Sunday, July 23, 2017

Prelude to Battle: Fisher's Crossing

Traffic Jam, circa 1780! Major General De Kalb (in blue) and one of his subordinates (in hunting shirt) argue over who has the right of way as two roads converge in Catawba Town. Arguing with your superior officer is not conducive to career advancement. (click or double click all pictures to enlarge).

The next battle in our South Carolina 1780 Campaign is a medium sized affair with 8SPs for De Kalb's Continental army and 7SPs for Colonel Webster's British army. An SP, or "strength point", represents one unit of infantry or cavalry.  The battle will be fought at a place called Fisher's Crossing in the northeastern part of the state of South Carolina.

De Kalb had crossed the Catawba River, bearing south back towards Winnsboro, the site of his defeat  two months ago. However, when he receives reports that Webster is marching fast towards him, he retires back across to the north bank of the Catawba River.  He has selected a good defensive position with the Catawba River to his front and a low ridge on which he can deploy his army. The ridge also provides "dead ground" that De Kalb can use to hide most of his army from the British line of sight from their likely position across the river at Fisher's Crossing.

The table runs north (bottom of the picture) to south (top of the picture) divided by the Catawba River in the middle of the table. The Americans are posted along the north bank of the river and the British are approaching along the two roads at the top of the picture that converge at a Y-intersection known by the locals as Fisher's Crossing.

The rest of the story will be told view the picture captions.


A view of the battle field. Catawba Town is seen at the bottom of the picture with the road heading south across the Catawba River at a place called Fisher's Crossing. The little town of Fisher's Crossing lies at the Y-shaped intersection at the top of the picture. (Click or double click on all pictures to enlarge the view).

Fisher's Crossing - it seems rather quiet for now...

The Catawba River. De Kalb's Continental army will be posted on the left, attacked by Webster's British, advancing from the right to the left.

The bridge over the Catawba, looking back towards Fisher's Crossing.

Catawba Town, where De Kalb has set up his headquarters.

One of the approach roads into Catawba Town

The town center where everything happens in this part of the world. The building with the dormers is The Swan tavern.
American dragoons move into Fisher's Crossing on a scouting mission.

American dragoons are waiting to see if the he British are coming.

Indeed, they are coming - a squadron of the 16th Light Dragoons skirmishes with elements of the 1st Continental Dragoons in the middle of the town.

A supporting squadron of Baylor's 3rd Continental Dragoons moves forward, led by Colonel William Washington (on the rearing horse).

The Continental army moves through Catawba Town on its way to the front lines. That is General Baron De Kalb on the left ordering one of his subordinates to give way so that the Maryland Brigade can pass through.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Maham Tower is Completed

The Maham Tower along with Fife & Drum AWI figures. Click on all pictures to enlarge.

I spent nearly all day Friday cutting logs, notching logs and gluing the parts together and finished the Maham Tower model in one day. I applied the wall board paste compound and fine grit last evening so that it would be dry today. The bases were completed this morning and so now the model is ready to go for my upcoming siege of Georgetown game in the South Carolina 1780 Campaign.

Side view showing the buttresses and the entry ladder. Rifles pits were added to the front for defense against an enemy sortie.
This picture illustrates the height of the tower  (6-inches) relative to the walls of a fort (3-inches)
After doing a little more reading on the topic, I discovered that the Maham Tower concept , first used to capture Fort Motte, was also used in the seige of Ninety Six as well as at the seige of Augusta. So I should be able to justify its use in any number of game scenarios in the future.

A frontal view of the tower and some supporting rifle pits in front. I added buttresses on two of the sides and a ladder at the rear of the model to embellish the overall look of the model.

Tower Construction Tutorial
The construction of the tower was fairly easy to do. If you owned a set of Lincoln Logs when you were a youngster, then you probably already have the skills to make the tower. At its basics, it is just a matter of stacking up twigs one atop of the other until you reach the desired height.

My original plan was to have a 3-inch square footprint for the tower. So I cut up a lot of 3-inch long logs, forgetting that I would need some overlap on the logs. So I had to go out into the yard again and cut some new logs to a length of 3.25-inches in length. I also sorted the logs by diameter sizes so that they would be easy to find during the assembly process.

