Thursday, 28 October 2010

“It’s a fine line between Groundbreaking and Idiotic.”

Black Powder Rules Battle Report.

An incident filled game of Black Powder Napoleonic’s involving Me (Rob S), and Derek against Nigel and Mick with John acting as Umpire and Bob M acting as tactical consultant, studio audience and with his sore throat a kind of movie trailer voice over guy.

The Scenario was French versus Austrian. The French are outnumbered but have better quality troops. It is a straight forward Attack against Defence with the French trying to delay the Austrian advance. There is a thick fog which has hidden the French positions leaving the Austrians having to advance blind to contact.

The French had 3 Brigades. The 1st Brigade had 2 large regiments of Guard and one standard regiment of Line together with a battery of Artillery.. These were deployed at the start of the game by showing John where they were but not placing the miniatures on the table. The 2nd Brigade (3 units of Line and a battery Artillery) and 3rd Brigade (2 regiments of Cuirassiers and a battery of horse artillery) Started the game “off table”

The Austrians also had three brigades consisting of a Brigade of Line Infantry a mixed Brigade of Landwehr and Line Infantry and a Cavalry Brigade.

The game began the Austrians marching on to the table in march columns, evenly spaced across the table with their cavalry being on their left. Upon spotting the French brigade on a ridge to their front they quickly deployed in to line in order to advance and engage.

The French were fortunate as John rolled for each of the off table Brigades and they appeared immediately. Derek had command of the 2nd Brigade and I had command of the 1st Brigade (in the centre) and the Cavalry Brigade on their right. Derek immediately formed his infantry in to Attack Columns and advanced forward in the hope of out flanking the Austrians. The French had deployed well and as long as their superior cavalry could keep the Austrian Horse at bay things were looking good……..Until that is I deployed my cavalry.

On came the French Cuirassiers, the flower of European Cavalry in what after some discussion was labelled a Cavalry Attack Column…… despite the fact that they were immediately in the potential charge reach of the Austrians they did not deploy in to line and continued in this formation along side their horse artillery that remained limbered.

This of course began the discussion as to whether I had intentionally created a new, novel and groundbreaking Cavalry formation or, that I was a complete idiot. The following two turns would settle the debate emphatically.

Of course the Austrians after a short pause to look at each other and smirk charged forward, passing their command roles easily and smashing in to French Horse and Artillery who, given that they were in column had 1 attack dice compared to the Austrians 7. Needless to say that it was all over very quickly with the French either being completed destroyed or retiring off the table.

To compound matters; I also made what must be politely described as an “interesting” decision to march one of my guard infantry battalions out of the centre of my line and off a hill to engage the Austrian Foot at close musket range. Now obviously the plan was that the volley of close range musket from the French elite would be enough to break the Austrians lead regiment who were already suffering considerably from my guns on the hill. What I forgot to consider (apart the battalion of unengaged Austrian Cavalry to my right) was that every time I try to be clever, bold or in fact take any kind of gamble; multiple “1”’s will be rolled. Which of course they were and the Guard Battalion found itself faced with short range artillery to it’s left, Austrian foot to it’s front and the glistening sabres of Cavalry to it’s right. The collective gulp of my troops echoed across the battlefield.

Shortly after the complete destruction of this French Guard Battalion, Derek and I decided it was getting late and it was probably the time to call it a draw and pack up.

One has to feel sorry for Derek who was doing relatively well on the French right but suddenly found that the entire French line was about to be rolled up thanks to my “creative” Generalship.

The Black Powder rules do allow for rapid advances on the table top, especially with cavalry so the tip (which to be fair is given in the book) is deploy in line as march columns will be vulnerable on the tabletop as soon as they enter it.

The game should not have been as one sided as it was and the simple and fun scenario by John was enjoyed by all. Mick; has with these Black Powder Rules discovered his inner Cavalry General and thoroughly enjoyed Huzzahing his way across table top sweeping all before him.

I on the other hand need to have a word with myself.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ramilies 1706

Marlborough’s finest hour (or four)

Marlborough is in this writers opinion England’s greatest general. His diplomatic abilities coupled with a supreme battlefield craft made him a true master of his art. The battle of Ramillies fought on the 23rd May 1706 out-shines (IMHO) even Blenheim as a case study in how to fight a set piece battle in the 18th Century.

