BackgroundI have been collecting 15mm American Revolutionary War (ARW) figures for a long time now. The first ones I collected and painted were Airfix and I started doing that at about 14 years old. At that time I had been gaming with an established wargaming club that had tens of thousands of 25mm Napoleonics figures and when I mentioned the ARW it was always "Why would you want to play that? It is just Napoleonics without the cavalry!" I read some books (but not very serious ones) and it did not seem like it was 'Napoleonics without the cavalry', but I could not really put my finger on what it was. In any case, I could never convince anyone to collect armies with me so it became a solo effort, as it still is today.
If you have read this blog for a while then you know that I have tried a number of rules with my ARW figures, including a variant of De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) that I called DB-AWI, a variant of Hordes of the Thing (HOTT) that I called Heroes of the Revolution, a variant of Warrior Kings that I called One More Volley, a variant of '61–'65 that I called '76–'83, a variant of Neil Thomas' Napoleonic Wargaming (that I did not call anything), Clash for a Continent, The Sword and the Flame, Black Powder (before the Rebellion supplement came out) and I forget what else. And those were the ones I tried. I bought even more rules including Disperse Ye Damn Rebels, Washington's Army, 1776, The Complete Brigadier and I forget what else. Always it just didn't feel right to me.
One of the problems seemed to be an issue with movement ranges versus firing ranges. If the movement was too long and the firing too short, the British could often simply charge in without bothering to stop and fire, running off the Patriots without a problem. That was the second problem: too many rules were written by obvious Anglophiles. It was rare to see rules that rated British Line Regiments – any of them – as anything less than Crack, Superior, or Elite. To me this was not only overly generous to the British, it was sloppy research.
I still kept reading the books and buying the materials. I really started preferring the battles in the Southern Campaign (later war). The Patriots got better, especially the Continentals, so they seemed a lot closer run affairs. Besides, that is where the war was won, not in the North. 😉
RevelationAs I stated in my previous piece on the ARW, I agreed with the concept of how the ARW was fought, as described in the Black Powder supplement Rebellion:
When infantry met infantry on the battlefields of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Europe the dominant tactic was for opposing battalions to form lines facing each other and fire their muskets at close range until one side could take no more and ran away or surrendered. Bayonet charges and hand-to-hand combat were considered rare.This basically described what I was thinking. British troops had adopted light infantry tactics to account for the American woodland terrain. Patriot troops were always trying to play 'catch up', first by mimicking British close order, battle line tactics and later British light infantry tactics. The result would be that generally British troops could out-maneuver Patriot troops, especially the lower quality one, and their goal would be to close in quickly, disorder the enemy in a sharp firefight, then close ranks and charge, sending the Patriots running. Whether the Patriots would 'win' depended upon how well they volleyed before the gave up the field. The Patriots wanted to make every British victory costly, in terms of men. This was a war of attrition.
At the outset of the rebellion, the British battalions in America retained the close order line as the preferred battlefield formation. ... Within the British drill manual there were three further arrangements. "Order" placed the files 18 inches apart, "open order" increased separation to 36 inches and "extended order" to as much as ten feet between men in the same rank. Each of these also progressively increase the gap between ranks and collectively they are sometimes referred to as "loose order". There was not specific skirmish formation, but in battle the command "to tree" would direct the men to disperse in woodland to take advantage of cover. The latter instruction could be given to any infantry and was most definitely not reserved only for designated "light infantry" or "skirmishers", although some units were naturally better suited, equipped and trained for this kind of bush fighting.
Upon assuming command of the army, General Howe re-trained his battalions to adopt "order" in two ranks as their default battlefield formation and with some exceptions this remained the case for British and Loyalist infantry for the majority of the conflict. This change in preferred formation reflects a number of the reasons why the rebellion is unique amongst Eighteenth Century wars. Firstly, the lack of effective cavalry meant the infantry were seldom compelled to adopt dense formations to repel charging horsemen. Secondly the terrain of North America made maneuver in close order a slow and cumbersome process; by adopting a looser formation the British were able to move faster than rebel battalions, who lacked the proficiency to do this, allowing them to gain the tactical initiative. Thirdly the two sides were fairly closely matched when it came to exchanging small arms fire, but the rebels would seldom stand to face a charge, prompting the British to adopt shock tactics which required the ability to maneuver at speed, only closing files at the point of contact. It is important to remember that the tactical flexibility of being able to open and close files rapidly as the situation demanded, required infantry who were drilled to a high standard and sufficiently battle-hardened to not panic when changing formation in the face of the enemy.
The British, in turn, realized that in order to win they needed to defeat the 'hope' of the Patriot army, the Continental troops. By defeating this symbol of organized rebellion they hoped to stifle rebellion at the local level and encourage loyalists to fight for the Crown.
