Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Battle of Clear Lake

The Embarrassing Little Affair at Clear Lake

Pre-Battle Narrative

While the main armies were contending with each other west of Mount Vernon, the commander of the Allied forces at Sedro Wooley nursed his grievances. His part in The Plan had been clear, he was to occupy Sedro Wooley. He had done so. That he had been a day later than expected, that his troops had marauded through friendly territory, that the enemy had gotten away from Sedro Wooley and broken the bridge south of town, those weren't his concerns. He had done what he had been ordered to do. Was that any reason to take troops away from him?

He had just been ordered to send virtually all of his troops back to the main army, but he had been specifically ordered to stay in Sedro Wooley. From being a column commander with an important and difficult role in the campaign, he had been reduced to an outpost commander lacking enough troops to even defend his own front. He felt the injustice keenly. And he resolved to do something about it. If he forced his way over the Skagit River at Sedro Wooley, and planted himself firmly astride the enemy line of supply, he would have won the campaign in a single blow. And if his Commander bungled his operations around the fringes of the Sound, as he suspected was all too likely to happen, then the only logical replacement would be the enterprising officer at Sedro Wooley who had performed brilliantly despite being hampered by his superior.

He studied the maps of the area, finally finding a ford well upstream of Sedro Wooley at the very small town of Hamilton. He would march upstream to Hamilton, force a crossing if necessary, then march on old roads down to Clear Lake. From there it would be a short two mile walk to put himself firmly astride the enemy line of supply. He pondered the risk, then issued orders. If he moved fast, he could accomplish this before anyone realized what he was up to.

The French commander opposite Sedro Wooley was the commander of the Spanish Aquaviva Dragoons, Colonel Don Juan de Amore Apropriado (a gallant Spanish gentleman). He had his men constantly patrolling between the bridge at Sedro Wooley and Mount Vernon. He even had a few enterprising men slipping across the river every night to keep tabs on the Allied camps. So it was no surprise when the Allied infantry suddenly drew three days of rations and were seen in the evening light to be filing east from Sedro Wooley.

He pondered crossing the river and seizing the town. But the Allies had left a battalion behind, more force than he could evict with a handful of dragoons. He considered other options. The Allies were clearly up to something. They could be going upriver to Concrete, but why? There were three possibilities: first, they could be going to exact contributions of food from the up-valley people; second, they could be part of an elaborate feint designed to draw the dragoons out of position; or, third, the Allied commander could be trying to outflank the dragoons and force a crossing of the river.

These all made sense, though he thought #3 was a bit of a reach. But he could send patrols up the river on the French side and see what was going on. He had no doubts they could move fast enough to get ahead of the Allies. After all, his men were mounted, the Allies were on foot. And, further, he was only sending patrols, not an entire marching column.

An hour after the first Allied soldier started east, patrols of the Aquaviva Dragoons slipped eastward into the darkened hills to shadow them.

At midnight the situation changed. Allied infantry swarmed across the ford at Hamilton and formed up on the south side of the Skagit river. After some confusion, guides found the right roads, and the men marched southwest. When the last troops were across, the Allied commander ordered a halt to let the men rest. Dawn was still a couple of hours off, and he used the time to consult with his guides. By the map he still had 12 miles to go, 12 miles of rugged mountain marching. He decided that he could make better time during the day, so he would wait until daylight before resuming.

Don Juan was now convinced that he had a real problem on his hands. He had at least 4,000 Allied troops bearing down on him, and the only help he could count on would be a few troops he might be able to coax out of Mount Vernon. He sent several couriers off to lay out the situation as he saw it, and plead for at least a battalion of infantry. But even if they marched the moment they received the message, the earliest they could possibly arrive would be mid-morning. In all likelihood they would be even later than that. Until then, everything was going to depend upon the weapons his men carried. In the predawn darkness he rode east and southeast, looking for good defensive terrain.

Dawn lit the sky, and the Allied commander got his men moving. He could hear a distant murmur from somewhere to the west; to his trained ear it sounded like an engagement of some kind. He dismissed it because there was nothing he could do to influence that battle. But secretly he was pleased. If there was a battle going on, it meant his commander had miscalculated in some way and had run in to the French troops. That could lead to all sorts of problems, possibly even a disaster. And if a disaster happened, who could they turn to but the officer who had succeeded when everyone else had failed?

