Monday, April 22, 2013

Gaming and Reenacting the War of 1812

The bicentennial of the Battle of Fort Meigs is fast approaching, and as I have been busy working on other projects and starting a new position at work, I've been trying to keep up with my War of 1812 research &c.

One small project that I've been hoping to accomplish this year is to "live-blog" the First Siege of Fort Meigs. From April 24 (the date that the British invasion fleet sailed for Ohio) to May 9 (when the British boarded their ships and retreated back to Canada) I will make daily blog posts of contemporary journals, reports and accounts of the siege.

General Henry Procter's first expedition into Ohio was the largest sustained military operation by an enemy force into the state, except for the raid of General John Hunt Morgan's Confederate cavalry division in 1863. Although the British had forced a series of American surrenders in 1812 and early 1813, they were unable to break the American marshaling point at Fort Meigs, which ultimately doomed their efforts to defend the Detroit frontier.

I've also been playing around with an 1812 war game of my own devising. One of the things I've noticed is that infantry battles tend to go better for whoever fires a volley first.


I had a scenario set up so that a British force would force a bridge crossing and attack an American detachment entrenched near a farmstead. It proved more expedient to send the bulk of the British forces upstream to outflank the American breastworks.

The Shawnee band at top is small, 20 men left out of 40, but armed with rifles and good marksmen. They managed to take out a howitzer before I realized I had mistaken the "soldier" roll for a "cannon" hit on the dice. They were wiped out next turn, but not before distracting most of the Kentucky militia.

While the Kentuckians were distracted near the bridge, most of the rest of the British forces outflanked the Americans and drove them from their breastworks, which are useless when they face the wrong direction. 

The Americans hastily formed a new line perpendicular to their entrenchments, but the Canadians on the right have brought along a cannon. I'm considering rules that allow a cannon to bounce its shot along several connecting targets, which would be devastating in this situation. The Kentucky riflemen on the left are on a hill, which gives them +1 to shoot, but the Wyandot warriors are protected by the breastwork they just captured.

The battle ended quickly once the Americans stabilized their line and brought in their guns and riflemen from the left. Victory conditions are a bit tricky, since the Americans started out in a better position (a lucky howitzer round landed on the British light company and destroyed them to a man early in the game). As in the real war, there was no clear victor this time, but the British suffered the loss of most of their best companies before pulling back.

So far, this game plays pretty fast and furious, with tactical advantages changing hands rapidly. It seems true to my experiences of actually going out with a musket or serving on a gun during a battle reenactment, where battalions and companies move back and forth and often get whittled down considerably or even surrounded. That also dovetails with what I know from researching original accounts of small skirmishes, where a couple of infantry companies would chase and clash with each other through a maze of forest or the confines of a farm. I'm thinking of coming up with rules for a battalion and brigade-level wargame, to deal with bigger battles such as Lundy's Lane or Chrysler's Farm.