A Break From the War of 1812

 

Lights at BladensburgI did it.  All the figures for Bladensburg are done.  I’m freeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

What does it mean?  Project done.  Really, that’s very cool.  I live for projects and when I finish one it’s very exciting because  I can move on to something else.  The real challenge is to stay focused on something long enough to finish it.  Since May, all I’ve painted is 28mm War of 1812.  I’ve completed three American units and four British units, totaling about 225 figures. It’s time to move on. I hoped to have these done by the end of October, and look it’s Halloween.

The 85th Regiment is 48 figures, twelve stands.  If I was to extend out the 24 half bases, it would be 36 inches wide.  These are Old Glory figures, traditional, metal 28's

The 85th Regiment is 48 figures, twelve stands. If I was to extend out the 24 half bases, it would be 36 inches wide. These are Old Glory figures, traditional, metal 28’s

I’m probably not going to be quite so disciplined moving forward.  I have some Hundred Years War figures I’m working on, as well as some 28mm Spanish for my War with Spain project.  I have a dozen French knights primed and about half finished.  They’ll contribute to the vanguard division at Poitiers.  I also have the remaining 25 or so figures remaining to paint for the Louisiana Regiment for the Spaniards, and I hope to be done with them in November.

This small unit of converged light infantry is composed of Victrix figures.  They were much easier to work with on the smaller bases.  They actually look kinda nice.

This small unit of converged light infantry is composed of Victrix figures. They were much easier to work with on the smaller bases. They actually look kinda nice.

My goal is to continue working on both these projects until Christmas break.  Sounds like a long time but November 1st is Friday.  Not such a long time.  Then I’ll have to go back to Bladensburg as I ready some terrain pieces and begin play testing.

November is going to be an important gaming month for me.  This weekend, November 2nd is our annual visit to the Museum of Flight.  We won’t be under the SR-71 this year due to a scheduling glitch.  We’re going to be in the Space Center, near the Space Shuttle simulator.  Should be fun.  I’ll be running air racing in the morning and then bombing the Tirpitz in the afternoon with Dave Schueler.

Two weeks later we’re at the Flying Heritage Center in Everett. We reached an agreement with that air museum to host at least one event in their unique space.  I’ll post pictures from both events as we work through them.

Bladensburg and the myth of the rockets

The Battle of Bladensburg was fought under a blazing sun on August 24, 1814. It was a river port town on the East Branch of Potomac River and lies in a valley between two commanding heights to the north and south.  I had the good fortune to visit Bladensburg twice, in 2004 and again in 2012.  It is still a quiet Maryland town that’s seen better days just outside the District of Columbia.  But in 1814 it was a bustling commercial town with warehouses alongside the river trading tobacco, like many other river towns in the Tidewater region.

By the end of of August 1814, many of the waterborne defenses to Washington and Baltimore were gone.  Joshua Barney’s fleet of row gunboats were in ashes.  The naval and land forces commanded by Rear Admiral Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross determined to capture Washington and inflict a humiliating defeat on President James Madison’s government.

Writers across two centuries have spilled many words about the battle that became known as the Bladensburg Races–to denote the speed American militia displayed in departing the battlefield.  My first exposure to this humiliating American defeat came when, as a boy, I read Robert Leckie’s Wars of America, volume 1.  In that book, the journalist historian noted that the American militia were overcome with fear when British rocket troops fired their unreliable missiles at the American defenders and simply fled.  Leckie noted that not even the Zulus at Insandlwana showed more than contempt for these primitive projectiles.

Down through the ages we’ve bought into the notion that the Americans, despite their superior numbers and defensive dispositions, were driven off by a bunch of over-sized skyrockets. Wrong.  Though the Americans held highly defensible ground, their poor dispositions and their lack of training combined with superb British qualities of fire and movement  to doomed the American defense and the nation’s capital. Rocket fire was just a marachino cherry on the sundae.

Ragan's and Schutz's regiments of Maryland militia.  That they are un-uniformed represents their general lack of preparedness for action.

Ragan’s and Schutz’s regiments of Maryland militia. That they are un-uniformed represents their general lack of preparedness for action.

First, let’s take a look at the numbers involved in the battle. The Americans numbered some 7, 000 troops, while the British totaled about 4,400.  In addition, the Americans had 18 guns on the battlefield from 6- to 18 pounds, the British had only three light guns that arrived late, plus the 60 or so inaccurate rocket launchers. In game terms the differences become more stark.  The Americans have 72 stands of infantry and 10 sections of artillery.  The British have considerably fewer troops and guns: 54 bases and one section of artillery, plus three sections of rockets.

