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While I was poking around for an operational treatment of the Taiping Rebellion, I realized I had overlooked a game stashed away in one of the scenario directories for the Operational Art of War.

There is a scenario (actually two, the second supposes Stonewall Jackson to be still alive) called The Killer Angels. The scenario, however, does not take its name from the book. At least not directly. It is rather based on the board game The Killer Angels, released in 1984. I am not able to find a whole lot of information about that board game and, in fact, I’d never heard of it before finding this scenario. Comments on-line suggest that it was overly detailed and, while making for a mediocre playing experience, was actually a quite interesting rule-set to be studied, as opposed to being played.

Conversion to TOAW consisted of porting over the map and using a similar time scale and unit size. Obviously there are limitations here as it is the TOAW mechanics for (let’s say) fog of war or supply that govern the game. Whatever detailed rules were developed for the board game must defer to the system built into TOAW. In particular, on-line comments mention the use of skirmishers in the board game and how those rules give insight into the difficulties of operational maneuver in the Civil War. For the computer version, the TOAW fog-of-war variable is what governs intelligence about the enemy. The scenario designer has it set to 0% – no intelligence information about enemy movements outside of the immediate range of your own units.

With one exception.

There is a particular feature of this scenario that allows a one-time use of the Confederate spy Harrison, the Mississippi actor featured in the book The Killer Angles and the Gettysburg film. For that turn in which it is used, and that turn only, the Confederates can get a picture of the Union positions and movements.

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I’ve begun the process of slipping across the Potomac. I’ve tried to keep in mind Lee’s actual movements while also making sure to advance into Pennsylvania well ahead of “those people.”

This scenario was what I was looking for when I was reading the book The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. The TOAW engine works well for this era and scale. The database contains appropriate armaments, assuming one trusts the game’s modelling of them. The time scale also fits. As per the TOAW system, the day-long turns can be broken down into multiple battles (and moves) per day. It seems to get the feel right for Civil War battles. That is, it is possible that a fight in the morning could open up the opportunity for exploitation and follow-up attacks later in the afternoon. However, in practice, any fight beyond the first of the day is unlikely to yield results as, even after a significant tactical victory, units were generally left exhausted and unable to continue fighting.

It all seems to be right at the level I’d want to play a Gettysburg operational scenario, as opposed to the ten day turns of the AgeOD engine. The one exception I’d make to this is for own-side command and control. In AgeOD, you give commands for the next 10 days and then rely on subordinates (i.e., AI) to execute them, or maybe not. A critical component in the Gettysburg campaign is how JEB Stuart’s cavalry became lost to Lee. With 1-day turns and direct control of each counter, it means that your army is at all times coordinated throughout the theater. Indeed, I ended up using this to my advantage by making Stuart’s cavalry a rapidly-deployable strike force, able to reverse the odds wherever most needed. I’m sure Lee would have loved that level of communication.

As I attempted to roughly implement Lee’s strategy, deviations from the historical record began to appear. Naturally they should – this is exactly what you want from a wargame (or, at least, what I would want from a wargame); the ability to explore the what-ifs of history. I try to send JEB Stuart’s cavalry around the union lines to the east, but seem to be running into resistance that, in reality, he managed to avoid. I thus wind up with Stuart fighting his way north, albeit successfully.

Likewise, a battle of which I hadn’t really been aware before reading about the campaign, Winchester, takes on new significance. In reality, Ewell and Early rapidly deployed against the defenders in Winchester and, attacking from an unexpected (impossible?) direction, prevented a major battle from ever happening there. In my case, I discovered in my route an occupied Winchester at a time when my army was well spread out both north and south of the town. I had part of my army already in Pennsylvania, attempting to scare the locals by grabbing key cities. Another corps, with supporting artillery and cavalry, was trying to grab a fortified Harper’s Ferry in a operational goal I had set for myself, the satisfaction of which was bordering on obsession.

After some initial scraps around Winchester whereby I discovered that I was facing a superior force, I dug in for defense. At the same time I redirected my nearby units towards the farmland of the valley south of the town. It appeared that the Union was doing something similar. Some meaty looking units began stacking up to my north and east. Through the fog of war, I counted at least 3 corps facing me across the battlefield but neither of us had a decisive advantage. Of course I know that, given enough time to concentrate, the Union will have the numbers. I also know that a third-or-so of my force is already in Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Harrisburg, and can’t possibly contribute to what is shaping up to the be main battle, not near Gettysburg, but near Winchester, VA.

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My campaign began to deviate severely from the historical when the blocking force at Winchester turned out to be a sizeable chunk of the Union army.

Just as I thought I was going to be crushed in detail, I realized that the Union had also divided their forces in reaction to my own spread-out deployment. I was able to make use of Harrison to validate my guesses about the union dispositions.

As is often the case, I think a human opponent would have seen just how close I was to being crushed and done so, whereas the programmed AI (being unable to fully grasp the situation) may have let me turn the tables on it, against the odds.

I managed to concentrate in two places. At Winchester where I achieved local superiority and then eliminated or captured much of the Army of the Potomac. Near Harrisburg, I was able to bring JEB Stuart into play to isolate portions of the Union army. A few localized victories allowed me to capture the supply depot located in Harrisburg, before beating a fighting retreat back through Carlisle.

In the end, I achieve a significant “points” victory. When the board was revealed, it seemed apparent that I didn’t have much of a chance against the fortifications around Baltimore, not to mention Washington. But perhaps, having done some serious damage to the Army of the Potomac outside Winchester, that letter prepared by the Southern government; a letter than offers peace, might be looked upon by Abraham Lincoln with favor.

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