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.


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.

A view toward 2014

It’s now post-Enfilade and time to begin looking toward what I may have on the docket for next year.  Yes, I know it seems early, but I’m heading into summer vacation, my most productive time of year, and I really am a planner. So here are a couple of ideas for the convention

Director again. I’m going to take on the role of Enfilade director one last time.  My goal was to continue on with the people we have in place and find successors willing to take on the jobs for at least three years 2015-17, and I’ve done that with Dave and Lloyd of Astoria.  My other goal is to extend our contract if at all possible at the Red Lion so Dave and Lloyd don’t have to worry about dealing with it during their tenure.  That’s still up in the air but we may have some information soon.

Those are the big picture items I have my eye on, but the small picture is determining how my duties will affect my game-running role at the convention.  Usually I’m involved with four or so games and I can see a fistful of games I’d like to do, but I definitely have some commitments for the War of 1812 bicentennial.  They may take up all the time I have to run stuff at the con.

Bladensburg and beyond.  By agreement I’m hosting the Battle of Bladensburg, the action outside the District of Columbia that led to the burning of the capital in 1814. I’m painting Brits and Americans, which I’m happy to do.  I just finished painting the last of the four British Marine units that show up in the third wave of British troops that make their appearance. My chief task is to paint the three British line units (Victrix plastic figures) and massive light infantry battalion present at the battle.  I also have an American line unit and  one more unit of Maryland militia.  Ideally I need to have these figures finished by the first of the year, so I have some time to try out a playtest or two leading up to the battle. The Americans outnumber the Brits, but not by a huge amount, and the Brits definitely have the not stupid and unit quality factors on their side. 

Mark is also hosting Sackett’s Harbor and Doug is waffling about hosting Chippewa.  I may get tied into these games as well.  Or not.  Still 11+ months to go to see what happens.

Hero of Weehawken. This is the name of a solo board game on the Burr conspiracy.  But I was thinking that maybe there was an interesting way to make it a multi-player miniatures game.  I’m hoping I can talk Daveshoe into helping me craft something with varying victory conditions per player as Burr, commanding a force of loyal militia followers as American regulars under a loyal commander, American regulars under say, James Wilkinson, and Spanish forces close in on him.  I probably wouldn’t have to paint many more figures to make it work, and there could be enough choices to make it really interesting.

Hydroplane racing.  I would really like to run Thunderboats at Enfilade again.  I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the game and it would give me a reason to finish the nine boats I have.  I’ve already decided on a design for the JagWire boat in Emerald Ridge colors–my own fantasy boat using the old hulls.  It’ll take some research and work to put together my picklefork fleet.

Just some thoughts going forward.

Book Review: Flotilla-The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812

The campaign in Chesapeake Bay that resulted in the disastrous burning of Washington in August of 1814 and the abortive attack on Baltimore a month later is not without its chroniclers.  Walter Lord wrote a classic account, followed by more recent accounts that garnered regional interest by Anthony Pitch and Christopher George.  All paint pretty much the same picture: a tidewater region wholly unprepared to defend itself suffered the depredations of the British for two long years resulting in the humiliation of the burning of the nation’s capital followed by the heroic stand at Fort McHenry.  When Dave Schueler alerted me that Naval Institute Press alerted me that Donald Shomette was scheduled to release a new book in 2009 on this topic, I resisted my typical urge to run out and buy a copy.  It’s take a while, but I finally borrowed Dave’s and finished reading it this week.

This image of Joshua Barney is circa 1800

In many ways Shomette tells the same story as Lord, Pitch and George.  If you’re looking for something uplifting about the conduct of the War of 1812 in the  Tidewater region, there just isn’t a lot to see here.  Well, that’s not true, there’s a nugget but only a nugget.  Amid the various incidents of the British Navy setting up camp on Tangier Island, raiding both shores of Virginia and Maryland, there is also the story of Joshua Barney and his flotilla of gunboats.  All the histories tell this story, but Shomette simply tells it better and more completely.  Shomette reports on the authorization of the two flotillas of gunboats authorized by Congress, and focuses on those under Barney’s command.  In addition, he shares the details of the little vessels’ construction and armament, as well as their fitting out problems.  Finally, Sholmette details the bottling up of Barney and his valiant, but tiny navy on the Patuxent River, the British navy’s effort to get at him, and the resulting battles at St. Leonard’s Creek and the Flotilla’s flight to Nottingham.

If this is what you’re looking for from this book, you’ll be pleased.  Unfortunately it consumes about a quarter of the book’s 355 pages.  Almost any history of the Chesapeake campaign must focus on the British.  Shomette also tells this story well.  By any standard, the war on the Chesapeake was hopeless.  The British had a vastly superior navy.  As it’s size grew, either by seizing local vessels, or reinforcements from home, it’s mission capabilities also grew.  In addition to deepwater ships of the line, frigates and sloops, the Brits were able to add vessels able to work in the shallow tidewaters and rivers, transporting raiding parties throughout the coastal region that carried off livestock, grain, tobacco and slaves, burned plantations and created general havoc and disaffection among the local landed classes. With the end of the Napoleon’s regime in France, elements of Wellington’s Peninsular army made their way to the Chesapeake and become the strike force that defeats the the American scratch force at Bladensburg and goes on to destiny in Washington D.C.

Shomette’s narrative is lively and offers considerable new information on Barney’s participation in the movements leading to Bladensburg.  Shomette’s account of Bladensburg may be the most thorough I’ve read.  The movements by all units leading to the battle, the political decisions made by American leaders until the battle, the fate of various American militia units and their unceremonious exits from the action, and Barney’s troops and their last stand are explained in more complete detail than other accounts.

Donald Shomette’s book is published by Naval Institute Press and is available from Amazon.com or the Naval Institute

Shomette’s book is a great addition to a War of 1812 library.  Though the narrative provides considerable context,this highly readable volume provides depth and fills in gaps to the body of work readily available to those seeking additional knowledge of the Chesapeake campaign.

My rating:  Five stars.