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Posted on Jan 2, 2013 in Boardgames

CDG 54 – Confederate Guerrilla Attack, 1863

By Armchair General

The January 2013 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Confederate Guerrilla Attack, 1863.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Confederate Colonel William C. Quantrill, commander of a 400-man guerrilla cavalry force during the Civil War. Quantrill’s mission October 6, 1863, was to develop a plan to lead his irregular cavalrymen against Union forces near Fort Blair, Kan.

The guerrilla war that raged in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and western Virginia was a bitter “no quarter” struggle of hit-and-run raids by the guerrillas and ruthless Union reprisals against any civilians suspected of aiding the Confederates. Nowhere was Civil War guerrilla warfare more brutal than in the Kansas-Missouri border area, where bloody clashes between pro-Northern forces and pro-Southern forces dated back to 1854. The two most infamous incidents, which became defining examples of this merciless border region conflict, occurred in 1863: Quantrill’s murderous August 21 raid on Lawrence, Kan., that killed 180-200 of the town’s men and boys; and Union General Thomas Ewing’s notorious August 25 “Order No. 11” that forcibly and with extreme cruelty removed all civilians from five Missouri counties, leaving the region a barren “burnt district” for decades.

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In early October 1863, after increased Union Army operations conducted in the wake of the Lawrence raid made the border region “too hot” for Confederate guerrillas to remain in the area, Quantrill decided to lead his 400 men 200 miles south to Texas to safe winter quarters. On October 6, while traveling through southeastern Kansas, his command unexpectedly came upon Fort Blair, a recently constructed fortification with a 155-man garrison backed by a 12-pounder howitzer. Adding to Quantrill’s predicament, about 100 Union cavalrymen were approaching the fort, escorting Major General James G. Blunt from Fort Scott, Kan., to Fort Smith, Ark.

HISTORICAL OUTCOME

Quantrill chose to attack Fort Blair immediately with his entire command (COURSE OF ACTION TWO: ONE ATTACK FORCE). At noon on October 6, his 400 mounted guerrillas thundered down upon the unsuspecting Union garrison, catching most of the defenders unarmed and eating lunch at the cooking camp south of the fort’s ramparts. Yet the garrison commander, Lieutenant James B. Pond, who was cut off in the tent camp west of the fort when the surprise attack began, reacted swiftly and decisively, ordering his men to race through the charging Confederates and into the fort. Although Quantrill’s guerrillas shot down some of Pond’s men as they ran toward the fort, killing six and injuring 10 others, most of the garrison’s Soldiers managed to get behind the ramparts, retrieve their weapons and quickly place the 12-pounder howitzer into action. Firing rifles, carbines and the howitzer, they repulsed Quantrill’s guerrillas, who were armed with only pistols, killing or wounding 20-30 of them.

The Battle of Fort Blair, however, was far from over. As Quantrill’s Confederates withdrew, they turned on Blunt and his escort traveling on the road north of the fort. Since some of the guerrillas were wearing blue uniform coats (guerrillas frequently wore captured Union uniforms, often out of necessity when their clothes needed replacing but also sometimes as a deception measure), Blunt initially mistook the Confederates for Union troops from Fort Blair. It was a costly mistake. When Blunt belatedly realized his error, his effort to hastily form a defensive line proved woefully ineffective. The guerrillas quickly rode down the small Union force, killing 85 men and wounding eight. Only Blunt and perhaps 15 other Union Soldiers mounted on fast horses managed to escape. Thus, although the Union force had repulsed Quantrill’s men at the fort, the Battle of Fort Blair was a stunning Confederate victory for the guerrillas.

During the rest of the Civil War, Quantrill continued to lead Confederate guerrilla bands. He was wounded May 10, 1865, during a Union ambush and died as a result of his injuries June 6 in Louisville, Ky. Of his principal guerrilla lieutenants, only Dave Poole survived the war, dying in 1899. George Todd and William “Bloody Bill” Anderson were both killed in 1864.

Lieutenant Pond received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle and finished the war as a major. He died in 1903 after a successful career as a lecture tour manager (his clients included Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and explorer Henry Morton Stanley).

Blunt was briefly relieved of command after the Fort Blair debacle but was later reinstated. He redeemed his sullied reputation in a Union victory over General Sterling Price’s Confederates at the October 23, 1864, Battle of Westport, Mo. Blunt died in 1881.

READER SOLUTIONS

ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: ONE ATTACK FORCE, or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles of a Civil War guerrilla attack. (See “After Action Report.”) Quantrill, by choosing to employ his men as a single force, maximized their numbers, firepower and shock action and facilitated command and control for a more rapid response to the battle’s changing tactical situation.

COURSE OF ACTION ONE: TWO ATTACK FORCES fragmented and weakened Quantrill’s command, reducing its chances of success against the fort or Blunt’s escort. If half the guerrilla force (200 cavalrymen) had targeted the 100-man escort, both of Quantrill’s attacks might have been repulsed.

COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DELAYED ASSAULT was the least likely plan to succeed. The combined force of the garrison and Blunt’s escort numbered nearly 300 Soldiers, reducing Quantrill’s odds to almost 1-to-1 and making any Confederate success unlikely against the reinforced garrison, ramparts and 12-pounder howitzer.

