|"Trouble at t'Mill"
Vandering's Mill at Germantown
We wargamers are often prone to megalomania. We often assume that cramming a table with troops will ensure a good game. More often
than not infact, in my experience, the reverse is true. I'm always on the look out for historical scenarios, or ideas to produce a game which
is a bit different from the norm that can be played by two people, or even as a solo game. Re-reading Thomas J. McGuire's excellent 'The
Philadelphia Campaign Vol II' I found an interesting account of a action fought on the extreme left flank of the Crown forces position at the
Battle of Germantown in 1777 which seemed to fit the bill. Another big positive was that could I field only Hessians and rebel militia forces
both of which are favourites of mine.
As part of Washington's plan of attack at Germantown a column of Pennysylvania Militia under Major-General John Armstrong were to make
a diversionary demonstration in force against the enemy left flank, which consisted of the Hessian Jager outpost on the Wissahickon Creek
offshoot of the Schuykill River, where the Manatawny (Ridge) Road crossed the ravine at a small stone bridge close to Vandering's Mill.
Wary of a repeat of Trenton, and warned by intelligence as to the enemy's intentions the Jager commander had thrown his pickets on the
other side of the Wissahickon to provide fair warning of any enemy movement, whilst forming his main force in two bodies south of the
The action fought saw the Jager pickets withdrawn in the face of the enemy advance with the Jager's defending the defile and stone bridge
for several hours before Armstrong withdrew back up the Manatawny (Ridge) Road.
My scenario is something of a wargamer beloved 'what if' in that it requires Armstrong to make an attempt to cross the Wissahickon and
exert real pressure on the British left. Stirn's Hessian Brigade and the detached von Minnigerode Hessian Grenadier Battalion, were
deployed about half a mile away, close to von Knyphausen's quarters, and in my scenario have a chance to march to the sound of the guns.
Basically its just an excuse to get Hessians and militia on table under the thin veneer of a historical scenario.
My good chum Nigel took charge of the Hessians with the rebels under my command.
The table set up is show below on a roughly 5' x 3.5' table and the rules used, 'Times That Try Men's Souls' our AWI variant of Too Fat
Lardies 'They Couldn't Hit a Elephant' though I imagine it would work quite nicely with British Grenadier or Black Powder if that tickles your
The Wissahickon runs through a ravine with high ground adjacent to its length, densely wooded in places, and with rocky banks
representing difficult going. It is only crossable at the bridge by troops in column of march, at half speed, who count as disordered if in
close combat with any defenders. The mill below is the excellent Timecast 10mm representation of Lee and Gordon's Mill from
Chickamauga and is purely for aesthetics..
The Hessian forces must place a dummy blind across Wissahickon no more than 6" from the stone bridge. This represents the Jager
pickets. It is important that this is spotted and removed by the rebels, equivalent to the pickets being recalled, as this allows the Americans
to manoeuvre on their blind. Blinds are not just about identifying troops. Blinds allow greater flexibility and co-ordination of activity so
spotting the enemy's blinds and forcing them to deploy troops on table is an important restriction on their command and control abilities.
Think of it as someone 'seeing you' and being forced to show your hand in poker.
A further blind representing the main force of Jagers must be deployed on the Hessian side of the Wissahickon, astride the Manatawny
(Ridge) Road, and no further than 12" from the stone bridge. They should be on hold orders. Nige surprised me by deploying his second
blind 8" away from the stone bridge. I had expected him to deploy on the river bank. In the actual engagement one unit of Jagers deployed
adjacent to the bridge with the second unit further back on the road in support. You can see Nigel's deployment in the photo above.
Von Knyphausen, in this scenario the Hessian C-in-C arrives on turn 6 on the Germantown Road entry point with Hessian reinforcements
under von Stirn arriving on the same location from turn 7 but with an added proviso of a five or six successfully being scored on a single D6
roll. They too will be placed on Hold orders upon their arrival. The Hessians will win if they manage to prevent the rebels from crossing the
Wissahickon in good order, but the rebel forces can claim a draw if they get a foothold by the games end. The initial force of Jagers is
heavily outnumbered so it is a case of hanging on as long as possible in the face over overwhelming odds.
The rebels begin to arrive on turn one on the Manatawny (Ridge) Road entry point, on Engage orders initially, and must force the enemy to
retreat by inflicting an arbritrary 50% of units to become permanently defeated, routed or captured. Though they outnumber the initial
enemy, with militia forces and a single crossing point across the creeks it's a very tough ask.
Well, on to the action. Typically early on nothing happened as the Hessian blind card came up, but the rebel blinds card didn't and so they
didn't appear. We mark the passage of turns in our games by counting the number of times the blank or turn card is drawn, not by the
number of times the 'Tea Break' card, which signifies that the cards are reshuffled. This means turns are of variable length with time
seeming to drag or pass quickly, much as in real life. Sometimes the 10 minute period it represents is packed with frantic activity, sometimes
you get a lull. In our gaming group we really like that aspect of Lard. Other groups may be of differing opinions.
