A New Battle for an Old War
Most wargamers like to recreate history. But we don’t all have the resources to refight Marston Moor or Naseby, even at club level. So we tend to play the same games over and over the small and middle-sized battles that can be over in an evening. The problem with this, of course, is that it gets a little boring, repeating the same games.
Yet the English Civil War was full of minor encounters. It seems tailor made for wargamers’ recreation. Why do we always play the same eight or nine battles?
One reason we play the same games over and over is that these are the battles for which information is readily available. The historical literature, and the wargames press, which generally depends on such literature, contains lots on some battles, but comparatively little on, say, Adwalton Moor or the more obscure small battles of the period. But for the wargamers who are prepared to do a little primary research for themselves, many interesting scenarios can be uncovered by delving just a little deeper into research sources.
At the end of this article, I’m going to give you a new ECW battle, which most people will not have heard of, because it is small, and not well documented. But there is enough information out there, if you look for it, to satisfy a wargamer’s need for scenario-building. So I’m going to make a few suggestions on how you might “discover” such new battles, to give your ECW armies new challenges to overcome.
What do you want to know?
The secret to any kind of research is knowing what you are looking for. For a wargamer, we want to know:
- Where did the battle take place: e.g. on what kind of terrain, how close to strategic objectives;
- When it took place: e.g. at what stage of the campaign and what time of year (weather);
- Who was involved; who where the leaders and what was the order of battle for both sides;
- Why it happened: what were the objectives of the two sides; what strategic situation led to the conflict;
- How the battle went: what were the key actions, what were the outcomes of the fight;
- Any special points of interest, unusual events, special heroism, clever generalship, morale failures, surprises and shocks.
You can start with almost any of these, but the most obvious starting points are 'who' and 'where'. The easiest way to begin investigating a new investigating a new scenario is to start from a person. Read a biographical account of a key personality (Prince Rupert, Newcastle, Montrose) and look for the events you’ve missed before. Alternatively, start from a place. Do some local history, and see what you turn up. That’s what happened to me. I was reading the Duchess of Newcastle’s Memoir of the Duke, and found a single sentence naming a place that looked familiar. She wrote:
'My Lord sent a considerable party into the West of Yorkshire, where they met with 2000 of the enemy’s forces, taken out of their several garrisons in those parts, to execute some design upon a moor called Tankerly Moor, and there fought them, and routed them; many were slain, and some taken prisoners.'
Tankersley Moor lies southwest of Barnsley, just off the M1, at junction 36, north of Sheffield (where I live). I’ve driven across it a dozen times a year, and never known anything about it. I didn’t know there was a battle so close to home.
How do you find what you want to know?
So I began with a tantalising piece of information. Could I find out enough to recreate the battle? I began in all the wrong places. I looked through all the wargames magazines I have, over the last twenty years. Not a mention. I scanned all the solid histories and wargamers’ guides to the ECW. Couldn’t find a thing. No doubt we all do this, and no doubt we all tend to give up at this point. But I decided I’d pretend I was a historian, and see what really could be discovered.
One thing to do, of course, is visit the place itself.
This can tell you something about the lie of the land, major features which might have been significant, the distance troops might have had to travel from local bivouacs and so on. But unless you can discover the exact location, such information tends to be general and speculative. Accounts of battles often are vague or ambiguous about the exact place. And sometimes all you can do is give it your best shot: several Wars of the Roses battles, for example, have two or three competing sites. But, for a wargamer, this is an attraction. You can select the site that makes most sense to you: if the battle was an accidental encounter between two travelling forces, follow their likely routes on the map and pick a point of conjunction.
In the case of Tankersley Moor, it is impossible to locate the actual site. However, in the Parish Church there are several cannonballs apparently taken from a field near Tankersley Lane in 1917. This seems to prove that a battle really did take place, and suggests a probable location, as well as indicating that some ordnance took park.
Next port of call would be local history societies, who may already have researched the subject, and may even have a publication on it. More likely, however, they will have local history books, which include or allude to your military encounter. A search at the local library or local newspaper archive may reward you in the same way: local libraries often have local history collections and local papers often fill out their copy with stories of past regional interest. It’s worth searching for the name of your person or location, and if this doesn’t work, you could try the anniversary date of the battle.
