The topic of strategy is a tricky one. There are so many variables in our games that to try and give anyone a point-by-point “how to” guide would be useless. Instead we are going to concentrate on the maxims of strategy and try to explain why these are important for any commander wearing the gray or the blue. For future reference there are many more articles on strategy within your War Libraries to peruse on this subject. But let's start here.
To fight as a Confederate in the club you must accept being outnumbered in nearly all scenarios as a matter of course. The Federals will have better artillery, but you will enjoy superior infantry and cavalry. The Federals will have better weaponry and more supplies, but you will have better leaders. Both sides have their advantages and disadvantages and learning to deal with these is crucial in any scenario.
To fight as the Federals you have to remember that, usually, the longer the scenario lasts the better your chances are to be victorious. While this might seem odd you have to remember that the Confederates often are outnumbered and outgunned. They can pack a terrific first punch, but like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, will be unable to keep up their offensive onslaught for very long before fatigue and numbers catch up to them. Always hold back a reserve and let the Rebs wear themselves down. Once they are winded and vulnerable attack and drive them.
When moving to the attack try to use line of sight to your advantage. Conceal your intentions by keeping as many of your troops out of their line of sight for as long as possible. If you have enough men, try using decoy units to make your opponent think you will be attacking someplace else. When you attack try to disrupt and rout the enemy line by concentrating on just a few key units within the enemy line (usually the larger ones have a lower morale rating). Once a break in their line occurs try to exploit it before they can adjust or regain their footing. Or, as Nathan Bedford Forrest would say, “keep up the scare!”
DO NOT ATTACK JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HISTORICALLY. If your opponent has a line stronger than McClellan at Malvern Hill then there is a good chance he is praying you will assault him. Some players will do so because the scenario description tells them to or because they don’t want to “disappoint” their opponent and have a boring game. I guess if it comes down to making a foolhardy charge, with little chance of success, and making your opponent happy, or being overly cautious and trying to play for the Draw. I usually play for the Draw because I have discovered that a bored opponent will often take crazy chances to “liven things up.” Usually this means a direct attack on your position where you can give to them what they had been planning on giving to you.
When setting up a defense, always take the high ground with as much cover as possible (i.e. trees, rocks, etc.). If there is time, build breastworks. Anything to help improve your defensive rating should be utilized. Also try to create overlapping fields of fire with artillery and/or infantry. If a solid line of the enemy is approaching, I will sacrifice a small regiment and attack before they do. This will disrupt their assault and cause them some confusion as well. Plus, while they are brushing away that small unit, my guns are pounding away at them. Keep a reserve at hand to fill gaps should they appear. Try to keep stacks of 500+ men, with or without artillery, as this will prevent the enemy from being able to melee with any reasonable expectation of victory. Remember they are probably using the 2:1 rule to gauge whether to melee. Concentrate your offensive fire on Disrupted units or low-quality units to try and rout as many of them as you can back from your line. Lastly, if their attack is broken try following it up with a counterattack to try and win a few quick melee contests and really discourage them from trying again.
The User’s Manual contains a brief but helpful section on strategy which is worth relating here in case you have not read it before:
Maintain an effective reserve.
You will need a good reserve late in the battle to either provide the "knock-out punch" against the enemy, or to save your own army from destruction. It is a good idea to keep either a Brigade from each Division, or a Division from each Corps, in reserve to have some forces you can deploy as needed.
Be prepared for routs.
As your forces participate in combat, their fatigue will increase and ammo problems will develop. Keep an eye on the condition of your forces as these problems can eventually cause some very extensive routing. Be prepared for this eventuality and have some fresh forces in reserve that you can commit.
Amen. I advise, if possible, keeping a regiment of each brigade in reserve behind the main line to act as a filler should your men rout at any point. For the Federals this issue is far more pronounced than for the Confederates. If you can maintain a ready reserve behind your main line you will discover your line to be much more formidable than it would be with every rifle already on the front line.
Avoid frontal attacks against prepared positions.
The firepower of Civil War weapons was such that frontal attacks across open ground or against prepared positions most often failed. This tactic will only have a good chance of succeeding if you are attacking forces that have been worn down by previous fighting. If this is the case, then you may be able to cause a break in their line and the attack may succeed.
Pickett’s Charge. Malvern Hill. Fredericksburg. Kennesaw Mountain. Franklin.
Likewise, avoid frontal attacks against positions having good artillery.
Like the fellow said at Shiloh: "There ain’t no good way of charging artillery". Artillery is best attacked from the flank where you may be able to approach it without being fired upon and successfully melee against it. If you make a frontal attack against artillery, then you will find out just how effective canister charges fired from large bore cannons can be.
As an artilleryman told Longstreet before Fredericksburg, “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”
Use your cavalry for scouting and screening of your flanks, but avoid using them as "mounted infantry" unless they are equipped with fast firing weapons.
Cavalry units are generally too small and too precious to use them for real fighting against enemy units other than enemy cavalry. Only if you have cavalry such as the Union cavalry with fast firing weapons will you be able to hold your own.
Use skirmishers in obstructed terrain to scout for the enemy and to protect yourself from enemy attacks.
Particularly when the terrain consists of forests and other obstructed terrain, you can use skirmishers to determine the location of the enemy before you actually encounter them. This will keep you from suffering a large number of casualties from enemy fire. Your skirmishers will also slow the enemy advance down and give you time to prepare for it.
Using skirmishers in forests is just about the only way to safely navigate them in many western theater battles.
Watch your flanks, especially when the Isolation Optional Rule is in effect.
The most effective way of defeating an enemy force is to surround them. Historically when this happened, such as at the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh, the surrounded forces would surrender rather than fight to the death. Even individual units need to have flank support as they may be cut off using enemy Zones-of-Control, and unable to save themselves. The good use of linear tactics will protect your forces and allow them to use their firepower to maximum effect.
I will also add these pieces of advice to those already listed here:
Keep your artillery safely within your lines because a lone battery is an easy target for any enemy worth his salt. A veteran opponent will gobble up any artillery left unsupported. The points to be gained by capturing artillery outweigh any potential risk in the effort for the attacker. Always keep your artillery supported unless safely tucked behind your lines.
Your leaders should always be within effective command range of their units. The morale bonus that this gives your units makes this an easy decision. When you are heavily engaged it is best to keep as many levels of the relevant command structure as possible near the action, though safely out of harms way.
Use every advantage of geography that you can. Learning how best to utilize hex terrain modifiers to your advantage is a key element in succeeding in the games. The combat modifiers they can give you are significant. Also learning when not to attack an enemy in a geographic bastion is equally important. Terrain matters in the game more than even strategy or luck sometimes.
Why be idle when you can dig? If your troops are rested and inactive there is a problem. Whenever you have idle troops use them to strengthen their position rather than do nothing. You may never need the breastworks you build but if you ever do you will be glad you took the time to prepare.
Your wagons are worth their weight in gold – protect them! Without Supply Wagons you, literally, can’t fire anymore.
Commentary: You will lose. A lot. Get used to it now. I still hate losing but I try to take it in good form. All you can do is try to improve with each game and learn from your mistakes and your enemy’s actions. Numerous times I have seen my opponents use tactics I never thought of before and then used those same moves on them later in a different game. There are many different strategies that the members use and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to fight a battle. Don’t be afraid to try something new if you are on a losing streak and don’t be too discouraged. It’s only a game after all. Playing a friendly maneuver against a fellow Rebel/Yank and asking them to give you some advice is another way to help improve your gaming abilities.