Historical Online Learning Foundation
War College Library


Civil War OnLine Lessons Learned

Commentary on Defense of Cities


In this article, we will examine the evolution of the "doctrine" of point defense in CWOL. This lesson will address its primary use, the defense of cities or operational logistics locations.

While there is no official doctrine in the tactics and operations used in CWOL, there are many lessons learned from the campaigns executed in CWOL 1 (1997) and CWOL 2 (1998). This article will attempt to capture some of these lessons and explain how the now-standard point defense of cities {also known as the "four corners" or the "diamond" defense) and its complimenting operational concept, the "three tier" defense, evolved.

Lesson Objective.

In this article you will review:

1.  The Need for Defense

In the initial iteration of CWOL, CWOL 1 played the autumn of 1997 to the spring of 1998, the starting strategies of both sides were offensive oriented. While this reflects the machismo of CWOL participants and proved to be very gratifying in the short term, the long term consequence of this strategem to the South paralleled the actual conflict. By 1863, in game terms, the large battalions of the Union plus some opportune operational level developments (for the Union) led to a borderline breakthrough {almost of 20th century magnitude} at the Southern interior flank in West Virginia. Shown below at figure 1, the situation in the Upper Sheandoah Valley and central North Carolina had deteriorated beyond the point where a single army commander could control it.


The answer was a twofold solution.

What resulted was the first implementation of the "3-tiered" concept and widespread use of the "diamond" defense. As CWOL 1 progressed, both sides became more efficient in the use of each concept. These lessons were built upon in CWOL 2 such that defense was the dominant doctrine in that iteration of the game. However, there have been significant rule changes made for CWOL 3 to break this pattern. This will be addressed in more detail below.

2. The Scenario

Below is the screen shot of the opening positions to the old (pre-CWOL 7)War College Command Course. This course is designed to let players at the grand tactical level, division and corps, execute a standard CWOL defense or offense scenario. The tactical situation for this exercise is a variant of the old (SAS game system) War College Common Training Scenario. The general background of the situation is:


In the operational context of the scenario, the Russians have won the approach march "battle" by rapidly moving into central and western Washington state and occupying the key towns of Olympia and Pullayup. Having achieved their immediate strategic goals, the Russians have shifted to a operational defensive posture and have massed forces to retain control of the supply base at Olympia. The Free State is currently deploying forces to contest control of Olympia.

3. The Impact of Perfect Intelligence (and the lack of it)

In the beginning of CWOL, there were no "fog of war" (FOW) measures in the simulation. The only FOW that ever occurred was the fault of player misinterpretation of enemy movement or temporary lapses where a mid-level commander would lose his understanding of events. The "luxury" of the old perfect intelligence rules were many times as detrimental as they were beneficial. This occurred because players did not see a need to analyze the situation and chose to flow along with events rather than try to influence them. This "laisse faire" approach to command resulted in the raid of Richmond, the CSA capitol, in the 1861 during CWOL 2 and the fall of Montgomery AL, the CSA capitol, in CWOL 1.

Below is an example of what the defensive commander and his staff should be doing as they prepare to defend Olympia.


The Russian commander and staff are defining the possible options that the Free State forces have available to them. With that set of assumptions established, the commander can evaluate how to counter each option and what type of augmentation from Port Townsend he might need.

4. The Purpose of the Three "Tiers"

The mission of the three "tiers" are different but complimentary to the overall goal of defeating the enemy'a approach and assault. The main concept to remember is - defeat the enemy before they gain entry to the city !
The tasks that each of the tiers contribute to this goal are: