Gaming The American War Of Independence Part One – The Shot Heard Round The World

April 4, 2016 by crew

Welcome, Beasts of War, to a five-part article series presented by community members @oriskany and @chrisg. Our topic will be helping wargamers play their way through one of the most famous, yet misunderstood, wars in the last few centuries; The American Revolution (sometimes called the American War of Independence, or AWI).

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Completely examining the causes, ideology and politics of the American Revolution would take fifty articles, and oceans of ink have already been spilled by authors far more eminent than us. Instead, we will focus strictly on the campaigns, battles, and conditions that should be understood to properly set up a game set in this conflict.

An Exercise In Perspective

Through the course of this series, we’ll be careful to remain objective. Many subscribers come from the UK and the US, after all. There’s plenty to be said on both sides, and we’ll pull no punches when it comes to drumming up a little friendly “transatlantic Beasts of War” rivalry. We’ll just make sure both views are represented.

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Accordingly, Chris Goddard (BoW @chrisg), a true Yorkshire Englishman, will be writing his segments as seen by those loyal to the crown, His Majesty King George III. Meanwhile, James Johnson (BoW @oriskany) will take the role of the firebrand rebel, presenting from the perspective of patriots determined to bring forth their new nation.

An Overview For The Crown

The American Revolution, or War of Independence, or First Civil War, or whatever you choose to call it, has its roots long before the first shot was fired, and long before the Boston “Tea Party” or Boston “Massacre” you’ll hear these rebel colonials carry on so much about.

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Some twenty years prior, the Crown had nobly “sorted out” a bitter and expensive war against the French of Canada and their Native American allies. Known as the French & Indian War, it was part of the global Seven Years War, which Britain had undertaken (in part) in defence of her rightful American colonies.

That war had cost a tremendous amount of money, and the Crown levied taxes to help pay a crushing war debt. It was only fair that the colonies that had been so bravely defended pay their fair share. Yet the American colonists steadfastly refused, raising quite the fuss about imagined “tyranny” and “lack of representation.”

Tensions mounted through the 1760s and early 1770s. Angry mobs attacked His Majesty’s troops in the streets of Boston, and when these men fired to protect themselves, these “Sons of Liberty” cried “massacre.” Later they’d attack our merchant ships in Boston harbour, their “Tea Party” little more than an act of organized vandalism.

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All the while, the American colonists were the most free, and least-taxed subjects of His Majesty’s empire. But it wasn’t enough for them. Meanwhile, as unrest led inevitably to rebellion, our real enemies (France and Spain), seething for revenge from their disastrous defeat in the Seven Wars War, watched carefully and bided their time.

An Overview For The Patriots

Rarely in the course of history has one people tried so hard to avoid going to war with another. Leaving aside our most fervent hotheads (I’m looking at you, Samuel Adams), the absolute last thing Patriot leaders wanted was war with the British Empire. The prospect terrified us, and with good reason.

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Great Britain was the most powerful nation on earth, and had just emerged triumphant from the Seven Years War. What did we have besides fowling rifles and squirrel guns? No navy, no treasury, no credit, no allies? This war was forced on us by the repeated abuses of a distant King, his Parliament, and monopolized trading companies.

A people should have a say in their government and what taxes are levied against them. Yet when we raised protest, we were met by British regulars in our streets and in our homes. Our “Olive Branch” petition wasn’t even read. Instead our ambassador in London was publically humiliated and driven from England under threat of arrest.

Hessian mercenaries were next, followed by blockades of our biggest harbours. Only those ships owned by companies affiliated with the Crown were allowed passage. We had to buy THEIR goods, pay taxes on them, and be grateful? The pennies of tax are one thing, but when the Crown makes it impossible to do business …

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This wasn’t a war we wanted, not at first. Those British soldiers who gunned down our citizens in the streets of Boston were defended by an American lawyer and fervent patriot, John Adams, and they were acquitted. We were mostly Englishmen by descent, we shared the same God and language. But the time for that has passed, I’m afraid.

