Battle of the Severn, 1655

The header picture is the evocative painting by Don Troiani, “First Muster” (the Massachusetts Bay Militia in Salem, 1637).

While certainly far from unknown in ECW wargaming circles, most Americans (at least those that are even vaguely aware of something called the “English Civil War”) are surprised to learn that one of its battles (albeit rather small) was fought near Annapolis, Maryland in 1655. I rather enjoy the fact that if asked where the nearest ECW battlefield is located, I can say less than one hundred and fifty miles away!

The Wikipedia article (07/02/2017) on the subject gives a fair account of the background events leading to the Battle of the Severn. As this article has large verbatim sections taken from The First Colonial Soldiers, Vol II, Wienand Drenth and Jonathon Riley (Drenth Publishing, 2015) they may be the Wikipedia authors.

The essential facts are that by 1655 there were two competing governments in Maryland. The first was the Proprietorship of Lord Baltimore (Catholic and quietly recognizing Charles II) located in St.Mary’s at the mouth of the Potomac River. The other the Puritan (and exclusionary) government in Providence (later Annapolis) which supported the Commonwealth. Maryland had been chartered based on religious freedom (tolerance would be a better word) but this principle was often held in abeyance. With a now exclusionary Puritan governing council in Providence, the legality of Catholicism was once again set aside. The acting governor, William Stone (a Protestant as it happens), led the St. Mary’s mainly Catholic militia north to put matters right. They were met near Providence (on March 25, 1655) by John Fuller leading the Providence Puritan militia fighting under the banner of the Commonwealth.

IMG_0335

A portion of the recreated village of St Mary’s on Maryland’s Western Shore (early April, 2013)

A more detailed account of events and the battle itself can be found in the excellent monograph by Peter Cottrell, The English Civil War in the American Colonies, (English Civil War Society of America – ECWSA). The battle is also presented in English Civil War Gaming Scenarios, Vol 3 (Partizan Press, 2005) by Robert Giglio, himself a former director of the ECWSA.

It is my plan to use Bob’s scenario to wargame The Severn using several different skirmish level rules I am evaluating for use in other small historic battles of the period. These will be: Scum of the Earth, Blackpowder (Nordic Weasel Games), Pikeman’s Lament (Osprey Publishing), Donnybrook (The League of Augsburg), Flashing Steel (Ganesha Games) and my own home brewed rules based on Baroque (Dadi & Piombo), call them “Baroque Lite”.

But first the historic battle.

The Approach

On 20 March , 1655, Governor Stone left St. Mary’s with about 200 men of the militia to make the near sixty mile overland trek to Providence. While the trip would have been quicker by water alone, Stone wished to continue to recruit on the way (and settle a few scores). He was, however, supported by a flotilla of small craft (perhaps a dozen) to carry supplies and, when required, ferry the men across the various streams that flowed into Chesapeake Bay.

Severn Map 1

A Google satellite view showing the relative locations of Providence and St. Mary’s on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay

Fuller was forewarned of Stone’s approach and on 23 March called up the Providence militia, perhaps 150 men.  He also convinced  Captain Heamans of the armed merchantman, Golden Lyon, along with a two gun sloop under Captain John Cutts to defend the water approach to Providence.

In the late afternoon of 24 March Stone’s force rounded Horn Point intent on summoning Providence when they were met by gunfire from the Golden Lyon. His lightly armed vessels, having no chance against an armed ship, turned into Spa Creek to escape. Cutts’ sloop then moved in and forced Stone further upstream. The water approach was now secure and Stone was cut off from the Severn and the Chesapeake Bay just beyond. With limited choices he landed on the Peninsula opposite Providence and made camp for the night.

Severn Map 3

A Satellite view showing the general area of the battle. Commonwealth movement is shown in white, Royalist in red. The orange stars show approximate locations of the fighting

Meanwhile, Fuller, a veteran of the New Model Army, lead the Providence militia across Spa creek, well upstream of the Royalist. When morning dawned on 25 March, Stone, his boats now useless, formed up to make a land approach on Providence. Fuller, however, now in battle array, was blocking Stone’s line of advance (and escape).

