Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.

Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.

Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 6: “Weak Points and Strong,” [21-24]

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Robert E. Lee was forced to make a decision: either take a command with the Union Army, or join the Confederacy in defense of his home state of Virginia. He chose the latter.

This decision enabled the Confederacy to hold out until 1865 against the vast Union forces. Outnumbered and outgunned, General Robert E. Lee brought what was supposed to be an easy Union victory into stalemate in East. And twice he invaded the North.

His tactics and strategies are worthy for any wargamer to study, especially one feels like their going to lose wargame scenario from the outset.

1. Dig in. 

Early in the war, after his first defeat at Cheat Mountain, Lee was sent to defend Savanna, Georgia. He had a series of fortifications built around the city. Later, he did the same for Richmond, Virginia. Though he was criticized for doing so, these fortifications held under the very end of the war.

Against superior numbers, you must have a redoubt–some kind of fortification–for your troops to rally behind in case they need to retreat.

2. Attack, even while defending. 

One June 1, 1862, Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Peninsula Campaign the Union army under General George McClellan had gradually pushed the Confederates back toward Richmond. McClellan, however, had been ill and also believed the Confederates to be much stronger than they actually were. So he prepared the Army of the Potomac for a long siege.

Yet General Lee did not settled in; he attacked McClellan’s army repeatedly over the course of seven days, which gave time for additional reinforcements to arrive under Stonewall Jackson. Shaken by the Confederate aggressiveness, McClellan withdrew his army.

3. Keep attacking, don’t lose your momentum.

Then Lee left Richmond and moved his army northward, where he engaged and prevailed against the Union army at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The Confederates were now almost within striking distance of Washington D.C.

Although you may have dug in, a fortification is worthless if there’s no enemy to attack it. Hiding inside of one only gives the enemy time to gather their forces for another attack.

4. Attack what the enemy prizes most.

Shortly after Lee invaded Maryland, Northern ground, both as a means to feed his armies and to defeat the Union on its own soil. Maryland had also been mostly pro-Southern near war’s outbreak, so he expected to find support there.

It wasn’t a bad plan.

Yet the people of Maryland ended up not supporting the Confederates, and the Union discovered Lee’s plan of attack, and this was followed by a series of events which led to the Battle of Antietam–the bloodiest day of fighting in the history of the United States.

Though forced to withdrawal, Lee’s forces inflicted more casualties on the Union army, and General McClellan did not go on the offensive after the battle. Lincoln removed McClellan from command.

Go after your opponent’s general, a prized piece of ground, outflank him. Seek a moral victory.

5. Keep fighting. 

General Lee continued fighting until April 9, 1865, often out-maneuvering and defeating Union armies twice the size of his own. As the war dragged on, resentment toward Lincoln grew in the US Government.

In 1864 McClellan ran against Lincoln for President. McClellan promised to end the war.

Throughout that year the Confederates made startling victories at the Battles of Mansfield, and Cold Harbor. Union casualties ran high. And there was a chance Lincoln might not win the election.

Had the Confederates won a few more victories or the Union used different strategies, the South might have been allowed to succeed.


At the tabletop, a wargamer might become dismayed at the vast number of forces of his or her opponent. Yet while numbers do matter, they matter little if one does not know to employ them.

Remember: a numerically superior force can get overconfident, and a well-timed attack can break their confidence, which gives you time organize a stronger defense and possibly drag out the game with the hope that your opponent will concede victory out of shear frustration.

And you never know when the luck of the dice might start to turn in your favor…


Next on The Art of Wargaming: How The Bearded Bastard Crushed His Opponents [Part 2].