The battle of “Three Crossings” Pennsylvania,
One of the first periods I became interested in after my initial historical wargaming foray with micro armor was 15 mm American Civil War using “Johnny Reb II” rules. For dozens and dozens of battles and years it was the passion of myself and my fellow gamers. I painted all of Stonewall Jackson’s division and then some for the South. Then I started with union figures, after a brigade of union figures my gaming interest moved into World War II and remained there for many years. I have since gone into several other periods the largest in the latest being 28 mm Victorian science fiction and colonial battles.
Having some time off lately my good friend Steve Gausche and I wanted to do a battle during the week while our wives were at work! After some thought I finally said “hey, how about we dust off our Civil War figures and give it a go! Steve was all for it!
After some thought while setting up the battlefield the night before I wanted to do something a little different than the standard meet them in the middle Civil War battle, as different thoughts crossed my mind Gettysburg came up. I thought to myself what would’ve happened if the South had won that day. I had the beginning of my scenario.
After the smoke clears over Gettysburg the South finds itself in possession of the battlefield with the Northern armies fleeing in disorder towards Washington. Although they have won the Confederate Army has not done it without paying a price. Thousands upon thousands of men lie dead upon the battlefield and many of the best divisions are wrecked. As Lee and his generals go about reorganizing the Army General Longstreet and cavalry general Jeb Stuart beg general Lee to pursue quickly the beaten Union forces and force an end to the war at the Gates of Washington. Lee agrees in principle that this is a great opportunity but also realizes that his army is strewn about and for the most part in no shape for a chase. He also knows that he is far from his supply bases and could be cut off in a moment. In the end he agrees to let Longstreet take Jeb Stuart’s cavalry and nearly a division of infantry that were uncommitted or only partially committed at Gettysburg and still very fresh. He tells Longstreet to pursue the Union Army and try to keep them off balance until he can reorganize the rest of the Army and bring it up for a March on Washington.
Longstreet and Stewart chased the retreating Union Army towards Washington. Union troops, at least some of them, rallied by their armies better junior officers begin to get reorganized and brought back in to line just east of the river crossing near the Delaware border. Abraham Lincoln has also authorized the stripping of some of Washington’s defenses to the form a blocking force at this point. Our battle opens at this river crossing. Jeb Stuart still smarting from his dressing down by Lee on his failure to properly scout for the Army at Gettysburg has done a much better job this time. He reports back to Longstreet that Union troops are rallying and fortifying the town of Mills Crossing and surrounding area of the bridge. He tells Longstreet that an attack now would surely take the town and the crossing but that other reports from his troops tell him more fresh Union soldiers are seen coming from the direction of Washington on the roads east of town. He also brings information from a southern sympathizer that there is a ford close to town and that his men are scouting for it now. General Lee called Longstreet to his tent the night before Longstreet left Gettysburg and told him that it might be wise to take along one of the Army’s pontoon bridges, Longstreet protested that it would slow him down. Lee calmly told them that moving slower would be better for his troops should they have to fight a battle at the end of their march and that he doubted whether the battered Union Army would be moving very fast either. As he gazed at the river now General Longstreet thought to himself “that old gray fox, he knew I’d need this Bridge” now it was to be an ace up his sleeve. Longstreet decides to camp for the evening and attack with all his forces first thing in the morning. If he can capture the bridge and town and hold it until Lee advances the way will be open to Washington and the end of the war will be in sight.
Our battle opened up just before dawn and in heavy fog. There was two turns of darkness and four turns of fog.
Jeb Stewarts Calvary scouts its way to the river through the early morning fog and darkness. Hidden movement and hidden placement of some troops was used at this stage. You might be able to pick out union positions along the stone wall near town. These positions were already known to Stewart from the previous nights scout. The 1st Virginia cavalry presses up the road towards the bridge with a second group of dismounted confederate Calvary in skirmish order advances on the left. This cavalry will encounter Union skirmishers hidden on the small wooded hill at the left.
Finding their way in the darkness surrounded by banks of river fog the Confederate cavalry brushes up against union pickets and small skirmishes break out, Stewart sends messengers back to Longstreet and dismounts his cav, brings up his horse artillery and pushes the light union force back across the river. Doing this reveals the ford!, another messenger off to Longstreet to inform him of this crossing point.
As the cav pushes the union skirmishers across the river they see union infantry in the light of the misty dawn manning hasty works and a stretch of stone wall running the length of the village. To cover their friends the union guns open up on the Cavalry, soon to the CSA horse guns unlimber and a lively dual begins across the river.
After several turns of cannon fire in the early morning mist the Union battery got the range of the rebel horse battery destroying a section. The Union infantry also added the weight of their fire in an attempt to keep the Confederate Cav from attempting a crossing. The other Reb battery with drew out of site for the moment.
