Tippermuir: The Field of Battle

I’ll confess I am totally enthralled by maps – always have been. I have a fairly large paper collection but these days (well the last twenty years give or take) almost everything is available electronically. Sometimes you have to get a subscription but most stuff is free and you can spend days (I’m now retired) exploring map collections all over the world. I have traveled in the “Three Kingdoms” several times but would not say I have anything like a grasp of what most stuff looks like. Google Earth and YouTube have really helped to fill in a lot of blank spaces in my mental picture, but maps – particularly contour maps – are the essential tool. I would assume that this is the case for any historic wargamer! I am often amazed at how I sometimes manage to overlook spectacular resources that have probably been in dozens of search results and they just didn’t register. I found one a couple of days ago that I am sure is known to every wargamer in this period – but not to me!  Historic Scotland – Alba Aosmohr has a database of Scottish battlefields (including all of Montrose’s battles except Aberdeen) with a downloadable PDF for each one. The database also includes one or more maps usually marked with a best guess (consensus) of the actual  deployments! Needless to say this is going to save a lot of agonizing over how to set up a battle!

The field of Tippermuir looking east toward Perth City from the Royalist line

The field of Tippermuir looking east toward Perth City from the Royalist line

I hope to use the same approach for each battle that I want to study and game. First set-up and discuss the terrain, followed by deploying the opposing armies in as close an approximation to the actual event as I can.    I will then do a short story board of how we (the great body of military historians, gamers, and anyone else with an opinion) think the battle went.   Finally I’ll game it (probably more than once) which means deployment and unit make-up may be varied with an eye to making a more playable and interesting game. Obviously nothing revolutionary here, it has certainly all been done before. At the very least doing it will help me remember things better! The battlefield of Tippermuir is a relatively flat expanse just to the east beyond the present day village of Tibbermore in Perthshire. As you travel toward Perth City (at that time on The Old Gallows Road) you approach a substantial hill that blocks any view of the city itself. I spent hours trying to determine the name of the hill and couldn’t. It is not named in either Ordnance Survey or Google maps nor could I find a sign when I took a virtual ride down it on YouTube.  I ended up taken a prominent name which occurs on current maps, “Burghmuir” (which I assume means something like “City Moor”) and applied to that hill. Maybe someday a local will tell me what it is actually called.

Looking south toward Lamberkine Ridge. The red lines indicate the beginning of the up-slope. Both dark green areas are part of Lamberkine Wood and are impassable to horse

Looking south toward Lamberkine Ridge. The red lines indicate the beginning of the up-slope. Both dark green areas are part of Lamberkine Wood and are impassable to horse

The most surprising thing when looking at contour maps is that the field slowly rises to the south, in increasing slope, terminating at the top of Lamberkine Ridge which pretty much parallels the entire battlefield. This feature changed my thinking about why Montrose chose to command the right (southern) flank of his army AND positioned his more unconventional forces (Inchbrackie and Atholl) closest to the ridge. I have placed ruined houses (mentioned by Monteth) on the ridge as well as some heavy woods (LamberkineWood on modern maps) which may NOT have been present at the time. The red lines in the picture indicate where (for wargame purposes)  the slope begins to affect movement. Since both the ruined buildings and the woods supply cover AND prevent the movement of horse, an army WITHOUT horse might be VERY interested in the tactical possibilities provided.

The partially destroyed walls of two houses lie between sections of Lamberkine Wood at the crest of Lamberkine Ridge

The partially destroyed walls of two houses lie between sections of Lamberkine Wood at the crest of Lamberkine Ridge

Burghmuir Hill is a natural defensive position against an enemy force approaching on the Old Gallows Road from the west. This was, of course, the position that the Covenanter Army would take up early on the morning of the battle. Depending on how it is calculated the western slope of Burghmuir Hill is roughly two or three miles from the gates of Perth City. The red lines in the picture again indicate where a steeper slope beings. Units defending between the red line and the crest of the ridge have an advantage in close combat or in moving down to the attack.

Looking over Burghmuir Hill to Perth CIty (about two miles distant). The red lines indicate the beginning of the up-slope

Looking over Burghmuir Hill to Perth CIty (about two miles distant). The red lines indicate the beginning of the up-slope

The contour lines of the actual terrain are only suggested by the layout of the battlefield. It would be neat to make them much more exact, I’ve certainly seen it done, but I obviously use a very temporary and rather stylized approach. I do not live in a large house but my wife, quite graciously, lets me use the dinning room table (as long as I can set-up and take-down quickly!). The base is folded up foam-core which at full extent gives only 60″ x 80″. This translates to 1000 yards by about 1300 yards in true scale (but I compress it a bit – maybe 1200 yards x 1500 yards – or even 1200 meters by 1500 meters if you prefer).  To get essential features in you also have to do selective compression (as in model railroading) which further distorts things. I try not to obsess about this! As should be apparent to even the most casual observer the bulk of the terrain is made of green terry cloth towels all close to the same shade (I carry a sample with me at all times – you never know when you might be able to match them at some bulk discount or remnant shop).  I also have a collection of a few other shades that can be used for other terrain features. Roads – for example – are made from the borders of the towel material I use for littoral areas. The stone walls of the ruined buildings are similarly done from the borders of grey towels.  The overriding advantage of this approach is ease of storage – it all folds up with (almost) no wrinkles!