Eventually the first rebel blind arrived on the Ridge Road and Nigel rolled to spot with his dummy blind successfully achieving the
necessary score required to identify Potter's (Cautious/Amatuer) Brigade of Pennsylvania militia. This was no mean feat as much of the
action too part in fog and so visibility and the ability to spot was hidered in the scenario by shifting one column to the left on the spotting
According to Greg Novak's guide to the northern campaigns, Potter's Brigade was composed of approximately 1,500 men in seven
regiments plus, it was accompanied by a battery of four three pound artillery pieces. Contemporary accounts of the fighting, detailed in
McGuire, say that the Jagers were forced back from the banks by the rifles of numerous rebels, Jager rifles being of lesser range range than
the longer weapon of the Americans. I decided to combine militia regiments into pairs, creating three four base green regiments of militia.
The remaining troops being designated as a two base, green regiment, with rifles. This seemed a good compromise. The rifle unit deployed
as skirmishers with a rebel militia unit in line supported by marching columns of militia astride the road, which the limbered artillery moved
Potter quickly managed to spot the enemy dummy blind and continued his steady advance, for the moment, despite the Cautious card being
in the pack. Single figures fulfill no function in our rules but I've always liked to paint up a few spare figures, purely for aesthetics. They're
quite useful for measuring where units have moved from and such like.
Potter now begin to move painfully slowly. It wasn't so much being Cautious that was the problem, just my ability to roll 2 on average dice
for PIPs. Unfortunately, Potter's rear elements began to become strung out as the front advanced leaving them behind.
Fortunately the blank card indicating turn number wasn't coming up either and approaching the bridge Potter made a successful spotting
attempt on Nigel's second blind revealing the Jagers, in two two-base units, rated for the scenario as Veteran/Rifle Armed/Marksmen with a
Professional command figure. Nige chose to deploy both the units either side of the road 8" from the stone bridge.
With hold orders Nigel couldn't move the Jagers forward to cover the bridge. Von Knyphausen his overall commander wasn't on the table
yet even to be able to change orders to allow him to advance. Methinks, at this stage, "I'm in with half a chance".
Looking toward Vandering's Mill, the stone bridge and Jagers beyond.
Time was ticking along, but only slowly when the rebel riflemen finally made it onto the bridge.
Fortunately the Jagers card didn't come up, and they were out of range anyhow. Behind Potter's Brigade along the Ridge Road came two
more rebel blinds. This was beginning to look like a cake walk.
With the head of the rebel column clearing the bridge, albeit slowly, and now in range the Jagers card came up and Nigel fired. With
bonuses for veteran troops, and marksmen AND shooting at a green target whilst in column of march it wasn't pretty. 50% of the strength
points of the rebel riflemen went down rendering them permanently defeated and forcing them to retire out of range. OUCH!
The second rebel regiment now crossed the bridge making very careful not to advance directly towards the enemy Jagers depriving them of
an enfilade of the column's head. Nigel fired the Jagers again causing casualties but thankfully nothing like the earlier volley.
A couple of quick turns saw von Knyphausen (Cautious/Experienced) arrive on table closely followed by another blind drawn no doubt to
the sound of battle emanating from the Wissahickon.
Things were seriously bogging down near the bridge. Falling foul of the Cautious card, starved of PIP's and strung out, Potter's command
was a picture of chaos and inactivity. The Jagers card failed to arrive but being at small arms range the greencoated Germans were allowed
to fire at 'Tea Break' causing the rebel regiment to become defeated, then immediately at the beginning of the next turn to rout, as the rebels
repeatedly failed status checks in face of the withering rifle fire. This was now beginning to look absolutely disastrous for the rebels.
Von Knyphausen changed the orders of the blind on the Germantown road which began to march towards the bridge.
Finally some luck for the rebels. In some of our games we use a random event card and table borrowed from Vincent Tsao's 'Tea, Taxes and
Tories' AWI variant of 'Le Feu Sacre'. When drawn an event may occur and, depending upon the die roll, may affect a command which
immediately follows the random card being drawn. So it was. "Steady boys!" went the cry and the rebels pouring pell mell over the stone
bridge rallied immediately. Then another piece of luck. Next turn another random event had an effect. I might just say at this point that 9
times out of 10 the random event has no bearing whatsoever as the circumstances on table don't apply to the conditions required.
However, Nige rolled snake eyes. The heavens opened to a downpour which would last two turns of the turn card and prevent any small
Under cover of the rain two rebel regiments rushed, (well, sauntered really at half speed but you know what I mean), across the stone bridge
aided by Potter who suddenly began to roll better for his activation PIPs.
By the time we'd had the blank/turn card drawn twice for the rain to stop, through the gloom the Jagers spotted two militia regiments in
loose order closing upon them with a third in column having just crossed the creek. "Huzza".
