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"Overlapped brigades historic responses" Topic

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forwardmarchstudios06 Sep 2017 9:55 p.m. PST

It is very common in wargames to see a situation where a line of battalions will be attacked and some, but not all of the defending battalions are "pushed back." In these situations many rules allow the attacker to step into the space occupied by the defeated defender. In these cases, the other defenders suddenly find that their flanks are now occupied by enemy troops.

In some rules the remaining defenders are allowed to remain in place, or to take a morale check to see if they do. My question is, can anyone come up with any historic example of the above scenario occuring where the remaining battalions did not retreat as soon as their flank support did? I would image that at the absolute best such a unit could try to refuse its flank to buy time before reinforcements arrived to counterattack- or until the retreating unit counterattacked. Imagining this in my head, it seems that only an elite unit that was very well disciplined would have the wherewithal to attempt something like this. Actually, now I think I read something about the 57th doing something along these lines when a nearby unit retreated. I can't remember the battle though. So, maybe a penalized morale test should be allowed when a units flank support caves, with the end result being to kink the defending battalion into shape to show the refused flank.

Has anyone seen this reflected specifically in rules or history? Does it sound like a reasonable way to resolve this issue?

grecian1959 Inactive Member07 Sep 2017 12:27 a.m. PST

I'm interested in this myself as on game tables I have seen and ended up myself doing wall to wall units in front line
Meaning that reserves can't feed through and especially your query if there is a break in support … should other units remain or pull back to try and sustain frontline links ???

Sparta07 Sep 2017 1:29 a.m. PST

A very interesting qustion which also makes one ask: Would a unit from the second line ever step up and fill such a hole by itself or would the whole line retreat/advance.

grecian1959 Inactive Member07 Sep 2017 1:52 a.m. PST

Good point Sparta
Iniative or under orders
Then if they did mixed units from different brigades all jumbled up --- happens on table . In reality must be a CnC nightmare

Bill N07 Sep 2017 3:35 a.m. PST

If a move is supposed to represent a short time period I think this duplicates what typically happened when troops came into contact. First individual soldiers would break. Then small groups and then the rest of the unit. Troops in adjacent units would react to this, either by beginning to break themselves, by retreating, by maneuvering to protect their exposed flank or by throwing in reserves to plug the gap in a counterattack. They could also miss it and find themselves hit in the flank as happened at Bloody Lane at Antietam or surrounded and captured. If you have rules where a turn is a few minutes, it is likely the action would be at one of these intermediate steps when the time interval expired. If a turn represents an hour it is less likely.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

I think in general, the flanked line would retreat. The local commander would move his troops so as to build a new, solid line. Loss of a key position might have the entire division pull back to other ground.

In game action, however, I think this outcome is a mechanic, not a model of reality. By this I mean, the attacking troops location forces the defender to do the right thing: restore his line. It is not meant to be taken too literally. You are now flanked so you have to respond. If you don't your line gets rolled up.

After all, our games break assaults down in to neat phases. So this mechanic addresses the idea that everything is simultaneous.

As for reserves, if appropriate to your era and army, your rules must include an option for passage of lines. This was how reserves often relieved the front line.

In short, I think games have a limited number of ways to show a HUGE variety of local outcomes so you shoe horn them in to one or two "game mechanics."

Snapper6907 Sep 2017 4:52 a.m. PST

Why would a flanked unit retreat, if it is in good order and not itself being attacked? It could refuse the threatened flank, or even wheel by companies and counter-attack into the flank of the now disordered enemy unit.

Our house rules would require a morale test to determine if neighbouring units also break, which would be a possibility. If they stand, making a formation change within charge distance of an enemy unit would make them shaken. After that, anything goes. As a shaken unit, they would require a further morale check to charge. This makes the counter-attack variant only something for reliable, quality troops, which I feel is realistic.

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 5:08 a.m. PST

I had this happen in a recent battle. Under my rules, the attacker can continue the attack on any unit within one inch without requiring any additional morale rolls to close.

