Friday, July 6, 2012

Battle of Eutaw Springs--Learning When to Cut and Run The Hard Way

To celebrate July 4th we got together for a little lead therapy.  We based the encounter on the Battle of Eutaw springs.  I have to say I think there is some serious potential for a great scenario here, however we didn't really have to the time to reserach and write out a scenario so our battle was a little ad hoc.

And did out the math to turn them into our 30mm ground scale and tossed it into Battle Chronicler.

The thing about Eutaw Springs is that the British commander Alexander Stuart thought his position fairly secure and safe.... at least safe enough to send out a mostly unarmed potato foraging party of several hundred men. Historically these British were heroically driven back, captured or run down by the advancing Americans (which helped pad the numbers after the American's suffered a reverse later in the day).  We didn't know where this exactly took place, so we added another six feet of table to the west of the above map and called it somewhere in there.  We didn't really have hard set deployment rules concerning the British and how to handle the fact that they were supposed to be surprised at their breakfast.

The entire area is woods of some flavor.  Enough to trees to disrupt cavalry, but apparently not enough to hinder infantry formations too significantly.  We called everything light woods... which has a .75 musketry modifier and also limits visibility to 6 inches.  

Enough about setup though more on lead therapy.

I was somehow volunteered for the job of Nathaniel Greene commanding the army as a whole and the Continental Brigades.  On my left I had the South Carolinian partisan Pickens with his militia and raiders.  On my right the Frenchman Marquis de Malmedy with the newly raised 4th and 5th North Carolina state line and some militia riflemen. 

The British set up a "picket" line of some loyalist militia, Hessian Jagers and the a battalion of the regulars of the New Jersey Volunteers.  Col. Stuart apparently was willing to send out several hundred unarmed men to dig for potatoes, but he liked to make damn sure his morning breakfast and tea was not disturbed by pesky Americans with this well positioned "picket" line.

The American Advance and the British "Picket Line"--with Cavalry Support
Now in our rules there are two important things to understand: 1) The Americans are incredibly fragile. If one unit of the Continentals routs the whole army routs.  This generally means you send in the militia first.  2) Militia move and charge in a mob which halves their combat value.  Anyone not a Continental may take 1-2 movement phases to change formation.
Americans getting stacked up and prepared.
 The battle started at 1pm.  The Americans advance with the British allegedly none-the wiser.  The armies with clairvoyant instincts stop just outside of each others sight ranges. (The cavalry should have bumbled into the pickets and got shot at.... cant stop all meta-gaming!).

This is the Ninety-Six loyalist militia.  I'm reliably informed they are more commonly known as "Jebediah  Smith's Partisan Legion of Revenge"  They lived up to their name.

The multiple turns it took to get the state troops formed gave the British time to react.   The Americans are not really a dynamic attacking force. While this was happening General Greene could be seen riding up and down the American lines speaking with his brigade commanders and confirming written orders were understood.  The North Carolinians under de Malmedy were to secure the swamp on the right.  The South Carolina Militia and Continentals were took break the picket line, but not to try to storm the Eutaw Spring compound until an opportunity developed.  As the Frenchman spoke... French and Pickens was apparently illiterate the written orders had to be reinforced in person.  

Greene's cunning plan was to use the continentals to break the New Jersey volunteers on the right and hopefully develop and opportunity to roll up the British line and rout the rest of the British on the left.  Once the British started running, with a little luck they would take some of the rest of their camp with them in the confusion and panic.  Risking a Continental battalion routing was necessary as the militia didn't have the punch to stand up to crack-firing Jagers and British drilled line.

The plan did not work out.  The woods on the right bedeviled the musketry of the Virginia State Line and despite being shot at in the flank for a full hour, the New Jersey Volunteers continued to maneuver and fight with impunity on the right.  The New Jersey men had practically run the Continentals out of ammo (Americans get 4 rounds or enough for 1 hour of firing).  On the left General Pickens repeatedly tried to get his militia to charge the loyalist militia, but to no avail.  In desperate attempts to revive his the spirits of his South Carolinians he rode to the front of the line and was grazed by a shot from the Hessian Jagers, wounding him for an hour.

Desperate to alter the situation and create some momentum at 2:30pm Greene ordered the Delaware Continentals to charge the Hessian Jagers and on the right de Malmedy personally led some North Carolina mounted rangers to take the New Jersey Volunteers in the rear finally breaking these stalwarts. The rangers follow up their attack and start to ride down the loyalist volunteers.  

