Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Recreating Bound Brook: A Preview

Johann Ewald's map of the Bound Brook action (Wikimedia)
I'll be running my first re-creation of the Bound Brook action this weekend. The original engagement was almost literally a walk over for the British; I hope the ideas I've come up with make it more challenging and interesting for both sides while still retaining a sense of what the historic action was about.

To recap quickly, the Bound Brook garrison was an American post in advance of their main winter cantonments. It was being used to support New Jersey militia raids on the British lines and attacks on British foraging expeditions. The British assaulted it partly to destroy its usefulness as a forward operating base and perhaps partly in hopes of drawing the main American army, or a portion of it, into a general engagement.

The gradual escalation of the Forage War and the seeming intelligence domination of the battlefield by the Americans had left the British in the Jerseys, like Frederick the Great when operating in Austrian territory, completely in the dark as to enemy strengths and locations. To begin with, the vastly underestimated the forces they would face in small-war operations. When they sent a company, a battalion of American appeared. When they sent a battalion, it was attacked by a brigade. By the end of the winter, then, they were prone to employ overwhelming force in any operation, no matter how small. So this attack was planned to feature four converging columns totalling almost 4,000 men to attack an outpost that they expected to have only 1,000 men in it (in fact, by April 13th, the American garrison had shrunk to 500 men).
The assault force easily overran the post, though failure to coordinate the columns perfectly meant an uneasy start to the action for the initially unsupported jaegers. The failure of coordination also meant that the bulk of the Americans escaped, rather than being captured. The British then left the area before the American relief force, a division under MG Nathanael Greene, came up. It's not clear if that force was sent to contest the post with the British or just to reclaim it once they had departed; the British had brought neither guns nor engineers, so it is unlikely they planned to hold the position once captured.

The Area of Operations: The highlighteds areas are (New) Brunswick and Raritan Landing ("Old Bridge") in the SE, where British troops were based; Bound Brook in the center, just E of Bridgewater; and Baskeridge (or Basking Ridge), where Greene seems to have been posted. (Wikipedia)
I'm going to give the Americans a force stronger than what defended the post historically, and Greene will be waiting in the wings. I'll give the British access to the same forces that they had historically and let them plan their attack (I hope to even have some facsimiles of period maps). I'll then inflict some of the same uncertanties on both sides that attended (or could have attended) the historic event and see what result we get. Given the size of the forces (10-15 units per side: larger than our last game, a bit smaller than a "regular" C&G game), we may be over quickly and have time for a replay, or it may prove a full game.

Another view of the AO, with highlights, from a Hessian map of the theatre. (West Jersey History Project)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lauzun's Legion: A Diversion

Hussar of Lauzun's legion (uniformology.com)
Someone on the Carnage & Glory mailing list was trying to confirm information about one of the French units that served in America during the Revolution. I was bored and so whipped up the following bit of research; I thought I'd share it here.

In 1778, Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun, was authorised by the Minister of Marine (who handled all French overseas colonies, including their defenses) to raise a corps of eight legions to supplement existing naval and military forces for combat around the world. ("Legion" in this sense was an eighteenth century term for formations that combined infantry, cavalry, and sometimes artillery, like mini-armies.) These Volontaires Étrangers de la Marine would be recruited not from French subjects but from foreigners (étrangers)--in this case mostly Germans, Irishmen, and Poles--a fairly common practice in the French military (the French army had many regiments composed at least notionally of non-French troops, including Germans, Swiss, Irish, Scots, and Swedes).

The notional establishment of each of these legions was to be eight companies: one grenadier (~100 men), one chasseur (~170), two fusilier (~170 each), one artillery (~170), two hussar (~170 men each), and one artificier/engineer.

The VEM corps also had a headquarters company (Compagnie Generale) of about 100 officers and hussars.

One legion was sent off to West Africa and then served in the Indian Ocean and southeast India. Another served in the Caribbean. The 2me VEM was originally slated for an invasion of the UK. This invasion never took place, so the legion was thus available when the French government needed more troops, especially light, irregular troops to send to America.

