Wargaming the Battle of Tucuman

Having written up the an account of the historical Battle of Tucuman (24-25 September 1812) it is time to consider how to recreate the battle. I’ve come up with three options: (1) historical (2) alternative and (3) grand tactical.

Options

I can see three options for wargaming the Battle of Tucuman:

  • historical battle outside Tucuman
  • alternative battle in the original Patriot positions
  • grand tactical battle covering the entire Royalist outflanking movement

The map of shows the three options.

Options for fighting the Battle of Tucuman

Options for fighting the Battle of Tucuman

Option 1: Battle outside Tucuman

The historical battle was fought just outside the city of Tucuman. I’ve toyed with a couple of sub-options.

My original thought was not have the city of Tucuman on the table at all. The battle would be fought in the Campo de Carreras. This is Option 1a on the map.

However, having written up the actual battle I now think Tucuman is key to the battle. So Option 1b is just outside the city with a part of Tucuman on the map.

Option 2: Alternative battle

Belgrano was expecting the Royalists to march directly on Tucuman so initially deployed where the road from the north entered the plain. As it happens Tristan chose to outflank Tucuman and approach from the south-west. So Option 2 is an “what-if”. What if Tristan had marched south down the direct road to Tucuman and straight into the Patriots waiting for him.

Option 3: Grand tactical battle

John Fletcher went for the grand tactical option. He included quite a large chunk of territory on the map for his scenario in the Liberators book (Fletcher, 2005). Although not an exact match I believe John’s scenario map corresponds to Option 3 on the map above. By my calculations this is approximately 10 km x 7 km.

The advantage of this option is it allows the entire Royalist outflanking manoeuvre to be on-table. And, of course, the Royalist player might not choose to outflank at all.

The disadvantage is, to be in scale, the units would have to be very small. If you played this option on a 6′ x 4′ table each battalion would have to be about 40mm wide (a DBx base width).

You could, however, ignore the ground scale. This is what some of the maps of the historical battle do. They show the entire area but also show the armies as they deployed, but on a much larger frontage than would be realistic. For example the Plano de la Batalla de Tucumán below shows enough territory for the grand tactical outflanking movement but also shows the battle deployment. The map suggests that the armies would deploy across a 5 km frontage, which can’t be possible, as a battalion deployed in line on a frontage about 120 metres. The entire Royalist army would actually have had a frontage of less than 1 km. If you’re okay with that, then go for it.

Plano de la Batalla de Tucumán

Plano de la Batalla de Tucumán


Elements of the historical battle to include in a game, or not

All of these elements of the historical battle provide some flavour. Some of them, however, pose challenges. I’ll discuss both aspects.

The Royalist Outflanking march

I have a preference for having this occur before the battle (Option 1) but if you fancy including it on table then you’re looking at Option 3.

Characteristics of the Generals

Fletcher (2005) describes Belgrano as a “poor” general and “predictable”. Tristan is rated merely as “poor”. I’d say these ratings more or less balance out and I wouldn’t simulate either in the game. If you do want to represent this then both would get a negative command modifier – whatever your rules supports.

More significantly Belgrano retired from the field when things looked grim in his area of the battle. I’d say that suggests Belgrano lacked fortitude. You might give him a morale check in advance of the army breaking. If he fails his personal morale check he routs, taking a unit with him.

Tristan also suffered a crisis of confidence but less extreme and I’d be inclined to ignore this. The implication of Tristan losing confidence is he pulled his army back to regroup. I’d simulate this by a lower morale threshold for the Royalists.

So the various morale thresholds would be something like:

  1. Belgrano’s Morale Check on 25% Casualties
  2. Royalist Army Morale Check on 60% Causalities
  3. Patriot Army Morale Check on 75% Casualties

Imbalance of forces

The Royalists put 3,000 men in the field and the Patriots only 2,000. Quite an imbalance if you just consider humans. But the Patriots had a lot more cavalry (twice and much) and the Royalists a lot more infantry (70% more). What that means, at least with Liberators HOTT is that the number of units are the same, even if the types of units and number of men they represent differ. On balance, ignore.

