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The Battle of Cross Keys, 1862


Misc., The American Civil War, Regimental Fire & Fury, 10mm

This weekend I was invited down to Suffolk, to take part in a multi-player American Civil War game. It was staged by Maj. Gen. John “DZ” Drewienkiewicz (rtd.), the author of three books in the “Wargames in History” series published by Ken Trotman. This game – the Battle of Cross Keys – is destined to feature in his fourth book in the series, covering Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862. John has an enviable wargames set-up – a converted outbuilding at the bottom of his garden, crammed with figures, with racks of scenery stored underneath his large table. For this game DZ served as an umpire, as did two of his co-authors Andrew Brentnall and Adam Poole. A retired army officer (a wargaming virgin) and I played the part of Dick Ewell, holding a ridge against the Union forces of General Fremont, while three Yankee commanders were ranged against us.Our first decision was where to place our four brigades. We had a lot of ground to cover, and had no idea where the Yankees would launch their assault. So, we decided – rather rashly – to send two of our brigades (Steuart’s and Elzey’s) forward to cover the approaches to two fords over the stream which ran across the front of our ridge, while our other two brigades (Taylor’s and Trimble’s) waited behind the ridge, ready to react to events. Our gun batteries lined the ridge, covering the approaches to our side of the table. When the Union forces appeared they sent four brigades towards the western ford, covered by Elzey, while two brigades had orders to screen the centre and eastern edge of the table, to the north of the stream. This is exactly what happened, except Milroy’s Brigade got into a scrap with Stuart’s Brigade over near the eastern ford, and the battle there raged for several turns.High points included a joint charge by a Louisiana regiment and a small force of cavalry that rode down a Union regiment, and the fight around a farmhouse, where Steuart kept getting his horse shot from under him. Eventually the Yankees were reinforced, and what remained of Steuart’s brigade pulled back over the ford. The Union troops there were in no position to pursue, but did manage to make a couple of half-hearted probes across the ford, where Confederate reinforcements in the shape of Patton’s brigade were ready and waiting for them. Actually, this private little war continued throughout Saturday, and on until Sunday lunchtime, when we ended the game. Richard – the wargaming virgin did well to keep the Yankees at bay on that flank. If they’d broken through then they’d have stood between the rest of the Confederate army and the rest of Jackson’s army at Port Republic. Fortunately, that never happened, despite both sides largely ignoring a road on the far side of the table. As DZ pointed out in his debrief, had the Yankees chosen to send their cavalry brigade down the road, there was little or nothing to stop them from turning the Confederate line.Over on my side of the table the Yankees led the way with their cavalry, who had no idea a brigade of Rebs were waiting for them in the woods. They were shot from their saddles, although at one point they attempted a charge, only for it to be repulsed, before the bounced unit was riddled with musket fire. What forced Elzey’s brigade back was the heavy concentration of Union guns supporting their right hook towards the west ford. One round even managed to kill Elzey, but his brigade retired in good order, despite heavy casualties from enemy shot and shell.Once across the river they took up a defensive line, but they were heavily outnumbered by the Yankees, who were now massing three brigades in the woods on the northern bank of the stream. Fortunately, Trimble’s brigade – one of our two reserve brigades – had secretly been massing just behind the ridge to the Yankee’s front. All they saw was a half-shattered brigade and a suppressed gun battery. They were in for a big surprise…We’d already committed Taylor’s brigade on the ridge, in the middle of our line. They were busy facing off two brigades of Union troops on the lower hills of the northern bank of the stream. However, apart from some desultory shelling the two sides never got to grips with each other. This clearly wasn’t going to be the case over on the Confederate left, which was why Trimble’s brigade was waiting there, ready for the Union onslaught. When it came it was something of a damp squib. Thanks to poor die rolling only one regiment got across the stream, but then the whole brigade broke and ran. In their defence they were green troops, and had suffered casualties in the fighting to clear Elzey’s brigade from the northern bank, but it was a poor showing by them.Two turns later a second more coordinated attack was launched. Once again only one Union regiment crossed the stream, but the rest of its brigade were about to follow them. It was then that Trimble’s brigade deployed on the crest of the ridge, and then charged down into the hapless Union regiment. Inevitably it broke and fled back across the stream, whereupon the fighting degenerated into a musketry exchange from either bank.We’d been playing for all of Saturday and half of Sunday – and lunch was calling. The game had reached a natural impasse anyway, as the Yankees had been stopped cold, and having taken so many losses they were in no shape to renew the attack. I don’t know what the final casualty toll was, but it was something like two and a bit Union casualties for every Confederate one by Saturday evening, and the fighting on Sunday proved even more bloody for the boys in blue. The game was a clear Confederate defensive victory – we caused a lot more casualties, and had covered all the roads to Port Republic, which was the reason we were fighting there in the first place.Still, it was a close-run game, and at a couple of times it could have gone either way. Everyone had a great time playing Cross Keys – the event made all the more memorable thanks to the hospitality of John and Christine DZ. While I’d never played Regimental Fire & Fury before I soon got the hang of it – and even if I hadn’t there were three eagle-eyed umpires around to keep us right. The result was a weekend of wargaming that’ll be remembered for a long time to come.

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