Wargaming: The War of 1812 – The River Raisin and a War Cry


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02 March 2022
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Words by Dave Tuck Pictures and Maps by Malc Johnston

The war of 1812 fought in North America, between 1812 and 1815, has often been overshadowed by the wars fought in Europe in the same period. This is understandable, who can resist reading about and refighting actions such as Borodino, Leipzig and Waterloo? Or at least gaming a part of them, as they are large battles and can only be done properly as a club project or in the smaller figure scales. We like to battle with 28mm and 15mm, so the war in North America was a better fit for us to start out on.

 

RESEARCH

As usual with a war that none of us knew much about, (In my case it was limited to the Lonnie Donegan’s song The Battle of New Orleans. . . ) we scoured the internet and online book sellers for as many books and sources as possible. For many periods this is usually hindered by a lack of English sources and my poor grasp of foreign languages. Fortunately, this is not the case with the War of 1812, and yes, I know our American cousins cannot spell properly (and use some words in a strange way!) but at least it is easier for me to translate than say French, Spanish or Russian. . . After performing a little research, some of the source books I recommend are:

  • A Most Warlike Appearance: Uniforms, Flags and Equipment of the United States Forces in the War of 1812 by Rene Chartrand. This is the best source of uniform details particularly for the many US militia regiments I have found, and all in a one volume book.
  • Stuart Asquith wrote two books on the wargaming aspects of the war: Scenarios for the War of 1812 and The War of 1812: A Campaign Guide to the War With America 1812-15.
  • All the Osprey uniform books covering the British, Canadian and US forces, particularly, the recently published (and reviewed in issue 457 of this magazine) War of 1812: US Soldier Versus British Soldier by Gregg Adams.

I thoroughly recommend the internet as a great source of information. There are any number of re-enactors of the war, as well as some museums and forts which post some great stuff. Try the War of 1812 Wargaming blog.

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BOATS & BATTLEFIELDS

Another bonus this war gives, is the fact that a lot of the forts and battlefields are well preserved, and have excellent on-site signage and visitor facilities. I have been lucky enough to visit Fort Niagara, where re-enactors present musketry drills and demonstrations of period equipment on occasion.

For the naval buffs a visit to the USS Constitution in Boston USA is a must. For those of us based in the UK, the nearest I can offer is a visit to Hartlepool and the excellent Historic Quay, where you can tour a Napoleonic era frigate, in the shape of HMS Trincamolee (online they are at www.nmrn.org.uk). I have been lucky enough to visit both the Constitution and the Trincamolee and they are very fine examples of their types, and the only two ships afloat of their era (and – before you ask – HMS Victory doesn’t count as it is not afloat!). Hartlepool also offers a fair recreation of being below decks, during a naval battle, has a huge collection of nautical artwork and models, a recreated harbour, complete with ships chandlers and other shops, and a fine café!

GAMING

There are a significant number of frigate actions, and the best way I have found to refight these as a wargame, is using the excellent Black Seas 1/700th ships and rule system by Warlord Games. A further option is to use Fighting Sail by Ryan Miller in the Osprey series. Pages 43 to 45 covers the US navy very well. When it comes to models to play this out, I understand that Langton Miniatures offers a range of Great Lakes warships in 1/1200th scale, but I have not had chance to see these, other than in the online catalogue.

Examining the land battles, these were often contested in terrain types not often fought over in European battles. There were no large battles – by European standards at least – due to the difficulties with supply, a lack of manpower (particularly on the British and Canadian side) and the lack of concentration of objectives, and the consequent dispersal of the forces that were involved.

These factors made it a very tempting prospect for our group. The next issue to tackle was the ruleset we would use. We were spoilt for choice. The usual candidates: Black Powder; the Osprey stable of Absolute Emperor (published in May), and Rebels & Patriots to name but a few. We really wanted to try Rockets Red Glare – a very old set – but sadly couldn’t find a copy!

In the end, we adapted some home brewed rules based on our AWI set covered in an article on the battle of Kings Mountain (in Miniature Wargames issue 431. Ed. ). We adapted these for the troop qualities, which were generally much poorer in 1812. We also took into account the terrain, which led to looser order than in Europe, and the lack of ammunition, and factored in the US forces dread of facing the native tribes, who were fighting for the British.

FIGURES

As we chose to play land battles in 28mm scale, this brings me on to the figures we are using. The British and Canadians are generally well catered for: any range of Napoleonic’s is sure to have British infantry in both Stovepipe and Belgic shakos, as well as riflemen. The cavalry in the war, were limited to a few light dragoon squadrons – again also readily available from multiple sources. The Glengarry light infantry are a problem, as they wear an unusual headgear, namely a soft round cap with a pom-pom, rather like a small version of the Tam-o-shanter. We used Warlord Hanoverian plastics, which have the option of a soft cap and added a blob of greenstuff for the pompom. Our British Marines were from Wargames Foundry.

Some Canadian Fencibles have a belly-box, and it is an easy conversion to cut this from the rear of the waistbelt on plastic figures and move it to the front. We covered the flat area, left when it was removed, with some greenstuff shaped as a small haversack.

Lots of companies have ranges of native Americans, who fought mainly on the British side in the war and we have used models from both Old Glory and Wargames Foundry.

The American regulars are available from Knuckleduster, Old Glory and Matchlock Miniatures. As there were very few differences between the British and American uniforms – both used the Stovepipe and Belgic shakos – we therefore went for the cheap option and used paint for the ‘conversion’ on British figures changed them to represent US regulars.