It all starts with taking your pruning shears out into your backyard and cutting off some twigs from bushes. I tried to keep the same relative thickness of the "logs" to about three diameters: thicker logs for the base and then gradually smaller diameters for the upper levels.

The first step is to mark out the foot print of the tower on the wood base with an indelible marking pen. Then I layed out some sample logs to see how it would look. I also placed a skirmish stand of figures inside the perimeter to make sure that the figures would fit into the tower's top platform.

Notches were made in the logs using a round rat tail file, which is perfect for the job. The only problem with this is that my wood was still green and surface of the file got clogged up with the wood filings. Eventually, the file's teeth were caked with the wood and rendered the file unuseable, subject to cleaning out the teeth with an Exacto knife.

The wooden stakes or pegs were for decorative purposes only, although they did serve to keep the first layer of logs in place and in square.

I layed out a template on a piece of MDF board, planning on a 3-inch square footprint.

The first course of logs have been layed. I used a rat  tail file to make the notches in the logs. These provide a sturdier model and also replicate the historical method of building structures from logs. The ground stakes are ornamental only, although I would imagine that stakes were used when the builder layed out the dimensions.

After laying down two to three courses of logs, it was time to add the ground terrain to the inside of the model. Since I did not intend to have sections of the tower removeable, it would be impossible to terrain the inside of the tower once it got to about 3-inches in height or higher.

I had to add the ground terrain inside the model early in the construction process. Since my model would not have any lift off sections, it would be impossible to add ground terrain inside the tower once the final levels were glued together. I use a mix of Red Devil Pre-mixed Wallboard Paste, with brown paint stirred into the spackle. Then I add a little bit of water to the pot to improve the viscousity of the material and trowel it on. While the goop is still wet I sprinkle some fine railroad ballast over it.
Notching the logs was relatively easy at first, but as the rat tail file got all clogged up with wood shavings, the task grew harder and more importantly, very tedious. As a consequence, I did not notch any of the logs after building a mid-level platform at the 3-inch height (see below). I figured that there might be a platform or two inside the tower so that the men would not have such a high climb without a place to rest and store supplies and equpment.

The tower construction is now completed and so I repeat the ground terraining with my spackle and fine ballast for the rest of the base. Allow the goop to dry overnight and then finish off with static grass and tufts.

Once the tower reached my desired height of 5-inches with a 1-inch mantle level on the top (to protect the sharpshooters from enemy rifle fire) , it was time to add the ground terrain to the base of the model. As noted above, I use Red Devil Pre-mixed Wallboard Spackle Compound to which I stir in a small pot of acrylic brown paint. Mix the paint into the spackle until it looks like chocolate pudding. You can add a little bit of water to improve the flow of the mixture (a good idea when you are trying to get the spackle into small and tight areas). If you want a more rugged look to the ground, then do not add the water and use the paste as is. Spackle is a wonderful and versatile product that is perfect for basing wargame figures or wargame model.

I am very happy with the outcome of my labors and will have a nice model that will be used in many a battle to come.

As an after-thought, I also made some rifle pits of stacked logs, on separate bases, that I added to the area in front of the tower. I figured that the enemy might want to make a sortie at night and try to destroy the tower, so it made sense to have a defensive position in front of the tower.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Maham Tower - Revised Construction

Revised plan for the Maham Tower, adding buttresses, log rifle pits on the ground, a mid-level platform and othe accoutrements. The figures are from Fife & Drum Miniatures.

This morning I let The Princess knock down the Maham tower mock up so that I could start on the model's construction. I thought that as long as I was rethinking the construction plans, that I should make a few revisions to improve it.

First of all, I decided that the foundation logs (the first 3-4 layers) required thicker and bigger logs to make for a stable model. So I went out into the back yard with my pruning shears and cut some more logs.

Close up view showing the exterior buttresses and the mid-level platform of the revised model.

Second, I decided to add a floor to the tower, approximately half way up. The sharpshooters would probably have climbed to the top from the inside, so an interim platform and some ladders were added. I haven't shown it yet, but there will be an inside ladder to the first platform and then another up to the crow's nest level.