At this point Longstreet’s division was beginning to deploy off the road and skirmishers moved towards the river line all across the battle line. Having a bridge in front of him and the ford on his left Longstreet sent the Louisiana Brigade under General Nichols around through the light woods on his right. With them he sent the pontoon bridge. There were ample woods there to screen bridging work from union fire from the town.
The “Stonewall” Brigade under General Stewart advance for an assault over the bridge into the teeth of the union defenses while on the right the Louisianan’s take up defensive positions to give covering fire to the bridge building operations.
As the battle was unfolding one of Longstreet’s lieutenants rode up to him and said “Sir, I beg to report that General Lee has arrived with some of his staff and are setting up an observation platform in that field over yonder!”
Longstreet grunted and thanked the Lieutenant for his information. He leaned over in the saddle and looked at the field to his north, sure enough there was that old grey fox Lee! “I love that man, but I sorely wish I would have had another couple of hours at these yanks without any suggestions”
Longstreet rode over to the now completed platform and saluted. ” I beg to report for orders sir” he said to General Lee. “Orders?” replied Lee ” Sir I have only capable commanders under my command, capable of knowing what must be done without me having to guide them” I am here only to observe your more than capable handling of this engagement”
Lee said softly “but I am respectful of your offer” “Please return to your duties and pay us no mind” Lee returned to his gazing through his field glasses and Longstreet trotted off back to the lines chuckling to himself.
As Longstreet returned to his right flank he observed that the bridge building was nearly completed despite some weak Union attempts to upset it. “Lieutenant Collingsworth” Will you be so kind as to inform the
Colonel at the bridge that I want him to put his men across at the first possible moment” “and also mention to that artillery commander that you pass to fully support the crossing of our men!”With those orders the 2nd phase of Longstreet’s attack commenced with Rebs pouring over the bridge on the right flank.
The 1st Louisiana Zouaves stood up to a man and shouted “None before us!” and charge over the bridge. Longstreet laughed as he watched young Colonel Joshua M. Williams who command all the Louisianans in “Nicholls” brigade spur his horse to keep up with his eager men crossing the bridge. “God speed you and keep you safe Colonel” he whispered. His laughter grew as he saw that just before the 1st Louisianans got to the bridge another beat them there!The Louisiana “Tigers”
“Boy I would not want to be a Union man with those boys headed towards me, one happy as the Devil and one mad as Hell!”
While all this was happening on the CSA side the Union was fighting a desperate holding action while frantic union officers tried to collect and rush more units into the fight.
The small town of Mills Crossing now became the focus of the Union defense. It was here that the largely unfought 11th army corps under Major General Oliver Howard made a stand and redeemed themselves after their cowardly retreat and flight at Gettysburg. Along this stone wall Major General Carl Schurz deployed his 1st and 2nd brigades under Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfenning and Colonel W. Krzyzanowski respectively.
The guns of Btry. I, 1st Ohio can be seen at the top left while bottom center gives a glimpse of the 13th N.Y. independent Btry. Veterans of the battle said the guns were so hot that they glowed at midday! General Howard can be seen just behind this battery near the Stone house. This picture was taken some time around the mid point of the battle.
It is at this point that Longstreet turned to Major General Edward Johnson division commander and said simply, “Sir, it is time to send the ‘Stonewall’ brigade in” Johnson saluted crisply and turning toward the stone bridge at the center of the battle and leading directly into Mills crossing waved to his Brigade commander Brigadier General James Walker, the prearranged signal to advance. Confederate guns all along the center opened fire in support of the crossing.
The problems of coordinating a large river crossing attack become plain in these photos. General James Walker is visible upon his white horse at the bottom left of the bridge. “Go, boys go! You Virginians are the best in this army! and Moss Rabbit is watching!”
With the weight of attacks on both flanks as well as fire all along their front the Union begins to give ground. The terrible defeat at Gettysburg and the too few available men on the line are taking their toll on even the most stubborn defenders. The CSA units crossing on the right come out of the woods to surprise the Union defenders before they can get organized.
Seeing the disorganized Union line Colonel Williams orders a charge by all three leading Regiments. Union gunners abandon their guns and the infantry reel under confederate steel! with a cry heard by Longstreet himself they take the right flank of the stone wall and send the defenders fleeing.
Fierce Hand to hand fighting rages in many parts of the line, but the Confederates were destined to carry the day. Brother and brother, fathers and sons, fighting side by side and toe to toe, sometimes on opposite sides. The scene was much the same all along the Union line as it crumbled and fell back through the town. The Union started to reform several miles outside of town as dusk fell and the Tired confederates consolidated their bridgehead. General Longstreet ordered a halt and retired to General Lee’s quarters to discuss the bringing up of the rest of the army and the coming drive on Washington, but that’s another Battle.
This Battle was fought using the tried and true rules “Johnny Reb II” by John Hill. These rules are brigade / division level and play very well giving a lot of the desperate see saw action one thinks of in the American civil war. The battle lasted about 3-4 hours including picture taking and was a tremendous bit of fun!