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The Battle of Worcester, 1651


The English Civil War, Pike & Shotte, 28mm

It was the League of Gentlemen Wargamers weekend, up in Kirriemuir. That means a fun multi-player game, and the chance to hang out with friends for a couple of days. This session was no exception. Last year, we agreed to play an English Civil War this weekend, and even more rashly, Chris Henry and I agreed to organise it. We did a tally of the lead everyone had, and found we had an awful lot of Scots Covenanters. This dictated what battle we’d play. So, after a bit of head-scratching, we decided on a refight of Worcester.All we had to do then was to pick a set of rules, and figure out how to recreate the battle. Worcester (1651) was really the last proper battle of the Civil War – or rather the third one. After getting beaten at Dunbar the Scots allied themselves with Charles II, and invaded England. Cromwell and the New Model Army caught up with them at Worcester, and pinned them there. Then he attacked, rolled up the Scots army, and soundly defeated them. Unfortunately Charles II managed to escape, and then famously evaded capture by hiding in an oak tree. Our refight of Worcester would start the way the real battle did – with the New Model Army pinning the Covenanters in and around the city, just before they launched their main attack. We had 13 players, with Dale playing the part of the Covenanter commander, whom we called Lord Kingarth for the occasion. He had five subordinates – mostly Scots, with a few English Royalists thrown in. I assumed the role of Cromwell, ably assisted by six Major Generals of the New Model Army. We had a whole hall to play in, so Chris and I divided Worcester and its environs into five tables. the River Severn ran between them, with Tables 1 and 4 on the western bank, and Tables 2, 3 and 5 on the eastern one.The city of Worcester sat on Table 5 (a 12×6 footer), along with the New Model entrenchments facing it. Table 3 (8×6 foot) also contained a bit of Worcester (its southern tip), and a star fort called Fort Royal. There were more New Model entrenchments on the eastern side of the table. By contrast Table 2 (8×6 foot) was largely unused, with a hill on it, and a couple of villages. On the western bank of the river Table 1 (a 12×6 footer) was set arond the River Teme, a tributary of the Severn, and Powick Bridge. Finally Table 2 (12 x 6 foot) represented the western approaches to Worcester, leading to a bridge over the river into the city. At the start the Scots started with some troops in Worcester, while the rest came on to Table 4 from the north-west. The New Model also had some troops in their entrenchments to the west of the city, while others were coming on to Table 2. The New Model also had the option to detach a large force in a flanking attack, which would appear on the southern edge of Table 1 after a few turns. So, the Scots had to decide what to do – oppose the enemy near the River Team, reinforce Worcester, or split their forces and do both. In the end they marched south. However, Peter N. rolled superbly for his arrival, while the Scots were held up by  two incidents – a rising by local clubmen in the village of St. Johns, and then a fistfight between two Covenanter regiments – one from Edinburgh, and one from Glasgow. This meant that it was the New Model who reached Powick bridge first. However, not to be outdone, Kevin raced a couple of units into a wood guarding the northern approaches to the bridge, and as a result he effectively penned Peter into his bridgehead for half of Saturday’s gaming! Meanwhile, on Table 3 Colin advanced and captured Fort Royal, which was left undefended. He then launched an assault on the city walls. While this was repulsed with quite heavy losses, by holding the fort he effectively penned the Scots in the city.The Scots could only recapture the fort by launching a major sortie from the city, and the defenders decided it wasn’t worth it. So, both sides glared at each other for the rest of the day. Over on Table 5 Steve also tried storming the walls, but the assault came to nothing when he realised he’d left his ladders at home. The opening few hours of Saturday’s game were spent probing each other’s positions, and generally getting the feel for the rules. By mid afternoon though we’d started the game in earnest, with a large-scale Covenanter advance towards Powick Bridge. I think the aim was to defeat Peter’s contingent in detail, before he could be reinforced. Strangely this would have gone better if Lord Kingarth hadn’t manage to convince himself that a major New Model Force were going to appear on the northern edge of Table 4. So, he dithered and loitered with the Scots cavalry, leaving his infantry to plod on to the south. That was when Keiron – Maj. Gen. Fleetwood – made his move. Historically, the New Model built a pontoon bridge across the River Severn, and emerged behind the Scots flank as they lined the River Teme. The timing wasn’t perfect though, and the Scots were still well to the north. So, the best they could do was to pin the Covenanters on Table 4. A small advanced guard under Peter Mearns actually reached Table 1, but the arrival of Cromwell with some infantry and dragoons soon put paid to that. The Scots were surrounded, then slaughtered to a man. Meanwhile things were heating up on Table 4. Yet more new Model troops tramped across the bridge of boats, and soon the Scots were facing a major drive towards the bridge into Worcester. This had to be held at all costs, as without it the city would be completely surrounded – and Charles II would be captured. By now though, Lord Kingarth had been reinforced by General Leslie, who’d spent the day in Worcester. So, as we broke up and went to the Airlie Arms for food and drink, everything was still all to play for. In the pub the England v Scotland rugby game was on – a bit like a sporting version of our game. It ended, amazingly enough, in a  draw, but both sides hoped for a better result when we trooped back into the hall the following morning. Actually, the game took on its own knife-edge drama. First, two breaches were blown in the walls of Worcester, allowing Steve and Colin to launch their assault, with Colin supported by Peter McCaroll. I didn’t hold out much hope for this, but the two stormed through the city’s southern defences, and chopped up the Scots defenders. By Sunday lunchtime they were heading through the streets onto Table 5. Over on the far bank of the river the New Model offensive was running out of steam. I’d managed to deal with Kevin’s pesky highlanders, but I spent most of Sunday fighting the rest of his force, and making very little headway. Over nearer the river the Parliamentarian drive north was stalled by Dale and Jack, while Kieron’s assualt, while driving Jack’s Scots back, wasn’t able to cut the road leading to the Worcester bridge. It was at that point that Charles Grant, leading the Scots’ “Engager” (pro-king faction), decided to make a dramatic move. Charles’ leader figure – the Duke of Hamilton – issued a “follow me” order, and escorted by a regiment of Royalist cavalry he thundered over the bridge and out of Worcester. It was a sensible move, as the city was clearly about to fall. So, from that moment on it became all about keeping that roat to the west open. For three turns we tried to cut our way through the Scots and bar Charles’ exit. We didn’t manage it, and the game wended with Charles Ii riding off into the sunset, leaving the Scots fighting and dying for his lost cause. So, we umpires duly declared the game a Covenanter win. After all, they’d saved the king, and their last-ditch defence had saved the day. The game was great fun, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. the rules worked, mainly thanks to Bill Gilchrist’s amendments, which made foot regiments operate as single units. The rules as written are a bit silly, as pike and shot from the same regiment are separate units, and so can do their own thing. This though, worked to perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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