"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
H.G. Wells developed rules for a wargame using toy soldiers and published his classic book entitled Little Wars in 1913. To celebrate the 1913-2013 centennial I have created a series of illustrated Session Reports. The scenario for this week is the battle fought at Chippawa on July 5, 1814 near Niagara Falls during the War of 1812.
The fortunes of war had not favored the United States along the Canadian frontier. President Madison made sweeping changes, putting vigorous young generals in command of the northern army. Major-General Jacob Brown led a force of three brigades into battle at Chippawa, but the driving energy behind the campaign was generated by Brigadier-General Winfield Scott.
The recently promoted Scott was the youngest general in the United States Army; he was only 27 years old. Scott took control of the northern division's training program. He improved sanitary conditions at the camp and provided better rations for the soldiers. A strict code of military discipline was enforced. Scott drilled what had been a hodgepodge of Regular Army infantry regiments into a cohesive military unit capable of skillful maneuver and sustained combat.
General Brown had captured the unfinished British outpost at Fort Erie with little difficulty. His brigades moved forward until contact was made with a British reconnaissance force near the Chippawa River. The overconfident British commander was Major-General Phineas Riall, an officer who had seen little combat in his career. Holding the American army in low esteem, Riall rushed into action with the expectation of crushing untrained United States militia. As the United States force camped along Street's Creek near the Niagara River the British troops emerged from a wooded area to confront the Americans.
Since the British naval blockade had created a shortage of blue cloth most of the U.S. Regulars wore gray coats. Only the 21st Infantry Regiment had the standard blue uniforms, and this sartorial splendor was only achieved by consolidating every blue tunic in the army. Scott's brigade was in the first line while Ripley's brigade was near the camp.
A brigade composed of militia and Native American allies under Porter was operating in the forest along the army's left flank. There was a mixed unit of Canadian militia and Indians serving with the British, and this formation was also fighting in this wooded terrain. During a close assault (or melee) these militia units have less staying power than regular troops.
Riall had the 100th Foot in the first rank with the 1st Foot. The exhausted 8th Foot was held in reserve so the men could catch their breath after being marched back and forth across Upper Canada. Light infantry companies formed a skirmish line and a detachment of dragoons was positioned near the British field artillery.
There are special rules for Winfield Scott. He was almost captured before the battle when an enemy raiding party approached a house where Scott and his staff were eating breakfast. To reflect this event the U.S. player must flip a coin... an unfavorable result indicates that Scott's arrival will be delayed (perhaps he is hiding in the underbrush along the riverbank) and the British get a double move.
Of course, the U.S. player also receives a special leadership bonus when Scott is adjacent to an American formation. He was a dynamic battlefield commander. Scott was severely wounded later in July during the struggle at Lundy's Lane.
In this session the British player did have the double move advantage.
British musketry was directed at the figure on the black horse representing Winfield Scott... a most unsportsmanlike action! During the War of 1812 the British discovered that U.S. troops frequently aimed their weapons at enemy commanders, causing heavy officer casualties at engagements like Bladensburg and North Point.
The spring-loaded cannon used in this session is from a vintage Marx playset. It fires a piece of plastic sprue from a box of toy soldiers instead of the lighter, less deadly shells which originally came with the artillery piece.
Since inflicting losses on the British is one of the U.S. victory point objectives the first American volley hits the dense regimental formation instead of the loose skirmish line. This session used the original timed game turn system developed by H.G. Wells. This creates a sense of urgency and often leads to inaccurate marksmanship.
Riall intended to brush the Americans aside and continue on to Fort Erie. To reflect his preconceived notion of how the battle would unfold the British player is required to launch a close assault (melee) within three turns. To satisfy this requirement the British commander send the light infantry into a forlorn charge against the U.S. regiment near the river... in the historical narrative this would be the combined 9th/22nd Regiment.
My system uses a simple template to determine which figures are involved in a melee during a close assault. The original 2-1 rules created by H.G. Wells remain largely intact, but I skip the whole prisoners nonsense.
The first close assault triggers another special rule. According to the highly unreliable memoirs of Winfield Scott the British commander was so surprised to find himself confronting U.S. army soldiers in gray uniforms instead of militia that Riall shouted, "Those are regulars, by God!"
Perhaps it actually happened that way. A coin flip determines the reaction of Riall to this disconcerting event. An unfavorable result breaks the British commander's concentration and gives the U.S. player a double move. In this session Riall carried on in the finest tradition of His Majesty's armed forces.
Attempting to mimic the tactics used by Winfield Scott in 1814, the American commander swings out a regiment to drive in the British right flank near the woods.
On the opposite flank near the river the U.S. commander advances the 21st Infantry Regiment and charges the British light infantry. The heavily outnumbered redcoats are dispersed with heavy losses. Scott orders a U.S. regiment to fire on the 1st Foot, causing more casualties.
Under pressure from the Americans the 100th Foot refuses its flank. Riall leads the 8th Foot forward from reserve. Riall provides no combat bonus but his energetic performance in 1814 earns his miniature (on the black horse) a special movement bonus in this sceanrio.
American infantry advances with the bayonet while U.S. artillery pounds the British. Scott's thorough training paid big dividends at Chippawa and demonstrated to the world that American soldiers could meet the British on equal terms. It was a new beginning for the military tradition of the United States.
One victory point objective for the U.S. player requires an American formation to move within twelve inches of the edge of the board. This represents a threat to the British line of retreat across the Chippawa River. This photograph shows the Canadian militia and their tribal allies halting the American push in the forest.
Losses were heavy on both sides, but since the British would be able to escape and link up with the rest of the army the scenario was scored as a draw. This was a lengthy article. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
A sincere and enthusiastic "Thank you!" goes out to...
...who generously provided many of the figures used in this scenario.
A special Little Wars Centennial microbadge is now available:
Well, the boss isn't always right. But, he's always the boss.
Pete, always a great A.A.R.
Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
Hey, get your stinking cursor off my face! I got nukes, you know.
Pete Belli wrote:
This session used the original timed game turn system developed by H.G. Wells. This creates a sense of urgency and often leads to inaccurate marksmanship.
Very interesting! I'm a bad enough shot anyway...