Friday, February 13, 2009

The Fall Campaign - Part 3

The Situation

Simply put, the French Army is scattered between Sedro Wooley, Mount Vernon, Conway, Arlington and a few points in between. The main chunk of the Allied Army is leaving Arlington after a night action at Swede Hollow with the intent of crossing the Stillaguamish River at Conway and escaping northward (or at least to Fidalgo Island).

Other parts of the Allied Army are north of Burlington, at Conway (on the west side of the river), or guarding the approaches to Fidalgo Island. The French Army is attempting to cut off the Allied Army at Conway. That seems simple enough...sort of. Did I add that the Allies are low on ammunition, have one company of artillery, and a lot of unorganized men who could be a problem? I didn't think so. Life is not rosey for the Allied commander.

There is a ford at Conway (as well as the Bridge). The two French Blesois Regiments are dug in at Conway, in two redoubts and the town itself. And the French Army is marching to relieve them as fast as units can get straightened out and on the road.

Referee's Notes - I had to do some calculating, along with TripMaker and Map Quest. Both Allied and French troops were converging on Conway, and I had to calculate how long it would take to get them there ("there" being within 1 mile of Conway). I assumed the following:

  1. Couriers travel at 8 mph;

  2. One hour after receiving orders, units march;

  3. Units march at 2 mph, including cavalry;

  4. Proper march discipline would be followed.

The Situation "Develops"

The Allied Army had left Arlington at 10 AM. They had rested, had eaten, and had managed to resupply some ammunition. They had even recovered some guns and artillery ammunition that the French had not yet sent south as trophies (enough to form a battery). They were planning on marching to Bryant, then west on the Stanwood-Bryant road, then north on the main road to Conway. They had a total of 16 miles to go. They chose this route as it bypassed the French forces west of Arlington, and it might disguise where they were going (for a bit). Unbeknownst to them, all of the Allied cavalry was put in the van, leaving none to cover the rear. The Atrasos Cavalry promptly scouted them, and I arbitrarily ruled that they soon knew which way the Allies were going. The earliest the Allies could get to Conway was 6 PM.

The French Commander Ponders....

Starting at 7 AM, the first couriers went north from the small French force holding on west of Arlington. This merely reported the facts, as known at the time: the Allies had attacked from up the valley and Arlington was swamped with fugitives. The commander of the Atrasos Cavalry reported that the pursuing force sent after the Allied army was in full retreat or scattered (he had no word from the 1/1st Germans, they had been falling back under pressure when last seen), and that the Allies were now entering Arlington. More couriers followed:

  • 8:00 AM - The Allied army is in Arlington, looting, and so on. French forces west of Arlington are 3rd Germans, Atrasos Cavalry and fragments of 2/1st Germans. Even allowing for exaggeration, something bad had happened. Patrols were now attempting to ascertain more, but ther was a lot of Allied Cavalry around Arlington (he named the units);

  • 9:00 AM - looting has subsided. Reports are that the commander of the Allied army is at Arlington. This is based upon scouting and direct observation;

  • 10:30 AM - Allied troops are marching north on Route 9. Patrols have been sent north on the main road with orders to scout the Stanwood-Bryant road and report both to HQ and the commander of the Atrasos Cavalry

Another Referee Note - I was playing the part of the French Commander west of Arlington. The French were coming from Sedro Wooley (14 miles), Burlington (9 miles) and Mount Vernon (5 miles). But they had to get their orders. And that could occur only after the French commander realized what was going on.

...and Acts

The French Commander was at Mount Vernon, along with 14 battalions of infantry and four regiments of cavalry. Mount Vernon is 22 miles from Arlington, 25 if you go by side-roads. The first courier arrived at 10 AM. Just after the noon courier had arrived (sent at 9 AM), the French commander began sending his own couriers. By 1 PM the couriers had arrived at Sedro Wooley and Burlington, and the troops were on the road by 2 PM. The forces at Mount Vernon had marched at 1 PM. They would start arriving at Conway at 3:30 PM.

The troops from Burlington would arrive at 6:30 PM. Those from Sedro Wooley would arrive at 9 PM (dark is at 8 PM). Clearly this was going to be a mis-match, but on who's side?

The Armies Start Converging

The French
- Fourteen battalions of infantry, a battery of artillery and four regiments of cavalry arrived at Conway at 3:30. The French Commander had been there with an Advanced Guard, surveying the scene. He sent cavalry patrols farther south, looking for the Allies, and he pressed forward right behind them. Reports came in. The Allies were advancing up the main road, but were still well short of Conway. The French Commander saw the opportunity, and ordered his men forward into the hills. They would try to occupy the same positions they had occupied before, only facing the other way round.

By 5:30 PM he had his troops depoloyed for battle, their front covered by a dry streambed, their left on a steep hill, their right hanging a bit, but the ground dropping steeply to the Stillaguamish. It wasn't the best position, but it would do.

