The Traveled Path

The Southern Legacy of CWOL 97


In the waning months of CWOL 97 (alias CWOL 1) the Union propaganda machine was in high gear.  Finding allies among recently censured Brigadiers and other officers of the Confederacy, the Union Sentinel and its companion paper from Maryland, The Annapolis Herald, ran a series of articles that were as misinformed as they were severe of the Confederate  government and national leadership.  As I read these articles while serving as the Commander, Department of Carolina, I waited for the response from the Confederate newspapers or members of the national government.  It did not happen.  Locked as we were in the prosecution of the war, plus the management challenges which had to be handily and repeatedly dispatched, left no time for responding to game members whose only ability was in rendering erroneous critiques.

This article will illustrate the southern strategy from CWOL 97 and attempt to convey some of the pitfalls encountered as lessons learned for the emerging leaders of the South of CWOL 98 (CWOL 2).  I will show that the Confederate central government, at all times, had strategies in place to win the conflict {Author’s note: based on the CWOL 97 RAB victory conditions} and to maximize participation of  citizens of the Confederacy.  I will illustrate these tenets of the Confederate leadership by discussing CSA strategy and thought at three critical periods in CWOL 97:  the pre-war period, the initial battles, and February 1862.

Pre-War Period

In August 1861 (1997), the “shadow cabinet” of then presidential hopeful Steven Rasmussen met in a dimly lit back room in downtown Richmond Virginia.  The objective of this meeting was to formulate a tentative military command structure and derive a workable national strategy which would be the backbone of the national policy of a Rasmussen administration. As a member of the delegation from South Carolina, I was asked to contribute to the advance planning of national and theater strategies for the impending conflict.

The only restrictions we were given by the Honorable Mr Rasmussen was to organize the Confederate Army in structure and purpose such that each region (here after called “theaters”) were autonomous and capable of independent action. {Author’s note: this guidance was given as result of an unsolicited proposal from Chief of Staff, Army of South Carolina, which had structured the national strategy to a Mississippi / Ohio Valley priority with the Trans-Mississippi & East serving in purely support roles} Working in concert with Mark Sampson, Jim West, and Lin Ahearn, we derived a series of national objectives:

{Note: the following extract is a quote from a Confederate Army CoS message}

“- To force the initial battles of the war to occur outside the borders of the Confederacy proper;

-  Initiate offensive action to make the Union reactive to our plans not vice versa;

-  Maintain control of the cities of the 5 largest states in the CSA for resources: Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama;

-  To seize control of the three strategic regions which offer the quickest invasion routes for the Union into the Confederacy: western Maryland, Cairo IL, central Kentucky;

-  Cause dispersion of Union forces in the Western Theater to create opportunities for the seizure of Union cities;

-  Disrupt the Union blockade by building a “blue water” navy and providing the CSN sufficient resources in ships and replacements to allow it to challenge the Union navy at will.”


The map shown below (labeled Initial Plan 1861) shows the actual disposition of forces and theater operational plans to accomplish these objectives:

As the end of the political season arrived in September 1861, the campaign plans for the Eastern and Central Theaters had been drafted and distributed to all commanders down to corps level.  Distribution beyond that level was delayed by the muster process, the identification of future division level commanders, and concerns for retaining operational security.  Additionally, the CSA War Department issued its handbook on Confederate tactics, techniques, and procedures for division and corps level commanders.  The goal of this effort was to raise the baseline of “working” procedures for the new citizen soldiers of the Confederacy.  However, the results of these extensive preparations had mixed results in the first weeks of the war.


Initial Battles

The goal of attempting to achieve operational level surprise in the Central and Eastern Theaters turned out to be a futile as mistakes with the handling of the plans were made and, in many cases, the Union opponents receives copies of the order before their CSA counterparts.  However, this compromise of operational security turned up a few benefits which the operational commanders at the Theater and Corps level were able to capitalize upon – illustrating early in the war that innovation would be one of the strong suits of the operational level commanders of the Confederate Army.


In the East, the Union rush to block the main efforts of the CSA II Corps in West Virginia and Columbia MD allowed mistakes to be made in the disposition of Union troops at Hagerstown MD.  The tactical commander there, the intrepid Mark Sampson, made a major “coup de guerre” when his cavalry division secured this vital rail link.  In the Central Theater, the massive reinforcement of Evansville IN by the Union forced the operational commander of the Evansville raid, JD Brewer, to improvise and look for targets elsewhere which ultimately resulted in the over-running of the state of Illinois by confederate troops.  In the West, the reaction of the Union to the CSA elements in Oklahoma opened up the interior of the great state of Missouri to the forces of Sterling Price who missed seizing the river port of St Louis by one turn. Additionally, the combination of the raids of JD Brewer and the staunch defense of the area around Clarksville TN by Jay Haygood’s command served to “assist”  the Union command in the West to loose focus and allow the seizure of Cairo IL by Cleveland’s IX Corps which facilitated the advance of Price’s command in Missouri and Brewer’s cavalrymen in the Wabash River area (Ill / Ind).


