Help support TMP

"Mississippi River Pirates" Topic

12 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Pirates Message Board

Areas of Interest

18th Century

502 hits since 15 Feb 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Ryan T Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2019 7:59 p.m. PST

Winston Smith's recent posting on Jean Lafitte prompted me to write up this description of my looking into a game that includes Mississippi River pirates.

Several years ago my wife and I stopped at Fort Kaskaskia State Park near the southern Illinois town of Chester. One of the explanatory markers by the remains of the fort mentioned that in 1803 a detachment of US Dragoons marched 30 miles south down the Mississippi River south to Tower Rock and attacked a nest of river pirates. Always on the lookout for obscure scenarios, this winter I finally had the time to dig into this engagement a little further.

I stopped at the university library and picked up a copy of Francis Paul Prucha, The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783-1846 (1969). Prucha provides some details on the organization and deployment of American forces in the period in question. In 1800 the army consisted of two companies of cavalry, two regiments of artillerists and engineers, and four regiments of infantry (p. 59). This strength was then reduced in June 1802 to "two regiments of infantry, of ten companies each, one regiment of artillery (five battalions of four companies each) and a rudimentary corps of engineers" (p. 60). Not all that much of an army when you compare it to what was being raised in Europe at this time.

I followed up Prucha's footnotes online and found the US Army strength report for December 31, 1803. Kaskaskia was listed with 2 artillery officers, 6 NCOs, 3 musicians, 6 artificers, and 25 privates. The infantry at the same post consisted of 4 officers, 8 NCOs, 4 musicians, 58 privates, and 1 surgeon's mate. (American State Papers: Military Affairs, Vol. 1, p. 175)

But note that no cavalry or dragoons were listed for either Kaskaskia or for the entire US Army.

Unfortunately, the unit identity of what appears to be one artillery battery and one infantry company at Kaskaskia was not provided in the return. But again so much can be found online these days. An order issued on 19 July 1803 directed Captain Amos Stoddard of the 2nd Artillery to proceed to Kaskaskia in preparation to move to St. Louis in early 1804. Subsequent orders were also issued to Captain Russell Bissell of the 1st Infantry who was ordered to move out of Kaskaskia to take over the former Spanish posts at New Madrid and Little Prairie and garrison them with men from his command. (The Territorial Papers of the United States, Vol. 13, pp.3-5)

From these orders it can be established that in the late summer of 1803 the troops at Fort Kaskaskia consisted of about 30 artillerymen of Stoddard's Company, 2nd Artillery and 66 infantrymen of Bissell's Company, 1st Infantry – and no cavalry or dragoons.

Using rules like Sharp Practice or the recently released Rebels and Patriots would give you Captain Bissell leading about 50+ US infantrymen against an unknown number of river pirates. To add another element one could also include some artillery support from a keelboat out on the Mississippi River. The uniforms of the period are very nicely outlined in an article on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I was looking at modifying Perry AWI figures as they seem to be a relatively close match.


For the pirates I was thinking of using Spanish guerrillas. After all, the pirates were on the American side of the Mississippi only because they had been forced to relocate from the Spanish side of the river.

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2019 7:18 a.m. PST

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing the research. This is way outside my area of knowledge, but is it possible the "dragoons" were locally raised?

Winston Smith16 Feb 2019 8:20 a.m. PST

I'm always in the lookout for obscure skirmish scenarios.

Ryan T Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2019 8:03 p.m. PST

Jeff, it is always possible the "dragoons" were a militia unit or even a posse raised to ferret out the pirates. However, the fact that there was an army detachment in the area specifically tasked to keep the peace during the transfer of Louisiana to American jurisdiction suggests that it was indeed the army that carried out this operation. I think what is interesting is how this was transformed in the local lore to become US cavalry or dragoons.

