Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Woodscrew Armies Campaign - Second Sino-Union War...


10th Cavalry approach the village...

Up a dusty road that ran through a dingy, dusty rolling East China plain, blue clad mounted soldiery approached a small settlement nestled between a tract of woodland, and a bend in a rocky stream. From a distance the place looked sleepy and peaceful enough; a closer approach revealed its half-abandoned state of disrepair; drawing nearer still revealed that right now the place was not altogether uninhabited.  

A volley rang out at a range that surprised the horsemen, and emptied many a saddle. The pickets hastily withdrew to make way for the main body of the column, and a brisk firefight developed between two cavalry battalions and whoever was in the town.  The Chinese Army had arrived there, devil a doubt, and these fellows were armed with breech-loading rifles.  Further, it appeared that from the west and north, columns of Chinese infantry were converging upon the place.  The stage was set for a meeting battle, and the Chinese had the early numbers.
10th Cav split into 2 columns of 2 regiment each
covered by piquets of the remaining two.

Such was the beginning of a campaign inspired by the Woodscrew Miniature Army blog by Tony Adams.  The link I've given here provides a generating circumstance for the campaign in which I shall be fighting the battles using my ACW Union figures, with such add-ons and proxies as I can cobble together. Note that I actually have no Chinese army. Before going into the details of the opposing forces, permit me to summarise the overall situation.  I hope Tony will forgive some gratuitously added detail to the yarn.  Check the link for the original.

A copy of Tony Adams's imaginary world, Tian

The First Sino-Union War of 1870 had led to the loss of China's southern territories, since when, of course, the Chinese Government sought to recover them. Strangely, rather than take over administering those vast territories, which stretched for some two hundred miles west of the border, the Union demanded its depopulation. This was effected over a twelve-month period, but in the two decades since, a certain amount of unofficial repopulation had occurred, mostly from China, but with here and there a few strays from the Union itself. The regular Union cavalry patrols through the vast region could not have hoped to arrest the influx, and, in general, were evaded easily enough by the thin population. Even so, by 1889, settlements were few and far between, the roads overgrown, fences and walls rotted and crumbled, the whole region mostly decrepit from semi-abandonment. For such denizens dwelling there, the livings were poor. 

In his desire to recover lost territories, the Emperor of China ordered the reformation and reform of the Army, and selected his favourite courtier, T'ai Kun Wu to the task. This was not easy. For one thing, modern arms were hard to come by. Of the usual sources, the Germans and Russians discovered their own shortages to supply, and the French and British had no desire to rearm China. A few renegade gun runners from the Union itself, as well as from the British Island in particular  (being paid for richly in powdered opium) brought in a few breech-loading rifles - enough to equip perhaps eight light battalions - but for the rest, the regular army had to rely on the older muzzle-loading rifles. The other arms, horse and guns, were in even more deplorable a state. T'ai Kun Wu managed, apart from a single battery of muzzle-loading rifled guns, to scrape together a few smooth-bore cannon - 20 years obsolete.  For the cavalry he gathered a few thousand of the less scrubby ponies capable of carrying lightly equipped horsemen. Most of the horses were just barely suitable as draught and pack animals, heavily supplemented by oxen. At least the cavalry might be capable of scouting and maybe a raid behind the lines.  For screening, much less upon the battlefield, scarcely trained horsemen armed with scimitars, lances and the rare musketoon were simply not to be relied upon.

For all its shortcomings, such a force, given the training, would have been fairly compact and effective twenty or thirty years before. But an army of fewer than 40,000 men could scarcely be thrown into the balance against what the Union could field, especially equipped, foot and horse, with modern magazine rifles, and the artillery with breechloading rifled ordnance. To supplement the regulars, the Government inaugurated a recruitment drive, the few volunteers - usually beggars seeking a possible move up in the world  - being augmented by the harvest of the press gangs - usually beggars less eager for change in their quality of life.  The arsenal of rifled small arms having been exhausted, this rag tag near-rabble had to make do with smoothbore muskets.  At least such weapons were fairly robust - they needed to be - and the rudiments of their battlefield use fairly easily acquired, even by the half-starved retrievals from the gutters. By such means the size of the army was doubled.

The Union's dire war against Russia and Germany in 1888 seemed to offer China the opportunity for an unanswerable blow - a fait accompli reoccupation of Imperial lands. The rearmament and training programme was stepped up, the command, commissariat and transport systems organised, and and the whole force set in motion. The railroad had been extended beyond the great city of Harbin some hundreds of miles, though its railhead was still well short of the depopulated, disputed territories. The movement was slow, and, penetrating the debatable lands, the problem of supply, replenishment and revictualling was becoming serious, if not altogether acute. To obviate some of the difficulties of foraging - not easy in a wild, depopulated country, however abundant the wild game - T'ai Kun Wu divided his army into four columns, all named for the cardinal points of the compass.  

Tony's sketch map of the theatre.  Yangzigu is the 
site of the first action.

