The Battle of Fisher’s Crossing (Report)
|Traffic Jam – 18th Century Style! Two Continental Brigades arrive at the crossroads in Catawba Town at the same time. Fife & Drum Miniatures and terrain pieces by Herb Gundt.|
Summary of Events So Far
In May of 1780, the Crown Forces are gaining the upper hand in South Carolina following two major victories over Rebel forces at Winnsboro and McDowell. However, all is not doom and gloom for the Rebels (Americans, or Continentals) as there is a resurgence of partisan activity in the tidewater region led by Francis Marion and another uprising in the back country by the forces of Thomas Sumter. Sumter has recently captured the Loyalist stronghold at Augusta, Georgia while Marion has established a blockade around the fortified town of Georgetown.
The two main field armies of the Americans are commanded by Baron DeKalb (8SPs) at Catawba Town and by Horatio Gates (8SPs) at Cheraw; facing them are Colonel Webster (7SPs) and Lord Cornwallis (8SPs), respectively.
Webster’s British army has been pursuing DeKalb’s army for a week now, and has finally caught up with the Americans at the Catawba River, at a place known as Fisher’s Crossing. After a brief cavalry skirmish (reported earlier on this blog ( Cavalry Skirmish Report ), the two armies are drawn up in battle formation facing one another on opposite sides of the Catawba River. The map below depicts the battlefield terrain and the initial deployment of the British and American forces, by brigades.
|Terrain map and initial deployment of forces (British in Red, Americans in Blue)|
The Crown Forces
Colonel Webster has 7SPs („strength points“) of high quality troops that he has organized into three brigades for the coming battle. Note that artillery units are not included in the SPs of each army, artillery being decided by the number of SPs in the army.
British Battle Plan: Webster’s disdain for the quality of the Continental troops is the basis for his decision to launch an all-out attack on the enemy’s center with a supporting advance on his left and a screening action on his right.
Left Wing – Major Stuart Grant
5th Regt (32 figures)
27th Regt. (32 figures)
1 x 1-pound amusette
Major Grant’s orders are to find a ford on the British left flank and cross the Catawba River to engage the rebels and support the main attack in the center.
|The 5th Regiment and 1-pound Amusette in Grant’s Brigade.|
Center – Major Henry Wemyss
55th Regt. (32 figures)
Queen’s Rangers (24 figures)
2 x 3-pound artillery pieces
Major Wemyss‘ orders are to organize an assault across the bridge at Fisher’s Crossing and charge through the center of the rebel position on the opposite bank.
|Wemyss‘ Brigade establishes a bridgehead on the north bank of the Catawba River.|
Right Wing – Major Patrick Ferguson
4th Regt. (32 figures)
Converged Light Battalion (24 figures) – „elite“
16th Light Dragoons (16 figures)
1 x 1-pound amusette
Major Ferguson’s orders are to probe the difficult terrain on the right flank and protect the flank of Weymess‘ attack in the center.
|Major Ferguson’s British Brigade (16th LD not shown in the picture).|
The American Forces
Major General DeKalb („Baron De Kalb“) has organized his Continental army into two infantry brigades and one cavalry brigade. There are also some local independent militia companies that have turned out to support the American army for this particular battle.
American Battle Plan: DeKalb has decided to use a „rear slope“ defensive strategy in his fight against the British. He will only show a few of his troops on the crest of the ridge overlooking the Catawba River, but hide the balance of his army behind the ridge. Militia companies will be deployed forward in the wooded areas along the river on both the left and right flanks of the American position while chosen men will man the two rifle pits that guard the bridge at Fisher’s Crossing.
Left Wing – Colonel Otho Williams
6th Maryland (24 figures)
3rd South Carolina (30 figures)
1st Pennsylvania (30 figures)
1 x 3-pound cannon
Colonel Williams will deploy the 6th Maryland regiment and the 3-pounder on the ridge to the left of the main road. The 3rd South Carolina Regiment will remain in the dead ground behind the 6th Maryland, unseen by the British. The 1st Pennsylvania regiment will be posted in reserve on the road, behind the ridge, where it can shore up any weaknesses in the army’s battle line.
