In April of 1865, after four bloody years of war, the Confederacy was finally entering its last days. On 2 April, Grant’s powerful and relentless attacks against Lee’s defenses at Richmond and Petersburg had at last broken through the line of earthworks and forts that ringed the Confederate Capital. With the Union capture of Forts Whitworth and Gregg late in the day, Lee saw clearly that any further resistance was futile; Richmond was lost. Early in the evening, Lee ordered what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia — which had, by this point, been reduced to only about 30,000 men — to assemble and, beginning at 2000 hours, to commence its retreat away from Richmond. Now, Lee’s goal was to reach a position at which he might affect a juncture with General Johnston’s forces still operating in South Carolina. In the interim, however, the Confederate general’s major concern was to escape encirclement at the hands of U.S. Grant’s much larger Army of the Potomac.
The initial phase of the Confederate retreat went off without a hitch, but, after occupying Richmond and Petersburg on the morning of the 3rd, Grant immediately ordered an energetic pursuit of the retreating Rebels. By the morning of the 4th, advanced elements of the Army of the Potomac had reestablished contact with Lee’s rearguard while, at the same time, Federal cavalry swept around the retreating Confederate army’s flank to block its most likely routes of march. Lee was on the horns of a dilemma: if he turned to fight one of the harrying Federal columns, he knew that the other Union forces would converge to crush his outnumbered army between them. The retreat continued, first towards Amelia Courthouse, and then when he discovered Federal troops between his army and Danville, towards Farmville. Lee’s troops were now nearing their breaking point. Starving and exhausted because of constant night marches, discipline at last began to give way. At Sailor’s Creek the Union IInd Corps caught up with Lee’s trains, and farther south along the same creek, the Federal VIth Corps intercepted and trapped Ewell’s corps and part of Anderson’s, in the bargain. The end was now very near for the Army of Northern Virginia.
On the morning of the 7th, Lee’s surviving troops at last reached Farmville, but Union columns were now converging on his army from three directions. After halting briefly to issue rations — the first that his men had received since the retreat began — the Rebels crossed to the north bank of the Appomattox River. Unfortunately, the Union pursuit continued unabated and Humphrey’s IInd Corps attacked the Confederate rearguard on the 8th, forcing Lee to turn and give battle. This last halt was fatal. On the morning of the 9th, Lee found his retreat blocked by Sheridan’s cavalry. Compelled by his sense of duty, although he knew his situation was hopeless, Lee ordered Fitzhugh Lee and Gordon to break through Sheridan’s line and reestablish a route of retreat for the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia. After some initial success against the federal horsemen, the arrival of infantry from two Union corps ended any further prospect of Fitzhugh Lee and Gordon succeeding, and the Confederate commander ordered the attack broken off. At last, satisfied that everything that could be done had been done, Lee authorized that a request for a truce be tendered to General Grant. In the afternoon, General Lee donned his best dress uniform and rode to a private home in Appomattox Courthouse that his aides had arranged for the formal ceremony. There he awaited the arrival of the characteristically rumpled Grant who had been on his way to Lynchberg when he received Lee’s first message requesting a truce. In victory, Grant was both respectful and even solicitous of his former foe. At 1600 hours on 9 April 1865, in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean, Lee and Grant each signed the agreement that signified the formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
A HOUSE DIVIDED: The American Civil War, 1861-1865 is an operational/strategic (division/corps) simulation of the American Civil War from July 1861 (First Bull Run) through June 1865 (two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox). Unlike most other games on this topic — Mark Herman’s FOR THE PEOPLE (1998) being a notable exception — this title uses a point-to-point rather than a hexagonal map system. The four-color game map covers the continental United States east of the Mississippi River. The transportation lines on the game map link different towns and cities that were, or could have been of strategic importance during the four years of the American Civil War. Also, interestingly enough, the first edition of the game (the version being profiled here) has only four pages of ‘Basic’ rules and two pages of ‘Advanced and/or Optional’ rules.
