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Pea Ridge Strategies and Tactics


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Pea Ridge provides a perfect example why the GBACW series holds interest 25 years later. Both sides enter the battlefield with troops from off board, but the Confederates have a strong advantage in numbers early on. How the Union faces these challenges will decide the course of the game.

While things are hard on the Union right, with the overwhelming force of Rebels struggling up the Telegraph Road on the way to Elkhorn Tavern, we're looking at the Union left in this discussion. What are you to do with Bussey in an area without the terrain advantages of the Union right?

So, what's YOUR plan for the Union left in Pea Ridge? Click here to send me your thoughts, and I'll add them to the board!

Russ Gifford writes:

"With Van Dorn arriving in strength on the Union right, Dodge's heroic 24 Missouri troopers try to hold the narrow pass while help arrives. The terrain and the location work in the defender's favor, so the battle unfolds slowly as the Confederates try to clear the road. Carr gallops to the front with stopgap reinforcements for the Union.

"The Union left, however, is a different story. The huge regiments of McIntosh troops are marching through the wooded trail . But the area is flat, and soon the woods give way to cleared fields and farmland.  With little in the way of defensive terrain, the Union troops under Bussey have a tough choice of where and when to draw the battle line.  What are the key points that you see? What are your thoughts?"

Greg Laubach writes:

"I want Bussey to do three things or die trying in the opening moves of Pea Ridge. Slow down McCulloch to give Ousterhaus time to deploy, keep McCulloch from joining Van Dorn, and begin to rack up hits on McIntosh. McIntosh is big, but he's got a glass jaw (15 hits to break out of 49, with many over density regiments).

My standard opening move for Bussey is to position them on the road immediately west of Round Top with the guns in 1913. When McIntosh emerges from the trees on the next turn, Elbert a unlimbers in place and begins firing at the head of the column. If McIntosh is ignoring Bussey, then it is possible for the Elbert A battery to get three shots through the stack, shifted two columns right. In the following Confederate movement phase, the lead McIntosh units are now forced out of column, but are still too far away to rush the guns and Bussey's cavalry are positioned to support the guns with a charge.

Russ Gifford writes:

"In Pea Ridge, I have tried many different efforts. I have killed Confederate units up and down the line on the left flank, but it certainly seems to no avail. Scraping off one or two points from each brigade doesn't pay off fast enough. At least, it certainly hasn't worked out for me.

"If I am going to hold, I generally look for the corners of the cornfields. I put the guns behind a fence line to get the small plus in the melee, and I get the open ground that the enemy has to cross. But this usually ends up as a sacrifice play, since the troops don't have much for a distance punch except the battery.

"Sacrifices are ok, if you get something for it. I once managed to tie up almost all of McIntosh's command from the corner of 1412, facing 1512 to keep everyone covered. (I'd fallen back from 1913 when the sneaky rebels moved for the woods road in 1818.)

"If I am going to stand,  I am aiming for drawing the line at the southeast corner of Oberson's Cornfield, holding the fence line at from 1010 to 1212. But that only happens when you get Ousterhaus into the game.  And it is also a great place for Bussey's Carbines. But he won't be there if you've already sacrificed him a turn or two before.

"Unlike the Confederates, Bussey is so fragile. In the GBACW system, it is so hard to break off an engagement in this game that once you commit to getting in close, (the only fire combat of value for troops with pistols and carbines is a distance of 1 hex). When it gets that close, the game is almost over for Bussey. His BCE level is 2, so two hits and his troops are of no further value. 

"So After years of effort, I'm thinking I want to use the threat of Bussey more than the reality of Bussey.  I am specifically trying to re-think how I use Bussey.

Bussey's strengths are:

bulletsuperior mobility
bulletindependent command

"A big point for Bussey is his mounted cavalry advantages: He has a charge bonus, and they may not be engaged in melee if they don't want to melee. (Cavalry can retreat before melee with no penalty.) But even better, mounted Cavalry are doubled in melee. Do it right, you also get to run away afterwards!

"With 12 MP, on a road they can cross 2/3 of the map from South to North in a single turn.  As an independent brigade, they can move that far and still be in in command, which is rare.

"So my goal is to figure out how to use the Union cavalry like it was meant to be used. I think the threat of having Bussey on the road between the two prongs of the Confederate attack might cause the rebels to slow their advance.