The war of the Spanish Succession had been rumbling on for some years. The King of Spain and died without direct issue and there was a dispute between the European powers as to whom should take the throne. Charles II had bequeathed his crown to Phillip his nephew and through his sister’s marriage; the younger son of the Dauphin of France. This meant that the now Phillip V of Spain was an heir to the throne of France and potentially in a position to unify France and Spain under a single Bourban ruler.

The other major European players were obviously not happy with the spectre of a European super state (oh how they would weep now!), controlled by Louis XIV so looked to oppose the succession of Phillip by supporting the claim to the throne of Luipold I, A Habsburg and the current Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (what is now modern Germany).

Up until 1704 the armies of France had been thought invincible. However they were decisively beaten by Marlborough at Blenheim in 1704. Unfortunately Marlborough’s army; an alliance of English, Dutch, Hessians, and Prussians to name but a few had failed to take advantage of this victory despite Marlborough’s best efforts. The political wrangling between the factions would repeatedly diminish or reverse gains made on the battlefield.

By 1706, Louis wanted Peace for France but wanted to negotiate a settlement on his terms. To that end he resolved to launch a major offensive on all fronts in an effort to secure either a collection of local victories or one major victory before calling for peace talks and ending the ruinously expensive war.

After a number of victories for the French in Alsace (Eastern France on the Rhine) they felt that the time was right to go toe-to-toe with Marlborough. If they could send him packing then they would more than likely fracture the Alliance and get favourable peace terms.

Marlborough, convinced that the quickest way to concluding the war was to decisively beat a French army in the field was not coy in marching straight off to confront the French. He mustered at Maastricht and then marched towards the French army that were waiting for him at Ramillies.

John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough is a complex and interesting character and I would urge anyone to read his biographies that I have listed below. With the assistance of his belligerent wife Sarah he was able to use patronage and influence to rise quickly through the ranks of the army. Criticism has been levelled at Marlborough by some (including his contemporaries) for his use of influence. However I do not think he can be blamed given that for promotion in the English Army at the time; merit meant nothing and influence everything.
His reputation for avarice and his abandonment of James II of England during the “Glorious Revolution” certainly has left a stain on his reputation.

What is not in question is his ability as a military commander. His charm and affability was the mortar that held the fragile alliance of England, The Netherlands, Portugal and varying other states together. His organisational skills and those of this staff allowed him to out manoeuvre and wrong foot opponents repeatedly. Time and again he showed an unmatched ability to visualise the whole battlefield while at the same putting the blinkers on his opponent.

Francois de Neuvill, duc de Villeroi.
There are some commanders who though generals of high merit are unfortunate in that due to the vagaries of history do not get the merit they deserve. Villeroi does not fall in to this category. He had attained his position as Marshall of France based pretty much on his close relationship with Louis XIV. He was an excellent courtier and charming individual but most professional soldiers in the French army had very little respect for him as a military commander despite his obvious personal bravery.

He could not command the respect of his officers and simply did not have the skill or; at the age of 62, the drive to be able to take on a man of Marlborough’s calibre. On the day was simply outclassed.

Armies of the Age of Marlborough.
Infantry was now becoming the main weapon of the battlefield during this period. The advent of the bayonet and more specifically the socket bayonet had removed the need for bodies of pike men to protect the musketeers from cavalry. Now the musketeers could protect themselves while at the same time increasing their firepower.
Improvements in firearms and the rate of fire coupled with the use of the bayonet meant that bodies of troops were becoming increasingly linear in nature compared to the large square blocks and deeper formations seen in the previous century.

The English were beginning to use a more thinner wider formation where a Battalion would “fire by platoons”. What this meant was the each platoon would fire in turn. By the time the last platoon had fired then the first had re-loaded. The result was a constant ripple of fire coming from the line.

The French still stood by the tried and tested “Volley Fire”. Their formation would be slightly narrower than the English and deeper. The regiment would close and deliver one devastating volley at the enemy.

Cavalry was still important on the battlefield and continued to be the arm which would deliver the coup-de-grace to a wavering opponent.

The Battlefield.
The two armies met at the seam between the Plateau of Mont St Andre and the Plateau of Janderenouille. A deep stream known as the Little Geete cuts its way north creating a gully east of the villages of Autre-Eglise and Offus. To the south of these villages running East to West is the Maastricth to Charleroi road and the River Mehaigne. At the head of the Little Geet, south of Autre-Eglise and North of the Mahaigne is the village of Ramillies.