 In respect to this positive turn of events, the CSA high command adjusted the national strategic objectives and issued out a revised national strategy to its theater commanders:


” the Confederacy must modify its strategy to address the current conditions, or "mid-game," to be able to continue to have success on the battlefield.  The basic tenets the revised strategy of the Confederacy are:

                * Protect the economic infra-structure, especially the 5 largest states: Va, Tn, NC, Ga, Ala

                * Recognize that the Confederacy is out-numbered in the East, has local parity in the Central Theater, and localized superiority in the West.  To the Confederacy this means defend in East, raid in the Central, and attack in the West.

                * The Union Army has committed 48% of its total force in the East (force ratio is 1: 1.6).  To protect the resource centers in Virginia and North Carolina, the Confederacy must commit enough forces to get the force ratio down to 1:1.4 or 1:1.3 (CSA : USA) if we are to stall the Union offensive.  This would be an increase of  25 regiments in the East at current levels.

                * The best area for the seizure of Union cities is in the West  (force ratio is 1 : 1)and the upper Mississippi River basin (Illinois)in the Central Theater (force ratio is 1:1).  Limited offensive operations must be attempted to seize, temporarily or not, Union cities in both areas.

                * Mobile reserves must be maintained at the Theater and national levels to maximize the CSA advantage of interior rail lines.

                * Defend all besieged cities.  The longer the Union spends on reducing garrisons, the longer they take in advancing their forces.

                * The Confederacy must increase the number and quality of training of new officers being recruited for the army.”


February 1862

During the Holiday break (1861), the CSA central government determined that the time was ripe to push for foreign recognition of the Confederacy to gain external assistance in the land conflict.  The surge of victories on land were matched by Bradford Pepper’s success in breaking the Federal blockade of southern ports at sea.  In the CSA House of Representatives, the Freedman and Auxiliary Forces Act (FAFA) supplied the vehicle to eliminate the slavery issue as an obstruction to foreign recognition.  The CSA central government solicited the GA in his “off-line” role as the representative of the 2d French Empire and gained a “limited treaty of friendship” which had no major benefit in BLADD.  This disappointment was quickly matched by two other very significant negative trends, an increase in the disproportionate loss ratio in the tactical battles in January 1862 by CSA forces and verification by the Confederate intelligence agency, the Carolina Intelligence Service (CIS), that the loss ratio (per the rate in Dec 1861) combined with the impending drop in muster levels projected out to an inability to keep an army in the field past turn 120.


To counter this alarming turn of events the Confederate central government made a significant decision at the start of February 1862 – Confederate forces would go on the defensive.  To accomplish this major change in strategic direction, the Confederate War Department initiated three organizational and doctrinal changes to the commanders in the field:

            - the Chief of Staff issued out the “fortress city” defensive concept;

            - the doctrine of the three tiered (“3T”) operational-level defense of fortress cities;

            - the offensive organizational structure of the Confederate Army was changed to a region-based “department - district” structure.


These changes hoped to maximize the main advantages of the Southern army – the innovation and tenacity of the southern officers.  The fortress city concept identified the cities that the South had to retain to win the game – the state capitols, the national capitol, and the cities which served as the rail links between these “fortress cities.”  Using the three tiered defensive scheme of these cities would allow the CSA to do the two things that impeded any chance of Union victory – slow the already retarded rate of advance by the Union formations; and, by identifying only those cities essential for victory, allow the CSA army to mass forces sufficient to achieve parity with the Yankee juggernaut.  The North repeatedly demonstrated a glaring fault, the tendency to “capture everything & secure nothing” by neglecting to maintain sufficient reserves to garrison its rail links behind the tactical front.  This inability to think in terms of operational depth allowed the successes of Lin Ahearn’s Army of the Chesapeake at Camden and Phillipsburg NJ, JD Brewer’s Army of the North at Springfield and Chicago IL as well as the loss of Washington DC to Ahearn.


