Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Woodscrew Armies Campaign - Unlocking the LOC

As Tenth Army enters the field, the Chinese 
South Column lies in wait on and behind the
heights south of Turnoff Creek

The Commander of the Chinese South Column, Hung T'u Sun, gazed northwards through the gathering dusk of July 29 at the twinkling lights of campfires, about a mile distant, across the plain below where he stood. On his own initiative he had thrown his army corps across the enemy's line of communications. Now here he was, wondering if he had chosen the path of true wisdom.
Strategic situation 27-29th July, 1889

The position was an awkward one.  The only defensive line in this locality was a series of ridges just south of a creek that ran across the road leading north to Yangzigu, some twenty-five miles distant.  It ran alongside the road branching westward - South Column's line of communication, in front of his line.  A thick wood west of the ridge line represented a barrier in that direction as well.  Hung T'u Sun knew he was taking a fearful risk, his own line of communications as much imperilled as the enemy's. He had to hope that T'ai Kun Wu was not too far behind those distant lights.  
In an effort to shorten the long odds against him, the Chinese commander presented only part of his force astride the south road, with the remainder off to the right on the reverse slopes of the high ground.  He hoped that in this way, his musket-armed conscripts would at least get to grips with their enemy, with perhaps a fighting chance of holding them back or even driving them off.  The forces available to him were:

South Column:
  • 7th Regulars, 20 figures
  • 20th Conscripts, 14 figures
  • 21st Conscripts, 15 figures
  • 22nd Conscripts, 15 figures
  • 2nd Cavalry, 10 figures
  • 4th artillery, 1 figure
This force was much attenuated from that which faced the Union Army a week before, totalling 64 Infantry (10,667), 10 Cavalry (1667), 1 Artillery battery with 1 crew figure (4 guns, 167gunners); That is to say, 12,500 men and 4 guns.

Major-General Thomas J. Jackson - 'Old Blue Light' to his more admiring troops, 'Fool Tom' to his detractors - sat on his camp chair gazing into his small campfire. Overnight the couriers had been coming in from the north. Brigadier-General Remington 'Reb' Klamath's 10th Cavalry was shadowing the Chinese main army, now a formidable force of over 40,000 men, and that was pushing southward.  Still a day's march distant, but that was to place a literal deadline upon General Jackson's Army. He had less than a day to clear a path through the enemy facing him across the road, and carry on south. He was glad Brigadier-General Early had arrived during the day, even though it meant that his formation, 17th Brigade, should have had to retrace its steps to get to where it had stood the previous night. Unaided, Early's 4500 could never have stood off a much superior enemy for a whole day. Not if that enemy was the enemy right wing column he'd faced on the 20th.
Major-General Jackson had with him:

Tenth Army:
  • 37th Brigade, 19 infantry, 1 artillery, 1 machine gun figures (3500, 4 guns, 4 machine guns)
  • 38th Brigade, 19 infantry, 2 artillery, 1 machine gun figures (3667, 8 guns, 4 machine guns)
  • 39th Brigade, 18 infantry, 1 artillery, 2 machine gun figures (3667, 4 guns, 8 machine guns)
  • 17th Brigade, 21 infantry, 2 artillery, 2 machine gun figures (4167, 8 guns, 8 machine guns)
  • 110th Artillery, 4 artillery figures (16 guns {2 models})
  • 210th Pioneer Battalion, 4 figures
Totals: 81 Foot (13,500) , 11 artillery/6 guns (1833/48) , 6 machine gunners/4 MGs (1000/32);
(16,333, 48 guns, 32 MGs)
Daybreak, July 29.  The Union Army uncoiled itself from its overnight repose, none too uncomfortable it being a mild night, and advanced into battle. There was no time to be lost; but no call to be overhasty either.
[Aside:  This is the way the 'programme' panned out.  This could very easily have been a 'Baylen' situation, with the French (Union) throwing in attacks piecemeal as the troops arrived, hoping to clear the road before the Spanish (Chinese) main army closed in from behind.  Had T'ai Kun Wu been only a half-day distant, things might have been a deal more touch and go. Mind you, I have played out an action very like that, in a 'Napoleonic' campaign, long, long ago... ]

Brigadier Bidwell's 37th Brigade leading into the field, Jackson directed towards the apparently unoccupied rising ground far to the left of the highway. The stream running across the road was a mere rill, a slight obstacle only, though the wagons would have to use the ford where the road crossed. Thirty-eighth and 39th Brigades followed up the road, to cross at the ford, and 17th Brigade was to march to the right, partly to seal off the west road, but also to storm the heights beyond the stream and the enemy artillery battery position thereon. The Union artillery would follow the central brigades, with the train and the Pioneers bringing up the rear.
The tale is soon told.  The little battery of Chinese cannon opened up an inaccurate fire as the Union forces drew up towards the river line, barely missing with its first salvo the 38th Brigade MG battery still limbered up and moving forward. They would have to endure yet more 'incoming' to bring the enemy within range of their own fire.
On the left (eastern) flank, 37th Brigade lined the river with all arms before the infantry began to cross. Spying the Chinese cavalry beyond a gap in the rising ground, the Brigade's artillery let fly, but did very little damage.

