The 1644 Battle of Aberdeen, Justice Mills Scenario.
Re-fight, May 2004, Redcar England.
Notes: Through pre-game player negotiations the Covenanter force was given seven pikes (as per map) instead of the scenario OoB five, but the Irish were factored at Melee 4. Both sides ignored the sunken road terrain feature.
The wind was chilling and carried on it the foreboding foretaste of drizzle, surely the prelude to the ubiquitous Aberdonian rain. The Commander of the Covenanter Army Burleigh looked dismissively at the Royalist forces arrayed below him in the valley. They did not impress Burleigh, they were a rag tag bunch of misfits, ill clad and looking comically irregular, their ranks filled with the Highland rabble that he loathed and worse still "The Irish". With a look of disdain and affront he haughtily declared, “We outnumber them by seven to three in pike, so we shall take the matter to them. Drummer beat the advance.” The matter already seemed to be in motion, for on both wings horse played to and fro in a confused melee, with as yet no side gaining a discernible advantage.
Summing it up nicely from within the Covenanter pike ranks came this remark:
“Fit like?” “His nibs, the nob, has taken leave of his heed!” “Wa’r to rush at ‘em” “What? At tha’ Irish?” “Aye!” “What’s in his heed must be sawdust.” “Aye, Fine.”
Immediately as the Covenanter Army began their forward movement things began to go awry. The centre advanced slowly and unevenly. The Covenanter C-in-C dashed for one regiment to another chivvying them on in a most ungainly fashion. Montrose could only look on is disbelief and remark, “This goose means to cook itself.”
Just as Burleigh thought his house was in order a peeling crash of thunder spelt disaster as successive cannon shots hit their mark and disintegrated a pike block of Aberdonian levies. Seeing ranks of pike flung to the four winds was too much for the young, raw recruits who turned and fled. A collective shiver went through the Covenanter forces. The Covenanter Army was already well off the sanctuary of their vacated hill and were approaching the deployed lines of the Marquis of Montrose forces, to whom now looked grim with determination and not the rag tag rabble they spied in the morning mist.
The centre became clouded with smoke as the muskets began their staccato chatter, the feeble beck with its trickle of water was lined either side with the opposing forces, discharging volley after volley. The matter did not last long as the Royalists maintained a punishing weight of fire. The Covenanter Army became disordered, recovered briefly, but lost another regiment of Aberdonian levies, who downed pike and ran for it. Then real disaster, under the persistent rain of shot, a unit of the Aberdonian regulars broke and fled. With gaps appearing in the Covenanter's battle-line the Highlanders now took the opportunity to charge and carried away the Covenanter's cannon. Menacingly the Irish advanced with lowered pike and blood curdling curses.
It did not come to push of pike. The Covenanter "Army Morale" the broke first and they fled towards the supposed sanctuary gates of the city. The crimes that followed on the populace of Aberdeen will not be chronicled here, but Montrose lamented at the behaviour of his troops and the obstinacy of the provost of Aberdeen who earlier dismissed his warning to remove their children and womenfolk to a safe haven as ‘mere bluster’. Montrose could not afford to delay in Aberdeen. He already had news that the third Covenant army was approaching from the south. Already his Highlanders were heading homeward with their plunder. He would follow them, burying the captured cannon en route and take to the highlands where the lowland Covenanter army would be ill suited to follow.
Scenario thoughts: We intend to re-play the scenario again with a less audacious Covenanter battle plan. Reading S.R. Gardiner’s History of the Great Civil War: Volume Two 1644-45 (p143-149, ISBN 0-900075-05-8) we are also inclined to alter the scenario by using these optional rules:
(i) Decreasing the Royalist Cavalry to two bases in total, Rollo(ck?) and Gordon. According to Gardiner’s account there were only fifty-four Royalist horsemen on the day split over two wings (24 horse to the left, and to the 30 right).
(ii) If the Royalist Horse fight on the same wing there is the option to combine them (taking one action) into a superior unit, of Melee 4. The force could be split at the cost of one action later, with each stand retaining any damage incurred.
(iii) Having the Covenanter Cavalry being always acting as if out of command. They seem to have been really poor commanders on the day.
(iv) The Covenanter Gordon Horse stand is cariole only. The young eighteen-year old Gordon was ill-informed and not schooled in the ways of war, “the boy knew of no tactics other than those which had been long abandoned in England.”
The general comment was that this was an infantry battle decided in the middle by push of pike. The Covenanter Cavalry though numerous were extremely badly led and a fair portion simply did not engage.
(v) Allowing the Covenanters to use the sunken road to attempt a spoiling attack on the Royalist Left with a FH and four stands of horse. However this force would have to start out of command of their wing commander.
Note on (v): Montrose did have to react to a pre-emptive Covenanter move like this, by bringing all of his horse to the left wing and deploying a FH shot of his own.
(vi) Reduce the Royalist Artillery to one gun (or possibly none!). The battle account seemed to imply that the Royalist’s were inferior in artillery.
The above are only suggestions and dangerously based on the reading of one book. If you have alternative sources of information I would gratefully appreciate any references. As a final footnote the Justice Mills battle site is now a cinema complex at the end of (or rather just behind) Union Street in Aberdeen. It is rather a steep climb as I know from my own personal youthful experience. I had the pleasure of studying, then working in Aberdeen for over six years and have many happy memories from that time. In fact I lived not far from the Castle Gate where the Covenanter soldiers must have run to for safety, but of course to no avail.