Sunday, 27 March 2011

Petersburg lines

As I mentioned in my last post our latest battle concerned a scenario based on the Union assault on the Petersburg lines in the latter stages of the ACW. This is a general view of the table from the Confederate left. Just out of shot on the right is the 3rd Confederate brigade (Virginians) under General Charles. The works on the right of the picture are held by a regiment from Florida, also under the command of General Charles. The central redoubt has a small garrison, relying on its formidable defences and in the far distance are the works held by the Georgia Brigade commanded by General Byng.

A preliminary bombardment by the Union artillery had made some gaps in the abattis and General Lucas had decided to mask the central redoubt with some skirmishers supported by a regiment of sharpshooters and make his main efforts on the flanks.

The union infantry moved 'at the quick' across the open ground, suffering relatively light casualties from the confederate artillery, especially the heavy guns in the redoubt,which struggled to get the correct range. Action was joined first on the Union right as 69th New York attacked the 8th Virginia. A combination of canister and a devastating volley reduced the New Yorkers to a bloody wreck and they reeled back into the supporting regiments. To their left a Zouave regiment assaulted the works, but again a succession of volleys persuaded them to retire. Their place was taken by the 20th Maine who advanced bravely into the killing ground, reaching the works themselves, before the volleys of the 7th Virginia forced them to withdraw.

It was at this point that General Charles was killed. It is uncertain whether the deadly bullet was from friend or foe. Charles was a political general, owing his rank to friends within the government, rather to any military ability. Only a few months before he had led his brigade into an ambush, advancing against an apparently fleeing enemy aainst orders and the advice of his staff. Few of his men mourned his passing. That being said, the Richmond papers were full of his heroic death leading his men in repulsing the Union attack.

On the Union left the attack was faltering. The advance came under accurate fire quickly and the first brigade struggled to make any progress. The second brigade, led by General Holmes, spotted a gap in the defences made by the artillery and decided to take advantage of it.

This meant that he was attacking the redoubt, but fire from there was very light, the gunners' aim being distracted by the fire of the skirmishers. The going was bad, soft sand, but the Union infantry pushed on. To their left their comrades in the fourth (Lowe's) brigade were being butchered. Close range volleys from the Georgians behind the works caused heavy casualties as the gallant Union infantry struggled to cross the undamaged abattis. The 39th New York were destroyed as a fighting unit and the 79th New York broke when they were shelled by their own artillery.

The Confederate commander was becoming concerned with the attack on his centre. Fire from the battery in the redoubt had ceased altogether, the gunners being dead, injured or fleeing from the fire of the Union skirmishers. He had only two small regiments, one of which was a local militia unit of limited ability. As the action eased on his right he ordered General Byng to send reinforcements, as the ones he had summoned when it became clear an attack was imminent, had yet to arrive.

On the Confederate left, the death of General Charles had caused some confusion, but heavy casualties in the staffs of the attacking Unionists also resulted in a lack of control. The 8th Virginia came under fire from the 165th New York and lost several officers, reducing their effectiveness. The 3rd Delaware charged the confederate battery, overan it, and broke into the lines.

Now was the time to reinforce success, but the Union reserves were too far back. The gallant Delawares were now attacked by the 9th Virginia, led by Colonel Davis who had taken over from General Charles. A brief struggle was followed by the retreat of the Unionists, who reluctantly gave up the ground so dearly bought. Seeing the Unionists falling back the Florida regiment, which had been unengaged, ignored orders and surged from their defences, only to find that they could not advance due to the boggy ground to their front. In the open they were an easy target for the Union artillery and suffered needless casualties.

It was in the centre that the key struggle took place. Holmes brigade closed on the Confederate defences and exchanged volleys with the defenders. Too few to man the whole line of works, the Confederates were outflanked by the advancing enemy. The militia were faced by the skirmishers who were feeling for a weak spot to exploit. General Anderson, the Confederate commander had given up on receiving the reinforcements from headquarters, his only hope now was that Byng's Georgians would arrive in time. This they did, forming line to face off the Union troops hoping to exploit their entry into the redoubt. Although he had achieved his objective Holmes could see that the other brigades could not support him and so reluctantly he ordered the retreat, angry that success had been torn from his grasp.

As the firing died down the Confederate reinforcements came into view, breathless after their march.

Both sides would learn lessons from this bloody encounter.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Painting and reading

After a long delay I managed to finish painting a couple of units for my Royalist ECW army. I was inspired to complete them by reading a book published by the Chetham Society "The Parliamentarian and Royalist war effort in Lancashire 1642-1651, by J M Gratton (Third series vol 48. 2010). This has a very useful appendix detailing the various units raised in the county and the actions they took part in.

This is Tyldesley's foot regiment, with the horse regiment moving to support them. The foot were at First Newbury and Marston Moor, whilst the horse also served with the Oxford army and were present at First Newbury. The figures come from various sources and the flags were created on the computer. Tyldesley's foot also double as the Mohrungen regiment serving as mercenaries with the Polish army (see below)

Two further cavalry regiments are under way and as the Warlord Games boxes come with the possiblilty of having two or three cornets, these units will also lead a double life, turning out for the Royalists and also as mercenary reiter for the Muscovite army.

Another book I have been reading is Andrew Uffindell's "Napoleon's Immortals, the Imperial Guard and its battles 1804-1815", published by Spellmount in 2007. What I have found particularly interesting is the analysis of the membership of the Guard units over time and the way in which the purpose of the Guard changed. Many sets of rules give bonuses for the Guard when it is in action, but, Uffindell's research suggests that this bonus should depend on the date of the scenario being played, particularly after 1812. During the 1813 and 1814 campaigns the Young Guard units consisted of the best conscripts rather than soldiers with several years experience. This would lead to a classification of at the best 'first class line', rather than elite. Plenty of food for thought.

