Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gaming the Battle of Fort Meigs p1: Miller's Charge

William Sebree's depiction of Miller's Charge on a map drawn a year or two after the battle.

Most serious war games tend to generate a flurry of cryptic game peices, and this one is no exception. To keep things as simple as possible I've reduced the amount of game info on each peice to three: unit type/ weapon (LI= light infantry, HA= heavy artillery, etc.), starting strength on the bottom left corner, and starting morale on the bottom right. Actually, the only purpose of these counters is to identify each unit or group of units on the map--unlike a lot of wargames you don't have to consult the numbers constantly or (God forbid) stack them on little hexes.

The first challenge was finding the unit strengths and order of battle of the units that were involved in Miller's Charge. I put together this list based on estimates and the best primary sources I have available. Unit quality (morale) was more intuitive to produce. I assigned morale points based on the need to keep the scenario relatively balanced and reflect the experience of the different units.

Colonel John Miller's Charge (1 strength point=10 men)

Grenadier Co., 1/41st Regiment
2 officers 100 men
10/5 muskets G

Light Company, 1/41st Regiment
2 officers, 86 enlisted
8/5 muskets LI

1st Co, 1st Essex Regiment
2 officers, 36 enlisted
4/3 muskets I

2nd Co, 1st Essex Regt.
2 officers, 36 enlisted
4/3 muskets I

Sac Indians
50 warriors
5/4 muskets N

Wyandot Indians
40 warriors
4/5 rifles N

Pottawatomie Indians
50 warriors
5/4 rifles N

Royal Artillery
1 six-pounder
1/3 artillery FA

Royal Artillery
1 5.5 inch howitzer
1/3 howitzer FA

Royal Artillery
1 5.5 inch mortar
1/3 mortar HA
Colonel Miller
1 mounted officer

Croghan's Co., 17th US
30 men
3/ 4 musket I

Bradford's Co., 17th US
30 men
3/ 4 musket I

Langham's Co., 19th US
20 men
2/ 4 musket LI

Elliot's Co., 19th US
30 men
3/ 4 musket I

Nearing's Co., 19th US
60 men
6/ 3 musket I

Major Alexander
1 officer

Petersburgh Volunteers
2 officers 64 men
6/5 musket I

Greensburgh Rifles
1 officer 12 men
2/5 rifle R

Pittsburgh Blues
1 officer 25 men
3/5 musket I

Sebree's Co., 10th Kentucky Rgt.
3 officers 80 men
8/4 musket LI

Wood's Battery
1 18-pounder
1/5 HA

Blockhouse No. 5
1 6-pounder
1/3 HA

Blockhouse No. 6
1 6-pounder
1/3 HA

All the artillery units in this scenario are basically immobile and firing in fixed arcs. Blockhouse No. 6's gunports were arranged to sweep the base of the fort's wall, and so it doesn't really enter into the scenario. Likewise there was a section of two 5.5" howitzers posted at (1st Light Dragoons Captain Levi) Hukill's battery just west of Wood's battery, but I assume they were pointed the wrong direction to intervene in the charge.

Below are the unit tokens for the companies and battalion commanders in the scenario.

Set up: Miller's men line up under the guns of the fort, regulars on the left and volunteers and Kentucky militia on the right. Because of how the board was laid out, they didn't have to make the battalion left wheel or protect their open flank as they would have in the actual battle. The fort's artillery is powerful but has limited line of sight on the tangled gulleys and forests to the east.

The British are scattered, with the primary force--the two elite flank companies of the 1st Battalion, 41st Regiment of Foot-- guarding the gun pits. The light infantry have deployed in skirmish order in front of the guns, while the grenadiers wait in cover. The three hill hexs at bottom right represent Indian Hill, the end of a long ridge overlooking the river bank. It overlooked the east side of the fort and offered cover to Indian snipers, who I represent here with a band of Potawatami warriors. The three units at the left end of the board are considered reinforcements and not available until the sixth British turn.

The forts guns open the battle by hitting Indian Hill with suppressive fire.

It's super-effective! The Pottawatomie snipers lose twenty warriors and three morale points under the hail of grapeshot and are forced to fall back to a more respectful distance.

As the rest of the Yankees advance out of the gully, the Greensburg Rifles get hit by a flurry of rifle fire from a Wyandot band  armed with rifles and well hidden in a thicket. All of the riflemen are killed or wounded and the Americans lose their first company of the battle.