Winston, if you want another obscure skirmish take a look at the Villasur Expedition. In 1720 a small Spanish force marched northwards from Santa Fe only to be ambushed near present day Columbus, Nebraska. The Spanish were more-or-less wiped out by Pawnee Indians, possibly accompanied by some French Canadiens

I first heard about this episode while visiting the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe (which has just opened a new exhibit on the Expedition). Of course, on the way home I had to detour off the Interstate to drive around some of the corn fields in the Columbus area. The idea of the French and Spanish fighting in Nebraska as part of the War of the Quadruple Alliance is too bizarre not to at least consider gaming it.

Winston Smith17 Feb 2019 7:37 a.m. PST

There was an article in one of the British glossies many years ago featuring Spanish Hussars in Texas, armed with lance and shield. It was about fighting Comanches.
Obviously Lauzun's Legion lancers with a Spanish type cavalry shield would work. In the absence of such shields being available, use a buckler.

I'll have to bring this up with a guy in my group who has Plains Indians.

Personal logo brass1 Supporting Member of TMP17 Feb 2019 10:02 a.m. PST

Los Soldados de cuera didn't look much like Lauzun's Legion,I'm afraid. They usually wore a broad-brimmed hat and a knee-length thick leather jacket, which is where their nickname comes from ("leather jackets"), and carried a lance, a brace of pistols, a carbine or musketoon, apparently a bow and arrows on occasion, and a shield derived from the Moorish adarga. They also seem to have had vast amounts of artillery, almost all of it old and worn out and used in fortified outposts, although some was taken into the field.

The London Game Room, unfortunately long since gone, used to have a line of leather jackets and Comanches. I don't know of anyone who makes them currently.


Ryan T Supporting Member of TMP17 Feb 2019 11:22 a.m. PST

Shortly after the end of the Villasur Expedition a painting depicting the battle was completed, probably at the behest of a northern Mexico military family. It was one of three such paintings now referred to as the Segesser Hide Paintings. In 1986 the two surviving Segesser paintings were purchased by the Museum of New Mexico from the Segesser family in Switzerland who had been in possession of the paintings since 1758.

The painting of the Villasur massacre, referred to as Segesser II, provides a good look at the clothing and weaponry of the Spanish troops and their Pueblo Indian auxiliaries. The Spanish were attacked at dawn and so were unable to mount up. Although they are portrayed wearing the cuera or leather-jacket, it could be argued that there was not time to don this apparel and so the troops may very well have worn just their cloth coats. These are seen under the leather jackets to be either brown with blue leggings or the reverse.

I would suggest that any WSS figures with brown or blue uniforms would be the best way to portray the Spanish troops.

If one wishes to do further reading I would recommend Thomas Chávez (ed.), A Moment in Time: The Odyssey of New Mexico's Segesser Hide Paintings, (2012). The newly opened exhibit of the Segesser Hides has an accompanying graphic novel by Santa Fe artist Turner Avery Mark-Jacobs entitled The Massacre of Don Pedro Villasur. The author did a book signing at the opening of the exhibit, but I haven't yet found any more details on obtaining a copy.


Winston Smith17 Feb 2019 2:01 p.m. PST

@Brass One
The pictures in the Glossy British magazine looked exactly like Lauzun's Legion, even down to the colors. Given your input, I suspect they may have been incorrect. grin
But this is not a project for the future. When I finish LL, I'll just match them up against Sioux and Cheyenne in a titanic Battle of the Proxies. I do have a lot of London War Room Spanish Infantry, so some of the game just might turn out correct.

Personal logo brass1 Supporting Member of TMP17 Feb 2019 2:43 p.m. PST


La Batalla de los Sustitutos! I await an AAR. grin


Winston Smith18 Feb 2019 10:25 a.m. PST

I've played in a "not New Orleans 1815" game using SYW rules and figures.
So it won't be a stretch for us. grin

Ryan T Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2019 12:07 p.m. PST

Good luck with the game. Whatever troops you use I hope the Europeans have a better time of it then their historical prototypes.

Henry Martini18 Feb 2019 8:28 p.m. PST

I too recall that article, Winston. I believe it concerned a unit called Los Husares de Mexico, which was actually… a hussar unit – so the figures you recall were accurate enough representations.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.