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Strategic Command: American Civil War - Wars in the Americas - Dev Diary #1

Published on January 16, 2023

The second half of the 19th century was a time of great change for the Americas.  From Cape Horn to the Sabine River, a new generation of leaders battled for control of the inheritance of Bolivar and San Martin.  Driven by the idea of a manifest destiny, the United States spread its borders from sea to shining sea.  New weapons: the breech-loader, the torpedo boat and the protected cruiser enabled power to be projected on an unprecedented scale.  It was an age that made heroes of men such as Scott, Grau, Caxias and Theodore Roosevelt, and it shaped the fate of the Americas for generations to come.

This makes it the perfect setting for the next chapter in the Strategic Command series.

Wars in North America

When we decided to make additional content for Strategic Command: American Civil War, two conflicts immediately stood out as must-haves for the expansion pack.  One being the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, which has since been represented as a sort of opening act for the story of the Civil War, as many of the war’s most prominent commanders gained their first battlefield experience in Mexico, and the annexation of California reinforced the growing sectional divide between the Northern and Southern states.  

The other is the Spanish-American War of 1898, a conflict that marks the end of the post-Civil War era and the arrival of the United States as a major player on the international stage.  In addition to serving as bookends for the time period covered by the DLC, these two conflicts will require you to adapt to strategic situations very different to those you experienced in the Civil War.

Additionally, we will be revisiting the Civil War itself with 1863 The Eagle and the Empire, an alternate history campaign where France enters the war on the side of the Confederacy.

1846 The Conquest of Mexico

So far in its history, Strategic Command has focused exclusively on industrial warfare: the American Civil War and both World Wars were all conflicts where industrial output was as important to victory as tactical brilliance.  In those conflicts, the warring powers mobilised (and often conscripted) thousands or millions of men to take up arms.  Those vast armies relied on sprawling infrastructure networks to bring supplies and reinforcements to the front, with the telegraph and radio providing commanders the ability to quickly redirect their reserves to turn the tide of battle.

In turning the clock back to the 1840s, we may not be going to a truly pre-industrial age, but at this point in history the innovations that enabled the successes of Sherman, Pershing and Patton had yet to spread to the plains of northern Mexico.  While those commanders could request reinforcements with a quick message, your armies will be on their own.

Or at the very least, reinforcements will be scarce.  Compared with the Civil War, the armies of the Mexican War are tiny: Scott’s army for the capture of Mexico City was just 20,000 strong, or about as many men who were killed or wounded at the Battle of Antietam alone.  Even fewer of these soldiers are professionals, with years of training and experience.  These Regular units will be your most valuable asset in battle, but they will also be irreplaceable if lost, so how and when you commit them to battle may well prove the difference between victory and defeat.

Fortunately, you will not be solely reliant on the Regulars to win the day, and volunteer Brigades will be available for purchase to bolster your ranks, although they come at the cost of lower combat effectiveness.  Before they can challenge Zachary Taylor or Santa Anna in battle however, they will first have to overcome perhaps the most important challenge in this campaign: the sheer distance between your objectives.  

Even before setting foot on Mexican soil, Taylor’s camp on the Rio Grande is already a thousand kilometres from his supply centre in New Orleans, while other American forces plan to go even further, to New Mexico and California.  Without railroads to transport them, your armies will be forced to travel these vast distances on foot (or occasionally via steamboat).  Success in this war will depend not on your ability to mobilise reinforcements from afar, but on your mastery of great distances and ability to win battles with whatever forces are on hand.

One of the more interesting stories I came across while researching this conflict relates to an industrial innovation not typically associated with warfare, namely the steam-powered printing press.  Invented in 1843, it allowed literature to be published in quantities that would have previously seemed unthinkable.

One of the first works to benefit from this invention was William Hickling Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, which recounts the story of the sixteenth-century war between the Spanish conquistadores and the Aztec Empire.  For many Americans in the 1840s, this was their first introduction to their southern neighbour, and it has been argued that Prescott’s work helped inspire the United States to go to war with Mexico in 1846 (Ironically, Prescott himself was opposed to the war), and many American soldiers carried the book with them into battle as they followed in the footsteps (quite literally) of Hernando Cortes.

We’re giving you the option to do this too: on turn one, the American player will be offered a Decision, allowing them to “bring a copy of the book on campaign”.  If you say YES, you will begin each turn with a popup that includes an excerpt from the book, allowing you to follow Cortes’ story as you attempt your own Conquest of Mexico. And yes, that’s where the campaign gets its name.

1898 Remember the Maine

The Spanish-American War has a reputation for being a rather one-sided affair, and for good reason.  The two major naval battles – Manila Bay and Santiago – saw the Spanish fleets sunk in their entirety while the Americans suffered a total of two dead and ten wounded.  On land, US forces occupied Manila and Santiago within weeks of landing, captured Guam without a fight, and had wrested control of half of Puerto Rico before an armistice was declared. 

Outside of Havana and a few isolated garrisons, the remainder of Spain’s colonial possessions were no longer controlled by the Spanish crown, but by native partisans determined to secure the independence of their nations.  These partisans had been actively fighting Spain since 1895 with growing success, and by 1898 it was the rebels who effectively controlled most of Cuba and the Philippines.  

When the Maine exploded on February 15, 1898, Spain was entering a war that it could not win. But while the Spanish could not win the Spanish-American War, the United States could certainly lose it.  