In Sheffield City Library I found a brief article from a now defunct paper called the 'Sheffield Spectator'. This uses the Duchess’ account and a reference to Mercurius Aulicus (a 17th Century pamphlet) together with some plausible thinking, to create an account of the battle. In her account the Parliamentarians, defeated at Seacroft Moor on March 30th, 1643, retreat towards the Parliamentary stronghold of Sheffield and fight a second rearguard action early in April on Tankersley Moor. This article, by Mary Cauldwell, locates the battle as follows:
'The Royalists came on by Moor Lane, which led to the moor, the ground lying between Tankersley and Holyland Common'.
Ms Cauldwell does not give a source for this information, and agrees that it is tentative. As the cannonballs are pictured in the article, she presumably has located the battlefield as the site of the discovered shot. The wargamer need not worry too much about the historical accuracy of this speculation: it makes sense, and it gives a pretty clear location upon which a scenario of plausible historical interest can be constructed.
And then, of course, there’s always the Internet. Searching the World Wide Web for esoteric information is becoming quite a popular hobby. But it is not always easy to find what you are looking for, because:
- The information might not be there, but there’s no way of knowing that
- There may be far too much potential information, that you get overloaded with hits.
This is not the place to discuss the art of effective Internet searching. If you are having difficulty, a few quick pointers are:
- Try a different search engine (they operate in different ways, so access different sources, and sort them in different ways).
- Try different keywords, and different combinations of keywords, expanding and contracting your topic. For example, I found nothing for “the battle of Tankersley Moor”, located far too much through “Tankersley” (which happens to be a personal name that many Americans seem to want the history of) but located a local history society through “Tankersley history”. Remember also to try different spellings.
- Try searching for other information, related to your main topic. For example, if you are trying to find battles in the ECW that Prince Rupert fought in, you’re likely to have more success searching for “Prince Rupert of the Rhine” than “battles of the ECW”.
If methods of direct search fail you, then try the biggest web source: people. There are experts out there on almost anything you could name. For ECW, you could try The Sealed Knot or
The English Civil War Society, who have a really interesting discussion forum. I posted a message here and, a few days latter received two replies. One seemed only a thinly disguised advert for a hotel near the battle site, but the other was really useful, a short, but complete, and well researched, article by Simon Wright, a member of Newcastle’s Foote, to whom I’m indebted for several pieces of information in my article.
How do you use what you’ve found?
Almost certainly you won’t have all the information you need for a full scenario, so that means some guesswork is needed. Sometimes you can fill in some of the details by logical inference, looking for “inherent military probabilities”. But equally often you’ll just have to make something up. The key thing is that you have enough info to produce a convincing scenario.
For a wargame scenario, we need to have all the information listed above, and be able to decide what special rules, if any, needed to cover any specific eventualities of the encounter. In the information below, I’ve given details we’d need for the Tankersley Moor scenario.
The Battle of Tankersley Moor: an ECW scenario
The battle takes place on moorland north of Tankersley. Key features are Tankersley Church, the ridge of Tinker Hill Lane, and the crossroads made by the Wakefield/Sheffield road and Tankersley Lane. Given the site of the cannonballs, the probably defensibility of the church and the slight ridge made by Tinker Hill with the obstacle of the lane that runs to it, this seems a plausible area to defend. If the Royalist came from Holyland Common, which lies northeast of Tankersley, the area would be, in fact, a sort of miniature Waterloo.
If the Royalists marched straight from Barnsley they could have come from this direction but they could equally have come directly South from Wakefield, where Newcastle had his base, along the Wakefield- Sheffield road, roughly parallel to the route of the M1.
Given the different accounts of what might have taken place, Parliamentary forces should be allowed to deploy either facing east to north-east, defending the ridge, the church and Tinker’s Lane, or facing north, defending the crossroads, or perhaps both. The Royalists should be allowed to send their troops down the main road or across the moor, or both, but to decide on the route of advance prior to the game.
