A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Battle of Nantwich - preparation

On Friday of this coming week, I have arranged an ECW battle with some friends. This morning I've been setting out a briefing note for the other players, which I thought might be of interest here.

Please note that this is not an attempt to teach everyone about the Battle of Nantwich - I've done a bit of tweaking with the history and the OOBs, to make best use of the troops available and try to give a balanced game. What follows is simply a copy of what I've sent to the players. Apart from the scenario and the starting position, there is to be no attempt to replicate or re-enact the historical battle, this will just be a free-for-all.

My sources are John Barratt's super little The Battle of Nantwich 1644 (Stuart Press), John Dixon's equally super (though larger) The Business at Acton (Partizan Press) and the scenarios for Nantwich in De Bellis Civile 1644-45 and Charlie Wesencraft's Pike and Musket book. It goes without saying that my version will not be like any one of those, though they were all useful.

The game will be played using my ECW variant of CCN, with a couple of scenario tweaks. OK - the rest of this post is just what I have sent out to next Friday's players.

The Business at Acton  - the Battle of Nantwich, 25th January 1644

The Armies:


Commander:                   John, Lord Byron
2nd-in-Command:      Maj.Gen* Richard Gibson

Col. John Marrow’s Regt
Lord Molyneux’s Regt
Lord Byron’s Regt (v)
Sir Thos Tyldesley’s Regt

Sir Michael Earnley’s Regt (v)
Sir Robert Byron’s Regt (v)
Col. Henry Warren’s Regt (v)
Col. Richard Gibson’s Regt (v)
Sir Thomas Tyldesley’s Regt

Sir Fulk Huncke with approx 400 musketeers (v)

A battery of medium sakers
Some light pieces

* = acting

Commander:                   Sir Thomas Fairfax
2nd-in-Command:      Maj.Gen* Sir William Brereton

Sir Wm Brereton’s Cheshire Horse
Sir Wm Fairfax’s Regt (Yorkshire)
Col. John Lambert’s Regt (Yorkshire)

Maj. Thomas Morgan’s Dragoons (Wales)

Col. John Booth’s Regt (Cheshire)
Col. Richard Holland’s Regt (Manchester)
Col. Sir Wm. Brereton’s Regt (Cheshire)
Col. Henry Mainwaring’s Regt (Cheshire)
Col. Alexander Rigby’s Regt (Lancashire)
Col. Ralph Assheton’s Regt (Lancashire)

800 musketeers from Nantwich Garrison (r)

Some medium sakers
Some light pieces

[Units marked (v) are of Veteran status, those marked (r) are Raw – everyone else is Trained by default. Unless otherwise stated, Foot regiments are about 650 strong, and in each of them approximately one third are armed with pikes and the rest with muskets. Horse and Dragoon units are about 400 strong. All Royalist Horse are of “Galloper” type (i.e. they employ the Swedish-style tactics adopted by Prince Rupert), though none of those present are classified as Rash. The Parliament Horse are all “Trotters” (i.e. they use the more conservative Dutch-style tactics).]

Background – Cheshire 1643-44:

Lord Byron
In late 1643, John, 1st Lord Byron marched from Chester with a Royalist army which contained a high proportion of excellent, veteran troops who had previously served in Ireland. His objective was to gain control of the troublesome eastern portion of Cheshire for the King. Initially things went well; Beeston Castle was taken, and a close but significant victory was gained over the army of the chief Parliamentarian leader in the county, Sir William Brereton., near Middlewich. The main result of Middlewich was that Brereton became convinced that he could not stand up to the Royalist army in open battle. Byron now set about attacking the town of Nantwich, which was the last remaining Parliament-held place of any size in the county, having an important bridge over the River Weaver. On the way there he was involved in the infamous massacre at Barthomley Church, on Christmas Day 1643, where a number of surrendering Parliamentary troops were shot out of hand after they had (reportedly) been offered quarter. Byron was unrepentant, but the incident backfired on him, in that it increased Parliament’s resolve to counterattack.

Sir Thomas Fairfax
Sir Thomas Fairfax was sent from Lincolnshire with a sizeable force of good Yorkshire cavalry, joining with Brereton around Manchester, and their combined army set off to deal with Byron.

Byron’s attack on Nantwich was beaten off with heavy loss, but the town was besieged.  Instead of approaching Nantwich from the East, from Middlewich, Fairfax surprised Byron by approaching from the North, through Delamere Forest, and thus on the west side of the Weaver. Byron had only a few troops on this bank of the river, and therefore had to move his men over the river to face the threat. This is the point at which our action today commences.

