Playing A Shot in the Dark

In the header photo the pikes of the Strathaven Gordons await the approaching Covenanter army in the early morning sunlight.

In the first play-through of this variant everything went wrong for the Royalists. MacColla’s thin line behind the hedge on Garlic Hill first got pinned in that position and were destroyed by Sir Mungo Campbell’s powerful and fast moving brigade. Despite the rough going Sir Mungo troops, supported by The Earl of Seaforth’s brigade, were then in and among the back courts of Auldearn by turn nine. The Royalists drew three consecutive Jacks and did not begin receiving reinforcements until turn seven. By the end of turn eleven the Covenanters controlled Auldearn and won the game.

The second play-through of the A Shot in the Dark scenario went in an entirely different direction and provided a close parallel to the historic result of the battle as narrated by Patrick Gordon of Ruthven:


The Covenanter army (in the foreground) are again making a rapid advance across Garlic Hill.



The Royalists make an orderly withdrawal toward Auldurn. The Gordon musketeers cover them from the steep high ground of Castle Hill.



Sir Mungo Campbell’s Brigade has reached the Garlic Hill hedgeline as MacColla prepares to move farther east into the back courts of Auldearn. Sir Mungo sends his cavalry through the boggy gap between the hedge and the foot of Castle Hill.



MacColla now has his Irish in defensive position in the back courts, while his first reinforcements (Laghtnan’s musketeers) begin to arrive from the east. The Gordon Strathaven pikemen continue to hold position in the kirkyard while their musketeers destroy Sir Mungo’s slow moving horse with heavy volleys. Undaunted, the Covenanters press forward.



The right flank of the Covenanters are slowed down by the boggy low ground to the south of Garlic Hill but Sir Mungo presses forward with his two veteran regiments. Drummond’s Lancers have negotiated the hedge (in the center) and are preparing an end run around the Royalist left. MacColla has now organized a substantial resistance in the back courts and another group of Irish musketeers (behind the Kirk) are arriving.



Since the Covenanters have gotten east of the bog their forces begin to spread out to protect their flanks. This comes at a fortuitous moment as Lord Aboyne has entered the field with his squadron of horse and appears to be trying to end run the left flank. Drummond was trying the same thing with his Covenanter lancers on the right but broke when they received a volley from O’Cahan’s Irishmen. Sir George Buchanan’s musketeers are now exchanging fire with the Gordons on Castle Hill. The veteran Covenanter Infantry is preparing to assault the back courts and exchanging musket fire with the Irish. In one of the exchanges Sir Mungo dropped to his knees, his head grazed by a musket ball. Supported by friends he staggers to the rear.



With Sir Mungo temporarily hors de combat, the Covenanter regulars are stymied in attacking the Irish ensconced their excellent defensive positions in the back courts. The Irish continue to pour furious volleys into them and the Covenanters are now taking substantial casualties. The MacKenzie bowmen, firing over Lawer’s Foot, continue to harass MacColla’s Lifeguard.



Regaining his senses, Sir Mungo sees that he must get his men out of the killing field in the bottom land west of Auldearn. With supreme confidence he believes his veterans can overrun the more lightly armed Irish. His men struggle up the slope and drive over the hedge. Seeing that the Frasiers and the Northern levies have moved to the high ground west of the burn, Lord Aboyne pivots his horsemen to engage the enemy in the bottom land. On the Covenanter right, General Hurry positions his cavalry reserve to take the Royalist left flank. Montrose and the rest of the Gordon forces have yet to appear.



After bickering back and forth Buchannon’s musketeers, supported by the Earl of Sutherland’s Foot, manage to break the Gordon detachment holding Castle Hill. Disaster now ensues for the Covenanters. The MacKenzies move to attack the Gordon pike detachment in the kirkyard but are first repelled then caught on their left flank by Aboyne’s charging horse. They break and run. After fierce fighting in the hedges both Lawer’s and the Lord Chancellor’s veteran foot are also broken.



Montrose arrives on the scene bringing the Strathbogie Regiment up from behind the kirk. Just to the west, the Strathaven pikes are flanked by Irish musketeers, all in well protected defensive positions which allowed them to repel the heavy Covenanter attack.



Having routed the MacKenzie Foot, Lord Aboyne is in hot pursuit of the stragglers but runs into the staunch volleys of Buchannon’s musketeers. In the center, MacColla, seeing that his flanks are holding, leads some of the Irish forward in an attempt to break through the Covenanter’s now very weak center. To the relief of the Sutherland levies, MacColla is slowed by the boggy low ground.



As MacColla advances, Lord Gordon appears with his horse and smashes into Hurry’s reserve horse with catastrophic effect.



The Earl of Sinclair, already wounded in the fighting around the kirkyard, leads Finlater’s recruits on a desperate attack against the Irish musketeers of Manus O’Cahan. Supported by Sir Mungo, now with the Lothians, he hopes to take the requisite parts of Auldearn before Montrose can deploy his reserve infantry. Lord Gordon, his blood up, is pursuing Hurry’s horse ignoring the Covenanter’s now dangerously exposed flank.



In the center, bolstered no doubt by the presence of Sir John Hurry ( a nasty sword cut across his face), the raw Sutherland levies stand manfully against the charge of MacColla’s somewhat depleted Lifeguard. On the Royalist right, having fended off the attack by the Lothians, O’Cahan’s breaks them with devastating volleys and capture the Earl of Seaforth. The battle is won.

Why was this out come so different than the first? Two principal reasons, MacColla got back into the back courts quickly without getting pinned by the Covenanters and the Irish reserve came up equally quickly. Even though most of the Gordon reserve was delayed, the back courts are a great defensive position if all the Irish are in place early. In Wishart’s account Montrose admonishes MacColla to stay on the defense and it is MacColla’s warrior spirit that causes him to go forward, cancelling his soldierly instincts. In Ruthven’s account of surprise and sudden alarm, however, MacColla cooly goes forward as a delaying tactic (and by implication, saves the day).

Before I construct a composite scenario there is one more possible deployment to try out, that of a set piece battle.



3 thoughts on “Playing A Shot in the Dark

  1. I have been reading your blog on my phone, which does not do a good job of posting your pictures. I was blown away by the elaborateness of your villages and backgrounds. It is evident again that this is a passion that requires a great deal of your time. Enjoy!


  2. Thanks, Bonnie (I think – WordPress seems to come and go as to recognizing who regular commenters are). You have taught me just to accept complements so I shan’t say that my wargame presentations are a mere shadow of what many others accomplish! 😀)


  3. Pingback: Playing the Set Piece Battle | In Red-coat Rags Attired

Comments are closed.