If there was ever a thing I really didn’t enjoy until these very last couple of years was the advent of firearms in videogames. Tainted by movie-like perceptions of what a battle was like: Men would bravely form up on a hill in both sides, cannonballs would roar the countryside and tear man apart limb by limb. After a while, one side would advance under fire in a courageous display of tactical stupidity to get close enough so that their unrifled muskets were accurate enough to actually kill someone. Barrages of fire ensued and it would end either in a bayonet charge or one side falling back.
Terrain and equipment advantage, miles-wide troop movement, multiple-front skirmishes were never taken into account. The importance of battle logistics, attempts to encircle, troop allocation, all lost to history. My mind representation of musket-on-musket action was nothing more than line-fire until either side dies or retreat. It took two games to change my mind of this: the brilliant and detailed Scourge of War: Waterloo and the one we will be discussing today: Ultimate General: Gettysburg (have in mind that if you wish to acquire this game I would highly advise you to re-direct your flow of cash to Ultimate General: Civil War).
Ultimate General: Gettysburg drew me in with a slick UI, an iconic battle for you to draw guns upon and a ton of alternative scenarios to enact what might have been. Troops are moved around using arrows that you paint on the ground, allowing for precise path finding and a clear picture of your troops next movement. It takes into account cover, moral, reload times, weapon ranges, unit composition, all that good stuff we have been treated too by other, more complex looking wargames.
Since then I’ve played dozens of times this iconic moment and pretty much all the scenarios the game has to offer. What I will bring in today is a first-hand account of my first couple of hours during the initial scenario of Gettysburg. The first shots and how it all went FUBAR. I will be playing the Union Forces.
We are tasked to hold the town until the Army of the Potomac arrives and occupies the southern side of Gettysburg. Two enemy brigades are advancing and enemy reinforcements are expected. The plan was to draw a defensive line alongside Oak Ridge, starting on Mc Lean’s farm and descending upon Hagerstown Road and ending up at Mc Donald’s Farm. This way I could force the confederate forces into a disadvantageous position in the open fields of McPherson Ridge. My defensive positions would form an outward bubble that allowed me to move my forces inside without risking them to unnecessary cannon fire. Akin to what Lord Wellington did at Waterloo, McPherson farm would be my La Haye Sainte, a forward position held at all costs that would give my men the necessary cover to hold and prevent the enemy from turning their backs to the accurate fire from the black hats that I detached to that ungrateful task, soon the battle would test the Iron’s Brigade metal.
Bellow it’s a real map of the battle. The red line is where I want my infantry to deploy was soon as they arrive the ground of battle. The arrows indicate future movement possibilities in 2 phases. The idea is that the outwards bubble starts to slowly funnel in the confederate forces into the open ground in the north. The blue line is where I want artillery batteries deployed. But of course, all plans are perfect until contact with the enemy.
The first shots ripped and tear at 9:30, Calef’s artillery shot at Archer’s brigade and the skirmishes took pot-shots from the railway line. Out of nowhere, the approaching Heth’s Skirmishers charged Gamble’s on top of McPherson Ridge and forced an all-out Union retreat to the open fields between Gettysburg and the farm. The plan was clear for our brilliant strategic mind, retreat to Oak Ridge and wait for the 1st Army Corps. In the meanwhile the confederate forces found themselves being harassed by our Videttes, but to no real effect.
The 1st Corps arrived a few minutes to 10 and rushed to deploy as planned. Oak Ridge was for Cutler to hold. They rushed, as Devin’s force of 600 scattered in the woods against a massive charge of over 2000. At McPherson farm, both Gambles’ Skirmishers forces were holding. One in the farm itself, the other in the nearby woods, they fired upon Archer and Davis while under intense cannon fire. The plan to use the farm as an advance outpost was working as planned. Davis division charged Oak Ridge but intense flank fire from the farm soften their numbers for the arrival of Cutler. A fight for the Ridge was underway.
General Robinson’s division arrived and their cannons deployed along the road overlooking the fields to the west side along the road.
The Iron Brigade joined forces with Cutler and their concentrated fire from nearly 3000 men and forced Davis out of the Ridge with their losses amounting to nearly 200. But taking the ridge came at the cost of temporarily losing the farm to Archer. Soon the Iron Brigades was dispatched to retake it under with the help of the entire artillery batteries deployed along the road.
Now, at 10:21 it was time for General Doubleday’s division to shine and help consolidate these positions. A lot of musket fire was exchanged but neither side was willing to fall back.
Paul was dispatched to the Ridge and Baxter to the McLean. The others stood their ground along Hagerstown Road.
In a bold attempt to help end the stalemate on Mc Person and to prevent a charge from Archers Brigade, Calef’s batteries were pushed forward into the open ground to force the confederates to dislodge the woods. Scattershot was used to and terrifying effect. The southerners withered and yielded. They ran. The farm was ours, the batteries were ordered to fall back once more.
Davis also lost its foot on the Ridge was the 1400 men still left in the brigade were slowly forced into the open ground by the combined fire power of nearly 5000 union soldiers. In the open and nearly flanked, they lost over 150 soldiers in a single volley, which was more than enough to panic the men. Disorientated they ran, they ran not to their lines in the west and north but south, between the Iron Brigade and the entire Union forces. It was a massacre. In less than 2 minutes 200 men lost their lives in hand to hand fighting in the farm and fire from the Oak.
Pettigrew attempt at the Ridge was met with confederate disappointment once more. The forces on Ridge were an anvil and the Iron Brigade was the hammer. Every attempt at taking the Ridge without securing the farm first was doomed from the start. The open fields were a killing ground, just as we expected. The Iron Brigade job was to hold and buy us time. So they did.
It took the combined efforts of Pettigrew’s 2500 and Perrin’s 1800 to remove the farm from under Iron control. By the time the black hats were falling back they killed nearly 600 and lost nearly 500.
To cover their retreat, Reynolds cannons were moved forward and order to fire scatter shot as soon as friendlies crossed their lines. In less than 2 minutes, 105 souls have lost their lives to shrapnel. Lane and Scales, with a combined force of 3000 men followed suit and secured the farm. The Iron Brigade took a rest behind Reynold’s guns and started to fire back against the forces in the farm as soon as they were able to hold a gun once again.
North of McPherson, the Oak was secured and so was McLean. McPherson would not be taken again and despite a few attempts from the confederates to push the open fields alongside the road they would never be able to achieve anything. The battlefield would see no real change until the end of this first moment in Gettysburg rather than we, the Union, removing our forces from Herr Ridge to prevent unnecessary losses and to secure the Oak right flank from any encirclement.
Slowly the confederates were pushed back into McPherson farm and the outward bubble of defence along the road and ridge was slowly expanding into an inward line, surrounding the confederate forces in McPherson. Biddle found himself the open fields in the southeast reinforced by Cooper’s guns; Gamble’s Skirmishers supported the push from the Iron Brigade from the south into the Farm. In the Northeast Bucktail Brigade and Cutler’s took position in the Ridge and they were all firing down Lane, Perrin, Scales and Davis. The Confederacy had lost their numbers advantage to superior positioning. 3657 union soldiers fell, 5950 confederates. At the end of this morning, 8607 Americans had lost their lives.