The First Bloody Day

A Patriot Perspective

The American Revolution is generally recognized to have started on April 19, 1775. On this day, three separate engagements were fought along the roads west of Boston, Massachusetts. These were Lexington, Concord Bridge, and Battle Road (sometimes called the Battle of Menotomy).

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The night before, General Thomas Gage (military governor of Boston), had secretly dispatched 700 British grenadiers and light infantry by boat from the port of Boston. Under the command of Lt. Colonel Francis Smith, their mission was to march on nearby Concord, where local militiamen had been massing arms and gunpowder.

This was an exercise the British had carried out many times before, and by now the locals were tired of such incursions. They also had plenty of warning about this “secret sortie,” leading to Paul Revere’s famous midnight alarm ride. Alerted by Revere and others, a force of militia soon gathered at Lexington Green to meet the British.

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But the British would be marching all night, so the militia went home or adjourned to nearby Buckman’s Tavern. Shortly after first light, however, the British advance guard arrived at Lexington, commanded by Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines. Their ranks thinned by fatigue, boredom, and drink, the militia mustered out to face them.

The standoff was far from epic. About 70 ragged militia (under the command of Captain John Parker) faced Pitcairn’s highly-trained light infantry. One side was bleary and bad-tempered after marching all night. The other was terrified, outnumbered, and probably hung over. Both commanders ordered that no one fire.

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But someone did. To this day, no one knows who. This was the “Shot Heard Round the World.” The officers lost control and the two sides opened full fire. Eight militiamen were killed, the rest swiftly routed off. One British soldier was slightly wounded. The first shots have been fired, the first blood had been drawn.

For The Crown

With the rebels suitably driven off, the King’s troops then continued on with their mission. They soon reached the town of Concord, found the rebel supplies, including buried cannon. Nearby rebels, having fled from the town before Pitcairn’s arrival, now saw smoke rising from Concord and thought the British had put the town to the torch.

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The rebels swiftly advanced back toward the town from several directions, including the North Bridge over the Concord River. Several British companies, about 100 men, held the bridge, and again there was a tense standoff. Again, fire was exchanged. But this time, British soldiers were killed. An irrevocable line had finally been crossed.

Yet the long and bloody day had only just begun. The British now had to march 19 miles back to Boston, and the gunfire at Lexington and Concord had alerted enemy militias all across the countryside. From all directions they converged on what became known as “Battle Road,” and started the Revolution’s first real battle.

Battle Road, or the Battle of Menotomy (present-day Arlington, Massachusetts), quickly set the tone for just how bitter, brutal, and bloody this “glorious” American Revolution would be. Rebel militiamen poured out of surrounding woods and farms, firing from behind trees, fences and walls at British soldiers in the road.

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Initially finding themselves in quite a bit of trouble, Pitcairn’s advance guard was soon reinforced by the rest of the British force and together they fought their way back to Boston. Along the way, parties or grenadiers and light infantry were dispatched to outflank “patriot” rebels, kicking in doors to get at snipers in windows, attics, and barns.

The fighting went town by town, field by field, house to house, and sometimes even room to room. Rebel losses were grievous, but so were British losses. They assailed us with their dreaded “widow maker” rifles, we gave them our dreaded “cold steel” bayonet. Finally, as the column got back to Boston, it was over.

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For better or worse, and regardless of the causes, the war was on. It wouldn’t end for eight long years. Even the Declaration of Independence, which officially announced the new “united American States” was over a year away.

Like those British regulars at Concord, we have a long march ahead of us. In the weeks to come, we’ll be rolling out more articles on the American Revolution, starting with Bunker Hill and wargaming our way all the way to Yorktown. What do you think so far? Please let us know with comments or questions below.

By James Johnson &  Chris Goddard

If you would like to write for Beasts of War then please contact us at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"...we’ll pull no punches when it comes to drumming up a little friendly “transatlantic Beasts of War” rivalry. We’ll just make sure both views are represented."

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"...both commanders ordered that no one fire, but someone did. To this day, no one knows who. This was the “Shot Heard Round the World”"