The Armies

While the colonial militia still had pikes in their armories and were required to train with them (the threat of action against Dutch or Spanish forces was extant) most of their experience was defending their settlements against Indian raids (or in punitive counter raids). Pikes were of little use in such warfare and in Virginia at least, pikemen were armed as sword and buckler men on most occasions. It is likely that operational forces by 1650 were becoming musket only. It is therefore probable that both sides at the Severn were exclusively musketeers (with a few odd polearms to mark the officers).

While militia, both sides had a fair number of veterans of the fighting in Britain (and elsewhere). Stone’s St. Mary’s force had several Royalist army veterans and perhaps a number of German professionals as well. The Providence militia under Fuller had a substantial number of New Model Army veterans with at least one source suggesting that they wore their red coats at the Severn.

Both forces were well trained but Cottrell suggests in his monograph that Fuller’s was likely more up to date in their firing drill and tactics (as is probably born out in the effectiveness of their fire in the actual battle).

The Battle

 

The battlefield of the Severn near Horn’s Point, a small peninsula across Spa Creek to the south of Providence. The Royalists (red) are formed up facing northwest with the Commonwealth force (white), now in battle order, approaching the Royalist position. To the Royalist right and rear are their boats which are bottled up by armed merchantmen closing up the mouth of Spa Creek.

 

Cottrell conjectures that St. Mary’s militia was trained in the older musket tactic of fire by induction and are shown here in a six deep formation. The front rank of each musket block would fire and then move to the rear of the block while the next rank would take their place and give fire. Theoretically when the sixth rank had fired, the original first rank would be ready to fire again.

 

Because Capt. Fuller was a New Model Army veteran and had a significant number of similarly trained veterans available, Cottrell argues that the Providence Militia would have been trained in the newer salvo tactic. Here they are shown in a three deep, more extended formation that would allow all three ranks to fire simultaneously.

 

As the Providence militia continued to advance, the Royalists fired off a volley at range (about 150 yards) killing the ensign carrying the Commonwealth standard. It was quickly picked up, and showing good discipline, they continued their quick advance

 

At fifty yards, Fuller’s force delivered a devastating salvo, dropping as many as a score of the Royalists. They then charged!

 

Although parts of the St. Mary’s militia stood and fought, most had had enough and started fleeing, dropping their weapons as they went. A contingent (probably under Governor Stone) fell back to a large fallen tree and began delivering an accurate fire that a Puritan participant said, “…galled us, and wounded divers of our men”.

 

While engaged in the center, the extended Commonwealth line began enveloping one (and likely both) of the Royalist flanks. Stone, now wounded, had little choice but to ask quarter, was given it and surrendered. The actual engagement probably lasted less than a half hour.

As was often characteristic of the strong passions of the era, the granting of quarter was forgotten and many of the St. Mary’s officers and men (including Governor Stone) were sentenced to summary execution! Four, in fact, were shot before the ladies of Providence entreated their men to show mercy and the rest were spared. In the end about forty of the Royalists were killed (including the executed) while the Providence men suffered only two dead (although two more died from their wounds). The Puritans were now, for the moment at least, the only government in Maryland.

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Battle of the Severn, 1655

  1. Thanks for the history lesson! I had no idea there was a battle fought in the area. I like the effect of smoke from the gunfire in the pictures.

    Like

  2. Thanks both!
    Bonnie – I used to airbrush smoke into the pictures but now I do what everyone else does – use cotton.
    Quicker and easier.

    Simon – I have a liberal view of the “Celtic Fringe”. Also include Wales and Cornwall (and possibly Liverpool) 😄

    Like

  3. Pingback: Battle of the Severn: The Wargame ~ The Scum of the Earth ~ | In Red-coat Rags Attired

  4. Lovely account and beautiful models. Fascinating thought the impact of the English political disputes so far away. What a pity that loking at the map, the site is now built over.

    Like

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