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Ashanti Campaign of 1874 -- Britain, Africa, and the Age of Imperialism
The campaign to defeat the Ashanti Kingdom in 1874 was part of an effort by the British Empire to dominate Africa during the Age of Imperialism. The area known as the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) had been contested between European settlers and African tribal societies for decades. A diplomatic crisis provided an opportunity for Great Britain to attack the Ashanti Empire and take control of valuable resources and important trade routes.
The decisive battle of Amoaful helped to determine the outcome of the campaign. A force including approximately 1500 European troops and 1000 black soldiers defeated an Ashanti army containing as many as 10000 men after a brutal slugfest in rugged forest terrain. The famous general Sir Garnet Wolseley was the British commander. Wolseley was confident that his men could defeat any number of warriors King Kofi Kakari could assemble to defend the Ashanti capital at Kumasi. Wolseley was nearly surrounded and could have suffered the same fate as another British commander who fought the Ashanti fifty years earlier... the highly-polished skull of Sir Charles MacCarthy decorated the king's palace.
An experienced British diplomat who served in Abyssinia explained a typical European attitude:
“It is the old, old story. Contempt of a gallant enemy because his skin happens to be chocolate or brown or black, and because
his men have not gone through orthodox courses of field-firing, battalion drill, or autumn maneuvers.”
Amoaful was a town 20 miles south of Kumasi. In this photograph of the board the compass would point north to the right side of the map and Amoaful is represented by three town hexes. The village near the center of the board is Egginassie (or Agamassie... spellings vary widely throughout the different narratives of this campaign) and the southern village is Quarman. Terrain tiles include ridges, swamps, roads, and clearings.
All of the open hexes and all of the palm tree hexes are assumed to be wooded terrain. This region included huge areas of primeval canopy forest with limited underbrush. Since the natives used slash-and-burn agricultural techniques hexes near a settlement would include abandoned farm fields overgrown with thick jungle vegetation. Based on the limited sources at my fingertips no effort was made to distinguish between these two types of wooded landscape.
The board is from Memoir '44: Breakthrough with tiles from Memoir '44: Pacific Theater and Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. The map is not to scale but each hex represents at least 150 yards of actual terrain.
The scenario is based on the historical narrative. The advancing British force (Wolseley commanded fighting men from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Caribbean, and Africa. For convenience, one belligerent will be described as the British player and the other belligerent will be described as the Ashanti player.) is moving forward in three columns that form a large square. Ashanti forces are deployed across the board, ready to delay the attack on Amoaful while preparing to envelop both flanks of the British army. The three Ashanti units on the northern edge of the map represent reserve formations which enter the session after an event card appears.
Ashanti doctrine stressed encirclement of the enemy by separate formations that often united on the battlefield like columns of ants marching through the jungle. The aggressive Ashanti commanders traditionally divided their forces into a left wing, a right wing, an advanced guard, and a reserve. This system is a good match for the Battle Cry rules developed by the talented Richard Borg.
Some of the Ashanti leaders wanted to stop the British advance at a strong defensive position near the Adansi Hills. They were overruled by other commanders who wanted to allow the British to enter Ashanti territory. Once the invaders were surrounded and destroyed their modern weapons and other supplies could be seized by the Ashanti Empire; the plunder would then be divided between the king and his victorious commanders.
The basic building block of the British infantry battalions is a group of five miniatures like the formation from the 42nd Highland Regiment (aka the Black Watch) shown here. British soldiers did not wear scarlet tunics during the Ashanti Campaign; Wolseley had issued gray uniforms. Only soldiers with bagpipes wore the kilt at Amoaful but since it was important to represent the elite status of the battalion I decided to use these extremely cool figures.
The blue line represents a stream running through a swamp. Movement rules are simple. Every unit has three movement points. British formations expend three points to enter a swamp hex, three points to enter a ridge hex, two points to enter a wooded area, and one point to enter any other terrain or move along a road. Ashanti formations expend two points to enter a swamp or a ridge and one point to enter any other terrain.
The subject of uniforms could turn into an entirely separate article. Men from the 2nd West India Regiment (black soldiers recruited from the Caribbean) wore the zouave uniform shown in this illustration. Wolseley ditched this inappropriate attire and put these troops in gray tunics with tropical helmets.
A small number of soldiers from the 2nd West India Regiment were present at Amoaful. They were assigned to escort the supply train in the rear echelon. This distant section of the board is not away from action during the scenario; it became the focus of Wolseley's attention in 1874 when Ashanti assault formations attempted to encircle the British column and seize these supplies.
