EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, August 16, 2010

With Your Pike Upon Your Shoulder (History to Fiction Pt 2)

When I started planning to game the rebellions about 10 years ago, my original idea was to recreate the Battle of the Windmill (Plan A from my last post) but I ran into several issues which led me to change my mind. The first is that I'm not one to play a game over and over so doing special terrain pieces doesn't appeal to me. The second is that the battle was essentially an invasion despite the inclusion of a few Canadian exiles and the misplaced hope of local support. I wanted something that evoked the spirit of revolution, including the third item, pikes!  This image by C W Jeffries is iconic for me.

The March of the Rebels upon Toronto in December, 1837, [ca. 1921]
C. W. Jeffreys, O.S.A., R.C.A., C.S.P.W.C. (1869-1951)
Pen and Ink Drawing heightened with Chinese White
29.2 X 36.8 cm (11½" x 14½")
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 621234
Like the Irish Rebellion of 1798, there is a romance to bold and determined men gathering in secret places with home-made pikes to face the muskets of the government forces to fight for what they belief to be right. The song referenced in the title of the post is The Rising of the Moon, 



Only a small number of the Canadian Rebels who gathered at Montgomery's Tavern in December of 1837  had firearms so a plan was hatched to seize a government arsenal. Unfortunately for the rebels, while most of their leaders were unsuited to their role both by experience and temperament,  one of them appears to have been a student of tactics and history. He drilled them to attack in column with musket armed men in front. Each rank was to fire a volley then throw themselves onto the ground until the way was clear for the pikes to charge past them. It might have worked in daylight but as it happens the  clash with loyal militia came at night and while the musketmen did their part, to the men in the rear, confused by the dark and the noise, in the flashes of the muskets, it appeared that entire ranks were being mowed down by enemy fire and they fled into the woods.

The two brief clashes around the tavern were politically decisive but almost comic operatic from a militarily point of view. It would take serious tampering to turn them into conventional wargames but they bring forward 4 elements that I felt needed to included in a wargame:
- a gathering of rebels at a tavern,
- a proportion of pike armed rebels,
- an attempt to capture an arsenal and
- resistance by loyal militia.

This last is an interesting quirk. Unlike the fighting in Quebec which pitched primarily British troops against French-Canadian Rebels or Patriotes, the fighting in Ontario started as a civil war between neighbors but turned into a series of raids from the United States. The raiders included some rebels who had fled over the border but were mostly American supporters and this changed the whole situation. Memories of the War of 1812 were still fresh and nationalism soon trumped politics. This brings in the last 3 elements that I wanted to include in a game  when I started to design a convention game:

- American Patriot Hunters with their hunting shirts and long rifles
- British Redcoats
- The Royal Navy's steam driven gunboats which patrolled the Great Lakes

54mm plastic and metal figures converted for the 1837 Rebellion.
The next post will look at how I  combined those 7 elements to stage a game which on the surface was a fictional 'what if' skirmish but which can also be seen as an encapsulated version of the entire rebellion in a 3 hour wargame. 

2 comments:

  1. *grin* . . . as soon as I saw your title, Ross, I immediately thought of the song; and I was all set to refer you to it, but found that you already knew it ("with your pike upon your shoulder, at the rising of the moon").


    -- Jeff

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  2. Halifax is a good place for Irish music as was Montreal in the 70's but back then it was about the beer and cameraderie of belting out the tunes. I didn't used to think much about what was behind some of the tunes. Over the last 6 or so weeks Utube has helped to entertain me and keep me quite but after seeking out versions of Roddy McCorley and then listening to about 5 versions of the Rising of the Moon, as well as Chris de Berg's song Revolution, its not surprising that Rebellion came to the front of my mind!

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