However, when we break down the armies in terms of quality a vast difference appears between the British and Americans:

Rating/Quality      British bases     American Bases

Elite                        18                        0

Veteran                  35                       9

Trained                    3                       15

Raw                          0                       48

With the exception of Barney’s naval guns, all the American artillery is raw.  Raw troops, infantry or artillery, are likely to shoot poorly, move more slowly and panic under stress. Elite and veteran units are more likely to move faster, accept casualties and shoot better. Add to this, the high quality of the British commanders, the poor quality of the American commanders and the British are much better disposed to move quickly under fire and take advantage of poor American troops.

Though the Americans outnumbered and outgunned the Brits, it’s instructive to examine the battlefield and the American positions.

The battlefield is pie-shaped, with the Americans fighting in depth.  The British enter the field across a bridge at the apex of the pie.

A re-run of the Muller map clearly shows the Americans’ position.  The Light Brigade marched straight up the Washington Road, while Brooks’ Brigade works around the American left flank.  Though Barney’s third line inflicted casualties on Thornton’s advance across Turncliffe’s Bridge, they were doomed when Brook’s advanced against his flank from the Georgetown Road.

The American defense is divided between three non-supporting positions.  Facing the bridge over the East Branch are Pinkney’s three stands of raw militia riflemen and three sections of 6-lb artillery behind a poorly constructed earthwork.  Directly behind them, out of supporting musket range is Stansbury’s Maryland militia 23 stand of mostly raw troops and two stands of raw artillery.

The British had to cross a narrow bridge over the East Branch of the river and go through or around the Americans.  However, there were 37 stands of high quality troops to oppose them.  Historically, the light brigade attacked and was driven into the town by heavy fire.  However, when Brooks’ brigade came up in support, they recrossed the bridge and formed skirmish order while Brooks’ brigade moved quickly around the American left flank to the Georgetown Road.  Outflanked and outnumbered, and probably peppered by the annoying rockets, the raw American troops bolted, running away down the Georgetown Road.

It’s unlikely the British even saw the American third line forming on the hillside south of Stansbury’s position.  Eventually Winder would assemble his best troops, Barney’s flotillamen and Miller’s Marines along with semi-trained regulars and raw militia on the high ground blocking the Washington Road.  The Americans 37 stands, mostly raw troops and five sections of artillery held back the Light Brigade for a time, but were flanked out of their positions by Brooks swinging around their left from the Georgetown Road.

American defenses crumbled, despite stubborn resistance by Barney’s troops, and the Americans retreated down the Washington Road.  The road to the capital was wide open.

The British won the Battle of Bladensburg, but the rockets played a very minor role.  The Americans lost because their troops were of generally poor quality, and their disposition was such that their opponents were  were able to fight the Americans in small packets that gave the British qualitative and quantitative superiority against each of the three American lines.

A quick look at the Bladensburg battlefield

I borrowed the map from Charles Muller’s excellent book The Darkest Day so the reader could suffer along with me as I plot some of the challenges of gaming Bladensburg.

The American dispositions require a fairly deep table.  I’m going to try to cram it all on to a 7 1/2′ X 8′ table.

The British enter at the apex of a trianglular road net and must cross the bridge over the East Branch of the Potomac River (the Anacostia.)  Facing the bridge withing a foot will be three sections of artillery and three stands of militia riflemen.  Fifteen inches behind  them are three large battalions of militia infantry and more guns, filling the triangle between the Georgetown and Washington roads before climbing the hill to face the second American position manned by Joshua Barney’s sailors, a few Marines and a host of raw militia.

The challenge is to allow enough space for the British units to maneuver on both sides of the Washington and Georgetown roads and not have them slaughtered by the superior numbers of American cannon. Another challenge is to factor in the poor quality of the American militia, without having them vanish at the drop of a hat.

The battlefield is pie-shaped, with the Americans fighting in depth.  The British enter the field across a bridge at the apex of the pie.

The battlefield is pie-shaped, with the Americans fighting in depth. The British enter the field across a bridge at the apex of the pie.

A Bladensburg OOB

Believe it or not I’m just a few short steps from the finish line on completing my Bladensburg painting.  I may try to make some terrain pieces: possibly some warehouses for Bladensburg town, and a second wooden bridge for the second crossing over the ravine on the Washington D.C. road.  Pictures will follow soon.

Late last week I took a night off from painting and put together an Order of Battle for Regimental Fire and Fury.  It’s my plan to use these rules for our Enfilade game.  Mark used them successfully for Crysler’s Farm and I’ve run Hobkirk’s Hill using these rules. In any case here is what I came up with. Incidentally, Osprey will be issuing a battle book on the Chesapeake Campaign of 1813-14, so I’ll be interested to see if they come up with some numbers.