Villeroi had chosen the ground as being a good defensive position in which to draw Marlborough on to him. He anchored his left flank to the village of Autre-Eglise and in long concave crescent round to his right which was secured on the River Mehaigne. There is divided opinion as to whether or not the French actually garrisoned Taviers or in fact deployed behind that village anchoring on the River Visoule which runs in to the Mehaigne and with the marsh ground to their front. My view is that there seem very little benefit from occupying Taviers as on the map it would seem that the difficult marsh land would be to your rear and make any withdrawal of re-enforcement difficult.

On the French right the first line was made up of the Maison du Roi, arguably the best cavalry in Europe at the time. They were supported behind by Bavarian Cuirassiers and Dragoons. The centre including Ramillies and Offus had Walloon and Bavarian infantry with support behind from Walloon and Bavarian Cavarly. The Villages of Offus and Autre-Eglise were garrisoned for defence with barricades and loop holes cut in to buildings and walls for musketry.

The French also deployed some hefty artillery batteries in front of Ramillies and the two northern villages all of which were well positioned with good fields of fire.

The Allies lined up with Orkney on the left opposite Offus and Autre-Eglise with his English and Dutch Infantry supported by Lumley’s Cavarly. On the right were the massed Squadrons of Dutch and Danish Cavalry under Overkirk, supported by detachments of infantry.

Marlborough recognised two things as he looked over the battlefield with the French arrayed in front of him. First that the French deployment had formed a concave crescent formation, this meant that his lines of communication were longer than his own and the shape of this line would make it more difficult to move units around the formation. Also: Villeroi had over extended slightly in order to reach the banks of the Mehaigne leaving his troops spread thinner than Marlborough’s. Secondly was the terrain itself but we will come to that later.

The Battle
The battle opened with skirmishing on the Allied left and an attack against the French left. Orkney led the first line of English Infantry across the Little Geete on the Allied right, towards the villages of Offus and Autre-Eglise. At this time the English were starting to create a reputation for themselves as determined, disciplined troops and their advance caused Villeroi concern.

Marlborough realised that Orkney probably could break through on the right but getting cavalry in sufficient numbers over the stream to support him was going to be difficult. The was probably a French Cavarly reserve to the rear which would cut the English apart once they broke in to the open. As such, and much to the annoyance of Orkney, Marlborough ordered him to withdraw to his start line. The attack on the left whether a planned feint or probe certainly had the desired affect on Villeroi who focused on this part of the battlefield and started to pull troops from his centre to re-enforce his left.

Meanwhile, Overkirk, in command of the Anglo-Dutch troops had launched an assault on Ramillies itself and to support this, unleashed his cavalry squadrons across the plain to the south of Ramillies. The Dutch and Danish cavalry smashed in to their French opponents and though initially having the best of it, the Maison-du Roi, the kings of the Europeaon Cavalry rallied and counter attacked with skill and aggression.

Marlborough immediately recognised this as a threat. When he deployed he had noted that the terrain on his right was such that he could mask his troop movements and could start bringing troops from his right over to the centre without the French noticing. He began moving his supporting cavalry on the right along to his centre to add weight to Overkirk. Villeroi was oblivious to this and continued to move his troops to the left to re-enforce Offus and Autre-Eglise.

Marlborough threw himself in to the Melee on the Allied right while his re-enforcements were manoeuvring and nearly came to grief. In one story after being unseated from his horse, he was being assisted in mounting another by a Colonel Bingfield when a stray cannonball flew between the Dukes legs decapitating Bingfield!

The additional squadrons being fed in to the Allied line now started to pay dividends,

De Guisgard, the French Cavaly commander had been doing good work but the disparity of numbers now started to tell. He was pinned to his front just trying to contain the onslaught of the Dutch and when a gap opened in his lines on the right, 21 Danish Squadrons burst through, re-formed to the rear of the French, and charged.

The French were now massively outnumbered on the right and only at this point did Villeroi realise that he had been focusing on the wrong part of the battlefield. He desperately tried to bring his Cavarly reserve to bear but it was too little, too late.

The Maison de Roi broke and the whole French line started to collapse from right to left.

Orkney now re-crossed the Little Gheet and burst in to Offus, the remaining Allied Cavalry on the Left, The Scots-Greys Regiment picked their way across the stream and attacked in to Autre-Eglise where they inflicted heavy casualties on the now panicking garrison.

Before long the entire French army was in complete disarray and in full route to the North and west.

It was during this rout that the French suffered their worse casualties. The French and Bavarian commanders only just escaped capture.

The Allied cavalry were now unchained and pursued the retreating French mercilessly. It had gone midnight before Marlborough ordered an end to the pursuit.