|The 6th Maryland (left) and 3rd South Carolina (right) Continental regiments of Colonel Otho Williams‘ brigade.|
Right Wing – Colonel John Eager Howard
1st Delaware (24 figures) – „elite“
1st Maryland (24 figures)
2nd Maryland (24 figures)
2 x 6-pound cannon
Colonel Howard’s brigade will deploy to the right of the main road on the ridge. The 1st Maryland and the Delaware regiment will be positioned to the right of the 6-pounders, which have dropped trail in the middle of the road that overlooks the bridge over the Catawba River. The 2nd Maryland will remain in reserve, hidden in the dead ground behind the ridge.
|Forward rifle pits flank and protect the approach to the bridge at Fisher’s Crossing.|
Cavalry Brigade – Colonel William Washington
1st Continental Light Dragoons (16 figures)
3rd Continental Light Dragoons (8 figures)
Colonel Washington will hold his cavalry in reserve behind the ridge and await orders for further action, as required.
Independent Militia Battalions
Marion’s SC Mounted Militia (12 figures)
1st Catawba Militia (20 figures)
2nd Catawba Militia (20 figures)
Colonel Marion will deploy his mounted militiamen in the wooded area on the left flank of the Continental army, in front of Colonel Williams‘ brigade. Their orders are to fire 1-2 times and then retire back to the American lines.
The two Catawba militia regiments will deploy in the wooded area on the right flank (in front of Howard’s brigade) of the army’s battle line. Their orders are to contest the ford across the Catawba and then to retire back towards Howard’s brigade.
The American army will win if they continue to hold the ridge overlooking the Catawba River at the end of 12 game turns, or if at any time, they eliminate 3SPs of British units during the battle.
The British army will win if they capture and control the ridge overlooking the Catawba River, or if they eliminate 3SPs of Continental regulars. American militia units will not count towards this elimination number.
The Battle Report
I will largely allow the picture captions to explain what happened during the Battle of Fisher’s Crossing.
The British Assault across the River
The British commenced the battle with Wemyss‘ Brigade moving at the double quick up the road so as to cross the Catawba bridge as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of time spent under the mouth of the cannon across the river. In this they largely succeeded, although the Queen’s Rangers took a lot of casualties in the process. Wemyss‘ 16th Light Dragoons were supposed to charge across the bridge behind the 55th and Queen’s Rangers, but it was soon clear that their charge path would be blocked off by their own troops.
On the British right wing, Major Patrick Ferguson advanced his Light Battalion up to the river to engage any rebel riflemen that were probably hidden in the trees. Indeed, they discovered Marion’s mounted militia and distressed them with a couple of rounds of 1-pounder shot from the Amusette in the brigade. Ferguson seeing that Weymess needed more weight in numbers, detached the 4th Regt. from his brigade and sent them across the bridge to build up the bridgehead.
On the British left wing, Major Stuart Grant moved one regiment (the 5th) up to the river, near the bridge, looking for a shallow place to ford and help extend the left side of the bridgehead. However, they were not able to find the ford (50% chance of D10 of finding the ford on each turn – bad dice rolling kept them from crossing the river). At the same time, Grant sent the 27th Regiment off to the wooded area on the left flank, where they found the ford and began to cross the Catawba River. On seeing their success, Grant recalled the 5th Regiment and had them follow the 27th across the ford.
The Americans‘ Response
DeKalb calmly waited as he allowed his militia units to fire a volley and retire, hoping that this would slow down the pace of the British advance. As stated previously, Marion’s mounted militia on the American left were roughly handled by the British Light Battalion, so they retired across the river to safety. The chosen riflemen manning the rifle pits were quickly rendered hors de combat and the survivors fled to safety. On the American right flank, two militia battalions traded musketry with the British 27th Regiment. The 1st Catawba Militia routed after receiving one hit. They ran through the supporting 2nd Catawba Militia, causing them to rout as well.
Howard moved the Delaware and 1st Maryland regiments forward towards the river to contest the crossing of the river by Grant’s Brigade. Howard held the 2nd Maryland in reserve behind the ridge.
In the center, the American artillery were cleaving great holes through the red and green coats that charged up the road towards them. DeKalb, sensing some danger, ordered the 1st Pennsylvania to march up the road and deploy to the left of the American artillery and steady the battle line.
