Tarleton Destroys Americans at the Battle of McDowell

British Legion cavalry capture the American baggage train at the Battle of McDowell.
I fought the Battle of McDowell as a solo wargame yesterday and the result was a crushing defeat of Sevier’s American army of 6SPs by Tarleton’s British army of 3SPs. Four of the six regiments under Sevier’s command were militia and only two regiments were State Troops/Continentals. Tarleton’s smaller army was of higher quality with the British Legion cavalry and infantry plus the elite converged British Light Battalion.

Please click or double click on any of the pictures to enlarge the pictures and gain a better view of the battle.

First Phase of Battle: the taking of the town
Today’s post will focus on the First Phase of the battle: the eviction of the American militia, commanded by Captain Ray, from the town of McDowell. Interestingly, the musketry for both sides was particularly bad today, so the sword and bayonet of the British caused the most casualties in this phase.

On the first turn, Tarleton’s army arrived on the south table edge and quickly advanced on the town of McDowell. Infantry flankers were sent off to the left and right to beat the bushes for any American ambuscades. At the same time, a troop of the British Legion cavalry trotted ahead of the main force to see if any of the enemy were in the town. (Do you think?)

The British Legion arrives, with flankers out in front.

Captain Ray supervises the deployment of his American militia in McDowell.

Captain Ray posted his five companies of Spartanburg Militia in the town: 3 companies along the fenceline and 2 companies blocking the road in the center of the town. Ray’s orders were to fire off a volley or two and then retire into the wooded area in the center of the battlefield. The aerial picture below provides a good overview of the situation at the end of the first turn. BL scouts move towards the town, the militia are in the town, and off in the distance, the American baggage train attempts to get out of town and head for safety.

There are three more regiments of American militia, one in each of the three wooded areas behind the town of McDowell. In the left woods is Captain Hopkins‘ Thickety Creek Militia; in the center woods is Captain Kent’s Rockville Militia, and in the right hand woods we find Captain Vicker’s Gilbert Town Militia. Far to the rear end of the table, Colonel Sevier has deployed his two regiments of Continental or State troops – veterans of the war so far. Sevier’s objectives are (1) to get his baggage train off the back table edge and (2) hold out for 12 game turns without losing his Continentals. All games in the campaign last a maximum of 12 turns. If there is no winner, then both armies retire two dots backwards.

Overhead view of the British Legion scouting party moving into the town of McDowell. The town militia, commanded by Captain Ray, deploy along the fences and block off the town square.

Tarleton’s objectives are to capture the American baggage train and to destroy as much of the American army as he can. Tarleton’s strategy is to act aggressively against the militia and charge them at every opportunity. His splits up his two squadrons of cavalry, sending the first squadron charging through the town to scatter Ray’s militia and then catch up to the American baggage train in the distance. His second squadron skirts to the right of the town. Unbeknownst to the Americans, a brigade of British Light infantry and the 17th Light Dragoons will enter the table on the left (American right) flank and cut off any retreating militia.

British Legion cavalry: one squadron charges into the town while the other squadron attempts to ride around the right flank of the town, with rifle armed skirmishers leading the way.

The troop of British Legion („BL“) cavalry show no respect for the American militia and rashly charge into town to melee with the two companies of militia that are blocking the road. The first squadron of the BL cavalry follows closely behind. Somehow the militia passed their „fear of cavalry“ morale test and fought hand to hand with the BL scouting troop.

A troop of British Legion cavalry rashly charge into the town militia., supported by the rest of its squadron.  Captain Ray shouts encouragement to his men: „everyone must contribute or else!“

It’s bad news for the American Side as the British Light Brigade enters the table on their right flank.
The British Light Brigade (converged light companies plus the 17th Light Dragoons) suddenly emerge on the West Road and threaten the town’s right flank (British left flank).

British attack envelopes the town, with British Light Brigade flanking the lefthand side and British Legion cavalry charging through the middle of town and advancing around the righthand side of the town.
Captain Ray’s militia companies in the road lose the melee, going shaken, and fall back into the woods. The other two companies have entered the buildings, thinking them to be a safe place to be, unaware of the order to fall back from the town. Three companies of British Light infantry surround the town and root out the militia. The other two companies and the 17th Dragoons hurry past the town hoping to get ahead of the retiring militia and cut them off.

The British Light Battalion attacks the town. Two companies of Ray’s Militia are holed up in the buildings, unaware that the other three companies have already legged it out of town, seeking safety in the center woods.
The town militia have had enough and skedaddle, closely pursued by British Light companies.

The British Light companies gain the first fire initiative on Turn 3 and somehow manage to completely whiff on their musket fire. The American militia return the compliment by likewise whiffing on their musket fire. The two militia companies in the buildings realize that the jig is up, time is running out, and so the great skedaddle begins. Meanwhile, Captain Ray finds safety (temporarily at least) in the center woods and finds support from Kent’s Militia, also deployed in the center woods.

Our campaign games have the Gates Rule, which requires any commander who comes under fire (i.e his command stand is touching one of his units that has been fired at) to take a personal morale test to see if he „pulls a Gates“ and leave his troops behind while he runs off to safety.  A roll of 10% or less on a D100 percentage dice results in the commander doing a sauve qui peut. Sadly, Captain Ray failed his Gates test whilst enscounced in the woods and told his men that he was, um, er riding to the rear to go get some reinforcements. History does not record what his men thought of this.

Captain Ray sets a good example for his militia.

So after four turns, the situation is shown in the annotated picture below. The town has been evacuated by Ray’s Militia and the first squadron of BL cavalry is already charging down the road, ignoring the militia in the center woods, and trying to catch up to the American baggage train. Light troops cover the woods on the left and right hand sides of the table in the event that there are any enemy troops in those woods.

The situation after Phase 1 of the battle, evicting the militia from the town, is finished. The red arrows indicate the direction of the various British units as they attempt to surround and cut off two militia regiments in the center woods. The blue are indicates the skedaddle of the town militia into the center woods.

The next report will cover the second phase of the battle: rousting out the American militia from  all  wooded areas and attacking the baggage train.

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