Don Juan found the right battlefield for his dragoons in the woods southeast of Clear Lake. His right flank was protected by a lake. His left flank was open, but the woods he was in were very thick and the ground was steep. He was on slightly rising ground with a stream to his front and clear communications to the rear. The road the enemy was using ran right through his position. It was better than anything else his men had found. He issued orders, and the men began throwing up a hasty little breastwork, just a few logs and bundles of limbs piled one on the other so they had some protection. After all, he had just a few hundred dragoons against 4,000 infantry, and he needed every advantage he could get.

The hours crawled by, and the Allied infantry struggled towards Clear Lake. The sounds of battle to the west grew sharper and sharper, then finally dying away. The Allied commander began to worry about his holding troops out of that fight. But if he could seize the crossing at Sedro Wooley, it would negate whatever mistakes his superior had made. He stressed that to his officers. Heartened, they urged their men on.

Contact was finally made just after noon. The Allied force came marching up the road towards Clear Lake with just a few pickets out in front. The men crossed the creek by a small bridge and started up the slope. As they did so, all hell broke loose.

Referee's Notes

This was done as a mini-campaign while the main battle at Fredonia was raging to the west. See the map to the right. The Allies were approaching from the right edge of the map, and the Dragoons were deployed behind the line of breastworks running vertically on the map. The lake is just off the lower edge of the map, but the ground between the end of the breastworks and lake is very steep and filled with fallen trees.

The campaign system was right out of Charles Grant, though the scouting system was from On to Richmond. The trouble is, one commander sent out patrols, the other commander didn't (guess which one). The Allied commander, who was treating it like a board game, walked into an ambush. He had three linear regimental stands, and was facing an enemy of unknown size in a draw. He had neglected to do any scouting, so he had no idea what he might be walking into, or what force he was facing in front of him. When he did make contact, the odds were against him.
He had thick woods and a stream to cross, going uphill. Admittedly it was against skirmishers, but the situation did not look good. His men were piled up behind him, and it would take time to sort everything out and get a proper attack going. Add some mishandling of troops, and the situation was one that could get out of hand in a hurry.

Game Narrative Resumes

12:00 turn

Allied phase The leading Allied unit, Van Kofferdam, moves into contact with the French dragoons, stopping when contact was made (per the rules they may not be in contact, so stop ½" away).

French phase French troops advance and melee Van Kofferdam. Morale - Van Kofferdam fails, being disordered by the woods and in march column. Allies throw 1 die, hitting nothing. The French throw and cause a hit. Van Kofferdam, being already disordered, routs, running back through the other two units and pushing them back, and causing a disorder on each.

1:00 turn

Allied phase The Allied commander decides to deploy. Everyone has a disorder on them, the lead regiment, Van Kofferdam, is routed. He rallies them. At the end of the turn everyone is deployed with disorder on them. The Allied commander isn't sure what is in front of him (he neglected to study the listing of enemy uniforms he had). He decides to find out by simply marching up to it. That will happen next turn as he sorts through the traffic jam.

French phase The French sit in their hasty works and crack jokes at the Allied expense.

2:00 turn

Allied phase Grosch advances up the road, now deployed for battle. They stop just in front of the French works, and open fire. A 3, they miss. The Dragoons fire back. A 6, a possible hit. The Allied player rolls a saving roll, and fails it, a definite hit.

French phase French sit in their hasty works and hope their reinforcements show up. They shoot, and miss. The Allied return fire misses.

3:00 turn

Allied phase Advance to melee! The Allied infantry is already disordered, and attacking the French in their hasty works in the woods. They check morale. A 4, a failure. They are already disordered, so they rout. The French check morale: a 2, they're happy as can be.

French phase Even though the urge to smash the Allies is there, the French commander keeps in mind that he has skirmishers against formed line. He stays in his works and waves his flags defiantly. His only positive action is to send yet another courier off, pleading for help.

4:00 turn

Allied phase This isn't getting anyone anywhere. He has two units with permanent disorders on them and has lost 2 SP with nothing to show for it. He sends Amstel to his right to outflank this position. They can only move at half speed, so this will take a while. In the mean time he pushes Van Kofferdam back into musket range of the French to pin them in place. He fires, hitting nothing, but neither do the French with their return fire.

French phase As expected, here comes the flanking maneuver. Well, it was a nice little fight. But it will be at least next turn, maybe the one after that before the Allies can do anything (the woods and the hill makes them move 3" per turn.). With nothing else to do, he fires. A 4, nothing. The Allies return fire, also a 4. Nothing.