Amalgamated with the corps' Compagnie Generale and the Volontaires Étrangers de Nassau (another foreign regiment that Lauzun had been given to command), the 2me VEM became known as the Volontaires Étrangers de Lauzun or the Légion de Lauzun.

A problem emerged when it came time to ship the Legion overseas; the Navy had not enough transport to carry the whole force. In consequence, many of the hussars' horses, some of the grenadiers, chasseurs, and artillerists, and all (!) of the fusiliers were left behind. It would appear that the fusiliers never joined the Legion in America and were instead engaged in operations in Europe.

The strength of the two hussar squadrons as shipped were 159 and 136 respectively, but they took with them only about 170 horses. They purchased more horses after arriving in America.

The grenadiers' strength in America (troops shipped plus drafts from *French* units) was at least 127 men; the chasseurs' was at least 111. The artillery had at least 110 men with four 4-pound guns.

I say "at least" because in addition to their drafts from other French units, the Legion seems to have recruited about 60 more men after they landed in America and before arriving at Yorktown. But these also seem to have been largely German POWs and deserters held by the Americans, and the unit suffered heavily from desertion (very possibly from these same men), so it's hard to know exactly what its strength was after these additions and subtractions.

In America the Legion was also joined by one hussar squadron from the 1me Volontaires Étrangers de la Marine and a detachment from the Regiment d'Infanterie Dillon (the commander of the Legion's cavalry was a Dillon, so the detachment of infantry from that regiment may or may not be a coincidence). It's not clear how large these attachments were, but between the addition of the 1me hussars and purchase of horses in America, the mounted strength of the Legion seems to have been 250 at this point and the strength of the two infantry companies about the same.

The Legion was engaged in two skirmishes while in America; one in New York and the more well known one in Virginia. Reading French accounts of these engagements and comparing them to American and British accounts is an entertaining endeavour, as well as a good exercise in comparing differing historical sources. :-) Let's just say that the French are never behindhand in describing their own valour.

References:

JD Glasco's Gentlemanly Wargaming includes this blogpost about the Legion, which give some detailed organizational notes, including both paer strength and actual troops carried from France and recruited in America. Most of what I report above is based on his research.

A reenactment group who portray the Legion have this webpage on its history.

The JAR has this article on the Legion.

Uniformology has a brief history of the unit online, as well as descriptions of uniforms and a colour plate of one of the hussars.

This page lists the service of all French units during the war and mentions that Lauzun's unit was at Yorktown, as were the hussars of the 1me Legion, but that the 2me's fusiliers served instead in the Netherlands in 1782.

americanrevolution.org has Robert Selig's chatty but somewhat scattershot The Duc de Lauzun and His Legion

Although it doesn't contain all the details one might want, it's worth noting that the memoires of the Duc himself is available free on Googlebooks.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Project 1777 prequel: The Forage War in the Jerseys

Northern New Jersey in 1777 (Wikimedia Commons)
As I continue to prepare for my Carnage & Glory 1777 campaign, I've been playing out a few of the smaller skirmishes that took place in the winter and early spring of 1777, as the British tried to gather supplies in the Jerseys for their armies there and in New York.

Often these foraging parties came under attack by small bodies of Continental troops and larger forces of New Jersey Whig militia. Likewise, the Crown forces garrisons and their local patrols suffered repeated raids and shoot-and-run attacks by these same small rebel forces. These skirmishes escalated by the end of the winter to pitched battles, as the frustrated British commanders put larger and larger forces in the field in an attempt to catch and destroy the American raiders. These attempts almost always came to naught, however, as the Americans either melted back into the countryside or ambushed in turn the British detachments that were sent out to ambush them.

As in any insurgency, clear, factual accounts of engagements are hard to come by. Some of the American accounts of these fights are fairly hard to credit; time after time they claim few or no significant losses in encounters where British troops took heavy casualties. American unit records have largely been lost (or never existed in the irregular and chaotic early American army), and both official and unofficial communications are unreliable, as these were a regular channel for propaganda to the American population and rebel sympathizers back in Britain. So the only figures to go by are British ones, which show that the army took heavier losses in this "non-campaign campaign" than they did in the battles over New York the previous summer: over 900 men killed, wounded, or missing. Clearly, whatever the true story of the American losses, British forces were suffering badly.