The units on the flanks are required to roll for morale and if they stand are considered to be under a flank attack for melee.

This allows the attacker to roll up the flank.

rustymusket07 Sep 2017 5:46 a.m. PST

A lot would depend on what was able to be seen by the force not pushed back. The "fog of war" might prevent one unit from knowing what was happening to neighboring units at least for a while. Command control would be a factor in what happened, to some extent, unless an unordered retreat or route would occur for the force not pushed back.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 6:14 a.m. PST

Why would a flanked unit retreat, if it is in good order and not itself being attacked? It could refuse the threatened flank, or even wheel by companies and counter-attack into the flank of the now disordered enemy unit.

That's why it was important to engage all defending units. If all units are engaged and one retreat than the others are locked and can not react, they then either have to retreat or risk being flanked(also remember in the heat of battle, it's perfectly possible a battalion is way too busy with the enemy to their front to even notice their allies have retreated.)
Hence the importance of mounted officers keeping track of their battalions so they actually give the order to retreat or they risks isolated battalions getting cut off and surrounded.

Glenn Pearce Inactive Member07 Sep 2017 7:35 a.m. PST

Hello FMS!

Oddly enough this was a situation along with attacks/results that I studied intensely for a long period of time when I wrote "Ruse de Guerre".

The problem with conventional rules is they allow too much to happen in the space of a turn before the other side can react. Real life is not broken down into turns or phases. So you have to look at ways to try and mitigate that as much as possible.

I finally identified that allowing the victor to occupy the space previously held by the defender was a step too far in a single turn. In most cases the attacker is generally committed to advance into the now unoccupied space. Even if not, it simply adds to the unknown element that is so often missing from most games. This still prompts all the other possible reactions from the remaining defending units as there is still a hole in their line. So what happens is a new turn takes place and both sides are scrambling to improve their position. There is an added sense of drama to these turns as it's no longer a sure thing that the attacker will be able to exploit his success. If the attacker gets to move first he can now occupy the empty space or make another unpredictable move. If the defender moves first all the options are open. He can move into the empty space first simulating a counterattack, or wheel to protect his exposed flank. Although just as artificial as allowing the attacker to occupy the defenders empty space it goes a step further by restoring some balance to the defenders ability to react that they don't really have under conventional rules. Keeping in mind that under most conventional rules the other defenders have been unable to react ever since the attacker blew his bugles or pounded on his drums that an attack was eminent. That is completely unrealistic.

Best regards,


forwardmarchstudios07 Sep 2017 7:39 a.m. PST

Bill N- you made a really good point about turn length. If a turn is only a few minutes long then the intermediate steps could be shown. The question then tho is what happens during the intermediate steps?

I also think that you made, in passing, a point that gamers generally forget about. Captures. In fact, your mention there caused me to have a bit of an epiphany: the reason the remaining line would need to pull back if support was not immediately forth coming (or if it failed to refuse its flank, which I still believe only a very well drilled, veteran or simply lucky unit could pull off under these conditions) was because if the enemy on its flank did manage to sweep past it and bring just one or two companies into position the defending unit would be obliged to surrender. This would have the effect of breaking up the assault in that area, since two friendly units would have to stop and escort the enemy prisoners. I think this explains in part why many rules dont make sense when it comes to the scenario in my OP- its because almost no games have rules for units surrendering!

Also, speaking of turn lengths controlling how these combats must unfold on the table-top: maybe it is also much too generous to allow an automatic advance into the defender's vacated terrain. Although one might be able to loop around on the enemy, one is also exposing ones own flank to enemy fire by doing this. A unit that has just been engaged in an attack may or may not be in good enough order to advance as the enemy in front gives way. Doing this requires the commander of the attacking battalion to place his unit in an unknown situation, going from a known one. I wonder if this might not be a situation where the controlling battalion tactic serves to keep all the battalions in line during a brigade attack. Another major issue (which as former military I feel like I should have recognized awhile ago), is that if you move past the flank of your support, you are going to stand a very good chance of wandering into the fire beaten area behind and around the enemy unit still engaged. This is an excellent recipe for a panicked withdrawal by the just-victorious attacker.

