Jonathan's report, 8 Dec 2003

Game highlights

JUNE 1861: Joe invades Kentucky and Tennessee with impressive speed and energy, taking Frankfort, Columbus, and Fort Donelson.

JULY 1861: Joe takes New Bern by sea (unopposed), plus Louisville and Jefferson City — the latter despite my hastily-recruited defence force of two Missouri brigades.

AUGUST 1861: Joe takes Strasburg and Lexington unopposed, but loses Louisville to a rebellion.

SEPTEMBER 1861: Joe ignores rebellious Louisville, takes Staunton and Decatur unopposed, and Bowling Green despite my attempt to defend it.

DECEMBER 1861: Joe takes Fredericksburg, which I failed to defend strongly enough, and poor isolated Beaufort with an expedition from New Bern.

After Fredericksburg, Joe attacks Charlottesville and Richmond repeatedly but unsuccessfully, taking heavy losses.

MAY 1862: Joe takes Norfolk by sea (defended, but not strongly enough), having just taken Corinth from Decatur.

JULY 1862: Joe at last retakes Louisville after much effort and loss. I omitted to install naval guns, so the river boats take out the forts with relative ease.

SEPTEMBER 1862: European intervention! But Joe blockades St George and Nassau almost immediately, starving the Confederacy of supplies and sinking all European warships as soon as they emerge. On land, Joe takes Knoxville (unopposed) with a daring raid, but I swiftly retake it. I also retake Corinth.

NOVEMBER 1862: the USA drafts 204,850 men, its heavy losses in the east and west having reduced its total strength below that of the Confederacy for part of the year.

JUNE 1863: Joe takes Nashville after much effort and loss. I retake Norfolk after a series of sharp engagements in the area.

JULY 1863: I break Joe's wooden-ship blockade of Nassau with seven ironclads, and subsequently discover that I can merge European warships into my own fleets. From here on I gradually take control of the seas (though not the rivers).

Also in July, a heavy Union attack on Charlottesville is decisively repulsed, after which the large Union army retreats to Staunton and I spend a while trying to cut off its supplies. For a while I think it's supplied by wagons from Strasburg, but I can't quite manage to cut that link.

OCTOBER 1863: I lose Memphis after the forts are destroyed by riverboats, and immediately pull out of Corinth, which seems untenable without Memphis. Retreat to Helena (which I defend strongly) and Grenada.

MARCH 1864: St Louis rebels and I put a couple of brigades in there, which cause a persistent nuisance until they're eventually defeated in September.

NOVEMBER 1864: Lincoln loses the election to McClellan by a large margin, so the game ends at the beginning of January 1865, while I'm in the middle of an attempt to retake New Bern.

My mistakes

Initially Joe took a number of cities unopposed. In some cases there was nothing I could do about it. To lose New Bern was a pity, but I didn't have the manpower to defend all my ports at the beginning of the game. Strasburg is basically indefensible for supply reasons; Staunton is somewhat similar but perhaps I should have tried to hang on to it.

I should definitely have defended Decatur, but simply hadn't noticed it could be taken by river.

Having obtained Louisville by rebellion, obviously I should have put naval guns in there as well as forts. I didn't appreciate the danger from the river.

I should have defended Fredericksburg and especially Nashville more strongly. Nashville is hugely important: without it, I lose recruits from both Tennessee and Kentucky, and have to retreat to a precarious position at Chattanooga. I could have put more force in there, but I was complacent behind my forts, and still didn't fully appreciate what the riverboats could do. Nor did I realize that the direct railway line from Chattanooga to Nashville is completely non-functional.

After European intervention, I could have taken control of the European warships immediately, giving them Refit orders to keep them in port and build up their strength. But I didn't realize how to do it until later.

When I tried to take control of the European transports, I found that doesn't work. I merged them into my own fleets, and found that the resulting fleets were listed as Confederate, but I could do nothing useful with them: they wouldn't transport either cotton or troops.

There are quite a lot of British and French brigades sitting at St George and Nassau, but I never discovered how to bring them into action. This I regard as a failure of documentation rather than my mistake. I tried everything I could think of. It shouldn't be that difficult.

