Friday, April 12, 2013
The Handsdown Reverse
As General Ferguson had heard the musketry and artillery firing building to a crescendo, he silently cursed Colonel Sorenson and hoped the man was not bringing on a major battle without him.
The General had sent the colonel forward to deploy the forward units of the Parliamentarian army as close to Houndsdown Ridge as possible in preparation for an attack on the ridge, while the Colonel organised the units as they arrived the General was pushing his army forward.
However a major problem was developing and that was the Parliamentarian army was on the wrong side of the Teste river, though not a large river the Teste was swift and uncrossable, so the whole army had to cross over a single lane bridge. Then they had to march through the village of Eling, which again meant slow progress for the army as it turned and twisted its way through the narrow village streets.
Finally in desperation the General rode up on to a small ridge that was nearby, though he could not see any units of either army he could see the smoke from Musketry fire, and it was a lot closer to Eling than it should be.
Deciding he was wasting time trying to hustle the army forward the General delegated that responsibility to one of his aides Major Dawson while he rode forward to see what the hell was going on.
However before leaving he instructed the commander of the 1st Dragoons to ride along the north Bank of the Teste and its tributary that ran to from the west into the Teste near Eling, to see if there was a ford or bridge they were unaware off, having ensured these steps were underway he tried to make his way forward with his staff.
Even for a small group of officers the journey across the bridge and through Eling took far too long and there was hardly a man on the road that the General didn’t either vocally or silently curse. The distance from his headquarters to the other side of Eling was only 3 miles, but it had taken 30 minutes of cursing to get through his army which was stalled in the village lanes.
Having finally broken though the army that had every look of becoming an unruly mob the General finally located Colonel Sorenson who was busy ordering units forward into some sort of defensive line, the Colonel sighed deeply as his aide tapped him on the shoulder indicating the General was approaching and he did not look at all happy.
“What the hell is happening Colonel, why are the enemy here when the last report I had placed them 2 miles further west up on Houndsdown ridge.”
“Well General between the time that report was sent and by the time I arrived here the Royalists had pushed back our forward pickets, I am having a damnable time trying to get units forward quickly enough to stop the Royalists, which we seem to have done for now. However if they renew their attack anytime soon this army will just dissolve, it will never be able to withdraw in any sort of order.”
The General nodded, and he agreed that things had become a mess, first he had to get the troops on the road way organised, turning to the Colonel's aide he told him to ride back to the bridge and stop any further units crossing, those not across were to deploy along the east banks of the Teste.
He turned to the Colonel,
“Colonel I want you to go back to the village, get the streets cleared and the units organised, we are going to have to hold here with what we have, and once things become a little more organised we will see what our options are, but for now get down to the bloody village and sort that mess out.”
The general turned and surveyed the scene before him.
It was clear the Royalists had taken advantage of the fact the General had not deployed to the west of Eling as he should have the previous day. It was quite evident they must have realised by launching their own attack first they didnt need to do anything clever because on the north side of the Eling- Houndsdown road ran a tributary of the Teste which like the Teste itself was deep and uncrossable. On the southern side of the road was mile upon mile of scrub, ridges and swamps, so the mile wide area in fact a clear low ridge line the Eling - Handsdown road was built on was the only area an army could deploy.
Obviously the units that had been sent forward to screen this area were not the right type, The overnight screen had been Cavalry piquets, but if the General had been more aware of the nature of the ground he realised he should have had infantry here as well. He cursed himself for the stupidity of his neglect, every solider in his army obviously realised that the army should have been moved through Eling last night, preferably up on to the ridge itself. It was an error and the General knew when this shambles was over they would look to him with the blame. However of more concern now was he had to extract his army from this mess, which meant he had to go onto the defensive. While that was far easier than attacking out of this mess it did present problems, not the least being he had promised his Lordship Duke Bedford that by tonight he would be in Lyndhurst township, when in fact if he would be fortunate not to be hustled back across the Teste with a shattered army.
Again he cursed himself for not making personally making sure the army deployed on the ridge and not near the village of Eling has it had been done, one thing was certain; he had to find a scapegoat for the blunder otherwise he would become the sacrificial lamb.
The other thing that annoyed him damnably was despite Corporal Evans magical reviver the general was starting to suffer from a severe hangover,
“What a bloody mess” he muttered to himself.