The four battalions of infantry, the advanced guard that had been at Burlington, had stopped in Mount Vernon to guard the bridge. But they had two regiments cavalry with them. Those had been sent ahead. They had force-marched on a good road in dry weather, so they made 4.5 miles/hour. They arrived at 5:00 PM, and were deployed in a second line by 5:30. The force from Sedro Wooley had marched through Mount Vernon. They would not make it to this fight in time. The French Commander debated whether he should use them or not. After some thought he had them stop in Mount Vernon. This was a gamble, but if things didn't go well here, he would still have a force in being. And if any Allied troops crossed the river, the troops in Mount Vernon could also cross the river and maybe catch some of the Allied troops as they worked their way across Fir Island. Splitting his force like this was a risk, but he decided it was worth it.

The Allied Commander was a little surprised to contact the French around 4:00. He had hoped to take them more by surprise than he obviously had. But if a fight was necessary, then so be it. He didn't have many choices, but on the off-chance that something could be found, he sent patrols to his right to see if they could find a way through, say, MacMurray, and north to Sedro Wooley. Might as well cover all chances.

As the skirmishing increased the Allied Commander sent all of his cavalry forward. This shoved the French Cavalry back a bit, and allowed him to see the French position. The position wasn't unassailable, but any assault would be desperate. Still, he thought an attack could always be stopped by night. And when it was, maybe his men could escape to the right. His mind made up, he ordered his troops to shake out into line of battle for a fight.

The Forces
The Allied forces numbered 26 battalions of somewhat beat-up and tired infantry, along with eight regiments of cavalry and a scratched together artillery. Morale was not high, a lot of regiments were now M4 instead of M5. This reflected that the troops had marched and fought for the last 20 hours without adequate rest or nourishment. The exhaustion levels of the troops were changed to reflect that. All told, the French could muster (theoretically) 19,000 men for this action.

The French forces were outnumbered better than 2:1 in foot. They had had only minimal time to prepare, but the ground was broken, and the men were of good morale. One welcome reinforcement, the 2nd Germans came marching in from MacMurray on the Colonel's own initiative (actually referee's initiative). This boosted the French troops to 15,000 men.

The French were present first, and arrayed themselves in the traditional two lines, with Croissant and Navarre in the first line (left to right) and Provisionaire General, Procurer General, and the 2nd Germans as part of the second line (reading left to right). TheProvincial Grenadiers were held out of the line of battle and slightly detached to the left en potence as a flank guard. The Horse was deployed in two formations to the left of the foot, with the cavalry of the Maison the farthest out on the left. The rest of the cavalry was deployed with Bartillart and Courvoisier in the first line, and Absinthe and Crapaud in the second. The artillery was on the right next to a steep slope that protected their flank.

The Allies deployed the English on the left with the Dutch in the center. The cavalry was massed on the right in two lines. The mob of fugitives was sent to the far left. By 7 PM everyone was in position. Knowing that sunset was within the hour, the Allied Commander told his men there would be no battle unlessthe French attacked. Instead, every regiment sent out their pickets, and the men were quietly pulled back. His scouts had found a flank road.

The Allies Slip Away
The French commander ordered up the four battalions left at Mount Vernon. He toyed with a night attack (I reminded him of the first fight of the campaign), then ordered his pickets to cover the front and his men to be up before dawn. The Allied Commander rested his troops until midnight, then sent one regiment of cavarly and the mob of unorganized men wading across the ford in the Stillaguamish. The noise and uproar this caused brought the French Commander to the front to see what was going on. After some thought he ordered some troops forward to see what was happening.The troops from Navarre move forward in the dark, clashing with the troops of the 100-Acre Woods Foresters. The noise was loud, and the firing fierce, but the troops were too far away to hurt each other very much. Casualties were very few, more from men tripping over things in the dark than actually being hit by bullets.

While this was going on, the main Allied Force was quietly moving to their right, well beyond the line of French pickets. They found the road the scouts had uncovered, and the troops made their way along it as quietly as possible. Everyone was tense. By orders, no muskets had been loaded to prevent any accidental shots giving away the game, and all noisy items had been left behind in the camps. By 1 AM the bulk of the Allied army was on the road and descending from the hills onto the Conway-MacMurray road. There the leading elements were turning east to MacMurray, where they would then turn north towards Sedro Wooley. That's when trouble erupted.

Things Heat Up
The French Army had long planned to deploy on this very ground (back before the campaign started this was their chosen battlefield). The men knew every path and road in the area. And the commander of the French Maison cavalry kept hearing things to his front. So he sent out scouts. They returned with reports of Allied pickets in the area, lots of Allied pickets in the area. Being a cavalry officer, the commander of the Maison was not without enterprise. He sent for the nearest infantry, the Provinicial Grenadiers, roused his men, passed word to the line cavalry beside him, and sent a messenger to the Army Commander. All of that done, and his men ready by now, he moved forward with the intent to cause as much mischief as possible.