Third, I created some protection for the sharpshooters in the crow's nest by adding a few more layers of logs above the top platorm. Thus the overall height of the Maham Tower will be approximately 6-inches. My planned fort will have 3-inch high stockade walls so by doubling the height of the tower, I can erect it a suitable distance from the fort and still be able to fire down inside the fort.

A longer view of the model that depicts all of the exterior accountrements.

For the fort, I will either try to make one from scratch, or buy the Grand Manner stockade fort which is very nice.

Finally, I decided to add some extra bling to the exterior: adding log buttresses to two of the sides, a wood ladder on the outside of the tower, and then some log fleches on the ground next to the tower for protection in case the defenders make a sally from the fort in an attempt to destroy the Maham tower.

The new pictures illustrate another unglued mock up, but they represent how the final model should look. Over the next several days I will start notching the foundation logs and commence the build.

The Maham Tower

The Maham tower built in front of Fort Watson (from Santee County Organization exhibit at Fort Watson)

As noted in our previous post, the South Carolina 1780 Campaign has generated its first encounter of one side blockading a town or fort, which could result in a siege. Anticipating such an event, I thought that it might be a good time to start working on a Maham Tower.

My Maham Tower concept.
During the siege of Fort Watson from April 15, 1781 to April 23, 1781, the attacking American army of Francis Marion and Light Horse Harry Lee lacked artillery to blow a hole in the stockade walls of the fort. It appeared that they would not be able to cut off the fort's water supply or starve them out, as the garrison was adequately provisioned.

Showing a bit of American ingenuity, one of Marion's subordinates, Major Hezikiah Maham, came up with the idea of building a log tower of sufficient height so that sharpshooters could man the nest at the top and shoot down into Fort Watson. The tower was 30 feet in height  and was pre-assembled in sections and erected during the night of April 22nd. On the following day, the Americans attacked the fort with the sharpshooters driving the British defenders off of the walls, making it easier for an escalade of the walls. As a result, the fort was forced to surrender.

The Maham Tower's six-inch height relative to the walls of a fort.

The Maham Tower was such a success that it would be used again at the siege of Ninety Six one month later.

So this evening I grabbed a pair of pruners and went into my backyard in search of building materials for my Maham Tower model. The "logs" will be made from the branches of a common bush, cut to length with my pruning shears.

I made a mock up of the tower by simply stacking up the logs as if they were a child's set of Lincoln Logs. I built the tower six-inches high so that it would loom over the three-inch height of my fort's walls. The platform at the summit is wide enough to hold two sharpshooter figures. I should also build a wooden mantlet on the top to protect the shooters from the defenders' rifle fire.

Now that I know that the concept of stacking logs will work, I will tear down the mock up and start the construction of the tower model. I will probably cut notches into the logs to give the model strength and help to hold the logs together. The project shouldn't take very long to complete. The model will be affixed to a piece of MDF board. I will finish off the board by applying wall board paste (Spackel Compound) and fine ballast to create the ground effects and finish it off with a wood pile (of left-over wood), tufts and static grass.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SC Campaign Siege Rules

Blockhouse at Georgetown, South Carolina which is occuppied by two SPs of British troops. Building is a model of the powder magazine at Colonial Williamsburg, made by Herb Gundt. The figures are Fife & Drum British.

Well we have the first potential siege in our South Carolina 1780 Campaign, so I had to quickly gin up some simple rules for the siege or blockade of a fort or town.

General Francis Marion, with a force of 3SPs, has moved to the map dot that is labeled as Georgetown. The British garrison in Georgetown is 2SPs.

The British garrison of Loyalists patrol the perifery of the town of Georgetown.

I don't want to work through the complications of digging parallel lines and artillery platforms etc., so I developed these simple concepts to execute the siege during our campaign.

