Category Archives: Scenarios

“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

Free Scenarios Twenty-One Through Twenty-Five

We asked you for your Top 30 battles that you would like to see included free with General Staff for supporters of our Kickstarter campaign. We have previously announced the first twenty vote-getters. Today we are announcing the next five. One of the interesting features of General Staff is the ability to combine any two armies with a map to create a scenario. We use this feature for two day battles (such as Wagram and 2nd Bull Run) effectively creating two completely different battles (with two different armies) but using the same battlefield map.

This map of the battle of Alma was created only two years after the battle. Click to enlarge.

The battle of Alma is our first foray into the Crimean War. The Russians, though outnumbered, have the heights with their guns entrenched in heavy fortifications. The British and the French suffer numerous communication breakdowns. The battle seesawed back and forth until a final assault by the Highland Brigade carried the day and the Russians broke and fled from the battlefield. Playing the Allies will test your ability to coordinate attacks via messengers. Playing the Russians will require skillful coordination of counterattacks.

Wagram was a two day battle with the first day involving crossing the Danube. Click to enlarge.

On May 21st and 22nd Napoleon had attempted to cross the Danube at Lobau Island only to be turned back by Archduke Charles. Now, after over a month of preparations and reinforcements, Napoleon was ready to try again.

We present two distinct scenarios for the battle of Wagram: the first representing the situation on July 5th and Napoleon’s second attempt at crossing the Danube and establishing a beachhead and the second the battle of July 6th in which Archduke Charles attempted a double envelopment of Napoleon’s army. Only Napoleon’s hastily created ‘grand battery’ of artillery, a desperate cavalry charge and a counterattack by MacDonald’s corps saved the day. The Austrians eventually broke and fled the battlefield and sued for an armistice which ended the 1809 war.

Plan of the second Battle of Bull Run Va. Showing position of both armies at 7 p.m. 30th Aug. 1862. From the Library of Congress. Click to Enlarge

After General George McClellan’s disastrous Peninsula campaign, President Lincoln appointed Major General John Pope to lead the newly formed Army of Virginia and was tasked with the missions of protecting Washington D.C. and clearing the Shenandoah Valley of Confederates. McClellan, who never responded promptly to orders even in the best of circumstances, simply ignored commands to begin transferring his army from the peninsula southeast of Richmond up to Pope in front of Washington. Lee, knowing that McClellan had a bad case of the ‘slows’ took advantage of his interior lines to rapidly move his forces north to destroy Pope before McClellan’s troops could reinforce him.

The battle on the old Mananas battlefield began on August 28, 1862 with Jackson (commanding the left wing) shelling the passing Union column of King’s division (which included the soon to be famous Iron Brigade). The Iron Brigade, though outnumbered, attacked and fought Jackson’s famous division to a standstill. However, Jackson’s attack was primarily a feint employed as a ‘fixing force’ for an envelopment maneuver; Longstreet’s corps was expected to appear on the Union’s unprotected left flank.

On the second day, August 29th, Pope attempted to initiate a double envelopment against Jackson. However, Longstreet had now appeared on the battlefield at exactly the wrong place for Pope’s envelopment maneuver. The day was marked with incredibly poor communications between Pope and his subordinates and ended mostly as it began with neither side gaining or losing much ground.

The third day, August 30th, began with Longstreet’s counterattack on the Union’s exposed left flank. Again, incredibly poor communications between Pope and his subordinates turned a bad situation into a disaster. Unlike the first battle of Bull Run, the Union army fell back on Washington in an orderly column through an extremely limited avenue of retreat over Bull Run.

Free Scenarios Sixteen Through Twenty!

We continue our list of the thirty most desired 18th and 19th century battles (as voted on by you) with numbers sixteen through twenty. All thirty scenarios will ship with General Staff, as well as the Army Editor, the Map Editor and the Scenario Editor to early supporters of General Staff on Kickstarter.  After Kickstarter these scenarios, and the software editing suite, will be available as digital downloads (DDL).

The battle of Shiloh created for the Topographical Engineers in 1866. From the Library of Congress. This is a great image. Please click to greatly enlarge.

If you have ever visited the site of the battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee) your first thoughts were probably, “how could two large armies fight in this forest?” There are, of course, clearings where significant events took place and where the Union encampments were attacked, but Shiloh is mostly deep forest cut with ravines and a few paths and roads.

Shiloh was also a two-day battle with the first day ending as a major Confederate victory and the second a Union triumph. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was bivouacked alongside the Tennessee River after its victories at Forts Donelson and Henry. Union commanders, including Sherman, ignored reports of Confederate activity in the vicinity. When the Confederates attacked on April 6 the Union forces were overwhelmed.

