Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Battle of Midsomer Barrow

The English Civil War actions in the county of Midsomer have, to my knowledge, never been fully documented for a modern audience, so I thought that today I would bring one of them to the wider attention of gamers. At the outbreak of the war the county was divided in its loyalties, and forces rallied both to the Royalist standard of Lord Standing and the Parliamentarian banners of Sir Thomas Barnaby (not to be confused with his cousin John, who appeared later).

The first action took place in late November 1642, as both commanders sought to control the county's main town, Causton. On a cold, misty morning their troops met on the common at Midsomer Barrow.

I fought this battle with my newly constructed paper troops and a modified version of the Pike and Shot rules from 'One Hour Wargames'. Modifications were:

(i) I used my five hits/multiple dice to hit mechanism, as detailed in other posts.

(ii) The Swordsman troop type was replaced by Shot. Shot move like Swordsmen, but fire like Infantry. However if they run out of ammunition their firing capability is merely reduced in strength rather than lost. They can never charge and fight poorly in close combat.

(iii) Other troops were renamed, purely for aesthetic purposes - Infantry became Pike and Shot, Reiters became Trotters and Cavalry became Gallopers. Trotters rely mainly on firepower and Gallopers on a head-on charge, but in the force compositions I didn't weight the types to one side or the other - ideally the Parliamentarians would tend towards the former and the Royalists the latter.

(iv) To streamline rolls I changed the roll for running out of ammunition. This normally requires a separate roll of 1-2 after firing. However since all units which shoot roll two dice in my system, I worked out that the odds were, for practical purposes, the same if I said that a unit went out of ammunition if either of their dice showed a '1'. This factored everything into the same roll, although it does tie going out of ammunition with the level of casualties inflicted, since a '1' is also a miss.

On to the game. I used the random force compositions from One Hour Wargames, Sir Thomas Barnaby's force consisted of three bases of Pike and Shot, two of Trotters and one of Gallopers. Lord Standing had mustered a mostly infantry force; four Pike and Shot, one Shot and some Gallopers.

The battlefield was, for the purposes of the game, a featureless plain, but both armies formed up on low hills on opposite sides of the common.

Sir Thomas placed his cavalry on his left, but left his more enthusiastic horse in reserve, ready to exploit any gaps or open flanks or to block any enemy breakthroughs.

Lord Standing formed a strong infantry line, placing his shot on the hill where they would receive some defence against enemy charges. His small force of cavalry was on his right, facing the Parliamentarian horse. Supported by a regiment of pike and shot, the aim was to charge as soon as possible and negate their opponent's firepower advantage.

The armies arrayed for battle.

The Parliamentarians advanced.

The Royalists advanced their left flank, but otherwise stayed in place.

The Parliamentarians refused their right flank, hoping to gain an advantage on their right first. Their horse discharged their pistols at the Royalists opposing them.

The Royalist cavalry charged, supported by some infantry. In these rules most units can only charge once they have run out of ammunition, at which point they can no longer shoot. This means that, over time, the game shifts from one based on firepower to one based on melee. However gallopers have no firing capability; charging is their only option.

On the Royalist left the two infantry lines formed up opposite each other and an exchange of fire began.

An overview of the battle. Sir Thomas had shifted the reserve cavalry to the left, hoping to exploit a breakthrough by the trotters, should it arise.

As the fighting on both wings intensified, Lord Standing advanced his centre of the hillock, bringing up his shot to support the fight against Sir Thomas's horse.

On the left the pike and shot closed as their ammunition ran out. Whilst ranges in these rules are very generous, it pays to move in close to fire so that when the bullets run out you are in a position to move into close combat straight away, instead of having to spend a turn advancing towards an enemy who may be able to shoot at you when you have no reply available.

One regiment of Parliamentarian horse broke under fire, and the gallopers moved to replace it. The infantry facing them had taken quite a few hits from the pistol-wielding Parliamentarians, and despite their pikes looked like they might break if charged.

The melee in the centre intensified.

The Royalist horse broke the Parliamentarian trotters opposing them, but routed after a counterattack by the remaining Parliamentarian horse ...

... who then went on to drive off the Royalist infantry on that flank.

In the centre the Parliamentarian foot had driven off their Royalist opponents. Lord Standing now had a regiment of foot and his shot remaining.

Sir Thomas's forces closed in on the shot on the hill, whilst the remaining pike and shot engaged each other.

The Royalist foot won that fight, and moved to engage the other Parliamentarian regiment. However the shot on the hill was charged by the Parliamentarian horse ...

... and ran.

 The single Royalist foot regiment was now faced by two opponents. However it could still fire, whilst neither Parliamentarian unit could. A volley drove off the Parliamentarian horse ...

... but that saw the end of the unit's ammunition. The two units closed for a final fight, in which the Royalists were triumphant.

Lord Standing had won the first encounter, but Sir Thomas would soon be reorganising his forces for another battle.

The rules played out OK, with the out of ammunition rule making for some interesting decisions and changes of plan as the battle's emphasis shifted to close combat. The scenario - Pitched Battle (1) from the book - is a fight to the finish, so tends to end with the last two units n each side fighting in the middle. In a set with army morale the Royalists would probably have broken a few turns earlier. The next game will see both sides having an objective beyond that of just defeating the enemy army. I have no idea as to whether the game captured the feel of an ECW battle, as my knowledge of the era is pretty limited. But sometimes it's fun to play something, get it wrong and then refine what you're doing as you learn more.


  1. Due to the high murder rate in Midsomer, you will have to fight the next battle with only five units a side. Then four....

  2. The paper armies look really good. I haven't tried the pike and shot rules, I have no idea how well they will play out but I think the end result was about what would be expected of an ECW battle fought out to the finish.

  3. Now you have me thinking of doing some pile & shot battles. I like the change from swordsmen to shot.

  4. Good report with lots of photos. The paper armies look great and what a neat and economical way to start out in pike and shot.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...