North, East and South were to sweep eastwards though the region in line abreast, about a day's march - not more than two - apart. West Column was the 'reserve' corps, better equipped than the others, and more numerous. Retained under T'ai Kun Wu's own hand, it followed about a day behind the East Column. The whole army was organised thus:

Army of China: 

Overall Command: T'ai Kun Wu

North column: Commander: Prince Zeng Seng-Bao
     5th Regular Infantry (armed with M/L rifles)
     17th, 18th, 19th Conscript Infantry (armed with S/B muskets)
     1st Cavalry (armed with edged and pointy weapons only)
     2nd Artillery (smooth bore [S/B] cannon)
(roughly 17,000 strong, with 8 guns)

East Column:
Commander: Li Kuan-Yu
     6th Regular Infantry (M/L rifles)
     13th, 15th, 16th Conscript Infantry (S/B muskets)
     9th 'Green Tigers' Light Infantry  (armed with single shot B/L rifles)
     3rd Artillery (S/B cannon)
(about 18,000, with 8 guns)

South Column: Commander: Prince Hung T'u Sun
     7th Regular Infantry (M/L rifles)
     20th, 21st, 22nd Conscript Infantry (S/B muskets)
     2nd Cavalry (blades and lances)
     5th Artillery (S/B cannon)
(17,000, with 8 guns)

West Column: Commander: Li Xiucheng (vice T'ai Kun Wu)
     1st, 2nd, 3rd Regular Infantry (M/L rifles)
     10th, 11th, 12th Conscript Infantry (S/B muskets)
     8th 'Blue Leopards' Light Infantry (single shot B/L rifles) 
     1st Artillery (M/L rifled cannon)
(over 27,000, with 8 rifled guns)

Grand total: approximately 80,000 men (excluding train troops) with 32 guns.  

News of the Chinese armed reoccupation of the debatable lands was met by considerable alarm in the Union halls of power. Of course, over the months that ended 1888 and in the first half of 1889, intelligence reports on top of rumour seemed to indicate something afoot in that inscrutable land, but as there was little that could be done about it, little was done. Even with the closing down of the wars with Russia and Germany, the armies were exhausted. Were they capable at once of entering at once a new war, they were in any case quite at the wrong ends of the country.

The only army anywhere near to region was the Tenth, stationed around Denver, commanded by one Major-General Thomas J. Jackson, known to be as eccentric as his paternal forebear. At that, tenth Army was without one of its brigades, the 40th, on detached service in Mexico. The rest had not been involved in the war, the Union Executive taking the view that at least some portion of the national army remain uninvolved against unexpected events arising along the more quiescent frontiers.

Gravely concerned, the Chief of Staff of the Union Army, taking his cue from the Presidential Executive, ordered Jackson to take his Army by rail from around Denver and Fort Knox to the railhead 500 miles to the southwest, from thence to march the twenty miles to the frontier, cross it, and seek out the Chinese army. The Tenth Army's brief  was containment until reinforcements might arrive.  Given that his army could muster fewer than 22,000 officers and men, however well equipped with modern weapons, it was not expected that he could defeat the Chinese army in a toe to toe fight - not outnumbered nearly four to one. No: a war of manouevre, of wearing down, of hit and run, of harassment - that was what they had in mind. They hoped, perhaps with fingers crossed, that General Jackson understood this.

General Jackson had under command:

Tenth Union Army

Union Tenth Army: Commander: Major-General Thos J. Jackson Jr

     Chief of staff: Lt-Col James T. Tilden
     37th Brigade: Brig-Genl Isaac J. Bidwell
     38th Brigade: Brig-Genl Lemar L. McKittrick
     39th Brigade: Brig-Genl Lyle B. Atkinson
     10th Cavalry Brigade: Brig-Genl Remington E.B. Klamath
     110th Heavy Artillery Battalion
     210th Pioneer Battalion

Overall strength: 21,667 men with 48 artillery pieces and 24 machine guns.

The infantry Brigades each comprised 6 rifle battalions, 1 light (field) battery (8 breech-loading rifled pieces) and 1 machine-gun battery (8 Gardiner guns).
The cavalry brigade comprised 6 cavalry regiments and 1 flying (horse) battery (8 breech-loading rifled pieces.
The heavy artillery comprised 2 batteries of 8 heavy breech-loading pieces each.

1.  Under MY organisation for this campaign, rifle battalions and cavalry regiments comprise 4 figures. The US and Chinese regular formations comprise 6 rifle battalions; the Chinese conscript and elite light infantry comprise 4 battalions each. But I have no formal subdivisions into battalions of the brigade sized formations of either army. Of infantry alone, the Union army embarks with 18 battalions; the Chinese have 92.

2.  Having no Chinese figures, and very few even looking Asian, I have recruited a couple of Napoleonic looking armies as campaign proxies. Given this is Imagi-Nations country, I don't reckon anyone will object.  Much? 

