Monday, January 31, 2011

Ambush at Conrad's Creek - a note on terrain

The OMOG game system for toy soldiers is designed for play using whatever casual items are available to be scattered about a playing surface - a kitchen table, say.
An ashtray becomes a gun emplacement or strongpoint; cups and saucers stand in for buildings; knives and forks fences, walls or earthworks; books and newspapers become rising ground. It is a war game for non-wargamers, according to the author.

But there's nothing to stop one supplying something more generic. Now, most of my wargames terrain pieces are designed for my 20-25mm armies. How to adapt to 60mm figures?

This last action featured a river, which in this scale became a creek, spanned by a scratchbuilt stone bridge, becoming in this scale small enough barely to accommodate a cart or narrow wagon. The roads and trails are what I use for metal roads in general, strips of birdcage grit paper (they make fine roads). Finally, the undergrowth comprised bits of model railroad 'lichen', moss from the backyard, but mainly plastic aquarium plants you can buy in mats that you can cut up.

I find these last very versatile. They can represent scrub and secondary growth; reeds, hedgerows, standing crops. To give a bit of height to some of the bushes, I just placed a smaller section on top of a larger one.

Finally, the 'logs' were just bits of twig gathered whilst pruning some of the plant life about the house.

Simple stuff, not too expensive, and I didn't have to buy anything specific for this scale. How about actions in build up areas, then? Well, I have plenty of small boxes...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ambush at Conrad's Creek - continued...

The story so far: Whilst checking out a narrow trail through overgrown country, a strong patrol of 14 British Grenadiers commanded by Lieutenant Banastre Mirleton, has been ambushed by a 9-man Yankee squad commanded by that seasoned and wily Sergeant, Gene Wappcapplett. The opening volleys have felled two grenadiers, and as the Americans hastily reload their muskets, the British are preparing to respond...

Lieutenant Mirleton gave out a series of crisp instructions: 'First scouting party: form front down the main trail: flank guard. Second scouting party: Holcomb - join first scouting party flank guard; and you, Pickersgill, join the main body. Patrol: right turn: take aim: an' give 'em their bellyful!'

No sooner ordered than carried out. Considering the range and the cover, the grenadiers' return volley proved remarkably effective, bringing to earth one man from each 3-man enemy section.

Now, a brisk firefight ensued. Sergeant Wappcapplett's section had reloaded betimes and rounding the corner, came face to face with the three grenadiers - Soldier Holcomb having joined them - acting as flank guard. In the brief exchange of short range fire, the American musketry failed to improve upon their earlier performance. Only the Sergeant with his pistol (the green die) scored a hit. Not so with the grenadiers. All three dropped their man - a tremendous volley!

In the main action, woeful Yankee aim failed to register a single hit. Soldier Pickersgill proved no more accurate upon the grenadiers' side.
(This was a mistake. Better, and more realistic, would have been for Pickersgill to have withheld his fire until next turn, when, having reloaded, the whole main body could have let rip. This error was to be compounded [slightly] by some not very good timing...)

The Americans having now lost five of their number - just four remaining in the fight, and they frantically reloading - Mirleton ordered the charge.
'Up and at 'em, men! Now's our time!'

Actually it wasn't. Instead, he should have fired his second volley now, and then charged. The likelihood is ... well, let's just see what happened anyway. Another point: there doesn't seem to be a 'charge' move in the rules. Cross-country movement for foot troops is a PART move: 4 inch. The FULL 6" move for the charge seems reasonable. Having said that, it would have made no difference in this action, as the Americans stood just under 8" from the trail.

In the circumstances, hurriedly reloading their muskets, having taken heavy loss, and with yelling grenadiers bearing down upon then with bayonets fixed, it would have been excusable for the Yankees to have decamped betimes. Not these fellows. Veterans of many a desperate fight, the Americans were aiming their muskets before the British had got much more than halfway across the intervening space.

This time! A blistering short-range volley staggered the British, three of the nine attackers failing to make it across the clearing.

Staggered but not stopped, the Grenadiers ploughed on into the Americans. Sergeant Higginson with two others swept into the riverside section; the Lieutenant and two more into the other. Outnumbered though they were in the confused scrimmage of butt and bayonet, the Americans gave as good as they got. Two more grenadiers bit the dust - one of them Sergeant Higginson himself - but as many Yankees lay there beside them.

