Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Woodscrew Armies Campaign - New Plans

Following the successful action of Yangzigu, and the near destruction of a whole Corps of the Chinese Army, Major-general T.J. Jackson was eager to follow up, even to encounter what seemed to be the core of the whole enemy force, not so very far - according to information offered by prisoners - along the road whence the defeated column had retreated. Even when messages arrived from the south from his trains a day or so to the southeast with news that a Chinese column was somewhere to the west of them, the general was inclined to follow instincts.  There was a fourth column somewhere to north as well.  Smash the middle and separate the wings by two or more days - the campaign could be wrapped up in short order.

It was the urgency of the message from the south that decided Jackson against that course of action.  As it was there were all sorts of ways the central push could go wrong, and the whereabouts of all three enemy columns were by no means certain.  Perhaps if his line of communications to the distant railhead had been more duly eastwards, nothing would have dissuaded him from that course.  The major commanding the train reckoned that there had been some contact between his escort companies (nominal, giving the wagons some defensive firepower in the event of attack) and mounted enemy scouts and patrols.  There were strong indications that a powerful Chinese force was in the offing, and approaching.
Strategic situation and moves 
July 17th-20th

As his army camped hard by the town just captured, its decrepit timbers fueling the campfires against the unseasonable chill of the mid-July evening, the general sat near his tent, scrawling out the orders for the next day.  Having already given out that the army should prepare to retrace its steps, he was accosted - if that is the word - by a young trooper:

'We won the battle, General - shouldn't we march against the enemy?'
'That we shall, sir!' was the quick reply.
'So we'll be advancing backwards, then?'
'I think I may say I am satisfied, sir!' 

The General's alternate plan was this.  With his whole army he would march south, but about a half-days march would detach Brigadier-General Bidwell with 37th Brigade, half the cavalry and the pioneer battalion, there to form a road block against any enemy following them.

With the remainder of the army, 38th and 39th Brigades, the rest of the horse and the heavy artillery, he continued on south, seeking a fight with any sizeable body of enemy he found there. The half-brigade of cavalry he sent on ahead to locate the enemy force.  The prisoners he also hurried forward along the road under a slight guard.  He did not concern himself overmuch about escapees - not in this wilderness, and not with his commissariat at full stretch already.
General Jackson's plan.
The Union horsemen soon discovered small bodies of Chinese horse roaming the countryside, obviously engaged in scouting, patrolling and screening (as best they could) the main column.  In a series of clashes (which cost the Union perhaps 150 men, the Chinese three times that), the cavalry pushed in the screen and found the Chinese column still a half day's march west of the train, and a brisk day's march south of Yangzigu.  (These 'clashes' and skirmishes, by the way were carried out 'on paper' using the SCRUD system of combat resolution. Overall a little over 2000 Union cavalry were operating against 2500 Chinese - 13 dice against 15.  The better trained and better mounted Union horse added one to each die score.  The result was 1 Union figure lost against 3 Chinese - which was a pretty good result for the Chinese!)

Meanwhile, what was happening in the Chinese camps and headquarters?

For his part, realising that his column was discovered and a powerful Union command rapidly approaching from the north, the Chinese commander, Hung T'u Sun, finding a suitable defensive position, turned to face the enemy.  His horsemen he called in - and he waited.

Marching almost due eastward, still a half-day's march from Yangzigu as evening of July 17th drew in, the West column began to encounter the broken shards of Li Kuan Yu's column.  It was a little dismaying to find that just two formations were still in hand of the five formations that the column comprised.  And they were conscripts who had seen little or no action in the day's battle.  The question was, what to do with the tattered remains of the regular formations? 

T'ai Kun Wu called upon Li Kuan Yu to rally his broken units, gathered up the two surviving conscript units and continued on eastward.  At the same time he sent messages to Prince Zeng Seng-Bao to redirect North Column southwards.  He estimated it might be two days for the message to reach its destined ears.  

Reaching Yangzigu, to his surprise without incident, T'ai Kun turned West Column down the south road, in pursuit of the departed Union force.  The 15th and 16th Conscript formations from East Column he dropped off at Yangzigu with instructions to place the settlement in a state of defence - more by way of keeping them employed than to improve such defensive qualities the settlement possessed.  The rest of East Column having rallied (he hoped) would join them there.  

The march south proceeded rather slowly, for without cavalry he was forced to rely on regular infantry formations for his flank guards - 1st and 2nd to the right and left respectively, well off the sandy, semi-overgrown road.  The 8th 'Blue Leopards' formed his advance guard, and the 3rd Regulars his reserve.  The bulk of his column comprised the 10th, 11th and 12th Conscripts and his precious rifled guns.

T'ai Kun Wu runs into Bidwell's road block...

So it was that about midmorning, Saturday 20th July, West Column came up against Brigadier Bidwell's road block.  But by that time Jackson's attack upon South Column, several miles to the south, had been under way several hours...

Jackson's Army faces off against
Prince Hung T'u Sun's South Column.

To be continued: Battle of Weshall Pass

A note on the Battlefield names for most of this campaign.  The region being pretty much abandoned for most of a generation - certainly lacking a regular government - locations even when known to the Chinese would not be to the Union.  So, being the 'protagonist Army' - the Chinese being the OPFOR antagonists - they will assign their own names to battles - hence, Weshall Pass - the Union encounter with South Column.  The blocking action of Bidwell's command will become known to posterity as Midla Nowhere Ridge.


  1. Such good stuff. This background makes the campaign really come alive. Looking forward to the battle reports very much. Regards.

    1. Tony -
      I like stories, and to tell stories. Problem is, I can write, but I'm no writer - no novelist. These campaign stories, though, are within my reach, I think.

      Couple of questions in respect of the distant brigades from 5th Army.
      1. Do they have their integral artillery and MGs?
      2. Are they to be grouped under an separate 'Corps' HQ?

      I'd be quite happy for these brigades, understrength as they are to be minus artillery OR MG. It would go with their hurried transit across the Union. If an HQ is not provided from 5th Army, I daresay Jackson might put together one for them.

      This would give the reinforced 10th Army better articulation. I'd attach a cavalry regiment (55th - 4 figures) from 10th Cv Bde and designate the new force V Corps, and the main body X Corps.

      Of course, this is looking a long way ahead - a deal of water must flow under the bridge before these decisions are made...

    2. You under-rate yourself as a writer !!!! Yes both brigades have their full complement of artillery and machine guns. They are just at 80% in manpower not equipment.Jackson will have command of them so can organise them as he sees fit. Regards.

  2. Really good campaign background there Ion and I love the battle names!

    1. Hi Steve -
      I'm glad you're enjoying the narrative.
      I WAS going to use Chinese place names, just cherry-picked from my way-out-of-date Atlas or maybe Google maps. But it occurred to me that the Union military wouldn't know the local names for locations - and, in its abandoned state, such names were likely to have vanished anyhow.

      So I had to come up with made-up names. I have deliberately made them sound more or less made up as well. However there are a few localities known by name, and they will enter the narrative at some time or another, no doubt.

      Archduke Piccolo