East Column advancing from the west.  'Green 
Tigers' in the foreground, about to enter the woods
and the village;
Artillery and 13th and 15th Conscripts arriving.

The developing action: 37th Brigade marching 
up the southeast road.
The Chinese army had been advancing steadily eastwards for well over a week before Tenth Army crossed the frontier on Wednesday, July 10, 1889. The Tenth Army's starting point well to the southeast placed the two forces approaching each other at a considerable angle. Given the Chinese 'T' shaped alignment of columns, one might have expected that  the South Column would have encountered the Union army first. 

But after several days, the alignment of the four columns had become somewhat askew, forming an echelon back from north to south. Unbeknownst to either army, the Tenth passed across the front of the South Column by at least a day's march distance, to run into the East Column as indicated at the beginning of this posting. Not that the Union command was as yet aware of this. All they knew was that the enemy - or some of him - had been found.  

[This was decided by a die roll.  Figuring that it was just possible that the Union army would miss the South Column and fetch up running into the East Column instead. So it proved.  Although I weighted the roll in favour of running into the South Column (1-4), I rolled a '6'.  Thinking about it now, I wonder that I didn't add in the tiny possibility that Tenth Army would have fetched up right in the middle of the Chinese army.]

To be continued... The Battle of Yangzigu.


  1. Interesting looking campaign Archduke. Tony's map is very nice.

    1. This is kind of a joint venture. I like the map, though it is hard to keep in mind that even at the end of the plains between the Rocky and Atlas mountain ranges east of Harbin, is actually a vast tract of country well over 500 miles square.

  2. Great work on taking Tony's campaign as a basis for your own actions. The background 'fluff' is excellent too:)

    1. Well, I'm fighting the battles. I made much of the early 'plot' suggestions was on account of an early communications breakdown, since sorted. Since then we have agreed on the events of the next 2-3 days, then it will be all up in the air from there.

  3. Ion....Superb. Even though I know all about this , it is still fresh and exciting. I do like the way you have fleshed out my original narrative, really adds "flavour". Looking forward to the next chapter.

    1. Glad you're enjoying the narrative so far, Tony. The story is kinda telling itself - and I hope the next instalments go as smoothly. The next two fights have been prepped and programmed, and I'm hoping to get at least one, if not both, fought out tomorrow.

      It's all taking on a life of its own...
      Cheers ...

  4. Brilliant adaptation or dipping into Tony's map / campaign / history. As you say, taking on a life of its own.

    1. Tony and I have been conversing about this though comments in his blogs and lately through emails. This is still a solo type of campaign, but we are kind of programming the events more or less together. The second action has been fought, with a third to follow, possibly tomorrow.

      The thing is developing in an interesting way, I think.

  5. Archduke Piccolo,

    This has all the makings of being a great and memorable imagi-nation wargames campaign. The background helps to make it all come alive, and Tony Adams has done a wonderful job of creating a map and a background that provides a solid foundation.

    I can hardly wait to read more!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      I was so struck by the potential for table top games with the 'Woodscrew World' that I simply had to run the idea by Tony, and see what he thought.

      Events in this part of the world (COVID-Delta) have rather put the kibosh on the 'Darkest Aithiops' campaign. We have had a battle prepped for months, but not quite able to get it done.

      Archduke Piccolo

    2. I have this coexistence with the Duchy of Tradgardland blog that they exist in the 19th and 20th century alongside or near my Scandi ImagiNation of Svenmarck both mutually at risk of being invaded or overrun in the 1940 Blitzkreig. Running alongside these are the faltering "principalities and empires" world of the Forgotten Minor States FMS of Mittel Mittel Europe, whilst also allowing for the "Tropical Yorkshire" Bronte ImagiNations islands of the North and South Pacific (Gondal and Gaaldine) and W. Africa GlassTown and Angria, with South Central and North Generica (taking the place of the Americas).
      There that's reimagined the globe ...

    3. Something like that has happened with my own 19th Century world, which seems to have developed a sort of Parallel Universe coexistence with 'Evil Uncle Brian's' Harad project, Madasahatta and another (occasional) blogger's 'Oronegro'. It's not obvious whether the Gatonegro War of Independence is within the same world as Ruberia and Azuria, but I shouldn't wonder...

      It's fun, though, eh?

  6. "Generica"

    THAT is a good turn of phrase I'd not heard before. Googling it, I see I'm late to the party, but I think I have uses for it. Adding it to my idea wiki for later use...

  7. What rules are you using? I don't see the usual set up for Portable Wargames Rules.

    1. Hi Chris -
      The campaign at large is sort of 'programmed'. The battles themselves are fought on a 'free table' (as I call it) using a very simple 'old school' rule set based on my own 'Bluebellies and Graybacks' ACW rule set, amended to accommodate breech loading ordnance and magazine loaded rifles. This is far from being a sophisticated rule set, but, for mine, gives very satisfactory battles with plausible results.

      Following the first battle, the next two are largely programmed for both sides. I'll explain them in the respective battle narratives.
      Archduke Piccolo