Very ragged and hairy Crown Forces (historyworldsome.blogspot.com)
Some of this likely has to do with the difference between the conventional European military practices the British were accustomed to and the war they were fighting in America. With some exceptions, European armies went into winter quarters once the autumn campaigns were over and didn't come out again until spring.Troops spent their time in military garrisons or commandeered civilian lodgings where they had protection from the elements, regular meals, and time to recuperate from the stress of marching and combat. Being forced into constant action or reaction by rebel attacks wore down the morale, the health, and the readiness of troops expecting a quiet winter. The Hessians defeated at Trenton had been on a constant state of alert for weeks before the battle, and so were exhausted, mentally and physically, when the attack came (a fact often overlooked in the mist of American myths about drunken Christmas celebrations). And the reverses suffered by British and German arms in that winter campaign both heartened the Americans (who had lost battle after battle the previous summer and given up one the second-largest city in the colonies) and appalled and depressed the British and German forces (who found the Americans' transformation from military greenhorns to stalwart adversaries nothing short of astounding).

Thus the large part of British troops quartered in the Jerseys were continually deprived of rest, recuperation, and rations by the constant alarms and raids of the American militia. Eventually most of the outlying billets were brought in closer to the main army cantonments in New York and on Staten Island. Where the initial line of outposts and garrisons in New Jersey had stretched from Burlington (opposite what are today the northeast suburbs of Philadelphia) to Hackensack (on the Jersey shore of the Hudson opposite the captured Fort Washington), the Crown forces perimeter shrank back to a tiny area encompassing Elizabethtown, Amboy, and Brunswick; the result: overcrowding, disease, and further plummeting morale.

British dispositions before the battle of Trenton (Boston Public Library)

European armies were also much closer to their own supply bases. The British had to either import supplies across the Atlantic or find them in the Americas. The campaign in New York and New Jersey the previous year had resulted in very poor relations between the Crown forces and the country people, especially in New Jersey. Although New Jersey had a significant population of Loyalists, the Crown forces had done little to protect them from their Whig neighbours. Moreover, British and German forces had behaved in an wholly undisciplined manner, looting and destroying civilian property; particular damage was often visited on rebel houses, businesses, and public buildings (non-Anglican churches were favourite targets of pillage and arson), but Loyalist dwellings were not immune from attack.

Even as he retreated into the Watchung Mountains for the winter, General Washington issued orders to the militia and Continental forces to bring away from the low country any food, forage, or farm animals that might be of use to the British. Farmers alienated by plundering and other mistreatment over the previous summer and autumn might not have favoured the rebel army, but they had no incentive to run any risks to supply the British.

British and German troops in New York suffered less than their comrades in the Jerseys (Getty Images)
The Royal Navy could bring some supplies from Europe, both equipment like small arms, artillery, and tents, and raw materials like cloth for uniforms, hard-baked bread, and preserved meats and cheeses. And British Canada could supply grain and coal. But none of these sources could easily supply the mountains of straw, hay, oats, and grass that horses, the 18th century army's prime movers and troop carriers, needed for feed and bedding. Nor was it economical to ship large quantities of wood for fuel. So the Army had to send patrols out into the countryside to gather by force or purchase what small supplies still remained, as well as what food for humans and animals for traction could be easily found. These patrols were attacked, so escorts were arranged for them. The escorting forces were ambushed, so huge sweeps by brigade- or division-sized forces were organized; even these found themselves raided, assaulted, or continually sniped at from ambush.

The ensuing combats might engage forces numbering several score or several hundred on each side. Scottish Highlanders and Hessian and other German troops were often employed as seeming the most foreign and alarming to the locals, and these often took the brunt of this petite guerre or "little war". A regiment of Highlanders lost 70 men in early January; a German regiment 70 more a week later. In late January, a force of militia and Pennsylvania riflemen forded a waist-high river to outmaneuver a British column of greater numbers and, surprising them, chased them from the field, taking from them over 40 wagons and nearly 300 horses, cows, and sheep.

