Saturday, 26 January 2013

What’s An FINS?

I was asked the other day what 'FINS' that I use after my ‘signature’ means. While it may seem (and probably is) completely pretentious (to be polite), I include it for a good reason (IMHO).
FINS stands for Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society, an honour that was kindly bestowed on me by Ben Weider, the founder of the INS, in recognition of my 'life-long' interest and advocacy of the period. I don't normally like the idea of using titles and memberships of associations, but include the FINS with my ‘signature’ on this blog in the hope that it will stimulate people to find out more about the society and the period.
So, what is the INS (SNI)?
The International Napoleonic Society was founded by the late Dr Ben Weider to promote the study, memory and better understanding of the Napoleonic period. Ben Weider was a kind and generous person who had a passion for Napoleon, for the Napoleonic period and for historical “truth”.
The late Ben Weider, founder of the INS
Outside of the INS he is probably best known for his books telling the story of Dr. Sten Forshufvud's remarkable work in uncovering evidence for the poisoning of Napoleon with arsenic. These landmark books, “The Murder of Napoleon” and “Assassination at St. Helena: The poisoning of Napoleon Bonaparte” were followed by the later publication “Assassination at St. Helena Revisited”. While several other theories have been forwarded to explain Napoleon’s death, including a re-visiting in 2007 of the original pronouncement of stomach cancer, Forshufvud and Weider’s work remains the best researched and most likely theory for the untimely death of the Emperor. The exhumation of Napoleon’s body is probably the only way to end the debate once and for all, but that is never going to occur!
To Ben Weider and many others, including myself, “the Napoleonic Epoch is one of the most fascinating – and important – in history” (INS website). I encourage you to find out more about the International Napoleonic Society, to visit the website and to promote the study, appreciation and better understanding of what remains an influential, stimulating and fascinating period of history.

Further information
Forshufvud, S, Smith, H and Wassén, A (1961) Arsenic Content of Napoleon I's Hair Probably taken Immediately after his Death. Nature 192, 103-106.
Forshufvud, S and Weider, B (1987) Assassination at St. Helena: The poisoning of Napoleon Bonaparte. Mitchell Press Ltd, 543 pp.
International Napoleonic Society (La Société Napoléonienne Internationale): (
Lugli, A, Zlobec, I, Singer, G, Lugli, AK, Terracciano, LM and Genta, RM (2007) Napoleon Bonaparte’s gastric cancer: a clinicopathologic approach to staging, pathogenesis, and etiology Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology 4, 52-57. 
Markham, JD (2009) Memorial to Ben Weider. The Napoleon Series.
Weider, B (1998) The Assassination of Napoleon. The Napoleon Series.
Weider, B and Forshufvud, S (1995) Assassination at St. Helena Revisited. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 555 pp.
Weider, B and Hapgood, D (1982) The Murder of Napoleon. Congdon and Lattès, Inc., New York. 266 pp.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ranger Danger!

Action at Pont à Buot, 4th June 1755
During my wargaming ‘lost’ years, I dabbled in many periods other than Napoleonics, some of which lead to deeper research and a longer lasting interest. Once such period was the French & Indian War, using 15 mm figures. My interest in this period was originally stimulated by a trip to beautiful Quebec City (and other parts of Canada) in 1990—so I can safely claim that it pre-dated the 1992 film interpretation of “Last of the Mohicans”!
“Magua said, understand the English, very well...” ahhh, Wes Studi, what a guy!
I was fortunate that my interest in the F&I War coincided roughly with the release of the wonderful ‘Ranger!’ rules by Peter Berry. These rules, which interestingly Pete derived from a system he used for the English Civil War (that I have not seen), are simple and elegant. They capture the key features of the nature and problems of European powers fighting in a land that they little understood. A feature of the rules is the officer ‘incidents’ which add to the flavour—and fun (as you will see below). This set of rules is not for the ‘rules lawyer’. They provide a clear, robust framework, but are deliberately intended to be adapted and interpreted by players. If played in the spirit in which they are intended (and in which wargaming should be done IMHO), they work well and provide a game that is challenging, but relatively simple and fun. They even include the ‘ultimate’ arbiter that, if a dispute cannot be resolved, roll a die and apply the 50% rule [and get on with it]!
As I only have small forces available for this period (another effect of the ‘lost years’), I was originally planning a fictitious game with some combination of ambush in woods, defense of stockade and relief column. Fortunately, I looked through the numerous books and photocopies that I had gathered back then and found an historical scenario that we could use.
The game would be loosely, very loosely, based on the brief combat at Pont à Buot on 4th June 1755 at the commencement of the siege of Fort Beauséjour. A quick search at the ‘font of all knowledge’ yielded the information that I lacked about the forces and some details of the terrain.
The action involved a small force of French-Canadian colonial troops (compagnes franches de la marine), Acadian militia and Indians deployed behind a makeshift barricade with two light guns that were attacked by a much larger force of principally colonial militia with some British regulars and four medium guns. The French-Acadians were across the unfordable Missaguash River and had destroyed the bridge. The British-Americans therefore had to repair the bridge and cross the river to reach the barricade. I increased the French-Acadian force slightly from what was actually present (around 400 c.f. about 350 historically) and deployed only about one-fifth of the British-American forces (about 600 of the 3 000) as a kind of vanguard, but they had better quality of troops for the type of combat—and I threw in a company of rangers!
The forces used were:
French-Acadians: 3 companies of ‘marines’ (compagnes franches de al marine), 1 company of Acadian militia, 3 ‘companies’ of indians and 2 light guns;
British-Americans: 6 companies of colonial militia, 1 company of rangers, 3 companies of regulars and 4 medium guns.
The actual action was brief and decisive. Some ineffective fire from the French-Acadians was replied to with musket volleys and cannon fire that disabled the light guns and caused the former to withdraw. The defenders retired to Fort Beauséjour which was besieged and fell after only three days of the ‘formal’ siege. My ‘fiddling’ with the forces had the desired effect so that our version of the combat for the outpost was a more protracted and interesting affair.
Initial set-up, French-Acadians behind stockade across the Missaguash River from the approaching British-colonial force. Note broken bridge.

