Category Archives: Map Design Module

“What Ifs” at Little Bighorn

I‘m used to learning a lot when researching a battle but nothing prepared me for the ‘what ifs’ of Little Bighorn. My doctorate is in computer science but I have been an American Civil War buff since I was about five years old. I’m very familiar with brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer’s achievements during the Appomattox campaign where he commanded a division that smashed Pickett’s right flank at Five Forks. I knew that after the war Custer returned to his previous  rank in the U. S. Army of Lt. Colonel, that he fell under a cloud with U. S. Grant, was stripped of his command, and had to beg for it back from President Grant, himself, at the White House.

Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer taken May 1865. Credit: Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.  Click to enlarge.

And, of course, I knew of the debacle at the Little Bighorn.

After I wrote UMS, the first computer wargame construction system, users began to send me Little Bighorn scenarios that included Gatling guns. I assumed that these were science fiction ‘what if’ scenarios. such as a story I read back in the ’60s about what if Civil War units had automatic weapons from the future. But, recently, while reading Stephen Ambrose’s Crazy Horse and Custer I learned that General Alfred Terry, Custer’s superior and the commander of the expedition, had indeed offered Custer not just three Gatling Guns (manned by troops from the 20th Infantry 1)The Guns Custer Left Behind; Historynet
https://www.historynet.com/guns-custer-left-behind-burden.htm
) but four extra troops from the 2nd U. S. Cavalry.  Custer turned down Terry’s offer of reinforcements and more firepower with these infamous words:

“The Seventh can handle anything it meets.” – Custer to Terry

Photo taken by F. Jay Haynes of one of the Gatling guns that were available to the 7th Cavalry. Click to enlarge.

Screen capture of the Order of Battle of the 7th US Cavalry with the addition of 3 Gatling guns and 4 companies of the 2nd US Cavalry. Click to enlarge.

As for the battle of Little Bighorn, itself, I didn’t know much more than the broad outline that Custer and his command were killed to the last man by an overwhelming number of Native American warriors (this, of course, wasn’t correct as members of Reno’s and Benteen’s columns survived). Custer, himself, was the text book image of hubris and became the butt of late night comedians and humorous pop songs. But the reality turned out to be much more complex and nuanced.

Custer had a reputation of being dashing, headstrong, and gallant; the iconic description of a cavalry commander. The traditional narrative of the disastrous battle of Little Bighorn is that Custer impulsively attacked a vastly superior enemy force; possibly propelled by a belief that Native American warriors were no match for organized cavalry armed with 45-70 trap door carbines. Indeed, Napoleon’s maxim was that, “twenty or more European soldiers armed with the best weapons could take on fifty or even a hundred natives, because of European discipline, training and fire control.” 2)Crazy Horse and Custer” p. 425 Stephen Ambrose To make matters worse, Custer had pushed the 7th mercilessly and by the time they arrived at the battlefield both men and horses were exhausted.

Custer’s plan of attack is also widely condemned as overly optimistic. He split his command of 616 officers and enlisted men of the 7th cavalry into three battalions. If the four companies of 2nd Cavalry had come along, Custer’s force would be 30% larger.3)Ibid The main force led by himself would be the right flanking column, Reno would have the left flanking attack column and Benteen and the pack train would be in the middle.  Custer also drastically underestimated the Native American force at about 1,500.

In theory, Custer’s plan of attack wasn’t that bad:

  • If Custer was up against a force that was only two or three times his size and
  • If Reno had pressed home his attack drawing the Native American warriors east toward him and
  • If Custer had been able to cross the Little Bighorn above the Native American camp and
  • If Custer had been able to attack the village while the warriors were engaged with Reno

Custer might have, indeed, had a great victory that would have propelled him to the US Presidency (as he had hoped). But none of these suppositions were correct.

Screen shot of the General Staff Scenario Editor where the battle of Little Bighorn scenario is being set up. Not the Order of Battle of the 7th Cavalry (with attached units of the 2nd Cavalry and Gatling guns) on the left. Units are positioned by clicking and dragging them from the Order of Battle Table on the left onto the map. Click to enlarge.

So, the question remains: what value for Leadership would you give to Custer?

Screen shot of the General Staff Army Editor showing the slider that sets the Leadership value for a commander. What value would you give Custer? Click to enlarge

By the way, there will be three separate Little Bighorn scenarios for the General Staff Wargaming System: historically accurate Order of Battle for the 7th Cavalry, the 7th Cavalry plus four companies of the 2nd US Cavalry and 7th Cavalry plus four companies of the 2nd US Cavalry and 3 Gatling guns.

