Across a Deadly Field – The War in the East

Osprey Publishing

The War in the East is the first supplement for John Hill’s Across a Deadly Field, released last summer. It comes in the standard Osprey hardback format and has 128 full colour pages. Across a Deadly Field is the latest incarnation of John’s Johnny Reb system. I must say here that I’m a big fan of this latest version, so I was looking forward to this release. I was, however, curious to see how a new scenario book could fit into what is a fairly crowded market. Well, this one has a somewhat different approach from most scenario books and I think this is it’s great strength. The war lasted for four years, but over half of this book is concerned with just a single day of the war. That day is July 1st 1863, the first day of Gettysburg. The theme of The War in the East is to explore what it would take to win the war. For the Confederates, they can’t hope to match the industrial might of the North, but a decisive victory on enemy soil just might force a political settlement. Gettysburg conjures up images of Little Round Top, The Wheatfield, Devil’s Den and Pickett’s Charge, but these are all in the future on July 1st and the chances of a Confederate victory are vanishingly small by the time these actions are fought. But on the first day, both armies are spread out across the Pennsylvania countryside and are converging on the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates are getting there faster and everything is still to play for.

The War in the East studies the fighting on that day through a series of linked scenarios. It starts with the first contact between the armies, early in the morning. This scenario is an expanded version of the introductory scenario in the main rulebook. The afternoon fighting on McPherson’s Ridge and Seminary Ridge is covered in two scenarios. The action shifts north for ‘Barlow’s Knoll’, which covers the collapse of the Union XI Corps. These historical scenarios can be played singly, and very good they are too. But the concentration on a single day really pays off in the options that players have. There are complete army lists for all of the units that were present or could have made it. Each scenario has many options to give both sides very different challenges. There are also guidelines to combine scenarios, or alter the timing. The scenario set ends with three options to combine all of the scenarios, including a huge battle that starts in the early morning and uses all of the optional units. All of the scenarios come with copious background notes and very detailed maps, based on a survey of 1868, clearly showing starting units and entry points. There is a chapter describing the terrain of the eastern theatre, which is very useful when laying out your game table. By the way, the maps for the scenarios in the book are available as Battlemats from Cigar Box Battle; check them out, they’re very nice.

Perhaps the biggest ‘what if’ is: What if Gettysburg never happened? The Union commander, General Meade, had circulated a plan to withdraw to a defensive line to the south along Pipe Creek. This plan was overtaken by events, but it is covered here in two scenarios. The first is a moderated mini-campaign and the second a smaller battle scenario. The book then jumps forward to 1864 and looks at the Union strategy to win the war, which was essentially to ‘attack everywhere’. There are three battles here. They are Newmarket, famous for the charge of the VMI cadets, Piedmont and New Market Heights. While none of these battles had any significant effect on the progress of the war, they forced the Confederates to commit troops that they could scarcely afford. The last of these battles is an infantry only assault on fortified lines. It includes expanded rules for attacking works, which was rather sketchily covered in the main rulebook. There are also optional rules covering command, artillery fire and movement options along with guidelines for using larger units which allow Johnny Reb 3 players to use these regiments with the ADF rules.

I am really impressed with The War in the East. It is a top quality product from Osprey, well illustrated throughout and is a great read. There is a wealth of detail and so many options that there is endless replay value. If you play Across a Deadly Field it is a must-have, but the scenarios will work very well with other ACW miniatures rules. For anyone with an interest in the American Civil War it is a great resource and would be worth getting for the Gettysburg army lists and maps alone. Later this year it will be joined by a companion volume, The War in the West. I can’t wait.

By Mike Bradford