Saturday, September 2, 2017

THE BATTLE OF POWDER RIVER, 1876

     This represents my first real test of what I'm calling "Scalp Dance." Scalp Dance is my highly modified version of Chris Peers' "Too Few to Fight, Too Many to Die" game. The game scale is set at 1"=20 yds and each base represents about 15 men. I'm keeping most of the combat from "Too Few," throwing out its morale rules and adding a bunch of my own stuff. This includes: Pre-Close Combat Morale Checks, Hero Creation, Pinning, Skirmish Fire, Counting Coup, Wounded bases, Low Ammo, and a system of unit Initiative and Activation that fully integrates move-fire-assault for each unit's turn. The net result is a lot of unpredictability, an even greater importance for the role of leaders and toned-down eagerness for Indians to take much in the way of casualties. For the scenario, I added some Random Events taken from the historical battle and an orders system, the rules for which will require a fair amount of testing to get right.
     This battle saw a little bit of everything, except Hero creation which is meant to be rare -- even though this battle in history saw three Medal of Honor winners. It also saw three Courts Martial, which is the reason for my orders rules.
     Anyway, let's get this party started.

     Historically, "Egan's Grays" were the only unit with revolvers so they were selected to charge the village. Though not reflected by my terrain, the temperatures were hovering around -20F on the day of the battle. Most men thought they would have little use for their revolvers in their heavy mittens and buffalo robes, so decided they would do all their fighting with carbines. In my rules, mounted cavalry cannot fire, but can only attack in close combat, but only if they're armed with revolvers or sabers. So Egan's company of 47 men lead the way.

     The view from the high ground above the sleeping village.

    Egan launches his attack. Indians appear randomly. Two units and He-Dog, a chief, appear almost immediately. The Sioux contingent gets off a lucky shot and Egan's in trouble almost immediately.

     Egan takes some Disruption. The river is frozen.

     The terrain within the village is "difficult." Egan's at a disadvantage mounted.

     One of his bases is also pinned by Indian fire. A poor beginning.

     Once the Indians realize there are only 47 men in the attack, they close in. Egan's expecting support, but it ain't coming.

     Thaddeus Stanton, the "fighting paymaster," leads another officer and 5 sharpshooters to Egan's aid. Stanton will level charges against certain of his comrades who failed to act.

     Egan is the first to change orders. He dismounts and assumes a defensive posture. The conditions at the time make this the right course of action. Low on ammo, the Indians move in with tomahawks and war clubs for a close assault.

     But Egan's having none of it. Eat lead!


     Mills' company arrives!

     Egan still under extreme pressure. A group of Indians creep around his right flank. Looks like he's about to be charged again.

     As Mills races down the hill toward the village, Capt Noyes arrives right on his tail. Noyes was tasked with capturing the pony herd. That job apparently accomplished, he now arrives as a reinforcement.

     Stanton's little detachment is almost there.

     On the north side of the village, Indians begin to head for the safety of the hills. Capt. Moore is supposed to be there to cut them off. But Moore is nowhere to be seen.

     Mills rushes in, carbines blazing.

     And sends the Indians fleeing again, this time right towards Stanton!

     Egan survives by the skin of his teeth. With Indians in front and on flank, one Indian group unaccountably lost its nerve and retreated (rolled a "20" on a 1d20 during a Rally attempt) and then the same happens to Egan himself and he is fortuitously forced to retreat out of the village! His pinned unit rallies and rejoins the company. Now, they attack their tormentors.

     And the Indians retreat onto the ice of the Powder River.

     Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day...

     Stanton fires...and a base goes down wounded.

     Random Event! One US Cavalry unit must change its order. Random Selection chooses Noyes. His order is to Support a unit under fire. Random Selection chooses a Defend order for him. Oh, my! Noyes is dismounting! (A Court Martial offense. Almost unbelievably, Noyes really was Court Martialed for unsaddling his horses during the battle while other units of the command were under fire. Art imitates life!)

     Indians are now in headlong flight out of the village.

     The soldiers take control of the village.

     One of Little Coyote's bands attempts one last ditch attack but a MC roll of 20 (again!) forces it to retreat. It now finds itself caught between Egan and Mills. The Indians surrender.