Colonel William Washington held back the 3rd Continental Dragoons as a backstop in case of an infantry rout, but he also sent the 1st Continental Dragoons forward and to the left flank to see if they could create any mischief.
|Continental 6-pounders deployed on the road facing the bridge.|
|The artillery train showing the limbers and an ammo wagon that is being unloaded. Washington’s cavalry brigade can be seen at the upper left and center of the picture.|
|Wemyss‘ Brigade begins its assault on the American center by crossing the bridge and then deploying into line to confront the rebels.|
|The 4th Regiment from Ferguson’s Brigade initially moves to the edge of the river to support the assualt of Wemyss‘ Brigade, seen crossing the bridge.|
|Ferguson eventually diverts the 4th Regiment from his brigade across the river to add weight to the British bridgehead.|
|The Light Battalion and an Amusette advance to the river to protect the British right flank from American riflemen that are deployed in the woods.|
|Grant’s Brigade advances towards the Catawba River, hoping to find a ford to cross. Meanwhile, a pair of 3-pounders advance to support the infantry assault of Wemyss‘ Brigade.|
|British 3-pounders drop trail and deploy to support the attack. Colonel Webster can be seen on the right hand side (lower corner) of the picture. Major Wemyss is the mounted officer seen between the cannon crew and the road.|
|Grant sends the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment to cross the river at a newly-discovered ford, to outflank the American right flank. American militia, deployed in the woods, fired a few shorts and then skedaddled.|
The critical moment of the battle arrived with the British building up their bridgehead to three battalions on the American side of the river. De Kalb began to envelope the bridgehead from three sides, with the river itself cutting off the fourth side of the British position. Both sides traded murderous musketry with the other. Lousy shooting on the British part did not help their cause, but they were hitting enough rebels to create a level of doubt in DeKalb’s mind. Whichever side would flinch first would likely lose the battle.
The Queen’s Rangers were the linchpin that broke first and this would prove to be the turning point in the battle. They routed back across the bridge, opening up a wide gap on the British right side of the bridgehead. The Americans took advantage of the opportunity by moving their dragoons and infantry into position to charge into flank and rear of the remaining British regiments on the north bank of the Catawba River.
The Americans won the initiative die roll on Turn 6 and elected to take the first move rather than the first fire on the turn. As well they should, because this allowed the Americans to charge into the rear of the 4th Regt. with the dragoons and into the flank of the 55th Regt. by the 6th Maryland infantry before the British could react and change facing. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because a British turn to the danger on their right would have exposed them to a ruinous flank attack on their left. They were damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
The resulting charges proved to be the endgame as the British infantry in the bridgehead had no choice but to lay down their weapons and surrender. So the British lost 2SPs and Major Wemyss in the surrender, while the QR regiment, routing, was decimated down to one stand of 8 figures. This ended the battle of Fisher’s Crossing. DeKalb declined to pursue the British army, so Webster was able to extract 4 SPs from the battle. He would lose an additional Strenght Point as a consequence of losing the battle, so having begun the day with 7SPs, Webster’s British army was reduced to but 3SPs by the end of the day. It was a very successful battle for the Americans and lead to some dark days ahead for the British in our South Carolina 1780 Campaign.
|Disaster! The Queen’s Rangers rout after cannon fire and musketry cut down half of its complement of men.|
|The rout of the Queen’s Rangers exposes the 55th (left) and 4th (right) regiments to a fatal attack from the flank or rear at the bridgehead.|
|End Game: the 1st Continental Dragoons charge into the rear of the 4th Regt. while the 6th Maryland Continentals (yellow & black flag) charge into the flank of the 55th Regt. Both regiments have no choice but to surrender or get cut down to the man.|
It was a fun game, lasting only six turns, but there was a lot of action going on. Admittedly, Colonel Webster’s charge across the Catawba River bridge was foolish in hindsight (I rolled dice to determine whether Webster would attack or decline to offer battle. Webster’s dice made the wrong choice). That said, there was a moment or two when it seemed like the Americans would break first, but some good morale dice rolling saved their bacon in this battle.
The rules used were my own Fife & Drum Rules for the AWI, which you can download for free on the Fife and Drum Miniatures web site.
You can also refer to the rules tutorial that was posted to my previous blog entry that gives a step by step run through of how to play the rules .
The South Carolina Campaign Continues
I will be posting the moves for Turn Six of our campaign, which represents June 1780, and put the moves on this blog within the next couple of days after readers have had a chance to digest the battle report posted today.
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