Harry Heth's Fog of War

Jun 6, 2008, 11:01 PM |

 General Henry Heth: “Very strange, sir. The situation is very confused.”

General Robert E. Lee: “What happened?”

General Henry Heth: “I moved in this morning, as directed. I thought it was only a few militia, but it was dismounted cavalry, sir. There weren't all that many, and the boys wouldn't hold back. I thought we shouldn't be stopped by a few dismounted cavalry...but they made a good fight. They really put up a scrap, sir.”

General Robert E. Lee: “Go on, General.”

General Henry Heth: “Well, sir, they wouldn't leave. My boys got their dander up. We deployed the whole division and went after them. We just about had them running then all of a sudden...they got infantry support. We got pushed back. Then we re-formed and tried again. We couldn't just leave it to them, sir. Now there's more Yankee infantry coming. I don't know how many. But I don't know what else we could've done. It started as a minor scrap with a few militia. The next thing I know, I'm tangling with half the Union army.

General Robert E. Lee: “Things will get out of control, Mr. Heth.”


This is one of my favorite scenes from the classic Civil War film, Gettysburg. This short exchange between Generals Lee and Henry “Harry” Heth is a perfect example of what military historians call “fog of war,” that all-too-common situation where commanders are often partially blind to events taking place on the battlefield. In this case, Confederate General Heth stumbled into what he perceived to be mere militia but discovered, much to his chagrin, that he was actually tangling with a larger, more dangerous force. After listening to the somewhat hapless Heth, Bobby Lee, ever the sage commander, reminds Heth that chaos on the battlefield is to be expected.

This is wise advice for both generals of the battlefield as well as those of the chess board. Even though both players can see all the pieces placed upon a chess board, there still remain elements of the unknown, elements such as the opening repertoire of your opponent, his personality and his endgame knowledge. All these enigmatic factors contribute to a very real fog of war for the king and his army.

Recently, I found myself in the shoes of Harry Heth. While writing my review of Chessmaster XI, I had logged onto the Chessmaster online server to double-check a few observations. Before I could log off, I was challenged to a game by “rehcsif,” an unknown individual with a seemingly low rating. Always loath to decline a friendly invitation, I assented to the match. Since his rating did not indicate a strong player, I played the game with one eye on the board and one on my review. Well, this proved a mistake because before I knew it, I was “tangling with half the Union army.”

The following is annotated by Chessmaster XI and myself:

[White "rehcsif"]
[Black "WargamerScott"]
[Result "0-1"]

{Annotations by Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition Auto-Annotator. 14 seconds per move.

White Black
Book Move 5 5
Book 1 0
CMX Agrees 26 28
CMX Disagrees 8 6
Agreement Pct. 76% 82%
Total Error 3.99 2.40
Relevant Error 3.99 2.40
Mate 0 0
Moved Into Mate 1 0

{B00 King's Pawn Opening. The King's Pawn opening move is both popular and logical. It controls the center, opens lines for both the Queen and the Bishop, and usually leads to an open game in which tactics, rather than slow maneuvering, predominates.}
{C20 King's Pawn Game. Black responds symmetrically, making a direct challenge to the central squares.}
{C40 King's Knight Opening. With the possible exception of :2. f4, this is the most logical second move against Black's
symmetrical answer to the King's Pawn. The Knight attacks e5, clears the way for an eventual castle and rests on its best
defensive square.}
{C44 Queen's Knight Variation. Now, when White plays 3.Nc3 (instead of the Ruy Lopez), it's the Three Knight's Game; a leisurely system.}
{C44 Scotch Game. The Scotch Game is similar to the Center Game and other early examples of d4. White achieves an open
game at the cost of simplification.}
{C41 Philidor's Defense (transposed).}
{C41 Philidor's Defense.}
{C41 Philidor's Defense.}
{C41 Philidor's Defense.}
{C41 Philidor's Defense.}
{Out of Opening Book. Bb5 would have been in the Philidor's Defense opening line. Attacks Black's pawn at f7 and enables the short castle.}
{Protects Black's pawn at f7 and threatens White's bishop at c4.}
{Attacks Black's pawn at f7.}
{ Black wins a bishop for a bishop. Material is even.}

It was here that I began to suspect that I wasn’t just fighting "a few militia,” as my opponent played the Philidor’s Defense perfectly and left the opening book with a very aggressive move. By my seventh move, my king was no longer able to castle and I had doubled e-pawns. In short, he was tying me in knots.

8.O-O Nd4
{Threatens White's pawn at c2.}
{Pins Black's knight at d4 and protects White's pawn at c2.}
{Frees Black's knight at d4 from the pin, protects Black's pawn at e5, and attacks White's pawn at c2.}
{Protects White's pawn at c2 and attacks Black's pawn at e6.}
{Removes the threat on Black's pawn at e6.}
{Pins Black's bishop and isolates Black's pawn at e6. White wins a knight and a pawn for a knight. White is up a pawn.}

Now my opponent is a pawn up. Again, not a good situation for me.

{Threatens White's rook at d4.}
{Moves it to safety.}
{Threatens White's pawn at e4.}
{Pins Black's knight and protects White's pawn at e4.}
{Frees Black's bishop from the pin.}
14.Nc3 h6
{Threatens White's bishop.}
{Removes the threat on White's bishop and checks Black's king.}

The pressure continues to build on my king. I started to panic a little here but found what I thought was a clever move.

