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"USA vs. French; Mexico, 1865" Topic

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21 Jan 2016 6:55 p.m. PST
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Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2015 2:30 p.m. PST

Using period railway maps as the basis for your troop movement maps is a stroke of genius! I like it.

For campaigning in Mexico, I found this nice 1867 map. Unfortunately, the map is in MrSID format, which is a patented proprietary format that is a chore to convert to anything else.

I've been looking around for a strategic board game that would provide a map (or a good basis for one). The GMT CDG of the Mexican-American War Halls of Montezuma has a nice, sepia-tone, line drawing map, but it doesn't go quite far enough south or west. The Against the Odds game Cactus Throne covers the whole theater of the Mexican Adventure, but the map doesn't look terribly useful.

A few interesting tidbits of strategic importance I've learned about period geography:

Most of Mexico is inside the tropics, and the Gulf coast lowlands are wet and full of mosquitoes spreading yellow fever and malaria. In 1863 the French captured Tampico but later abandoned it completely after losing half the garrison to yellow fever. In 1862 French forces were moved out of Veracruz to higher altitudes to escape disease, which implies that the inland mountainous parts of Mexico must have been less disease-prone. I imagine armies of native Mexicans would have been more resistant to the diseases, but I have no data (yet) to back me up.

These diseases would have affected American armies too. This would seem to indicate the safest route of overland travel through Mexico is via the line Monterrey – Saltillo – Matahuela – San Luis Potosi, which is probably why there were battles between French and Republican armies in all those places.

Emperor Maximilian started construction of the first railroad in Mexico in 1864, from Veracruz to Mexico City., but it wasn't completed until 1873. The 1867 map I linked to above shows a completed line from Veracruz to Puebla. Everything in Maximilian's Empire of Mexico moved by mule and wagon.

There was a small rail network linking Houston, Galveston, and a few other points nearby, but no rail link to the rest of the US rail network. Houston appears to be the strategic linchpin in the fight over settled Texas, and Galveston the critical supply link for armies operating there. In the ACW, supplies from Texas went by sea to New Orleans and probably other Gulf and Mississippi-basin cities, until the Union blockade cut them off.

The famous transcontinental railroad across the western US wasn't completed until 1869, and in 1865 hadn't even gotten across Nebraska. California was a long trip by steamer around Cape Horn, or an even longer trip overland through hostile wilderness.

- Ix

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2015 2:32 p.m. PST

Being an arrogant aristocrat with arrogant aristocratic advisors, he's going to believe his superb professional French units can kick the tar out of an ill-disciplined citizen army

Now I have to take issue for this. For starters Napoleon III had such a career that such an attitude would be alien to him.
[…] So I think you are exaggerating things here and underestimating him.

You're probably right. I was deliberately affecting a stereotypically American attitude to exaggerate a stereotype about European aristocracy (and also to stereotype American overconfidence in its own army, e.g. "show the French […] a thing or two about how Americans fight", etc.) I admit I don't know enough about Napoleon III to know if he deserves such rough treatment, but my real point was that the fiction of a war between the US and France depends on a lot of contemporary misperceptions by each opponent.

In real life I'm sure Napoleon was actually quite wary of American military capabilities, and that probably had a lot to do with him abandoning Mexico. There were lots of foreign military observers accompanying ACW armies and writing detailed reports, surely he read some, or at least synopses of them.

Conversely, I expect American knowledge of European military capabilities would be sketchier, since the ACW kept valuable American officers busy and the Europeans just weren't fighting as much at the time. AFAIK there were no American observers in Mexico writing about French operations.

- Ix

KTravlos25 Sep 2015 3:42 p.m. PST

Good maps there

So I decided to actually see how many veteran regiments Sheridan would have. I looked at regimental histories for three corps of interest (the ones that historically were part of his Army of Observation/Occupation)




I assumed that all regiments that were mustered out after Summer 1865 and in Texas, could had been kept under arms for 1866.

