Thursday, January 2, 2014

War of 1812 - Malicious Yanks and Malicious Canadians

OK now for the can of worms that is classifying Militia units for the war of 1812.  Once again I will use Black Powder as my starting point.

The big problem is that this is a wide catch-all phrase that covers units ranging from well-to-do new Englanders playing toy soldiers in fancy uniforms to farmers and shop keepers defending their homes to Kentucky backwoodsmen with rifles!   Variability also appears in results - as in some cases militia units fought very well and at others they melted away at the sight of the enemy.

I'm going to make things a little easier for myself to sticking to the campaign area that I am most interested in - the US/Canadian border along the Niagara, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence.  Patriotism aside, this area saw 3 years of back and forth actions with lots of opportunities for "Table Top Teaser" actions as well as pitched battles.  The Western, Chesapeake and Louisiana fronts are all interesting but of more limited scope.

A few generalizations.

  • In general, the Canadian militia was more reliable than the US militia.  
  • Units who stayed in arms for entire campaigning seasons did better than part-timers who showed up when required.
  • Militia units did better on defence than on the attack.
  • Militia units often performed better when they were defending their own areas.  I'm not sure how to apply this one to the Canadian Volunteers in the US armies.  One could argue that having a bounty for treason on one's head would be a powerful incentive to fight to the end or alternately run away!

Rather than attempt to classify each type of militia unit separately, I am going to list potential BP "special rules" that can be applied to militia units.  Note that I am planning to treat the best Canadian militia units (the Incorporated and Select Militias and permanent light infantry units) as regulars.

  • Unreliable (no move on an Equal Command Roll).  This is pretty much a given for most militia units.  It simulates both unfamiliarity in drill and manoeuvre and also the animosity on the US side between militia and regular officers.
  • Freshly Raised (random effectiveness on first shot or melee).  This seems tailor made for the part timers.  Regular officers never quite knew the metal of their militiamen until the point of contact.
  • Untested (random stamina).  More variability, which represents that generals could never be sure how many militiamen answered the call, or their willingness to stay in the fight once they got there.
  • First Fire and Form Square- nope and nope.
  • Rifles:  some US militia companies carried rifles, notably New Yorkers playing dress up and Kentucky back woodsmen.  Some Canadian militia units also had rifle companies but these were much less prominent.
  • Sharp Shooters (reroll one miss)  it seems apropos to give a very select few of the Davey Crocket's of the backwoods this bonus.
  • Skirmishers militia seems to either fought in line (badly) or in skirmish (with mixed results but generally much better).   I would suggest that once a militia unit goes into skirmish order, it should not be able to form up again.  They can arrive on table in column or line and go into skirmish, the the reverse shouldn't be available.  Mixed Formation also seems too complex for militia, it's an all in skirmish or none thing.
  • Marauders would only apply to very high quality back woodsmen (Kentucky vets of Indian campaigns).
So in summary, I expect to field militia units which are Unreliable and often Freshly Raised.  In the case where militia are raised quickly following an alarm I would count them as Untested.  I will field them as small units to make them brittle and allow a proportion to skirmish.

Next time round - Cavalry and Native troops.


  1. sounds like a very practical solution

  2. Is there any way that you could randomize the troop characteristics of militia units in their first battle. That approach might add some 1812 atmosphere, in that as a general one isn't sure of the hayseeds showing up for the fight.

    1. Mike

      That's a great idea for a campaign game!

  3. All makes reasonable sense. There really is a world of difference between incorporated militia who were regulars in all but name by 1813. The various fencibles also seem to have been surprisingly good but then they were essentially regulars.

    I find it surprising how few Upper Canadian other than the incorporated flank companies. Definitely more scope for militia out west or in Lower Canada.

    All sounds like its coming together well.

  4. Hey Peter, Happy New Year!
    If you haven't already please get yourself a copy of The Incredible War of 1812 by J. Mackay Hitsman. In chapter VIII he has sections entitled; See-Saw in the Canadas that deals with York, Fort Meigs, Fort George, Sackets Harbour, Stoney Creek, Lake Champlain, and Beaver Dam. Lot's of militia action in Stoney Creek - Wiliam H. Winder, and Bladensburg - British Major-General Ross.

    1. Jeff

      Thanks, I'll pick up a copy from the library.