Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ridge and Furrowed Brow

As far as I can see pretty much the entire English Civil War was fought across ridge lines. Living, as I do, quite close to Naseby you can see this really clearly. The English countryside is one long procession of ridge lines.

This is no more true than for the Battle of Cheriton, which was fought between two armies (Hopton v Waller again) across a shallow valley from ridge top to ridge top. Alas the area of the battle has three and a half ridges running in parallel to each other and no one can agree which two ridges it was fought across. So, a fine choice for my next refight using the previously published “Victory Without Squares” rules.

I don’t possess John Adair’s monograph on Cherition, written in the Peter Young style. This may be a blessing because, as far as I can make out, no one else agrees with where he sites the battle. My sources for this refight then were Richard Brooks', “Battlefields of Britain & Ireland” (which I have recommended before), William Seymour's “Battles in Britain” and Wanklyn’s “Decisive battles”. All three have a slightly different interpretation and in the end I went with Wanklyn as the most convincing. This was partly based on physically trying to get the figures on the battlefields suggested. Using Seymour’s suggestion the armies simply don’t fit (the ground scale for my rules is 4” = 250yards, with the frontage of a 1,000 man foot regiment/tercio being about 200 yards, with the same for a 600 man cavalry brigade).

Royalists to the left, Parliament to the right
Setting the battlefield up using all three ridge lines is a bit of a challenge and I had to use all of my polystyrene & polytex ridge blocks to get a fair approximation. It does mean it's awkward getting all the figures to stand up on it as well. So, lots of thinking to be done. It is made harder as unless you know where the battle was fought then contemporary references to bits of the landscape that are no longer there (eg 17th century enclosures) are difficult to fit into the game. One of the key issues is the size of Cheriton wood and if it is bigger now than then. The evidence would seem to suggest it is, but how big we can’t say.

Due to the snow and ice I only had one player, but that did mean I got to play the game (regular readers may be confused here: the Monday Night Group no longer meets on Thursday, it now meets on Monday. How crazy is that?). Phil took the Royalists with an instruction to be aggressive and I took the forces of Parliament with the intention of being Waller-ish.

I started the game a bit further back than you might expect, with the Royalists on the Sutton Sand ridge and the Parliamentarians on the Hinton Ampner ridge. This enables me to put Lisle’s forward outpost of the Royalist army on the Cheriton ridge where some writers put Waller and means that the forces in Cheriton wood are flanking the Royalist advance. As described there is some dead ground in the lee of the hill on which Cheriton wood stands, and this should enable the Royalist foot to engage with the forces in the wood without getting too shot up first.

Royalists watch Cheriton wood whilst they force the lane.
In practice I got this bit of the layout wrong. I allowed Phil to hide too much in the dead ground and so the harassing of the Royalist left flank didn’t occur. That meant that Phil could effectively screen off the wood, rather than being forced to drive out the musketeers, horse and guns holding it. That worked to his advantage as it effectively pinned a cavalry unit I could really have done with in the wood.

He then pushed forwards to support Lisle on the ridge line, and sent his cavalry round the end of the ridge to flank my line which was holding steady. This struck me as a smart move, the only downside being that I was now aware of his advance earlier than I might have otherwise been. In the actual battle this didn’t happen, and both sides just kept sending cavalry into the valley between them. There’s no real suggestion that the ground by the river is particularly difficult and in the end historically Waller used his infantry to turn the Royalist flank by advancing through this area.

Under VWS artillery isn’t really a battle winning weapon and it can be a struggle to hit anything. This was certainly the case in the first few turns then my lads in the middle of my line finally got the range of Lisle’s cavalry and forced them off the ridge line in disorder. Phil was a bit miffed by this as he was still struggling to get his guns into position and in any event couldn’t hit anything with them.

The first serious combat was on my left flank as Phil tried to turn me with his aforementioned cavalry. We had two evenly matched lines and attacked each other in waves. The combat ebbed and flowed a bit, but I eventually lost out with both of my units fleeing. My Lord Balfour also came unstuck, being unhorsed and overrun. He was spirited off before I was able to recapture him. I also realised at this point that it was a long time since we last played the game and, simple though they are, I couldn’t remember the rules properly. So things might have turned out differently.

Phil pushed bravely on and got his infantry mostly in the valley for an attack on my position. He also  committed to clearing Cheriton wood at last, having brought up an infantry regiment in support. The cavalry on this flank finally lined up and got stuck in to each other in a rather messy melee.

More worryingly for me Phil had now got his horse up on the ridge line on my left forcing me into hedgehog as my lobsters fled the field. If it hadn’t been for a really lucky shot I fear it might have been all up for the forces of Parliament.

However his persistence paid off as he finally hit my flank-holding hedgehog with artillery and disrupted it enough for the cavalry to put in a successful charge, leading to more of my brave fellows running off the edge of the board.

Fortune was favouring me elsewhere as I mauled Phil's infantry in the middle of the board (no photo, alas) and at last got properly stuck into his left wing cavalry. After some too-ing and froing I soon had them all streaming to the rear and was set up to give his remaining infantry a good hiding. This tipped the Royalists over into more units disordered or running away than not which meant the army was broken and Parliament had just won the day. It was close as I was wavering a bit as well.

The actual final act of the game pretty much was the Royalist attack on Cherition wood, which finally succeeded in breaking in after an initial repulse. So our final act was history's first. A fitting place to end the game.

So what did we learn? Well, I think I got the set up right, otherwise the players don't get a lot of choices. I need to think about the dead ground near the wood some more and also the enclosures at the end of the ridges. If I was to run it again.

Which, with so many other battles still to fight, is unlikely.

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