By dawn the next day the extent of the defeat became obvious. In a little over 4 hours the Allied had broken the French army and in the pursuit that followed inflicted between 8000 and 12000 casualties (dead and wounded) and 7000 to 10000 captured.

Marlborough had managed the battle wonderfully. He identified crisis areas quickly and acted decisively he probed and felt his way along the French line to find their weaknesses and was able to deliver the maximum of weight behind he chosen axis of attack while at the same time keeping the French entirely in the dark as to where the blow would fall.

Unfortunately once the cannons went silent the same old rivalries and in-fighting began amongst the Allies and as the cracks in the alliance widened Louis was able to avoid Ramillies becoming the decisive battle of the war that it should have been.


Please bear in mind I do not unfortunately have access to primary sources and so this piece has relied on my reading of secondary sources in books and the internet. I would be happy to receive any suggestions of amendments or points of discussion.

Marlborough: Britain’s Greatest General - Richard Holmes

Marlborough: His Life and Times - Winston Churchill

Blenheim: Battle for Europe - Charles Spencer.

I am also going to add some further content to this article on my website including maps and orders of battle, it is a working progress so please keep checking for updates.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Wargame Update - A New Project.

I have been looking for a new 15mm Scale Project to run along side my (always) ongoing Thirty Years War and English Civil War 15mm scale Armies, by 18th Century Great Northern War Armies and my War of the Roses 28mm army.

So where has my eye settled, Romania. Or more precisely Wallachia circa, 1460 and the infamous Vlad III, Tepes “Vlad the Impaler” . Now this guy really had"a mean streak a mile wide". When he wasn't slaughtering his own nobles (Boyars) he was picking fights with the much bigger and more powerful Ottoman Empire. A fascinating and mysterious characher he deserves an article all to himself but my purpose here is to to talk about the army I am trying to build around this character to use in my frequent forays in to table top wargaming.
I have a later Medieval Polish army which I have been using with mixed success (ahem). This has given me an appetite for the colourful and varied Eastern European armies with their mix of Western European style armoured, Chivalric Knights and the lighter, composite bow armed cavalry so favoured by Muslim and eastern armies.
My cautious nature does not lend itself well to using Cavalry heavy armies effectively but it is challenging being outside my comfort zone. (Give me a shield wall on a hill and I’m happy).

So where to start? Well to begin with was the army list. My Ordero f Battle. I am basing it for the excellent Impetus Rules by Dadi & Piambo. They have a list for an army of this period together with options for Hungarian allies. I have browsed the list and got an idea of the core units I need. Basically, heavy cavalry, medium bow armed cavalry and light horse.

Next is finding the miniatures. Well Essex Miniatures ( are always a good start because of their comprehensive catalogue; however Donnington Miniatures ( also have some excellent Eastern European figures including Voynuks and even “impaled victims” which I just couldn’t resist.
I havegot the core of figures to start building the force; a camp and a few units of Light Horse and Medium Cavalry. However now I want to start collecting information on the dress and uniforms of the troops to make sure I can give the army the right “feel”. This, I have to admit I am struggling with. Getting hold of the information on the armies from this region is proving difficult, especially in English. The problems being that if you Google anything about Wallachia in the 1460’s you get nothing but pages and pages on Vlad himself and not his army.

Osprey do a book on Hungarian army of the period which is of use and I have found a war gamer in Glasgow that has just completed and similar army so I have contacted him for tips. I may have to wait until Fiasco (the Leeds Wargaming Show) in October and get some more resource books from the traders there.

The first unit to model and paint will be the camp. I’ve opted to go with Baueda ( who do excellent resin tents. I have ordered one Ottoman Turk Tent and another Western European style tent. I’ll mount these on a large base and surround these with the impaled victim miniatures I got from Donnington. I appreciate it won’t be exactly Historically accurate but I think it will help to give the army that east-meets-west feel I’m looking for. The impaled figures will give it a lovely morbid, appearance leaving the observer no doubt whose camp it is!

I will post pictures once each unit is completed and keep updating regarding the project. I the mean time, any comments or tips on where I can get information on a medieval Wallachian Armies would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Lutzen 1632

I find this battle fascinating for so many reasons but given it’s timing, location and the fact that we here in England were worrying about our own domestic problems at the time it is not as well known as say Marston Moor or Naseby.

This battle had everything though, two outstanding commanders of very different schools, huge numbers of combatants, ebb and flow, a controversial and undecided outcome and the death of two of the protagonists. What more could one wish for?!

