EXCERPT 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

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mounting the Rifles

One of the painful pleasures of wargaming the middle to late 19thC in South Africa and the Americas is the phenomena of mounted rifleman who at their best can make long marches in the blink of an eye, think on their feet, charge like cavalry and shoot like infantry. OK maybe that fits my schoolboy image of Strathcona Horse or the RCD in SouthAfrica and that of contemporary proponents of the mounted universal soldier but probably needs to be tempered a bit  on the wargames table as does the beau ideal of a mounted and dismounted version of every figure in a Boer or Metis wargame army.

While the mounted Oerberg units did not get a cavalry bonus in the last game, neither did they suffer any penalties and given the decision to remove unit formations and tactics from the player's control, the Faraway cavalry became the sort of all purpose heroes described above. I've decided that, since this is going to be my main focus for a while, I need to add a bit more depth to the unit types and their strengths and weaknesses, hopefully without adding real complexity.

I started by laying out four broad types of mounted soldier.

Traditional cavalry who are really only effective mounted even if they are equipped to fight dismounted.

Modern cavalry whose main tactic in theory may be the mounted charge but who can and do operate effectively dismounted. They typically use horseholders which allows them to mount and dismount quickly but which reduces the number of men in the firing line.

Improvised mounted infantry mounted on nags, ponies, mules etc for operational and strategic moves, a little  slower than cavalry and not capable of effective mounted combat. Horses are picketed in the rear. I'm struggling to think of cases of such troops remounting in the middle of a battle.

Mounted Rifles who are well mounted and as fast as cavalry but not equipped or trained for mounted combat although known to make the occasional mounted charge when the situation called for it.  Irregulars normally tethered their horses to the rear before dismounting and thus had their full strength in the fighting line but took longer to dismount and come into action. I'm not sure if any regular mounted infantry used cavalry style horseholders or if they also relied on tethering and guards.

 Steele's Scouts and North West Mounted Police in dismounted action against the Cree at Loon Lake in 1885. Its a Litho from a newspaper so obviously very accurate but where are the horses? Tethered or with horseholders? I'll have to reread Sam Steele's account.

A wargame of the sort I have been developing is about history but it is also about the game and a bit of theater. I need my unit types to look and feel different for color but also I need players to have a reason to use one vs another.

Its no surprise that I don't  want to duplicate every Oerberg and Faraway cavalry and mounted infantry unit including riderless horses for all. I did briefly consider the mixed unit idea for mounted infantry with 1 mounted and 2 dismounted figures but not only would they look odd manning trenches, it would encourage an approach in which they could always make a mounted move.

Here's what I'm thinking at the moment.

For the sort of mounted infantry that don't usually remount until  its time to go home, I will assume that they have dismounted off table and tethered the horses there under guard. To reflect their vulnerability to a threat to their mounts I might put a marker on the table edge for each brigade, a group of riderless horses or similar. If captured by the enemy it will count as as unit  loss for brigade morale. Any additional movement will be for campaign games and off table map moves.

For regular cavalry which can fight effectively on foot, they may only mount or dismount at the beginning of a move and always use the cavalry terrain penalties since the horse holders go everywhere with them. They will also suffer some sort of combat penalty when dismounted to reflect that 1/3 their numbers are horse holders. Only one of my units has dismounted stands including horseholders and I doubt I will do more, sticking with a dismounted marker figure instead. Regular mounted infantry using horseholders will be treated the same way but generally with rifles instead of carbines and no charge bonus.

Lastly there are the mounted rifles who may also pop off and on their horses during the game but without horseholders. The best option appears to be a stationary horse marker and duplicate mounted and dismounted stands but there shouldn't be too many of these. There will be a movement penalty  for dismounting or mounting and the horses will be immobile but once dismounted the unit becomes ordinary infantry. In order to remount, they must return to the area containing their horses. If these are capured it will count against brigade morale.


  1. That sounds sensible. I don't know enough about mounted troops in the NW Rebelllion to comment there, but from the little I know of the Plains Indian Wars of the late 1800s, I would say that US cavalry would count as your Modern Cavalry and US infantry mounted columns would count as Improvised cavalry and would not normally remount once committed to battle.
    Not sure what you'd count native cavalry (e.g., Sioux or Metis) as?

    1. Luckily I don't need to worry about the Sioux but the Cree and Metis seem to have deemed their horses to valuable to risk having them shot. But the campaign was so short its hard to say. One can only speculate what an independent Metis nation in Manitoba would have been like 20 years on.

  2. Ross, for whatever it may be worth, it seems to me that mounted rifles (like the Boers) would almost always fight dismounted and thus you are happily spared the necessity for creating mounted and dismounted versions. However, as for Atlantica, things may be entirely different.



    1. During the early wars they fought almost exclusively on foot but during the 2 years of geurilla warfare surprise mounted attacks were not uncommon and mounted movement from position to position even more so. Then a few years later we have that Aussie Light Horse thing.

  3. Of course there are also bicycle mounted troops too - any thoughts on them? Possibly improvised category but I feel that just does not do them justice...

    1. I suspect they usually would kerp their bicycles close, after all, they won't panic and tge odds of a bicycle lying on the ground being disabled by a stray rifle shot is probably pretty low. So that would make them closest to mounted rifles but without the option for a mounted charge.