This proved not a very good test of the OMOG close combat rules involving disparate numbers. The combats were divided into two combats at 2:1 and two at evens. The Yanks won both the evens; the Brits both the 2:1s at the first combat and without even having to adjust the scores. Couldn't really conclude much from that. [Red dice, Limeys; White dice, Yanks]

Having risen so magnificently to the crisis, the two surviving Americans, realising it was high time they departed the scene, duly skedaddled into the undergrowth. Lieutenant Mirleton and his three men rejoined the two that had remained behind on the road. Judging by the 'butcher's bill' the Yankees could claim a success inflicting eight casualties for the loss of seven. But the grenadiers had fought their way out of the ambush and driven off the enemy. Having retained, as it were, the field of battle, the British were free to remove the wounded on both sides. Sergeant Wappcapplett, though badly wounded, proved a most valuable capture...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ambush at Conrad's Creek

The following encounter was another play test of a simple wargames ruleset for non-wargamers, part of a range called One Man, One Gun. The set I used was slightly adapted for the 18th Century period. In this particular game, I was testing a rule that required a full move to (re)load a firearm. The officers and men were all assumed at the outset to have loaded pistols or muskets.

Summer, 1778; the British are camped outside of Charleston, awaiting the order to march. Lieut. Banastre Mirleton had been leading every evening for the last week a strong patrol down a seldom-used trail leading off the old wagon road not far from the encampment. Nothing seen so far, Mirleton was not expecting trouble this time either. Two men preceded the main body of the patrol by several yards (A FULL 6" road move). The rest of the patrol walked, rather than marched, in file, Mirleton himself in the second rank, Sarn't Charlie Higginson bringing up the rear

Reaching the trail, the patrol swung off the wagon road, plunging into a tract of country overgrown with brushwood, low bushes and thickets - the usual reversion to nature of hardscrabble farmland abandoned some years before. Not far into this wilderness, the patrol crossed a small steam, Conrad's Creek, over which spanned a stone bridge, little used but still in well preserved condition (how to praise your own scratchbuilt terrain pieces with seeming to do so!).

Today was not going to be like the previous 6 days, however. For lurking within the undergrowth, Sergeant Eugene Wappcapplett had arranged for the oncoming Grenadiers, a very warm and cordial welcome. Splitting his 9-man squad into three sections, he placed one close by the creek, and another a short distance off, both on the right hand side of the trail as it passed through a clearing. Beyond the clearing, the road bent sharply enough to the right that anyone standing behind a conveniently placed pile of old logs would not be seen until a traveller had fairly turned the corner.

Without incident, the Grenadiers crossed the bridge and entered the clearing a short distance beyond. When the 'point' pair reached the split in the trail, one moved along a semi-overgrown trail beside the creek a short distance, the other continuing along the main route. Then they paused, as Mirleton ordered forward a man to join each of his scouts. The main patrol, now ten men, waited a few moments, then the whole advance resumed.

The advance had barely resumed when Mirleton's patrol and the pair on the Creek Trail heard the commotion erupt further along the main trail. The lead Grenadiers, rounding the bend, spotted the Continentals at once (needed a five or six, rolled a five).
The Yankees promptly let fly at long range, whereupon the two Grenadiers, glad not to have been any closer, without reply hastily drew back around the corner.
Just as Lieut. Mirleton's attention was drawn to the scouts rejoining the main group, a sudden volley erupted from the right of the trail.

The extent of the clearing meant the the shooting was at long range, yet it was effective enough. Two Grenadiers fell (who, was decided by die roll, and it happened to be the two standing just behind the lieutenant).

First blood to the Americans! But as they frantically began to reload their weapons, the Grenadiers could be seen shouldering their own muskets for the return volley.

We shall see the outcome of the rest of the fight later on...
To be Continued...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Affairs of State: a breakfast conversation.

Continuing the narrative of the previous posting. The Archduchess Marina-Harmonica has just read out the the missive from Cornelius Hendricus ter Plonck, Bishop of Ulrichstein for aid in restoring order to his country, riven by famine, distress and revolt. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Empire, 3 days' march from the Ulrichstein border, a certain Baron Glockenspiel has been exercising a corps of troops: horse, foot and guns.