As the third rebel regiment began to work round the flank the Jagers fired on the enemy to their front. Nigel rolled double six for one unit's
firing which although inflicting heavy casualties means they are the short on ammo for the rest of the game and fire with a -2 modifier. The
situation demanded that the militia form up and charge as the Jagers in skirmish order, and in the open, would be forced to withdraw.
However, to charge home Potter would need an order change. Major General John Armstrong had arrived but rated as Cautious/Amateur he
too began to fall foul of the cautious card. In addition I would also need a lot of PIPs as changing the formation of Militia takes two PIPs per
unit and so whilst they can act in a variety or roles, getting them to do anything on demand can be...challenging, lets say.
Somehow I managed to get the rebel unit flanking to form up....
...and to fire a volley into the Jagers which caused some damage as Nigel threw a one, failing a status check resulting in one unit Wavering.
However, von Knyphausen and his blind still unspotted, had arrived in the nick of time.
Nige deployed the Hessians of Stirn's (Experienced) Brigade on table. The Leib (Du Corps), Donop and Mirbach, five-base Trained infantry
regiments, along with the Veteran four-base Minnigerode Combined Grenadier Battalion.
Potter's regiments still hadn't formed up due to poor PIP rolling and seemed paralysed by fear as the hated Hessians performed a passage
of lines through the Jagers who had run short on ammunition. It was all coming together for the forces of The Crown.
At last the Jagers managed to spot the remaining rebel blind. The 2nd Pennsylvania Militia Brigade under Irvine (Experienced) numbered
some 1,500 men in six small regiments. For ease I combined them into three five-base Green regiments. However by now Potter's artillery
was stuck on the bridge as PIP priorities had meant I didn't have enough remaining to keep them advancing.
Knyphausen ordered a direct order for the Hessian Grenadiers to charge their opponents who being in skirmish order withdrew allowing the
Germans to pile into the rebel regiment behind, incidentally the one who had previously been rallied on the bridge.
Although outnumbered it was the superiority of the fresh Grenadiers, couple with Nigel throwing a double six, which ensured that the rebels
broke in rout before the dour German warriors crossed bayonets (well if the rebels had possessed bayonets, being militia, highly unlikely)
sweeping away the units behind them. With the bridge blocked by the limbered battery the mass of fugitive rebels fled the only way they
could, towards the Schuykill riverbank, the table edge.
With von Knyphausen ordering an all out assault the Leib Infantry Regiment piled into another of Potter's rebel regiments. However, with
amazing luck Nige threw snake eyes again and the Hessian musketeers were pushed back defeated.
The Grenadiers picked up casualties as their card failed to materialise ad their erstwhile opponents quickly rallied up and fired a volley into
them but it was too little, and far too late.
With the Potter hit by the cautious card the Grenadiers charged into the desperate rebels clinging to the river bank and routed them. With
nowhere to go the rebels dropped their weapons, put up their hands and fell to their knees, heads dropping on their chests in
disappointment and surrender.
With the Hessians advancing further, the limbered artillery could only vacate and clear the bridge by advancing further. However, Potter's
card was failing to be drawn and so Irvine's Brigade were merely spectators on the far side of the Wissahickon Creek.
Rallied back to Wavering Nigel threw the Leib Regiment back into the fray, with only a slight advantage in combat value Nige threw high
again and so the rebels tried to rout. I say tried because there wasn't anywhere to go. Pinned in by the fast moving Schuykill river the rebels
could only surrender in abject defeat to the Hessian soldiers. Potter himself, his command shattered also offered his sword and so having
lost 50% of their force captured or permanently defeated Armstrong ordered a withdrawl.
The game was really good fun but it is an incredibly tough ask for the rebels. Fortune being as it was the downpour had given me a chance
but the timely arrival of von Stirn had sealed Potter's fate. That and Nigel's ability to throw extremes of dice scores either low, or high with
very little in the middle.
Nige admitted that he thought reading the briefing that the Jagers would be rather overwhelmed. However, limited to a single bridge the
Hessian Jagers would always have local superiority where it mattered. As it was it was actually a close run thing at one point. I screwed up
royally by not finding a place to site my artillery, then blocking the bridge (Doh!).
Its a very interesting scenario to give a whirl and I imagine plays well as a solo game being very limited with what you can actually do. To be
honest who cares? A chance to have a pleasant evening with good company and get some Hessians on the table. Who said its more fun
with masses of troops? Not so sir, not so.
All figures Peter Pig owned and painted by yours truly who took all the pics.
You can view my
British and Loyalists, Hessians, and Rebels
Other TTTMS Battle Reports HERE
R d i H
E g c E
B e k S
E o S
L n I
e Vandering's Mill
Manatawny (Ridge) Road Stone Bridge
SCHUYKILL RIVER BANK
""Ee bah gum. 'Tis trouble at t'Mill tha' knows"