Saturday, December 6, 2008

Part 2 - The Fall Campaign

The Fall Campaign (continued)

The situation

The Allies are in a pretty mess. Their main army is retreating from the vicinity of Arlington, falling back in some disorder up Route 530. Only the Danes are still in the area, and they are marching north as fast as they can, accompanied by a host of stragglers, knocked loose from the ranks by the Battle of Arlington. There is a German regiment at MacMurray, one at Conway, and one holding the approaches to Fidalgo Island (one battalion) and blockading the very small garrison of Anacortes (with the other battalion). There is no field artillery (captured at Arlington), and the only cavalry is the Danish Cavalry regiment Bryggeri. Things couldn't get much bleaker.

Actually, they aren't. The Allied authorities in Bellingham and Vancouver found three more infantry regiments to send south, Leff, Palm, and VanZandunz. When coupled with the two of the three German regiments in the area, and the four Danish ones, a semi-respectable field force of 10 regiments, 12,000 men can be assembled (one German regiment will stay to watch Anacortes).

The Danish Commander Decides

The Danish Commander (the player who had commanded the Allies at Clear Lake) was the ranking officer in the area. He had a number of choices to make. When I asked, he listed them for me as these:

  1. Retreat everyone to Fidalgo Island;

  2. Mass in Burlington with the cavalry watching Sedro Wooley;

  3. Spread the troops around, two regiments at Conway, two regiments at the east end of the Mount Vernon Bridge to Fidalgo Island, two regiments north of Mount Vernon, and a detachment of some kind at Sedro Wooley.

I asked him for his decision. He asked my input. I told him that, speaking as the politicians, he should defend everything, or, failing that, he should mass everyone in Burlington to defend the approaches to Bellingham.
After some thought, he ordered Option #2:

  1. The Danes to retreat to Sedro Wooley, break the bridge, and move to Burlington, the cavalry would watch Sedro Wooley and fall back on Burlington if pressed;

  2. The Germans at MacMurray to join with the Danes;

  3. The Germans at Conway to stay where they were for one day, then to fall back to Fredonia if pressed or threatened;

  4. The Germans watching Anacortes and the approaches to Fidalgo Island to stay there;

  5. The Dutch regiments from Bellingham to march to Burlington.

His plan (when pressed) was to defend the direct route to Bellingham, and yet leave something to watch Anacortes. He figured that when things settled out, that place could still be taken. He also figured that any force that marched up the Skagit River to fight the Main Army would have its flank threatened by whatever he put at Sedro Wooley.

The French Pursuit

The French were trying to do a number of things:

  1. Pursue the beaten Allies toward Darrington;

  2. Round up the fragments of the Allied army (the Danes) headed north;

  3. Seize the road from Sedro Wooley to Concrete to trap the main Allied Army in the mountains;

  4. Seize Mount Vernon

The map here to the left will help sort out some of what everyone was considering. But keep in mind that the Allies had few supplies (and little ammunition), they had 83 miles of mountain marching from Arlington to Sedro Wooley, and they could expect to fight a battle at the end of it.

A few minutes of pondering these objectives will show that few of them are mutually exclusive. You have to have enough force to chase the Allies, and get enough force to Mount Vernon, and yet move fast enough to get to where you want to go, and.... The French Commander had already sent a force up the river after the Allies (1/1st and 2/1st Germans and the Spanish Atrasos Cavalry). He then ordered the following movements and dispositions:

  1. The bulk of the cavalry and the Aquaviva Dragoons to go to Mount Vernon to seize the bridge;

  2. After reaching Mount Vernon, one cavalry brigade to press up US 20 to find the Allies;

  3. Advance on two fronts:
    1. the Right Wing French to pursue the Danes. They will probably head directly for MacMurray and then Sedro Wooley. This force will attempt to bring them to battle and destroy them.

    2. The Left Wing to advance up the main road through Conway to Mount Vernon. They will try to seize the crossing over the Skagit at Mount Vernon, head-off the Danes, and, perhaps, snap up any of the German units in the area.

