Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hard Slogging

The Battle of Belmont, a little known engagement circa 1840 was set up to serve 5 purposes:

a) Test the latest rules-in-progress, and indeed the rules grew and developed during the first 4 turrns, but were stable for the last 12. (More on that next post.)
b)Test a scenario idea.
c) Compare various movement tray protypes under field conditions (More on that later too)
d) Get a feel for what terrain I need to fix/create for a campaign such as was being contemplated.
e) Get a feel for how well the currently proposed version of the 1840's project fits what I'm looking for.

(Well 6 purposes, there was also the matter of amusing myself on a weekend  at home alone. Well me and the critters, not exactly alone.)    

All this testing, as well as having been stalled 2 years on direction and thus progress on this 1840's project, meant that  there were a lot of stand-in troops. mixed organizations, unfinished trays,  hurricane blown leafless tress etc, But here is the bulk of the table: 

The table from behind American lines on or about turn 3 or 4.
Lets start with terrain. One deficit that has been bothering me for years but which I have put off until I had a permanent games room again, is trees. If you are going  to play 18th/19thC games set in Eastern North America, one thing you need are trees! The other thing is fences. This is a dual problem. You need them for atmosphere as well as for tactical & operational impact but they get in the way of the wargamer as much as they got in the way of historical commanders. When you look closer, the tactical effect isn't what you expect, the armies usually sought out clearings to fight in. In Canada at least, settlement tended to follow the rivers and thus you get a typical situation where there is a major river on one flank and "the forest" on the other, the battlefield becomes long and narrow.  Quebec, Crysler's Farm, Chippewa, all fall into this broad category.

The battlefield itself  was often crossed by various streams, gullies and fences. In many areas, small woodlots and lines of trees and bushes can be found along the fence lines and in corners of poor land. All in all not fun terrain for a real life general to attack over. This pattern is gone in many areas but it still exists around where I live and indeed, my house was built 5-10 years after the purported battle was fought. So I decided to layout a terrain of this sort which would have been typical for an 1840ish Anglo-American war.

The river side is good and easy, the wood side is a problem as the players have to lean over tall trees to reach their troops, (with 40mm troops I find 6" - 8" trees small but acceptable, 10"-12" are better) but if you leave off the trees, the atmosphere is lost. If you turn the game so that the river and forest each run along a short side, you also lose the perspective of the long narrow field which restricts deployment. Setting to with a will, I laid out hills, farms with veggie gardens, fields of crops, hayfields and pastures, fence lines and hedges, patches of woods, the edge of the forest and one straggling dirt road. Even though much if the scenery was crude and unfinished, the over all affect was quite pleasing to me. Then I laid out some troops. Hmmm. It didn't take long to for a problem to emerge, there was no room to maneuver and few tactical options. For a skirmish with a handful of indians and rangers, it would work but it would make for a tedious, predictable and boring game.

Hauling out some favorite authors from the 60's I reread their various comments on scenery, looked at the table again and removed at least 1/2 of what I had laid down. The result was still a crowded, tactically difficult battlefield but one with at least a few options and some interesting problems for both sides.

Two old lessons relearned last weekend: Its a wargame not a diorama, only put down the critical elements of terrain, and after wasting an hour trying to refurbish 2 trees, I HATE making trees!, I don't really enjoy making scenery at all but trees in particular! (Do I hate making scenery because I am bad at it? or am I bad at it because I hate it?  Interesting question.)

Anyway, something to think about as I am planning this project but luckily as I continue to move towards the glossy toy soldier look, simple toy like scenery gets more and more fitting..

Sash and Saber 40mm 41st Foot beside a 54mm toy rail fence 

and a scraggy looking, recently refurbished 1/72nd tree (small tree? big bush?)
The scenario was a fairly basic one resulting from the desire to play a game set in this sort of terrain. The British are defending with 2 battalions of Elite British infantry, 2 battalions of Regular Canadian Infantry (Incorporated Militia) with a 6 gun (2 models, 6 gunners) battery, 12 riflemen of the Victoria Rifles, 12 light infantry of the York Volunteers and 12 Indian allies. They were allowed to deploy anywhere East of the stream (not visible in any of the pictures, the Asopus was still laid out after Platea so I incorporated it)
Their mission was to prevent the Americans from controlling the road which exits heading North-East by nightfall (turn 20). The rail fences were deemed too insubstantial to delay movement or provide cover from fire but would count as an obstacle to an attacker in melee.

The British deployed first. After some thought, they left the 2 battalions of Elite infantry along the road over the bridge as a reserve, placed the Canadian regulars and artillery along the hill and fence line 1/2 way up the valley and the light troops as a screen along the first line of hills with the Indians in the forest. All units were deemed hidden from the Americans, either in dead ground or concealed except for the Victoria Rifles and York Volunteers whose outposts could be seen.

The Americans had 5 battalions of regular infantry, 2 battalions of militia, 12 regular light infantry, 12 Militia riflemen, a light gun and a battery of foot artillery as above. They also had a squadron of 8 New York Dragoons who they opted to risk on a wide flank march. They diced to see if they had reconnoitered the enemy position and deployed or if they had to march on in column on the single east-west road.

The Americans outnumbered the British & Canadians about 2:1 but while the British had several Elite units and plenty of defensive positions, the Americans had several militia units and a constricted front that would not allow them full use of their numerical superiority. They could send an outflanking force, rolling 2 dice for turn of arrival if only cavalry, 3 dice if including infantry, 4 if including artillery.