The Americans have a superior tactical position to the British and vastly outnumber them in artillery.  However, most of the troops, including the guns, are raw, which is a minus both to fire and morale. The British Army is very good, and though they must cross the lower bridge under fire, maneuver quickly, and must take advantage of their superior mobility.  I’ll post a map and some pictures soon.

Americans

C in C General Winder-poor

Pinckney’s Command-poor

Pinckney ‘s Rifles (3 stands)

3/-/2  Raw

Myer and Magruder’s  Maryland artillery

Three  sections light guns-raw

Doughty’s Rifles (smoothbore armed)

3/-/2  Raw

Doughty begins the scenario as independent and must move out of command

Stansbury’s  Brigade-able

5th Maryland  Militia Regt.

9/7/5     Trained

Schutz’s  Maryland Miliitia

7/6/5 Raw

Ragan’s Maryland Militia

7/6/5  Raw

Burch’s Maryland Artillery

Two sections light guns-raw

Winder Arrives with reinforcements on turn one

Scott’s Regulars

6/5/3 Trained

Joshua Barney-Gallant

Miller’s  Marines

3/-/1  Veteran

Barney’s  Flotillamen

6/4/2  Veteran

Barney’s Naval Artillery

One section siege gun, one section heavy gun (move as siege guns)

Turn three arrival

Magruder’s  Brigade–poor

Beal’s Annapolis Militia

6/5/4  Raw

Morrison’s Annapolis Militia

6/5/4  Raw

Kramer’s  Maryland Militia

4/-/3  Raw

Peter’s District artillery

Three sections light guns-raw

Turn four arrival

Smith’s District Brigade—poor

Waring’s  Battalion

4/-/3  Raw

Stull’s  Battalion

4/-/3  Raw

Maynard’s Battalion

4/-/3  Raw

1.        Pinckney’s command  begins behind an earthwork 8” in front of the lower bridge across the Anacostia River.  Myer and Magruder’s  artillery may not fire at targets closer than 4” because their embrasures were poorly constructed.

2.       Stansbury’s  command was recently placed in “improved” positions by Secretary of State Monroe and may not advance until turn seven, or unless personally led by General Winder

3.       Magruders Brigade and Smith’s Brigade may not deploy if they are outside Winder’s command radius

British Order of Battle

Commander in Chief

General Ross-Gallant

Thornton’s Light Brigade-Gallant

Converged Light Infantry

6/4/2  Elite

85th Regiment

12/8/5  Elite

Marine Light Infantry

3/-/1  Veteran

 

Arriving turn 2

2nd Brigade-Brooks-Able

4th Regiment

8/5/3  Veteran

44th Regiment

8/5/3  Veteran

Royal Marine and Royal Artillery Rocket troops

Three sections rocket artillery

 Arriving turn 5

3rd Brigade-Patterson-Able

21st Regiment

8/5/3  Veteran

3rd Battalion Royal Marines

8/5/3  Veteran

Colonial Marines

3/2/1  Trained

One section light artillery

Turn one begins with the Light Brigade in march column attempting to force the bridge crossing over the Anacostia.  Turn three, the British can discover the ford guarded by Doughty’s pitiful unrifled riflemen.

Plodding toward the finish line

The 44th Regiment waits to be mounted and flagged.  There is an extra stand not quite finished in the middle of my painting sticks.

The 44th Regiment waits to be mounted and flagged. There is an extra stand not quite finished in the middle of my painting sticks.

I’ve been working on just my Bladensburg project since May.  With so many other things I want to do, it’s beginning to feel a little like the Chinese water torture.  Even though I seem to have acquired the September version of this year’s school-directed biological warfare, I’ll likely drag myself into my den for an hour or so painting.  Why?  So I can be free, of course.

I whine, I fuss, I whine and I fuss, but I have been productive.  Here’s what I have painted since Enfilade:

Two-24 figure un-uniformed battalions of Baltimore militia:     48 figures

One-48 figure British light Infantry battalion (85th Bucks L.I.): 48 figures

Three-32 figure British line infantry  (4th, 21st and 44th regts.) 96 figures

This weekend, all things being equal, I will finish Scott’s battalion of U.S. regulars (elements of 12th, 36th, and 38th regts.) 24 figures.

That will leave 24 more of the evil Victrix Brits to assemble and paint, and seven mounted British commanders by Old Glory.  All that will remain of Bladensburg is the playtesting and some terrain making.

Scott's regulars are nearly finished.  I'll probably put an hour or so into painting them tonight, sick or not.

Scott’s regulars are nearly finished. I’ll probably put an hour or so into painting them tonight, sick or not.