Referee's Note - I handled the action near the ford as a probe rather than as an attack. This meant the troops advanced until they could see "something", at which time quite likely firing would break out (throw 1d6, firing breaks out on a 3-6, I threw a 4). The men would halt to fire. This caused panic among the unorganized men (very logically) and it also pinned the English to the area (not realized by the Allied commander). On the other flank, the French commander had told me he wanted his pickets "well-forward and active". So this meant there was a chance to find out what was going on (throw 1d6, discover on a 5 or 6, check every hour; at 1 AM I threw a 6). Deciding that the nobility in the French army were likely to be head-strong and aggressive (especially cavalry commanders in the Maison du Roi), I decided that the local commander would do the professional thing (send messages), but he would also go stick his finger in the hornet's nest to see what happened. But he wasn't entirely stupid, he had those grenadiers handy, too. I decided that it would take an hour to get everything ready, so at 2 AM we would have things happening. I played this out in 30 minute turns.

The Engagement
For maximum impact the French deployed all three units in one line, the Grenadiers a Cheval on the left, Maison du Roi next to them, and the Provinicial Grenadiers on the right. They moved forward with orders to "smash everything in front of them". They hit the line of Dutch infantry in column of march. The regiments Limbeek and Westmalle, near the tail of the column, were caught totally by surprise and scattered in the first charge. The French cavalry pursued those men vigorously, while the Grenadiers wheeled to the west and hit the next unit they found, Kriek. Again, the Grenadiers closed to melee, utilizing their SHK. It wouldn't have mattered, Kriek was in column of march and unable to defend itself. But when Fortune smiles, it smiles hugely. The dice were thrown anyway, and up came a pair of 6's. Kriek was removed from the Allied order of battle. Two other regiments were behind Kriek, Dalrymple and Murray. Dalrymple had warning of what was going on and managed to deploy. The Grenadiers slammed into them anyway. Dalrymple inflicted one hit on the Grenadiers, but took two in return. As Dalrymple disintegrated, Murray had a chance to go stationary. The English were coming up behind them, and the Buffs were on their flank in support. But the French line cavalry was showing up, now, as well as more French infantry. Everyone could see this was only going to end one way. By 5:00 AM the Allied troops still present were surrendering at discretion.

The Allied Commander wanted to turn back and fight the French, but now his army was too strung out to deploy. So he pressed on, writing off a good chunk of his forces. His cavalry reached MacMurray at 6 AM, with what was left of the foot right behind them. The troops turned north towards Sedro Wooley. Safety, of sorts, was only a few miles away. As the morning wore on, the Dutch cavalry stayed behind to form a rearguard, while the English cavalry raced ahead to guard the Sedro Wooley-Mount Vernon road. By 10 AM the bulk of his men were across the river. The action was over, what was left of his army was safe, and he could now try to figure out how to explain what had happened (after he figured it out) in this most unsatisfactory campaign.

The Reckoning
The Allied Army lost all of the English Foot captured, and five infantry other regiments just removed, killed, wounded, captured. They also lost most of the unorganized men rounded up as captives (the cavalry regiment that had escorted them made it back to safety after a long and somewhat hair-raising escape). All told, the Allies lost 12,500 men from all causes (of which 7,500 were in organized units). The French lost scarcely 500 men in this action, mostly last ditch shots, or attempts to stop the Grenadiers when they got on a roll. In terms of battle casualties, the Allies lost 1,500 men.

The Campaign Winds Down

When the Allied Army crossed the river at Sedro Wooley, this effectively ended the campaign. Oh, there were still odds and ends to clean up. There were a couple of German Regiments in Allied service that could be captured if they were unlucky, but things were so confusing after the Battle of Conway Heights that nobody remembered. The German regiment opposite Conway decamped early in the morning, and marched to the bridge to Fidalgo Island. There they joined up with the other German regiment. Covered by the Frambozen Cavalry, this tiny force, less the battalion watching Anacortes, marched up Chuckanut Drive. Though it took a couple of days, they were able to arrive in Bellingham without molestation (though a bit hungry). Just over 1,500 unorganized men made the march out with them. The battalion watching Anacortes was lifted off Fidalgo Island a day later by the Allied Navy. That marked the official end of the campaign. There were no more Allied troops south of the border, nor were there likely to be any time soon. Several days later the Autumn Rains started, ending the season for marching.

The Allied Army was a mere shadow of what it had been. The French were better off, but only just.

The objectives of the Allies, to extend their control over the Skagit River Basin, and control of Whidbey Island and Anacortes and hence the lower Sound, were not met. The campaign could be judged a complete failure. The political fall-out was complex (and outside the scope of this narrative). But peace feelers were extended during the rainy season, and Spring did not bring a new campaigning. In all essentials, peace broke out. This, of course, laid the groundwork for a future war, but that is another story.

1 comment:

abdul666 said...

Extremely entertaining and inspirational: compliments and thanks for sharing!