Twelve players spent their weekend (20th and 21st of April) in the premises of ΕΣΠαιΡοΣ (acronym for the Greek Club for RPGs and Strategy Games, est. 2001 in Athens), replaying this battle. Hereunder follows a report of how the game was set-up, and what happened during the battle.
The battle was played as a board-game using the map (enlarged) and the counters of SPI’s Bloody April game. The players were not familiar with the rules of the GBACW system, which, anyway, had been revised by the game-master. Two groups were formed the first comprising five players for the Confederacy, the second seven for the Union. The players took the roles of A.S. Johnston and U.S. Grant, the four southern corps commanders and the six Union division- ones (one did not appear so the player impersonating Grant was to take command of Lew Wallace’s division when it appeared on the field).
Apart from the basic set of rules each camp had been provided with special rules, unknown to the other side; on top of this, another, unknown to both sides, set of rules provided for surprises, as units/formations losing their way, alertness and reaction of Union commanders etc.
The Confederacy was allowed free deployment of its forces and chose to attack with Hardee on the lead, followed by Breckinridge; Polk was to follow and an hour later Bragg: as per the plan devised by the Confederate Command, these last two were to move along the Bark Road, round the southern Union flank, in order to cut off the westernmost Union formations retreat to the river.
Problems arose early for the South as a brigade of Breckinridge “chose” to use the road over which Polk was supposed to advance, thus stalling his progress; more than half an hour was thus lost until the road became unclogged again. The initial attack on Sherman’s encamped forces went well for the Rebels and soon Grant’s 5th Division was in retreat. Breckinridge, however, to the SE of Hardee, had huge problems advancing through the woods, and only managed to use his forces against Sherman’s flank piecemeal: a more determined advance may well have resulted in the rout of the 5th Division.
Polk, as has already been said, went east, and fell upon Prentiss’s 6th division. The player commanding the Corps, was not much experienced in the realities of the ACW era, and hesitated, when a quick advance would have allowed him to sweep the Union force from the field. Prentiss’s force finally retreated in disorder, having taken huge casualties, but by that time W. Wallace’s Division had already formed a line behind it, and the Confederate advance stalled once more.
All this time the strongest Confederate force, Bragg’s Corps, was moving behind Polk trying to reach the Corinth-Pittsburg Road; once there it engaged the (already alert) Stuart’s Brigade, which managed to hold its positions for some time before being forced to retreat as the Rebel numbers began to tell. Still just behind it another Union line has been formed by Hurlbut’s division. Bragg has also split his force reinforcing Polk’s western flank with one of his brigades.
At this point the Rebels stopped their advance in order to reorganize. Hardee fell a little back (to the west) as most of his brigades had suffered greatly in stragglers.
The situation at noon was as follows
Hardee’s corps was deployed north of the Eastern Corinth Road to the west of Shiloh Church. On his right flank was Breckinridge whose front line was on the borders of Rhea field. These two formations faced east having in their front Sherman’s division, reinforced by McClernand’s forces.
Then the line turned west to east and along it were deployed Polk’s corps facing the rest of W. Wallace’s division and the remnants of Prentiss’ 6th with Bragg’s corps to the east facing Hurlbut.
The Union line appeared strong and it would take some time for the Confederate artillery to soften in order for the Rebel infantry to advance. But at this time Lew Wallace’s division appeared over the Purdy Road and threatened the Rebel left flank. A note here is necessary: the Southern Command knew that a Union force was deployed somewhere to the north of the battlefield but neglected to guard against it.
The threat posed by a fresh Union division on Hardee’s left flank may not have been serious, nevertheless it precluded any advance against the reinforced Sherman’ position. The Southern Command reconsidered their options and, any advantage from the initial Union surprise having long been lost, chose to retreat in order to save the Army so that it might fight another day.
Total casualties amounted to some 3.300 for the South against 3,900 for the North. The battle ended in a costly draw, with the Army of the Tennessee about to be reinforced Buell’s Army of the Ohio.
There followed an hour-long discussion on how the players felt during the game which resulted in conclusions to be applied when the battle is refought again, hopefully early April next year.
Special thanks are due to two of the ΕΣΠαιΡοΣ ladies who acted as secretaries throughout both days of the game-battle. Without their tireless and determined effort the players would have to keep themselves, each his own tally of dead, stragglers and fatigue and ammunition levels, which would greatly have distracted them from their enjoyment of the game.
Confederacy: John Smyrliadis as A.S.Johnston (and PGTB), Loukas Avgeris as Breckinridge, Alekos Peloriadis was Polk, Apostolos Papadopoulos was Hardee and Stratis Patsourakis was Bragg
Union: Gregory Psychomanis was U.S.Grant, Konstantinos Stylianopoulos was Sherman, Alexandros Hadjis was W. Wallace, Vassilis Chrysostomidis was Hurlbut, George Filikozis was Prentiss and John Efstathiou was McClernand
The secretariat was (wo) manned by Miss Eva Mitsiali and Christina Sideri