On the positive side of all this, I’ve always wanted to do Bladensburg.  Sheer distance between Surrey and Puyallup makes it difficult to playtest it effectively sharing figs with Doug, and it’s a damn fiddly game if the British are to have a chance.  So I’m excited to have the whole kit and kaboodle under my own roof.  Needless to say, when, it’s all over I’ll have painted 225+ figures toward completing the project as well.

The Bladensburg Report: Three down, three to go

The 4th Regiment and the 21st Regiment are both blue-faced line infantry units that served at Bladensburg.

The 4th Regiment and the 21st Regiment are both blue-faced line infantry units that served at Bladensburg.

Today is the official beginning of school, though I’ve spent a lot of time at Emerald Ridge for the past couple of weeks.  It’s been a busy summer, with a month of solid preparation for J-camp and the week of camp itself, plus the time devoted to painting the house, moving furniture for the re-done flooring and all the silliness that goes with that.

Even so, I made lots of time for painting figures.  My goal was to get the big light infantry battalion finished and at least two of the three line battalions at Bladensburg done.  Voila, I have accomplished that. Below are pictures of the 4th and 21st Regiments, each at 32 figures.

The 4th (Kings) Regiment.  Flag is from Warflags.  Staff is a North Star 200mm lance with the cords snatched from the Victrix standard bearer.

The 4th (Kings) Regiment. Flag is from Warflags. Staff is a North Star 200mm lance with the cords snatched from the Victrix standard bearer.

They are the two of four units created with Victrix figures for the battle.  I am working on the third, the 44th Regiment, also with 32 figures.  A smaller unit, a converged light infantry unit will follow.  The lights aren’t assembled yet, which I am sure will take most of an evening to do.

Just a final critique of the Victrix figs, and then I’ll shuddup about them already.  Basing them is not a pleasure.  I tried to arrange them on their little 40mm square piece of heaven so that they’d resemble a firing line, sort of.  Unfortunately, getting the firing figures to shoot sort of directly forward is impossible, so they are all facing about 22 degrees to their right, as though they were firing at a stag running directly across their front.  The bases, on pretty sizable rectangles, often have to be twisted a bit in order to get everyone moving in sort of the same direction.  The whole lot seems pretty disorganized for a well trained unit. Chalk it up to lessons learned.

21st (Royal North British Fusiliers) Regiment.  Had a difficult time with the lighting, which makes it see a bit like the lights of heaven are shining.

21st (Royal North British Fusiliers) Regiment. Had a difficult time with the lighting, which makes it see a bit like the lights of heaven are shining.

So I have two more British units to finish for the battle, and then one remaining unit, an American line infantry unit of 24 figures to complete for the battle.  After that it’s a few British generals and I want to re-do my rocket batteries before taking the winter to playtest a few times.  I’m shooting for no later than Thanksgiving to have the lot finished, perhaps much earlier.

One big damn unit: The 85th Regiment

48 figures in 12 stands means a frontage of 18" . Double that when in extended order.

48 figures in 12 stands means a frontage of 18″ . Double that when in extended order.

In my Bladensburg summer I’ve focused on painting some British regiments.  First on the list was the 85th Regiment, (Buck’s Volunteers) light infantry.  For a Regimental Fire and Fury game it’s  enormous, with 12 bases to represent it’s thousand man stated strength.

These are Old Glory 28 mm British Light Infantry figures.  They are painted more or less straight out of bag.  The figures aren’t terribly imaginative, but they are relatively easy to paint.  The main color is Vallejo Vermillion, a color I like very much for it’s brightness, without getting too light or too orange. and then washed with Ceramcoat Moroccan Red.  I always add some Liquitex Matt medium to break the tension to the paint and water mixture.  I add just a tiny bit of Charcoal Gray to darken it and then wash it on with a big brush.  The trousers are Ceramcoat Quaker Gray, again, washed with Charcoal Gray.

If I have a complaint about the miniatures at all, it is that they are quite weak at the ankles.  It’s important to be careful as you’re straightening them out.  Otherwise they’re pretty easy cheesy.

The 85th was one of Wellington’s veteran units sent to America in 1814.  It was the chief unit in the leading light brigade at Bladensburg, along with a small battalion of converged light companies, and an even smaller battalion of Royal Marine Light Infantry.  Together the three units took the brunt of fire at Bladensburg while crossing the lower branch of the Potomac River in the face of entrenched cannon and militia.  They quickly moved to the flank of Pinckney’s Marylanders, setting them to flight before moving on to Stansbury’s Baltimore brigade. Absolutely one of the vandals that burned Washington, they were quite heroic on the battlefield.