Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Aroostock War: Fierce Battle for Rebourne Ridge

5 June 1839.
Near the Maine-New Brunswick Border

It was late when General Ross arrived in Kornerton. His orders were clear, if the Americans cross the border, they are to be stopped before they reach Kornerton. A scouting report confirmed that the American army was still on their side of their border and having fought Brother Jonathon  15 years ago, he didn't expect them to in  a hurry come morning. Ordering 2 companies of Fencibles, a troop of Light Dragoons and a field gun onto Rebourne Ridge, he ordered the rest of his force billeted with orders to be ready to march at dawn. Another troop of light dragoons, a company of Victoria Rifles,  another of  New Brunswickers, a 2nd field gun and his main reliance 2 companies of Elite British Infantry, one each from the Royal Scots and the Young Buffs.

As he waited for the mist to clear, General Scott reviewed his dispositions, he was mightily pleased that his boys had managed the night march and deployment in perfect order. On his left was a company of the Bangor Rifles supported by the 3 companies of the 1st Infantry with 2 companies of Maine Volunteers behind them, willing enough but completely without discipline and liable to run at the first cannon ball, best to keep them out of harms way. Astride the road were his 2 field guns and to their right were 2 companies of the 2nd Infantry support by 2 of the the 3rd. On his far right were 2 troops of Dragoons and 1 of Volunteer Light Horse. Nothing fancy with this lot, straight up the middle, and as fast as possible, that was the ticket.
As the mist cleared, he ordered his guns to open fire.

The gane on Turn 3. The white markers are "Pins", the red markers are "Hits". It didn't take long to realize that since I was using single figures, I didn't need to mark hits, I could just take figures off. (duhh) 

The battle was of course,  C S Grant's "Reinforcements on Table" scenario. The British (or rather the Anglo-New Brunswick (New Brunswick not being part of Canada at the time) Army, opted to take 2 Elite infantry units (6 sp) in place of 3 Average units (also 6 sp). The Americans have replaced 1 Average unit with 2 Militia units. In theory each battalion is represented by 2 or 3 eight man "companies" (units) but no Battalion Integrity rules are in place. I'll keep battalions together where practical but it was not uncommon in North America to find battalions scattered into detachments so I'm not worried about it. The choice of forces meant that the British started with  5 Activation dice while the Americans had 6.

The rules in use are Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame including his new terrain rules supplemented by my proposed troop quality and roster rule and the Light Infantry rule used by Ron Porter and myself. All infantry has a range of 2 hexes except for the 2 Rifle companies which have a 3 hex range.

It wasn't long after the American advance started that I noticed again an interesting effect of the Activation Dice. You can't attack everywhere at once and you can't bring up reserves from far away while pressing an attack. This harkens back to periodic discussions  about why entire armies didn't often attack at once, Napoleon at Waterloo for example. The PW doesn't explain it but it certainly duplicates it, something that both Generals Scott and Ross failed to take proper account of initially, even though they both knew better. (yes it was a solo game.)

The British gunners, fooled by the mist perhaps, twice managed to pin a US unit but other than that failed miserably to do any damage. The American guns however,  hit, pinned then destroyed the British gun in short order and then started trundling forward to provide close support. The British infantry back peddled to belatedly take up  reverse slope positions, using up scant Activation Points. The plan was to cross back over just before the Americans started to climb the ridge, they waited just a  bit too long though and were left with a choice of waiting until the Americans topped the ridge and attacked down hill into them or  crossing over and launching a charge against 1 of the 4 approaching American units. Easy choice, the Victoria Rifles were now deploying onto the ridge so the New Brunswickers charged up and over the right hand corner of the ridge, catching the Bangor rifles off guard. With the Rifles being Light Infantry with a melee value of 3 and with the advantage of +1 for attacking downhill, it was an easy victory. 1 down, 3 to go.

A brisk firefight between the Victoria Rifles, the Fencibles and the 3 companies of the 1st Infantry supported by over head artillery fire, resulted in the surprisingly quick destruction of the Victoria Rifles, allowing a company of the 1st to top the ridge just as the Royal Scots deployed. onto the reverse slope.  A prolonged fire fight ensued with the Fencible company eventually succumbing leaving 3 1/2 strength US infantry companies to climb the hill.

On the other flank, the 2 cavalry forces eyed each other warily. The Americans had thought of doing the customary push to try and catch the British on the road (lets just say that this isn't the first time I've played this scenario), but they couldn't spare the activation points for a co-ordinated assault without cutting back one section of the main assault. The British unlimbered a gun and tried to goad  the Dragoons into charging but each turn that they showed signs of restlessness (ie were pinned) a point was found to steady them.

At last, as the American center closed with the hill, the 2nd company of Fencibles, faced with the same problem as their comrades, chose to leave the cover of their wood on the reverse slope and charge down on the Americans before these could surround them. With a +1 to their dice, the odds were excellent of taking out an American unit with a reasonable though not good chance of survival. The 3rd US infantry had lagged well behind though and the sacrifice should allow the British infantry to retake any lost ground. Well, "anything but a 6 " having its usual effect, the 2nd US suffered 1 hit and survived while the Fencibles, were not just thrown back but destroyed. C'est la geurre. The Americans continued to push forward all along the line.