First Step - Determine whether or not the fort is outnumbered by 2:1 or greater
Compare the number of SPs for both the defender and the attacker and if the attacker has an advantage of 2:1 or greater, then role D100 percentage dice (I use two D10 dice and designate one of the dice as "tens" and the other die as "ones"(

a) if the die roll is 1-50% then the defender may elect to Hold Out

b) if the die roll is 51-100% then the defender must surrender and the soldiers have a 50-50 chance of either being Paroled or sent off to a Prison. If the latte, then the attacker must detach one SP from his command to serve as an escort for the prisoners.

c) the defender also has the option to sally forth from the fort and offer battle to the attacker; however, this decision must be made prior to the roll of the dice that determines surrender/no surrender.

d) if the defender offers battle and loses, it may either retreat up to 2 dots on the campaign map or retire back into the fort, deducting the appropriate number of SPs remaining after the battle.

Second Step - conducting a siege
The attacker will always have the option of blockading the fort or town, rather than fighting a battle, and wait for attrition to starve out the garrison.

a) Turn 1 - defender may sally out, otherwise it is considered "out of supply" as long as it is under blockade.

b) Turn 2 - defender can no longer sally out to fight, it will lose one SP on this turn.

c) Turn 3 - defender loses another SP

d) Turn 4 - defender must surrender

Automatic Surrender
After Turn 1, the defender must surrender if it is down to one SP.

I think that this will prove to be a very simple and fast method of dealing with the attack or blockade of forts and towns in our campaign. We shall see shortly how the siege of Georgetown progresses.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SC Campaign - Turn 5 Moves

Turn 5 of the Campaign, depicting the positions of American and British troops after the movement phase. Click the picture to enlarge the view.

The moves have been turned in for Turn 5 and it appears that there will be a medium-large battle at Catawba Town in the northwest part of South Carolina, and a smaller conflict at Georgetown, on the Atlantic coast.

British 3-pound Grasshopper cannon with crew and limbers. (click picture to enlarge)

Following his victory at McDowell, Tarleton embarked on a raid into North Carolina aimed at disrupting the American supply lines into South Carolina. From McDowell, he rode hard through Gilbert Town and was heading fast towards Salisbury, NC. If Tarleton could occupy Salisbury, then he would cut off the supply line from Hillsboro, NC to De Kalb's army at Catawba Town.

Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton of the British Legion

The previous turn found Webster with a sizeable army of 8SPs at Ninety Six, and with nothing to do. Given that Tarleton had defeated all of the significant American forces in the area, then Webster's large army needed to move elsewhere if it were to have any impact on the campaign. With that in mind, Webster left Ninety Six with 6SPs, leaving 2SPs with Colonel Cruger, and marched to Winnsboro, picking up the one British SP there, and then marching on to Catawba Town with 7SPs. Webster hoped that De Kalb might be in the vacinity and that he could draw him into a battle.

The British commander of all forces in the Southern District (Georgia, South and North Carolina) held to his strong position at Camden with a force of 7SPs. His scouts informed him that General Horatio Gates was still encamped at Cheraw on the Pee Dee River. Cornwallis could reach Gates from his position, but he wanted to see the outcome of Webster's battle with De Kalb before leaving Camden unprotected.

Other British Forces
Lord Rawdon still held Charleston with 7SPs; Stewart held Savannah, Georgia with 6SPs; and there were smaller forces at Georgetown (2SPs), Augusta, GA (1 SP) and one each at the three forts along the Santee River (Forts Granby, Motte and Watson).

The Shameful Retreat of the Augusta Garrison to Ninety Six
Thomas Sumter's partisan force of 3SPs moved north from Orangeburg to Augusta, where he hoped to blockade that stronghold long enough to draw the attention of Webster's army at Ninety Six. However, upon the approach of Sumter's force, the Augusta garrison uncermoniously retreated to the safety of Ninety Six rather than make an attempt to hold on and bluff Sumter out of his blockade. As a result, Sumter captured this important supply depot without firing a shot.

General Horatio Gates, the hero of Saratoga, had moved south from Hillboro, NC to Cheraw, SC on the previous turn with an army of 8SPs. He was within striking distance from Camden, but he did not want to take on Cornwallis himself at Camden. So Gates stayed put at Cheraw.