The Emperor Marinus-Violoncello has asked for her thoughts on what she has just read...

Archduchess Marina-Harmonica did not reply at once, starting on her breakfast before it became too tepid, pondering the while. It was just like her father the Emperor to spring affairs of State upon her at odd moments of the day, elicit her thoughts about whatever issue might arise, pick apart her arguments and decisions. This practice had begun when she had turned eighteen, and had been going on for a couple of years, now. At first she had hated and dreaded these sessions, but now... Now, she was developing what she considered to be a perverse kind of enjoyment out of making decisions that might redound to the good of the Empire. For his part, the Emperor Marinus-Violoncello was extremely pleased to find in his daughter an apt pupil. She would need to be.

'Poor man,' said the Archduchess, 'He seems genuinely concerned even for the non-Catholics of his country. But he's out of his depth. We must, of course, give him our help.'

'Quite right,' the Emperor's voice, strong and deep yet for all his fourscore and three years, rattled the cutlery, 'Supposing what we have just read is true. What sort of help?'

'Supplying the food shortage might be a start,' mused Marina-Harmonica, 'But oughtn't that to have happened already?'

'Aye...' The Emperor draw out the word, 'We did supply some of our small surplus, not that it was much. I think Cornelius might have been a bit naive in whom he entrusted the transport and distribution of what was supplied to the stricken regions. There are certain types of merchants who will do anything - lie, steal, bear false witness - anything, if there's a profit in it. My dear, you will scarcely credit this, but there are those of the schismatic faiths - ours too, I imagine - whose pretence of predestined afterlife in God's house permits them to acquire wealth by any means - openly to commit unspeakable crimes - just to show they were born in a 'State of Grace'.

'Before God, how could people be so, so ... avaricious, so prideful?'

'Yes, well, there you have me. But then, you and I are not so well placed to judge. The poor and ignorant, they would be in a better position to visit upon the pious thieves who robbed them, were their understanding a little greater. But they believe what their polemicists, propagandists and demagogues tell them, the poor wights.

'The time has past for food supply in any case. I have no doubt that Cornelius has kept records. I certainly have of what we supplied. Our contribution wasn't so much, at that, but what we could afford. But whatever was sent apparently disappeared.'

'Do you think the Bishop might have been hoarding the corn?'

'Not for a moment. Cornelius was a punctilious Servant of God when I knew him in our young days; a punctilious Servant of God he remains. Unambitious and not very effectual - in fact even on those grounds I'd not credit him with conniving at a food shortage to further some end or other... And he's getting on, as I am. But he's a Man of God, no error.'

The Archduchess turned to the matter of the armed insurrection. 'We should send troops to help quell the rebellion. I infer from the letter it is by no means a servile revolt?'

'It is not. That Antoine Noilles is a notable and merchant of considerable standing and wealth. His great-grandfather, I believe, must have been one of those La Rochelle Huguenots who settled in northern Germania to escape King Louis's persecutions of just over a century ago. Other Ulrichstein merchants and notables are also involved. That so-called Marshal-General of Zerbst - Ritter von Rancke - was not one of the merchant class, but a mercenary of some military experience, and a petty notable... No, there is more to this than a servile revolt.

'Meanwhile, what Sir Eccleston tells me,' continued the Emperor, 'is sufficiently disturbing. It seems that Herzog Paul of Rechburg does indeed have his sticky fingers busily deep in this particular pie. Word has leaked out that the Herzog's so-called master-spy has concocted some story that this whole affair was at the connivance of the Bishop, and even myself!'

'That would not be possible, surely?'

'Actually, false as they are, such accusations are plausible enough as far as they go. There have been precedents. But in this instance, Herzog Paul would have to explain how Cornelius conjured up the floods -'


'An insightful conjecture, my dearest daughter. It seems to be true that the Reformist religions have adhered to beliefs in witchcraft at a time when even the Iberian Inquistion no longer carries out witch trials - dismisses such charges out of hand, withal... No: witchcraft will not do. Opportunism is the best they could argue. To what purpose would the Bishop plunge his country into unrest and insurrection? Bishop Cornelius's sensitivities against coercion are too well known to form a credible argument concerning re-establishing unity of Worship. Yet I can think of no other motive that would animate one such as Cornelius.'

