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Pea Ridge Revisited


by John Leggat (originally published in Lines of Communication.)

Photos by Russ Gifford


      There's nothing like reading the history of a battle to fuel your interest in playing the game that simulates it. I recently finished reading an excellent historical account of the Battle of Pea Ridge, appropriately entitled Pea Ridge, Civil War Campaign in the West, written by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess and published in 1992. The account sets the strategic situation, with the two sides fighting fo r control of Missouri and Arkansas. I was surprised to learn that Pea Ridge, fought on the Arkansas/Missouri border March 7-8, 1862, followed Wilson's Creek fought on August 10, 1861, about 75 miles miles to the north in Missouri. The writing is very good and the maps and the photos are outstanding. This is the first complete history of the battle that I'd read and Shea and Hess gave me a very good idea of what the leaders were like and the profound affect they had on the battle's outcome. Van Dorn and Price were the bozos, aided by the Union's Sigel. McCulloch and McIntosh might have pulled it off for the Confederacy if they hadn't been killed near Leetown. Pea Ridge was a victory for the Union, mostly because of the strong leadership exhibited by Cutis and Davis, coupled with poor decisions by Van Dorn and Price. Such as splitting the Confederate force and advancing along two roads.

     As I read the book, it was interesting to pull out the maps from my three different games [Pea Ridge, the Gettysburg of the West (SPI, 1980), Pea Ridge for Across Five Aprils (Victory Games, 1992) and Pea Ridge from Civil War Classics, Volume 1 (FGA, 1991)] and follow the book. The SPI and Victory games versions were both designed by Eric Less Smith and published 12 years apart. SPI's version uses the Great Battles of the American Civil War system designed and refined by Richard Berg, and is the best simulation, by far, with the most accurate and detailed map of the area. SPI's map, at 125 yards per hex, is the largest and is an excellent graphical representation of the terrain. Like all three, it shows Leetown and Elkhorn Tavern. But the SPI map also delineates the orchards and cornfields, and more of the houses and farms. Across Five Aprils map is smaller, at a scale of 00 yards per hex and is also well done, with graphics improvements available twelve years later. As I've previously stated, Across Five Aprils is a game first and a simulation second. FGA's map, at 250 yards per hex uses computer graphics in which the trees look more like umbrellas. And I was most annoyed by Shrum's mislabeling of Slack's brigade as "Slake." But I am tuned to find fault with FGA's stuff.

     I played SPI's original Pea Ridge a bunch when it was first published in 1980 and like it. In fact, I played my first game with Gary Moody on 9/20/80. Gary played the Union, and here's a quotation of my notes of that game, which bore a lot of similarities to the historical battle -

     "Union victory conceded on last day turn of the first day. Confederates gained early ground on the left side with Van Dorn, but never seriously threatened the right side. Confederate artillery not used very effectively. Flanking action on left side worked well for Van Dorn. McCulloch should avoid open fields on right side. Pike is useless."

     Later, as most readers are painfully aware, I played Across Five Aprils Pea Ridge and found it to be an excellent game. Although I set up FGA's game and pushed the pieces around, I've never played it and doubt that I ever will. But, I'm always available for Across Five Aprils and ready for SPI's Pea Ridge

     "Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Missouri very proudly share the honor of victory which their gallant heroes won over the combined forces of Van Dorn, Price and McCulloch at Pea Ridge, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas."
        - Curtis to Halleck, March 10, 1862

  1993, by John Leggat