A HOUSE DIVIDED is played in game turns each of which is divided into two player turns: a Union player turn followed by a Confederate turn. During each player turn, the ‘phasing’ player performs a simple sequence of game actions: Movement, Combat, Promotions, and Recruitment; the second player (the Confederate commander) repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends and the Game Turn Marker is advanced one space on the Turn Record Track. The Movement Rules are simple, but quite interesting. At the beginning of his turn, the ‘phasing’ player rolls a single die; the number rolled indicates the number of ‘Marches’ or individual groups (from six to two: a die roll of ‘one’ still permits two marches) that he may move. Players allot their marches to different movement boxes, and all units in a single box count as a single ‘march’. All infantry can move along any enemy or friendly transportation line (roads, railroads, and rivers) to an adjacent connected box, and cavalry may move two boxes. In addition, infantry units may move two boxes along a friendly rail line. In both the ‘Basic’ and the ‘Advanced’ versions of A HOUSE DIVIDED, a unit may expend one march in a ‘recruitment city’ or two marches in a regular box and ‘entrench’ rather than moving to a different box. In the ‘Advanced game’ units may move along a rail line and then expend an additional march in order to tear-up the enemy rail line just passed over. All cavalry units, under certain circumstances may pass through (‘Jump Move’) an enemy-occupied box. Moreover, Union infantry and cavalry may, in some cases, jump move over a Rebel occupied box when traveling down a river. Also, the Federal player, because of the dominance of the Union navy, may transport units by sea on any game turns in which his ‘March’ die-roll is a six.
Supply rules are not used in the ‘Basic’ version of A HOUSE DIVIDED, but become quite important in the play of the ‘Advanced’ game. The mechanics of supply are quite simple: a single unit in a movement box is always in supply; however, if two or more units occupy the same box, then they must trace a supply line to a recruitment city via either a river or a rail line. If such a supply path is unavailable, the units must ‘forage’ a process which ‘strips’ the supply capacity of the foraged box. Unsupplied stacks of units must eliminate one unit from their stack (owner’s choice) at the beginning of each player turn that the affected stack remains unsupplied.
The Combat system used in A HOUSE DIVIDED is both familiar and intuitively reasonable. Battles are initiated when enemy units move into a movement box already occupied by an opposing unit or units. Once the phasing player has completed all of his marches, any battles that have been created by his movement are resolved, one-by-one, in any order that the phasing player wishes. However, cavalry units that are in the same box with attacking units may withdraw before combat unless all of the attacking enemy units are also cavalry. The actual battle subroutine is very simple: much like naval battles in WAR AT SEA, the opposing units are lined up opposite each other and blast away in successive battle rounds until one side retreats or is eliminated completely. Excess units may be added to any attack or attacks the owning player wishes, but unlike WAS, defensive and offensive fires are not simultaneous. Thus, because the defender always fires first, it is possible to eliminate attacking units prior to the target unit’s own round of offensive combat. Each unit fires at an enemy unit and scores a hit or miss depending on whether its combat die roll is higher than, equal to, or lower than the unit’s combat factor. For example, a ‘2’ strength militia infantry unit firing at any other type of enemy unit (other than ‘crack’ infantry) would score a ‘hit’ on a die roll of ‘1’ or ‘2’, and a miss on any other result. This means that combat effects are apportioned on the basis of ‘hits’ and two hits are required to eliminate an enemy unit. To keep track of hits, the game uses a modified (inverted counter) step-reduction system to account for combat losses. As might be expected, attacks against ‘crack’ infantry, entrenchments, across rivers, or as part of naval landings are all penalized in regards to combat resolution. Once the outcome of a battle has been resolved, the victorious player is permitted to ‘promote’ any one of his participating units.
In A HOUSE DIVIDED, unit promotion — that is: replacing a unit with the next stronger version of the unit — can occur in one of two ways: as a result of a victorious battle and/or as a normal consequence of the promotion phase. In the second instance, each player is allowed to promote two or more units per game turn, whether the promoted units have participated in any battles or not. After the promotion stage is completed, the phasing player completes his part of the game turn by ‘recruiting’ from two to six militia units (of any type) depending on the result of a single die roll. ‘Recruitment’ is limited to the pool of available (off-map) militia units, and it may not exceed the phasing player’s current ‘Maximum Army Size’. However, at certain points in the game, additional militia units will be added to the Union player’s recruitment pool as a result of Northern ‘drafts’. Each player’s Maximum Army Size is based exclusively on the number of friendly recruitment cities that he controls at any point in the game. The Maximum Army Size for the Union, for example is thirty-four units; for the Confederacy it is twenty-nine. As the game progresses, a player’s Maximum Army Size may be reduced by the value of any friendly recruitment cities that fall into enemy hands, or increased by the value of any neutral recruitment cities (certain cities in Kentucky, for example) that can be brought under the player’s control.