'Don't the Protestants want unity of worship also?'

'Yes... and then again... no. The problem with the Reformist movement was that itself splintered into several ... I don't know ... factions, if you will. Lutherans, Calvinists; Puritans - who might be one of those, or something else - Methodists, and a whole bunch of smaller and more ... erm ... exotic faiths, denominations, cults and sects... Each would be the 'One True Faith', as we believe ours to be, but would have to overcome the resistance of the rest. So the best they can push for is tolerance. Of course they demand tolerance from others for themselves, less often of themselves for others...

'In the meantime,' Marinus-Violoncello resumed his line of thought, 'Herzog Paul apparently professes to believe I have ambitions to acquire the lands of the Bishopric for the Empire.'

The Archduchess allowed herself a cheeky grin. 'Have you no such ambition, Papa?'

'What do you think?' snorted the Emperor. The snort turned into a prolongued wheeze, then an even lengthier fit of coughing. The Archduchess eyed him apprehensively, ready to call in the Court physicians. As the upheaval gradually subsided into a stertorious breathing, his elder daughter could see, not for the first time, just how old and frail the Emperor was becoming.

'Methinks, Papa, that had you any such purpose or intent, you would have compassed it long since. At eighty-three, you are not going to be embarking upon whole new political adventures now...'

'The first Edward of England did!' tartly remarked her father, rallying somewhat. 'But you are right. I've never cast covetous eyes upon Ulrichstein. Whatever the Herzog would like to pretend to the world or to himself, the Imperial Guarantee provides for the continued existence, integrity and sovereignty of the Bishopric as a political and ecclesiastical State, together with its allegiance to the See of Roma. I was never about to renege on that Guarantee. Besides which, the Bishopric is a valuable buffer State that we pay for by slightly elevated prices for goods we import through the Herzog's Helgoland seaports. He should remember that.

'It is fortunate that we have this letter,' The Emperor indicated the Bishop's epistle lying beside his daughter's breakfast plate. 'No one can say, at least, that our action was unilateral. This will justify and legitimate our military intervention.'

'It will take weeks to gather even a small army corps,' mused Harmonica, 'Even with cousin Piccolo in charge of mobilising it...'

'There's Glockenspiel exercising troops about Gladno, in Trockenbeeren...' murmured the Emperor. Baron Glockenspiel had been exercising a corps of three foot and three horse regiments with an artillery company for several days now.

'Only three days from the border, too,' said the Archduchess, 'A bit of luck you ordered these exercises some weeks ago!'

'Yes...s, isn't it?' observed the Emperor blandly. His look gave nothing away, but his daughter knew her father well.

'You foresaw the need, didn't you?' she accused. 'You cunning Papa! But... This might not be such a good look, you know.'

'Don't see why not,' the Emperor replied with some asperity, 'No one can reasonably accuse Me of massing an invasion force on the border. Three days is far too much notice to give to a potential victim. Be it noted, I made no secret of Glockenspiel's exercise programme, but announced it to the world. It's not as if autumn military exercises in the Gladno region are unprecedented. That Rechburg will place an evil construction upon my foresight can not be helped.'

'At that, I waited until asked before intervening. Here is the letter -' the Emperor grunted as he reached across to pick it up, '...that legitimates Imperial
involvement: duly authenticated with Cornelius's own signature, the Bishop's private seal as well as the Bishopric's Great Seal, and brought by hand of his Special Envoy.

'What can Paul show? A pretence of restoring a disorder he appears to have contributed in fomenting. He makes much of refugees crossing his border, but Kurfurst Phonix has been reporting the same in Altmark-Uberheim, and a few have even trickled into Imperial lands, though we're so distant from the seat of the troubles. Sir Eccleston tells me further, that internal refugees flooding into the less affected areas are becoming a problem in southern Ulrichstein.'

Marina-Harmonica took up the line of argument. 'All the same, the Bishop lacking the resources to do so, Herzog Paul enters Ulrichstein - unasked - with an armed force to restore and maintain order in that country. Of course, such intervention will come at a cost, which Ulrichstein will have to defray. Let me see... The price of Rechsburg's assistance in this matter will be ... Ulrichstein itself?'

