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The Battle of Oriskany, 1777

The American War of Independence, Black Powder, 28mm

Oriskany is a popular battle to refight, thanks to the varied troop types who took part. You have indians, militia, rangers, provincials – just about everything apart from British regulars. Bill didn’t have all of these painted up, so some British redcoats “stood in”. Still, the scenario was the main thing, and it worked well, producing a tense and interesting game. Here’s what went on;dsc01453This game was run by Bill Gilchrist, and was loosely based on the Battle of Oriskany, fought in the backwoods of upper New York in August 1777. The background to the original battle was that a small army of the good guys under General St. Leger were besieging the Rebel-held Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley. An American relief column was organised by General Herkmer, consisting the Tryon County militia supported by a detachment of riflemen and a party of friendly Oneida Indians. A few miles from the fort they were ambushed by American Loyalists led by Sir John Johnson, supported by a horde of Indians. In this game the battle was less of an ambush than the real thing, and the Loyalists (played by Hugh Wilson) had red rather than green-coated regulars, and Hessian skirmishers, as those were the toys Bill had available. To win, the Americans (played by Colin Jack) had to drive off the British, and march off the table to relieve the fort. In every other Black Powder game Bill has organised the Americans won easily. The question was whether the British could pull it off this time, helped by their war-painted allies.dsc01459The British force consisted of a company of regulars (Loyalists of the Royal New York Rgt.), supported by detachments of Hessian Jaegers and Loyalist Butler’s Rangers. Hiding off table edge on one flank were tree warbands of Six Nations Indians. The idea was that when the British tripped their ambush and pinned the Americans, the Indians would come rushing out of the woods and chop up the American column. Other than the main track all the table was assumed to be forest, although in the photos it looks like an area of open fields. Bill couldn’t face moving through all those trees, hence the seemingly open terrain.dsc01457The Rebels marched up the forest track, but their scouts spotted the waiting British, and so the column deployed to meet them. That turned what might have been an ambush into a head-on encounter in the woods. The first clash was between the Oneida Indians and the Hesse-Hanau Jaegers. The indians charged, and their blood-curdling and ferocious attack broke the Jaegers in a single turn. The British commander tried to retrieve the situation by throwing his crack regulars forward. His plan was to break the American centre.dsc01454The trouble was, his Indian allies were too slow, and didn’t fall on the flanks of the American force before the British began their attack. As a result the  loyalist regulars went in unsupported and – horror of horrors – they were broken in hand to hand combat by the Rebel militia. While all this was taking place the remainder of the American force was engaged in a running firefight in the woods with Butler’s Rangers. Outnumbered, the loyalists were eventually broken by a combination of Rebel firepower and a determined attack by the seemingly invincible Tyron County militia.dsc01456With nothing left on the table but the three Indian warbands, the British player conceded the game.  In the real battle the Rebels were pretty badly mauled, but they fought back well and the Loyalists were only able to win a pretty marginal victory. In this refight the Americans were triumphant, Fort Stanwix would have been relieved, and the Mohawk Valley and upper New York would have become a Rebel stronghold. Once again the Americans won the game, helped by the British player’s abysmal die rolls for break tests. The whole affair lasted under two hours. Black Powder mightn’t be the best set to recreate the American War of Independence with as its difficult to make militia as bad as they really were. However, nobody can argue that they produce a fast and enjoyable game… and a pretty one.

The Bri


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