THE BATTLE OF ASSUNPINK CREEK: Revolution & War in New Jersey: January 2nd 1777


Following the defeat of the Hessian Garrison came the Battle of Assunpink Creek

Words by Dave Tuck 

Photos by Malc Johnston

The Battle of Assunpink Creek or second battle of Trenton followed on from the defeat of the Hessian garrison at the town of Trenton. In this battle, the revolutionary forces under General George Washington, made an audacious attack on the German garrison. The 1400 Hessians had gone into winter quarters, and were caught completely unawares, when the American forces crossed the Delaware and attacked on Christmas day. The German commander, Colonel Rall, lost his life and over 900 of the original force capitulated or was killed. 

It has been argued that the propaganda effect of this victory saved the Revolution, but the events of the next few days allowed it to survive into another year. Washington’s army was close to the end of its enlistment period, with many troops due to return home on the last day of the year. The victory at Trenton did much to lift the morale of both his troops and followers, as did some hefty bribes to the troops, but without an army the cause seemed lost. Another commander might have withdrawn his forces, and Trenton would then have become a minor victory for the Patriots. 

Washington had other ideas. He pleaded with his men to stay on for a short period, and when many did, he chose to re-cross the Delaware at Trenton, and go into winter quarters. The British stung by the first defeat, gathered a force around Princeton, and went on the offensive. With the Delaware river at his back, Washington was forced to fight a defensive battle against this British response.

THE BRITISH ARE COMING

The British were about 8 miles away from Trenton. It was crucial that they were held up, for as long as possible, to enable Washington’s force to dig in on the banks of the Assunpink creek and thereby hold the high ground. The British force was better trained, more numerous and the Hessian contingent, was desperate for revenge. Daylight hours were short, and Cornwallis wanted to smash the rebels before they had chance to retire again. Without boats and with ice floes along the Delaware, he did not realise this option was closed to the American force. They simply had to stand their ground, or the Revolution was over.

The battle commenced late in the morning, when the British, led by an advance guard of around 1500 set off on the road to Trenton. They met a force of Americans, including a large number or rifle armed skirmishers, who were charged with delaying the British for as long as possible. They did this spectacularly well, and the British did not arrive outside Trenton until around 4 pm. They then took stock and immediately attacked, down the road leading to the single bridge across the creek. The British recoiled, after being hit by cannon-fire, from guns, expertly placed by the Americans, on the high ground. A further attack was made, with the same lack of success, for the British. 

Daylight was fading and after one last attempt the British retired. Their aim was to attack in the morning, drive the Americans into the Delaware, and end the revolution! Washington was one step ahead. Leaving campfires blazing the American army skirted the British force and marched off overnight, to Princeton. Another day of fighting led to another American victory. After this both sides went into winter quarters, and the revolution had survived for another year. Morale was high and 1777 dawned bright for liberty. 

 

THE BOOK & THE GAME

The events around Assunpink creek are the subject of this game. I knew about the first battle of Trenton, and have visited the area, some years ago. I must confess I had never heard about the second battle until I received a title called The Road to Assunpink Creek, Liberty’s desperate hour and the Ten crucial days of the American Revolution by David Price as a Christmas present, from my wife. Nice one Linda! This book is a great little title, and it is still available at various online bookshops. It sets out the events of the Ten critical days of the Revolution, and I recommend it to any student of the conflict.

As a wargame the battle can be divided into the rear-guard action and the assaults on the bridge and earthworks across the creek. This set of three linked battles starts with the action at Eight Mile Run, then moves on to Five Mile Run. The time it takes the British to drive off the Americans influences the time the British have available to develop the final attack on the bridge and earthworks.

RULES

The rear-guard can be played using many sets of rules, Rebels and Patriots, Black Powder, Sharp Practice or – as we did – our own home brewed set. These were published in an earlier issue of this magazine. The article is called The Battle of Kings Mountain, and was in the March 2019, issue 431.

We also used these rules for the game of the main assaults later in the day.

 

THE GROUND

We set out two games side by side – more on this later. Maps One and Two set out the twin tabletops for the key actions around Eight Mile Run and Five Mile Run. Apart from the road, crossing the river by a ford, and a lot of high ground and wooded terrain, all the rest is speculative, so feel free to set the table with what is available to you. 

Whatever scenic items you have to arrange on the table top, it must form close terrain that prevents the British staying in line, so that they waste time changing formation, after driving off the defenders. The amount of time the British take to traverse the two tables, has a direct influence on the time the main force has, to attack across Assunpink Creek. Daylight hours are short in December, so the longer the force is delayed on the march, the easier it will be for the Americans to hold out.

MOVEMENT

The distance was about eight miles (I figure the clue is in the name! Ed.) and the roads were atrocious, with a thaw following a big freeze. This turned an easy-going road into a quagmire. Our tables for the first two battles were 6ft by 4ft, and as we had a 12ft table at our disposal we could set both up together. The British forces start on the right- hand short edge of the map and under our rules, with no delays it would take 8 turns (at approximately 10” a turn average move) to proceed off the table at the opposite end (on the road, of course).