The Union player wins A HOUSE DIVIDED by seizing control of all of the Confederate recruitment cities on or before the last turn of the game. The Rebel player, on the other hand can win in one of three ways: by capturing Washington, D.C., in which case the Confederate player wins immediately; by capturing a sufficient number of Federal recruitment cities to reduce the Union Maximum Army Size below that of the Confederacy, which also results in an immediate Rebel victory; or, lastly, by preventing the Union player from satisfying his own victory conditions by game end.
A HOUSE DIVIDED offers the Standard Campaign Game (40 game turns), and the Short Game (10 turns). ‘Advanced and Optional’ rules include additional player options such as: Breaking Rail Lines; Supply; Crack Infantry; Coastal Defenses; Containment; Naval Evacuations; Effects of Capture of Washington, D.C.; More First Turn Restrictions; Increasing Union Forces; Die Roll Averaging; Novice Union Player; and the ‘Short’ Game. It should be noted that, because of the simplicity of the basic game system, most players will almost immediately incorporate the ‘Advanced and Optional’ rules into their play.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
“A HOUSE DIVIDED and ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’,” an old friend of mine once commented, “are a lot alike: if you walk into a room where either of them is playing, it is almost impossible not to want sit down and get involved; and it really doesn’t matter how many times you have previously done so in the past.” In many ways, I think that my friend’s eccentric observation is probably ‘dead on’. I haven’t played A HOUSE DIVIDED in years, but if the opportunity for a game suddenly came up, I would probably jump at it. Frank Chadwick’s simple, yet elegant design is really just that good.
The newer versions, of course, are very different from Chadwick’s original. Thanks mainly to the tireless efforts of Alan Emrich, the newest incarnation of the game now includes limited intelligence (the STRATEGO effect) along with historical commanders, and a whole body of new and enhanced rules. On the other hand, six pages of rules have expanded, first to twenty, and now to thirty pages; so, obviously there has been a trade-off. To be fair, because I have not actually played the most recent Phalanx Games version, myself, I will withhold judgment on the new version, one way or the other; however, I am told — by friends who have actually tried it out — that the new game is just as much fun as the old GDW design, but that it significantly increases the strategic options for both sides.
Moreover, I am also informed that it is a lot more challenging than the original to play well. From this I infer that Kentucky is probably even a bigger problem for the Union than it was in the original. In any case, putting nostalgia aside for a moment, I suspect that the newest Phalanx Games incarnation of A HOUSE DIVIDED is probably well worth a look, particularly for those old-time gamers who long-ago played and enjoyed the original.
Finally, it should be noted that A HOUSE DIVIDED, despite its age, occupies a unique niche among the ever-growing library of games that, in one way or another, attempt to simulate the American Civil War at the strategic level. Certainly, it is not the best of the lot; it is, after all, barely a simulation, at all. But, considered purely in terms of its playability and entertainment value, A HOUSE DIVIDED is still — even after all these years — very hard to beat. Thus, it is both an excellent choice for the beginning player, and an enjoyable challenge for the most grizzled of ‘grognards’. Moreover, Chadwick’s innovative design does manage, in spite of its simple game mechanics, to convey some of the very real problems that confronted the leaders of the North and South as the war drug on from one bloody year to the next. And, last but not least, it remains one of the very few titles which can be set-up on an ordinary table, and played to completion in a single afternoon — other than SPI’s mind-numbingly boring THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR or Eagle Games’ very AXIS AND ALLIES flavored THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR.
- Time Scale: 1 month per game turn (spring, summer, and fall); 2 months per game turn (winter)
- Map Scale: (irrelevant) point to point movement system
- Unit Size: division/corps (10,000 to 15,000 infantry; 7,000 to 10,000 cavalry)
- Unit Types: militia/veteran/crack infantry, militia/veteran/crack cavalry, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 2 - 5+ hours (depending on whether the ‘Short’ or ‘Standard’ game is being played)
- One 17” x 22” point-to-point Map Sheet (with joint Army Maximum Size Track incorporated)
- 160 ⅝” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Set-up Instructions and Examples of Play incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” Turn Record Chart
- One 4” x 6” GDW Customer Survey Card
- One six-sided Dice
- One 9¼” x 11½” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU .
Also see my blog post Book Review of this definitive three volume work on the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia by Douglas S. Freeman.
Also, for those interested in battlefield maps, the "museum book" collection of historical Civil War maps by William J. Miller, released in 2004, or the atlas compiled by Stephen Hyslop in 2009 of Civil war battlefields are worth collecting.
Recommended ArtworkThis Giclee print of a map of the Battle of Gettysburg is suitable for framing and makes a nice wall decoration for a game room with a Civil War theme.