Although the Spanish colonial garrisons had been hardened by years of partisan warfare, the US Army has improved little since 1865, still relying on volunteers who are eager to fight but poorly trained.  The logistics system that would bring them to Cuba was shambolic, with multiple units being assigned to the same transport, and supply distribution reached the point of scandal, as low-quality “embalmed beef” added food poisoning to the soldiers’ woes.  The American medical system was equally abysmal, a recipe for disaster in yellow fever-ridden Cuba.  Adding to Washington’s problems is Kaiser Wilhelm II, who desires Spain’s overseas possessions for himself.

For the Spanish-American War we have divided the map into five different sectors, representing the Philippines, California, Florida and the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and mainland Spain.  While units can move from one sector to another via marked loop boxes on the map, the sheer distance between sectors means that once your forces are committed to one sector, sending them to another will not be easily done.

More than ever, this means that carefully planning your campaigns ahead of time will be vital to your eventual victory.  For the American side to win, they must capture three of five objectives: Manila, San Juan in Puerto Rico, and Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago in Cuba.  Amphibious invasions targeting Guam and the Canary Islands can further reduce Spain’s Fighting Spirit.  

Spain meanwhile must simply survive with enough Fighting Spirit intact until the end of 1898, at which point it is assumed that Germany intervenes, either to negotiate an honourable peace settlement, or seize Spain’s empire for the Kaiser.  With so many objectives spread out across the world, you must decide which sectors to prioritise, and these are decisions that will have to be made before the war has begun.

That is, before the Spanish-American War has begun.  At the time the campaign begins in early February 1898, Spain has been long engaged in a partisan war against the Cubans, and how you handle these partisans will be just as important as anything Uncle Sam might achieve.  For the Americans, Cuban (and later, Filipino) forces, while weak in raw combat power, can provide major advantages, from spotting the Spanish forces to cutting enemy supply lines.  If native forces are able to capture Spanish arsenals and warehouses, in the form of supply centres, it will be a major boon to American forces on the islands.

Spain meanwhile must decide how much effort to spend on suppressing the partisans versus preparing for the eventual American invasions.  While spreading the Spanish army across the colonies allows it to greatly reduce (though never eliminate) partisan uprisings, and increase the amount of MPPs that the colonies send back to Madrid, you risk leaving too few forces guarding the coast against the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.

1863 The Eagle and the Empire

While the leaders of the new states in Latin America correctly feared that Spain would attempt to regain some of their former colonies, it would not be Spain that would make the greatest effort to reassert European control over the Americas, but rather France’s Emperor, Napoleon III.  

Taking advantage of the Civil War in the United States (and thus Lincoln’s inability to enforce the Monroe Doctrine), Napoleon III ordered his army to occupy the Mexican port of Veracruz in December 1861.  Assisted by some Mexican conservatives, Napoleon and his army installed the Habsburg prince Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico and had overrun most of the country by 1865, before being pressured by Andrew Johnson’s administration to withdraw the following year.

While this campaign has already been represented as a possibility in our American Civil War campaigns, the requirement of French intervention in the war means that players have thus far only been able to play it for the few turns between intervention and a likely Confederate victory.  Given how interesting the history of this war was, we felt it was worthy of a full campaign!

In The Eagle and the Empire, France declares war on the United States in the spring of 1863, which causes the American Civil War and Napoleon’s Mexican adventure to expand into a massive international conflict. 

Rather than prompting Lincoln to sue for peace, the French attack causes the Union public to rally around their flag and behind their President, while French aid and the promise of reinforcements increases both the Confederacy’s Fighting Spirit and its ability to fight on.  To give you sufficient time to achieve victory in this epic conflict, this campaign will extend until December 1866, a full year longer than the base American Civil War campaigns.

Beginning in May 1863, this campaign thrusts you straight into the action!

Not only has Lee just triumphed at Chancellorsville and is preparing to strike towards Gettysburg, but in Mexico General Forey has won an equally important victory by concluding the Siege of Puebla, leaving little to resist an advance on Mexico City itself.  Meanwhile, Grant has outflanked the fortress of Vicksburg and is preparing to lay siege to the last Confederate position on the Mississippi River.  

This campaign provides lots of new strategic options. The expulsion of Confederate forces from New Mexico leaves the Union with a dilemma: should the army victorious in New Mexico cross the border to support President Juarez against the French, or are they more urgently needed to defeat the Confederacy?

The arrival of the French Navy will also force you to rethink the war at sea.  Not only will Napoleon’s ironclads – perhaps the finest warships of their day – severely complicate the enforcement of the Union blockade (at least until the Union can acquire more ironclads of its own), but they also allow the French player to deploy a large expeditionary force to North America.  

This well-trained force is equipped with the finest weapons available, and will be sure to make a difference wherever it is sent: perhaps you will open a second front in Mexico to split Juarez’ overstretched forces?  Maybe you will send them to reinforce Lee or relieve Pemberton at Vicksburg?  You may even wish to consider a daring attack along the Union’s coast, with an invasion unmatched in its ambition and its potential glory...

Strategic Command: American Civil War - Wars in the Americas will be available on January 26th 2023

Keep in touch with the community of Strategic Command, use the forum to discuss your discoveries with other users, check out the site for FaQ and any information, and join the Discord server where the Dev regularly updates the users about the development progress and discusses requests and changes.

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