Royalists marching into artillery

In the historical battle the Royalists were disordered by the Patriot artillery as they approached across the Campo de las Carreras. That just means you need to force the Royalists to advance and that you have to give the Patriots a few shots.

Penny packet Patriot artillery

Accounts of the battle have the Patriot guns in the intervals between the columns. I interpret that as being between the three infantry columns in the centre, so only two groups of guns. But others have the guns split even further, with guns between the five columsn of troops in the first line, so four groups of guns.

The trouble is the Patriots don’t have many guns. Fletcher (2005) gives them only four. If I’m right that is two sections of two guns. In the others are right then each gun was positioned by itself. This penny packet artillery is a problem because a single gun, in most rules, won’t pack much punch and the Patriot artillery were a key element of the victory.

Rules might also struggle to represent single guns at all. For example, in Liberators HOTT a stand of artillery represents a battery of 6-8 guns; so the Patriots would only get one stand and it would be impossible to simulate the historical deployment.

Unused Royalist artillery

The Patriots captured the Royalist artillery, 13 guns in total. Reading the accounts this artillery didn’t feature in the battle at all, except to be a prize.

So in a game I’d be inclined to give the Royalists a minimal amount of artillery. Fletcher (2005) gives the Royalists 10 guns, which might be a tad generous. Half of that might be fair.

Campo de las Carreras

The south-western approach to Tucuman crosses the Campo de las Carreras. Despite being rough and uneven it didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the battle. The Patriot cavalry were rampaging through here on the hunt for the Royalist baggage and didn’t seem disadvantaged at all.

So I wouldn’t go so far as to make the Campo “Bad Going” in Liberators HOTT – that would cripple the Royalists and the rampaging Patriots alike. Either ignore it or, if the rules allow, give it a modest terrain impact.

Probably the best simulation is to limit artillery and the Royalist baggage train to the roads across the Campo. That would have a secondary effect of constraining how effective the Royalist artillery were.

Locusts

The middle of the battle featured a locust swarm. I’m not sure this is worth simulating. Any fancy rules might add flavour and add nothing. Or add flavour but add a level of randomness that makes it a poor game. If you assume it affected both sides equally then you might just ignore it.

Some accounts suggest the locusts disadvantaged the already dejected Royalists more than the Patriots. But that might be after the fact rationalisation for a battle already lost.

City of Tucuman

The two armies were fighting over control of Tucuman. At the end of the fighting on 24 September 1812 the Patriot infantry and artillery had withdrawn to the outskirts of the city to defend against the Royalists. As it happens Tristan didn’t challenge them and departed the following day.

So you could ignore the city (Option 1a) or include an edge of the city as a token objective (Option 1b).

Gauchos

Two of the Patriot units were probably Gauchos – the “Tucuman Cavalry” and “Militia Cavalry”. You might give them advantages for example, some or all of the following:

  • Fast movement
  • Inclination to charge
  • Melee advantage

Recent recruits

The inhabitants of Tucuman and the surrounding area provided some recruits for the army. This were probably from the militia, so not raw recruits, but still probably weren’t as good as regulars.

Poorly armed Patriot Infantry

According to Fletcher (2005) the Patriot infantry at Tucuman were poorly armed. He gives them a disadvantage in fire combat.

Tired Royalists

The Royalists had been following the Patriots for some time through a wasteland, then on the day of the battle they forced marched to outflank the city to attack from the south-west. There is good reason to believe they were tired. You might give them a combat or morale disadvantage.


References

Fletcher, J. (2005). Liberators! Volume 1: The War in the South. Grenadier Productions.

Fletcher, J. (2006). Liberators! Supplement 1: The War in the South. Grenadier Productions.

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