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The History Channel: Bull Run

by Thomas "WKLINK" Cofield

The History Channel: Bull Run


After the demise of Talonsoft and its excellent Battlefield series, there has been little for the Civil War gamer to play. The Battlefield series really excelled at creating a combination of tabletop enjoyment and gritty realism that made the series a success. At times you can still find copies of the games for sale, but hardware and operating systems have made playing those classic games somewhat more difficult.

About three weeks ago Doug asked one of us to take a look at a title sent to him: Bull Run, created by Mad Minute Games and sold under the Activision Value brand. Activision sells their relatively low priced but low frills games under this moniker. At around 20 bucks retail, the games generally are rated below the higher level that other titles in Activision's main lineup generally warrant.

In the case of this game, I would have to say that this is a shame because Bull Run has somewhat flown in under the radar and seems to be a much more solid and in depth game than the ‘value’ title would suggest. More on that in a minute.

Background on the Game

Bull Run is the common name that we "Yankees" like to use to refer to the first major battle of the Civil War. 1st Manassas is generally considered the appropriate name for the first battle — if you live south of the Mason Dixon Line. This was the first test of the metal of both the Union Forces against the newly minted Army of Northern Virginia.

Both sides were green and untested at the beginning of the conflict. The Union Forces, commanded by General Irvin McDowell, attacked a somewhat smaller, also untested Confederate force led by Pierre G. T. Beauregard. This, the first major battle of the Civil War, took place in a rural Virginia road junction called Manassas Junction. This battle occurred very close to Washington DC, so close in fact that many of the politicians and socialites came down from Washington to see what looked to be a very exciting battle.

Union Forces were supremely confident in their chances. The Rebel Army, smaller and equipped in a more ragged manner, appeared to be no match for the smart looking Union troops. The outcome appeared to be an almost foregone conclusion, however, there were some serious deficiencies in the Union Army that soon came to light.

The first was the nature of the commander, Irvin McDowell. General McDowell was placed in charge of the Union Forces (the term Army of the Potomac wasn’t coined yet) after another potential commander, Robert E Lee, turned down overall command of Union Forces. While a generally competent officer, McDowell was not a true tactician and his limitations would soon become apparent in the battle.

In comparison, the leadership of Confederate forces was a ‘who’s who’ of future Confederate leadership. Along with Beauregard, the Confederacy could claim the great future leaders such as Jackson, Ewill and Longstreet. Their leadership would turn the battle in the Confederacy’s favor and turn what (the Union Forces presumed) should be a short war into the five year battle of attrition—that ultimately cost the South the war.

The last radical was the overconfidence and green nature of the Union troops. While the Confederate troops were just as inexperienced as their Union counterparts, they were on the defensive and command and control would be much easier than on the attack.

McDowell’s basic plan was essentially sound, and probably would have been successful with reasonably trained troops. His plan was to pull up the Rebel left flank and control the field. He had the troops to do this plus still protect his own flanks. Over thirty six thousand Union troops crashed into the Rebel left, causing it to waiver and then collapse.

The problem at that point was the lack of preparedness of the Union Forces. Union Forces literally sat out in the sun for most of the day while their artillery softened up the enemy forces. By the time the troops reached confederate lines they were tired and they suffered from a serious lack of motivation. They were unable to capitalize on the collapse of confederate forces.

The History Channel: Bull Run

The confused Confederates rallied around the forces of then Colonel Thomas Jackson. Jackson, an eccentric but brilliant tactician, realized the danger posed to the confederates and held his regiment solid as other units collapsed. His presence rallied Confederate forces and earned him his famous nickname. Someone seeing Jackson’s unit holding against Union forces commented that Jackson is standing ‘like a stone wall’. The name stuck and a legend known as "Stonewall" Jackson was born.

At this critical point Confederate reinforcements arrived. These men attacked the tired and poorly trained Union forces. This attack broke the back of the Federal attack. Union soldiers began to fall back, and then run for friendly lines. The rout was complete as the Confederate forces quickly ran the Union Army from the field. Many of the Union forces fell back as far as Washington DC, where they huddled in small groups, defeated, demoralized and disorganized.

McDowell was immediately relieved and a new Union Commander was found. It would take the leadership of George McClelland, warts and all, to turn the Army of the Potomac into a decent military organization.

But that is another story, and maybe another game.

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