Saturday 16 September 2023

The Greek ACW

 The Greek ACW

And so to battles three and four of the American Civil War campaign, fought out with ancient Greeks. Once the purists have finished choking on their coffee, I will proceed.

As we have already noted, the Athenians (Unionists) have been successful in two defensive battles so far. The first saw them successfully resist the Spartan move up the centre of the map, and the second saw them defeat the Spartan left hook to the west of the Appalachian Mountains. As the Spartan left hook was nearly twice the strength of the Athenian defenders, that was a bit of a surprise.

Next (on the same campaign turn) the central Athenian army (Shenandoah, for ACW purists out there) attacked the Spartan central army they had just defeated. I was a little tentative about this as Athenian commander as it seems a bit of an unnecessary encounter. Both armies were rather weakened by the original battle, but the dice said a battle, and who was I to disagree?

The picture shows the action a number of moves in. The Spartans have divided their hoplites into two, the idea being to hold the two hill crests. The leftmost hoplite line is in place, the centre ones, under the command of the general, are just arriving. The Athenians, advancing from the right, have been halted by the threat of the Spartan cavalry element (the Athenians lost their cavalry in the last battle).

The cavalry were to prove crucial. They charged the Athenian hoplites and, after a struggle, blew the leftmost (nearest the camera) element away, along with its supporting light infantry and the general. This really should not have happened. The Athenian combat dice rolls were truly dire, even when they were at about +3 on the dice they still lost the combat and were eventually routed. With morale now six points down the Athenians went to a fallback situation, and so I decided to withdraw. There was not much chance of a coherent attack on the Spartan-held hills any more, and the Spartan cavalry would still have been a threat once it had rallied.

As I said, as Athenian commander I was not sure that this battle was really necessary. In a campaign what becomes more important is keeping a viable force in being, as a threat which the enemy has to maintain forces to counter. This, of course, is a major difference between a campaign and a one-off wargame, or even a set of linearly linked wargames.

Anyway, the fourth battle of the campaign was one which, if I were not a solo wargamer would probably have not been fought out at all. The two armies based on their capitals clashed, just outside the Spartan home city. This was one of the most unbalanced scenarios I have ever placed upon the wargame table: four bases of Spartan hoplites against twenty bases of Athenians. The Spartans had placed most of their strength in their trans-montane left hook, which, as we have noted, has been rather blunted. The Athenians have placed most of their strength here, with the other forces being weaker holding armies.

Still, as Spartan commander I was not going down without a fight and, as the rest of the campaign has suggested, odd things have happened. Even taking out a few Athenian bases might be something of a win for the Spartans. This raised the stakes for the Athenians, of course. Not only did they need to win the battle, but they needed to win it well, preferably without losing a base. A decisive victory, annihilating the Spartan army, would give them a great deal of strategic room to manoeuvre; in fact, most of the rest of Sparta would be at their mercy.

While on the face of it a simple, one-sided battle, the strategic requirement changed things rather and affected the Athenian tactics. While the Spartans could only assume the best defensive posture they could, some thought had to go into working out how the Athenians could not only win but actually destroy the Spartan army. This had to come about by working both the flanks and the rear. Once again, the few bases of cavalry available were crucial.

The picture shows the situation just before the end of the game. The Spartans have adopted a defensive position between the rough ground on their left and the stream to the right. While they are now under attack from the Athenian light infantry this is not actually doing any damage at all. The Athenian phalanx (12 bases) is now looming at the defenders and, perhaps more significantly, the Athenian cavalry is in their rear.

A lot now depended on the ability of the Athenian commander to coordinate his forces. The cavalry had already been stopped and then started again in their movement while the hoplites lumbered into position. Now, the phalanx had to engage the Spartans while the cavalry wrought havoc from behind. Fortunately for the Athenians, they managed this, but only just. The Spartans actually won the tempo and attacked first, but the Athenian phalanx held out. On their bound, the phalanx started to damage the Spartans and then the cavalry went in.

The result was as messy as it was predictable. Two bases of Spartans went immediately. The third held out for another turn shorn of flank support, and then routed, while the last one was falling back until struck in front and flank by hoplites and cavalry. The Spartan home army had ceased to exist.

Strategically speaking, the demise of even the weak Spartan home army is important. Most of the rest of Sparta is now open, and Sparta’s two other armies are only just a match for their covering forces, let alone a 20-base Athenian army ravaging the rear.

Of course, I now need to decide whether to continue the campaign or whether the Spartans would do the sensible thing and surrender. By capturing the Spartan capital the Athenians are 20 victory points to the good already, and I am not sure the Spartans are going to make too many strides forward in recovering. That may well be it.

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