  4. The Spanish infantry to follow the right wing;

  5. The 3rd Germans to occupy Arlington, the 2nd Germans to occupy MacMurray.

The French commander concluded that these measures should be sufficient to bottle up the Allies and bag the whole lot.

The Allied Commander Ponders

The Allied Commander was in a bad situation, and he knew it (after a brief conversation with the referee). He had lost a lot of men and all of his field artillery, and he was trying to sort out what to do next. He had a force pursuing him, and he had very little in the way of supplies. Most of his wounded (except the walking wounded) had been captured, so the army he had left was mostly fit to fight (sort of). He had an 83 mile march ahead of him, on mountain roads with little food or supplies. And he knew the French would be waiting for him behind fixed defenses when he did show up. He didn't fancy making a series of frontal assaults on redoubts. It hadn't worked at Mount Vernon, why would anyone think it would work now? He studied the roads, trying to find a way out. The only one he could see was to continue to Concrete, then take US 20 over the mountains, and then turn north. The trouble was, assuming he did that, and assuming he could find the food, and assuming he could then either get far enough north as to get on a road that led him back to his bases (and that would avoid the bad weather, how much of an army would he have left? (Referee answer: none, but I didn't tell him that. I did tell him that it was 408 miles, and it was autumn, and let him draw his own conclusions). That meant he had to try something else. He weighed the possibilities and came up with an answer.

The New Allied Plan

First, the Allied Commander took stock of his forces to see what he had to work with. It was not encouraging. Then he shifted a few things around, and ordered his troops to turn and march back to Arlington. He knew he had the 1st and 2nd Germans behind him, he figured a night bayonet assault should chase them off. And then it would be a forced march to Arlington to gather whatever food he could find, followed by an escape. As turned in to me, the plan was:

  1. Night bayonet assault to cut through the pursuing German regiments;

  2. Force march to Arlington to find food and anything else lying around (such as ammunition);

  3. March north on the main road to Conway;

  4. Cross the river at Conway (by bridge or ford) and march to La Conner and north to Fidalgo Island;

  5. if possible, continue past the Fidalgo Island crossing and get to Burlington;

  6. if he couldn't get to Burlington, either turn on to Fidalgo Island, or proceed to Chuckanut drive.

Referee's Reaction

Well, on the ballsy scale, this had to rank right up there. I had to do the terrain for the night bayonet attack. What with one thing and another, I would play the part of the commander of the Germans. Then I would see what happened. This, I concluded, would be interesting (a much over-used word).

The Plans put into action

The first two days after the Battle of Arlington, the Allies slowed to 4 miles/day. The French moved to MacMurray, and then on to Sedro Wooley. The Danish commander, by ordering forced marches, managed to get to Sedro Wooley with the Allies hot on his heels. There was a spirited little action at the Sedro Wooley bridge, but the French commander decided not to push it. The Danes had gotten away.

The German regiment at Conway saw the French Army descending on them, and pulled back to the little redoubts on the west side of the river left over from the Spring Campaign and rebuilt during the initial actions of the Autumn Campaign. The French commander dropped off two infantry regiments (both Blesois regiments) to watch them, and continued north. He had a brigade of cavalry and the Aquaviva Dragoons with him. These troops stormed across the bridge at Mount Vernon, and ran into the new Dutch regiments. These troops were on the hills just north of Burlington, and were basically unassailable by the forces on hand. Their regimental guns bombarded the French troops, so the French fell back to just south of Burlington. The French Craupad Cavalry Brigade was sent to Fidalgo Island to watch anything in the area.

The Allies struck on the night of the third day after the Battle of Arlington. Surprise was complete, but the fighting was fierce. The referee decided to style this as the Action at Swede Heaven. The Atrasos Cavalry covered the retreat, at least until daylight, when they rallied at Oso. They made a front that slowed the Allies briefly, until the Dutch Cavalry regiment te Paard and the English 1st Cavalry came up. After a cavalry skirmish Atrasos withdrew. The 1/1st Germans had been cut off when they made a stand north of the Stillaguamish River. After some fighting, they were contained, and bypassed. Now they withdrew deeper into the hills and sat for a day, finally emerging after the bulk of the Allied army was past. They did grab up a few stragglers, but that was all. The fate of the 2/1st Germans was a bit harsher. They had been overwhelmed in the fighting, but fragments managed to fall back with the cavalry. Most of the fugitives made their way to Oso, where they surrendered after the retreat of the Atrasos Cavalry.