Overall, things went pretty well. It's hard to know what lessons can be taken away from this. Egan got so unbelievably lucky, with two 20 rolls at crucial times. Without those, I don't think he could have survived. Once the US command came together, though, they made pretty short work of the Indians. Next time, I think I'll try to make a stand on the west side of the village, giving them an avenue of quick escape.




Thursday, March 30, 2017

SPIRIT LAKE

     I picked up a few new books this month. When I say "new," I actually mean "used," as you might be able to tell from the photos. I really wanted to get these books -- and all books -- in Kindle format. But they're just too expensive. As I understand it, publishers are intentionally over-pricing e-book editions in order to prop up paper books (and paper bookstores). LOL! Good luck with that. It's interesting to see these buggy whip manufacturers go down kicking and screaming.
     For example, Frontiersmen in Blue sells for $24 on Kindle. I mean, c'mon man, that's not even serious. Hate to tell ya, but I'm not paying that for a trade paperback, either. I got it used for a couple of bucks. I'm glad, too, because, well, it's just not all that good.

     But let's start with a book that is all that good...mostly. If you read Andersonville by this same author, then you know what awaits you in Spirit Lake. It's a novel of the 1862 Sioux uprising and the massacre that occurred in the Spirit Lake region of Iowa. It's written in a kind of stream of consciousness. Not for everyone. You have to really love language as much as story to enjoy this. As you remember from Andersonville, Kantor can be a tad over-exuberant in his use of words, to put it lightly. To put it heavily, there are times when he just vomits words all over the page. So prepare yourself for that. I'm 300 pages into this 800+ page novel, and so far the author paints a compelling picture of mid-19th century America. 

800 pages of densely-packed verbiage. A 1/2" square chit for scale.
      This book is out of print. I've long wanted to read it, so didn't mind paying $14 for a used mass market paperback. Impressed with the book, I went to purchase Andersonville for my Kindle only to find that the publisher has set the price at $20. I guess they think they can stem the tide of progress. If so, they'll be the first! Off to the used bookstore again. Sigh...

     A couple more, both by Robert Utley: Frontiersmen in Blue and Frontier Regulars. These are something like parts 1 and 2 of a military history of the American West. The first covers the years 1848-1865, the second from '65-'91.
     I read Frontiersmen in Blue and found it informative but dry. Utley, I think, is an academic, and he definitely writes like one. Very by-the-numbers. But I found some good Indian Wars gaming scenarios in there from some little-known campaigns (at least to me) in Oregon and Washington among other places. It's a good reference book, if nothing else. I don't expect anything more from Frontier Regulars. They're both heavy, meaty books with some maps and plenty of photos.

     Forty Miles on Beans and Hay is a much better choice for enjoyable reading than the Utley books. It's pretty much everything you wanted to know about the frontier army during the Indian Wars. Rickey's a good writer and offers a complete -- and personal -- portrait of the frontier soldier of the day. Essential reading for reenactors and wargamers. You won't find any formal description of proscribed tactics used during battle, however -- because there weren't any. Tactics were pretty much improvised on the spot. The formal tactics of the day were for use against modern armies and not Indian bands, who were not considered a significant enough threat to warrant a tactical doctrine. Still, the book discusses weapons and tactics, at least as they were employed in the field. But I was a little disappointed in this aspect of the book. An entertaining read, though.

     If you want a good book on army life on the frontier, Eugene Ware's book is the one to read. He was an officer at Fort Kearney Nebraska during the Civil War. He's also a top-notch writer. The Indian War of 1864 is the somewhat mis-titled account of, well, just day-to-day life on the frontier. I love eye-witness accounts and this is one of the best out there. You learn stuff you've never heard before, such as how the Indians had a superstitious fear of telegraph wires after a group of them were hit by lightning while cutting some down and attempting to steal it. Just the parade of colorful characters that show up at the fort as they travel west (or back east) is almost unbelievable. Like characters from Mark Twain. If you have a Kindle, this book is free on Amazon. I recommend it without reservation.

     While I'm thinking about it, another good first-hand account is My 60 Years on the Plains. The author was a mountain man and Indian fighter. In those days, the Blackfeet were the main nemesis. Also, free, if I remember, on Kindle.