The Thirty Years War had been raging across what is now Germany, The Czech Republic and much of Europe for nearly 15 years. The complexities of the causes of the conflict are mind boggling and I do not pretend to understand them all. It is seen as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants but this simple sectarian justification masks the fact that in the end, as always it came down to dynastic rivalries, imperial expansionism and greed in the guise of religious zeal.

To keep the context of the battle simple I will refer to the two forces as Catholics and Protestants but let me be clear that this in no way to suggest that the armies were all either Papists or Puritans. Soldiers across Europe at this stage were whatever religion got them pay and food, and it was common for individuals to desert one camp for another and then back again depending on the conditions and prospect of loot. Even the armies commanders were prepared to consider a change of allegiance depending on which way the political winds, or gold was flowing.


Albrecht von Wallenstein
Supreme Commander of the Forces of the ( most Catholic) Habsburg Monarchy.
He was essentially a soldier of fortune who had played the system of raising regiments and obtaining contracts from the government so well that he had become one of the richest and most powerful men in the area. The ruler of a the Duchy of Friedland. His wealth and ambition caused concern for the Emperor; Ferdinand II and he was released from service in 1630. However after a series of defeats by the Protestant forces of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden he was recalled.
A very capable commander his gifts were in the organisation and logistics of an army. Not lacking in tactical prowess he was getting a bit long in the tooth by 1632 to lead from the front.

King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden.
Probably the most famous commander to come out of this period, his tactical doctrine and fantastic leadership qualities have some list him as one of the great military commanders. A number of Protestant Scottish soliders served under his command and what they learnt from the charismatic King would be applied a decade later in the English Civil War.

Gottried Zu Pappenheim
A born again, devout Catholic and outstanding Cavalry commander he raised a regiment of Cuirassiers (heavy cavalry) and conducted an outstanding campaign behind Adolphus’ lines of communication which slowed the Swedish King’s ability to re-enforce his army quickly.
He was killed during this battle while leading his Cavalry straight in to the action.

Winter had come early to this part of what is now in central Germany. Wallenstein was convinced that given the conditions the fighting for 1632 was over and that both sides would now look to consolidate what they had and billet their armies in winter quarters. He sent Pappenheim with his Corps ahead and then marched his main headquarters towards Leipzig.

Adolphus on the other hand, not to be put off with heavy fog, sub zero temperatures and dreadful marching conditions decided that he wasn’t yet done for the year. He got intelligence of the fact that Wallenstein has split his force and resolved to attack!

Adolphus knew (roughly) where Wallenstein was and so on the morning of the 15th November 1632 he marched his army towards Lutzen hoping to intercept Wallenstein as he marched up the road that passed through this small town to Leipzig.

On approach he reached a large stream called the Rippach and on the other side of this was a regiment of Croat cavalry. Unfortunately for the Protestant King these outstanding light horseman put up a hell of a fight and seriously delayed his advance.

The result: Wallenstein was warned of Adolphus’ approach and sent word to Pappenheim to get his Bohemian backside back to Lutzen and to not spare the horses! (or words to that effect).

With the delay, Adolphus could not attack on the 15th as it was already late afternoon. As such he camped in battle array with a view to launching his attack first thing on the 16th November.

The following morning Adolphus set off towards his target. It was bitterly cold and a thick fog sulked across the area. This caused further delay for the Protestants who took a long time to get in to position for the advance.

Wallenstein had problems. He was out numbered in cavalry and though he had time to throw up defensive works along the length of the Lutzen to Leipzig Road, without Pappenheim, his left open to being outflanked by the protestant cavalry. To try and deter an attack on the left he moved his baggage and camp followers up to occupy the area where Pappenheim should have been. (He even got them to make fake flags out of bed sheets to make them look more like soldiers).

This didn’t fool Adolphus who after finally getting his army in position at 11am ordered an all out Cavarly attack on the Catholic left flank while his infantry pinned the enemies right and centre.

Things went well when the Finnish Hakkapelitta Cavalry smashed in to the Catholics left and the fake troops from the baggage train remembered they had important engagements elsewhere and fled. The Catholic left was now open to turn and it was simply a case of rolling up Wallenstein’s battle line…Or was it? In true Cavalry style who should ride over the hill at this moment but Pappenheim ahead of about 2500 cavalry! He smashed in to the Protestant cavalry and saved Wallenstein’s left wing. During the charge, Pappenheim took a cannon ball to the chest, knocking him from his horse and leaving him mortally wounded. One of the most incredible items preserved from this period is the note found on Pappenheim’s body from Wallenstein pleading for him to return to Lutzen. The note which has survived to this day is stained with Pappenheim’s blood from the injury he sustained. It is a fantastic poignant piece of history which I feel really brings the battle to life.

