Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Day Out in Sunny Somerset - The Battle of Sedgemoor and the Wellington Monument

Andrew Howat's depiction of the Royalist cavalry attacking Monmouth's rebels
Yesterday was spent out in sunny Somerset exploring the battlefield of Sedgemoor, enjoying the food in a very nice pub and taking a look at the Wellington Monument.

The Battle of Sedgemoor, fought in the early hours of the 6th of July 1685, was the last battle fought on English soil and, following the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War, was the first in a series of struggles between the Catholic and Protestant claimants to the English throne that would culminate in the Battle of Culloden in 1746 thus ending the bloody religious wars of that period.

I have attached links to various sources of information on the campaign and subsequent battle, with the Battlefield Trust site particularly useful for a more detailed analysis. Suffice to say that the Protestant leader of the West Country rebels, the charismatic Duke of Monmouth, found himself in Bridgwater, having failed to move on Bath and Bristol and now facing a Royalist army under the command of the Earl of Feversham, a French noble and favourite of King James. The Earl had been appointed to command over and above a very able Colonel John Churchill who would go on to be better known as the Duke of Marlborough, perhaps the greatest of British Generals.

King James II

The battle site near Bridgwater in Somerset is a forty minute drive from home and yet I am guilty of not having walked the ground, even though I have known about this short campaign and battle since studying it at school many many years ago.

To understand Sedgemoor is to understand its position in relation to two churches clearly visible at opposite (Rebel and Royalist) ends of the battlefield, Chedzoy and Westonzoyland.

These two churches provided two significant land marks in the flat open Sedgemoor between the two hamlets and along with the major ditches and dykes that help to drain this low lying land were the principle points for the Rebel army to navigate its way in a daring night attack on the Royal camp. 

The Duke, an experienced military commander, was attempting to give his inexperienced and poorly armed forces a better chance of overcoming the trained Royal army by surprise and use of the darkness to cover their approach as they attempted to evade Royalist cavalry patrols. The map above shows the positions of the two forces and the approach march made by the rebels on the night of the 5th July 1685.

Duke of Monmouth

After a very nice pub lunch on the outskirts of Bridgwater we started our tour in the little village of Chedzoy which, along with the Black Ditch, acted as guide points for the rebel army to calculate their position as they approached the Royalist position.

The Duke had reconnoitred the Royal camp from the tall spire of  St Mary's Church in Bridgwater before starting the march. En route he climbed the tower of St Mary's Church in Chedzoy for a final view of the camp before closing on it.

Chedzoy Church

Monmouth climbed the tower for one final look at the Royalist Army in camp at Westonzoyland
As we drove back towards the Bridgwater - Westonzoyland road I stopped to take pictures of Westonzoyland church from the rebel position. The moor back then would have been devoid of the modern enclosures and power lines that dot it today and, in the dark, with the various ditches and drains that cross it, it would have been a formidable piece of terrain to navigate across.

The view of Westonzoyland from Chedzoy. The Royalist camp was to the right background. The Rebel advance came into the Royalist lines from the left background

Westonzoyland, St Mary's Church, from the Rebels view point
As we headed towards Westonzoyland we were moving into the Royalist lines and getting to see what a very good defensive position the Earl of Feversham had chosen with the village and camp secure behind the Bussex Rhine (pronounced Reen) and with one main road out towards any expected rebel attack from Bridgewater. With his cavalry patrols out at night on the moor he would have felt quite secure in his HQ at Weston Court just opposite the church in the village (see the map below). Sadly the house was demolished in subsequent years.

Map to illustrate the battle and the places we visited
The interesting fact about the Royal defences was that the Bussex Rhine was not as formidable a barrier as it might have seemed to the casual onlooker; as recent archaeological work on the former ditch, now dried up and overgrown, showed it to be wide but very shallow and easily crossed by infantry.

This information would prove a deciding factor in the outcome of the battle as rebel forces failed to make rapid progress across it to take advantage of the initial surprise and shock of their approach march. The Duke even sent on his weaker cavalry to burst in among the Royal troops busily forming up as he brought up his infantry as quickly as possible. The rebel cavalry wasted time searching for crossing points in the dark, under fire, oblivious to the fact that they could have crossed quite easily.

The legend of the Royalist forces becoming aware of the rebel approach is recorded as being a single pistol shot ringing out in the night. There seems to be some consistency in this report, but whether it was from a Royalist cavalry patrol or an unlucky discharge from a rebel weapon seems unclear.

Earl of Feversham

Colonel John Churchill

Once the Royal troops had recovered from their surprise at being attacked from an unexpected direction, their better training took effect as they started to deliver telling fire on the approaching rebel infantry that attempted to trade volleys across the Rhine. This was followed up by attacks from the Royalist cavalry on the flanks of the rebel infantry, following the rebel cavalry having been shot up by both sides infantry in the dark. The Royalists started to move their light cannon to face the new threat and bring their fire to bear on the enemy infantry.

