Farewell to Chickamauga
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
It doesn’t seem so long ago, but it was. Every year, my Boy Scout troop made the short trek up to the northern Georgia to hike the trails of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. I was never all that engrossed by the American Civil War, but I knew about the Orphan Brigade and Waul’s Texas Legion, the Washington Artillery of New Orleans and the Rock of Chickamauga.
We’d published a Gettysburg game and decided to follow it up with another battle game, but designer Dave Powell - a noted authority on the Battle of Chickamuaga - was adamant that he could not design a game on the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh as he’d promised to do so for another publisher. He was deeply apologetic about it and didn’t seem to believe that I didn’t care. I’d wanted a Chickamauga game from the start.
Some of the earliest board wargames concerned battles of the American Civil War, and after more than a half-century every major battle has been covered many times. I’m not as familiar with the genre as I am with others, and wanted something that, surprisingly, Dave told me had never been done before (that has to be an oversight; surely someone’s done it). The Battle of Chattanooga took place two months after Chickamauga, just to the north, and I sought a game that covered both with a linking campaign.
The Battle of Chickamauga took place in September 1863, and its confused nature in the thick woods of north Georgia has made it a difficult game design topic. Dave used the War of the States/Empires system to craft a game that shows the battle unfold very well. The Union has been advancing southward and Braxton Bragg’s Confederates come forward to meet them. The Union’s northern flank appears to be open, but the Confederates have to slog their way through the woods to get there.
Well aware that 1863 is not 1943, Dave has styled the game’s terrain effects appropriately: it’s hard to move through the woods in formation, and it’s hard to keep your troops moving. But the woods by themselves don’t give any defensive benefit. So the side with better leadership (those would be your corps and army commanders) and better strategic guidance (that would be you) has a distinct advantage. In the actual battle, the two army commanders performed rather indifferently, but George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, saved the day by bringing up his Union XIV Corps to cover the Army of the Tennessee’s flank just in time.
The Confederacy counted Chickamauga as a victory, since the Union retreated back to Chattanooga, but the butternut-and-gray missed their chances to inflict a decisive defeat on the Yankees. Bragg followed them to Chattanooga and settled into a siege, one finally broken after the arrival of U.S. Grant to command the Northern forces.
That battle took place in late November, when Grant sent Thomas to undertake a minor probe against the Confederate lines that miraculously turned into a successful all-out assault that Thomas told Grant his men had launched spontaneously. In the game, the Union player can instead try Grant’s plan, which has William T. Sherman crossing the Tennessee River to hit the very thin Confederate siege lines in the flank.
The campaign game, of course, ties these two together and does what I really like to see in wargames: it puts the battle’s strategic goal right there on the map. It’s not enough just to push the Yankees around down at Chickamauga Creek; the Confederate player wins by capturing the vital Union supply center of Chattanooga. If he or she beats up on the Union at Chickamauga, the next step is to press on to Chattanooga.
The game system is the same one we use in the Battles of 1866 games: the battlefield is divided into irregular areas shaped by the terrain within them. There are “long” pieces representing infantry divisions, and square ones for artillery, cavalry and leaders. Troops are rated for combat strength and morale, leaders for tactical ability and initiative. Artillery can fire at a distance. Combat is decided by the venerable “roll a six” method, with modifiers for morale advantage, terrain, leadership and so on. Activating your forces is probably the most important aspect of the game; the side with better leadership and organization has a distinct advantage.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga was the second game in the War of the States series, and it will be the last. It sold reasonably well, and the current stock of about a hundred copies at this writing (July 2016) used up the remaining stockpile of maps, playing pieces and scenario books (the game uses the same series rulebook at the Battles of 1866 games, which will continue on into the future). But with a new Civil War series from Avalanche Press set to debut in the near future (Rob Markham’s Civil War Campaigns), I don’t think we’ll keep two series in print.
We never gave Chickamauga & Chattanooga the Daily Content love it deserved; it does get a couple of wonderfully strange (and, believe it or not, historically grounded) variants in the Snowfall 2014 Golden Journal: elephants for the Union, and a helicopter for the Confederacy. I’m glad we published Chickamauga & Chattanooga: doing so let me walk those trails once again, and the game sold well enough to sell out without the threat of destruction. But we all have to know when to let go, and these last copies will be the last.
Click here to order Chickamauga & Chattanooga right now!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold likes horses but fears motorcycles.