Plaque on the Shiloh battlefield indicating the location of Grant’s HQ. Click to enlarge.

On the evening of April 6-7, 1862 a terrific thunderstorm fell across the battlefield. Grant’s headquarters had been taken over as a field hospital and so he retreated to a tree where he stood in the rain holding a lantern in one hand and smoking a cigar. Grant’s subordinate commanders had decided that the battle was lost and that the army’s only hope was to abandon the artillery and baggage and ferry the troops across the river. Nobody wanted to approach Grant and, eventually, Sherman was induced to talk to him. He found Grant under this famous tree.

Not knowing exactly how to start the conversation he began by saying to Grant, “Well, Grant, we certainly had the Devil’s own day.”

“Yes,” said Grant, the end of his cigar glowing in the dark, “Going to whip ’em tomorrow, though.”

The Confederates ordered an attack against Grant’s troops at dawn. Grant ordered an attack on the Confederates an hour before dawn. The rest is history.

Positions in the morning of Day 2 of the battle of Eylau. Click to enlarge.

Though Eylau is listed as one of Napoleon’s great victories on the Arc de Triomphe, in reality it was a massacre in a blizzard that ended in a slight French tactical victory and a minor Russian strategic success.

Two large armies (the French and the Russian / Prussian armies were approximately the same size at 75,000 troops) occupied parallel ridge lines separated by a valley. It was February in Poland and the weather was freezing and snowy. Obviously, the weather conditions greatly effected troop speeds. It is very easy in General Staff to adjust unit speeds to reflect various weather conditions (see here).

At a critical juncture Napoleon ordered Murat to charge the Russian center with his 11,000 strong force. Though this was one of the largest cavalry charges of all times, this dubious honor actually belongs to the Polish and German cavalry at the battle of Vienna September 12, 1683 with an estimated force of 20,000.

Murat’s famous cavalry charge at Eylau painted by Jean-Antoine-Siméon Fort. Click to enlarge.

Murat’s charge stabilized Napoleon’s center and the Russian and Prussian troops withdrew from the battlefield that night. The French were too exhausted to pursue. After the battle, the late arriving Marshal Ney famously observed: “Quel massacre! Et sans résultat” (“What a massacre! And without result”).

The battle of Leuthen. Positions after Frederick the Great’s right flank envelopment maneuver. Click to enlarge.

At the battle of Leuthen, Frederick the Great performed a classic envelopment maneuver that crushed a much larger Austrian force. There are many ways to describe an envelopment maneuver but this clip from the movie Animal House has always been a favorite:

While distracting your opponent (“Greg, look at my thumb!”) you clock your enemy with a roundhouse punch.

In military terms, the distraction is called the ‘fixing force’ and the roundhouse punch is, “the enveloping force.” Frederick the Great assigned a small ‘fixing force’ to distract his enemy while the main force traveled behind a hill, hidden from sight.

The artificial intelligence (AI) for General Staff ‘knows’ the envelopment maneuver and prefers it over all forms of attack. Below are figures describing the implementation of the envelopment maneuver from one of the author’s papers:

Figures from the author’s, “”Implementing the Five Canonical Offensive Maneuvers in a CGF Environment,” illustrating the TIGER AI’s implementation of the envelopment maneuver. Click to enlarge.

The AI is keenly aware of 3D Line of Sight (see here) and will take advantage of intervening terrain (as did Frederick the Great) to hide its maneuvers. You have been warned.

The French are surrounded at the battle of Sedan. Click to enlarge

The battle of Sedan  ended the Franco Prussia war when the French army (commanded by Emperor Napoleon III) was surrounded and captured by  the German and Bavarian army (commanded by Helmuth von Moltke). As a scenario this will obviously turn on, “Can the French break out of the trap?”

Free Scenarios Eleven Through Fifteen!

We continue our list of the most requested (as voted by you) scenarios with numbers eleven through fifteen. These scenarios will be included as a reward to General Staff Kickstarter backers. For more information about when the Kickstarter campaign will begin see this page. After the Kickstarter campaign they will be available as digital download content.

Scenarios number 12 and 13 are excellent examples of the flexibility of the General Staff Wargaming System. In the Little Bighorn with Gatling Guns scenario we can use the built in ability to modify unit speeds (see this video) to modify the horse artillery speed to properly reflect that “condemned cavalry horses” that pulled the guns. In the Isandlwana scenario we can use the built in ability to modify the attack matrix to represent that the Zulu regiments were armed with assegai iron spears and cow-hide shields.

Map of the Battle of the Little Bighorn to accompany the report of Lieutenant Edward Maguire of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Click to enlarge.