Westonzoyland, St Mary's Church, where rebel prisoners were held after the battle

The rebel infantry started to fall back in some disorder across the moor and, as the Royal infantry crossed the Rhine in pursuit, the withdrawal rapidly turned to a rout during which the greater part of the thousand odd rebel casualties would have been suffered. The Duke beat a hasty retreat, to be captured a few days later and meet a grizzly end on the block at the Tower of London.

The Royalist army at Sedgemoor

The centre of Westonzoyland village is dominated by St Mary's Church which has a history going back to 1268 when the first record of a chapel on the site appears. The church hosts a great little exhibition about the battle and its role in it, being an impromptu prison for surrendered rebels.  

The excellent visitors display in the church, with uniforms and weapons of the period

The Royal Artillery uniform 
This period of Horse and Musket warfare is an interesting transitional period with the move away from the typical matchlock and pike armed forces common in the English Civil War towards the new flintlock muskets equipping some of the Royalist infantry regiments. Some of the British infantry were unhappy with the flintlocks preferring to stick with what they had come to rely on, the sturdy if rather clumsy matchlock. This period also saw the first use of the plug bayonet that would cause Royalist troops much grief when they tried to use these against Jacobite rebels and charging Highlanders.

Typical dress of a musketeer of the period, with matchlock and powder flask

Royalist gunner adjusts the taper on his linstock, next to the small artillery of this period

The artillery may have been light, but you wouldn't want to be hit by the examples of the round shot on display

Military sword of the period
St Mary's church has a beautiful light interior with an amazing carved ceiling.

From the church we followed the waymarked trail through the village to the Battlefield Memorial that is close to the line of the old Bussex Rhine that separated the two battle lines

The view from the Royalists position, the camp would have been in the field to the left

Chedzoy Church in the distance

The Rebels tried to cross this moor, crossed with deep drains, in the dark, avoiding Royalist cavalry patrols and they nearly made it. Chedzoy chuch centre, with the memorial stone just visible behind the reeds
Battlefields always have a feeling of sadness that seems to cling to them and Sedgemoor is no different. One can only imagine the horror and terror that filled these open fields nearly 350 years ago.

Monument to those killed in 1685 and to those in other wars since. In the field behind are buried, somewhere, the 1,000 rebel soldiers killed in the battle

In memory of free men fighting a King's tyranny
The tyranny that the rebels of Monmouth's army fought was demonstrated to its full extent with the appointment of "Hanging Judge Jeffreys" and his Bloody Assizes to purge the Westcountry of its rebels. This is recorded on the memorial to the battle, with transportation for forced labour to the West Indies being as good as a death sentence.

Needless to say he failed, as three years later, William of Orange received a rapturous welcome from the South West when he landed at Brixham in Devon on the 5th November 1688 and James's regime quickly collapsed during what came to be known as the "Glorious Revolution".

Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys,_1st_Baron_Jeffreys

Finally on our way home we stopped off at the Wellington Monument to see if we could climb the steps to the top for a magnificent view over the county. Unfortunately repair work is still being carried out so we could only enjoy the last few minutes of the winter sun as it quickly dropped below the horizon.

The Wellington Memorial, above Wellington in Somerset,_Somerset

Thus ends my last post for 2014, on what has been an eventful year on JJ's Wargames and with plans for lots more to come in 2015. I will take a look at where the blog is and how things have progressed in the first post for 2015 and until then wish everyone a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

ACW Skirmish - Stoneman's Raid 1865, The Danbury Iron Foundry and a Quiz

Ok, the picture above captures events during Dahlgren's Raid on Richmond, but I thought it also looked great as header to our little affair that we played out yesterday in North Devon at Chez Chas.

Our game was based on the Stoneman Raid in 1865 with a specific focus on the fighting at Danbury. We were using the American Uncivil War rules which helped very much in making the game feel very cinemati; which, if you read my post from last year's game where we had a little bit of James Bond action using the 7TV rules, is the kind of game we like to play at this holiday time of year.

If you are interested in knowing more about the raid itself the following link will be useful.

General George Stoneman
If you would like to know more about the rules and watch the really handy little video play throughs then I have attached the following link.

So, on arrival at Chez Chas we were greeted in the sun lounge with a hot drink and a briefing from our host.

Some of the extras for the days filming, L-R Vince, Steve M, Chas, Yours Truly (having the finer points explained) and Nick
I have to say this set of rules really made our game. The ACW stuff is there with the different weapons and troop types, plus civilians, but the little sub plots that our individual characters had together with their individual foibles and strengths made this feel like a film script as we played out our drama. 

Danbury, with the various factions laid out in their approximate start positions

Union raiders line the top of the table (right) ready to move in and wreak havoc
The game reminded me of, and seems similar to, Muskets and Tomahawks, with a card driven play sequence and the character theme. It made a refreshing change from the usual blue on red confrontation as, for instance, my character Bloody Bill was more intent on waging a personal war with Rab Butler and organising his men to loot the town than to worry about fighting the war. On the other hand the Confederate army commander was totally focused on his mission to protect the Foundry from Union forces, content to ignore my raiders as they gathered hogs around their waggon loaded with booty.