Fire from the woods hit the Lt Dragoons and these spurred down the hill into their counter parts. 1 hit aside meant that the attack was repulsed. On the left, the fire fight continued with the Royal Scots holding off 4 American units but slowing taking hits and eventually being overwhelmed by enemy fire. I nearly declared an American victory at this point since the British had lost 5 out of 11 units while the US had only lost 1 out of 15 and held the objective. But, I hadn't really had a chance to see the Elites in action, so I pushed on. (The militia were rightly hiding at the back of the board providing moral support and counting towards activation dice without having to use any so I didn't expect to see them in action).

On the right, the Light Horse noticed that the New Brunswick infantry had left the gun to continue its march to the hill. Putting spurs to horse they galloped down on it. 2 dice for 4 or less vs 2 dice looking for 1's. They lost a hit but took the gun. Before they could gallop off though, the general, a company of infantry and a troop of Light Dragoons swarmed down on them and dispersed the remainder.

Back on the hill, the Buffs stormed up the hill into the woods, supported by the still pinned Light Dragoons. A fresh elite unit with 3 dice at a minus for the hill and another minus for the woods vs a 1/2 strength unit facing two attackers, so 3 dice for 1,2  vs 1 die for a 1,2 or 3. Odds were good for a bounce with few casualties on either side but they did it. 1 hit for the Buffs, none for their opponents and so they climbed into the woods.
  OK so technically there are no rules for capturing colours but I sensed a photo op.

Finally, at long last,  the Americans dropped an activation die!  As the Buffs charged downhill into a US field gun and a flurry of cavalry charges finished the rest of the cavalry on both sides they dropped another but it was too late. The 3rd infantry charged into them from the rear supported by 2 companies of the 1st but despite causing 2 hits they were repulsed as the Buffs still were not dispersed. Rallying they returned to the fray and finished the job. With the Anglo-New Brunswick force reduced to a General and 1 infantry company. I called it a day.

From my point of view, the new optional rules worked like a charm. They added depth to the game and reduced to randomness a bit while still allowing chance a significant roll. They also made quality of troops an important but not omnipotent factor.  Past experience has shown that doubling the force levels would have had a similar though not identical effect as the 2 hits per stand, taking some of the sting ought of "lucky" pot shots giving some depth  to both attack and defence on a mid-size table but this game was already a comparable size to all but 2 or 3 1812 battles so doubling the number of units causes other issues.  More units also would address the ability of some units to seemingly take more punishment (though a -1 to hit or a saving throw might).

On the whole, I'm happy to plan on using the Portable Wargame with this optional rule for my 1812 and Aroostock battles.  Very much like the feel of my original Morschauser Meets MacDuff but with a better activation system and the hassle free ease of hexes.

I like the idea of 3 "company" battalions but given that a few of the battles call for 8 battalions a side, I think I'd better plan on using 2 units per battalion. If I were to put the figures on 45mm square bases, I could squeeze 6 figures per base, shoulder to shoulder giving a 24 man battalion, (2 units, 4 bases, 2 bases per hex) but I for now I'll leave the figures on their single bases which will give me 8 men per unit. I can always paint up 3  such units per battalion and use all 3 for skirmishes and cut it back to 2 for the bigger battles except that if I drag a game to a convention, I could use a 6x10 table and have room for armies of over 30 units aside. With 3 or 4 players per side, this would easily be playable in a typical 3-4 hour convention time slot.

Now what about all those drummers I painted for use with MacDuff? Well, whether or not its permanent, my short term memory is not what it used to be and I have trouble tracking  how many activation points I rolled and how many I used, especially when rolling 4 to 6 dice.

Simple, (though I need to paint a few more drummers so the 2 sides don't have to share) when I roll my activation dice, I pull one drummer, trumpeter, bugler etc, from the pool for each point rolled up. I then execute an unofficial planning phase, placing 1 drummer beside each unit  that I plan to activate (2 if they will be using 2 points, cavalry that I intend to move twice  for example). As I activate each unit, I replace the drummer  to the pool. Easy peasy, no over usage of points, no activities missed (or almost none, its a good idea to paint drummers in bright, reversed colours...), no brain strain.  

All in all an enjoyable game. Hats off to Bob!

Good stuff!


  1. I like the look of your toy soldiers ! , good game

  2. Agreed. The photos have a rather nice semi-"old school" look to them.

    A nice write-up, Ross. Good stuff.

    -- Jeff

  3. Ross Mac,

    I finally got a long enough chunk of time to read your battle report in detail ... and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The photographs really do make the report come to life, and your figures have the right sort of 'look' about them. I can hardly wait to read the next report that you write.

    All the best,


  4. Ross, a lovely set up - I think Bob hit the nail on the head, a very old school look.

    Though given their credentials, I don't think you could describe the Portable Wargame as new school either.

  5. Thank you gentlemen for the kind words. Yes the "Other Old School" perhaps (OOS) vs OSW?)

  6. Great stuff, Ross. One of the rare successful invasions - To Toronto!

    1. Well, its about 1,000 miles of mostly woods, high hills and rivers to Toronto with Quebec and Montreal in the way, could be a hard slog for the lads from Maine!