The real fun started when we moved on to the US militia regiments and companies. A lot of these units wore versions of the round hat – known to us as a top hat – often wearing hunting shirts: for example, the Kentucky Mounted Militia wore exactly that uniform. Knuckleduster make these, as do Old Glory but the former are quite expensive and the latter are more 25mm than 28mm. We came up with two solutions to this conundrum: Eagle Miniatures make an excellent range of Napoleonic Spanish, Austrians and Swedish all with figures wearing the round hat, either straight or with a turned up side brim. A paint job turns these into nice militia units. Some units have belly-boxes, and some do not, which adds more variety. The second was to purchase heads from Trent Miniatures, who make round hats, both with a woollen crest, and without. These were mounted on Warlord Hanoverian plastic bodies. We added variety to these units with additions from various AWI ranges, particularly with figures dressed for the Canadian winter! An unusual US militia unit wore the same uniform as the French Old guard grenadiers of Napoleon’s army, so naturally a unit of these was a must have.

Flags were a particular problem, so Malc’ set to, and designed four A4 sheets of these, which we had professionally printed. We had some leftover, and these are now available from Adrians Walls.

The troops are based on 60mm MDF squares with two cavalry models and between three and five infantry models per base, depending on their role and type. Generals and staff are on circular bases with one or two figures to each. The generals were of varying competence, from General Brock (one of the famous firework family) who died in battle, to General Winder a political appointment, often undermined by his political masters.

There was a shortage of artillery, as well as cavalry, but there is still a chance to deploy a rocket battery or two and recreate “the Rockets red glare”. Several companies make rocket models, but they are easily scratch-built.

This period has proved to be quite labour intensive, in both research and conversion and design time, but we are very happy with the overall, result.

FURTHER READING

Having raised the armies we are currently researching battles to refight, and our main sources are the War of 1812 wargaming blog, which includes maps and orbats, for all the battles covered by the author. Additionally, The War of 1812 Land Battles by Ronald T Campbell, The War of 1812 by John Grant and Ray Jones and Searching for the Forgotten War 1812 by Patrick Richard Carstens and Timothy L Sanford.

 

SCENARIO IDEAS

I will finish off this introduction with a small but infamous pair of engagements fought in Michigan territory. These battles took place on 18th and 22nd of January 1813, over the same ground.

RAISIN RIVER

The First Battle of Raisin River or Frenchtown came about after the American forces attempted to retake Detroit. Major General Harrison of the Kentucky Militia (and later ninth President of the United States) detached Brigadier General Winchester with the left wing. He received pleas for protection from the settlers of Frenchtown, who were being raided by the British and their allies. Frenchtown was a small settlement of French Americans loyal to the USA. Winchester obliged by sending forward a force of 550 Kentuckians and later a further two companies of a further 110 men under Colonel Allen.

This force formed up in three columns, crossed the river, and stormed the town which was occupied by two companies of Canadian militia with a 3-pounder gun and 200 Potowatomi Indians, led by Huron chiefs Walk in the Water an Round Head.

The defenders fell back into the town, and made a stand amongst the buildings, before making a fighting retreat to the trees. Losses on both sides were around 80 casualties, per side dead and wounded. Having liberated the town, the Americans encamped using a fence around part of the town as a defence, and two days later Harrison arrived with the rest of his force, bringing his total manpower to around 1000, mainly Kentuckians.

Map 1 shows the table layout. On a scale of 1 to 10 the Americans have 66 figures to which we added a further 10 well motivated citizens, wanting to liberate their town. The British had 30 Canadian militia and around 20 natives.

If using Rebels & Patriots refer to lists 13 Native War Party, 21 Canadian militia and 23 American militia.

Any casualties suffered in this battle are lost for the second battle, for which the following numbers are the full strengths with no losses.

  • Americans 80 Kentucky militia and 20 US regulars
  • British 50 British regulars and Canadian militia plus 80 natives and three 3-pounders.

WAR CRY!

This battle was a pre-dawn attack by local commander Colonel Henry Proctor. He gathered his forces and his Native allies, determined to avenge their recent defeat. They attacked from the woods, attempting to push the Americans out of the town, and across the river Raisin. The American left, deployed behind the fence was a tough nut to crack and the British lost a lot of casualties before falling back. At this point chance took a hand, and Winchester was captured whilst separated from his force. The British bluffed him into thinking they vastly outnumbered their US opponents, and he surrendered. Nearly half of the Americans refused to do so, and marched away to the south, where they were ambushed by the natives and lost the majority of their force. Only 33 men escaped.

On 23rd January the British had gathered the sick and wounded in the town, and left them in the care of the inhabitants, marching off with the able-bodied prisoners. Later the British picket also left town, and the natives returned in a frenzy and burnt the town killing any wounded who tried to escape. This fatal blow ended the Americans move on Detroit, but more significantly the battle cry “Remember the Raisin” became an American rallying cry and battle cry for the rest of the war.

The objectives in each wargame are simple. In the first game the Americans must drive out the small British force, maybe even capturing a gun for the second battle!

In the second battle the roles and direction of attack are reversed (see map 2). The capture of Brigadier Winchester is a problem, and – realistically – a wargamer would not relinquish the defensive position they have, unless forced. The options are to either fight the battle to a conclusion without a surrender, or place a joker in a deck of say 20 cards, and when it is drawn, the Americans roll on a 50/50, as to whether they surrender, or start to withdraw over the River Raisin. The river was frozen over at the time so should not be treated as anything but a very minor linear obstacle.

CONCLUSION

So, two small linked battles, subterfuge and the origins of a war cry! This small battle like most of the war punches above its weight, and I am sure you will enjoy refighting the actions of it. We certainly will! 

 

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