In what was probably the largest engagement of this so-called Forage War, a force of six battalions of British troops (one light infantry, one grenadier, and four line battalions) was ambushed by an American force of seven Continental regiments. The British, in a fighting retreat to Amboy that has been compared with the retreat from Lexington, lost 70 to 100 men killed, wounded, or missing to alleged American losses of 4 dead and 9 wounded.

Only after reading about these winter battles did I finally come to understand why, when General Lord Cornwallis set out to surround an American outpost at Bound Brook that was believed to hold 800 men, he assembled a force of 4,000 jaegers, grenadiers, Guardsmen, and light dragoons that planned converge from four directions on Benjamin Lincoln's tiny force. British commanders by the spring of 1777 were reacting like American colonels in post-Tet Vietnam; no one knew what was waiting "out there". Scouting was impossible; intelligence was unreliable; American officers knew British movements almost before they made them.

To learn more about the Forage War, check out this Wikipedia article or read David Hackett Fischer's excellent Washington's Crossing. The Forage War is also addressed in Mark V. Kwasny's Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783.

For more information on British Army logistics during the war, this article by MAJ John A. Tokar and this piece by MAJ Eric A. McCoy are good introductions. For more in-depth examinations, read Chapter Four of Edward E. Curtis's The Organization of the British Army in the Revolution (online in its entirety here) or Arthur Bowler's Logistics and the Failure of the British Army in America, 1775-1783.

Next time: Some accounts of recreated Forage War battles.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Powder: A Trip Down the Nile

The lads having enjoyed our last go at Black Powder, and the schedule allowing for another game soon
thereafter, we set up a big battle. As several of us have troops for the British campaigns in the Sudan, we selected that as our next topic. Mr Invisible provided a table with a small village sheltering beside a low ridge, and we deployed the bulk of his and my Mahdist forces alogn the ridge, then brough on an expeditionary force of British and Imperial Indian troops.


The Dervishes had three banners: one largely Beja spearman and skirmishers, one with other Ansar troops with rifles, spears, and artillery, and a third that had a small cavalry force in addition.




The Sudanese forces deployed with the Beja banner on their left and the force with cavalry on their right. They held the ridgeline and the village.
Mahdist forces deploy.
The Imperial force had one brigade with sepoys and British Rifle Brigade troops and a small detachment of dismounted Camel Corps infantry. Two more brigades consisted largely of British infantry; one included two battalions of the dreaded Highlanders. Each brigade had a battery of field artillery, but no Gatling guns or cavalry were in attendance.
First Brigade
The British entered slowly, with 2nd Brigade (the one with the Scots in it) delayed for the first and second turns. We had intended that 1st Brigade would be our central reserve, but it ended up marching forwards while the Scots dithered on the left. The Indian brigade moved forward confidently on our right.

Third Brigade
Once the British appeared, their foe surged forward, seemingly in echelon with their left leading and their center and right hanging back.

The Beja advance.
The Hadendowa warriors were ready to get well stuck in and attacked a battalion of Rifles on the left of 3rd Brigade.

Two Beja rubs attack the green-clad Rifles.
Meanwhile, on the left, the 2nd Brigade had made an appearance and were immediately assailed by enemy cavalry and infantry. The Black Watch was forced by the ferocity of the Sudanese onslaught to fall back behind the Gordons.


The general officer commanding, travelling in company with the bullock carts carrying the mess silver and the all-important gin, sent an encouraging message.

The Dervish commander is clearly wishing he were allowed the comforts of gin...
This seems to have bucked up the Highlanders, as the Gordons, with support from the Royal Artillery, fired several devastating vollies that drove a mass of the enemy from the field.

The York and Lancaster Regiment then proved that they were the equal of their northern neighbours, devastating another enemy force with well-aimed riflery.


These developments were welcome, as the Rifles and one of the sepoy regiments had been overrun by Fuzzies.


And a massive attack in the center crashed on the ranks of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.