Every bullet and every biscuit had to be carried from the coast by native bearers. Failure to secure enough reliable bearers was a crucial mistake that cost Wolseley dearly during the campaign. These supply formations may never be moved. If an Ashanti unit attacks one of these formations the bearers flee immediately, leaving a huge assortment of plunder behind for the Ashanti warriors. This setback can result in a severe victory point penalty for the British player.
The arrival of the 23rd Regiment (aka Royal Welsh Fusiliers) in Africa was tainted by misfortune. A goat serving as a regimental mascot died soon after landing. Since there were not sufficient bearers available Wolseley was forced to leave most of the 23rd behind. A group of less than 100 men took the places of other soldiers who were sick and joined the column. This detachment from the 23rd is escorting the artillery battery.
Two artillery pieces accompanied the column. These were small 7-pounder guns served by professionally drilled native crews led by British officers. Artillery was boldly pushed right to the front lines and caused heavy losses among the Ashanti warriors. Since complicated line-of-sight rules would just bog down the scenario I simply allowed the artillery to fire through one adjacent hex that would otherwise be obstructed by terrain. The artillery battery rolls a 4-4-3-3-2-2-1-1 sequence on the battle dice but is unlikely to fire more than two or three hexes in this restrictive environment.
Ashanti warriors were armed with obsolete flintlock muskets. Instead of carrying paper cartridges Ashanti soldiers used loose powder and fired lead slugs, bits of scrap metal, or even stones! The first round was loaded carefully but subsequent fire discipline was poor. Firepower declined after the first volley. To reflect this each Ashanti formation begins the game with a cube representing a strong initial fusillade. This adds one to the number of battle dice rolled, which is normally a 2-1 sequence. These muzzle-loaders required extra time to prepare so Ashanti warriors can never move and fire during the same turn.
British infantrymen were armed with Snider rifles, a modern breech-loader capable of rapid fire with an effective range of at least 600 yards. British units roll a 3-2-1 sequence on the battle dice. All types of terrain (except a clearing) subtract one from the number of battle dice rolled. Ashanti warriors had a tendency to fire high and the low muzzle velocity of their antiquated muskets meant that British soldiers were hit by slugs that failed to cause serious injury... many of the "hit" British figures would represent slightly wounded men.
BTW, in this scenario the crossed-swords result only scores if the target is adjacent.
Here is a view of the Ashanti warriors defending the approaches to Amoaful. A potion of the Ashanti fighting men were only armed with knives or swords... they were expected to dispatch wounded enemy soldiers as the fighting progressed. Ashanti slaves also participated in the battle, with some firing and some loading muskets behind the front line. There are 16 Ashanti formations with 6 miniatures in each unit. This total of 96 figures might represent just under 10000 men with a substantial percentage carrying firearms.
This is a view of the main British column advancing on Amoaful. While the Ashanti warriors outnumber the enemy and have greater mobility the British have a massive advantage in firepower. That hex where the road crosses the swamp is a crucial piece of terrain.
Here is a photograph of the column advancing on the British right flank. Superb order of battle information for the British expedition is available on the internet. This column includes a portion of the Naval Brigade, a rocket detachment, and a native regiment led by Colonel Wood.
These figures in blue uniforms represent part of the Naval Brigade. The total strength of this detachment of sailors and marines from the fleet numbered over 200 men. They move and fight like British infantry. The detachment had high morale and fought well; there was also a friendly rivalry between the army and navy during the march to Kumasi. Of course, the soldiers also resented the ration of grog issued to the Naval Brigade while the army's camp was supposed to be dry on the orders of Sir Garnet.
The rocket detachment functions like a weaker artillery unit. These weapons had some psychological impact on the Ashanti warriors.
Two regiments of African militia served with the British army. Each company was composed of men from a tribe hostile to the Ashanti. Discipline was not good; at one point in the battle the men threw down their Enfield muskets and rushed forward to chop the heads off of the Ashanti wounded! Native troops roll a 2-1-1 sequence on the battle dice. This regiment was somewhat weakened by detachments left behind to garrison various base camps along the route from the coast.
There are special command rules for the Ashanti player. A system of drums and horns could be used to signal orders to Ashanti formations. This method had limitations but certainly deserves to be included in the scenario. Two flags are used to indicate a pair of units which have been activated by the drumming and horn blowing. To reflect the structured nature of these "orders" the activation must continue for another turn before the signal can be switched to other units.
Wolseley had personally selected a group of enthusiastic young officers to serve on his staff before the expedition left Britain. A staff officer (with revolver) may be dispatched anywhere on the board to activate any British unit. A staff officer is never eliminated and the miniature may be sent on another assignment during every turn.
