Flintlock & Tomahawk (II) – King Phillip’s War 1675-76

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In the previous post we looked at various aspects of the period related to figure use and a bit of background history. In this post we shall touch on a few resources that you might want to get a hold if looking to game this period, and then dive into some of the organisational aspects of the era. In the next post we’ll get into the tactical detail and some army lists and ideas for our rules of choice.

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Some Useful References

Before diving into some of the specific military and tactical aspects of the period and how they relate to gaming using our rules of choice, it’s worth highlighting just a few accessible and useful resources for the gamer who wants to get a good understanding of the conflict. The list of potential books is quite long. Invariably looking at the titles included here you’ll stumble across others as well. I’ve only mentioned a few that are well-regarded, easily accessible and offer interesting perspectives.

These titles are also more or less to the point and give you most of what you need to know in a few handy volumes form a gamer’s perspective. For those looking for more in-depth analysis or focused histories there are certainly other books on the subject – quite a few. What is interesting about King Philip’s War, is that the conflict occurred along a fault line of technology and tactics with several authors presenting countering points of view as to the effectiveness of colonist forces and their adaptation of European warfare to North America.

This is a good gaming environment as it allows players to ‘fiddle’ with tactical evolutions…the bread and butter of table top gaming. Whilst the traditional view still holds sway there are interesting new perspectives that create a tactical palette for table top actions utilising different methods of play. These varying points of view add interest and offer up a range of possibilities for players to explore force combinations in this critical time of colonial American history in a fascinating setting.

King Philip’s War, whilst not as popular as the French & Indian war, is still very well catered for when it comes to military histories and related subject matter with more than enough information to get you going. Here are a few titles I’ve found very useful and thought provoking.

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  • For an overview of the subject you can’t do much better than King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict by Eric B. Schultz…the entry book. It gives a nice summary of the war and then details virtually every significant engagement – a wargamer’s gold mine – grab it!
  • Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip’s War is a classic and well regarded title by Douglas Leach. Despite its age it still stands up well as a fair and balanced history, though stylistically with an anglocentric viewpoint; given its initial publishing date Leach’s work is still a standard military history that should be in everyone’s King Philip’s War collection. 
  • For the best and most well-regarded treatment on tactics and technology of the time you can’t do really to much better than Malone’s book The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians. A relatively short book it nevertheless covers off most of the details about the emerging technology and tactics of the forces involved. Given the footnote treatment that King Philip’s War often gets we are indeed lucky that we have such a focused analysis for the period…just the sort of thing that you need to get a good feel for your games..
  • The book, Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast, is one of two books I’m including here as it offers up interesting and new ideas about the conflict. Chet contends that European warfare was just as important if not more important than anything involving an ‘American Way of War learnt from the Indians. This in some ways is a nice counterpoint to Malone’s book the Skulking Way of War, so proves a useful ‘balancing’ view in the relevant chapter covering the same conflict. You can get a sneak peak of the book here and read a review here along with some more details. Recommended.
  • Lastly, a very good book that’s not as widely known is Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narragansett War, 1675–1676. This Ph.D. thesis, now released as a book, gives a very good analysis from a military perspective of the war from a slightly different point of view. Whilst not true revisionist history, it does attempt to look at the conflict with a new focus and does it well. You can get a good feel for the book by watching this YouTube video by the author which is definitely well worth the time. This is a very good book in my opinion and well worth tracking down.

There are numerous other books beyond those listed but these titles will give you most of what you want from the wargamer’s perspective. These books really do give you solid background and a feel for the respective combatants, laying an excellent foundation for maximising your enjoyment of both studying and gaming this period. Fortunately for us they are quite accessible and well priced.

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Some important locations in King Philip’s War

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Mustering the troops

Organisationally, the militia companies of the colonies were fairly simple affairs. Typically, such as those formed by Massachusetts Bay colony, they would be led by a captain, assisted by a lieutenant and an ensign. The company would be made up of 64 men with respective subdivisions commanded by sergeants and corporals each commanding a file of 8 to 10 men.