Militia cavalry getting behind the NJ Volunteers.  In the distance the British right, deployed in depth, with cavalry behind their "pickets".
 The Delaware Continentals are repulsed by the Jager's skirmish line.  The Americans barely even closed taking 33% casualties while inflicting none.  The North Carolina rangers ride down and capture or kill the remaining 231 New Jersey Volunteers, in the process taking the King's Colors and a the Battalion Colors!! The question remains how long will they be able to keep them...

Close up of the action
A lull descends on the battlefield for the next 30 minutes (sides rolled same number on initiative and random event occurred).  Despite being only a few hundred yards away, the British were content to allow the Americans to make off with their captives and captured colors.  Meanwhile Greene manages to personally rally the remains of the Delaware Continentals.   

During the lull an impromptu council of war is held on the American side.  General Greene (me) was inclined to quit the field in good order with our captives and captured colors.  The British were bloodied, and unable to march to the relief of Cornwallis at Yorktown and the capture of the captives and colors would make excellent fodder for the press.  The council of de Malmedy seemed to be in general accordance.  The strident voices of General Pickens and the South Carolina contingent indicated there was still light (e.g. we have more time to game, the sun is still out!) and his "boys" had yet to "lick them some red coats".  Although Picken's reasoning seemed questionable (especially considering Pickens had spent the last 2 hours attempting to get his "boys" make any impression on loyalist militia in front them), but was taken up by the council and the attack orders continued unchanged. 

As the action picked back up, the American attack was renewed.  The converged 1st and 2nd Maryland charged home against the Hessian skirmish line.  On the left Pickens' militia continued to disorder themselves attempting to charge the loyalists.  On the right the British 63rd, their formation broken up by the swamp charged some of de Malmedy's riflemen skirmishing in the swamp. In the center, the valiant mounted infantry of the North Carolina rangers, scoffed at the desultory volleys Von Bose's Hessians and successfully extricated themselves.

On the right, Malmedy's riflemen valiantly stood their ground in the swamp against the chargeing 63rd Foot, managing to inflict casualties on the British and wounding Major Majoribanks (it was a bad day to be an officer--wounding has less than 10% chance in our rules and today saw 3 officers go down...).  The British got a foothold in the swamp, but at surprising cost.
The Marylanders in general formation charged by SC horse troop in the middle.  In the swamp in the background the 63rd Foot.  At the bottom of the picture, Pickens' partisans and militia continuing their staring contest with the loyalist militia.
In the center the Hessian Jagers evaded the charge of the 1st/2nd Maryland, but seeing these foreigners that had so recently decimated the Delawares, run was to much for the Marylander's discipline.  They broke rank and charged after the evading skirmishers (mandatory advance after charge roll!--this single roll changed the entire battle).  The South Carolina Loyalist Horse Troop opportunity charged the Marylanders.  As General Pickens would remark after the battle, "Can't blame the boys for getting their dander up!".  The Marylanders made a valiant stand, but lost 33% casualties causing only 16% and routed. In the melee General Otho Williams was wounded and is presumed captured following the rout.  This caused the battered Delawares and the cavalry of Lee's Legion to rout.  At seeing the Continentals run the two South Carolina brigades broke rank and ran for the rear as well.

Close up of the decisive moment
(An Aside: this bad advance after charge roll did two things: 1) rob the Marylanders of firing a volley into the cavalry and 2) cause them to melee/shoot at half effect; had the Marylanders got to fire a volley it would have guaranteed 16% casualties with a better than 2 out of 3 chance to inflict 33%--likely halving the cavalry's melee potential if the cavalry didn't rout outright from the casualties).

The collapse of the American left and center led to a general retreat.  The American abandoned their guns and legged it.  de Malmedy's North Carolinians escaped in relatively good order with the captured colors.  The Virginia state line made a valiant stand before routing and surrendering buying time for the rest of the Continentals and State troops from the center to escape. 
The British picket line held off the American assault and could claim victory.  The Americans left badly bloodied, but with the captured colors and New Jersey Volunteers as a prize that at least the news papers might be able to celebrate. 

One of our players commented a few games ago that given the choice between skill and luck in wargaming, nothing beats a wargamer with his luck running and a hot set of dice.  It seemed like the Americans really could not catch a break. We did capture the New Jersey Royalists, but they fought like Foot Guards, shrugging of casualties and morale checks turn after turn.  It took being charged in the front and rear simultaneously to dislodge the NJ volunteers..... this really slowed down any hope for gaining some momentum for the Americans.   The bad advance after charge roll clinched it as explained above. After Quatre Bras I knew the gods of chance had to come calling to end the hot streak...

Was a fun game, and a great way to spend the Fourth of July.  

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