5:00 turn

Allied phase Ponderously the Amstel wheels so they can charge the French in the flank. In the meantime the desultory fighting over the hasty works continues with no hits on either side.

French phase Sunset is at 7 p.m. The French commander knows he can't stay here, but he is sure he can keep the Allies amused until 7 p.m. by falling back and making a new fight. Reluctantly he pulls his men out of his works and marches west. He doesn't mount up.

6:00 turn

Allied phase At last! They're gone! Amstel occupies the hasty works and presses west. They see the French occupying the hamlet of Clear Lake, but can't get to them to engage them. They also see two battalions of blue-clad infantry, the medium blue favored by the German infantry in French service, not the dark blue worn by the Germans in Allied service. That changes things. Clearly the opportunity is gone. The Allied commander fails to notice that the way is clear for him to march north to the bridge at Sedro Wooley. Instead, he turns his men around, picks up what wounded he can, and falls back.

French phase Don Juan was never so happy as he was the moment he saw the first infantryman from the 2/2nd Germans show up. He mounts his men and pulls back behind the Germans. Everyone has seen the Allies pull back, but nobody knows if this means they will resume their attack in the morning, or if they are conceding defeat.

7:00 turn

Allied phase The Allied commander puts his men into column and marches east, back the way he came. Stragglers lose themselves in the woods. He won the engagement, sort of, well, he held the field of battle. That has to count for something. He marches 2 miles, and then camps. He decides he will cross the river in the morning. In the mean time he will have plenty of time to compose his report on this reconnaissance in force. Yes, that's what it was. Just probing the enemy's positions on the south side of the river. And somewhere, in the paperwork, he'll muddy the trail on his losses.

French phase The French send a few patrols to keep an eye on the Allies. Everyone else makes camp and starts telling stories about their bravery during the day. One troop of dragoons marches back to the broken bridge at Sedro Wooley to remind the Allies who owns this side of the river.

Orders of Battle:


Aquaviva Dr ..........M5,EFD,PT,SK [ ]

2/2nd Germans ........M5,PT,NE,EFD [ ][ ] unengaged


Van Kofferdam ........M5,PT,EP,BN [x][x][ ]

Grosch ...............M5,PT,EP,BN [x][x][ ]

Amstel ...............M5,PT,EP,BN [ ][ ][ ]

key: x = casualty


French losses were insignificant ("an officer reported an epaulet shot off").

Allied losses. On paper the Allies lost 4 SP, which works out as 1,000 men. As the French did not follow up, the referee ruled they recovered 50% of their losses and all of their routed. Their net loss was 250 men out of Grosch and 250 out of Van Kofferdam. Both regiments initially lost their regimental guns, but as the French did not follow up, they stopped and collected them as they retreated.

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This was a nice little "affair" that was a sideshow from the main action happening a few miles to the west. It was a frustrating day for the Allied commander. He wasn't sure how much he had opposing him. He compounded it by not scouting, and walked into an ambush, which cost him one regiment (don't play against a late modern era gamer who knows the rules, and, more importantly, understands how to do an ambush). He then got his second regiment bloodied, though in fairness, with line troops against skirmisher he had a good chance to win that one (the breastworks made the difference, otherwise it's no contest).

It was just bad luck on his part. Then, having tried to bull his way through, he now sought to outflank the position. Again, a pretty good idea. But the trouble was, he was in heavy woods on broken ground, which reduced his movement to 3" per turn.

He had a time limit and he just couldn't get it done in the time. When he saw the regiment of infantry deploying in front of him, he stopped. His command wasn't exhausted, but they were close. And he would be disordered, with cavalry (he wasn't sure they were dragoons as he did not know the enemy uniforms; he saw mounted people and that was enough) on his flank. It was better to call it off, cut his losses, and leave. One thing I did ask him, and, no, he never thought of putting two regiments side by side and trying to bull through.

The French player was very happy with the whole thing. He had lucked out in the one serious attempt at combat, but wasn't going to complain. This was a much better end to the whole thing than he'd thought it would be.

Final notes: the mini-campaign part took 30 minutes to do; the battle took about 20 minutes to do. If I had it to do over again I might try a different scale. But maybe not. This one worked pretty well as it was.

1 comment:

abdul666 said...

A pleasant, brisk little affair!