The stream of fugitives alerted the 3rd Germans that something was amiss. They tried to set fire to the accumulated stores, and then fall back across the battlefield of Arlington, taking refuge on the heights to the west of the battlefield. There, in the late afternoon, they were joined by the Atrasos Cavalry and the remnants of the 2/1st Germans amounting to about two companies worth of very disorganized men. The Allied cavalry raced into town with pre-emptory orders to fight any fires and secure the area. The first infantry on the scene were moved north over the Stillaguamish River as a flank guard, while the rest helped put out the fires. Most of the stores were saved, and the Allied Army dined well that night.

The French...React(?)

Contact with the troops at Arlington was interrupted by the Allied attack. But the French commander didn't get word that something was amiss until the next day. His first reaction was to send cavalry south to find out what had happened. He had spread his cavalry far and wide, it would take at least a day to get anyone south far enough to find out anything. So he sent infantry patrols as well. They ran into Allied patrols at Pilchuck Creek, and a brief skirmish erupted with almost no casualties on either side. A few travel-stained soldiers from 1/1st Germans came into the lines after the clash. The local commander sent out additional patrols that night. There were an awful lot of Allied soldiers where there shouldn't be. He sent that information, and the men from the 1st Germans north. At the same time couriers from the Atrasos Cavalry picked their way north along the old highway. They got across the river at Milltown, and within a couple of hours their reports were in the hand of the French commander. The entire Allied army was present at Arlington. This wasn't a feint (the reports from the Germans had made him think so). The officer on the heights west of Arlington had spent some time patrolling and gathering information on the Allied units present. Except for some critical ommissions, this was the entire Allied army. A few might still be on the road to Darrington and Concrete, but probably not that many.

The situation was now "clarified". The French commander decided that if he couldn't trap the Allies in the mountains, he could trap them elsewhere. He resolved to march south to at least Conway, and block the Allies there. He reasoned quite simply: they would have to attack to get through him, he would not have to attack at all. He had a chance to trap the Allied army and destroy it. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. He issued orders that all troops were to gather at Conway for battle. He did detail that a force of two regiments was to dig in at MacMurray, along with the well-traveled Aquaviva Dragoons. He didn't want anyone escaping that way, and the units involved, Chef de Fer and Royal Boullibaise should be able to fight perfectly well from defenses despite their weakened condition.

The Forces Gather

The one thing the Allied commander lacked was time (the French commander lacked this, too, though he didn't realize it). After a rest and a meal (and an important re-supply of ammunition), he had his men on the road north of Arlington (Route 9) before first light. A rearguard was detailed to keep the bivouac fires still burning. The Allied commander's plan was simple. March to Bryant, then west to the main road, then north to Conway. Then he'd cross there to Fir Island. If he moved fast enough the next place anyone could block him would be west of Mount Vernon.

Referee's Note - now we had another foot race, again to Conway. For being a town consisting of a tavern, a grain silo (very small), a motel and a couple of stores, plus that all-important bridge, it was amazing how it kept figuring in the decisions made in the campaign. The French regiments of Blesois were there already. There orders were to hold until relieved (I'd asked for orders for them). On the face of it, the French are closer, but they're scattered, and orders have to go to them (at 5 mph - average courier speed). The Allies are more concentrated, and the commander has told me he wants "forced marches". Interesting may be an over-used term, but it is accurate.

Narrative Resumes The commander of 1st and 2nd Blesois had a good idea of what was coming - the entire Allied army. He considered his situation - not good. He did not see many options, not given his orders. He had a couple of redoubts, and he knew help was coming (the courier got to him quickly). He put his men in the redouts, dug the rest into the hamlet, and prepared for a last stand.

The Stand at Conway continues in the next part.

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