Sunday, April 9, 2017

An Outsized Impact: Battle of the Boyne

Lilibulero - The Oldbridge Scenario
The Battle of the Boyne has had an outsized impact on the history of Ireland, considering that it wasn't a particularly bloody or decisive battle.

The battle didn't end the War of the Two King's, the war between James II and William III over control of Ireland and by proxy the thrones of Scotland and England. It didn't destroy the Jacobite army or seriously impair the ability of the Williamite army to take the field. It didn't really settle much, in fact, except to destroy the reputation of James II, who left his army in Ireland for France after the battle to their eventual defeat at Aughrim over a year later. James was known as Seamus a chaca - James the shit - after abandoning the Irish cause.

It wasn't completely James' fault; he was advised to leave by both the Earl of Tyrconnel, his army commander and Deputy of Ireland and his French advisers. Nonetheless it was a blow to the Irish and the Jacobite cause, and freed William III to return to the Low Countries to prosecute the Nine Years War against Louis XIV.

Nonetheless, the Battle of the Boyne has come to symbolize the triumph of the Protestants over the Catholics and the oppression of the Catholic majority in most of the country by the Protestant minority. Even today, over three centuries after the battle, the date of the battle is celebrated in Orange order parades and cursed by Catholics Irish communities. The Battle of the Boyne has had for more impact as a symbol of religious and social strife in Ireland than it ever had in terms of actual military operations in 1690-91.

The Boyne west of Drogheda - photo credit Jonathan Billinger
I don't have the time or space to cover all of the background of the battle here. There are plenty of good descriptions that can be found online, and I'll include a bibliography of further reading at the end of this series of posts for the more deeply interested. What I want to do here is look into what makes the Battle of the Boyne interesting militarily, as well as use it to illustrate some points about the Art of War at the end of the 17th Century.

Jacobite (green) positions (left to right) at Oldbridge, Grove Island, and Yellow Ford.
There are two major military items about the battle that I find interesting. First, the outcome of the battle was largely affected by a diversionary flank march by the Williamites that convinced James that the primary attack was coming from the west of his position at Donore, at Roughgrange. In reality William had kept the bulk of his army in position near Oldbridge. The second notable item about the battle is that it's a successful opposed crossing of a tidal river by William's forces, something that takes some good troops and steady generalship to pull off, even if the battle itself wasn't completely decisive.


The game I'll be using to talk about and illustrate the battle is  Lilliburlero from Against the Odds. It's a magazine game and so fairly inexpensive if you're of a mind to try it yourself, but comes with a very good magazine full of relevant articles in addition to the game.

The game system itself is an area movement game, that uses alternating impulses with area activations each turn to handle command and control, and govern movement and combat. The result is an easy-to-play game that ends up delivering very believable results. Each counter is a battalion of infantry, 2-4 guns, or a regiment of cavalry. Because of the nicely done Order of Battle at this level of detail, including key leaders, the game is an excellent reference when reading accounts of the battle.

I'm going to play a shorter scenario that doesn't include the flank march. As interesting and important as the maneuvering is, I suspect most people want to get to the river crossing where the real action is. Since another purpose for this series of posts is to compare my playthrough to this playthrough of the Boyne scenario in Pike & Shot Campaigns,  I also want to play a scenario that as close as possible to the one depicted in the video.

So, enough with the preliminaries, let's get on with the next post and the battle itself.