other side of the outer defenses.
The confederates finally managed to get their main force on the table. Their main stratagem was to face the Union forces in their weaker left flank outside the defenses. This was sound judgement so far that they're outnumbered their enemy. However there was flaw in this scheme. This meant that they could not send enough troops to oust the Union breakthrough. Only a few units were available in the critical moment when the Union side started to pour in troops in the breech they had created. The single confederate brigade defending the works was soon broken while the Cofederates on the flak of the Union troops got nowhere.  By round 8 it was more or less over since no confederate troops inside the fort was available to defend the fort and the units outside the fort was locked up in struggle
that was stalling.
The starting positions. The Rebels will be reinforced from the road leading into the fort

The inner part of the fort

Union troops have just broken through the confederate defences

Union troops inside the first line of fortifications

Rebel troops tries in vain to dislodge the Union troops inside the fort

The field hospital

The Victorious Union general trying to be social withe the locals....

What about the Ironclad?

The Ironclad was given the task to first knock out the Rebel heavy guns defending the fort from the riverside. If the Ironclad bombardment would be succesful and the heavy artillery of the fort knocked out then the Ironclad could support the attack on the fort by bombarding the confederate units within the fort.
The scenario rules for the river engagement was written so that the closer the Ironclad would come to the fort the easier it would be to hit it. However if the Ironclad would come close enough it would be able to bombard the confederate land forces.
The Ironclad and shore batteries fired upon each other and both sides scored some hits. It was the confederate batteries that was knocked out first. By the time the river battle was over it had little consequence for the outcome since the Union forces had already dispatched most confederates within the fort.

The River batteries firing at the Ironclad. The batteries are hit as well

The duel between the Ironclad and the River batteries

Shots comming closer to the Ironclad

The Ironclad is taking a hit....

Was it a working scenario?

The players though so. From the description of it all it may seem to be a bit onesided, but I would say that the their are quite a few things that speaks I favor of the defending side. They have acces to the field works. The confederate players choose to put it all one one card - the flanking movement. It could have worked, but tat would have demanded that the few units inside the fort could have hold out a few turns more. Maybe a bit of luck would have changed that part of the game.

The pictures that took during this game was of rather poor quality compared to the ones taken by the players( I took part as referee). I do apologize for that. I suggest you check out the following blogs were the players covered the battle from their perpective. (...and the pictures are much better):


  1. I have recently read about this action, so nice to see it used as inspiration for a game. I could easily see this being used as the basis for an AVBCW scenario:)

  2. It can indeed be used for other periods. The essence of the scenario is a land battle on one side along a fortified line, and a duel between gunboats and costal artillery on the other side.

  3. Fantastic looking set up, proper visual treat!