The American War of Independence, Black Powder, 28mm
This past weekend I took part in a large American War of Independence game, held in Lundin Links in Fife. The game was designed to use Dave Imrie’s nice-looking terrain boards, and a scenario concocted by Bill Gilchrist. The result was a fictitious encounter we fought somewhere near Philadelphia, which drew on elements of both the battles of Brandwine and Germantown (the latter with the sides reversed). The problem though, was it involved far too many figures for the size of the table. For most of their front the rebels were drawn up two units deep, with a third line held further back in reserve. The British and their Hessian allies also had more troops than they could deploy. Their job though, was to assault this line in a sort of refight of Pickett’s charge. As there wasn’t room for any flanks, off-table flanking moves were allowed. Even then though, the number of rebel troops on the table meant that the flanking forces would have to fight to create a “beachhead” on the table top – a prospect every bit as daunting as the assault on the American line!To be fair, Donald Adamson, who assumed the role of General Howe, used a force of five brigades on table, and four more plus a cavalry force to carry out the outflanking . I commanded two of these on the British left, where my job was to cross the river and advance to engage the enemy line. On the far right an all-Hessian force was to do the same, while in the middle Dave Imrie’s British were hold the line of the river. At the start there wasn’t space to carry out these flanking attacks with more than one brigade in the lead. The other had to remain in reserve.On my side of the table my British managed to ford the river – no easy task when they needed a two-move movement roll to do it – despite heavy harassing fire from American riflemen on the far bank. Eventually though my British light infantry managed to cover the crossing, and my brigade formed up for the attack. Once more though, thanks to a bend in the river and the table edge, there wasn’t space to deploy more than one battalion at the front.It took a few turns, but eventually I managed to drive back or destroy the rebel skirmishers. The last of them went down to a charge by the British light infantry, who stormed through a small wood to catch the Americans in the flank. That actually cleared sufficient space to widen my attack column to two battalions. Over on the far right the Hessians were having more trouble, as a very aggressive American commander advanced to pen them in close to the river bank. In effect they only had space to deploy one battalion in line too, and it was thrown into a firefight as soon as it forded the river. This firefight continued for several turns, and involved one spent Hessian unit retiring back across the river, to make space for another one to move up and take its place. Eventually though, the rebel line was thrown back, and the Hessian advance began.That was when the two flanking forces made an appearance. The leading unit on my side of the table appeared at the back edge of the American right. This consisted of two cavalry units – the 16/17th Light Dragoons and the British Legion. They barely had room to enter the table before they ran into a waiting line of American continentals. Both cavalry units were thrown back – one of them off the table – but they rallied and charged forward again. The end result was the same though, and on that flank at least the flank attack simply petered out in front of a solid American line.Over on the far side of the table things were going a little better, as General Howe himself led a brigade of loyalists , supported by Indians and British light infantry. They were met by two American brigades (one of them militia), and the advance was halted. This little battle within a battle fought in the woods developed into another lengthy firefight, which lasted for the rest of the day. Despite minor successes, neither side gained the upper hand.Seeing this, and bored by his inactivity in the centre, Dave Imrie threw caution to the wind and advanced his British brigade across the river. He was still following Howe’s orders – only interpreting them a little more aggressively than expected! Anyway, his brigade advanced towards the American centre, at the same time as my brigade was also reaching the right-hand side of the American’s main defensive line. This line was deployed along a road, where the defenders were able to benefit from the cover of a split-rail fence. This gave them a bit of an edge, so it was imperative to drive them back from it. The attackers were outnumbered, and lacked the “First Fire” ability awarded the Americans, but most of the British units were rated as “Crack”, which gave them the chance to re-roll their first casualty.That was something at least, and actually helped us soak up some of the pain. On my flank Webster’s brigade had managed to deploy with two battalions in the lead, with two more in supports. Better still my second brigade – a force of Brunswickers – had managed to cross the stream behind them, and were moving forward to form up on Webster’s right wing. When they got there they would form a link between my troops, and those commanded by Dave Imrie, creating a cohesive front line.The big assault got off to a shaky start, as my one loyalist battalion – the Volunteers of Ireland – was broken after a bad morale test. Undeterred though, the 71st Highlanders took their place, and a Brunswick battalion moved up to form their reserve. When the attack went in the 71st and the 7th Foot charged the fence in line abreast, and amazingly both units won their melees. That meant the rebels were driven back, and I’d gained a foothold beyond the fence. The next turn the two sides blazed away at each other, or charged again, and the Americans were driven back a little further. This allowed me to bring my reserves over the fence, which meant the ground was well and truly taken. Things weren’t going so well in the centre though, where Dave’s attack was slowed by a heavy enemy fire. Over on the far right the Hessians were rolling forward slowly, but they were facing a lot of Americans, who had also taken shelter behind a fence. That though, is all we had time for.We’d played a from 10am-4pm that Sunday, taking an hour out for a nice roast dinner in the middle. However, we’d got to the stage where the game was just becoming a real contest before we had to pack the toys away and head home. That was a shame – we could have gamed for several more hours – but we declared the game an American win, and that was that. Next time we do this a much bigger table would be handy, and more time, or else we use the same size of table and a third of the troops! Either way it would make an enjoyable but limited game into a really great one What really made this though, was the top notch terrain. It was a pleasure to fight over such a great table, even though you could hardly see it for the troops!