There is no miniature representing Wolseley. Here is an interesting historical tidbit: the general had difficulty walking long distances due to a previous wound. Horses and mules did not thrive on the Gold Coast. Wolseley was actually carried most of the way to Kumasi by native bearers... according to one source, in a wicker chair like a movie potentate!
The pointing figure with the rifle represents a small group of scouts and Royal Engineers led by the intrepid Lord Gifford, a fearless young officer with a streak of good luck a mile wide. In spite of numerous encounters with the Ashanti he was never wounded... and he was one of the few officers who didn't experience a bout of malaria. Wolseley was incapacitated for several days with the disease.
The scout miniature activates a single formation like a staff officer. In addition, this formation can expend movement points like an Ashanti warrior unit during this turn... gaining a great deal of mobility.
Here is an example of the battle rules: Ashanti warriors attack the rocket detachment, rolling 2 battle dice because the -1 for the wooded terrain is balanced by the +1 for the initial volley. The artillery symbol is obviously a hit and the crossed-swords result is a hit because the target is adjacent. The rocket detachment is eliminated and this means a severe victory point penalty for the British player.
My unique "hot" deck includes two types of cards... Command Cards and Event Cards. Command Cards are regular cards like Attack or Probe that allow the player to activate formations in a certain section of the board. These are used in a player's hand according to the standard rules. Event Cards are cards converted from their typical function to simulate elements of the historical narrative. For example, the Rally event in this scenario allows both players (not just the player drawing the event card) to gather stragglers and add replacement figures to depleted formations.
This photograph shows the Ashanti event card releasing the reserve formations. Before the session began the Ashanti player secretly recorded the entry location (north, east, west) for these three units. All three will enter the edge of the board in adjacent hexes. Events like this occur immediately, regardless of which player has just completed a turn and drawn the top card from the deck. The player drawing a random event immediately pulls another card from deck to refill his hand.
In this example the Ashanti formations enter the west edge of the board "behind" the British front line.
The scout has directed a unit from the Rifle Brigade to confront the Ashanti reserves entering on the British left flank. The supplies must be protected.
The distracted British commander must remain focused. The highland battalion is ordered to make a bayonet charge. Ashanti warriors had no bayonets and were unprepared to fight with edged weapons. In most cases the Ashanti soldiers would be forced to withdraw. To conduct a bayonet charge a British unit must begin the turn adjacent to an enemy formation. Battle dice are used to indicate the charging units and this also represents an automatic hit. The defending Ashanti unit must take a loss or retreat in addition to any other battle results following the charge.
A staff officer leads the 2nd West India detachment into action near the village of Quarman. This is entirely historical because a British officer conducted an effective defense of the supply column in 1874 and the men of the 2nd fought well.
Ashanti war drums signal an attack on Egginassie. The reckless Ashanti commander is attempting to execute a pincer move against the supply column in the middle of the board. A mixed force from the 23rd Infantry and the 42nd Highland Regiment is defending the road.
British infantry is advancing on Amoaful. If all available orders are used to stop this assault it will be impossible for the Ashanti warriors to capture an enemy supply column. A decision is made to split the activations in an effort to accomplish both missions.
An exhausted British formation has entered Amoaful. In 1874 the Ashanti warriors fell back and hovered around the outside of town when the British took control. It was a confused situation; possibly the Ashanti soldiers did not want to destroy the town in order to halt the enemy advance. In this scenario a British unit can't be attacked inside Amoaful. Victory points will be scored by the British commander.
Ashanti warriors have scattered the bearers and captured a supply column. Holding this hex containing valuable plunder (represented by a flag token) will score victory points at the end of the session. In 1874 several groups of bearers abandoned their loads and fled as the Ashanti warriors approached the road.
The next card drawn from the deck is Short of Supplies and this event ends the session immediately. Neither player will have another turn to capitalize on his success. Time to count victory points.
Since one British unit was eliminated the Ashanti player is awarded 1 point. A supply column was scattered to score 1 point and the plunder was still under Ashanti control (by default, but it still counts) for 2 points.
The elimination of three Ashanti units scores 1 point for the British player. Holding Amoaful scores 3 points. The road between Amoaful and the southern edge of the board has not been cut by the Ashanti player so 1 point is scored.
Final Score: 5-4 in favor of the British.
Wolseley wins by a narrow margin.
Thanks for posting these sessions. They're always enjoyable to read and I never fail to learn something new.
Once again, Pete has produced a fantastic variant replete with pictures! Methinks you have too much time on your hands Excellent! Thanks...