The elected to send the militia brigade up the left to draw the enemy's attention and try to pin him, The 1st brigade composed of 3 regular battalions and the light infantry were to attack along the front with the light infantry moving up through the woods to protect the flank. The last brigade of 2 battalions and the light gun was to be held in column reserve to exploit and openings while the battery did its best to find a field of fire on the left center.

On the American right, the light infantry could make no headway against the Indians and  had to call for help. A battalion in attack column was diverted into the woods and together with the light infantry, began to slowly push the Indians back.

On the left, the American riflemen lived up to their reputation and were soon supported by artillery firing from height to height. The Victoria Rifles on the other hand, couldn't seem to find the range and the Brigadier rode up to order them to pull back. Too late! He was struck down as the Rifles fell to 50% and broke to the rear.

In the center, the American Infantry slowed down their advance to trade fire with the York Volunteers. These were forced to pull back to avoid being flanked as the Pennsylvania, King of Prussia Volunteers (a well trained unit wearing Prussian inspired spiked helmets....) from the reserve brigade pushed up the road on one flank and the Victoria Rifles fell back on the other.  The American line struggled forward over fences and through some small thickets only to come under heavy artillery fire. With an eye to the clock, the Americans resorted to bayonet charges. This put the York Volunteers in a tight spot as the battery which was being withdrawn would be exposed if they evaded. Their Colonel had just taken over control of the Brigade and inspired by him they held. The US 2nd Infantry crashed into them, the volunteers rolled 2 dice for 5's and got 2 hits, it was a tie! In the 2nd round they managed 1 hit,  2nd infantry, rolling 3 dice for 4's whiffed and were repulsed. As the Pennsylvanians pressed on up the road, deployed into line and opened up,  the York lads fell back from position to position until finally the remnants regrouped in the Stone House.

Brave stand of the York Volunteers by the White House

While all this was going on, the 2nd New York Dragoons had arrived promptly on turn 5, galloped across the bridge on the last card of the turn and deployed into line with their horses breathing down the flank of the Young Buffs. (they rolled something like 23" on 5 dice for their move on board.)  There was a tense moment while the cards were shuffled but the British won and a red card appeared, allowing the 31st Foot to calmly redeploy to face the cavalry. Being small unit of light cavalry, these wisely used their mobility and discretion to nip out of the way and maintain themselves as a threat in being and a constant thorn in the side of the British.  In retrospect, it might have been worth their while for the 2 reserve units to try to corner and drive off the handful of dragoons rather than letting them be while keeping a wary eye on them.

On the main battle position, the Fencibles braced themselves for the onslaught of the enemy militia. These were supposed to be a diversion but with the rout of the Victoria Rifles, all that was forgotten and they pushed ahead full speed. The advancing riflemen maintained the deadliness of their fire and then the Maine & Ohio militia battalions pushed through to the front and started trading volleys with their counterparts. The British commander ordered the line to fall back but the Fencibes were badly cut up. The American militia followed up and suddenly the Fencibles,  broke and headed to the rear to rally near the church, a spent force. The 41st suffered less and was able to pull back in good order.

The 49th Foot, battery and the remaining Volunteers were holding out on Stone House Hill despite a quick charge by the Dragoons on the rear of the 49th which was repulsed by cannister from the battery. The Indians were still holding in the woods but the main line was shaken and about to be flanked. Moving to the 31st and calling out "Forward the Young Buffs" the general led them forward  with the bayonet. Regiment after regiment of militia crumbled before them but the 1st Ohio had put  up a fight before they broke and the General had fallen in the fray. As the Buffs paused to reform their ranks before falling on the flank of the Captain Bragg's limbered battery, this wheeled into action and unleashed a  storm of cannister. By the time the cards had turned again, the 31st had ceased to exist for all intents and purposes. (5 hits out of 6 dice looking for 4,5,6 followed by 4 more the next turn)    

A tremendous firefight ensued as at last the regulars met. Despite the cover of the stone wall, the odds were too great and at last the 41st Incorporated Battalion fell back and then broke. The Pennsylvanians attempted to storm the Stone House but were repulsed, On the inland flank, the Indians had been slowly pushed out of the forest and onto the Stone House Hill, if they retreated any farther, they would expose the battery and have to face the American Dragoons in the open. The US 1st Infantry lowered bayonets and reduced by half, the warriors broke and headed for the forest. Carrying on their assault the infantry was momentarily halted by cannister but then pushed on and took the guns.  

There were 4 turns left but the game was up with the Dragoons across the road in touch with the 1st Infantry and the odds now looking at about 4:1.  A small detachment of the 31st still held the Acadian House by the church and if the remnants of the York Volunteers and the 49th hurried, they might still be able to retreat past it and make their way up river. A fine army had been shattered and the road to Brooklyn lay open.


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  2. Ross Mac,

    A most interesting and enthralling battle report. Your wargames always look so attractive, and your descriptions of the battles as they unfold are nili secundus!

    All the best,


  3. I often have be beaten away from the terrain box myself and reminded that a General worth his salt is unlikely to bring on a pitched battle in a spot where there isn't sufficient room to deploy. That said, I do enjoy putting on a good spread. Glad to see the soldiers of the Queen victorious - keep up the good work.

  4. Another great report Ross. I love the look of the big toys but have little desire to buy/paint/store them myself. On the subject of terrain - I do recall using a lot more if it in years past. Sometimes when setting up a particulary terrain-heavy historical game I do wonder about the silly sods who decided to fight a battle there originally.


  5. Thank you gentlemen, the kind words are appreciated.