I'm glad other people have been thinking about this; its one of the stickiest spots in wargaming. Personally, I'm leaning towards an automatic brigade retreat, unless, (1) units fail to realize they're now unsupported due to fog of war, in which case they are at high risk of capture; (2) the units are veterans and/or extremely disciplined and manage to refuse their flank. This could happen if a flanking support withdraws even if the attacking unit never steps into the gap. And that could require a passage of lines (which I also agree needs to be modeled. But, I'm also now thinking that battalions may have maintained the attacking brigade's integrity on the line to the extent possible, which might be a function of a competent defending brigade commander withdrawing his troops once their position became untennable.

At the battalion level I don't think a description of "rolling up the flank," is really applicable. To me, that is a descriptor of action at a higher level, when one battalion (or even brigade) after another is attacked on the flank successively. The response there is either to retreat, or more likely, panic and flee like at Chancelloresville. On a battalion and brigade level I think that the relatively small distances involved would result in a withdrawal or route, or refusal almost as soon as an enemy got onto the flanks. And again, a friendly unit that attacks along the enemy line at this kind of tactical range would be subject to friendly flanking fire.

Great responses so far, this is giving me lots to think about

avidgamer Inactive Member07 Sep 2017 8:45 a.m. PST

I can think of on instance right off the top of my heard but there probably more.

Fredericksburg 1862 Meade's division punched a hole in the Rebel line on their right at the rail line, Jackson's Corps. Both flanking Reb brigades held their ground until help arrived and shoved the Union attackers out.

paulgenna07 Sep 2017 8:53 a.m. PST

I also think Gettysburg were individual regiments in the middle ran but the other units stayed in position. Smoke would obscure some from seeing the unit fall back. Other might assume the regiment moved forward.

KimRYoung Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 10:30 a.m. PST

One thing that no set of wargame rules makes a distinction of is what are the men doing of their own volition, and what are their local officers directing them to do.

As for what a unit might do when it losses contact with its flank support, there are many cases for different outcomes how a regiment or brigade reacted. Extra Crispy is correct that the most "common" reaction to having your position being overlapped would be to withdraw, hopefully in as orderly manner as possible. Often times this does not happen and units tend to flee to safer ground in the rear.

A great account of many of discussed situations occurred in the action on Blocher's Knoll during the first day of Gettysburg:


Probably the biggest problems in all of table top wargames is what the "player" wants to do and their "logical" assumptions of what should or should not happen compared to what actually occurred on a historical battlefield and the reactions of actually officers and men.

Rules rarely grasp the reality of war and only reflect a perception of it from an omnipotent view.


forwardmarchstudios07 Sep 2017 11:18 a.m. PST

Great example of what actually happens when a flank collapses.
As regards players doing things that officers wouldn't, I recently was working on some rules for my own game that I thought captured command well. They were based on the US military's OODA loop system postulated by John Boyd and based on his essay Destruction and Creation..

My command system was broken down into three phases, although strictly speaking the first two phases are just counting modifiers. First, observation. Here we count modifiers for conditions outside the commanders internal world. Relevant to this is the distance his corps is spread over, the number of units in contact w the enemy, the presence if combat near the commander, the number of corps currently either moving or engaged. There are penalties for all of these, which add up to a final cumulative modifier. Then its on to Orientation. These are the officers internal mechanisms that structure how he reacts to stimulus. Personality, training, his current orders, whether his unit has been advancing or retreating, even loyalty. These are turned into another modifier. These Observation and Orientation modifiers are added up and modify the decision dice roll. If the officer passes he can move the unit or send the order as per player wishes. If he fails this means that based on that officers reading of the situation he cannot come to the conclusion to do as the player, with his helicopter view, would like. This OODA loop applies to all officers, including the CiC. In other words, the ability to make a decision is a function of information and subjective relationship to that information.