These troops would usually be formed from one large town such as Boston or would be combined from small towns into composite companies. Often small detachments were positioned as garrisons within small communities to provide security, though sometimes even these were vulnerable to attack. Each individual colony did have flexibility on the number of men within each company, and to a degree their dispositions, so these force organisations can change somewhat but the above approximates the average for most colonies.

Colony law mandated that the officer in charge of his company had the authority to determine the make up of equipment use within his force. Even as late as 1672 companies were still being instructed to form units of pike and shot in a one to two ratio respectively, though the tendency towards an all musket force had most definitely begun in a number of colonies.

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Armed colonists returning home after a false alarm, Massachusetts. 
This practice of the officers assigning weapons was based on English law which allowed them the flexibility to task individuals with specific roles and hence weapons within the company. As soldiers were required to supply their own weapons sometimes poorer individuals were unable to muster with the requisite equipment. Thus, they would have to be given weapons from the colony stocks, supplies of which could affect the specific weapons that a company had, based upon its stock of equipment.

Upon the outbreak of war with the Indians laws mandated a change to an all musket armed force. This recognised the realities of the conflict, the enemy and the environment in which it would be fought. These weapons had to be ordered and supplied from England for those colonies not so flush with replacement muskets, as few were. In these early stages of the conflict matchlock muskets were used, most likely as an expedient until flintlocks arrived from England, or simply because they were more plentiful and cheap.

With the discarding of the pike, active service soldiers were instructed to be “furnished with long knives, with handles to fit into the muzzles of their muskets, for close-quarter fighting”. Therefore as a result there was a shortage of muskets in various companies and colony communities until these pikemen could be re-armed, which naturally enough took time as weapons had to come from Europe as no manufacturing facility existed in the colonies at this time. Whilst of no particular use on offensive operations pikes would still be present in existing town stocks and defensively the weapons were available for use in lieu of anything else.

Militia muster only required six days of practice per year. Whilst this was not an extensive period of training it was nevertheless taken seriously, to the point where laws were passed to ensure the training did not descend into some form of social gathering or club like atmosphere, which had been common in years past. The realties of war and the safety of the company’s men depended on practice and drill.

Drill involved exercises in marching, skirmishing, ambushing, formation training and tactics concurrent with the military pamphlets of the day, Elton’s “Compleat Body of the Art Military.” Interestingly these drills combined the traditional roles of militia fighting against similarly equipped and organised forces, such as those by the ever present Dutch threat, as well as ‘petite de guerre’ tactics reflective of the Native American threat.

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When war broke out in 1675, and given the large scale of military operations needed to be undertaken during King Philip’s War, some colonies had to embark on the policy of impressment. This varied from colony to colony with Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth being the worst affected and Connecticut the least. This to a large degree was reflective of the leadership of the particular colonies and their population demographic.

This had a direct effect on the effectiveness of forces that were mustered for duty. Certainly early in the war these ‘impressed men’ were quite ineffective in fighting native warriors such that by the beginning of 1676 the military necessity of effective forces mandated that fewer men were being impressed and by summer of that year impressment no longer occurred in colonies that previously relied on the practice.

The success of Mosley’s and Church’s independent companies pointed the way towards ultimate success with a mostly volunteer force in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies by summer 1676. Connecticut forces, well adapted from their experience of the Pequot War of 1634-38, had more readily understood the effect of full participation and integration to a degree with indian forces – they were much better prepared for the war in 1675.

The independent companies of Benjamin Church and Samuel Mosley were organised into similar sized forces as above. Other similar companies like those of captains Avery, Frost, Hunting, Gorham, Mason Jr, Denison and their like were similarly formed.

Their defining features was the all volunteer nature of their organisation and that they were composed mostly of Indian forces led by white ‘irregular’ leaders. These companies typically had a ratio of two Indians for each colonist volunteer. These Independent Companies, such as Mosely’s, included a diverse group of volunteers reflecting his privateering days so were quite a mixed bag; one thing they were however was effective.

