Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Giving personalities to our figures and a little tale.

Our little metal and plastic warriors, carefully selected, purchased, painted and based eventually find themselves on a table top, ready to do battle. The individual miniature soldier becomes part of a unit, which itself then becomes part of a larger army. We stand and survey our forces with satisfaction and cannot wait to grab a hand full of dice to move them into action and undoubted glory.

Some rules, especially small scale skirmish games, actually allow each tiny trooper to have a name and rank, possibly even a medal or two from past battles and campaigns. We may well grow fond of a particular character or regiment and actually worry about their fate, when they become involved in some particularly nasty combat with the likelihood of taking casualties.

In the recent batrep on 'The Battle of Wakefield Road,' posted on this blog.

 As the battle raged I could not help but think what it must have been like for those men, most being involved in combat for the very first time. Yes I know, they are plastic and metal, no skin, bones, blood or a brains, they do not feel fear or even move on their own accord, but our hobby is one of simulation, and as the fighting around the house, grounds and the wall surrounding them, intensified with volleys of musket fire and wild charges with pike and swords, the wall was lost, won and lost again in wave after wave of vicious, close, face to face combat, I couldn't help but feel the sheer terror those sort of encounters must have engendered in the men involved.

Their story should really be told. After all, we lay out and fight the battles, create elaborate battle reports with copious quantities of photographs, giving a blow by blow account of glorious charges and ignominious routs, but we don't tell the story from the miniatures eye view, the troops who we throw into this cauldron of our own making.

I aim to right that wrong, and wish to introduce you to two young fellows who took part in 'The Battle of Wakefield Road.'

Here we have the Parliamentary army under the command of Sir William Brereton, marching along the Pontefract Road to join with the Wakefield Road. The rearmost foot regiment is that of Colonel Samuel Joseph. That fellow closest the camera, in the centre, with his musket over his shoulder is nineteen year old William Byng.

The Royalist force under the command of Lord George Goring is also approaching the Wakefield Road. A member of the foot regiment under the command of Colonel Marmaduke Rawdon, is also nineteen years old, Robert Miller, there he is in the front rank, second left as we look, his pike at the ready.

The Lost Stopper.

William Byng was enjoying himself, although a cold January day, it was bright and clear and the march from camp at Pontefract had warmed him up. He was glad to be on the move, he had no idea where he was headed or even why, but he did know he was part of the force that was to throw the king's men out of Yorkshire. What a force it was too, he had marveled as hundreds of horsemen had formed up and moved out of camp, his foot regiment too was part of a huge battalia of three regiments and huge pieces of ordnance, pulled by mighty horses, trundled along at the rear of the column. Any Royalists would surely turn tail and and run in fear at such a mighty force of horse, men and cannon.

Also the sergeant was too busy keeping order in the regiment, hurrying men along here and there if they began to straggle, to bother with him. Sergeant Dursley terrified him, even more than his own father did, not something he could ever have imagined being possible. Constantly checking the musketeers kit, especially the shot pouches on their bandolier. William's hand automatically went to the bandolier, 'make sure the stoppers are in tight, no bloody use if the powder is wet,' the sergeant would constantly yell at him.

The column ahead came to a halt, so too did William's regiment. It was then he heard the sound of distant musketry! The was a murmur in the ranks, men talking to each other and pointing ahead. William had no idea what was happening, had a battle started? Would he be involved?

Robert Miller's regiment had too come to a halt, he took the opportunity to rest the butt of the pike on the ground, his arms ached with carrying the sixteen feet of pole topped with a vicious metal blade, itself almost a foot long. He heard the sound of musket fire too, somewhere ahead. The ground began to shake as three full regiments of horse, the whole horse battalia, moved from his left side and crossed ahead of the column, making for a hedge line. 

Robert had no idea what was happening, but suddenly shouted orders had he and his colleagues hefting their pikes and moving forward at double speed. 

Up ahead was a large house set in grounds with a chest high wall surrounding it. Clouds of black powder smoke could be seen rising from the far side of the house, some kind of battle was raging! Robert gripped the pike even tighter as his regiment moved ever closer to the wall, the sound of musket fire getting ever louder with each step he took. His regiment was in the lead, and so the first to reach the wall. It was no mean feat, getting hundreds of men, many carrying pikes over the wall, in any sort of order. Confusion reigned as men struggled and cursed to cross the wall and then reform.

William's regiment too was now moving at double time toward the sound of musket fire, and up ahead he could now see a large house. Clouds of smoke rose into the air and William thought the house was on fire, before realising it was dense clouds of powder smoke, it seemed the dragoons were in a firefight with unknown musketeers within the house. Orders were being shouted down the line and ahead the regiments were beginning to deploy. William was confused, he couldn't see any enemy, only flashes of musket fire coming from the windows of the house ahead, and only the upper windows as the wall blocked the view of the lower floor.