Normal movement in column is 7 inches plus the score on an average dice roll, with a road bonus of 2 inches. To take account of the conditions however, we ignored the road bonus, and instead rolled 2 die each turn the forces were marching. One was positive and one negative, (say Blue and Red) The positive (blue) dice was an average dice so had faces with 2,3,3,4,4,5, the negative (red) a straightforward, six-sided dice. The difference, if any, was calculated and either added to, or deducted from the movement. On turn one, Blue came up 5 and Red 1, so a 4” bonus was added to the move. On turn two, both came up 4, so no addition or penalty was made. You get the idea... The Americans are skirmishers so have a faster movement rate, and have only light artillery so are not as tied to the road. Their aim is to harass and delay the British for as long as possible. 

TURN & TURN AGAIN

We allowed 10 turns to cross each table. If it takes more than 20 turns to cover both tables, a reduction is made to the turns available on the final battle. Given that the distance covered, from Princeton to Trenton, is around 8 miles, I thought Light Troops with little equipment could cover that in about 5 hours, so an arrival time of around 2pm. In the real battle, the British arrived at 4pm. We allowed battle three to last 20 turns at best. For every turn the British take over 20 to leave table 2, they lose a turn on battle 3. This matters to the British, as to have any chance of victory, they need time to bombard the American positions with their artillery. More time also allows the British to find alternate crossing points. (There were two).

FORCES

Set out below are the troops which were deployed at Eight Mile Run and Five Mile Run. Losses from the first battle reduce the troops available in the second.

The British vanguard numbered around 1500 men made up of 2 troops of the 16th Light Dragoons and a troop Hessian mounted Jaegers, with the balance made up of Hessian grenadiers and Jaegers.

The main body of around 6500 men, consisted of a Light Infantry brigade, a British grenadier and Guards Brigade and a Hessian Grenadier and Fusilier Brigade.

Opposing these forces were around 1000 Americans made up of Pennsylvania Rifles and a Unit of Virginians, as well as a unit made up of German settlers and a Light artillery battery.

For our wargame this equated to: 

 

BRITISH

  • 6 Cavalry (Elite), 
  • 6 mounted Jaeger (Elite), 
  • 24 Jaeger (Elite)
  • 64 Hessian Grenadiers (Elite) 

For a total of 100 figures.

 

AMERICANS

  • 20 Rifles (Elite), 
  • 20 infantry (Elite), 
  • 20 Infantry (Elite) 
  • A light gun 

For a total of 60 figures plus the artillery crew.

REINFORCEMENTS

The British can call on extra regiments from the main body: all 24 strong and Elite. Each one called onto the table costs a turn of movement for the whole force, and can only deploy on the entrance road, behind the original force.

The Americans can deploy anywhere more than 18” from the British arrival point. The British are marching down the road and move first, deploying onto the table in column of march.

THE FINAL GAME

This was a couple of splendid little actions, the British having to drive on, balancing extra troops with the consequent time delays for the main battle. The Americans having to bide their time and grind down the British, forcing morale checks on their enemy, as often as possible and skedadling when the British close to bayonet range.

Once these actions are played out and the number of turns available for the battle at the creek has been established, the table needs to be set up as in the larger Assunpink Creek map. This is a much larger affair. The British force consists of the survivors from the previous battle, plus the main body. Assuming none of these have been called forward to participate in Five mile and Eight Mile run battles, it is made up of four brigades one of British guards, one of British line, one of Hessian grenadiers and one of British Light infantry. All are experienced or veteran. In the wargame we represented each of these brigades, by 4 battalions of 24 figures and a battery of field artillery. The overall force amounted to 16 battalions together with 4 batteries of artillery, plus the survivors from the previous engagements. 

The Americans are dug in on the other side of the creek, and they were a mixed bag of trained troops and militia. They totalled 15 battalions of 24 figures and 6 batteries of artillery. Their class was decided by a d6 dice roll. 1,2 or 3 they are raw, 4 or 5 experienced and 6 they are veteran.

The British can only cross the creek by the bridge, or by one of the two fords. They firstly must discover them. To do this they need to move a unit of cavalry, mounted infantry or light infantry to an area of the riverbank in which the ford is rumoured to be. On our 12’ table we gave an area of 4’ from each side edge of the table. A roll of 6 and the ford is found. The British can continue to look for the other ford if they wish. In any event they are not allowed to react to the discovery, until the discovering unit has sent a runner back to the army commander. Obviously, he should be represented by a command base, somewhere on the table! The ford is wide enough to take one unit in column.

The Americans can deploy in the redoubts or in any location on that side of the river. The British can enter the table on turn one, anywhere along their base edge. The number of turns they have available has already been determined by the results of the previous battles. Their aim is simply to cross the river with enough forces to break the American line and force them to withdraw. The American aim is simply to prevent this. 

 

Time available will determine whether the British artillery has time to deploy and soften up the enemy forces before it attacks. Artillery placement for the Americans can also be crucial, as will the quality of their troops and their positioning. We happily played this action on a couple of occasions, and it is very challenging for the British. The best they managed was a Grenadier column storming across the bridge, before being forced back by the sheer volume of firepower, forcing a morale break. 

MOVING OUT OF THE SNOW

I feel we have now exhausted our run of battles in the snow, with the editors permission the next refight will be in the sunnier climes of India. 

Actually Dave I’ve put these in a different order: We did the Battle of Chillianwallah last month. My next outing from you will be the War of the Roses and the Battle of Blore Heath! Ed

 


This article originally appeared in issue 451 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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