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The Storming of Fort Washington, 1776


The American War of Independence,  Black Powder, 28mm

We recently started playing an American War of Independence game in the Edinburgh club. the whole thing is organised by Michael Schneider, who rather fortuitously has a large matched pair of armies for the period. In the campaign, Jack Glanville is playing the part of the rebel General Washington, while Bart Zydna is General Howe. Others of us play the part of minor commanders – for instance I’m Major General James Grant, who currently has the job of chasing the rebels across the Hudson. The campaign began after the rebels were driven out of New York, and were regrouping near White Plains, about 25 miles to the north of the city. We’d already fought one battle – Chatterton’s Hill – where the rebels were driven from their strong defensive position, and their flank was exposed. Now while Clinton and Grant were busy harrying the disorganised rebels, Howe marched south again to deal with Fort Washington.This thorn in our rear was situated at the north end of Manhattan ISland, between the Hudson River to the west and the smaller Haarlem River to the east. In the real campaign, Howe launched a set-piece attack against the fort, using part of his main army as well as his reserves in New York. Bart eschewed such caution, and used some local loyalist militia as a blocking force to the south, while crossing the Haarlem with his main force and attacking the fort from the north.As a fort it wasn’t much – really just a string of earthworks on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Hudson. As the game began, British warships were already bombarding the fort from the river, to cover Howe’s force being rowed across the Haarlem. In numbers the two forces were fairly equal – the equivalent of two large brigades per side. However, while five of the eight rebel units were militia, both our brigades were veterans – one of British regulars, the other of Hessians. In the attack Bart took charge of the Hessians, I commanded the British, while Jim helped Michael defend the fort.The whole area beyond the immediate environs of the fort was covered with brown-leafed or bare deciduous trees – this being early November 1776 – but Michel decided to leave these off the table, as these would only have been on the fringes of the table – the rest would have been cleared to improve the rudimentary fort’s field of fire. Rather than defend the fort itself – which wasn’t really defensible – the garrison lined an outer perimeter, sited on hills overlooking a small creek. For the most part this was off-table, but we showed its northern side. This was where we appeared – the Hessians on the right – the British on the right. The Americans had a good idea where we’d be arriving, and deployed accordingly, but they couldn’t be sure we didn’t have a flanking force – we did – and so they had to keep some units back to defend the eastern and southern sides of their outworks. Bart was in action from the start – his Hessians stormed up the hill and rolled into the militia and a continental regiment guarding the American flank.The Americans did what they could, but within two turns their continental unit had broken, and their militia had retreated back into the fort. The Hessians pursued. Meanwhile my British ships had wiped out the batteries inside the fort, and so when Bart’s Hessians dealt with the militia, they entered the fort, and held it for the rest of the game.This was our victory objective – and we’d got it by Turn 5. Up above is a Don Troiani (?) painting culled from the web, showing the Hessians doing exactly what Bart’s guys did, with the Hudson River behind them, and the New Jersey shore in the distance. However, capturing the fort didn’t end the game. The fighting continued, as the Americans – now trapped – had nothing to lose. My British got off to a bad start – they rolled a “double 6” on their first turn – a “blunder”, and spent their first turn off table marching to the left. This meant that when they did appear there was a gap between us and the Hessians. Fortunately the Americans were in no position to exploit it, and within a few turns we’d managed to restore a complete unbroken front.My four British line battalions operated in pairs – one firing, the other assaulting – and in theory this worked, as we gradually rolled back the Americans. On my left the leading unit took a bit of a pounding from American fire, but the regiment behind passed through them, and forced their opponents to take a break test – which they failed. Once most of the “hits” on my first unit were removed the process began again, and in this way we destroyed two American units – one militia, the other regulars – and drove the rest back. On my right my other two battalions were occupied clearing the hill to the north of the fort of American units, working closely with the Hessians on their flank.Actually my troops weren’t particularly adventurous – it was Bart’s Hessians who stole the show – first charging the American main defensive line, and then capturing the fort from under the Americans’ noses.  by the end of the game the American had only one regular unit left, and it was in bad shape, plus two units of militia. In the final turn our flanking force – a unit of Loyalist militia – arrived, and occupied the now abandoned south-eastern corner of the American defensive perimeter. And so the game ended. it was declared an emphatic American win, and due to the fact that the remains of the garrison was surrounded, and our ships controlled the Hudson, then the defenders were duly captured, and marched off to some rotting hulk moored in New York Harbour.During the battle none of our units broke, although a few came close, so in campaign terms we took no losses. The morale of the rebels will have suffered too, and for supply purposes we have complete control of Manhattan Island and the Hudson, which c opens up the possibility of landing a well-supplied army in New Jersey, to harry the rebels to destruction. As an optimistic Bart (Howe) put it – “this might all be over by Christmas! We’ll see…

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