{Moves it out of check and forks White's pawn at e4 and White's bishop.}
{Partially pins Black's pawn at g7, removes the threat on White's pawn at e4, and attacks Black's pawn at g7.}
{ Black wins a bishop for a knight.}
17.c4 c6
{Threatens White's knight.}
{Slightly better is Ne3.}

It was about here that I had enough of being on the defensive. Time to launch a counter-attack! Unfortunately, my cxd5 offensive cost me another pawn. It did, however, relieve some of the pressure on my king, which was my goal all along.

{Attacks White's pawn at e4.}
{Protects White's pawn at c5, checks Black's king, and creates a passed pawn on d5.}

From this moment on, White’s d5 pawn became the eye of a brewing storm. I wanted it out of my way, and he desired to keep it like a fortress in my territory. A little Fort Sumter, perhaps?

{Moves it out of check and attacks White's pawn at c5.}
{Creates a passed pawn on d6.}
{Blocks White's pawn at d5. Black wins a knight and a pawn for a bishop and a pawn. White is ahead by a pawn.}
{Slightly better is Rd3.}
21...Rac8 22.Rc3 b6
{Slightly better is Rxc3.}

As you can see by ol’ Chessmaster’s notations, my opponent and I stubbornly refused to play the better move for the next few turns.

{Slightly better is Ra3.}
{Slightly better is Rxc3.}
{Slightly better is Rf3.}
{Slightly better is Rxc3.}
{Slightly better is Rf3.}
{Slightly better is Rxc3.}
26.Rxc5 bxc5
{ Black wins a rook for a rook. White is up a pawn.}
27.Ke2 Rg4
{Blocks White's pawn at g3.}

This was the first time I felt my opponent make a mistake. I now realized that it might just be possible to trap the enemy monarch like Lee and Stonewall Jackson trapped Hooker at Chancellorsville.

28…f5 29.Rd3 Rc4
{Slightly better is a5.}
{Threatens Black's pawn at a7.}
{Protects Black's pawn at a7 and checks White's king.}
{Moves it out of check and forks Black's pawn at a7 and Black's rook.}
{Protects Black's rook.}

Got the pawn! Fort Sumter surrenders!

{Creates a passed pawn on a2. White wins a pawn for a pawn. White is up a pawn.}
{Checks White's king.}

The trick now is to keep the White king under attack so as to prevent him from using the rook in my rear to attack me.

{Moves it out of check and threatens Black's pawn at f4.}
{Removes the threat on Black's pawn at f4 and checks White's king.}

I would just like to mention that Fritz X remarked that my rook “was well posted here,” which is the closest that program has ever come to paying me a compliment.

{Moves it out of check and attacks Black's pawn at f4.}
{Moves it to safety and checks White's king.}
{Moves it out of check and blocks Black's pawn at e4.}
{Threatens mate (rook to d3).}

With this move, I prepare for my coup de grace. The tide of battle has almost decisively turned in my favor and I am so close to a checkmate that I can taste it.

{Leads to 36...Rd1 37.b4 Re1+ 38.Kd2 Re2+ 39.Kd1 Rxf2 40.Ke1 Re2+ 41.Kf1 cxb4 42.Ra5+ Kd4 43.a3 Rb2 44.axb4 e3 45.Ra1
Rxb4, which wins a pawn for three pawns. Better is Re7+, leading to 36...Kf5 37.g4+ hxg4 38.Rf7+ Ke5 39.Re7+ Kf5, which loses a

White is defending against my mate well.

{Leads to 37.Rc3 c4 38.Ra3 Kf5 39.Rc3 Ke5, which does not result in any captures. Better is Rd1, leading to 37.b4 Re1+
38.Kd2 Re2+ 39.Kd1 Rxf2 40.Ke1 Re2+ 41.Kf1 cxb4 42.Ra5+ Kd4 43.a3 Rb2 44.axb4 e3 45.Ra1 Rxb4, which wins three pawns for a pawn. This was black's only serious miscue, but black was able to stay close and eventually mated.}

Chessmaster is correct. For some reason, I could not see the potential of launching a mate from the back rank. I had my original battle plan in mind (Rd4-Rd3++) and I was unwilling to consider any alterations to it…a potentially fatal flaw for battlefield commanders (please reference "Burnside's bridge" at Antietam or Burnside at Fredricksburg). Was this my Burnside moment?

37.Rc3 c4 38.a4
{Leads to 38...Rd1 39.a5 Re1+ 40.Kd2 Re2+ 41.Kd1 Rxf2 42.Ke1 Re2+ 43.Kf1 Rxb2 44.Ra3 c3 45.Rxc3 Ra2 46.g4 Ra1+
47.Kf2 hxg4, which wins a pawn for three pawns. Better is Ra3, leading to 38...Kf5 39.Rc3 Ke5, which does not result in any

I finally see the light and raid White’s rear area!

{White steps into the forced mate. Much better is a5. Rxc4 leads to 39...Rd3# and checkmate. This error lost
the game for white. Black was able to exploit the miscue to mate.}

His fatal misstep.

{Checkmates White's king.}

Like Harry Heth, I got off to a bad start but managed to win the day.