After Action Report

Key Principles For A Civil War Guerrilla Attack

  • Deception: Keep forces hidden or in disguise until ready to attack.
  • Surprise: Strike suddenly and without warning to shock and confuse the enemy.
  • Speed: Keep the enemy off balance through superior mobility and horsemanship.
  • Concentration: Mass as many guerrillas as possible against the enemy target.
  • Firepower: Deliver a blizzard of overwhelming, close-range pistol fire.
  • Violent Execution: Ruthlessly press the initial charge to inflict maximum damage.
  • Avoid Fortifications: Don’t risk failure or high casualties by attacking enemy strongpoints.
  • Rapid Withdrawal: Quickly vacate the area to evade enemy pursuit/retaliation.

6 Comments

  1. I don’t see why Quantrill should attack the fort at all. It was a predictable failure. Unless the Union soldiers are roaring drunk or something they should be able to see and hear 400 cavalry charging them from more than 200 meters. Even if the cavalry travels at ten meters per second this gives the Union soldiers twenty seconds to grab a their guns and get to the other side of the rampart. Since the distance seems to be ten to twenty meters on the map, this is not particularly hard. The historical outcome confirms this. Despite having luck in catching the garrison commander outside the rampart Quantrill only managed to kill six union soldiers and wounding ten is a bad exchange for 20-30 casualties of his own. A very bad casulty exchange ratio made worse by the fact that Quantrill will have difficulty taking care of wounded during the long trek to Texas he is planning.

    This could also have cost Quantrill the element of surprise against Blunt. However, he was lucky in Blunt mistaking them for Union troops.

    Wouldn’t it have been much better if he attacked Blunt directly, ignoring the fort? He does not suffer unnecessary casualties, his troops attack Blunt with fully loaded revolvers (in the historical outcome I imagine they did not have time to reload the revolvers) and with less tired horses. If Quantrill hadn’t tired his horses with the fort attack, Blunt might not have got away. Killing a Union general would have been an important practical and symbolic victory, increasing the pro-confederate Missourians’ will to help Quantrill, bolstering Quantrill’s status as a leader and helping him keep his force together for the time to come.

    Sensemaker

  2. I agree 100% with Sensemaker. The chosen COURSE OF ACTION violates a number of “Key Principles For A Civil War Guerrilla Attack”:
    • Surprise: Strike suddenly and without warning to shock and confuse the enemy.
    => Attack on the fort risked giving a warning to Blunt´s escort force (but was lucky)
    • Avoid Fortifications: Don’t risk failure or high casualties by attacking enemy strongpoints.
    => Attacked a fortification (and took 5-7% losses, up to 2 times the union losses in absolute numbers, not very good for a guerrilla)
    and possibly
    • Rapid Withdrawal: Quickly vacate the area to evade enemy pursuit/retaliation.
    => Second attack (on weak force) in a “hot” area

    And as Sensmaker points out: a single attack on Blunt´s force could have included Blunt in the casualty list (and possibly some of the last 15 Union soldiers).

  3. I agree with Both Sten and Sensemaker, and am at a loss as to why that was not seen or given a practical course of action.

    Assuming a quick, harsh ambush of Blunt’s forces was significantly successful but happened to alert the Fort’s commander to their reinforcements problem, the commander of the fort would have been force to chose between sallying to meet and possibly rescue his superior or remain in the fort. If he had stayed in the fort, the guerrillas fade having won a fairly strong symbolic and strategic victory, if the fort commander were to march, it’d give Quantrill an opportunity to potentially continue inflict losses against the garrison, potentially even fatally weakening it. Assaulting the fort, even with the garrison caught napping seems to accomplish little especially if Blunt arrived to pin the light and necessarily-mobile cavalry in the process of sack, destroying or otherwise being within the fort palisades, burning their greatest strength.

  4. If I were in Quantrill’s place, I would have hit the fort from the side, sweeping through the tent camp, as it appears he did, to surprise the garrison and avoid getting into the howitzer’s line of fire. Then, after taking the fort, I would have my men stay in the fort to allow themselves and their horses to rest. When Blunt and his troops got close, I would have the fort’s own howitzer turned on them. Even if we got off only one salvo, it could potentially be enough to take out a significant portion of Blunt’s men, and hold the survivors in shock long enough for the newly refreshed guerillas to ride up and meet them.

  5. Everyone above made intersting comments but I think you forgot a simple factor here: the solution has already happened, we know what Quantrill really did.
    The options given for the scenario had to include one that actually happened and a couple that were somewhat feasible but given our 160+ years of hindsight going for Blunt first as being the big prize could not be proposed as it is the obvious one for all of us but was not the one picked then.
    The objective is to see who comes closest to the historical option not the ‘best’ one.

    • To the previous poster: “Interested Reader”

      “The objective is to see who comes closest to the historical option not the ‘best’ one.”

      If that is true I have completely misunderstood the nature of the CDG despite reading the magazine for three years.

      However, with all due respect, I do believe that it is ‘Interested Reader’ and not I who has misunderstood.

      Sensemaker

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