In light of the conversation here it might do to add a mechanism by which an officer will order a retreat based on his troops situation. Weight of fireX casualties, withdrawing flanks, etc, will make an officer more likely to voluntarily withdraw or advance from a position. Sam Mustafa has rules somewhat similar to these in FPGA, but he doesn't aggregate conditions in the manner I'm advocating.

Cleburne186307 Sep 2017 6:02 p.m. PST

Also remember the 69th Pennsylvania did not retreat when the 71st Pennsylvania broke to their right at the Angle at Gettysburg.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 7:01 p.m. PST

Some of this has to do with the scale we are talking about and how much time there is between seeing the flanking force and acting by refusing the flank.

At Corunna, the flank battalion on Napier's/52nd right refused their flank when outflanked.

Chamberlain at Little Round Top refused their left.

Larger flanking movements when troops were engaged in front could be a different matter. The 52nd's attack on the French Guard in the flank of the columns was a game ender.

Retiarius910 Sep 2017 7:36 a.m. PST

leave it up to a die roll, wargamers have way too much control over troops once engaged

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2017 7:26 a.m. PST

As Retiarius9 says, isn't this covered by the morale roll mechanic that many rules already employ?

It really depends on how much abstraction you are willing to tolerate or how much detail you require in your games. It could be something as simple as:

1 Flank refused

2 3 Stay put

4 5 Fall Back

6 Fall back in confusion.

If you wanted more detail you could add modifiers for morale grade, training, command and control.

In other words a quick die roll with 1-3 being a good result and a 4-6 a not so good result.

Rules like Fire and Fury/On to Richmond use lack of flank support as a negative modifier to the maneuver roll.

All said and done, the battle can be so chaotic it makes battlefield performance just a crap shoot*.

*The Leo Tolstoy's experience of battle.

forwardmarchstudios11 Sep 2017 8:18 a.m. PST

Hi Big Red,

I agree that the outcomes you listed are pretty much exhaustive. My point is that the spread of results one sees in wargames don't reflect history.

What I'm leaning towards now is a scheme where the first battalion that falls back from a defending line of troops will require that the entire line withdraw unless the remaing units can refuse their flank (rare, the exception), the retreating unit immediately rallys and retakes its former position (more probable), or, most likely, a unit from a second reserve line is moved forward to eject the attackers. In the cases where a pierced line fails to retreat and doesnt refuse its flank (a minority of cases) I think this should be preporatory to being captured or else routed/destroyed by panic. It reflects, as you say, the line being overwhelmed by the chaos of the situation.

Cement Head Inactive Member11 Sep 2017 10:59 a.m. PST

Pretty sure this is obvious but what you describe is a perfect example of why commanders tended to deploy in successive lines. They wanted support units available because they didn't know the situation before them. As gamers, we have our helicopter view. I think the person that solves this issue will have some pretty darn good rules.

forwardmarchstudios11 Sep 2017 3:55 p.m. PST

Cement Head,

I think the issue is that model wargamers have locked onto the idea that the game has to be between two opposed players with no human intermediary to referee. And its impossible to resolve these eternal issues from inside that framework. The only way to get the real experience of not knowing is to not know. And the only efficient way to do that for two players is to use a human ref. Failing that you could use Red Team/Blue Team rules where one side is privileged in information. To accomplish this you might be able to come up with a game where the players have completely different victory conditions depending on who has more information. I've also been tinkering with a system where the players alternate the role of referee. I still dont think its as good as a single ref, or team of refs tho.