The British right-hand brigade was broken and falling back, as was the Mahdist right-flank banner. Could the British center hold? Could either army's advancing left seal the victory?


First the shaken (literally) Royal Irish held off a second wave of Dervishes, sending them fleeing in terror of the Irish spunk.


Then the Royal Warwickshires drive off the advancing Beja.


More shooting, and the Mahdist center goes from five units to four...


...to three. The British are victorious!



And, having helped seal the victory, the Highlanders go off to dinner. :-)


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Montmirail: Two Battles

The Battle of Montmirail by Vernet (National Gallery, London)

So, last weekend I staged my partial pseudo-Montmirail scenario using Black Powder rules. Because of the varying schedules of available players, we ran through the scenario twice, with somewhat differing results.

I was especially glad of the opportunity to game because it brought together three of my friends who I don't see as often as I would like. Though one gets the moniker "Mr Invisible" because of his frequent absence due to travel on the service of his country, all three are deserving of the title, as the others' late work hours (on the one hand) and high school teaching duties (on the other) keep them almost as busy. So we got a shot of The Invisibles which was, appropriately enough, shadowy and hard to see due to the (lack of) light in the room.

The (Shadowy) Invisibles
With catching-up conversations well in hand, we started into learning and experimenting with the rules. Some of us had played a game or two, but we found as we went along that we kept finding, remembering, or forgetting various bits, so the end of the game was as much a hot wash of what rules we had forgotten as how the battle had been fought.

Game 1: Both sides deploy.
In our first game we used the game's basic measurements in inches with my 15mm figure collection, most infantry units being between 12 figures (small) and 24 figures (large) in size. This lead to a very swift engagement, even though both armies entered from off board. The French deployed quickly, with one of their two divisions all in line on their right in mostly open ground and the second division advancing on their left through a vineyard and leafless orchard. The Prussians stacked their forces, with the landwehr in front, preceded by skirmishing jaegers, and the grenadiers behind. The cavalry (landwehr lancers and mounted jaegers) stalled repeatedly in attempting an encircling move from their right flank.

Game 1: French outflanking the landwehr.
The Prussians had difficulty getting the landwehr into a coordinated assault, and when they tried to push their grenadiers around to the left of the line through some woods, they also lagged. The French left turned landwehr's flank while holding up the grenadiers as they slowly emerged from the trees. Even though the Prussian cavalry finally got behind the French lines, the French infantry had more or less secured the win by that point, knocking out several landwehr battalions and all of the Prussian artillery.




Game 2: Prussian grenadiers advance.
For the second game, I reset the terrain, increased the amount of artillery on each side, and tried to make the landwehr contingent more effective by giving them more troops and a brigadier of their own. The new Prussian commander advanced those troops on his right (where they proceeded to stall), while bringing in the grenadiers in his center with the cavalry to their left. The cavalry was much more responsive than in the first game, but not much more effective. The grenadiers deployed more quickly, at the same time the French formed into attack columns with skirmisher cover and advanced. The two sides fenced there for a while, while on the French left their infantry deployed into line, looking to hold while their right attacked.

The Prussian right obligingly stalled, but with the Prussian cavalry making it hard to bring the full force of their
right wing against the enemy, the French threw their left into the attack. Meeting the landwehr, they began a see-saw battle across a series of frozen fields.The landwehr, more numerous in both numbers of units and size of battalions, ground the French Middle Guard down while the grenadiers held on on the left. Eventually the French conceded, though if we had had more time they would have gotten the historical "Michel calls on the Emperor for help" reinforcements that I had standing by.

Game 2: Prussian landwehr outnumber the Middle Guard.
Overall, I think everyone enjoyed the games. After two full battles, I was beginning to get a bit tired of rolling dice, perhaps a symptom of my long exposure to the diceless Carnage and Glory. Black Powder is accessible and fairly easy to learn and play; its only complexity is in the number of special rules that are used to add colour and character to different units and which require one to keep track of them and remember to apply them. I think that well designed order of battle sheets with all the special rules applicable to a force listed on them will help with that, as will playing with a  fairly consistent set of units often enough to remember that "oh,yes, these fellows always have X ability." Also, a few standard modifiers were getting overlooked often (the morale bonus for attack column being one, I think), but doubtless that too can be overcome with familiarity and a methodical look at the charts for a few games until they are more familiar. Using cm instead of inches in the second game slowed down the speed with which the battle came on, which allowed both sides to deploy from march in a more measured, somewhat more historical manner.

