Playing the Set Piece Battle

In the header picture Montrose stands with O’Cahan’s musketeers in the refused center of his defensive position at Auldearn.

I have been experimenting with several things while playing through the Auldearn Set Piece battle scenario a couple of times over the last few weeks. When Montrose has his entire force in position awaiting the Covenanter assault it proves to be a very difficult task for the government forces to win against the Royalists.

The game is not without interest but the nature of the ground makes it tricky for the Covenanters to concentrate their forces and punch through the Royalist defenses at any point. The fighting was across the whole front (as you would expect in a set piece battle of the period) and both dash and ammo got pretty well exhausted in the early stages which ended up blunting the later attacks.  What I did see more of, since the lines were rather more fixed, was the Covenanters pulling back severely disorganized units to rally them and then have another go. These lulls, which may have occurred in the historic battle as well, also gave the Royalists an opportunity to reorganize as well. Other than extending the battle it was probably a wash.

Some of the events from both play-throughs  are shown below:

The Covenanters, in the foreground, advance on a broad front. The historic deployment has the weakest brigade (the Sutherland and other northern levies along with Drummond’s very weak horse) on the right flank opposing the Gordons. Hurry has brought Hackett’s horse up to support them, leaving no reserve.

Lord Gordon takes immediate advantage of the situation ( and the rather decent ground for cavalry) and runs over the untried Covenanter right with his cavalry. In the first case, Hackett’s checked one of the Gordon squadrons but in the second they also were routed. The Gordons then go mad in pursuit and were not rallied in either play-through.

There is always a danger of overrating the Gordon horse but I think I have it right. Based on supposed numbers I could probably have added two additional squadrons (perhaps making them regular Scottish cavalry or, more interestingly, lancers). My read, however, is that Lord Gordon took only his very best men, divided them with his brother Aboyne, and then operated like Prince Rupert at Edgehill.

With the Covenanter right wing crushed, their strong left wing, the veteran regiments under Sir Mungo Campbell, try to turn the Royalist right. He is effectively blocked by MacColla’s Irish in defensive positions across Auldearn Burn. Sir Mungo is having to work in a very constricted approach (in the second play-through I did allow the use of an additional row of boxes to more fairly represent the actual terrain). The Covenanters were never able to make the crossing.

In the set-piece scenario, Castle Hill (occupied by MacDonnell’s musketeers – yellow flag – above) is a particularly effective bastion that is a thorn in the side of both the Covenanter left and center.

Lord Seaforth attempts to break through the center, although hampered by the broken terrain. Here his MacKenzie archers engage Minimore’s regiment across the boggy low ground, but have little success.

Sir Mungo continues to rotate his veteran regiments forward but cannot crack the Irish resolve.

With the Royalists in command of their positions the fighting falls into a stalemate. Even with all the Royalist horse departing the field the Covenanters simply no longer have sufficient strength to take Auldearn. The Royalists win by avoiding the Covenanters’ victory conditions.

This particular scenario was useful in that it gave me plenty of opportunity to play around with some of my rule-extension ideas but in the end it provided a scenario that was less than satisfying to wargame. On the other hand, given the ease by which the Royalists could hold the ground (and had they chosen to, then rout the Covenanters), prehaps it is closer to the truth than the other scenarios.

I have now much food for thought but likely a combination of “A Shot in the Dark” and “The Gardiner Gambit” will give the most interesting and playable scenario. We shall see.

I have in the works a plan to put together a number of FK&P historic scenarios which will mean going back and tweaking several that I have already done.  I will then need to finish exploring and writing up several more.