During the whole war I never made any raids into US territory by land or sea. Without cavalry, overland raids would be doomed by lack of supply; and sea raids would probably have been suicidal for much of the game because of the strength of the Union navy. But I felt bad that the USA was left completely unmolested except by rebellions; maybe I should have tried a sea raid early or late in the game.

Joe's mistakes

Although Joe lost the game, I feel that this was mainly because of the unexpectedly high defensive value of fortifications, and because of certain bugs that he ran into, rather than because he made major strategical errors. However, I tentatively identify some possible mistakes.

In general, he was ready to tolerate a high level of casualties, but the American people were not. I think he should have tried to look for softer targets instead of plugging away at my strongest positions. Towards the end of the game, soft targets became hard to find, but earlier on they did exist.

He built a lot of warships, and his blockade gradually became so effective that for most of 1863 I stopped trying to ship cotton. But I could just about survive without shipping cotton, although it was difficult. What I most feared all along were amphibious assaults on my ports, which I hadn't the manpower to defend adequately. Most of them were defended with a one-brigade garrison and a few forts and guns: easy prey for any attacking force equipped with artillery. I think he should have built more transports. It was a definite problem that many of them headed for Norfolk in defiance of their orders, but he eventually managed to take Norfolk.

Having taken Norfolk, he should never have lost it. Leaving it inadequately defended was a mistake.

He lost Louisville and then St Louis to rebellions, and then failed to take the rebellions seriously enough, so that they turned into a major nuisance. I think both cities are sufficiently important to deserve divisions permanently stationed there, not just garrisons. These are things that we've both realized with hindsight.

He suffered at least five rebellions, I think because his domestic prestige was low after the high casualties, the relatively slow progress of the war, and the draft. I had fairly high domestic prestige and no rebellions at all.

I don't think he appreciated how close he came to taking Chattanooga. My forces there were seriously depleted after a couple of turns out of supply; if he'd persisted and cut the supply line again, he could have had it. But he wasn't aware of the situation. The game displays messages when a unit's supply line to its base is cut, but it displays no messages when the supply base itself becomes cut off. (In fact, it's an error in game design that messages are displayed to both players in the first case; your opponent shouldn't be told when your forces go out of supply.)

General comments

I'm not particularly proud of my strategy in this game, in which I did nothing exciting or imaginative but just dug in and defended (with occasional counterattacks when I saw an opportunity). Though I will say that I suspect the real Confederates would have done better to follow my example. Digging in and defending can give you a pretty favourable rate of attrition, as was demonstrated at the (real) battle of Fredericksburg.

I decided at the start to try fortifying my cities, but both of us realized only gradually what a huge advantage that gave me. The trouble was that the expected losses in the battle analysis don't take account of fortifications, so Joe was losing much more than his expected losses, and for a while we both thought it was bad luck. So he went on trying and hoping for better luck next time...

We also found that fortifications seem to make defenders immune to morale problems. However much you hurt them, they keep coming back for more.

When you consider that a state capital is always in supply, that means that a heavily fortified state capital is virtually invulnerable to attack — unless it's on a river, when the fortifications can be taken out by river boats (at considerable cost to the boats).

I would have liked to have some cavalry. They supposedly make enemy forces more visible, and they can survive out of supply better than infantry, which makes them useful for some purposes; although their usefulness is severely limited by their weakness in combat.

I just never reckoned that I could afford cavalry. I couldn't recruit just one or two brigades of cavalry: in order to get one or two brigades, you have to recruit quite a lot of them, and I thought I had more urgent need of infantry.

How to attack a heavily fortified city

  1. If possible, cut it off from supplies and wait at least a few turns while the defenders gradually dwindle without fighting. Don't attack too soon because they can still bite.
  2. Use plenty of ships to take out the forts (expect heavy losses), and attack simultaneously on land before the fortifications go back up again.
  3. If you can't manage either of the above, attack with at least 5:1 odds. Expect heavy losses.