'No doubt about it,' agreed the Emperor with satisfaction. 'Mind you, legal niceties won't stop him. But they may help motivate others. Glockspiel's Corps should be plenty to defeat an insurrection and restore order, if not harmony. But if Rechburg does invade, Glockenspiel will likely be overmatched. Hence Piccolo's muster over the river from here. I've already despatched letters to Altmark-Uberheim, Ursaminor and M'yasma. We might have to call upon them for contingents...'

'We'll have to move quickly,' said the Archduchess, reaching for the bell, 'orders for Glockenspiel must go out at once!'

'The orders were sent last evening, the moment Sir Eccleston was announced unto Our presence. Glockenspiel will be on the road within forty-eight hours.'

Archduchess Marina-Harmonica eyed her father the Emperor with the admiration of an apt student learning at the feet of the great, alloyed by a wistful apprehension for the future without him. For his part, the Emperor returned a fond, but equally concerned regard. She would be succeeding him, sonless as his reign had been, and would be facing a more hostile world. The future Empress Marina-Harmonica had before her the one obstacle that Marinus-Violoncello had never had to overcome: Salic Law.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An epistle from Ulrichstein...

"From: His Grace, Cornelius Hendricus ter Plonck, Bishop of the See of Ulrichstein, the Lord's Vicegerent Prince of the Principality of Ulrichstein;

To: His Imperial Majesty, Marinus-Violoncello, Archduke of Trockenbeeren and of Auslese, Puissant Emperor of the Wholly Romantic Empire;

My Humble Greeting,

It is with deep sorrow and acute embarrassment that I thus address your Imperial Majesty in supplication for aid.

Your Imperial Puissance will no doubt have been informed of recent events in the See of Ulrichstein: the Elbow River's bursting its banks, the consequent failure of the corn crop, and the dearth and hardship that has followed among my People. What has emerged from this disaster has been a tide of unrest, motivated I don't doubt by the impatience evoked by want of sustenance, but methinks there may be more behind it.

The corn shortage could have, and in My view, ought to have, been made good. I caused to be sent from My Granaries in Ulrichsburg and elsewhere, several wagon- and cart-loads of corn to the stricken towns and villages, their local magnates to be responsible for distribution. What happened to them remains to me unknown. The transports were returned empty; we supposed, then, that the corn had been distributed. Events have persuaded me that that corn did not reach its intended destination: the tables of the destitute.

This unrest broke into open rebellion in the northern town of Zerbst, whereat certain of its magnates appealed to Unrichsburg for assistance in restoring order. Promptly, My Guard was sent forth in response to this request, quelled the revolt in a sanguinary but brief combat in Zerbst itself, after which sufficient order was achieved that My Commander (Col Freiherr v. Smallhausen) felt able to leave one company in the place and return with the rest of the Guard to Ulrichstein. Very well.

But it has transpired that even before v. Smallhausen arrived at Zerbst, his intervention with the Guard was being widely represented as an attempt by Myself forcibly to restore to the True Faith the heretic followers of Luther and Calvin. Further, divers persecutions have been
post facto invented to create a local 'history' of Catholic oppression of Protestants. Now, whilst I would indeed be overjoyed were these Prodigal Sons to be restored unto the Bosom of Our Father's Family, I have been most reluctant to compass this desired event by force. Apart from several Scriptural reservations, I know right well that attempts at coercion serve merely to cement an heretic in his error. Methinks even the fiction of coercion and oppression is sufficient to satify a Protestant's sense of grievance; yet a reciprocal tyrrany is permitted to them - indeed, it is entirely called for. I have heard occasional complaints of the heavy hand of Lutheranism being laid upon loyal Catholics in northern towns

Far from quelling an armed rising, Col v. Smallhausen merely postponed its full flowering. Word has reached my ears that a full-scale rebellion is in the making. A certain magnate of Huguenot ancestry, one Antoine Noilles, has called for the raising of an armed Militia wherewith to overthrow this Ecclesiatical Government and impose a 'Republick of Godde'! Such intelligence as has been brought to My ears by loyal Catholics already indicates that despite some difficulty in recruitment a force of at least 3000 men has been raised, - far too many for my Guard (fewer than 1000 men) to contend with.