At around the same time that Pappenhiem fell, Adolphus who had been charging around like a man possessed rallying and cajoling different elements of this army lost his way in the fog and smoke and got separated from his life guard. Unfortunately for him, he ran straight in to a troop of enemy cavalry who recognised him, shot him, stabbed him and then shot him again. So ended the life of one of the most influential generals of the period. In something akin to a scene from a Hollywood film, as the smoke and fog thinned, Gustav’s white charger cantered along the battle line, riderless. The story of the Kings death swept through the Protestant army.

The combination of Pappenheim’s arrival and Adolphus’ death marked a shift in the battle. The Protestent’s momentum stalled. The Protestant infantry that had been assaulting Wallenstien’s centre failed to the take the entrenchments and began streaming back to their start positions.

The loss of the Swedish King had left the Protestant army leaderless. In to this breach stepped Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. He had been commanding on the left but upon hearing of the Kings death took command of the whole army. Obviously there was some discussion as to if he had authority to do so which was briskly settled when he shot and killed a Colonel who questioned his orders.

There is some debate as to whether the death of the King galvanised the army or whether Bernhard actually kept the fact of his death a secret. There can be no doubt at the very least there were rumours flying up and down the line that he was dead.

Bernhard reorganised his army and his Swedish Infantry once again threw itself at Wallenstien’s centre. This was a key position. The Catholics had placed three large batteries of cannon amongst three windmills on a ridge line. The Cannon were supported by entrenched musketeers along the road below the ridgeline. The Protestants threw everything at this position and finally took it as evening approached but at great cost and only thanks to some pretty poor showing by the Catholic cavalry reserve.

Wallenstein’s recognised at this point that his position was untenable and began an orderly withdrawal. This was about 6pm and though Pappenhiem’s infantry turned up about 6pm and wanted to counter attack the Swedes, Wallenstien refused the request.

There is some dispute over the extent of the Swedish Victory, Protestant propaganda obviously claimed a crushing victory but in reality the bloody assault on the Windmill Battery had cost them 6000 dead and wounded. The Catholics suffered less casualties but left the field in the hands of the enemy.

Though a tactical and strategic victory for the Protestants the butchers bill would have an impact on their ability to prosecute the war. They had lost their charismatic leader and the cream of their infantry. They achieved their objectives of pushing the Catholics out of Saxony but over the next few years, without Adolphus the Swedish interest in the war began to lose momentum and the Protestant cause lost direction.

Wallenstien would become less aggressive over the next few years and sensing the changing winds made overtures about switching sides. He had a number of enemies in the Habsbourg court including the Emperor and eventually his lack of political skill caught up with him he was assassinated by a group of men led by an English captain Walter Devereux on the 25th February 1634.

The Thirty Years War would trundle along bringing misery to tens of thousands for the next 16 years until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

If you have found this interesting please check out my website which is
I have a copy of this article but also some orders of battle and maps of the battle. Also a scenario for Impetus Barouqe (wargames rules) for the storming the Windmill Battery. I would be happy to receive any comments your have.

Lutzen 1632 by Richard Brzezinski

Europes Tragedy a History of the Thirty Years War by Peter H Wilson


Thursday, 15 July 2010

“Put your trust in god and keep your powder dry”

Oliver Cromwell famous advise to his troops during the invasion of Ireland.

Though probably a poetic statement not actually spoken by the man himself, If you looked him up in a dictionary these are the 10 words which I think would best define him. He believed that the hand of God was guiding his actions but had enough realism not to leave everything to providence. It is easy to see how the soldiers of England and even across Europe would have related to this sentiment with it's mix of religious fervour and cold pragmatism..

Oh by the way, welcome to my blog!

I intend to post as often as I can with the odd article and discussion on my main interest which is military history, particularly, the renaissance, thirty years war and you may have guessed, the English Civil Wars.

I read non-fiction and historical fiction and I’m also a keen wargamer so do a lot of research in to orders of battle, engagements, commanders and armies, I hope to pass this on via this blog.

My research skills are not what one would describe as perfectionist in nature and I do seem to jump to what I consider reasonable but what others may find ridiculous conclusions so please drop comments or abuse as long as it is constructive I don’t mind. Also, please send me links to other good blogs, articles and books.