"How does this slow the Confederates? I don't think they can send ALL their troops toward Leetown if Bussey is stays mounted and has a chance to cut off the retreats of McIntosh's troops.

"So I am pushing Bussey to the road in front of Round Top to see how the rebels react.

"I often try to feint toward the hill to see if that draws McIntosh's troops in - then I backtrack - or head around the hill. But in the past, I dismounted. This time, I have decided to stay mounted and see what happens. Key is the cavalry has to stay close enough to charge, but far enough away to stay out of the Rebel's grasp."

Greg Laubach writes:

"In my humble opinion slowing McCulloch down to give Ousterhaus time to deploy means preventing the Confederates from moving through the belt of woods along the farm road in column. Here I don't mind engaging. In the current game, my opponent used the lead McIntosh units to screen the remainder of the Confederate column from artillery fire, so Bussey was forced to shift position to cut off the farm road. It could have worked better. In the last defensive fire phase, I rolled three 1s followed by a 2. But McIntosh now has 3 losses by turn 5 (20% OF BCE and it easily could have been 5 losses) and Ousterhaus will be ready and waiting in the light woods, behind a fence, and with hub-to-hub guns to deliver the remainder. Bussey, the horse artillery, and the surviving regiments will reposition to 1204 to enfilade the Confederates advancing across the cornfield toward Ousterhaus.

If I am playing the Confederates, I like to respectfully ignore Bussey and to proceed to Leetown ASAP, racing Ousterhaus to the fenceline. The artillery will be used whenever possible to screen the column, but the column keeps moving unless Bussey stops it. And, as we all know, when Bussey stops the column he will probably cease to exist as an organized fighting unit. It happened in the real battle, but there he lost the guns, too.

Russ Gifford responds:

It is hard to argue with anything you've said. I've played it that way many times, and you've clearly fine tuned any of my efforts. It is very likely the way to proceed.

BUT - My problem is, in all the times I've tried it, Bussey attempts to stand anywhere along the way, he quickly loses 2 SP, his brigade is BCE, and he is no longer a threat to anyone.  Yep, I've slowed the Confederates down a time or two - and won as the Union, but it was not easy.

So I have no disagreement with anything you've said, but there has to be a better way. My thought is, once the mobile cavalry threat is gone, there is nothing to slow the Confederates at all. They can ignore everything except their front, because they know the only Union troops are in front of them. 

I think the better way is to see if the threat of a rear action might slow the rebels down as they watch their flanks and rear, and Bussey has the mobility to make that threat count.

Plus, the concept that if I am going to lose Leetown anyway, having Bussey in position to ride to the sound of the guns at Elkhorn Tavern might be a nice ace to have up your Union sleeve.

Greg Laubach writes:

Your post is very well done, but I think it ignores a broken Bussey's possible role in the middle and end game.

The next time that I play the Union, the remnants of Bussey will move to join Bowen and possibly Dodge's cavalry to form an independent cavalry brigade in the center of the board by turn seven or eight.

This force might have between 500 and 1000 cavalry, 7 horse artillery pieces, relatively high morale, carbines, and an attitude. Bussey solves the leadership problem with Dodge's regiment. I think it may be the Union answer to McCulloch joining Van Dorn.

Even if this scratch brigade is not formed, Bussey can support either end of Ousterhaus' position on the fence line to help prevent a flanking movement.

When playing the Confederates, I use their abundant artillery to screen the Union cavalry from the flanks. Mounted cavalry and smoothbores don't mix. And Bussey doesn't have the numbers to melee much of anything. In the early turns, if Bussey can threaten McCulloch without risking his brigade, then I salute him and wish to see the report!

Russ Gifford responds:

All true statements as to Bussey's role after he breaks BCE. I have not been able to piece together an effective role for him, so your post is an excellent one to remind me that there is life after BCE!

As in Cedar Mountain, I feel the Union has the harder road to victory in Pea Ridge. My fear is that while Bussey on the fence line will work against a somewhat cautious Confederate commander, he will have little impact at all on a determined one that continues to wade into the fragile line. Something has to slow the rebel forces down.

But that's why this game is so enjoyable. It is close enough to always make it exciting!

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