Modifying Tin Soldiers in Action
Automatically losing the combat before it begins, and retreating away, may seem like a benefit of sorts for a unit poorly equipped to conduct close combat. In fact, it might almost seem desirable. But, each time it runs it is disordered. Given that the unit is likely amateur, it will have to spend its entire next turn removing the disorder, or risking that the disorder will lead to the unit's deterioration. This is much more serious than it sounds, but hopefully the battle report will reflect that.
What is a Guilford Courthouse-like Battle?
The Continental Brigade consists of General Greene (Commander-in-Chief), two regiments of Continental infantry, a small regiment of Continental Light Dragoons (William Washington's), and a Continental artillery section. The Brigade is on a hill and the area ahead of it is largely clear of obstructions.
The VA Brigade is neither particularly good nor bad. Compared to the British it is below average, but compared to the majority of the Patriot army, it is above average. It consists of two State Line Regiments, one being a large unit. It also has a State Rifle Regiment in addition to the Brigade Commander. This Brigade is situated on a hill, but is surrounded by woods. To the left of the position is where the SC Light Dragoons are stationed.
The left half of the first line consists of the NC Militia Brigade. There are two rifle regiments and three locally raised regiments of militia. All of these units have No Bayonets. Note that the militia units (but not the rifles) are disordered as they are in close formation in the woods. The NC State Artillery section is on the Brigade's right flank, separating it from the VA Militia Brigade to its right.
The VA Militia Brigade is slightly better equipped than the NC Militia, although smaller in strength. There are two militia units, only one of which has No Bayonets. There are also two rifle regiments. The larger unit, Lynch's Rifles, is a superior amateur unit, and can be relied upon as it has many veteran ex-Continental officers and soldiers serving in it. This Brigade is largely stationed behind the woods.
All of the British, Loyalist, and Hessian troops start off of the board, marching on turn one (or later, at the discretion of the British Commander-in-Chief).
You can get a PDF of my Order of Battle if you want to see how I rated the units in TSIA. (Let me know if you have trouble getting to it.)
The British 1st Brigade quickly follows suit.
At this point I would like to quickly point out something. Patriot unit 'A', you will notice, is not in a very useful position as it cannot fire either diagonally left or diagonally right, as both squares are blocked by having friendly units on both sides of the lines of fire 2. We are going to see some more local tactics that take advantage of this sort of blocking.
The Hessian Brigade have moved in on the far left flank of the British side, with the Loyalist Brigade to their immediate right. The Hessians have one regiment of Fusiliers and one of Grenadiers. The Loyalists mostly are not completely trained although they are well equipped. There is one large, professional Loyalist unit in the Brigade, however.
The 'inside' woods has a more restricted line of fire (it has woods on both sides of the diagonal line of fire) – especially given that this is a rifle unit and it has a range of two squares – so the smaller unit moves to the woods on the left, in hopes to delay the Loyalist units, while the veteran Lynch's Rifles moves to the woods on the right, where it has a better line of fire. Note that the position is also exposed to fire from multiple squares, so given that it is superior it should be able to better withstand the pressure.
To further ensure that the gap on the flank remains plugged, the VA State Rifle Regiment swings to the far right and occupies the woods.
The turn is now complete and the main brigades have established their positions in the battle line. Only the British 17th Light Dragoons have not been brought on to the table yet.
This is actually the second time I have played this scenario (but the first time all of the way through), as I changed a lot of the original order of battle after discussions with the author. One of the things I decided to change was how I approached the battle as the British, taking it a little slower this time.The British 2nd Brigade pours fire into the NC rifle units. I decided to stay in open formation as the British as I wanted to take less fire from the Patriots. The basic formula is that I can either fire with six figures in open formation with two dice each, twice, or I can fire with 12 figures in close formation with three dice each, once (because I have to change formation as one of my actions).
I decide to keep in open formation as I am not ready to charge in yet.
The British 1st Brigade also stays in open formation as it tries to push back NC militia with firepower.
The 17th Light Dragoons make their appearance, rapidly marching up the right flank and surprising the NC rifle regiment. Meanwhile, the NC artillery starts tearing into the flank of the British Grenadier battalion with canister. The Grenadiers cannot stay there very long and take that pounding.
I made the artillery much less powerful in this scenario. First, there were only two sections of two guns each "historically". So using two gunners per artillery unit seems like a good compromise. Some punch, but not dominant.Here are the positions at the end of the turn.
Turn 3The British 2nd Brigade continues to carry the initiative and this turn the regiments close formation and charge. Almost as if to thumb its nose at me, the No Bayonets rule kicks in as both NC rifle units roll a '1' and immediately retreat from close combat in disorder.
