Saturday, 25 April 2015

Battle of Wide Plains

Well, we were planning our next battle. We were fed up with rivers, hills, and forts and farms all over the place, and wanted a plain table with only a few obstacles. So  I drew the map of "Wide Plains", with a road in the centre, and a single farm and a dense forest on both ends to limit the room on the table. I also proposed roughly the positions of the Rebel and Crown forces on the table. Harald volunteered again in inventing one of his fantastic scenarios for our game.
Here it is:

Battle of Wide Plains

Situation on March 21, 1778

Preliminary Note

This scenario is intended to give us the possibility to simulate a battle on March 21, 2015

·        in which the Crown forces attack the Rebels who have already taken their positions,

·        first units of the attacking British forces of the first line are already in contact with the enemy, while the forces of the second line are still advancing and will have to deploy into line,

·        the fighting quality of the Rebel forces has increased, the winter quarters at Valley Forge 1777 / 1778 being regarded a turning point in the professional development of the American army, using the command module of our rules.

Wherever possible names and unit sizes in this fictitious scenario have been derived from Greg Novak, The American War of Independence, A Guide to the Armies of the American War of Independence, vol. 1 (The Northern Campaigns), Old Glory.

General Situation

In March 1778 there was no co-ordinated and approved plan for operations of the Royal troops in North-America for the spring of that year.

After the capitulation of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga France has officially entered a coalition with the Rebels, having recognized the convincing tactical achievements of the Continental army at Germantown.

The British army under Sir William Howe had occupied Philadelphia the previous year; the majority of its troops are still in winter quarters there.

Howe, meanwhile convinced of the impossibility to reach a military solution in the colonies, got his requested demission. His successor Clinton has not yet arrived.

Chester County is situated north-west of the Delaware and south-west of the Schuylkill in the rear of the British winter quarters round Philadelphia. This predominantly agricultural region is an important foraging area for Howe’s troops. Since February there have been more and more raids of the rebels from their near winter quarters at Valley Forge. The Crown Forces have not been in the offensive here up to now; they have restricted their activities to securing the area.

The road from West Chester to Norristown divides the area into a northern part, dominated by the rebels, and into a southern part controlled by the British. It crosses the marshy headwaters of Derby Creek by an about 3 miles wide dry corridor at Freeman’s Farm and thus overcomes this important obstacle in the course of the road.

Centre of Chester County is the settlement of West Chester, from where roads run north-eastwards to the Schuylkill crossing at Norristown, eastwards to Philadelphia, and southwards to the Delaware River.The majority of the inhabitants of Chester County have stayed neutral since the arrival of the British troops. On the whole the situation is quiet, but unstable.

Starting Point

It is March 21, 1778, at 10:00 hours, near Freeman’s Farm. The previous days were rainy, the ground is soaked. The night was frosty; it is still rather chilly in the morning, the maximum temperature being 9 degrees C. The morning mist is rapidly dissolving.

The battle ground is flat grassland; there are only single groups of trees and bushes. Freeman’s Farm consists of a cluster of isolated buildings; next to it there are fieldworks that were constructed by the militia the year before.

The contingent of rebels commanded by General Major Lee, composed of Continental troops and militias, has reached the region of Freeman’s Farm the day before without any contact with the enemy.

The mission of this contingent is to get into the rear of the Crown Forces round Philadelphia, to test the reaction of the British command to this advance, to break contact with the enemy before being involved into serious combat in order to retreat across the Schuylkill river towards the main army.

At dawn reports about the unexpected advance of British columns in the vicinity arrive. Obviously the Crown forces consist of at least two brigades. The Rebel commander formed up his forces as shown in the following sketch, and prepares to wage battle.
Arrangement of the Rebel forces
The arrangement of the troops was rarely completed when the left wing consisting of Stockbridge militia and Brook’s New York militia discerned some advancing Jaegers and Light Infantry in the morning mist, and soon got under their effective fire. After this first encounter and the mist further dissolving, British and Hessian advancing regiments become visible. When they reach the road the Rebel militias open fire …

The British at Philadelphia early received news about a strong Rebel contingent leaving Valley Forge, and about the route they were to take. The efforts to improve British intelligence after the disaster of Germantown paid of.

Almost from the beginning it was obvious that the march of this force was directed towards Chester County. Yet, it was unclear what the mission of the Rebels was. The British command, however, saw the possibility to intercept a stronger force of Rebels, and to beat them.

After the months of standstill in winter quarters, this first operation of the campaign of 1778 offered the possibility to win a publicly impressive victory over the Rebels. Thus five brigades under the command of General Major Sir William Phipps were sent forth to get into Chester County via Derby and Chester, and to pin down the enemy there.

In the afternoon of 20th March Sir William received information about the Rebels arriving and putting up camp near Freeman’s Farm. Having got support by Loyalist scouts and guides, he decided to approach the rebels in a night march. The surprise, however, failed. The rebels had got notice of the approaching British and took positions in the morning of 21st March.

The British identified militia forces in the first line and regiments of the Continental army in the second one. On the left wing of the rebels, the cluster of buildings of Freeman’s Farm and the fieldworks were occupied, and their right wing bordered on a dense forest.