Though Cromwell’s fantastic quote features in my blog he is not my favourite commander from the English Civil Wars. Black Tom Fairfax is my man and I want to open here with a battle involving him early on in the English Civil Wars in a battle close to where I live here in Leeds.

Black Tom’s Worst Defeat
The Battle of Seacroft Moor. 13th March 1643

The sight of the handful of bloodied survivors of his foot staggering back across the forbidding Yorkshire moorland must have had a significant affect on Thomas “Black Tom” Fairfax as he stood on the outer works of the city of Leeds on the evening of the 13th March 1643. After the wars he would maintain that the reverse on Sea Croft Moor was his worst defeat.

The “Battle" of Seacroft Moor was; when compared to - Naseby, Marston Moor or Edge Hill and indeed to what was going on in the rest of Europe - merely a skirmish around the outskirts of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire. The West Riding of Yorkshire has a number of other more famous battlefields such as Marsden Moor, Adwalton Moor and from earlier centuries Stamford Bridge and of course Towton.

This particular battle is interesting as; though small scale in relation to the numbers of combatants, it did cover quite some distance and is important because of the impact it had on Fairfax and the lessons he learned on the importance of intelligence but more importantly the discipline of troops (a lesson he would apply when leading the New Model Army a few years later. It is interesting too as it was a classic sacrificial move by Parliament in the chess game of manoeuvre. Though defeated in the field, this defeat allowed them to complete their strategic objectives.

March, 1643: Lord Ferdinando Fairfax ; commander of the Parliamentary Army of the North has established himself at Selby as a link between the Parliamentary bases in the wool towns of Leeds, Bradford and Halifax and the ports of Hull and Scarborough. The Royalist army under the Earl of Newcastle controls York and the River Wharfe crossings at Tadcaster and Wetherby.

With the defection to the Royalist cause of Hugh Cholmley at Scarborough the only main port left for the Parliamentarians is under Sir John Hotham at Hull.

Hotham’s loyalties are questionable to say the least at this point. Lord Ferdinando Fairfax realises that in the event that Hortham does switch sides then to remain in Selby could leave him exposed to direct attack from the Royalist Army of Newcastle or have his lines of communication between Leeds and Selby cut.

Lord Fairfax decides to withdraw to Leeds. However in order to cover this move he needs to divert Newcastle’s attention. Lord Fairfax orders his son Sir Thomas Fairfax to make a diversionary move towards Tadcaster.

The Royalist garrison at Tadcaster withdrew towards York on Fairfax’s approach. Seeing an opportunity to make it difficult for the Royalist to re-occupy Tadcaster he set about dismantling the Defences including a bridge over the Wharf.

Newcastle; immediately dispatched 20 troops of horse under Lieutenant General George Goring towards Tadcaster to intercept Fairfax.

Sir Thomas Fairfax (Parliament)

The Eldest son of Ferdinando 2nd Lord Fairfax, Thomas (called Black Tom due to his dark hair, dark eyes and swarthy complexion) studied at Cambridge and fought with Sir Horace Vere in Holland for the Dutch Protestant’s cause where he first gained his reputation for his qualities as an officer. ( He married Sir Horace’s daughter in 1637.)

He was knighted for his service for the King in the First Bishops War (1639) where he commanded a troop of Yorkshire Dragoons.

Thomas and his father had tried in vain to help the King reach a compromise with Parliament in June 1642. They declared for Parliament in August 1642.

Thomas’ father Lord Fairfax was appointed commander of the Northern Association Army of Parliament and Thomas’ was appointed second in command.

Black Tom gained reputation for bravery and gallantry, a professional soldier he kept away from politics and this would ultimately make him the ideal choice to lead the New Model Army later in the war. However in 1643 he was still subordinate to his father and struggling to maintain control of the England’s largest County; Yorkshire.

George Goring (Royalist)

Goring is a wonderful character from the Civil Wars: The son of the 1st Earl of Norwich, he was a bounder of the first order! He had married the daughter of an Irish millionaire but had debauched his way through his wife’s substantial dowry

In an attempt to reign-in his son in law and rectify both his financial position and reputation, Goring’s Father-in-Law purchased for him a commission as a Colonel of English troops for the Prince of Orange in the Netherlands.

Despite his hard drinking he proved to be a capable and brave officer. He took a Musket ball to the ankle in 1637 at the siege of Breda and retired honourably in 1639 where he was given the Governorship of Portsmouth.