The NC artillery continues to pound the British Grenadiers with canister, forcing it to lose its first stand (and the first real blood in the game).
Here is an example where I use units to 'leapfrog' into combat.
The Loyalist unit indicated by the green arrow in the picture above cannot fire as it line of fire is blocked by the two friendly units on each side of that line 2. So rather than firing I decide to charge with the unit while the units with the unblocked line of fire conduct ranged combat, hoping to get a disorder result from a failed Tenacity test. Disordering the unit with fire and then immediately following it up with a charge can lead to faster deterioration of the enemy as in addition to taking the casualties from ranged and close combat, they will also lose figures from desertion.
Even superior units have to retreat in the face of such devastating bad luck! Lynch's Rifles rolled six dice and scored no hits in close combat while the Loyalist regiment scored three hits on its six dice. The Patriots retreat from the woods with the Loyalists now forcing the gap.
With support from the Grenadiers, the Light Bobs drive into NC militia forcing them back. The militia regiment is decimated from losses and desertion. There is no way they will stand there in the face of elite British troops attacking through the woods.
The militia unit to the right attempts to save the flank by delivering a fine volley into the face of the Lights.
Back on the British left flank, the Hessian Fusilier Regiment attempts to force the VA State Rifle Regiment from the woods with the same ease the Loyalist regiment threw Lynch's Rifles out of the woods. No luck. The VA State Rifles deliver a solid volley and throw the Fusiliers back.
Here is the situation at the end of the turn.
The British are steadily pushing their way through the woods, driving the militia back. The question is: will the British lose too many casualties grinding through these forward troops or will they have enough momentum to carry through to the third line?
Turn 4The Loyalist Brigade starts off the turn with another charge, this time scattering the smaller VA militia rifle regiment. (The unit had started with nine figures, lost three in the melee, and then rolled a '6' for desertions. "Disperse ye damned Rebels!")
Back on the British right flank, the 2nd British Brigade continues to drive back the NC militia, also dispersing another unit.
Meanwhile, the large NC militia unit continues to hammer at the stalled British Lights with another heavy volley. The Lights are nearly at 50% unit effectiveness.
The Hessian Grenadiers, lead by their Commander, drive the VA State Rifle Regiment from the woods. This might be the breakout that the left flank has been looking for.
But a volley from the VA militia waiting behind the woods brings them immediately to a halt!
The SC Light Dragoons, sensing a chance to hit the exposed right flank of the British 2nd Brigade, charge through the light woods, hoping to catch the British by surprise.
The quick-reacting British, however, quickly form a firing line and deliver a devastating volley, sending the cavalry fleeing. (The British rolled five hits on eight dice, taking out nearly half of the cavalry unit in one blow.)
After long suffering from the canister fire of the NC artillery, the Grenadiers mount a charge and overrun the artillery.
The Lights too charge, driving in the NC militia regiment that has been volleying at the with impunity.
At the end of the turn you can see the results: the British flanks are pressing in, pushing the rebels back at every turn. Although they seem unstoppable, the Patriots have been slowly deteriorating their forces.
The question remains: are the Patriots attriting the British at a sufficient rate that by the time they reach the third line – the Continentals – they will be a spent force? At this point it is really hard to tell. Most of the British 2nd Brigade – with the larger British Line Regiments – is largely intact. Losing one stand from each regiment there means that the maximum number of figures able to fire in close formation still can. Losing a stand from each of the lead regiments in the British 1st Brigade, however, where the units are smaller, had a much greater impact. This has largely forced this elite Brigade to stay in open formation as a means to preserving itself from the fire it is receiving. As the way to the second line is now clear, heavier fire is going to continue to come in.
The VA militia has done a better job of holding up the weaker Loyalist and Hessian Brigades, but the NC militia was in a shambles.
Turn 5The British 2nd Brigade again start off the action for the turn by charging the NC militia across their front. The right attack succeeds in driving back the militia rifles, but without causing substantial casualties while the left attack almost completely wipes out the militia unit. However the center attack fails in the face of determined fire; the unit is now spent as it has less than half of its unit remaining.
The 17th Light Dragoons sweep around the creek and charge into the retreating militia rifles. Unfortunately they are not able to cut them all down, so the unit cannot continue with a cavalry breakthrough.
Cavalry breakthroughs occur when a cavalry unit wins in close combat, or when a light cavalry unit wipes out the enemy in close combat. Breakthroughs allow the cavalry to continue their attack on another, nearby unit. As you can see in the photo below, one small militia units remains. For now, however, it is serving the purpose of blocking fire from the Continental artillery to the 17th Light Dragoons.
