Tactical Exercise: Analysis of yesterday’s “game”

First off, yesterday’s exercise went over better than I expected.  Thanks to everyone who commented and voted.  I’ll have to do more of such exercises.

Now what about the placement of those guns?

ArtyPositions1

Our Map

Of the responses, about a third preferred to put cannons on the flanks (positions 4 and 7).  Of the reset, the second most favored was alined, but within, the main infantry line (positions 5 and 6).  But massed to the front (position 2) and “Other” received their share of votes.

That “other” was perhaps a flaw in the exercise.  I didn’t build any way to provide a description of what “other” was supposed to be.  From the comments on the post, many folks were looking to mix and match approaches and positions. Part of that is due to the incomplete description I provided.  Not enough information on the enemy, the nature of the friendly force, or even the overall situation.  Just a stack of playing pieces on the chess board.

That leads to the real solution to the exercise – no “right” answer exists.  Rather there are preferences, alternatives and options.  So what would what were a good battery commander’s preferences 150 years ago?  Well billiard table flat chessboards aside, I would offer John Gibbon’s answer:

Batteries are usually placed at least 60 yards in front of the intervals between regiments and brigades, and upon their flanks, so as not to offer two marks for the fire of the enemy, or subject the troops placed in rear to a fire directed against the artillery….

I would translate Gibbon’s preferences to be positions 1, 3, 4 or 7.  But to be sure, Gibbon was not merely positioning guns where the supporting infantry were safe from enemy counter-battery fire.  The other part his selection was to “clear” the guns to allow the best possible field of fire.  He recognized that long before the infantry begins to engage, the artillery must bring fire upon the advancing enemy.  “The greatest cannonading takes place at from 800 to 900 yards.”  So placing the guns out in front of, or to the side of, the infantry line would clear the batteries for that long range fire.  It is line of sight the battery commander needs.  And in this unnaturally flat terrain offered in the scenario, we didn’t have to account for terrain.

Personally, I’m not much into armchair generalship. I wasn’t there 150 years ago, so how can I contend to have a better vantage over those who were.  However, what I get out of contemplating gun placement, in hypothetical exercises like this, is a template to lay across time and space.  It becomes a tool to help interpret the actions on the battlefield.  What was done and why was it done?  What were the factors driving decisions?  What turned those decisions into success … or failure?

Oh, but for a artillery version of Gray’s Cavalry Tactics!

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4 responses to “Tactical Exercise: Analysis of yesterday’s “game”

  1. “Personally, I’m not much into armchair generalship. I wasn’t there 150 years ago”

    While you created a generic scenario without connections to a specific time and place (other than the Civil War, in general), in most cases (as you know), people are looking for that “you were there at this event” scenario. The fact of the matter is, a replay of “that” day cannot be perfectly replicated. There are many variables… even down to something as (seemingly) trivial as an undocumented stomach ache experienced by a particular commander at a particular time. There are far too many factors facing an individual in command from that time that won’t be calculated in the end program. Still, there are clearly enough folks who are happy with the “close as I can get” experience. The problem is, however, when one takes those imperfect “experiences” as an armchair general and apply the “this should have been done instead” philosophy. As many have to realize, it’s never that simple.

  2. Have you seen Jomini’s chapter on “Employment of Artillery”? It’s certainly not as detailed as Gray’s Cavalry Tactics. It only includes some basic rules but it is worth a look if you haven’t seen it before. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13549/13549-h/13549-h.htm#ARTICLE_XLVI

  3. no offense intended, but your directive sounded something like Gen. Lee. a little vague yet leaving room for initiative. my 4-7-9 alignment allowed for field of fire, crossfire & reserve. sounds plausible?

    • It does indeed. However, the gist of my point today is that we keep in mind the preferences and practices if those fighting the batteries 150 years ago. So the historians quest is not so much for the best disposition of guns, but why the commander on the field thought it was the best at the time.

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