The dragoons had taken casualties and men lay about, with terrible wounds, others lay motionless. outside the perimeter wall, The other two foot regiments had taken up positions in front of the house and were pouring in musket shot. William's regiment halted, and seemed to be mere spectators to the battle raging in and around the house.

Suddenly a roar went up from the two foot regiments and the dragoons, William had no idea why, but suddenly the two foot regiments advanced and started to climb over the wall in front of the house.

Robert was gripped with fear, he could barely see anything for the clouds of powder smoke, his eyes stung and and his ears rang with the musket fire all around him. He was still in the grounds of the house but enemy fire was coming in from both the front and the flank! A hat-less dragoon with wild eyes appeared before him, Robert recognised the purple coat with gold trim and lowered his pike to let the fleeing man pass. It was then a sudden loud cheer could be heard from the enemy positions. His sergeant appeared as if by magic, 'Steady lads, the dragoons have broken, we have to hold the wall.' Robert had no idea what was happening around him the bushes, shrubs and trees in the grounds as well as clouds of acrid spent gunpowder obscuring his view.


William watched as the surviving dragoons pull back from the wall and mounted their horses. Orders come down to take the position vacated by them, his matchlock musket is loaded and primed, the saltpeter coated cord is smoldering. The regiment moves forward and takes their place at the wall, peering over the top he can actually see some figures moving about, the enemy!

'Pick a target and prepare to fire!' William rests his musket on top of the wall, but can no longer see any of the enemy. A musket ball strikes the wall below him, sending a shower of stone particles and dust into his face, his musket recoils into his shoulder almost knocking him over. He hadn't meant to fire, he quickly grabbed another shot pouch, maybe the sergeant hadn't noticed. He fumbled with the stopper as the rest of the regiment obeyed the order to fire and an almighty roar of noise filled the air along with dense clouds of powder smoke. The screams of wounded and dying men could be heard over the wall.
'Advance boys, over the wall with you.' William with musket in his left hand and shot pouch in the right, tried to obey and with the others jumped up and over the wall. He crouched on the other side and noticed the stopper was missing. In a panic he scoured the ground, but it was nowhere to be found! In the midst of death and chaos, he was more afraid of his sergeant and what he would say about the lost stopper.
'Advance, advance!' the cry went up, still clutching the pouch, minus its stopper he advanced into the smoky gloom.

For Robert, the incoming volley of musket fire had been devastating, men either side had dropped mortally wounded or screaming in agony. The black cloud stung his eyes and made it virtually impossible to see anything. What use was a pike when men are shooting muskets at you? he thought. It was then he saw a figure ahead, stumbling blindly through the undergrowth, but carrying a musket. Robert didn't recognise the grey jacket, it must be one of the enemy. Levelling his pike he advanced as he had been trained. The enemy musketeer noticed him at the last moment, a shocked expression on his face. Robert thought of his friends who had just been cut down, maybe even by this very man and charged forward. The enemy soldier seemed unable to move and the pike, with Robert's weight behind it, went through the man's stomach and exited his back, the blade and a foot of wooden shaft. The musketeers shocked expression never changed as he dropped to his knees.
'Twist and pull lad, you did well.' it was one of the older men in his regiment. Robert did as he was told and shuddered at the sight of the thick blood and other unspeakable pieces of innards that dripped and dangled from the point.

The musketeer, now released from the pike, fell face down on the ground, his musket in his left hand and a shot pouch, minus a stopper in his right. The contents of the pouch, slowly trickled out and mixed with the widening pool of blood beneath the dying figure.

Robert advanced toward the wall.

He had taken only a few paces when the top of the wall erupted into a mass of flame and smoke. A musket ball hit him in the right side of his chest, passed through his lung and lodged in his spine. The blow felt like a kick from a mule. As the sound of thunder from the volley of muskets filled his ears, he staggered and fell backwards. He couldn't breathe! his mouth was filled with...blood! He gasped and gagged, his chest in agony. The sounds of battle had suddenly ceased and was replaced by a bubbling sound, like a pan of water on the fire. He was trying to make sense of the sound when he died, his head coming to rest on the hand, holding the shot pouch with the lost stopper.

So that is the tale of two of  the combatants in the battle I fought on the tabletop. I hope you enjoyed the tale, I certainly enjoyed writing it. Now if you would excuse me, I need to search for the missing stopper, it must be somewhere on the table?

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