Ms Caudwell says early April in 1643, arguing, presumably, that it must be soon after Seacroft Moor on 30th March. Mr Wright cites a parish register record of the burial on 1st May 1643 of three soldiers and another of a man buried 25 miles away on 8th May who dies of a gunshot suffered at “Ek’sley plausibly is a corruption of “Tankersley” (and accords with Yorkshire dialect), though 25 miles seems some way to go to die. If these were casualties of this conflict, then the battle is more likely to be very late April. Either way, it would be parky on the moor, and the weather could be “changeable”, as the forecasters say, arguing for some random method of varying the weather during the day.
There is no information on the time of day that the battle commenced, or its duration. It seems unlikely that Ms Cauldwell’s implication, that Newcastle’s own main force advanced directly from Wakefield. Much more likely is Mr Wright’s suggestion that the Parliamentarians were mustering a few miles south of Barnsley on Tankersley Moor, (apparently a traditional place for the civilian muster) and a plausible site for Parliamentary troops from Rotherham, Sheffield and Penistone to meet.
If Parliament was deployed on the Moor and the Royalists simply marched out to meet them, this would suggest that a full April’s day could be given to the battle.
Lady Newcastle says her Lord “sent a considerable party”, which suggests he was not personally involved. I’ve not been able to turn up any names for commanders of the garrisons of Sheffield, Rotherham or Penistone who may have fought on the field. In fact, the only names we have are the names of the four soldiers that Simon Wright’s research has uncovered: Gabriel Rud, Luke Carleil, William Dobson and Luke Garfield. But we do not know what types of trooper these men were, nor even which side they were on, so that’s not much help. More research needed here.
The forces taking part are 2000 on Parliament’s side, and presumably a similar number for the Royalists. If we accept that Parliament were largely local garrisons and Trained Bands, there would probably be a preponderance of infantry. Mr Wright cites a letter from Sir Thomas Fairfax on 20th April advising that such a muster be held, in which he states that there are “seventeen colours” in Royalist Barnsley. Mr Wright argues, plausibly, that this could mean about 1500 troopers, if mainly infantry, but that does preclude cavalry. We know, of course, that there was at least one piece of ordnance because of the cannonballs left on the field.
I suggest that both sides be given forces of similar sizes, with the Royalists slightly smaller. But the Parliamentary forces have suffered recent defeats, later surrender Sheffield castle without a fight, and may contain unseasoned local troops, so should perhaps have lower ratings for training or morale. The Royalists, on the other hand, we know won the encounter, and did so sufficiently convincingly to be able subsequently to bring Rotherham and Sheffield to their knees, due to lack of troops, so their overall ratings should be higher. One suggestion might be that Newcastle diverted some of his best troops in this direction as part of the southwards probing and consolidation that followed Seacroft Moor.
Why and How:
The two accounts that have been the mainstay of this article give rather different views of how the battle occurred in the first place, and neither has anything to say on the actual course of the affair. Ms Cauldwell’s account seems to assume a rapid southern advance by Fairfax following up his victory, pursuing and encountering the southwards fleeing Parliament. Mr Wright’s much better researched argument is that a muster of various local Parliamentarian forces might have alerted a local garrison at Tankersley Hall, who in turn induced the Barnsley garrison to take the field. This is a much better argued account, and fits well with the Duchess of Newcastle’s account. Possibly the different Parliamentary contingents from different places had command problems. Possibly the Royalist elan was higher, following early success.
Possibly the Barnsley garrison was reinforced before the battle but troops from Wakefield (for, if we accept the late April date, there is plenty of opportunity for Newcastle to co-ordinate a significant thrust south). We might argue that the Barnsley garrison was less than 1500, but if it had been stiffened by Northern reinforcements, it could easily have exceeded the Parliamentary muster, and this might explain both the defeat and the rout. It’s noticeable, for example, that the Duchess says that the Royalist force was “considerable” - she may wish the honour of the encounter to go to Newcastle, and thereby avoid giving specific figures of her side, leaving it to the reader to believe that a defeat of 2000 of the enemy was the result of an even, rather than an uneven conquest.
The immediate result of the battle were the depletion of local Parliamentarian forces, resulting in the taking of Rotherham and the surrender of Sheffield Castle without a fight. Local Parliamentary forces must therefore have felt they suffered a significant defeat at Tankersley Moor, for the area remained in Royalist hands until Sheffield was retaken by Manchester’s army in August 1644.