View from behind the barricade
The British-American column approaches the bridge
The first three turns passed without much action. The British advanced to the broken bridge and the French-Acadians fired without effect.
Turn 1: close-up of French-Acadians behind barricade
The approach of the British-American column

Bridge under repair
...and half-way completed
The fourth turn produce the first ‘incident’ of the game. Ensign Langy tried to encourage his men to shoot better, by example, but his pistol mis-fired, killing him! Seeing this rattled the French-Acadian’s Indian allies who retreated towards the wood.
Turn 4 in the barricade
Concerned by Ensign Langy's demise, the Indian allies head for cover
Turn 5 produced further seemingly inaccurate fire from French-Acadians. The bridge now repaired, Captain Adams seized the colour of 40th Foot and attempted to urge his men on. "C'mon you dogs, do you want to live forever?!" At that moment a stray bullet struck him in the head, killing him instantly. “Yes, something along those lines,” came a voice from the rear rank.
Turn 6: British across the bridge, lead by the infamous colour that was Captain Adams' undoing
The next two turns passed with the French-Acadians emulating their historical counterparts in being unable to produce casualties on the advancing British and colonials, but all this changed in turn 8. The French Acadians finally hit their target, causing four hits on the lead company of the 40th foot as it was preparing a volley! They passed morale, but Captain Broome was hit by a sniper. He looked vaguely annoyed, pulled out a damaged pocket watch, then drew his pistol, took careful aim and shot the sniper between the eyes. The men were most impressed.
Then next two turns (Turn 9–10) witnessed more effective fire from the French-Acadians and some casualties from British fire too.
Turn 10
Turn 10: British casualties from finally effective defensive fire
Tired of the unequal firefight, the lead company of the 40th foot charge the marines/militia defending the barricade, causing them several casualties. The combat continued. Sensing the end was night, Ensign Rouilly got out his hip flask and finished the entire contents (on an empty stomach)—his command range was halved for five turns.
Turn 11
Turn 11: the British foot attack with cold steel
Turn 12–14 saw the tide turn. The fire from the remaining defenders was less impactful, the French colonial guns were silenced by British fire and the mêlée had become a fight to the death.
Turn 12: the British-American troops began their flanking manoeuvre

Turn 13
Turn 13: view from the British-American side
Turn 14
Turn 14: out-flanking the position
By Turn 15 the British were gathering for the kill! Ensign Rouilly, gazing up at the passing birdlife, or perhaps seeking divine intervention, was temporarily blinded by a discharge from one of his feathered friends, reducing his command range to one inch for one turn. Less lucky was Lt Col Scott who was hit by the broken finial from the flag staff of the 40th foot and was unconscious for five moves.
Turn 15
Turn 16 and it was all but over for the French-Acadian defenders. The British were surrounding defences. One company of marines covered the retreat while the rest of the survivors headed towards Fort Beauséjour.
Turn 16: sparse defense
End of battle
It was an interesting, challenging and enjoyable little game that reminded my why I had been so impressed with Ranger when I first used them.
We are back to the 'real stuff' this weekend with a game using the Fields of Glory scenario of Medina del Rio Seco, 14 July 1808.
I'll close with a few staged photos of the troops involved.
On parade: Royal artillery
British generals and colonial militia

Acadian militia


Compagnes franches de al marine (bombadier at right)

More militia (ranges in disguise)


Berry, P (1991) Ranger! Partisan Press, pp.
Fryer, MB (1986) Battlefields of Canada. Dundurn Press Limited, Toronto, Canada. pp. 47–53.
Hand, CM (2002) A Short History of the British Expedition and Siege of Fort Beauséjour 1755. Master of Arts thesis. Graduate Academic Unit of History, The University of New Brunswick Fredericton New Brunswick. 182 pp.
Stanley, GFG (1968) New France: The Last Phase 1744–1760. The Canadian Centenary Series, 5 McClelland and Stewart Limited, Toronto, Canada. pp. 108–113.
The New Brunswick Military Heritage Project (2006) Westmorland County. University Of New Brunswick Date accessed 12/12/12 2012.
Webster, JC (1930) An Historical Guide to New Brunswick. New Brunswick Government Bureau of Information and Tourist Travel, Fredericton, New Brunswick. Revised Edition. pp. 19–27.