One is spoilt for choice these days, with all sorts of wargame rules available for every period and region imaginable. One advantage of Black Powder is that the basic rules are the same for every period; one can find or devise specific cases for particular conflicts, but in most cases even the special rules that give colour and character to units are fairly consistent across periods. So BP is a great set to keep in one's back pocket; learn it once, use it repeatedly. I'm a big proponent of Carnage & Glory, which uses a similar engine for several different periods, but the underlying rules that players need to know (how fast units move and change formation, how they interact on charges, etc.) are different enough that one needs to learn each period's special rules separately. Added to that is the time one needs to invest in building orders of battle; in C&G, this is somewhat of a major time investment, as computer files have to be carefully built through a form-based graphic-user-interface. With BP, one can do a bit of pencil-and-paper work and have a rough OB set up in an hour or two. So BP is an easy choice for a quick pick-up game, while C&G is likely to be my preference when I have time to design a scenario in detail, as it cleaves more closely to the historical tactics (and limitations) that battlefield commanders encountered.

Even if one fields slightly smaller units than the authors use, Black Powder (like C&G) requires a fairly large number of figures. As a result, I'm more likely when playing it to use my existing 15mm armies than I am to build new 28mm ones for BP. I do have a fair number of 28mm Napoleonics, but I think I'll save them for games with a somewhat lower figure density. I recently acquired the Chosen Men Napoleonic skirmish rules just published by Osprey and written by Mark Latham (another member of the Games Workshop fraternity), and although I've only dipped into them so far, they definitely look worth trying out.

I'm collecting votes from my fellow gamers as to the subject of our next tabletop foray. In the meantime, I have work awaiting me on the painting table and the blog drawing board, as the commencement of Project 1777 edges ever closer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017: A Year for Goals

And I'm not talking about football. :-)

While I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, I do have a list of things that I want to do in gaming this year, and I'd like to compare that list at the end of the year with what I've been able to accomplish.

Cliveden under siege during the battle of Germantown.
To start with, of course, this is the year that my Project 1777 should really start producing. As the 240th year since the campaign, 2017 will be the best time to carry out this project until 2027, and I don't want to wait that long! I have five more blog posts sketched out to cover the Continental Army of 1777, and then we have the Crown Forces to look to. They might take as many as nine posts (one for each brigade, one for the elite battalions, and one for the army assets), but we'll see how much I find to say.

Then we'll have the replays of the starting battles (Bound Brook, Short Hills, Staten Island, Couch's Bridge), the incidentals and hypotheticals (Paoli, Whitehorse Tavern, Matson's Ford, Whitemarsh, maybe even a storming of Redbank game), and the main combats of the campaign (Brandywine and Germantown). The latter probably deserve several posts, maybe even several replays each, as we look at the different sections of the battles.

And I'll have a lot to do to bring the miniature armies into readiness, so we'll definitely have some WIP posts there.

Napoleon in the snows of early 1814.
The new 1814 project will also be seeing some work, though that will be less historical blogging (at least as far as my current plans go) and more painting. My counterpart has a good start on Prussian landwehr infantry, and he has youthful enthusiasm on his side. I have age, guile, and a deep backstock of unpainted figures on mine, so we may be even.

Of course, the wicked thing about 1814 is that it tempts a French player to build the Garde units that are normally left in reserve in most other engagements, as they often fought on the front line during this campaign. If we can tempt Mr Sherwood into the larger scale, perhaps we can even replay the incident at Brienne where Napoleon's duty squadron had to defend him from a Cossack patrol!

My poor, neglected Great War blog deserves a similar set of resolutions. There, I may have as many goals for reading as for playing, but we'll see what turns up!