Sir William made his units deploy into battle order – as shown in the sketch below. The light infantry on the right wing attacked the covered enemy at once …
Battle order of the British

Order of Battle

The Crown Forces
The Rebels
CinC: Major General Sir William Phipps[1]
CinC: Major General Edward Lee[2]
HQ: Det of Drag.Rgt. Prinz Ludwig
HQ: Washington's Bodyguard
Light Infantry Brigade
1st Brigade
Cdr: Lieutenant Colonel George Fergyson[3]
Cdr: Brigadier General John Glover[4]
2nd Bn Light Infantry
14th Continental Regt. (Marblehead Regt.)
Jaeger Corps (Hesse-Cassel)
Warner’s Additional Continental Regt.
1st Brigade
3rd New York Regt.
Cdr: Brigadier Henry Hopper-Smythe[5]
Sherburne’s Additional Continental Regt.
5th Regt. of Foot
2nd Brigade
9th Regt. of Foot
Cdr: Lieutenant General William Irvine[6]
23rd Regt. of Foot
1st Pennsylvania Regt.
2nd Brigade
2nd Pennsylvania Regt.
Cdr: Colonel John Falstaff[7]
Rhode Island Regt.
27th Regt. of Foot
3rd Brigade
43rd Regt. of Foot
Cdr: Brigadier General Enoch Hampton[8]
60th Regt. of Foot
18th Continental Regt.
84th (Scottish) Regt. of Foot
4th New York Regt.
3rd (German Brigade)
13th Virginia Regt.
Cdr: General-Major Joseph v. Bumsdorff[9]
New Jersey Regt.
Inf.Rgt. v. Riedesel (Brunswick)
4th Brigade - Militia
Füs.Rgt. v. Lossberg (Hesse-Cassel)
Cdr: Major General John Armstrong[10]
Gren.Btl. v. Minnigerode (Hesse-Cassel)
Chester County Associators
4th (German) Brigade
1st Independent Battalion
Cdr: Oberst Alexander v. Aufstreb[11]
Hanover Associators
Gren.Btl. v. Block (Hesse-Cassel)
Brook’s New York Militia
Inf.Rgt. Erbprinz (Hesse-Cassel)
Stockbridge Militia + Graham’s Mass. Militia
Inf.Rgt. v. Bose (Hesse-Cassel)
Lee’ Partisan Corps
Cdr: Major Henry Lee (Light Horse Harry)[12]
Light Infantry
Det of 16th Light Dragoons
Det of 4th Light Dragoons
Det of 17th Light Dragoons
British Artillery 6pdr guns (with crews)
6pdr. + 3pdr galloper gun (with crews)


[1] Average leader ; scrupulous, but without initiative.
[2] Good leader ; imaginative, but impulsive.
[3] Excellent leader , experienced and exemplarily courageous.
[4] Excellent leader  and experienced planner.
[5] Average leader ; arrogant and disloyal.
[6] Inexperienced leader .
[7] Good Leader ; experienced, but without support of the CinC.
[8] Average leader , pedantic and cautious.
[9] Average leader ; narrow minded, but methodically experienced (Bruswick).
[10] Average leader , but has got a hand with militia soldiers.
[11] Good leader , experienced and with a sense of responsibility (Hesse-Cassel).
[12] Excellent leader of cavalry and light infantry, extremely courageous, but difficult to control.
* * *
When we met on a Saturday morning we arranged the tables, and lay out the "landscape".
The Councel of the War Gods discussing the affair (Tino, Harald, Daniel, and myself; Horst is behind the camera.)

Horst and Daniel documenting the initial setting
(You can see the result at the end.)

You can see the West Chester - Norristown road in the middle, Freeman's Farm in the foreground, and the trees of Walton's Forest in the far background. The Rebel forces are on the right, already arranged for battle, the Redcoats and their German allies are approaching on the left. (Some of them are still on the side table.)
The green spot in the foreground is our notorious corn field, and again you can discern some Indians lying hidden in it.

The first line of the Crown Forces
(the scraps of paper are our newest invention, they contain informatio about the unit, and on the rear space for notes)
The Perfidious Rebels
Then the battle began. The British approached, and the German Jaegers on the right flank got under devastating fire from the corn field.
The Hesse-Cassel Jaegers of the right British flank
They had to withdraw under heavy losses. (For the rest of the battle they didn't play any decicive role and rather remained in the background.) Obviously this was owing to the grave mistake of Maj.Gen. Phipps not ordering them to reconnoitre the scrub on their right, and to their stubborn German obedience (they should have known better). Of course this was not a very history orientated incident.

The British forces pushed on, and the Scotsmen of the Royal Highland Emigrants and the Light british infantry drove the American militia out of Freeman's Farm and the old fieldworks.

Soldiers of the 84th Foot storming Freeman's Farm

The 2nd Battalion Light Infantry overrunning the old fieldworks
On the left wing of the Rebels things were beginning to look like doom. On their right wing things seemed to develop differently. Reconnoitering British 16th Light Dragoons were easily diven off by an overwhelming majority of Light Horse Harry's dragoons.

Lee's dragoons vs. 16th Light Dragoons
However Henry Lee went on with his attack, and was stopped by a steadfast Brunswick intantry regiment. This regiment hen took position between the swamp and the forest. And that was it on the right American flank.
In the centre things went even worse for the Rebels. The attacking British forces wrre not impressed by the musket salvoes of the Militias. These withdrew as ordered. However the regular Continental regiments stood too densely packed, and there was disorder.
Chaos of battle in the American centre

The Rebel Centre on the point of breaking

Only the falling night saved the rebels from annihilation - and the exhaustion of the five War Gods after hours of gaming and historical discussion. It was a great day!F

Finally, here is a flight over the battle field:

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