In the centre, 38th Brigade, still under gun fire, lined the creek west of the road, leaving the 39th to cross over the ford.  Once deployed, the 38th Bde guns opened up upon the enemy line of regulars, and scored an immediate success.  
The 37th Brigade artillery and MGs also settled into shooting up the Chinese cavalry, but once more ineffectually, as the latter, finding the climate becoming a little warm once the machine guns joined the chorus, drew off behind the east-most ridge.  
With the arrival down the road of the artillery, and 17th Brigade well on the way to forming up to the right of 38th Brigade, General Jackson deemed the time right to launch the first attacks to the left of the road.  Crossing the ford in column, 39th Brigade formed up into its customary battle lines, wheeled left and began to climb the slopes of the hill beyond. By this time, 37th Brigade was already atop the higher ground to their left, and engaged in a deadly duel with 22nd Conscripts along the summit.
This was the Chinese plan.  As the Unionists pushed up the northern slope, the conscripts would advance up the southern. When they met, they would be in easy musket range.  Who knew what might happen then?  In fact, in the opening exchanges 22nd Conscripts gave a very good account of themselves. Despite the Union superior numbers and firepower, for the first few minutes the conscripts gave as good as they received, and with luck might have done even better. 

[Aside: The Chinese Army every now and then performs far beyond the limitations this campaign narrative has placed upon it. 22nd Conscripts 14 figures. smoothbore musket armed, rolled 2 plus 1/3 dice with a die range of 4 (5s and 6s not counting); against 37th Brigade's magazine rifles, 18 figures' 4 plus 1/2 dice at a die range of 5.  The Chinese outshot the Unionists!  When the hits were resolved into casualties, they came out at 3 figures apiece.  This was actually not so much good Chinese shooting, as rather woeful Union. Perhaps the latter were a little blown by the uphill climb.

The unequal firefight could really have had but one outcome. Once settled into their work, despite taking further losses, but a further half-hour sufficed to crush the conscript formation, driving the scant survivors pell-mell down the south slope.  There was no pursuit.  For below them, they could see a formation of Chinese cavalry, over 1500 strong, preparing to charge.

The Chinese formation in the heights immediately to the left of the south road was the target of 39th Brigade.  To wheel left and advance up that slope was to present the Brigade's right flank to the larger, regular formation, the 7th, on the other side of the road. General Jackson hoped that the artillery and machine guns lining the riverbank would suffice for protection at least until 38th Brigade had crossed the stream to face them.  

Events were slower to develop in this part of the field than they had to the left.  A bombardment of the 38th Brigade machine gun line finally obliterated the guns, but 4 smoothbore cannon could be no match for the more accurate and far more numerous Union ordnance. And 17th Brigade and the heavy artillery were still hastening forward.  

Just as 37th Brigade were driving 22nd Conscripts from the East Ridge, the 38th found themselves engaged in a much deadlier duel.  Thinking to face but one Conscript formation (the 20th), they were suddenly faced by a second (the 21st), all, as it transpired, according to the programme directed by Hung T'u Sun. Fighting upslope against superior numbers, 39th Brigade had also to endure incoming from their right, as the Chinese regular formation counter-attacked. Colonel Tarrant C. Hazebrook fell, mortally wounded.  Lieutenant-Colonel Miles R. Long took over the command.

The Union army had far more to feed into the fight. Though its lesd position was for the moment dangerously exposed, 39th Brigade had the support of the 37th's support weapons, they having no targets to aid their own infantry.  But the 37th were doing well enough without that support. Having routed what remained of 22nd Conscripts, they met the subsequent Chinese cavalry charge with the aplomb of veterans.  

For the loss of hardly a man, they obliterated the cavalry formation as it surged up the hill.  Very few were the survivors still mounted that fled back down the slope minutes later.  

The counter-attack by the Chinese regulars, already under effective gunfire, was soon met by 38th Brigade, deploying in behind the 39th, but facing the enemy across the road. The intervention of 17th Brigade forced the Regulars to split their line. With the Chinese battery silenced long since, the superior rate of fire, greater numbers, and the support of heavy weapons quickly smashed the Regulars' formation.  Within minutes, what was left of the whole Chinese line gave way,  dissolving into a horde - and no very large horde at that - of fugitives, chased by the Union infantry.  

The sudden collapse might have been decisive for the fate of the South Column, for it would have been no great task to demand and accept that corps' surrender. Time only was lacking. Gathering his army in hand, packing his wounded into and onto every available space afforded by wagons, limbers and guns, Jackson ordered the march south to continue, sending back a message to his cavalry to leave off watching the enemy main army, and close up to Union army's main body. Today's battle had cost 10th Army some 1500 casualties.