De Kalb
Baron De Kalb had spent a turn in Charlotte, NC recovering from his defeat at Winnsboro on Turn 3. He now marched across the Carolina border and took up a position on the east bank of the Congaree River at Catawba Town. He soon discovered that Webster was moving towards him from Ninety Six, so he resolved to hold a strong position on the other side of the river.

Francis Marion's partisan band had grown to a respectable force of 4SPs and so he marched from Kingston, through Little River and on to Georgetown, SC where he hoped to convince the garrison of 2SPs that they should surrender to a larger force.

The Carolina Gamecock moved from Orangeburg to Augusta, which had been abandoned by the British garrison. Thus Sumter was able to capture the town without firing a shot. This could potentially place Ninety Six in some jeopardy with one of its supply lines cut off.

Partisan Uprisings
There was no partisan activity on Turn 5.

Turn 5 Outcomes
There would be a medium sized battle at Catawba Town between Webster's British and De Kalb's Americans.

There would be a smaller encounter at Georgetown with Francis Marion surrounding the town and needing to attack it to gain it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Battle of McDowell - Conclusion

Colonel Sevier's Last Stand on Thickety Ridge (click pix to enlarge)

When we last left our heroes, it was the end of Turn 7 and the Americans were consolidating their battle line atop the high ground called Thickety Ridge.

The American battle line, from left to right, consisted of Hopkins' Militia, the 1st Virginia, the 3rd South Carolina, and in reserve, Kent's Militia. The 3rd SC had its left flank anchored against the woods, but its right flank support was a little bit dodgey with elements of Kent's Militia. Knowing that Captain Ray was with Kent's Militia gave little solice to the 3rd SC, his reputation having preceeded him.

The Americans form a battle line on Thickety Ridge. Click picture to read annotations.

A closer view of the American left flank.

Hopkins' Militia had a precarious hold on the American right flank. The 1st Virginia regiment, in green coats, can be seen in the center.

Colonel Tarleton also took advantage of the brief lull in the battle to reorganize his troops, who had been pushing back the Americans for the full day, up to this point. The British left flank was anchored by two companies of the Light Battalion; the center included the other three companies of the Light Battalion, a squadron of the 17th Light Dragoons, and the British Legion infantry. British Legion sharpshooters were deployed all along the British line. The right flank was held by the feared British Legion cavalry. See picture below:

The British battle line forms at the base of Thickety Ridge. Click picture to read annotations.

On Turn 8, two companies of the British Light Battalion on the British left flank spied Hopkins' Militia opposite them and pegged them as a worthy target for a charge (bayonets versus no bayonets was a killer for the militia).

Two companies of British Light troops prepare to charge into Hopkins' Militia .

The first stage of the final British attack on the American line kicked off on Turn 9 with the two Light Companies charging Hopkins Militia, which miraculously does not rout, but does fall back six-inches. The British Legion cavalry and the 17th Light Dragoons positioned themselves for a charge against the American line on the next turn.

On Turn 10, the British Light Companies press home another charge into Hopkins' Militia and after two more rounds of melee, the American militia are told off, allowing the Light Companies to maneuver behind the rest of the American battle line.

British Light companies move into the rear of the American battle line after driving off  Hopkins' Militia.

The American line bends back into a "U-formation"
On Turn 11, the British Legion cavalry and the 17th Light Dragoons charge up Thickety Ridge into the 3rd South Carolina while the other three companies of the Light Bobs charge into the 1st Virginia. The South Carolina troops go "shaken" from the melee and were required to retire 6-inches facing the enemy. On the second round of the cavalry versus infantry melee, the "shaken" penalty makes it difficult for the 3rd South Carolina to strike any hits on the collective British cavalry. The South Carolinians rout!

The 3rd South Carolina feel the fury of the British cavalry charge. The red coats are the 17th Light Dragoons and the green coats are Tarleton's British Legion cavalry.

The Americans make a last stand in square formation, while Kent's Militia skeddadles into the trees.

A view of the American position from the British point of view.

This was effectively the end of the battle because the remaining American troops had been pushed back into an informal square formation and were surrounded by British infantry and cavalry. Colonel Sevier decided that it was time to surrender and hope that Colonel Tarleton might be in a good mood and spare their lives today.