Shaking himself and cursing the headache he realised the firing had quietened down, the Royalists had apparently stopped attacking and he wondered why, damn they have us on the ropes and yet they have stopped.
The General looked back to the village and clearly the Colonel had started to sort the mess out as the first units an artillery battery came out of the narrow streets,
“Excellent” he muttered to himself, turning to an aide he ordered,
“Get that battery deployed across the road, and the Infantry battalion following it will support he battery”.
“Yes” he though to himself, “If that bloody royalist pig General Anders hesitates for just another 30 minutes I can block him here, not only that I will slaughter the bastard if he attacks.”
For the Royalist commander General Anders things had developed in a rather surprising turn of events. Following his very early morning attack on Handsdown Ridge which was a resounding success as the enemy cavalry piquets had simply been brushed aside.
Then as daylight ushered in the new day from his commanding position up on the ridge General Anders had a splendid view down the road to Eling. The terrain was a mess of swamps, woods and thickets, not an ideal attacking terrain, especially as the road to Eling ran into a V shaped position with the village being at the end of the point and on one side of the V was a uncrossable river and on the other swamps and brush.
There was however an opportunity here for him not only to defend the ridge but to push the Parliamentarians back into Eling, once he had done that he could easily hold them there with just a few troops in good defensive positions.
Down below him the General was amazed to see that despite it having been 2-3 hours since his initial attack the enemy had only pushed brought forward one or 2 battalions of infantry, so General Anders ordered his army forward, to squeeze the Parliamentarians back as far as he could.
Initially it was simply a matter of hustling the enemy back, threaten one flank and then the other, the Parliamentarians simply didn’t have enough troops forward yet to make a continuous defensive line, but it was a matter of time before they did.
The attack went well at first and the hustling of the enemy worked but as the terrain narrowed towards Eling the going became harder, casualties were still very light and General Anders wanted to keep it that way, this was going to be a long war.
General Anders had already decided he wasn’t going to burn his army out on an attack across a front where 2 or 3 enemy battalions in good defensive position in and around Eling could easily hold off his entire army. His intention had always been simply to put the cork in the bottle of any Parliamentarian advance from Eling, he had done that.
Then came reports that enemy Cavalry were probing the rivers to the north, obviously they were looking for fords or bridges of which there were none until west of the ridge near Ashurst, however what concerned the General was, were these cavalry from the same army as General Ferguson's in Eling or were they the advance guard of a new force marching down from the north to outflank him.
He turned to Colonel Marks,
“Geoffrey we will hold here, I will keep 3 battalions forward, supported by a artillery battery, pull the rest back to the ridge. Those cavalry are worrying me and if they push further west and discover the bridge near Ashurst we could easily be outflanked.
I want you to take a regiment of Dragoons to the Ashurst bridge, no better still take a battalion of infantry as well and secure that bridge and for gods sake try and find out if those Cavalry are Ferguson’s or a part of a new force.”
Colonel Marks saluted as he rode of to gather his units and move north to the bridge.
After the hectic scramble to get his units deployed General Ferguson was feeling a little better about things, finally he had stopped his units being maneuvered backwards, and the last attempt to hustle his troops had been successfully blocked. The two armies now settled down to watch each other, neither prepared to risk battle in such confined terrain.
Early in the afternoon he had reports back from his cavalry that he had sent to scout out any unknown fords or bridges to the north and west, they had ridden as far north as Ashurst but discovered Royalist Cavalry and infantry there. What he wasn’t sure of were these new forces moving down on his northern flank, or were they a security guard for the Royalist flank.
Just in case he deployed his remaining cavalry regiment to the north of Eling and later in the day he removed most of his army back across the Teste, leaving a strong rearguard to defend Eling.
Later that night General Ferguson decided Eling was not the place to make his attack, leaving a force of Militia as a rearguard on the bridge crossing over the Teste he moved his army north. His intention was to march north to near Romney and then west out into better country, from there he could march directly down on Lynhurst, he could still take the town and would not need to batter his army against the natural defenses around Houndsdown and Eling.
Thus had ended the initial contact around Houndsdown Ridge, the battle to come was to occur two days later near the Hamlet of Twynford.
After deploying the units around Houndsford I decided that the area was not conducive to a battle for either side, no commander was going to be stupid enough to batter their armies against an army that could only be attacked frontally, especially armies as small and as fragile as these two forces under General Ferguson and General Anders.