This past Saturday, Don M, Beth M, Luke F, Feyd-Rautha and I attended the Big Muddy Historical Gaming Association’s monthly game day at Miniature Market on Manchester. It was my first visit there – absolutely splendid facility – and we replayed the Battle of Old Church, an American Civil War battle that took place in May of 1864. From the wiki:
As the opposing armies faced each other across Totopotomoy Creek, a Union cavalry division under Brig. Gen.Alfred T. A. Torbert collided with a cavalry brigade under Brig. Gen. Matthew C. Butler at Matadequin Creek, near the Old Church crossroads. After sharp dismounted fighting, the outnumbered Confederates were driven back to within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of Old Cold Harbor, which preceded the Union capture of that important crossroads the following day.
Dave Harrison from BMHGA was the game runner, and from the start it was clear that the Confederates were at a disadvantage. Union forces were dug in at the corner of Old Church Road (not sure if that was its actual name, but that’s what we Rebs called it), plus sharpshooters in house on both sides, PLUS regiments in cover behind stone walls. Overall the effect was that of a classic L-shaped ambush, and we Confederates decided not to follow historical precedent and march right up the road, but instead (a) get our forces onto the board and off the road as soon as possible, while (b) curving left to try to advance quickly, take the weaker Union left flank, then sweep toward the crossroads and avoid the obvious trap.
A few distant shots rang out, but initially the Confederate plan was working, and the rebel forces were pouring onto the road and clearing the way for their colleagues behind. In the meantime, the Alabama vanguard and supporting North Carolina forces made their way across the farm fields toward the Union flank.
Once they’d gotten to effective range, the Alabamians began delivering a withering fire against the 2nd Maryland. But the wall held.
In the end, the Confederate tactics failed due to a combination of two things: first, the sheer volume o Union troops in the area, as well as the speed with which they were able to deploy; and second: the 2nd Maryland, which nearly singlehandedly stopped the Confederate forces from taking the Union left flank like they wanted.
Victory: UNION. It was a helluva fight but the Confederates were doomed pretty much from the start. History had not been kind to the Confederates, either:
Skirmishers from Butler’s brigade easily pushed the squadron of Pennsylvanians back to Matadequin Creek. Devin sent in two more squadrons from the 17th Pennsylvania and Maj. Coe Durland led them in a charge that restored the original Union picket line position. Assuming that he faced only a token force, Devin provided no more reinforcements. However, at 3 p.m., an attack by Butler’s main force overwhelmed the Union pickets, who fought a vigorous delaying action to prevent the South Carolinians from crossing over the creek. Devin deployed two additional regiments on either side of the Pennsylvanians—the 6th New York to the right and the 9th New York to the left. Butler deployed the 4th South Carolina to the west of the road, facing the 6th New York, and the 5th South Carolina to the east, facing the 9th New York. He left the 7th South Carolina in reserve.
As Torbert surveyed the scene, he realized that three regiments would be insufficient to resist the Confederate brigade, so he ordered the rest of his division to move up. Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt‘s reserve brigade was the first to arrive, and his 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment replaced the 17th Pennsylvania, which had run low on ammunition, in the center of the line. On the right end of the Union line, the 6th New York and the 2nd U.S. pushed back the 4th South Carolina, which was soon reinforced by the Charleston Light Dragoons. The Confederates built breastworks out of logs from Liggan’s farm. On the left end, the 9th New York met heavy resistance from the 5th South Carolina, which was protected by the 40-foot banks of the Matadequin. Merritt attempted to outflank the Confederate position with the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanded by Capt. Charles L. Leiper. Although they managed to cross the creek to the left of the 9th New York, they were stopped in heavy hand-to-hand combat with the South Carolinians and Leiper was severely wounded.
The stalemate was broken by the arrival of the Michigan Brigade under Brig. Gen. George A. Custer. He deployed his 5th Michigan on the right of Bottoms Bridge Road, the 1st and 7th Michigan on the left, and the 6th Michigan in reserve. Their attack flanked the Confederates on both ends of the line. As Butler’s men fled to the rear, his reserve regiment, the 7th South Carolina, counterattacked in an attempt to maintain the line. The superior Union numbers and firepower—the Michiganders were armed with Spencer repeating rifles and Torbert had deployed horse artillery, a weapon that Butler did not have available—carried the day. Although almost all the fighting in the battle was dismounted, Col. Frank A. Haskell and Maj. Edward M. Boykin (cousin of the famous Confederate diarist, Mary Chesnut) led the 7th on horseback, and both were severely wounded during the charge. The 20th Georgia Battalion arrived at the end of the battle and were almost swamped by their colleagues racing away on horseback. The Union troopers pursued the retreating Confederates with enthusiasm. Butler eventually rallied his men at Old Cold Harbor and Torbert’s men bivouacked about 1.5 miles northeast of the intersection.