For the 4th Corps I found 30 Regiments that were part of the Texan operation.

The 25th Corp had 32 Infantry Regiments (USCT) of which I have foudn the numbers for 12 (plus the 11 of Steele's Expeditionary idea if they were part of the 25th, plus the 62nd and 87th USCT at Brazos Santiago)

The 13TH Corp is the one mostly affected as I only see 16 Veteran Regiments still in service in this period.

My call would be to make the 4th and 25th Corps Veteran, but to make the 13th a mixed corp (which creates a good gaming opportunity for a French player).

No ideas yet about the 19th and 17th Corps.

As it stands out we have 78 US infantry regiments vs. 57 French Battalions. Assume full complement for 13th, 19th,17th corp, it may be 142 US regiments (64 front line) vs. 57 French Battlions (+17 Mexican Ones)??

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2015 4:13 p.m. PST

I am so totally going to plagiarize the OOBs of KTravlos for this project. grin

The reinforcement schedule in the back of the Cactus Throne rules might be some help, especially with Mexican units (Imperial and Republican). The units are listed by name only (no strengths are mentioned), but it's a start.

- Ix

KTravlos26 Sep 2015 5:06 a.m. PST

Yup, feel free to do so

here is my OOB for the potential US forces in this war. I mostly relied on Nazfiger OOBs, Civil War Archive Regimental and Corps histories, and OOBs from Wikipedia. A ll mistakes are mine. Remember this is a flight of fancy.


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2015 9:57 a.m. PST

Can "Buffalo Soldiers" been part of this campaing?… (smile)


KTravlos26 Sep 2015 10:16 a.m. PST

Tango the USCT are the Buffalo Soldiers. So there is a whole Corps of them (25th) and half a Corp of them (19th). About 20000 African-Americans in US service.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP28 Sep 2015 5:48 p.m. PST

Last week I floated some questions about this made-up war to my local gaming group and got a few very positive responses, so I am gearing up to game it. I have plenty of 15mm ACW troops, and in a couple weeks I should have a few hundred figures of FPW French I can use for French units in Mexico. I have friends with even more FPW and ACW in 15mm, and one friend who has collected everything that appeared in Mexico during the Maximilian period. The hardest part will be coming up with tactical rules that everyone can agree on… that may be impossible without a firing squad. grin

It looks like the naval scenarios could be gamed most easily in 1/1200 and 1/600 (and maybe 1/2400, but I didn't look far into that). My friends and I have so much really nice 1/600 ACW vessels and shore terrain already that I'm probably going to go with that scale, even though large 1/600 battles will overflow even a large table. 1/1200 scale is a better option for fleet actions, and I already have a lot of ACW naval miniatures and shore terrain in 1/1200, but there's a problem: French vessels! The old line of Houston's 1/1000 ironclads includes a number of the French 1860s ironclads, but alas, they do not mix well with 1/1200 models on the table. Red Eagle Miniatures now sells the old Skytrex transitional steam models (frigates and ships of the line), but they cost about as much as the 1/600 scale equivalents from Bay Area Yards, and don't look as good.

If I can convince anyone to play a campaign, I'll come up with a nice system for maneuvering around a map of the Texas/Mexico region, otherwise I'll just make a scripted campaign and adjudicate the between-battles-events into the most interesting campaign story that generates the most interesting battles.

- Ix

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP28 Sep 2015 6:13 p.m. PST

Update: It looks like the ships needed are available in 1/2400 scale in the Tumbling Dice range of Victorian Period (& ACW). If any are missing, in 1/2400 scale it's easier to make substitutions without anyone noticing. grin

- Ix

KTravlos29 Sep 2015 1:05 a.m. PST

Yellow admiral, my next OOB will be the Franco-Texan-Mexican forces (though if you go with your history my Mexicans will not work for you).

After that, I will try a OOB based on Neil Thomas 19th century Rules at the brigade level of maneuver (Brigade is the basic unit of maneuver).

