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Wargaming a Battle – 24 August 1814 – Updated


On 24 August 1814 the British marched into Washington City after defeating the Americans at Bladensburg. When Admiral Cockburn couldn’t find a government official from which to extort money (it was a common British practice to spare a city IF they coughed up enough cash!), he ordered his men to burn the government buildings. Many private homes also burned — collateral damage.

This chapter was the first thing I wrote when I started the book in April, 2010. After numerous revisions reflecting my ever-increasing knowledge of writing fiction, and two revisions based on input from an expert in horse-mounted combat, I read through the finely crafted, technically accurate prose and concluded that it was, without a doubt, terminally lame.

Lame! Lame! Lame!

So I’m rewriting it: Bigger! Bolder! A battle of Epic Proportions! Sixteen separate scenes demonstrating how two women trained in US Army Ranger tactics can wreak havoc on sixty mounted British soldiers!

Complicated, too.

This is the wargame I set up to keep it all straight:

Wargaming 24 August 1814

This is a military-style wargame, used by battle staffs to plan combat missions, and creating such things was the topic of my first book:  “Wargaming, A Systematic Approach”, a non-fiction how-to for Soldiers. Maps are both from 1812, enlarged to 24″ X 60″.  Little toy soldiers are from the  ‘Lord of the Rings Risk’ board game. Yes, Orcs portray the British!  Sorry, Professor Tolkien, but your ancestors deserve no less.

Note the orange disk labeled “Mr. Sun”, 2/3 up on the left side, showing the sun’s position at 1615 hours on 24 August 1814 relative to the Capitol Building, the time and place where the battle begins. It will be below the level of those pink index cards by the time the battle reaches Georgetown. This matters, of course, as it is one of the factors that allows Dolley and Sukey to delay the enemy until the cart carrying the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution crosses the Rock Creek bridge into Georgetown. There are, of course, several other factors in their favor, none of which involve future weaponry, miracles, magic, eagles from the Misty Mountains or a wizard roaring: You shall not pass!

Today I’ll start crafting sentences to replace those little sticky notes. If there’s time, I’ll draw a simplified map of Washington City circa 1814 for those who wish to follow the action street-by-street, and perhaps create a scorecard with sixty tiny British horsemen the reader can cross off as each is eliminated–assuming, of course, any are actually eliminated. Dolley might just try to give peace a chance! After all, she is the one who said:

I do not admire contention in any form, either political or civil. I would rather fight with my hands than my tongue.

Uh . . . well . . . she also said this:

I confess that I was so unfeminine as to be free from fear, and willing to remain in the Castle! If I could have had a cannon through every window; but alas! those who should have placed them there had fled before me, and my whole heart mourned for my country!

Oh, dear.

Better add that scorecard to my To-Do list.



The above wargame resulted in seventeen separate scenes. It begins with Dolley’s realization that she and Sukey must delay the British mounted soldiers, and as the treasure-bearing ox-cart trundles west to Georgetown and safety, they ride east, towards the enemy. Over the next two hours they conduct a delay, trading space for time, fighting street-by-street through Washington City against small groups of British soldiers riding stolen mounts. It ends just after sunset, with Dolley facing the remaining twenty soldiers on the M-Street Bridge (spanning Rock Creek) while Sukey rides for help.

Accurately portraying Washington of 1814 was challenging!  The two 1814-era maps in the above picture helped, as they show streams, rivers, canals and hills that no longer exist. James Croggon’s articles of Old Washington, written around 1910, were phenomenal resources!

Early in my writing I assembled a musical score for the book, a playlist of songs that captured key moments. Initially they were all from Jeremy Soule‘s soundtrack for the MMORPG Guild Wars Eye of the North. Over time, I added a few others, and will present them in a later article. The song driving this battle was Glory -Blood in the Skies Mix- by the Clockwork Dolls. Epic music for an epic battle! Must have listened to it fifty times during the wargame, and it has become, in my mind, Dolley’s theme. I liked Clockwork Doll’s music so much I bought their CD, and two other of their songs are now in my musical score.  Highly recommended!