They took no prisoners; whoever surrendered were simply let go. Gradually the road ahead cleared.  When 10th Cavalry trotted through shortly after noon, three hours later, hardly an enemy soldier was to be seen.

The main Chinese Army of T'ai Kun Wu arrived at the stricken field late in the afternoon.  He had hoped that he could incorporate the South Column into a force capable of driving the Union Army quite out of these empty disputed lands.  He was disappointed to find that South Column would be out of the campaign for a long time to come.  

Throughout the afternoon, the Union Army having long departed in a cloud of dust, Hung T'u Sun managed to rally a scant three and a half thousand men.  Overnight, more survivors straggled in, but by morning, it was clear that South Column had scarcely more than half the numbers with which it went into battle the day before, its few artillery had all been destroyed, and the trains, prudently left at Weshall Pass were a day's march away.  

On reflection, T'ai Kun Wu was disinclined to blame his Corps Commander overmuch.  He had dome what he could to trap the Union Army, and, with losses of near-on 6000 men, could scarcely be reproached for lacking in fighting spirit.  With a philosophic air, he ordered Hung T'u Sun to clear away the battlefield as best he could, gather his wounded, and retreat to his fortified camp 2 days to the west.  The following day, the 30th, he resumed his march southwards. 

Before the end of the day, with the sun already dipping beyond the western hills, he had run the Union Army to earth.  They were ready for him. 


  1. Great scenario, strong early showing by the Chinese army. Looking forward to the next battle.

    1. Hi pancerni -
      I was thinking that something closer to the 'Baylen' battle of 1808 might have been more interesting, but I'll settle for 'Fisher's Hill' (1864). When I set up this battle, though, I had neither in mind.
      Archduke Piccolo

  2. Yet another superb battle report. This is a really exciting campaign. As you mentioned the Chinese do seem to have some extraordinarily good performances from time to time. These often seem close to turning the tide before fading at the last minute. Given the superiority of the Union army in all aspects other than numbers I had expected them to steamroller the Chinese. That they have not is a bit disconcerting but does give a very exciting campaign and your narrative is so very good. The only thing that was not clear to me was did 38th brigade machine guns destroy the Chinese artillery or the other way round ?? It seems the climax of the campaign is upon us now, the stage is set for a HUGE battle with the Union outnumbered by two to one. Let's hope Union firepower can redress the balance !!! Regards.

    1. Tony -
      I rather thought you might find the narrative the more interesting - and entertaining - if the issue remained in the balance. I can see this campaign going for one or two more battles, depending on what happens at 'Camp Supply'. I'll email you about that.

      The 38th's MGs were destroyed by the Chinese cannon, shortly before the latter were overwhelmed by Union gunfire. The moments in which the Chinese have performed well have been due to the vagaries of the dice. In this late battle the Chinese held their own for a short while, but then were simply mowed down and swept aside. The guts of the battle, from the 37th's first contact to the total collapse of South Column was not more than 4 game turns - perhaps 2 hours in 'real' time. Tenth Army would have resumed its march south shortly after about midday, still with several miles' start on the main Chinese Army.

      The next battle will be China's attempt to drive the Union Army out of the 'Lost Provinces', thus securing their lawful claim to those lands. In view of the events of Liaoyang, this could be interesting...

      Archduke Piccolo

  3. Another very good campaign battle and the Chinese are certainly making a fist of it from time to time. The next battle sounds ominous and will quality win over quantity?

    1. Steve J -
      THAT certainly is the question! The Union does have huge qualitative and material advantages, that have enabled Tenth Army to chip away at the Chinese numbers. The decision by Hung T'u Sun to block the south road, rather than, say, invite Tenth Army to match across South Column's front, was probably unfortunate, but such was the programme!
      Archduke Piccolo

  4. Archduke Piccolo,

    I have been following this campaign with great interest, and have thoroughly enjoyed every instalment. The Chinese have not been as big a pushover I had expected, and the Union needs to be careful that they do not become too confident in their own abilities and get themselves into a situation where they are drastically outnumbered and find out the Stalin wasn't kidding when he said that quantity has a quality all of its own!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      This campaign has been a lot of fun. Tony allowed that the disparity in numbers at the outset precluded Tenth Army rushing bull-headed at once into a big showdown. But the Chinese Army could not, for logistical reasons, be combined into one vast body, hence the four columns. By sheer luck, Tenth Army at the beginning got a central position - not TOO central though!

      I think the incident in the late battle in which 39th brigade was - briefly - engaged by three Chinese brigades, and finally swept aside two of them, albeit with heavy losses of their own, is not an encouraging harbinger of China's prospects in the coming 'showdown' battle.

      The next action will be decisive for China's prospects of driving Tenth Army out of the 'Lost Lands'.

      Archduke Piccolo