These independent companies, though often regarded as the ‘glamour units’ of the war, were only partly the reason for ultimate success of the United Colonies. Their creation was sporadic as the realities of indian fighting was learnt; a full year passed before all these forces would be in the field, with many of their successes being against a demoralised enemy ‘on the run’.

Their seek and destroy mission profiles certainly brought the Indian forces to heel in an aggressive manner but the main force colony militia companies were the real backbone of the forces put into the field, who provided garrison troops and large scale field forces to prosecute the war to a conclusion.

Cavalry forces were also formed by colonies in New England, encouraged by the laws passed as early as 1648 to form ‘cavalry companies’. At the outbreak of war Massachusetts Bay colony had five cavalry troops. These would usually be formed into 40-60 man ‘troops’. Similar to infantry formations they would be led by a captain who would be supported by a lieutenant and a cornet (instead of an ensign). Each man was required to supply a horse with all required husbandry equipment along with two pistols and/or carbines and sabers.

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In Connecticut, cavalry had been formed years earlier. The threat of war with the Dutch had caused the colony to form a body of 500 dragoons – a significant force. Plymouth colony on the other hand had trouble raising mounted forces over a decade prior to the war such that by the time of the outbreak of hostilities they had no mounted troops available, all men to serve in the militia foot companies. This changed as the war progressed but preparedness was not the order of the day in Plymouth colony.

Cavalry in New England by and large undertook the role of mounted dragoons as they would be known in European warfare ie mounted infantry. Sometimes they were held in higher groupings but usually they were dispatched in small groups to form scouts and a pursuit elements of around eight or ten men combined with a composite force of militia foot companies.

The typical operating environment in North America made these types of troops particularly useful in being able to pursue the elusive Native Americans whilst also delivering them an ability to fight on foot at the time of their choosing. Their scouting role was also very useful against such an elusive foe.

All the above forces were typically organised into ‘mixed formations’. At the company level there could be attachments of independent ‘ranger’ assets as well as mounted elements – a self contained fighting company.

Larger forces would have their composite parts kept in the higher level organisations but always with an ability to form smaller detachments if need be.

By the outbreak of the war military forces were considerable. For example, Massachusetts Bay colony had seventy-three organised companies alone. Each county fielded a dozen foot companies and a cavalry troop. Some counties, such as Suffolk, Middlesex and Essex fielded combined cavalry troops which provided a significant mounted contingent. Other colonies provided proportionate forces as well.

In this regard the organisational detachment system was quite forward thinking and proved most successful when properly implemented, which depending on the force and its commander, it might not always be.

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Artillery is very much the poor cousin in King Philip’s War. Put simply, artillery was not used in any offensive operations throughout the period. Defensively it was only found in major settlements and then only in small and varying qualities and types.

Before the war artillery equipment was part of the weapons requested from England, no doubt as a defence against the perceived Dutch threat. At the time artillery was ordered from Bilboa to the number of sixty cannon, or “great guns” of the dimensions: “twelve whole culverin, twelve demi-culverin cutts, sixteen sakers, and twenty or thirty shot, proportionable for each gun.” The cannon were mostly for coast defence, being useless in Indian warfare.

Non combatant forces (infirm men, women and children, sometimes slaves) were to be protected by each town erecting fortifications of some sort, be they a simple fortified home (ie garrison house) or a more permanent blockhouse, such as those that would still be familiar one hundred years later in the French and Indian War. This was done obviously to protect the non combatant inhabitants, but more usefully it freed up the men to fight the insurgent Indian forces conducting the raid and defend the settlement.

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Defending a house from Indian attack

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To finish off…

For those that want to listen to an excellent podcast on events leading up to an including King Philip’s War I heartily recommend you listen to part one and part two of the Sword of the Wilderness….excellent to listen to as one is painting figures…enjoy.

 

In the next post we’ll put up ideas on the tactics of the period and army lists for Pikeman’s Lament and Muskets and Tomahawks.