Behind all this, I am inclined to suspect the Hand of the Herzog von Rechburg. It is known he covets this Principality for his own. It is equally known he desires to be greeted, not as 'His Grace', but as 'His Royal Highness', and the acquistion of the whole of Ulrichstein territories would legitimate his claim to Royal Status. We suspect, therefore, though proofs are lacking, that Rechburg
agents provocateurs have been busy in Ulrichstein fomenting rebellion, sedition and treason. It is known, however, that certain magnates have entered into a treasonous correspondence with the Government of Rechburg. We have before us a number of letters intercepted by My border officials. Who initiated this traffic remains unknown.

We therefore beg your Imperial Majesty, as Guarantor of the Catholic and Political integrity of Ulrichstein, to send such force as will put down this incipient fratricidal revolt, to restore the rebels to their loyalty to the State, and to forestall or defend this Bishopric from Rechburg incursion. We make this request of Your Imperial Majesty as a matter of extreme urgency. My Special Envoy, Sir Eccleston Muggins, though English, is Catholic, and trustworthy and loyal to Myself. He may supply you with further information, and has my authority to negotiate in My behalf.

Your Humble Servant in the name of The Father etc.
Cornelius Hendricus ter Plonck, Bishop of Ulrichstein by Grace of God."

The reader lowered the letter and gazed across the breakfast table at her father.

'Well?' rumbled the Emperor. He eyed with distaste the pulse in front of him, his spoon hovering hesitantly above its gleaming surface. He savoured the unctuous aroma of fried bratwurst, gammon and eggs with hot buttered toast cooling upon his elder daughter's plate. 'Well? What do you think?'

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Barricades of Zerbst - continued

Continuing the narrative of events leading to the intervention of the Emperor of Trockenbeeren-Auslese and the Herzog von Rechburg in the tumultuous affairs of the Bishopric of Ulrichstein.

The brief parley about the town gates having ended, Colonel Freiherr von Smallhausen set about recalling the citizens of Zerbst by force to at least its political - if not spiritual - loyalty to Bishop Cornelius. Having glimpsed through the town gates that the barricade in the street beyond left no room to deploy his half-battery masked by an infantry company, von Smallhausen left the Musketeer Company of the Guard facing the main street, and swung right with the Grenadier Company and the guns. He directed the Hussars to make a wider sweep to seek out a side street down which they might attack.

The Marshal-General of Zerbst - the title Ritter von Rancke had awarded himself as military leader of the uprising - had already made his preparations. His motley army comprised nearly 1300 townsmen and local countryfolk, armed with whatever implements of war came to hand. He had managed to arm most of them with some form of firearm, and divided the rabble into seven companies, each of which he placed at a barricade. All five streets leading into the town Plaza were thus stopped up, the two remaining companies barricading flanking side streets the further to inconvenience an attacker.

The Colonel's attack, however, began well. Swinging right, he quickly encountered one of the flank barricades. In the brisk exchange of musketry that ensued, the townsmen were little protected by their flimsy defences. Though losing a few men (1 figure) and willing to carry on the fight, the Grenadiers fell back under orders, unmasking the guns that had deployed betimes. Six-pounder roundshot swiftly reduced the barricade to matchwood, its defenders shattered in equal measure. The whole company disappeared in the maelstrom.

The reduction of this first barricade was not in time, however, to forestall the Hussars attack upon the Plaza barricade that was von Smallhausen's next objective.

Reaching a sidestreet leading direct to that barricade, the Major commanding - one Eugen Lustbucket - at once ordered the charge. Flimsy the barricade was, yet it was a formidable obstacle for light horse charging in deep column down a narrow pave worn slippery by years of traffic.

The townsmen defended with vigour. The hussars broke against the barrier, lost perhaps two-score troopers whilst inflicting half that number of loss upon the defenders...
... and fled as best they might from the town.

The one possible benefit from the Hussars' fatal impetuosity was that the Grenadiers had reduced the first barricade without interference from the rebels. Now they were able to advance. Meanwhile, the gun battery was directed to the street down which the Hussars had just charged.

At the same time, by way of distraction, but also in the hope of breeching an important Plaza barrier, the Musketeers of the Guard were ordered to attack from the town gates.