By the next turn, the American line has crossed the edge of the ravine. Because of the need to hide the British siege batteries from counter-battery fire, they are not well-sited to repel a charge like this. The Wyandots, up in front, find themselves confronting a whole battalion alone. This time they are decimated by the advancing line and forced to retreat.

The Brits call in their skirmishers and form the flank companies (their main force) into a line of battle on what should be a strong defensive position. With 100 men and high morale, the Grenadiers should be an anchor for the defense. 

(BTW, grenadiers by this period had long since stopped carrying actual grenades, but the ordnance manuals of the period contained instructions for their use, usually in siege works. The Americans had no official flank companies, but several units such as Langham's Company, 19th Infantry seem to have informally taken on the term voltigeurs).

The 18-pounder on Wood's battery roars out. Although the gun crew can't see much of the British battery, they can now see the grenadiers standing in front of it...

The 18-pounder ball rolls through the closely packed ranks, cutting down 10 men and throwing the rest into disorder.

In the next few turns the American line wipes out the Wyandot band and arrives at the front of the batteries. Dug into pits, the British guns could not fire effectively at the charging Americans until now. I'm not even sure if you can count the howitzer and mortar in this situation, since they were set at a high angle to lob shells at the fort (and overshoot it since there were no forward fire observers as in modern warfare!). I considered that in a pinch the artillerymen could load grape and canister into the unwieldy siege weapons and fire point blank, but with less effectiveness than the six-pounder on the right.

The British infantrymen retreat among their guns, so that the Americans have to face close-range artillery fire and musket volleys. Sebree's Company, taking advantage of the closed-off border of the game table, stays in close order and flanks the mortar battery.

(You can still see these batteries today, since they were preserved in the Perrysburg Cemetery...)

 The six-pounder thunders out with a load of canister, destroying Elliot's Company of the 19th Infantry.

The three companies surrounding the 41st Light company pour musketry into its trench. Sebree's company has outflanked the breastwork, so that their fire is even more deadly. 

On the British right, the grenadiers retreat into the brush behind the six-pounder battery. They still have plenty of men but are severely demoralized. The two 1st Essex Regiment Canadian militia companies march up to refuse the right flank, and run into Langham's 20 skirmishers and Croghan's 30 men.

(Canadian militia regiments were raised and named according to the counties from which they hailed. They probably consisted of two "flank" companies of able-bodied, better trained men, and center companies probably made up of half-hearted draftees. Since General Procter's siege of Fort Meigs coincided with the planting season, his Canadian militia were even less reliable than usual. However, the Essex Regiment did include such loyalists and Indian traders as Captains William Caldwell and William Elliot: men who knew the woods and Indian warfare quite well.)

These two companies are of the "draftee" type, and quickly run into trouble against their better trained US Infantry opponents.

The Americans swarm over the breastworks, taking control of the British guns and chasing off the defenders. The 5.5" howitzer in the middle holds out, unable to retreat.

The two American companies flanking on either side fire point-blank on the gun crew...

This roll would wipe out an infantry company, but against the howitzer... they're all misses!

It takes several more tries to finally take out the howitzer.

The battle concludes with the Americans firmly in control of the gun pits, and they industriously set about spiking the cannons. As with the historical battle, it was a costly victory--but one that saved the American camp from a potentially dangerous enfilade fire.

I think in the future I'll give the British more reinforcements to be able to chase the Americans off after the surprise of the initial charge. The Canadian militia should be better, because I now think that elite light infantry outfits like Caldwell's Western Rangers were included in the ranks of the 1st and 2nd Essex Regiment. So alongside the "soft" militia companies, there would probably have been some "hard" companies with better morale and more combat experience--even more so than most of the British regulars in Canada. 

A future play through of this scenario will also make the board wider rather than long, so that Sebree's 80 light infantrymen will have to fend off Indian attacks on Miller's open flank. Also, as commanders can give adjacent units a certain number of "buffs" or bonuses to rolls and morale, I'll give the British Tecumseh to coordinate the counter attack.

In the meantime, I'm going to work on a battalion-level version of these rules so that I can play through larger-scale engagements such as Lundy's Lane and Crysler's Farm. I've also have scenarios in mind for the other two parts of the May 5 battle at Fort Meigs: Colonel Dudley's defeat and the lesser-known Colonel Boswell's charge.