Friday, 7 November 2008
Long Island, 27 August 1776
I've found a way around Blogger's tinkering with photo uploads and so finally here is a report of last weekend's "British Grenadier!" mega-game. Many of the photos have already appeared on the web, but there are a couple of new ones . In all, we played 18 turns over some 10 hours. Apologies for the length of this post and feel free to skip to the end to see who won!
Long Island was the largest battle of the AWI and one of the best chances the British had to inflict upon Washington's army the kind of decisive defeat that may have ended the war. The British attack featured the wide flanking march that General Howe liked to use (cf also at Brandywine the following year), which aimed to catch the Americans in the flank whilst their front was pinned by another assault. The table, shown above at the start of the game, had the Brooklyn Lines at one end, with the left flank of the American position stretching down the Jamaica Road. The marshland of Gowanus Creek can be seen at the far end of the table to the right of the Brooklyn Lines. The lines themselves were specially made for the game by Martin Small. Eclaireur knocked up some nifty painted plasticard sections to represent the coastline and water. Below are a couple of early shots of Clinton's brigades beginning to advance.
Long Island is a fairly one-sided game as the British, with an overwhelming superiority in both numbers and calibre of troops, can't really lose. Therefore, for the purposes of this scenario, and to make it interesting for the American players, the victory conditions required the British to actually storm the Brooklyn Lines: to win, the British had to have at least 3 battalions in the lines by the end of the game. This assault on the lines themselves is something that Howe refused to do on the day - whether he was doing his "gentleman thing" and giving Washington the chance to surrender, or was wary of the casualties that might arise from a frontal assault given his experience at Bunker Hill the year before, we don't know. But the purpose of this scenario was to see whether the Brits could do it and storm the lines without incurring disproportionate casualties as they did at Bunker Hill. So there were two sectors to the battle - the frontal assault led by the Hessian general von Heister and the flank assault led by Clinton. Von Heister had a brigade of Hessians and two brigades of British line (under the commands of Grant and Agnew). Clinton had much of the army's elite, namely Cornwallis' brigade of the 71st (in 3 battalions) and 33rd, together with light infantry and dragoons under the command of Brigadier Leslie (I took this brigade and the role of Clinton). The American army was a jumble of militia, Continentals and state troops, inferior in quality in theory but full of pluck, as the Brits were to discover.
There were some minor alterations to the historical orbats. The 4th grenadier battalion and one of the reserve brigades were detached from Clinton's command and given to the British centre (a shrewd move as it happened). The Americans had the benefit of additional brigades behind the Brooklyn Lines, which quickly moved out to bolster the lines of defence.
The first encounter was between von Heister's units (commanded by Jerry Taylor) and the American positions directly in front of the Brooklyn lines. The fighting was fierce and Brigadier Grant (Ally Morrison) was captured early on when his horse bolted straight into the Yank lines. The Hessians slowly made ground but took fairly heavy casualties. Meantime, Clinton's flanking attack quickly stalled due to poor dice rolling (i.e. accumulating "disruption points") and general congestion on the one road into Brooklyn. Clinton's reserve units never saw combat for the entire duration of the game, as they remained stuck behind the forward elements and couldn't get themselves into position. Clinton's attack was held up by an incredible rearguard defence by the Connecticut militia, which saw off numerous charges by the 71st and 33rd, one battalion of the former actually routing off the field. Cornwallis himself was hit and spent one turn off the field.
Von Heister's slow success in pushing back the Americans was not matched by Clinton and the American units blocking the road to Brooklyn soon found themselves with Von Heister's lead units to their rear. The situation became very messy and confused and one wonders whether the Americans' success on their left actually put them in a worse position strategically- instead of slowly contracting their line, the Americans found forward units surrounded or receiving fire from different directions. Von Heister was racing his regiments forward as fast and aggressively as he could, with the result that a couple of battalions reached the Brooklyn Lines whilst American units were still engaged in the passes.
The Connecticut militia continued to withstand attacks by Cornwallis' finest (despite being largely cut off and having seen the rest of its brigade destroyed) . Eventually, in the second turn of the second day, a charge by the 17th Light Dragoons routed them and succeeded where the 71st had failed. This was my only moment of personal glory, when in the post-charge melee Martin Small rolled a double-six for the militia only for me to then roll the same for the 17th (so winning the melee thanks to the modifiers). In true "Scots Greys" style, the dragoons failed to rally and kept on charging into the American units behind the militia, which were already taking flanking fire from the British Guards brigade, now moving into position on the heights overlooking Brooklyn. The 17th charged on and their success resulted in the American brigade in the area collapsing and so freed up the entire left wing for Clinton to finally move forward. By this point, the American units in von Heister's sector were retreating back to the Brooklyn lines, with British regiments hot on their heels. The first British units to assault the lines were quickly thrown out. A second attack by the units on Vaughan's grenadiers brigades was initially more sucessful, but ultimately the grenadiers also had to withdraw. In the meantime, the British had concentrated their artillery into a grand battery that was pumelling the Brooklyn Lines.
By this point, some 8 British battalions were poised to assault the lines and "time" was called. It seemed clear that the British would be able to satisfy their victory conditions and the game was concluded. The final reckoning was a victory for the British. British losses were about 1740, which would normally be about 500-600 dead and the rest wounded/missing.
American losses were twice that and using the same ratio were about 1300 dead and 2640 wounded/missing. Had the British continued storming the Brooklyn Lines the casualties would have been more even, but large numbers of American prisoners would have been taken. The Connecticut militia had held up the British flanking attack long enough for some American units to escape back to Brooklyn when they would otherwise have been caught in the British pincer, and had managed to rout a British battalion in the process. Would Howe have won the war in 1776 had he assaulted the Brooklyn lines? We will never know for sure, but maybe....
Some further random shots of the battle are below. People sometimes accuse "British Grenadier!" of being a slow and frustrating set to use. Certainly disruptions points slow down a brigade's ability to attack, but that's why they are there - you have to think hard and plan your attacks. We took on the largest battle of the war, involving some 60 battalions and reached a conclusion in about 10 hours of play. That ain't bad!