The thing about a kriegspiel-type game is that it doesnt really require any official rules. You just need a ref who knows something about the period in question. The entire thing can be improvised. All you need are three tables, three maps, two or more players and enough refs. Otherwise there is simply no reason to fight a battle as they were (and are) actually fought. It is kind of surprising that no one has ever written a set of modern wargame rules that call for a referee who writes a scenario for the two players to run through. Given the popularity of Dungeons and dragons, and the ability to quickly send orders via text messages you would think would have already been done. Once again, it doesn't require any complicated rules at all. It just requires a different mindset.

jwebster11 Sep 2017 4:32 p.m. PST

or, most likely, a unit from a second reserve line is moved forward to eject the attackers

How does a single battalion from the second line move in to replace first line (assuming first line withdraws rather than routing completely) ? I mean what was the command or drill mechanism the commander would use. Do we have examples of this working in practice ? Another way of looking at it, if it didn't work in practice, why did they form multiple lines ?

the person that solves this issue will have some pretty darn good rules

It's clear that most rules today don't allow this kind of maneuver, the more I learn the more I realise is missing in terms of detailed tactics and command and control



Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2017 4:35 p.m. PST

I think the issue is that model wargamers have locked onto the idea that the game has to be between two opposed players with no human intermediary to referee. And its impossible to resolve these eternal issues from inside that framework. The only way to get the real experience of not knowing is to not know. And the only efficient way to do that for two players is to use a human ref.

I think there are two points of reference here that apply to what you've written:

1. Battalion and Brigade commanders from the Napoleonic Wars through the ACW were given parameters to what they could and couldn't do without orders, in wargame terms, they were pretty restrictive. They include what could and should be done when they saw themselves outflanked. So, allowing players to move battalions and brigades according to what historically they were allowed to is simply a set of rules, and not that complicated at that. How often do we find brigades outflanked historically? What happened and what did brigades do about it. Beyond full-out surprise, the reactions were simple and usually effective to some extent.

2. An umpire or referee is nice when it comes to 'surprise', but most gamers want to PLAY most of the time, not watch and adjudicate, becoming the 'official rules lawyer'.

There are a number of ways of introducing levels of surprise and unknowns into our games, its just a matter of whether gamers want that.

One major issue is that if units are not on the table until seen, at most scales you aren't going to see all those glorious figures on the table altogether or much of the time. For instance, with a scale of 60-75 yards to the inch, all the visibility tables created during the Napoleonic to ACW and on into WWI were limited to about 26 to 30 inches on the table. After that, even with telescopes, it down to 'impressions' of something--which dummies on the table well represent.

forwardmarchstudios11 Sep 2017 4:55 p.m. PST


Chickamauga Virtual Tours website probably has the best examples of how chaotic a battle could get, and what sort of weird things a brigade could do, or end up doing. Here's a nice convoluted example:



As shown there the Union brigades mostly deploy in two lines. They don't really reinforce to the front, however. Instead they widen their frontage or refuse their flanks. Generally during that battle, it seems that when a single regiment would retreat the entire brigade would retreat. Or else, when the brigade's position was compromised then the entire brigade would retreat. It probably did vary quite a bit based on the battle, the general's instructions, and the like. There was a conversation on here awhile back where some people showed that passages of lines for the defense and attack were done by brigade, not by the battalion. But that was specific to the Napoleonic era, and to specific armies.

Blutarski11 Sep 2017 5:51 p.m. PST

See the rout of Sedgwick's division from the West Woods by Confederate flank/rear attack during the Battle of Antietam. In such situations, the power of orders and command hierarchies evaporates in the face of general panic.

I've encountered some really weird situations playing rules that ignore the great sensitivity of troops to flank and rear threats.

> In one old set of ACW rules (do not recall name), in an effort to claim enfilade fire upon one of my nearby regiments, my opponent wheeled his regiment right in front of an entire 12-lbr battery giving it a perfect bowling alley enfilade shot for canister fire at stone's throw range. No morale check required by the rules.