These changes had immediate positive effect in the developing battle for the Carolinas – one cavalry brigade, serving as the forward “tier” in the defense of Raleigh NC, managed to stymie the exploitation of the Union Army of Appalachia after its victory at Roanoke VA for the majority of the month of February.  In reaction to this development plus the continuing success of Ahearn’s and Brewer’s formations, a “play balance” rule change was initiated in late February 1862 by the GA.  The GA {Author’s note: this rule change was done in the interest of improving game balance for offensive formations} introduced the revision of strategic movement to institute what Jim Dunnigan (founder, SPI) used to call “liquid zones of control”.  What this means is that, only on the US Map, opposing forces ignore the presence of enemy formations when moving unless the vital “crossroads hex” at 11-31 of the strategic square(s) (had to be the square of arrival or two squares diagonally opposed from each other).  The effect of this rule change plus the revision of the game length to 90 turns radically changed the character of BLADD and made CWOL an operational-level (meaning corps/army operations & emphasis on the US Map) game.  At this point, CWOL evolved into a race of competing doctrines – the CSA point defense versus the Union “broad front” advance.  What the final outcome would have been is in debate but will never be known as the game was terminated in vicinity of the 60 turn mark with the victor not clearly identified.


Lessons Learned

{Author’s Note:  At this point I would like to express my thanks to CWOL Inc for compiling and administering what I consider a superior work.  The CWOL universe is by far the best on the ‘Net.  Bob Bohanan, Tim Desmond, John Crovo, and Jay Haygood should be congratulated on their accomplishment.  It is a great system.}


There are actually two levels of lessons learned that I would like to address:  systemic trends of CWOL, and hard lessons that the Confederacy should note to prevent future replication.  In the area of CWOL systemic rules, I would identify the following as priority for improvement:


            - improve the fidelity and interaction of the naval rules;

            - fix the discrepancies in the muster #s - both in total numbers and force mix

            - realign the victory conditions; make the victory conditions impact all dimensions of the CWOL universe: tactical, strategic, land, naval, political, economic.


The real focus of this section is for the future leaders of the South in CWOL 2 (98).  In that vein, I offer the following notes as my legacy to you:


            - training of tactical commanders - the CWOL Academy is an excellent training vehicle but it is incomplete.  The continued training of new officers must continue even after they are executing their initial assignment.  If the individual is good, you only have about 4-6 weeks to impart any “ways of the Navaho” to the new guy before the cascading environment of CWOL consumes his available ‘Net time and interest.  Use the mentor system – it seems to work the best.


            - tactical flexibility - the February 1862 changes “did not take” in certain areas of the CSA army.  The reason was an unwillingness to change or inability to recognize need for change.  All southern officers should recognize that CWOL is an evolutionary system.  The algorithms of BLADD are not fully tested, the impact of game features in a “matured” (more than 35 turns) is not known.  The intelligent officer should be looking to determine trends and take advantage of them when he can.  This may entail the building of new skills {the need to accomplish a “fighting withdraw” comes to mind} that were not identified at the start of a game.


            - use of reserves -  the South can not afford to go head-to-head with the large Union formations.  This trend causes unneeded high tactical losses with no benefit.  Studies by the War Department and CIS showed the actual tactical level defense (one strategic square) concerning the possession of 11-31 was accomplished by 12-18 regiments, and most tactical level offenses were accomplished by 20-24 regiments.  Use of formations beyond these numbers does not benefit the tactical situation and strips out the operational headquarters at the next level of its forces for no purpose.  The excess regiments should be formed into operational reserves to secure egress routes, conduct counter-attacks on supply depots, or be held as possible replacement formations if the main battle has entered an “attrition” style conflict.


            - artillery - this is the greatest killer on the tactical battlefield.  The artillery batteries should always be grouped for maximum effect even if this entails brigades of batteries from different states.  Horse Artillery is the most lethal and most flexible formation in BLADD.  These batteries should be formed into “hunter-killer” groups with a few cavalry regiments as flank security and sent after priority targets such as supply depots or key rail links.  NEVER commit Horse Artillery as part of a force package in a protracted battle.  You waste their speed and ability for quick strikes.


            - railroads -  the best facet of the Union Army was their maximization of the railroad feature of BLADD.  They accomplished this by the use of designated “transportation officers” at the operational (Army) level.  The CSA needs to steal and use this concept.  In the initial stages of CWOL, there are repetitious requirements for the mass movement of Confederate regiments via the rail net.  This function can be improved by the use of transportation officers.  Additionally, the South did not, in CWOL 97, do a good job of railing in reinforcements to secured enemy rail heads.  The planning and execution of rail movement needs improvement.


{About the Author:  JJ Sanders is a veteran of ACCW, EMACW, and CWOL.  In the BLADD Beta Test, JJ Sanders served as the Commander, Richmond Brigade.  In the pre-war period before CWOL 1, he was the Chief of Staff, Army of South Carolina, plus detailed as Assistant Secretary of War (Plans).  During CWOL 97, he served as Commander, II Corps (Army of the East), Chief of Staff (Confederate Army), and Commander, Department of Carolina as well as the Speaker of the CSA House of Representatives.  Currently, he is a non-playing member of the GA Central Committee, CWOL 2 (98).}