While all of this was going on, Kent's Militia had skeddadled to the rear, with the cowardly Captain Ray leading the mad rush off the battlefield. A couple of his men had had enough of this behavior and they fired off a couple of shots towards Ray's back, but they missed.

Captain Ray skulks off the battlefield to live and fight (?) another day! Some of his men attempt an 18th Century version of "fragging" but miss their mark.

Later in the day, Captain Ray was captured by some of the British Legion cavalry and brought to Colonel Tarleton as a prisoner. The other American prisoners jeered at Captain Ray when they saw him. Tarleton, being no fool, announced, "let that man go! He serves us better commanding his troops than he does sitting in our jail."

So a small, but higher quality British force of 3 Strength Points destroyed the larger American army of 6 Strength Points. Note, however, that 4 of the 6 American regiments were militia troops and the British player quickly gleaned the advantage of having bayonets versus militia troops having none. As a consequence, the British player always charged the militia whenever possible.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Battle of McDowell - Part 2

British Legion cavalry chase down the American baggage train. (click picture to enlarge)

To recap our battle so far, Colonel Sevier's American (rebel) force of 6SPs was taking on Tarleton's British force of 3SPs at the town of McDowell. Sevier posted Captain Ray's militia in the town with orders to delay the British advance for a couple of turns and then retire into the nearby Center Woods. Other militia units were hidden in the West Woods (Captain Hopkins), the Center Woods (Captain Kent) and the East Woods (Captain Vickers).

So our last posting ended with Turn 4, when Captain Ray's militia ran for the cover of the Center Woods, with Tarleton's British Legion cavalry riding pell mell down the road to catch up with the rebel baggage train, and the revealing of the rebel militia in all three woods.

Read the picture captions below to follow the developments of Phase 2 of the battle: the routing of all the militia and the capture of the baggage train.

Ray's militia find support from Kent's militia in the center woods. Is there room enough for both regiments to skulk?

Meanwhile, over in the West Woods, the British Light companies spring an ambush by Hopkins' militia.

British Legion riflemen spy more rebel militia in the East Woods. A few well aimed shots hit their mark, and Captain Vickers' militia decide that they have seen enough and run for their lives

Captain Kent's militia abandon the safety of the Center Woods to see if they can find out where Captain Ray went.

Ray's militia are surrounded and decide that surrender is better than pointless valor. However, they are not particularly happy with You Know Who. (click picture to read annotations)

The American (rebel) baggage train moves painfully slow down the road.

The British Legion cavalry are hot in pursuit.

They get in and among the baggage train and cut down the escorts, but spare the civilian drivers (who might come in handy real soon).

What's this? Vickers' militia routs out of the East Woods and right into the lap of the British Legion cavalry, who promptly serve up some Tarleton's Quarter and cut them all down.
With the prisoners taken care of, Tarleton's cavalry escort the rebel baggage train to the rear. No doubt they have some looting in mind. Tarleton is in the background watching one of his squadrons skulk off to the rear. He is not happy.

Well, Phase 2, which covered the fight between the four militia regiments posted in the three woods and the British forces, did not have a happy ending for the Americans.

Two of their militia regiments (Ray's and Vickers') were routed or destroyed and the other two regiments (Hopkins' and Kent's) retired in good order back to Thickety Ridge, where Sevier's two Continental regiments were deployed.

The Fife & Drum rules administer a heavy penalty to troops without bayonets (such as militia) fighting troops with bayonets. And once the British player figured this little cookie out, he charged his infantry nearly every turn when he confronted militia troops. In a melee, the unit with bayonets needs a 9 or less on a D10 die to score a hit while the unit without bayonets can only score a hit on a 1 on a D10. In other words, it's nearly impossible for the British to not kill rebel militia in a melee, and it's nearly impossible for the militia to put any hits on the British infantry. So you can see why the militia started falling back or evading British charges.

That's where we will end the report for today. Phase 3, the final phase of the battle, will be posted later this week and tell the tale of the last stand of Colonel Sevier on Thickety Ridge. And we may also find out what happened to Captain Ray.