This development on the Patriot left flank forces Washington's Light Dragoons to shift to the flank. Unfortunately the Continental artillery cannot canister the 17th Light Dragoons as its line of fire is blocked by the remnants of the shattered NC militia.
The Hessian Grenadiers, led by their brave Commander, continue to push the VA militia back while the Fusiliers struggle to keep pace with the furious advance.
The end of the turn shows that the British brigades on their right largely consolidated their positions, although some advances were made, including into the center, against the second Patriot line. Stubborn pockets of Virginians continue to hold back the advances of the Hessians and Loyalists.
Although insufficient numbers of troops are present to threaten the third line, it is preparing to engage.
The Hessian Grenadiers tried to continue their successful assault, but a Militia Commander makes a stand with the VA State Rifle Regiment and repulses the Grenadiers, stalling their advance. Will the Fusiliers pick up next turn where the Grenadiers failed?
The Loyalist Brigade tries to dislodge the stubborn Virginians in order to clear the way to the second line, but a mixup in orders leads to the 1st Loyalist Regiment to only fire in support, rather than charge into one of the Virginian units. This miscalculation causes the second attack to fail and be repulsed. However, success against Lynch's Rifles – who retreats behind the hill of the second line – suddenly finds Loyalist units on all sides of one isolated Virginia unit.
Washington's Continental Light Dragoons form up in close formation (to get more figures into the upcoming close combat) and charge the 17th Light Dragoons, absolutely crushing them. (The British cavalry misses all strike while the Continentals score six hits.)
The British cavalry is largely a spent force. The Continentals do not advance as they wish to stay poised to threaten any attack on the flank of the third line.
While the Grenadiers and Lights of the British 1st Brigade trades fire with the VA State Line on the hill of the second line, a British regiment attempts to dislodge the VA militia. As they charge through the smoke of the battlefield they are met with a vicious volley and sent retreating.
As the turn ends you can see the devastation that this last turn has wrought on the British army. All of the orange stars indicate spent units (units under half strength). Although there is no particular rule about units under half strength, they are largely ineffective as they cannot muster enough ranged or close combat power to dislodge enemy units – especially fresh ones – and are themselves brittle and susceptible to collapse.
All but one unit of the British 1st Brigade is spent. One unit of the British 2nd Brigade is spent, with a second unit within two figures of being spent. The British cavalry is spent. The Hessians are within three figures of their brigade being spent. Only the Loyalist Brigade is still relatively intact, and only because a fair portion of them have been held back.
In short, this battle is over for the British. The result is a tactical and strategic victory for the Patriots. The Continental regiments are completely intact and the British have lost too many men. They must now beat a hasty retreat out of the Carolinas and head to Virginia to link up with another British force before they are reduced to nothing.
I have no problems with rating Washington's Continental Light Dragoons as superior professional (as I did with the 17 Light Dragoons) and having them beat the 17th. Patriot cavalry units were noted for having fresh mounts that were particularly large and strong, with Lee's Legion cavalry bowling over the British Legion cavalry in a skirmish prior to the start of the battle at Guilford Courthouse. I intentionally did not rate the "SC Light Dragoons" as well as I would have rated Lee's Legion cavalry.
Although I rated three of the four Loyalist regiments as average amateur I don't feel it had a real impact. A rating of amateur versus professional largely only comes into play if you are trying to perform complex maneuvers, such as moving and firing or changing to close formation and charging.
The one large (27 figure) NC militia unit may have been too large, thus giving it tremendous staying power. But I used it specifically so I could see if the effect of a very large unit was too powerful. It probably should be capped at 24 figures, and thus a Tenacity of 4 instead of 5.
Using TSIA for the ARW
- Rate the first army as professional while rating the second as amateur. This would represent the situation at the start of the ARW. The British and Hessians were professional and thus have the ability in these rules to take two different actions, such as move and fire, or fire and charge. The Patriots, rated as amateur, could still keep up with the British in firepower given that they could take two like actions – such as firing twice or moving twice – but could often be out-maneuvered because of their inability to take two different actions in a turn. Both sides are susceptible to the disordering effects of terrain, but because the professional can take two different actions, it can potentially rally in one action and fire or move in the other, while the amateur must take the entire turn to rally off the disorder.
- Rate the first army as professional light infantry while rating the second as professional [line] infantry. This would represent the situation towards the end of the ARW. The light infantry force can move faster over the course of several turns as it is far less susceptible to the disordering effect of terrain, so will be less likely to use actions to rally off the disorder.
2 As I write this I am suddenly coming to the conclusion that I may have gotten this wrong. I believe that there is a rule that states you can always see/fire into an adjacent square. If so, this idea that you cannot fire diagonally when friendly units are on both sides of the line of fire may be incorrect. I guess I will find out after the author reads this!