Little Round Top – 1600-1700 hours – ‘The devil’s work at The Devil’s Den’

Little Round Top – 1600-1700 hours – ‘The devil’s work at The Devil’s Den’

I’ve begun my third scenario of GBACW – Three Days of Gettysburg. This time I’ve stepped it up a little more and am taking on the Little Round Top scenario. This scenario focuses on the Confederate attempt to roll up the Union left (southern flank) on 2 July, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Looking over the field, the CSA begins strong, but they have no reinforcements. They need to push hard and capture two hexes of the Little Round Top to win the scenario. Union defences are stretched thin, but they have a strong reinforcement schedule. They’ll need to hold, delay, and keep their forces in tact to allow time for those reinforcements to come up and hold the line.

It has taken me a while to get through the first hour of the scenario, and a lot has happened already, so I’ve decided to write up my reports on an hour-by-hour basis. This will hopefully provide more tactical insight into what both sides have been doing.

The CSA (on the left) begin with the initiative. They have the option of leading with Hood (yellow and tan) or McLaw (green and tan). I realised that Hood will have one more activation than McLaw (because Hood is on-map, so Longstreet can give his Corps Efficiency bonus to Hood, but not McLaw [who is off-map]). Hood also has more brigades under his command so, in theory, can do more damage per-AM, compared to McLaw’s brigades (who are effectively under the command of Longstreet for the purposes of this scenario). The remaining AMs are placed in the draw.

Hood’s men are stretched out over about a 1250 yard frontage. Their objective, Little Round Top, lies just off to the right of the image below, roughly 2000 yards directly in front (east) of them, completely undefended. However, to get there, they’ll need to cross some of the most difficult terrain in this area, woods, rocky terrain, and rough/rocky woods will slow down and disorder Hood’s brigade as they try to advance. And those scattered Union defenders positioned on Houck’s Ridge will make things even more difficult.

Hood wants his brigade commanders to minimise those difficulties. He wants to ensure that they maintain good order and organisation for as long as possible. Thus, Robertson (3 Hd 1), Law (1 Hd 1), Benning (4 Hd 1) and Anderson (2 Hd 1) begin to funnel their men through the small gap between Houck’s Ridge and Big Round Top. This will both avoid the worst of the terrain, and concentrate force against Ward’s Union defenders on the ridge, who will need to react to the situation. This initial advance can be seen in the image below:

Hood receives the next activation, and so continues to press his men onwards through the designated gap. A Union artillery battery on Houck’s Ridge opens up in response, but does minimal damage to the advancing Confederate troops.

Birney [blue and green] has the next activation, and he quickly snaps into action. Ward’s brigade (2 1 III - blue and green with red dot) spreads out to the south to block the gap, whilst in the north de Trobriand’s brigade (3 1 III - blue and green with green dot) similarly spread out to protect their flanks. Together, the two brigades covered a frontage of close to 1600 yards. They were about to bear the brunt of the attack of six Confederate brigades with supporting artillery.

Shortly after Birney places his division into order, McLaw’s division came charging across the fields. The CSA brigades of Semmes [green dot] and Kershaw [yellow dot] first activated under advance orders, then a second successive activation saw both brigades successfully change to assault orders, and they used this to rush the union defenders.

Semmes’ men led the charge, striking first against de Trobriand’s northern flank, then following up with successive charges south along the Union line. Against roughly even odds, de Trobriand’s men decided to stand and fight, but they could not hold back the wave of Confederate attackers. Disorder reigned amongst de Trobriand’s Union brigade as Semmes’ Confederate men punched a hole in the union line and sent defenders reeling.

McLaw’s men were on a roll. Semmes continued to push back de Trobriand’s brigade without giving the Union defenders a break to rally.

Buoyed by this success in the north, Hood’s men in the south also tried to change orders to attack. Laws [yellow dot] passed the order down the line, but confusion reigned and his brigade halted. Robertson [white dot] also tried to change orders, but his men saw Laws’ men halt, and so they followed suit. Anderson [yellow dot] and Benning [blue dot] then decided to bring order to the situation unfolding; they advanced to form a line with Law’s men, but waited for the other brigades to sort themselves out before pressing further.

On Birney’s activation, he once again fell back in the north, whilst in the south Ward’s men spread their line further south, fearing the Confederate troops may attempt to outflank them around Big Round Top. Birney’s line was wearing thin. Casualties were mounting all along the line and this contributed a growing problem with disorder. And yet, Birney held hope, for to the north-east he could see Union reinforcements from Sykes’ V Corps marching down the Taneytown Road. Vincent and Tilton’s brigades marched south to defend Little Round Top, whilst Sweitzer held a position along the road in the north to provide assistance to de Trobriand.

Hood received one of the final activations for the turn, and, hearing reports of Union reinforcements heading to the area, he urged his brigades to push harder. Laws attempted to change orders, and a loose cannon result sent his men charging straight into The Devil’s Den! Law’s brigade was already heavily weakened and disordered, but that did not stop his men. They rushed straight over the rocky terrain and up the slopes of Houck’s Ridge, straight into the face of combined Union artillery and rifle fire. Once again, it is amazing what pure determination can produce. The Union defenders first faltered, then fled from the heights, in the process leaving behind an entire battery of 6 valuable P10 guns in Confederate hands. Law’s men lost heavily in the charge, but they had scattered the Union defenders before them, and Law’s lead regiments were now only 500 yards from Little Round Top. Anderson’s men also pressed on through the rough woods around Big Round Top, suffering disorder throughout their ranks in the progress (unfortunate given the large size of these units). Whilst behind Law’s men Roberts and Benning also pressed forward in support.

At the close of this first hour, the Confederates had experienced the run of the battle. They had proven, against the odds, that even disordered Confederate regiments could match-up against combined Union artillery and infantry defending in rough terrain. Across the battle, numbers were certainly in their favour, but the terrain was far against them. Anderson’s brigade in the far south had barely fired a shot, yet they were ALL disordered due to the difficult terrain – this brigade is now Combat Ineffective. As these men will be responsible for turning the Union’s far left flank, this may prove problematic in the coming hours. The following image shows more detail of the situation in the north, following Birtney’s final attempt to reorganise his lines (the 110 PA is facing south-east because they failed a UDD after crossing a ‘down sleep slope’ and thus ‘Stopped movement in hex’).

Time will tell if the Union reinforcements can organise themselves in time to halt the Confederate advance.

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Comment by Jon Jimjams on June 4, 2013 at 7:29pm

Ah! Cyberboard. Thanks for the clarification and good luck with the next turn.

Comment by Nathan on June 4, 2013 at 7:17pm

Thanks Jon, I've had to use cyberboard as there was no VASSAL mod (tried to convert one but didn't work well). I'm most of the way through the 1700-1800 turn and will write that up soon, some interesting swings of fortune...

Comment by Jon Jimjams on June 4, 2013 at 11:44am

Very nicely done Nathan. And the VASSAL (?) mod looks good too.

Oddly enough, the other day I was thinking about the TSS version of this scenario that I played a few times, oh, about 25 years ago or so. I have a vague memory of actually making it to Little Round Top, aided by a series of outlandish pro Confederate die rolls.

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