The current battle on the tale is an ACW scenario based on the attack on the lines around Petersburg. The action is following historical events with the Unionists taking heavy casulaties. A full report will follow in the next post , but for the moment here is a view of the two brigades on the Unionist right preparing to advance.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Follow up to the Boyne

First, many thanks for the positive comments on the last post, they are much appreciated. In answer to Alan's question re the figures for Banja Luka, the makers are many and various!. The Solacks who led the sortie were Redoubt figures, the majority of the remainder of the Turkish force comprising Azabs and Janissaries, were Dixon figures. The Austrians come from a variety of manufacturers, the garrison overrun by the sortie were Minifigs, but the collection has been built up over time, so no one manufacturer dominates. The buildings again are from various sources, kits,(both plastic and wood) and cast items. Some items have been acquired from Bring and Buys at shows.

This week we returned to the Emerald Isle in a scenario based on the retreat of the Jacobite forces to the west of Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne. The Williamite advance guard, comprising Danish foot and horse has been given the task of securing a bridgehead over a river to enable the main body to advance. The Jacobites for their part have left a rearguard to delay any advance as much as possible.

Here is a general view of the Jacobite position on an island between two arms of the River Gall. The rivers are unfordable and two the bridges over the eastern arm of the river are defended by infantry with artillery and cavalry support. In the far distance is the village of Ballymurphy, behind which is a third bridge which crosses the western arm of the river.

It had been impressed on the Danish commander (me), that securing the crossing was vital and that speed was essential. Therefore, having defeated the Jacobites once already and thinking that their morale may be shaky, a rush was made on the bridges before the artillery arrived. This decision fell neatly within the category known as "tactical error" or in lay parlance "big mistake". The leading battalions came under accurate artillery fire and when they crossed the bridge were stopped in their tracks by telling volleys from the defenders.

Time for a rethink. I moved battalions forward to engage in a fire fight with the defenders, but again before my artillery was in position. Losses began to rise and then my artillery deployed...and found that the infantry masked their fire on the defenders! Anyway that problem was solved as my infantry, down to half strength, retreated.

It was at this point that I received a message from one of my scouts that there was a ford, over on the far right flank, so I despatched the bulk of my cavalry to the ford.

A battle of attrition now began between the artillery on both sides, they were the key to the battle. I lost two light guns, but was able to reduce the effect of the Jacobite artillery by two thirds. Whilst this was going on, the movement of my cavalry had been observed by the Jacobite general and he began to move forces to counter this new threat. He also pulled back his infantry slightly to protect them from my artillery. Encouraged, I made another attempt to cross the bridges. On my right the Danish Guard battalion successfully crossed. On my left I tried to cross quickly with my cavalry, an attempt which ended in bloody failure as they were cut down by volleys from the defenders of the village of Ballymurphy. A second infantry attack across the bridge stalled as the attackers morale failed when they suffered casualties from more volleys. By now help was at hand as my artillery began to fire on the village. This 'persuaded' the defenders to retire, leaving the way open to cross. This retirement was helped by the fires which started in the village. The defenders claimed it was caused by the artillery, the Williamites argued that the defenders set the fires to protect themselves from a vigorous pursuit. The truth will never be known, but the locals returned to find blackened ruins the next day.

On the far bank of the River Gall the two cavalry forces came together. Luck was with the Danes and regiment Juel overcame their opponents regiments Galway and Tyrconnel in close fought melees. The Jacobite commander now realsed that there was a danger that the Danish cavalry could block the bridge and bottle up his infantry between the two arms of the Gall. He quickly moved two battalions into a position covering the bridge confident they would prevail against the Danish cavalry as they had the infantry. Undaunted, Juel moved forward, an unsteady volley failed to stop them and they closed to combat. The rear ranks of Jacobite infantry looked over their shoulders to see Ballymurphy in flames, their own cavalry heading down the road to the west and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. This quickly communicated itself to the rest of the battalion and soon they were all running, pursued by the Danish cavalry.

The victory was the his, but as the Danish commander looked at what remained of his force, he wondered if it was worth it. True his cavalry was virtually unscathed, but his infantry had suffered heavy casulaties. Of his six battalions, only one was ready for action, two had suffered 25% casulaties and the remaining three between them could barely muster the strength of one batallion.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

London trip

During half term week we had a short break in London. There is so much to see that no matter how often you visit you can always find something new. I was recommended to visit the museum of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, which has just had a major refurbishment. It is not large, but there are some interesting exhibits and presentations. On certain days there are guided tours and there is also the nearby priory church and crypt that can be visited.

On the way to the museum we walked past St Batholomews Hospital (Barts) The picture shows the entrance to the church of St Batholomew the Great, the first parish church in England to charge for admission. Just out of shot, on the wall to right is a plaque marking the spot where William Wallace was executed.
Later that day we also visited the church of St Clement Danes, the RAF church in the Strand.

Many RAF units are commemorated, including this memorial to the Polish units.
One place I never tire of visiting is the British Museum. Ignore the packed Egyptian galleries and head for the European galleries on the first floor. There you will find cases of artefacts covering the Viking, Saxon, Roman and medieval periods amongst others. This is an example of a parade shield, far too valuable to risk in battle, but used to show the wealth of its owner.

There are various options for getting arounf London of course, but I prefer to walk if possible. You can see so much more and at this time of year the artificial lighting can create marvellous effects. I forgot my tripod so most of the night shots came out blurred, but I did manage to get this one of HMS Belfast. When you see the size of the ship and realise that in fleet terms, it was fairly minor, you wish that the British government had not been so hasty in scrapping our battleships. Imagine what interest there would have been for a vessel like Warspite or King George V.