> In a BF&F game, my opponent wheeled an entire brigade right across the front of one of my brigades echeloned in close support of the flank of a brigade ahead in order to claim a flank attack on my lead brigade. The flank of his wheeling brigade barely scraped by the face my supporting brigade line and made melee contact. No morale or reaction test.

No sane leader or soldier would have acted in such a manner on a real battlefield.


forwardmarchstudios11 Sep 2017 6:13 p.m. PST

Nice examples- those are exactly the sort of situations that I'm trying to get away from.

I'm working on some rules with much more restrictive movement rules that one often sees.

I'm also working on a a bidding system for players to free narrate events on the table top, with this power balanced by a veto available to the opposing player. It's kind of interesting- it allows players to interject complex and anomalous events into any set of rules without upsetting the underlying rules. It's good for playing games where most of the units start off board in reserve positions. Its effect is to let the players exchange the role of referee in a kriegspiel, to a greater or lesser extent.

Still, a ref takes care of all of these problems.

von Winterfeldt11 Sep 2017 9:57 p.m. PST

Going back to Napoleonics, it would depend how the tactical unit is deployed, in that case, a division of two brigades, each of two regiments of 3 battalions, for example.
Usually a division was formed into two or occationally three battle lines, the second line would act as tactical reseve.
one had two options, the first brigade in the first line – the second in the second line – each commanded by a brigade general.
The other option, each brigade side by side, so one regiment in the front and the other in the back, also commanded by a brigade commander.
We tried this out in wargames – and found the second option reacting much better, there the command radius of the brigade general was much shorter and he would command directly over his second line as well, so he could feed in any battalion rather quickly and not having to ask another brigade general or divisional general for help.
Also, in case the second "line" was formed by columns, it enhanced the manouever ability and react on any tactical change of situation.

Cement Head Inactive Member12 Sep 2017 8:12 a.m. PST

Some really interesting concepts floating around here. At least 30 years ago there was a set of ACW rules called…I think…Rebel Yell. They were meant to have a referee that ran the game much like a D&D game where he described the action, kept track of losses and morale, and only told players things they might actually see. I tried them a couple of times and can't remember why I poo-pooed them.

The 6mm ACW site has a brilliant way they did hidden movement by moving chits around in matchboxes. You have to read it to understand it.

Sam Mustafa I think did a good thing in Grande Armee by dicing for a brigade's movement after it comes within a certain "engaged" distance.

Of course, this will be all bollixed up if you have players that demand the right to micro manage their units…

Bill N13 Sep 2017 9:13 a.m. PST

It has been interesting reading about how you are working through the process of developing your rules. One thing we frequently lose when buying a packaged rule set is the designer's thought process in coming up with the rules.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 10:11 a.m. PST

Of course, this will be all bollixed up if you have players that demand the right to micro manage their units…

Well, while a player in the role of an army commander may be moving battalions and brigades, the rules and methodology those battalion and brigade commanders had to follow restricted what they could do. That means, IF the rules are portraying that reality, then the players will not be able to micro-manage to anything to the degree they usually can.
Whether players want that is another question.

Bill N14 Sep 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

I prefer games where the battalions and brigades are player commanded and not just the army. Ideally each unit would have its own commander. Where you only have two players that means the army commander will by necessity also command the battalion and brigade. To some this may seem like micro-managing. My philosophy is the results of the battle are going to be determined as much by how well lower level commanders perform as they are by how well the army commander performs. I'd rather let player skill determine this than have it decided by some random result process.

I realize this isn't for everyone, and it may not be practical for large battles, but I think there is something to be said for these types of games.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 6:52 a.m. PST

My philosophy is the results of the battle are going to be determined as much by how well lower level commanders perform as they are by how well the army commander performs.

I can agree. Yet, the battalion and brigade commander's decision-making ability was fairly circumscribed. The lower you go in the command hierarchy, the less they had to do in deciding what to do and when. Clausewitz is very clear on this and why it was necessary.

Read Napier's description of how he spends his time and what decisions he makes for his command as battalion / regiment commander at Corunna.

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