Last call for Falkirk Moor

The Jacobite project is in its final stages. At last. It is running close on 12 months overdue and really needs to be put to bed. The last major battle I've not done with the squared version of the rules is Falkirk Moor, fought in the middle of January 1746, in foul weather. The last time I did a development cycle on the Jacobite risings, back pre-Covid in 2019, I also finished with Falkirk as I wrote up at the time.

Looking back at that original report it seems that I came to slightly differing conclusions about what was going on and allowed for the British to move their artillery up on to the Moor. Since then I have re-read the books I used at the time and added Jonathan Oates' "Battles of the Jacobite risings" to my collection.

Falkirk has a number of interesting facets to it. It is the largest battle of the '45 rising. The Jacobites start with a number of advantages provided by the terrain, weather and the unpreparedness of General Hawley, commanding the British. We have some contemporary maps that show the armies neatly lined up - a deployment I have mostly followed - but I am drawn  to Duffy's account which seems to imply more of an encounter / counter attack sort of battle. I am also still uncertain about the "ravine" that covers the British right. I can't find any photographs of it, and Google Earth 3D is not as helpful as I'd like. In modern times the ravine is wooded, which is something not shown on the contemporary maps, so you can't see how steep it is.

The battle was fought in the afternoon in fading light. The British deployed late as General Hawley had been dining outside the camp. The ground slopes down towards the British lines, and they'd had a stiff march up to where they deployed. Their artillery was left mired in the mud at the foot of the hill as the dragoons had churned up the road leading the column. It had been raining during the day and as the battle commenced the wind and rain picked up, blowing into the faces of the British. Most of the regiments in the centre and left got soaked through, which dampened their powder.

For the game we had Phil and Tim as the British and Chris K and Steve as the Jacobites. As contractors working for British Gas are doing the best to seal the village off from the outside world Steve was a little delayed, so I started off handling the Jacobite right wing.

As I was playing for part of the game and then some other issues came up the photo record is a bit brief. The Jacobites won the initiative and Chris ordered a general advance. This left us with the position as you see it above. This suited me just fine. My aim was to replicate what Lord Murray did on the day, which was to stand at deliver a volley at the cavalry as they charged in. There's a command action in the rules that lets Highlanders fire like regulars if under the control of an officer which no one ever uses because they'd rather charge. In this case it worked really well and I delivered close up musketry as the dragoons charged home. This caused Disorder and hits on most units that meant that the kilties saw off the horse and opened up the British left to be exploited by the clans. Once they'd finished chasing the cavalry down the hill.

At the other end of the table Phil stepped up and opened fire. To his horror (and disgruntlement - he was not happy) I had slipped in a scenario rule without telling him that reduced the effect of the British firing, cancelling hits depending upon the dice combos rolled. I saw this as completely fair in an umpire controlled game because as far as I could tell this came as a surprise to General Hawley too. Interestingly General Huske's troops on the right behind the ravine were not so badly affected, possibly as they were the last deployed and may have been in a more sheltered spot.

By now Steve had arrived and taken over my wing.

Chris ordered the charge with mixed results, a surprise considering how ineffective the Government musketry had been. At the far end Phil is driving the Jacobites back, but the centre is a mixed bag. I got distracted and lost track of which combats had stalled and who had pushed who back.

The result of the charges is a high level of engaged units in the centre. On the Jacobite right you can see the Government cavalry being forced back.

Another round of tense combat sees Phil break one of Chris' units up by the ravine. elsewhere the British centre is being ploughed in, and their left is being encircled. Alas for Steve he can't rally his marauding Highlanders. For reasons I can't fathom Phil has moved his troops into the ravine.

The tide of Highlanders continues to roll down the hill. The British are in a bad way. Huske's brigade in the distance is untouched, and could provide the nucleus for a counter attack if they weren't trying to do whatever in difficult terrain.

The British centre rolls back even more, and the Jacobites push into what should be a pocket. I'm getting some flak now for the scenario design. 

This is definitely the point at which the British right should wheel in towards the centre and start to take the Jacobite attack in the flank. The troops are fresh and have a good quality commander with them and also the best of the unit quality cards for the British forces. But they don't. They sit there whilst one of the players tells me how I've stitched him up.

So time to make another cup of coffee or tea, pass round the biscuits and draw the evening to a close.

I thought it went okay. I got some bits not quite right at the start and losing track of the state of the melees didn't help. I shall re-read the books I have and possibly tweak the set up and one of the scenario rules, but I think I've got it right. It is a hard fight for the British. The Jacobites do start with all the advantages. However, to win they need to destroy 3/4 of the British Army, whilst the British only need to destroy half of the Jacobites. Historically this was a Jacobite win but they lost control of the pursuit and were unable to destroy Hawley's Army. The British casualties whilst higher than the Jacobite were not significant and most if not all of the regiments rallied and appear at Culloden in a few month's time. The Jacobite leadership was unable to exploit the advantage they had obtained and were forced to raise the siege of Stirling Castle, which was Hawley's aim in the first place.

I reckon that's the last Jacobite game for a while now. I need to get on with writing up the rules, and have made good progress in the last week or so. The scenarios need documenting and tightening up and I am trying to work out how to put in a simple campaign game.

I am busy on other things for the next week, so my next wargaming will be in the DBA event at Hammerhead, taking a place in the absence of another MNGr who can't make it. First tournament I've played in for quite a while. Stay tuned for an exciting account.

Well, an account at least.


  1. Great stuff! I thought Chris Duffy's comment that early 18th century officers identified many terrain features as serious obstacles which by Napoleonic times wouldn't have merited notice. So what they regarded as a problematic ravine might have been less dramatic than the language suggests.

    1. My feeling is that if you are intending to keep really tight dressing and (in the case of the British Army) deliver platoon fire then something like that is a serious obstacle. It would be good to go and have a look. The view of one end on Google Maps street view doesn't make it seem that serious, but it is a trek up the hill to the muir, so to get from top to bottom it must cut deep at some point. This is one battle where setting up the wargame has really made me think about the descriptions as written. Can I sign you up for Sherrifmuir at COW this year?

  2. Excellent AAR and wonderful photos, inspiration for my siege of Louisbourg 1747 (an imagination game based on a Jacobite rebellion in Nova Scotia). Thanks for sharing.
    Some photos here


    1. I have enough problems keeping up with the actual campaigns, let alone thinking of an imaginary one!

  3. That's a very good-looking game. My own (limited!) reading of the battle seems to indicate that you must have got the design pretty much right - and it was the player's decision that stymied the historical counter-action by the Government left. It is hard, though, as a war gamer to accept 'surprise' Umperial decisions, as I have found to my education!

    1. I think that "T&B" is working pretty well for Jacobite battles. We've been working on the rules for over 12 months now, so they've had a good thrashing and they produce a plausible result and have period feel. The surprise nature of the scenario rule reflected what happened at the time. the British General was surprised at the ineffectiveness of his firing. And his cavalry!

  4. The whole series of games has been very enjoyable to read about, the period isn't my thing, but following the evolution of the system has been very interesting. You seem to have rather more fractious players than my regulars, who are all very polite.

    1. Everyone is always polite, but are prepared to let their feelings be known. which is very helpful when playtesting rules. If no one tells you what they think then you might as well test solo. The evolution of this system has taken place over a long period of time for me as well.

  5. I walked the battlefield trail yesterday. It is well signposted and gives a good feel for the battle

    1. That's interesting. How deep is the ravine?


Post a Comment