Saturday, December 06, 2008

Freeman's Farm

Bruce Meyer sent out the word a couple of weeks ago about a game at his Palace of Gaming Delights. I don't get to play with Bruce often, but I really enjoy it when I am able. Last year we did Guilford Courthouse, and today it was Freeman's Farm. The action took place during the Saratoga Campaign, as Burgoyne approached his rendezvous with surrender. Freeman's Farm was the first of two quite desperate battles as the outnumbered, and out-of-supply British try to force the Americans out of their fortifications, opening the road to Albany.

There were twelve of us there for the game. Bruce asked if I would take Burgoyne, and I was happy to oblige. Tim McNulty volunteered to be Gates. Actually Gates was safely back at his bunker, but Benedict Arnold led the American forces on the ground that day. Tim behaved just as aggressively as Arnold.

We were divided into three commands--the right column under General Simon Fraser was commanded jointly by Mark Waddington and Bruce Duthie. Our center column under General Burgoyne himself was run by Jerry Nordbye and Steve Ghan. The left column under General Riedesel was the responsibility of Michael Koznarsky and myself, entering the board somewhat later.

Our right column immediately came under fire from Morgan's rifles, losing the commanding officers of the converged lights and a line battalion. It was the first of many bad things that would happen to Fraser's column in particular and the British in general.

While Burgoyne's column of four battalions moved dutifully to positions along a rail fence facing a field, dozens of American units poured onto the field, filling the opposite rail fence and pouring to flank. The battle had scarcely begun, the British were already in deep trouble.

Fraser's column on the British right was quickly unable to advance. Forced into line by the fire of American marksmen, the difficult situation rapidly went from bad to worse. American infantry began advancing in march columns aimed right at the British line. More fire forced morale checks the British commanders could not seem to pass. It would be a common theme throughout the day.

The British troops in the center and the right took defensive positions, rather than assuming the offensive as I had planned as British commander. There were simply too many Americans who were happy to bring the battle to us. Steve and Jerry in the middle had some initial success firing their cannon at the Americans in the center, but it was like a pebble tossed in the ocean in hopes of stopping the incoming tide. Jerry found himself holding the very end of the British line facing legions of Americans with two units.

He managed to hold things for a turn or two, but Jerry took his turn to fail an easily made morale check. Instead of holding the line, the threatened unit retreated, and the line turned into a bow.

On the right, things went from bad to worse. Repeated fire decimated the the British lights and line infantry. The Canadian militia sought refuge in the woods, and the Americans poured in toward the British right, forcing the survivors to find refuge in Freeman's Farm.

Just when all seemed lost the British got a bit of a reprieve when Riedesel's Germans showed up on turn five--exactly where the Americans expected them. Michael's Hessians pulled into the gap with the artillery, while I tried to pull off an attack on the American militia through the woods. For two turns the opportunity was mine for the taking, but I couldn't roll the six on a ten sided die I needed to attack disordered. I don't know if it would have changed the battle, but it sure would have made me feel better. I also attached Riedesel to the one attack I was able to make and he was killed in the melee. The story of the British army this day.
Although the Germans had five units to add to the eight British units already on the field, it simply wasn't enough to make progress against the eight slightly smaller American units arrayed against us.

As the Hessian counter-attack stalled out things went from bad to worse on the other fronts. On the right flank, a series of American attacks wiped out the British grenadiers and light infantry. They put up a good fight, but there simply wasn't enough to fight with. Steve's two battalions in the middle were being pressed from the front, and with his right flank now wide open, it was just a matter of time before he too was a goner. Jerry was fighting off units from his front and flank, but it was clear that the weight of the enemy would eventually end his resistance. At this point, with the Hessians clearly unable to draw strength from the American attack in the center I called a general retreat to save what was left of the army.

Though the game was a tough one to lose, and lose so decisively, it was still a great deal of fun. I met some new guys, and it was another great opportunity to pull out my AWI figures, which had lay dormant since Cowpens at Enfilade in the spring. I was really proud of the British players who did the very best they could under very difficult circumstances. On a positive note, I think we did as well as General Burgoyne, who suffered terrible casualties (just like us) and was forced to retire on his baggage (just like us) before his inevitable surrender after one more assault on Bemis Heights.

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