Wargaming the Second Bull Run Campaign--19th Century Style

8 August, 1862: Confederate General Robert E. Lee pored over his map. There was a concentration of at least a full Union Corps in the vicinity of Culpeper as of two days ago. He’d just witnessed Jackson’s and Longstreet’s Corps crossing the Rappahannock River after defeating Union defenses in the vicinity of Fredericksburg and was ordering both to drive north. “Jeb” Stuart was far to the west, conducting reconnaissance and seizing Union supplies from Front Royal to Sperryville. George McClellan’s forces were pulling out of the Peninsula and probably would be reinforcing Union forces under John Pope somewhere in northern Virginia, but where? When?

Wait a minute—the Second Bull Run (or Second Manassas for you southerners) campaign didn’t exactly start this way in history! True enough. The Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in this case was actually a U.S. Marine Corps captain and Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS) student, roleplaying Robert E. Lee in a staff wargame at the Museum of the Confederacy on 6 February 2009. Confederate Corps commanders Longstreet and Jackson were also EWS Marines, as was General Stuart. Union counterpart commanders Major Generals John Pope, Franz Sigel, Nathaniel Banks, and Samuel Heintzelman were EWS members as well. Mr. Robert Hancock of the Museum conceived, designed, moderated, and umpired the wargame, conducted in a “double-blind” and “free” format pioneered by Julius von Verdy du Vernois that proved popular in 19th century military staff exercises.

Above: Robert Hancock (left) and staff of the Museum of the Confederacy brief wargame participants.

Hancock briefed the participants on the basics of Civil War tactics, command and control, and logistics prior to the wargame’s commencement. He then explained the August 1862 scenario and how the game would be run: players on each side would have roughly an hour to huddle over a map and come up with their plan, then be separated and unable to communicate with each other except through written “Military Dispatches” once the game began. The delay imposed by Hancock in transmitting those dispatches to their intended recipient depended on how far apart the commanders were from each other in that game turn. Each turn represented a day and took about half an hour of real time to play. Players would order their subordinate divisions to move and fight and Hancock would resolve battles between opposing sides, revealing results only to the immediately superior commanders. Through such simple devices, participating Marine officers experienced a high degree of uncertainty not only regarding where enemy forces were and what they were doing, but even regarding most of their friendly units as well.

Marine Major Greg Thiele, the EWS proponent for the staff wargame, aimed to demonstrate how this simple educational method could better prepare military decisionmakers to cope with friction and the fog of war. Marines typically use computer simulations to drive Command Post Exercises (CPX) training events which often generate similar challenges, but these are difficult to coordinate and plan and are costly in terms of time and resources to run. Thiele’s purpose was to show Marine leaders that such training can be nevertheless accomplished using older and far cheaper paper-based methods with a minimum of prep time and overhead. A handful of recognized military theorists and history authors were also invited to participate as “field advisors” to the EWS students so the learning curve would not be too steep in executing operations for the first time in the staff wargame.

Above: Hancock gets participants oriented to the August 1862 scenario before starting the wargame.

Robert Hancock explained that he has run these wargames (termed kriegspiels from the original German military term for such exercises) mostly for civilian history enthusiasts in the past; this was the first time he’d done so for actual military officers. While the EWS students enjoyed the event and had a lot of fun, they nevertheless gained insight and took a great deal away from the experience. One of the participants found that the exercise, "did a great job of creating the 'fog of war' in that you did not know exactly what was going on around you."

Above: Marines ponder overcoming the difficulties of 19th Century command and control from the tabletop.

For East Coast civilian wargame clubs in the area and/or other groups of Civil War buffs looking for a highly interactive exploration of Civil War history, the Museum’s kriegspiel experience is a must. The “free” format of the game means there is a minimum of rules to master and all knowledge necessary to enjoy the game is provided ahead of time in an easy-to-understand manner. All that participants need is interest in the period and a desire to have fun. You will want to schedule all day for such an event and will want to see the excellent exhibits and peruse the bookstore at the Museum of the Confederacy as well.

Museum of the Confederacy. 2101 East Clay Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219 (804) 649-1861 FAX (804) 644-7150. 19th Century Civil War Kriegspiel POC is Mr. Robert Hancock, E-mail: rhancock@moc.org

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Comment by Michael P. D'Alessandro on March 5, 2009 at 10:14pm
Eric, you are more than welcome. I've always been interested in seeing and participating in a true Kriegsspiel.
Comment by Eric Walters on March 1, 2009 at 6:10pm
You'd have to ask Robert about the rules he used and how often he does it. Thanks for linking the two works above--Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson (the Adjutant General for General Jackson in our game) made me aware of these just recently!

I'm sure others will want to know about this. And I also thank you for the Kriegsspiel News link...
Comment by Michael P. D'Alessandro on February 23, 2009 at 12:16pm
Eric, do you know what rules set Robert Hancock used for this game?

I have always been interested in the original German Kreigsspiel, the grandfather of wargaming. How often does he conduct these games?

For those further interested in true Kriegsspiel, check out this site: Kriegsspiel News

The American version of the Kriegsspiel can be found here and downloaded from Google Books for free: The American Kriegsspiel. A Game for Practicing the Art of War Upon...

The British version of the Kriegsspiel can be found here and downloaded from the Internet Archvie for free: Rules For the Conduct of the War Game on a Map
Comment by Eric Walters on February 18, 2009 at 11:54am
EWS indeed sponsored it--Major Greg Thiele had participated in one of Robert Hancock's kriegspiel events before at the MOC and wanted to show selected staff and students what they can get out of such a simple exercise as this. You don't need MTWS, you don't need a huge staff and tons of prep time...old 19th Century methods work just fine! It was fun for sure, but it was also insightful. Made them much more sympathetic towards their Civil War counterparts.
Comment by Bart on February 17, 2009 at 11:17pm

What a great exercise for the Marines.

Did EWS plan this? Is this part of a curriculum or just a one time event? Either way, sounds like a lot of fun.


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