References   [ + ]

1. The Guns Custer Left Behind; Historynet
https://www.historynet.com/guns-custer-left-behind-burden.htm
2. Crazy Horse and Custer” p. 425 Stephen Ambrose
3. Ibid

New Battles on Old Battlefields

Plate 1 from, “The American Kriegsspiel. a Game for Practicing the Art of War upon a Topographical Map,” by W. R. Livermore, Captain, Corps of Engineers, U S Army published in 1882. Click to enlarge.

When I was about ten years old my father brought home an original copy of Esposito’s The West Point Atlas of American Wars. My life was forever changed. I had always been interested in military history and maps but now I could clearly see the complexity of tactical maneuvers and how these battles unfolded.

In previous blogs, I have written about my introduction to wargaming through Avalon Hill’s superb games. While diving deeper into the history of American wargaming I discovered Livermore’s American Kriegsspiel (by the way, it is available online from the Library of Congress here). When I first saw Plate 1, above, I couldn’t help but think of the officers at West Point, ‘practicing the Art of War’ on that black and white map.

Consequently, one of the first things that I wanted to do with the General Staff Map Editor was bring Plate 1 back to life so new battles could be fought on it:

The American Kriegsspiel map imported into the General Staff Map Editor and converted for use with the General Staff Wargaming System. Grid lines are optional. Click to enlarge.

My good friend, Ed Isenberg, did the colorization and we added some new features in the Map Editor to support importing rivers, roads and other terrain features, from a PhotoShop image (for more information see the online documentation for the Map Editor here).

Importing the American Kriegsspiel map into the General Staff Wargaming System was a good beta test of the Map Editor. If you are an early backer you should have the location and password to download it. If, for some reason, you don’t have these, please contact me directly.

One of the interesting features of the General Staff Wargaming System is that any two armies created in the Army Editor can be combined to create a battle scenario on any map created in the Map Editor. Thinking about all the ‘mix and match’ combinations I decided to create an army, in the Army Editor, from the Order of Battle Table (OOB) for the French Imperial Guard, August 1, 1813 from George Nafziger’s, superb “Napoleon at Dresden,” book:

The French Imperial Guard Order of Battle in the General Staff Army Editor. Click to enlarge.

We are currently beta testing the General Staff Scenario Editor. Here I’ve imported the American Kriegsspiel map (from above) and the French Imperial Guard (from above). To position units, just click and drag from the OOB on the left:

Screen shot of the General Staff Scenario Editor where the French Imperial Guard is being positioned on the original American Kriegsspiel map. Click to enlarge.

Hopefully, this will get your imagination going and thinking about what maps, armies and scenarios you would like to see. In addition to the ability to create your own new scenarios on old battlefields, General Staff will ship with 30 historical scenarios (the list is published in previous blogs).

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.

Map Editor Released for Beta-Testing!

We are very pleased to report that the General Staff Black Powder Map Editor has been released into beta-test. This program allows the user to easily create maps for use as a battlefield in the General Staff Wargaming System as shown in this demo:

Important Note: If you were an early backer of the General Staff Wargaming System via Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you should have received an email update informing you of this, the beta test download page and password. If you did not, please contact me directly. Also, a few people became beta testers after the Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. You should have received an email from me with the URL for the download page and password. If you did not, please contact me directly.

Map Editor Documentation Now Available Online!

Screen capture of the Map Editor (working on the battle of Little Bighorn). Click to enlarge.

We are extremely pleased to report that the documentation for the General Staff Map Editor has been completed and is now available online at Famdom (link: https://general-staff-wargaming-system.wikia.com/wiki/The_General_Staff_Black_Powder_Map_Editor). There is also a link from the Map Editor itself to the online documentation (under the Help menu). This, of course, means that the Map Editor will be released for beta-testing in the next day or two.

During the course of my professional career I have worked on numerous programs that create or facilitate the drawing of maps for wargaming and military simulations. These include my own UMS, UMS II, the War College and TIGER / MATE (created for DARPA) as well as an extremely large  US Army Military simulation with a budget of over a billion dollars.

Creating easy to use military topographical map programs is not a trivial undertaking. Dr. Ken Forbus, and his group at Northwestern, worked for years on the NuSketch project (link here and here).

I believe that the General Staff Map Editor utility is the best program of its type commercially available and, in fact, is superior in ease of use to the billion dollar equivalent. The Map Editor supports digitizing tablet and pen as well as two-button mouse with scroll wheel. Andy O’Neill (see here) did a remarkable job coding the Map Editor.

In essence, the Map Editor is a 3D paint program that allows the user to draw terrain, topography and elevation. The maps are then used in the General Staff Wargaming System and can be printed out for your own use.

If you were an early backer of the General Staff Wargaming System (Kickstarter and Indiegogo) you will be receiving an email shortly to go to the ‘secret beta-test site’ and download the installer for the Map Editor.

Any questions or comments? Please feel to contact me directly.