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The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, 1781

The American War of Independence, Black Powder, 28mm

I jumped at the chance when the Shetland Wargames Club asked if I wanted to game with them. Shetland is a grim, barren rail-thin streak of an island, some 60 miles north of the fair green isles of Orkney. The club there consists of a half dozen or so historical gamers, plus a couple of dozen spotty oiks who play fantasy games. Fortunately for this game the teenagers stayed at home, leaving the rest of us to refight Guilford Courthouse using my figures and their terrain. The guys had commandeered a school hall for the occasion, and so there was plenty of space. Regular readers of this site will remember that almost a year ago I refought the battle using British Grenadier rules, while Bill Gillchrist did the same using Black Powder . On both occasions the Americans won. Would the bad guys make it three wins in a row?shetland-014We refought this using the same figures and figure scale as the Black Powder game. We also did it on a lurid green base cloth – hardly the prettiest of surfaces to game on. Still, needs must when you’re in “Mordor” (as I call Shetland). None of the guys up there had Black Powder before, so this would be an interesting experience. shetland-010That meant a figure ratio of 1=20, and a dozen or so units a side. As in the real battle, the Americans deployed in three lines, with the North Carolina militia up front, the Virginia militia behind them, and four regiments of Continentals in reserve. a road which led straight up the middle of the table to Guilford Courthouse. The defences spanned The British attacked on the left with the 23rd and 33rd Foot, on the right with the 71st Highlanders and von Bose’s Hessians, while the Guards and the British Legion formed the reserve, supported by a pair of 3-pounders. At first the American line did well, hammering away at the oncoming troops with muskets and a single 6-pounder. They even scored an early success when the Hessians were repulsed when they tried to charge across the split-rail fence in front of the American line. Then though, it all started to go wrong.shetland-008On the American right the militia were forced to retire when faced with a bayonet charge by the 33rd. They crossed the fence, and supported the 23rd in their assault, which soon had the Americans on the right of the road heading for the rear, or dissolving. That allowed the 23rd to wheel to the right in support of the other British brigade, which now faced a combined militia force, as the Virginia militia there had moved forward to support the Carolinians. An almighty melee followed, but the colonial militia were outclassed and outmanoeuvred. The crunch came when the British Legion cavalry charged and broke Lee’s Legion, and then wheeled to threaten the America left flank. Within a turn the militia had broken, and the survivors were fleeing back through the woods.shetland-007While the British consolidated and moved forward into the woods, the Americans took stock of what was left of their defences. On the left of the road there was nothing between the British and Guilford Courthouse, while on the right the Americans still had a small Brigade of Virginia militia, supported by the regulars. The Americans decided to bring the regulars forward, to form a strong defensive line in the woods, with one brigade of regulars on each side of the road, bolstered by the Virginia militia and whatever smaller skirmish units still remained. The British came on in fine style, and smashed into the American line on both sides of the road. On the right the British Legion cavalry charged but were repulsed by the Virginia continentals, while on the left the 23rd and 33rd pushed back the American militia, until they finally broke and ran. The only bright spot on the part of the Americans was the breaking of von Bose’s Hessian regiment, who failed a break test after being pummelled by musketry and canister.shetland-006That though, wasn’t enough to save the day. The British regrouped and charged in again, and then, in a single turn, the American regulars dissolved, with three of their four regiments failing break tests in a single turn. They fled the field, forcing the American commander to roll for his army morale. The result was inevitable – the survivors fled the field, and the British were duly handed the laurels of victory. In the real battle Cornwallis’s little army was badly battered, and the same held true here. The result was therefore a pretty historic conclusion, with the Americans dissolving and ceding the field to the Brits.shetland-005It was a hard-fought but enjoyable game, and the rules worked a treat. The best thing about the game was the way the five Shetland players picked up Black Powder, despite never having playing it before. Better still they all declared the rules were just what they’d been looking for, and they plan to adopt them for all their horse and musket games. That alone made it all worth while.feature


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