The point-blank range mutual massacre that ensued appalled both sides. The slight protection of the barricade somewhat offset the regulars' superior musketry, but both sides found the fire too hot to endure for long. Within minutes, the defenders fell back dismayed from their barricade, less than half the company remaining. But the Musketeers were in no shape to exploit their success. Equally decimated, they, too, pulled back. Von Rancke was quick to pull another company over to man the abandoned defences.

So far, things were not going as Col von Smallhausen had hoped. But he still had his Grenadiers and artillery in hand, advancing upon the barricade that had been the scene of the Hussars' defeat.

Very soon the guns deployed, albeit under a popping musketry, and opened fire. At once their superb practice created chaos among the defenders.

Quickly reduced to a third of their original strength, the defenders fell back in their turn. Hastily, von Rancke brought up a reserve company to replace it. He just had to risk leaving another of his barricades undefended.

Too late. The Guards Colonel had been awiating just this chance. Leading forward his Grenadiers he met the townsmen rushing to the defence. The scrimmage swarmed over the upturned wagons in thrust of bayonet and swing of butt, and burst through the reserve company.

As the shaken townsmen staggered back under the relentless close assault, the Grenadiers stormed into the Plaza.

That did it. The irruption of Col von Smallhausen and his 100-odd remaining Grenadiers into the midst of the defending garrison was enough to precipitate a panic. Regular troops might yet have rallied and evicted the Smallhausen's tiny army once and for good, but with four out of seven companies destroyed or fleeing, von Rancke was unable to stem the general exodus.

Colonel Freiherr von Smallhausen had his victory. The butcher's bill had come out in his favour, but even he was appalled at the price to be paid for the Rule of Law. Of 660 men, just 420 remained with the colours at the close of the action. On the other hand, out of 1300 citizens, near on a third remained after the rest had fled to be patched up or buried. The Hussars showed willing to pursue the fugitives into the countryside. The Colonel vetoed that action, merely ordering them to establish a Martial Law.

Costly as it was, however, it resolved little in the short term, and nothing for the long. For the moment the town was pacified - cowed, rather - and within a week the Colonel was on his way back to Ulrichsburg, leaving only the Musketeer Company to maintain the Bishop's Peace. But the staunch defence of Zerbst grew in popular legend into a modern Thermopylae; Ritter von Rancke became something of a hero, and the resentment against Bishop Cornelius grew the more bitter as the cold months of want approached.

The rallying cry 'the Barricades of Zerbst' suddenly inflamed a worse and more widespread uprising. The countryfolk flocked to the banner of Ritter von Rancke, though a few sober heads observed the conspicuous absence from the ranks the merchant class that was sponsoring the revolt. But the smaller men had their own objectives: land reform for the peasants; work and income for the towns' 'Shirtless'.

The Guard Musketeers were unceremoniously shown the gates of Zerbst, and barely made it back to Ulrichstein unmolested. The Rebels were hastily organising an army, and there were indications that a treasonous correspondence with the Herzogtum von Rechburg had been entered into by the notables of the northern towns. This defiance of the Bishop's authority was clearly beyond the capability of the Bishopric's army to redress. In haste, the Bishop thrust into the hands of his Special Envoy, the Englishman Sir Eccleston Muggins, an urgent missive. Its destination: Schnitzel; its addressee: the Emperor.

One of the joys of campaigning can be the smaller actions that crop up. The action at Zerbst comprised:
The Diocesan Guard:Colonel v. Smallhausen - 1 figure
Grenadier Company of the Guard - 9 figures (10 including the Colonel)
Musketeer Company of the Guard - 10 figures
Hussar Squadron of the Guard - 9 figures
Section/Artillery of the Guard - 4 figures and 1 gun
The whole (33 figures and 1 gun) represented 660 officers and men plus 3 guns.

Zerbst Militia:Ritter v. Rancke 'Marshal-General of Zerbst' - 1 figure
'Staff' - 1 figure represented by a drummer
7 Militia Companies each with 9 figures
Total: 65 figures (1300).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Barricades of Zerbst

The following is a brief narrative and background to events leading to a conflict between the the Wholly Romantic Emperor Marinus-Violoncello and the Herzog Constantine II of Rechburg. The campaigns you will be able to follow on the Herzogtum von Rechburg blogspot, and its sub-title Ulrichstein Campaign. See the list of My Favorite Links to the right of this column.

