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Pea Ridge Strategies and Tactics (page 2!)


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Pea Ridge - what's your strategy?

Tom Gaul writes:

"I realize I am a hopeless neophyte in this discussion but in Pea Ridge I have been following the Union left flank discussion with a great deal of interest. I especially liked Greg's chess analogy (I play chess with a great deal of interest but not so much skill) about the opening moves of the Union left, but what I was curious about was when does the strategy for the Union left start to meld into an overall strategy for the whole battlefield? In other words, at about what turn does the battle become one battle instead of two separate battles. Turn 5? Turn 8? Later, maybe not till the second day? I was just curious because it seemed to me that the tendency to treat the left and right flank as separate battles must be overcome sometime during the game but I was curious as to when I should start doing that?
A novice looking for input."

Greg Laubach writes:

"In response to Tom's question about when do the Union left and right link up during a game I would say that depends on what the Confederates do. Pea Ridge is mostly a game of the Union reacting to the Confederate attack. At the strategic level, if McCulloch drives for Leetown and the Union defense of Elkhorn Tavern is successful, then the Union left and right may not join up unless the battle goes into the second day. However, if McCulloch moves to join Van Dorn (which was Van Dorn's original plan for the battle) then it will be at least turn 7 before the Confederate column emerges from the woods to the west of Elkhorn Tavern. In this case, Leetown becomes a secondary theater and the fight is between united Confederate and Union armies for control of Curtis' headquarters.

"Given the Union cavalry threat, a continuous line is more of a Confederate issue."

Russ Gifford writes:

"Well, like chess, I think it isn't a set time, but dependent on the situation on the board. In a sense, for the Union, it is always one game but it is on two fronts. The good news is they have the inside of the arc,  so they can shift troops for defensive purposes.

"Since Carr and Ousterhaus together are more than a match for Van Dorn's force, the goal for the Confederates in the early going has to be to keep the Union forces separated.

"So, the key is, where does McCulloch go? I assume he heads for Leetown - the best CSA strategy, I think - then the Union has to divert troops to cover it, making it two separate fronts for at least most of the first day.

"And, if that attack goes through at Leetown, again, the game really is all one battle for the Confederate, too, at this point since the pressure is on  the Union to hold Curtis's HQ and inflict enough damage on McIntosh before nightfall that McCulloch  chooses to leave the field or withdraw to Van Dorn's side of the field in the night. Either choice gives the Union back Leetown. Which is enough to win, in my humble opinion, since the Union should be able to hold Curtis's HQ. Unless the Union is also so shot up that they lost on day 1 because they didn't protect their BCE levels.  

"The Union has to hold with very little to start with, and therein lies the danger: their brigades BCE at pretty low levels. Only 2 SP loss for Bussey before BCE. Four for Davis, and 4 for White. That means 10 measly SP losses and three brigades could be wrecked! While Carr and Ousteraus are twice that at 8 SP each, Carr is on the front early, and you have to be careful not to get hammered too early for too long. But the piecemeal nature of the Union arrival mandates that they will get hit. How high the cost in SPs will be is decided by where the Union draws the final 'hold at all costs' line. (Prior to the final line, the key to Union victory is to hold until you are about to get swamped, and then fall back to the next line. Sounds easier than it is, actually, but hey - that's the challenge of playing these games!)

"But as the Union can make strong stands, the only way to draw off Union support is to threaten to overload the weaker side. The trick is to make certain that transferring troops from one front to the other doesn't take too much time - which makes that road network so important to the Confederates.

"Which is also why I think having Bussey available to harass the Confederate backfield, or keep the troops from shuffling from front to front, can be important.

"So in my mind, the answer is the Union makes it one front when forced to by the Confederate. Either the Union troops have held in front of Leestown, or the Union scraped enough points off Van Dorn's troops that they can't sustain the push and have to have McCulloch's help.  (Little and Slack's brigades on the rebel side can very quickly come up short due to their own early BCE problems. The only things that helps them are: tons of arty that can make the Union's effort to stand very unpleasant, and the fact that McCulloch's attack at Leetown is pulling off so many Union troops.)

"Thus, turning it around - the  proper time for the Confederate to make it one battle is when one or both of the fronts have stabilized - or it looks like it might. That might be because they have run out of gas on the Union right, or because they have gotten very close to Curtis' HQ and Leetown, compressing the Union to a 'single' battle.

Greg Laubach adds:

On a tactical level, the Union brigades are small, but very powerful when compared to the Confederates. The Union can set up strong positions across terrain choke points that are difficult for the Confederates to overcome by direct assault. The obvious solution for the Confederates is to flank the Union positions, which, if countered by the Union with reinforcements, ends up stretching the lines.

But troops are required to form a continuous line and the Union has 13 regiments on the field before turn 10 and 23 on the first day. The Confederates start the day with 32 regiments. From this perspective, if a continuous line has formed on the first day it is probably because the Union is losing. They simply don't have the troops to form a continuous line and protect both Leetown and Curtis' Headquarters. The Union can refuse the right and form a very powerful line around Leetown by the afternoon of the first day, but they will spot the Confederates 60 points in VP hexes to do it.

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