Good work on the naval part. For campaign(or more correctly the operational pre-set up to the battle) I have been thinking about using Sam Mustafas Scharnhost mini-system in Blucher.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2015 8:35 a.m. PST

It will take me some research to come up with some believable OOBs for various naval encounters. I just haven't had enough time at home with the right books to do it yet. :-(

Meanwhile, I've been thinking some about your timeline. Texas is a vast place, about the size of France, but at the time mostly empty and undeveloped. The small rail network centered on Houston was there because that is the richest agricultural region, and cotton and cattle production were clearly ramped up enough to make rail links to the port of Galveston profitable. San Antonio had about 15,000 people, so must also have had some agricultural development. It's about 450 miles by the most direct march from Monterrey to Houston, but the real lines of march will be more like 500 miles, to go either through San Antonio (the next major supply source) or Corpus Christi (the next port).

Bezaine's offensive into Texas would likely be in two main forces and some minor forces:

  • Main force 1, attacking along the coast from Matamoros to Corpus Christi, to capture the port and secure a supply point by sea, then on to Galveston
  • Main force 2, crossing at Laredo and driving straight for San Antonio, then on to Houston
  • Small forces crossing between those points (e.g. near Zapata, TX and Reynosa, Mexico) to drive up the center between the main forces and link them
  • A small force crossing near modern Piedras Negras and arcing out along the northern flank, around San Antonio, and on along the line Austin – Dallas – Shreveport, LA.

This is a wide front, starting about 200 miles wide at jump-off and expanding to 300 miles wide at full expanse. While this thins out an army of 80,000 a bit, it also spreads out the logistical load on each zone of the front. The fight along the San Antonio – Houston line would probably concentrate about 1/3 to 1/2 the force on each side, the fight along the coast about 1/4, and the remainder would spread out between and beyond. Assuming about 2/3 of the force at the front, that means a center front of about 20-30,000 men per side, a seaside front of about 10-15,000 per side, probably an extreme northern wing of 3-5,000 each side, and another 10-15,000 spread out in between those concentrations. That makes for some interesting battles of a wide variety of sizes.

The going across country in that region was slow and hard, and the armies would have been tethered to the coast by supply concerns. Supplies would have to come into ports along the coast, and for the Franco-Mexican army, up the Rio Grande and into supply dumps at the border in the early days. With supply by water being so important, that means a lot of naval forces involved. The Gulf coast is full of shoals, barrier islands, and shallow lagoons, an environment that would be dominated by shallow draft coastal vessels, giving the US Navy a huge advantage. The French would be able to take any port they want with a superior force of deep-draught ships, but unable to keep it open when the US monitors and gunboats come swarming in.

A Confederate navy officer looks at the proud French ironclads anchored in the deep water near Veracruz, shakes his head, and says "Those ain't gonna be no use in Texas…". Turning to Mareshal Bezaine he says he needs steam engines, rifled naval guns, tons of armor plate, and a dozen or more large riverboats. With those ingredients and a few months of labor, the Frenchman can have a coastal fleet to keep his supply port open. "Othuwise…", he says, pausing for a pull on his cigar, "y'all 'r gonna starve."

The Confederates had a lot of experience turning nearly any wooden boat into an armored monster, but they were always short of armor plate, good engines and artillery. With French steam engines and rifled guns, the classic Confederate sloped-box ironclad ram might have been frighteningly effective, especially if produced in numbers. That sounds like a fun "what if" to wargame. :-)

- Ix

KTravlos03 Oct 2015 7:02 a.m. PST

Final Orders of Battle


With Respect

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2015 10:02 a.m. PST

Quite interesting my friend!.

Thanks for share!.


Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2015 7:14 p.m. PST

¡Muy excelente! Muchas gracias, señor Travlos.

- Ix

KTravlos04 Oct 2015 11:54 a.m. PST

No problem. May it give you joy! And keep us posted of any games you run!

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2015 5:37 p.m. PST

Some material backing up my assertion that the French navy was considered a very dangerous potential opponent by contemporaries:

More analysis from reading the statistics:

  • US Monitors were bad sea boats with limited stores (and range). While some of the larger ones did cross the Atlantic and Pacific (Monadnock even rounded the Cape under her own power!) they were always accompanied by more seaworthy ships while doing so. Strip the monitors of a base and larger support ships, and they may have to leave station before starving or running out of coal.
  • French ironclads were perfectly capable of detached duty and trans-oceanic missions. In fact, the French navy built scaled down versions of the Gloire-pattern armored frigate for cruising duties in East Asia.
  • French ironclads had thinner armor, typically 4.5-5 inches all along the broadside. US monitors had similar armor on the sides, but those were only a foot or two high and difficult to hit; meanwhile monitor turrets had nearly a foot of armor.
  • The French ironclads are almost universally armed with 6.5 inch rifles until much later than our period in this conversation. These were deliberately designed to smash armor similar to the ships' own, but might have been impotent or at least troubled against monitor turrets.
  • The larger US Navy monitors carried 15 inch Dahlgren rifles, and there were plenty around still armed with 11-inch Dahlgrens. I'm guessing these will have much less trouble penetrating French armor. A French observer is quoted echoing my concern in this 1865 Harper's Weekly.
  • Some French ironclads were equipped with howitzers to lob shells onto the unarmored or lightly armored decks of ironclads. The monitors actually do have something to worry about here, though I'm pretty sure such high-angle shots in a sea fight are very unlikely to hit. If this tactic did turn out to be effective in combat, the French would probably have produced dozens or hundreds of them in short order.
  • French ironclads were designed for ramming, and were also huge and heavy and fast. A French armored frigate with a good head of speed would probably sink nearly any contemporary ship.
  • US Monitors were not intended for ramming, and in fact might get into trouble if the bow buried itself too far into a target vessel that started to sink.

Still more questions than answers. I definitely have to wargame this out. :-)

A friend and I between us can come up with two Kalamazoo class monitors, a Miantonomoh class monitor, a number of US ACW sloops and frigates, USS Dictator and USS New Ironsides. I'm placing orders for a small selection of 1/600 French ironclads and a couple French steam battleships from Bay Area Yards to pit against these. I'm planning to do some one-on-one fights and then a small squadron action to see how the matchups work out. (I'm also trying not to go overboard with the orders, because this is a truly loony side project and there may be little gaming potential here…)

- Ix

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2015 10:29 p.m. PST

Way back in September, KTravlos said of his Army of Texas:

I just need some officers (thought about Forrest, but he seems to had been ready to make peace in 1865).

I believe I hit the jackpot while doing research on this topic. The following list of very famous veteran Confederate officers all appeared in Mexico in 1865 and some stayed on as colonists until Maximilian's empire fell apart in 1867.

Kirby Smith
Joseph Shelby
Thomas Hindman
Richard Ewell
"Prince" John Magruder
P.G.T. Beauregard
Sterling Price
Jubal Early
Alexander W. Terrell

I'm sure there were more, but that's already too many big names for me, so I stopped researching. :-)

I read that John Magruder was already in service to Maximilian as some sort of staff officer when Jo Shelby showed up with about 800 veterans, and they together made the case for starting a "foreign legion" of ex-Confederates in the Empire of Mexico (which Maximilian turned down).

- Ix

KTravlos11 Nov 2015 3:05 a.m. PST

Hi Yellow Admiral. Glad to see you are still perusing this. I also got that list, thus my last OOB for the Texans, included some of these guys. But this is much more detailed. Keep us posted on how your project is going.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2016 3:57 p.m. PST

This thread should get cross-posted to the new Mexican American Wars board. I'm going to ask the C-in-C if he'll do that.

- Ix

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