Likewise the fanatical Union Captain Daring seemed totally in character when, seeing his men shot down assaulting the houses, he gave the order to burn them down one after the other.

Confederate Town Militia

Townsfolk including the redoubtable ladies of Danbury led by Harlet O'scara (big white dress, centre right) and Rab Butler(red jacket, centre right)
Even the ladies had to be treated with caution by the fighting factions and several probes into town by the Union troops were shot at by Amazons in skirts.

Confederate regulars with artillery, tired and very hungry
Hopefully the following captioned pictures will capture the flavour of the day. The game was declared a Confederate victory with the Union forces badly shot up and more personal missions achieved by the Rebs. Well done to Steve who coolly led the Confederate regulars and came out on top for the day.

My brave Confederate raiders led by low down dirty dealing "Bloody Bill"
As part of the fun, I ran a little military history quiz over lunch and I have put the questions up if you want to test yourself.  Answers at the bottom of the post.

1, Name four Napoleonic Marshals whose surname began with M
2. Name the four British field army commanders in the American War of Independence
3, Name four WWII German AFV's that had animal names

Nick's beautiful Union cavalry led by a rather hard drinking unreliable type
4. Name four of Sir Arthur Wellesley's/Duke of Wellington's battle victories in the Peninsular War
5. Name four of the D Day beaches.
6. Name four Union Corps Commanders at Gettysburg.

Union Infantry led by the fanatic Capt Daring supported by the scurrilous Sgt Shifty
7. How are these four ACW battles otherwise known
Elk Horn Tavern
First Manassas

8. Name the members of the second triumvirate and the title of the last man standing

The quiet before the storm
9. Name the Persian King defeated by Alexander the Great and the three battles that led to that defeat
10. Name four of Hitler's field marshals.

Centre back is the Danbury Iron Foundry, and those pigs look good to a hungry soldier

They've even got fresh steaks

Play starts as the various factions start to arrive on table

The Confederate army set up to defend the Foundry (bottom right)

Civilians struggle to gather their belongings in the hope of getting the next boat out that belongs to that no good Rab Butler 

Battle is well and truly joined

Union infantry come under attack from the ladies of Danbury aided by the local militia

Hey Sarge, I'm getting me a hog!

Frustrated Union cavalry wait for orders and for their Officer to finish his drink, sadly for them their next move revealed a hidden stash of drinking whisky!
Bloody Bill's boys ride into town on business of their own

Panic among the crowd as bullets start to fly about the quay side

Union infantry were taking fire from all directions

Rab Butler is pursued by Bloody Bill  and his boys as he attempts to lose them among the passengers

Firing breaks out as Sgt Shifty leads his Union infantry down to the quay and tries to board without a ticket

Bloody Bill's men gather the horses and their loot at the foundry (guess who got the hogs?)

The boat builds up steam as Capt Daring, furious about his casualties, starts to burn the town

The defenders on the boat drive off Bloody Bill and the Union troops, but not without casualties

The desperate towns folk, with their houses on fire, rush towards the boat
Sheriff Pusser (shotgun second right) joins the boat as Confederate troops fight off Sgt Shifty and his attempted boarding at the bow. 

Sgt Shifty, driven from the boat, takes his anger out on Harlet O'scara and knocks her unconscious, the blackguard 

Bloody Bill cuts his losses and his men escort their waggon load of loot and hogs out of town

As the boat looses its moorings and starts to move, the Confederate militia are driven from the burning buildings

Capt Daring keeps up the pressure as he herds the militia towards the river

The Confederate army know how to defend a position and the Union cavalry discover the wrong end of a 12lbr
Many thanks to our host Chas, and to Nick, Mike, Everett, Steve, Vince, Tom and Will for a great day of wargaming. 

If you are keen to see how you scored on the quiz and want to check your answers, we had a top score of 21 out of 40 possible correct answers, with our History Mastermind champion being Vince. Well done, I'm just glad I was setting the questions and not answering them!

1. Murat, Massena, Mortier, Marmont, McDonald, Moncey
2. Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, Cornwallis
3. Tiger, Panther, Wespe, Hummel, Luchs, Elephant, Grille, Nashorn, Maus
4. Rolica, Vimeiro, Oporto, Talavera, Bussaco, Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, Sorauren,  Bidassoa, Bayonne, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez, Toulouse
5. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword
6. Reynolds, Hancock, Sickles, Sykes, Sedgwick, Howard, Slocum, Pleasonton
7. Pea Ridge, First Bull Run, Pittsburgh Landing, Antietam
8. Octavius, Anthony, Lepidus, Augustus
9. Darius, Granicus River, Issus, Guagemela
10. Rommel, Manstein, Paulus, Kesselering, Keitel, Goering, Kluge, List, Model, von Rundstedt, von Blomburg, von Bock, von Brauchitch, Sperrle, von Kleist, von Richthofen, von Leeb, Milch, von Richenau, von Witzelben, von Bohm Ermolli, von Kluchler, Busch, von Weichs, Schorner, von Greim