The blissfully peaceful aspect of the Bishopric of Ulrichstein, over the eighty-nine years since the treaty of Westfalia put a term to the 30 Years' War, hid a turmoil of inner conflict. Already populated with a Protestant religious majority, especially in the north, the Bishopric remained under the terms of the Treaty nominally Catholic. The Emperor of Trockenbeeren-Auslese stood as guarantor, even though this Diocese lay outside the Imperial frontiers.

The position of such a small Principality gave it more importance than its size might have indicated. Lying astride the natural commercial routes between the North Sea ports of Rechburg and the Imperial lands, the burghers of particularly the northern towns saw ample opportunity to profit therefrom. With accretion of wealth came a distinct reluctance to part with the tithe of it to ecclesiastical rulers, especially as much of it seemed to go to increasingly sumptuous statuary depicting the Mother of God. Many nouveau riche merchants found the iconoclastic Lutheran or Calvinist forms of worship more to their liking and inclination.

All this might have been borne, were it not for the terrible rains of 1737. The Elbow River flooded, the north-eastern arable lands were inundated, the corn crops failed. The resulting shortages might have been made good in many ways, but the merchant burghers of northern Ulrichstein saw, instead of local distress, opportunities for further profit by speculating in the corn markets. Instead of filling the stomachs of poor townsfolk and rural peasantries, what corn there was lay in merchant warehouses, awaiting sale and removal to other merchants' warehouses. Such destinations lay as much outside as within Ulrichstein borders.

Many - including those who profited most from them - saw in the famine and distress a Divine Retribution for the sins of the State and its people. The Protestants blamed the Catholics for their idolatry and idleness; the Catholics saw the Protestants as unprincipled, Godless usurers. The pulpits of both sides of the Schism thundered and echoed to self-righteous evangelical invective.

At last, in the autumn of 1737, the patience of the hungry snapped. The shirtless of the towns, joined by desperate countryfolk, rioted, smashed the windows of the rich, and broke into their storehouses. Of course, such violence led to much of the grain being destroyed and wasted. Many merchants suffered cruel financial losses; the poor remained no better off.

So severe had the violence been in the far northern town of Zerbst that the good burghers of that place appealed to their ruler, the ageing and ailing Bishop Cornelius ter Plonck, to send troops - someone - to impose martial law. Now, the Ulrichstein military was little more than would be required of a comic opera army, comprising as it did the Diocesan Guard Infantry (its three companies called Grenadiers, Musketeers and Arquebusiers); the squadron of Diocesan Guard Hussars; and the company of Diocesan Guard Field Artillery. This was not a lot from which to select a policing force.

That the response was swift was due to the eagerness and surprising vigour of the Commander of the Guard, Colonel Freiherr von Smallhausen. All his life a Guards officer, expert in ceremonial and formal protocol, he had never seen action. Now was the chance to put into practice what he had learned in years of lamplit evenings studying the campaigns of the great whilst dreaming of glory.

Leaving behind the minimum numbers to fulfil their primary ceremonial function and to fire the salutes - the Arquebusier Company and a section of artillery - von Smallhausen was marching north within 24 hours of receipt of the request from Zerbst. Under command were 380 Foot (19 figures); 180 Horse (9 figures) and 3 guns (1model).

Yet even that short delay proved sufficient to erase from the memory of the virtuous townsfolk of Zerbst that the approach of the Ulrichstein Army was at their request. Somehow the rumour spread that Bishop Cornelius intended to profit from the unrest forcibly to bring Zerbst, and the rest of the Protestant north, back into the Romish faith. Though it is true that it had been a longstanding ambition of Cornelius to achieve precisely that, it was one that had faded much with his advancing years, and in any case never had he seriously considered the use of force to compass it.

Quickly the townsfolk organised a militia to defend the town, appointing as their leader one Ritter von Rancke. At the gates of Zerbst, Col. von Smallhausen was met by a delegation of the townsfolk's appointed leader with his drummer.

'You may not enter!' announced the soi-disant Marshal-General of Zerbst, 'We have barricaded the streets and fortified the Plaza. And you try to enter, we will resist you.'

'Very well,' responded the Colonel, who desired nothing better, 'We shall be advancing at once. The consequences will be your responsibility.'

The delegation hastily withdrew; the Colonel made his preparations; the attack was on.

To be continued...