I continue with my read of The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command.
Where I am now in the book, the author has delved into the details of the first day of the battle. The level of detail is fantastic – far more than previous Civil War books that I’ve read. The author describes where each brigade is deployed and, perhaps even better, is not at all stingy with the maps showing the changing positions. Furthermore, where there is a difference of opinion about what exactly happened, he compares and contrasts the written orders and reports from the officers in question to get at the truth.
These details paint a different picture of this phase of the battle than what I’ve previously held in my mind. The classic portrayal of Day 1 is that the two armies blunder into each other and it merely becomes a race to see which sides brings their forces forward first. Ultimately, in this telling, the Confederates achieve the weight of numbers and capture the day’s battleground and the town of Gettysburg, but timely arrival of Union forces halts the advance before the high ground of Culp’s and Cemetery Hills to set the stage for Day 2. While this description isn’t inaccurate, it is obviously simplified.
The author is explicit in saying that both armies were moving somewhat blindly, and did not know when or where they would encounter the enemy. Further, he goes into detail about the cavalry mismatch, which he credits as much to Buford’s superior command skills as to simply the number of horse. Having held McPherson’s Ridge long enough for Reynolds to deploy, Buford then moves his troopers to the flanks. Importantly, he provides information about the arrival of Ewell’s corp from the North and North East, preventing the Union army from being surprised and flanked. He points out that, absent Stuart, Lee still had cavalry; he simply lacked the superior cavalry commanders that were riding with Stuart, and might have provided a counter to Buford’s skill.
Lee’s orders anticipated the battle extremely well. In the film, Gettysburg, Lee attributes it to divine providence. The fact that multiple orders positioned the corps just so before the battle suggest that, in fact, it was Lee’s own planning that nearly won the first day. Meade, per the book, is credited with two major achievements. First, despite having only just taken over command of the Army of the Potomac, he very successfully moves the entire force north, to be ready for the Gettysburg battle. This was far from a given, logistics being what they were. Secondly, his decision to delegate the command of the entire “left wing,” consisting of the Union corps arriving at Gettysburg on July 1st, to Reynolds may well have saved the day. Meade was too remote to command the army himself, but meeting the Army of Northern Virginia piecemeal, possibly with multiple Corp commanders operating independently, might well have been disastrous. Meade anticipated the potential and Reynolds presence on the battlefield, short-lived though it may have been, was likely decisive.
Reynold’s credit was earned by getting the initial infantry into the battle and forcing the Confederates to stop and fight, rather than just move into defensive positions around Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were also admired for their tactical prowess, being able to orient their regiments to handle multiple attacks from different directions, sometimes changing facing to intercept sequential attacks. By contrast, the Confederates seem to have squandered their positional advantage. The initial meeting put some very strong rebel units in a great position to displace the Union infantry through the afternoon of July 1st, but the brilliant brigade-level leadership seemed to be lacking on their side. While the Confederates did gain ground throughout the day, it was done at a high cost in manpower. Perhaps the reason was overconfidence. The lack of respect the South had for their opponents, and the fact that they had the cream of their own army available, meant that they forwent strategy and simply assaulted the Union positions directly.
Once Reynolds was killed, the higher end of the Union chain of command receives much criticism for their handling of the afternoon and evening of the 1st. General Howard did manage to position both his headquarters and reserves on Cemetery Hill, meaning when the Union line fell back that evening, they retreated into a strong position that ultimately won them the battle. However, the author wonders whether that retreat itself could have been avoided. He criticizes the Union commanders for slavishly defending Reynold’s initial defensive line on McPherson’s Ridge when retreating back towards Gettysburg, to Seminary Ridge positions and to Stephen’s Run (just north of the town), would have resulted in a defense that would have held Gettysburg itself through that first night. By defending too far forward, and upon ground that was easily flanked (much like I’m doing in the screenshot below), the Union army was forced to rapidly retreat through the town to the south, rather than contest that better defensive terrain.
At the end of the day (I suppose literally and figuratively), the author discusses a few of the “what ifs” that are often applied to the Confederates on Gettysburg’s first day. He points out that these are mostly directed at Gen. Ewell. The reason, he explains, is that Gen. Hill was in contact with Lee during much of the day, so to criticize Hill is to criticize Lee, and that just isn’t done. Ewell, on the other hand, takes much fire for not having seized Culp’s Hill and, perhaps, Cemetery Hill in the last few moments of July 1st. His analysis is that, for the most part, the decisions of those Southern commanders were reasonable given the situation before them at the time. He finds it unlikely that there was really that much of a missed opportunity, as for example, is alleged in the Gettysburg movie.
They don’t write ’em like that anymore
In my previous Gettysburg post, I speculated about comparisons between the old Civil War Generals 2 game from Sierra and the in-progress versions of Ultimate General: Civil War. Based on some on-line chatter, I indicated that the old game might well be worth playing yet, but that it didn’t run on modern systems. I hadn’t tried it myself, but that was what I read.
It occurred to me that I wanted to see what would happen if I installed that old CD, and so I tried. It didn’t run (on Windows 7), and complained about a Windows dll that is no longer part of the operating system. It turns out that downloading that dll and getting it in the right place in the system’s folder was all that it took to get it to run. While some of the online instructions for running on modern systems were quite extensive, a lot of it seemed to be to get the “NO CD” hack to run, not the game itself. At least that was my experience. Since I’m OK with running from my original CD, changing that one file was all I needed to do.
I loaded up the Gettysburg scenario and played through the first day as the Union. The graphics are way, way out of date and a tad glitchy, but in some ways the design still shines through. The brigade-level depiction of the battle, along with the simplicity of the model, makes the management of even a large battle fairly painless. There are only two formations, column and line, and units (except artillery) can only attack the adjacent hex. Morale and casualties are managed on a per-person level by the computer, but the play interacts only with a single “rest” function. Corp commanders have their “headquarters” represented on the field (although I’d have to dig out a manual to remember how the affect the other units). Division and lower commanders are included as part of one of their brigades (see the units with the yellow starts, below). There is no facing, or phasing, or similar details for the player to get bogged down with.
While everything is obviously simplified, it nonetheless produces plausible results. It does so in battles that are played in a reasonable amount of time. Remember, also, this is the tactical component of a game that allows the player to go through the entire war. So the simplicity allows that interaction. For example, player’s higher level decisions may change battle locations or participants, or may change the weaponry available to units, all of which need to be easily accommodated at the this level.
As for my own experience, my retreat through Gettysburg took a little longer than the real one did, and longer than I expected. As night falls upon me, I still have a number of units north of the town, who seem (by these graphics at least) to be inclined to camp out where they stand. As you might see by the mini-map, fresh corps are streaming into the battle, but I plan to take a little bit of an ahistorical risk here. Figuring Lee will do the same, I’m going to have my boys settle in for the night where they are, and then rush in to take up defensive positions in the morning. I’m thinking the more realistic strategy would be to shore up my defenses with night-movement, if necessary.
We’ll see what happens.
Replaying this game after so many years is still a positive experience. I doubt I’d pay good money for the experience, though. Maybe a couple buck on GOG, but no more. What if the graphic glitches were fixed up? What if the graphics could be modernized? Is there still a place for a very simple hex/turn based Civil War game? Or, if you are going to take it that far, would you want to go whole hog and wind up with something more like Ultimate General?