AWI Skirmish - Rutledge Plantation
Colonel William Washington had gone out looking for trouble and Colonel Banastre Tarleton had happily obliged. Both colonels led a polyglot mix of troops as deployed for battle on the Rutledge Plantation on a sunny March afternoon in 1780.
Tarleton had been bested by Washington in a minor skirmish near the Stono River a few weeks prior and was out for revenge. His party, a mixed foraging and scouting force, consisted of two troops of cavalry – one from the famed 17th Light Dragoons and one from his own Legion, as well as six companies of infantry – one South Carolina militia, one of Butler’s Rangers, a jager detachment of the Brunswick regiment, a company of the storied Black Watch, and two companies of the Royal Green Provincial regiment.
Washington had a troop each from Baylor’s Dragoons and Lee’s Legion, as well as three companies of Continental Line, Grim’s Rifle Company, Posey’s Ranger Company, and Bellow’s Kingston Militia. Washington’s primary goal was to snare Tarleton, though his orders were to find Cornwallis’ main column and to gather much needed foodstuffs for Greene’s hungry army.
The two colonels deployed their small commands in a mirror pattern. In the open fields to the west of the plantation’s wagon road, where on a more peaceful morning the Rutledge cattle would graze, each commander set his mounted troops in loose line. To the east of the road, in an open woodlot, both commanders shook out a double line of infantry, Washington’s slightly smaller units deploying four companies in front and two behind, while Tarleton had equal-sized lines with three companies in each.
As the infantry advanced, firing, in their long, ragged lines, broken by the ash and pecan trees of the woodlot, the cavalry clash opened in dramatic fashion. Baylor’s Dragoons thundered across the open ground to meet the 17th saber to saber.
In the woods, the long-ranged rifles drew first blood, and the captains were hit early – Captain Grim took a ball through his left hand, Captain Butler’s scabbard was shattered by a ball which left him with a burgeoning bruise, while Captain Pfeffer of the Brunswick Jagers was mortally wounded by a ball to the chest. The Jagers, stunned by the loss of their leader, fell back, their position in the line quickly filled by the staunch bearskins of the Black Watch.
In the open, Baylor’s, recently remounted on fine stock “acquired” from another loyalist plantation, thrashed the British regulars. 40 red saddles were emptied in the melee while only 9 blue-clad Americans fell. Decimated, the 17th broke, galloping for the safety of the plantation building a mile to the rear. As that skirmish was ending Tarleton was launching his own Legion against the green-clad Americans of Lee’s Legion. The swirling melee of horse and saber saw yet another captain fall – Captain Jones, who had been with Tarleton since the unit’s formation, was killed by a vicious cut to the neck.
Tarleton found his troopers staggered and led them back, disordered but together, to regroup with the 17th. Tarleton’s troop lost 31 men, while the Americans lost 22.
Tarleton’s withdrawal with the defeated cavalry, however, spelled the end for his embattled infantry. As the Colonel was falling back his second, Colonel Hamilton of the Royal Greens was breathing his last by an ash tree, having taken two balls to the belly and the Virginia Continentals pressed the Greens. The loss of the popular commander caused the loyalists to waver, the second company giving ground.
But the loss was not all one-sided. In pressing the attack, Captain Smith of the Second Virginia took a ball neatly through his ear as he turned to urge his men forward. While he would linger the rest of the afternoon with a grievous hole in his head, his last resting place was the plantation wood. Simultaneously Simcoe’s Tory Militia delivered a devastating on Bellow’s Company, killing and wounding 24 men.
However, with Tarleton in retreat and Hamilton dead, even remarkable marksmanship and the bravery of the regulars was to no avail. The British infantry slowly fell back against a thinning American line. Finally, after over an hour of hot action, the British leadership suffered one final, debilitating, blow. Captain Butler, rallying his rangers to reform and re-engage Posey and a few attached riflemen, was struck by a ball and killed instantly.
The British withdrew. Washington’s command, badly blooded, was too tired to pursue with any zest. The American dragoons, their blood up, did attempt to chasten the withdrawing loyalist horse but were dissuaded by Tarleton’s artillery train – two 3-pounders – which had missed the battle due to a broken wheel on a limber but were all too happy to send a few balls Washington’s way.
In all the American infantry suffered 62 casualties out of 350 engaged. The British, with about 400 infantry engaged, lost 56, but the loss of four commanders sealed their defeat.
We play using 25mm figures and A Continent in the Balance rules.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..