Scenario – the Battle of Nantwich:

The Parliamentarian baseline is the top (North) edge of the picture. Each hex on the table is about 150 paces across.

It is a cold, grey day. A recent thaw has melted most of what snow there has been, but the ground is generally very muddy. This is a flat, agricultural area with few hills and little woodland.

The stone bridge at Beam Bridge was destroyed a while ago by the Nantwich garrison, and the Royalists’ temporary pontoon bridge there has been wrecked by the swollen River Weaver, so Lord Byron has had a lot of trouble getting the second part of his available forces (including all of his horse) on to the West side of the river to meet Fairfax’s approaching army.

By midday, he has the foot units of Gibson, Warren and Earnley and all his artillery (a large battery of medium guns plus a small light unit) in position at Acton church, but the regiments of Robert Byron and Tyldesley and all his cavalry are coming up in the rear as best they can, having spent the morning marching some miles upstream to Shrewbridge to cross the river and then marching back towards Acton.

Fairfax has arrived by the Chester Road, approaching over the low wooded ridge on the north side of the field. He hasn’t come very far (his men camped last night at Tilstone Heath, about 8 miles away) , but the roads are in poor shape, so they are puffing a bit. The roads marked on the battlefield have no functional role in the game beyond helping to make sense of the geography – the rules give no movement bonus on roads.

The river is unfordable throughout. The areas of Welsh Row, Acton Church, Darfold Hall and Henhull (farm) are all classed as built up areas/villages for the purposes of the rules – i.e. troops occupying them are assumed to be able to make use of the walls and buildings to provide defensive cover and firing positions. A feature of the battlefield which is mentioned in all accounts of the fighting is the hedged enclosures (farm fields), which made things difficult for the cavalry. In this game, such enclosures are treated similarly to woods – all mounted troops entering a field must stop on arrival, and may defend it as though it were a wood (though a field will not obstruct line-of-sight, so that artillery may fire over a field). Units of horse leaving a field/enclosure must stop immediately afterwards to reform, unless they are carrying out a Retire & Reform manoeuvre. Thus cavalry are handicapped in the enclosures in a manner which should correspond to the historical situation.

Parliament have first move throughout. Parliament receive 6 command cards, Royalists 5 – to reflect the disorganisation in Byron’s army and (to a lesser extent) Fairfax’s greater leadership ability. “Victory Banner” counters will be awarded on elimination of units and leaders as normal, but there is a special additional VB counter available to the Royalists while/if they hold the Welsh Row position.

7 VBs wins the day for either side.

Initial set-up:

Parliament – Nantwich garrison are in Welsh Row at the outset. They have to remain there until the fighting starts. Once firing has commenced in the central area, a throw of 6 on a normal die (throw at the start of each turn) will allow them to decide (subject to subsequent suitable Command cards!) to sally out to join the main action. Note that these troops are classed as Raw.

The remainder of Fairfax’s army must be placed in the Centre section of the table, within 2 hexes of their own baseline. Artillery must initially be placed behind another friendly unit – they were held up by the soft ground. Leaders may be attached to combat units as they arrive.

Royalists – Huncke’s musketeers may be placed 2 hexes distant from Welsh Row. The artillery (one unit of 2 medium guns, one of a single light gun) and the foot units of Earnley, Warren and Gibson may be placed on, or within 1 hex of, the 3-hex hill at Acton Church – Richard Gibson himself may be attached to any of these units.

The remainder, with Byron, must be deployed south of the roads near the Royalist baseline, and no nearer than 3 hexes to Nantwich.


Artillery: Bear in mind that a single-gun battery is unable to cause loss to troops in buildings or cover – the larger battery has a chance of doing this. Artillery is also very vulnerable in melees.


  1. I'm looking forward to following this battle Tony, you have certainly caught the flavour of the period in the preparatory write up. Set up looks great too. I'm sure great execution will be done, and will be a good test for the rules.

  2. This is the stuff to inspire people. If the resulting game is as good as the prep work it should be an excellent set to.

  3. Martin emailed to ask what "unrepentant" means in the context of the alleged massacre at Bartholmey Church. On 26th December, Lord Byron wrote to the Marquis of Newcastle, and mentioned the matter:

    ‘...the Rebels had possessed themselves of a Church at Bartumley, but wee presently beat them forth of it, and put them all to the sword; which I finde to be the best way to proceed with these kind of people, for mercy to them is cruelty.’

    Whether we agree or not, he was certainly unrepentant!