He was given a regiment in 1639 in the First Bishops War and a Brigade in 1640.

Goring declared for the King in 1642 but the King was unable to send him support and he was forced to surrender Portsmouth to Sir William Waller in September 1642.

This incident had a damaged his reputation and he spent the next 3 months in the Netherlands helping the Queen in purchasing arms and raising troops before sailing back to Yorkshire. Upon arrival he was appointed Lieutenant General of Horse.

There is some confusion as to the exact location of the battle. The only first hand record is Fairfax’s memoirs written some years later where he refers to “Sea Croft Moor” This could be an area in the suburbs of Leeds around Seacroft which is now mostly housing estates and a shopping centre.

However some local historians [Harold Smith- see the link below to his excellent piece] suggest that given what we know of the battle and local geography, Fairfax probably got it wrong and the battle actually took place on Whinmoor.

This seems a sensible argument in that Whinmoor is right next to Bramham Moor and extends all the way to the very edge of Seacroft.. In addition, the lay of the land would also explain how Goering managed to out flank Fairfax without being seen (see below).

The initial skirmishes took place in and around the lanes that led to Bramham Moor. This favoured the musketeers who could line the hedgerows and give fire on the cavalry who would have been forced in to columns by the narrow lanes and enclosed fields.

However once caught on the open moor the infantry were in the middle of classic cavalry terrain. Open moor grassland with little cover for the musketeers.

If we accept that the battle actually took place on Whinmoor (which I believe has merit) then Goering managed to move his cavalry along the road between Bramham and Thorner and this movement was screened by Woodland to the east of Whinmoor.

Goring arrived as Fairfax’s troops were marching back towards from Tadcaster to Leeds over Bramham Moor. Skirmishing broke out amongst the lanes that led to the moor but this was inconclusive. The Parliamentarian Infantry, predominantly musketeers were able to hold their own against Goring’s cavalry.

Goring recognised the advantage his cavalry would have in the open ground of the moor and so withdrew to a discreet distance. He then took his Cavalry on a march round to the north and then east to intercept Fairfax on the Moor.

The Parlimentary force was made up of mostly Musketeers and irregular clubmen with very few pike and only two troops of Cavalry. The Infantry were were of poor quality. The lack of discipline meant that they had become strung out on the march over the Whinmoor. Some had entered local villages and spent the afternoon drinking and Officers had real difficulty get them moving again in good order.

As Goring’s cavalry appeared on the moor forming up for attack this must have sent panic along the line of march. With very few pikemen and half the force inebriated it was virtually impossible for them to resist Goring’s charge of 20 troops of Horse across the open moorland and the Parliamentarian foot broke almost immediately. The pursuit followed and took Goring’s Cavalry on to Seacroft Moor.

Though some managed to escape into Leeds over 200 were cut down and 800 taken prisoners.

Sir Thomas Fairfax would later say that this was the worse defeat of his career and there is no doubt that it gave the Parliamentarian’s a bloody nose. Fairfax himself had managed to rally a number of officers and withdraw in some order into Leeds. The Defeat was offset by the fact that his father had managed to march his force from Selby to Leeds without incident.

Strategically, Thomas Fairfax’s feint had worked. He had drawn attention away from his father allowing Ferdinando to make his move in to Leeds. However the loss of 1000 men was a high price to pay.

Fairfax would have his revenge however when his night attack on Wakefield yielded 1500 prisoners including Goering himself and would establish Fairfax’s reputation as an outstanding officer.

Finally; the incident taught Fairfax a bitter lessen about the importance of discipline at all levels of an army, especially on the line of march. A lesson that would contribute to the tactical discipline which lay at the heart of the effectiveness of the New Model Army two years later.


The game can be approached in two ways. Firstly using a small scale such as 6mm and playing lengthways on a 6x4 gaming table. The Parliamentary forces deploy amongst the enclosure at one end together with a small contingent of royalists. Flank march rules can be used to assess where and when the main cavalry force of Goring enters the moor.

Given the unbalanced nature of the forces and the terrain, a Royalist Victory is always likely, however rather than a slugging match the game can be designed so that Parliament gain victory points for the number of units (or individuals) he/she gets off the battle field. This will lead the Royalist to adopt an aggressive naturally Cavalry approach and give the Parlimentary commander a number of challenges in trying to co-ordinate a withdrawal with minimum casualties and hamper the Royalist pursuit.


Here are some links to other sites with information on the Battle of Seacroft Moor