After the original UMS (see here) was released a number of users created Little Bighorn scenarios that included Custer’s famous Gatling guns. (For more information about Custer’s Gatling guns click here.) Custer, of course, refused to take the battery (either two or three guns) because he feared it would slow down his column. Instead, they traveled with Colonel John Gibbons’ column. In rejecting them, Custer wrote to his superior, General Terry, “The 7th can handle anything it meets.” Would they have made a difference? This should make for fascinating ‘what if’ simulation.

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

This map is from the Campbell Collection University of KwaZulu-Natal. We are working on getting a higher resolution image.

We have recently written about using the General Staff Wargaming System to create a Battle of Isandlwana simulation. Properly modeling disparate unit types (e. g. British line infantry versus Zulu regiments) could be a daunting task but General Staff allows for modifying attack matrices to reflect different unit types, armament and abilities.

The battle of Talavera from page 273 of History of the King’s German Legion. [With plates.], by BEAMISH, North Ludlow.. Original held and digitized by the British Library. Click to enlarge.

The first of our Peninsular War battles is Talvera and pits Sir Arthur Wellesley (who will be elevated to the Peerage with the title Viscount Wellington after Talvera) against the French King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte. This is an especially interesting terrain where evenly matched armies fought where the British suffered approximately 25% casualties and the French 18%. Considered a tactical victory for the Anglo-Spanish.

The Battle of Blenheim August 13, 1704.

Blenheim was a decisive victory for the Duke of Marlborough and a crushing defeat for the Duc de Tallard and the French. The battlefield stretched from the banks of the Danube to a point some four miles to the north and west and contained varied terrain features including villages, swamps hills and ravines. . Over 100,000 troops were engaged by both sides. Blenheim was included in Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy’s, “Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,” where he wrote, “Had it not been for Blenheim, all Europe might at this day suffer under the effect of French conquests resembling those of Alexander in extent and those of the Romans in durability.”

Free Scenarios Numbers Six Through Ten!

We are continuing the list of thirty free scenarios that will be rewards for early backers of the General Staff Kickstarter campaign. These battle scenarios were the top vote-getters voted by you. Click here for the top 1-5 vote-getters.

The Battle of Austerlitz December 3, 1805. Click to enlarge.

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time that we have visited the battle of Austerlitz. Below is a screen shot from The War College (UMS III) which is, indeed, an ancestor of the General Staff Wargaming System.

Screen capture of Austerlitz from the War College (UMS III), a solid model 3D real-time simulation.

Austerlitz, sometimes called the Battle of Three Emperors, is one of Napoleon’s greatest victories. The General Staff system of multiple command layers should make for an interesting simulation of Austerlitz as orders travel from the Emperor to the subordinate commanders and then down to units. It will be very interesting to see how the new artificial intelligence routines react to this tactical situation.

Fantastic engraving of the battle of Saratoga from the Library of Congress. Definitely click to enlarge.

One of the most interesting features of General Staff is the ability to use the same map for different scenarios and we will certainly do that for the two scenarios at Saratoga in 1777. These two battles – the first considered a Pyrrhic British victory and the second a great American victory under the leadership of General Gates – eventually resulted in Burgoyne’s defeat which certainly encouraged French King Louis XVI to intervene on the side of the Americans.

German map of the battle of Gravelotte – Saint Privat made shortly after the battle. Click to enlarge.

Most Americans – myself included – know very little about the Franco-Prussian War so it was especially interesting to read up on the battle of Gravelotte (or Gravelotte–St. Privat) on 18 August 1870. The largest battle of the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian victory sealed the fate of the French later trapped and besieged at Metz.

The Battle of Antietam scanned from the Official Military Atlas of the American Civil War and imported into the General Staff Map Editor. Click to enlarge.

The author walking across Burnside’s Bridge in 1966 (age of 12).

The Antietam battlefield is very special place for me. It is not as well known as Gettysburg and – at least during the 1960s – attracted very few visitors.  However, almost all of the battlefield is federal property and, unlike Gettysburg, has been preserved. It is eerily quiet.

Antietam is my ‘favorite’ battlefield; if one can have a favorite battlefield. I would visit Antietam with my father most summers. To the right is a picture my father took of me crossing Burnside’s Bridge in 1966. I was twelve at the time. In 1968 my father and I would visit Antietam for the last time. A month later he died of cancer.

Burnside’s Bridge – named after IX Corps Commander Major General Ambrose Burnside who was assigned the task of taking this bridge – is the key tactical feature in the southern part of the Antietam battlefield. We will do a General Staff scenario concentrating on this part of the battle.