What Was the Usual Practice?
A “standard” rule of thumb was one bullock for every man (whether combatant or non combatant), and THEN you added bullock-loads to feed the bullocks. On campaign, a mere Captain would be severely reduced to a single body-servant, cook, waiter, groom, grass-cutter, four coolies for conveying his small baggage, a plankeen with 9 bearers, and four baggage bullocks and drivers. Poor fellow. Roughing it. By contrast, officers like Sir Evelyn Woods brought 40 cases of their favorite wine, on campaign.
We haven’t even talked about the other bits, like the artillery train, water supplies (a big part of the desert campaign baggage trains) or the hospital supplies (including the infamous Kajawa camel-panniers for the badly wounded — that meant strapping two poor wounded fellows prone, on either side of a camel; the best inducement ever designed to make patients want to get better, fast). Pretty soon the baggage train takes over the whole wargame table. It would be about 50 feet long in 15mm. The real McCoy would have been the better part of a mile long, from front to back, assuming tight controls and no stragglers.
Modeling the Baggage Train
But that doesn’t prevent us modeling some of the stuff. In the Tagh Dum Bash campaign, I used a simplified 1 mule-per-man to start (three 20 man platoons, so 60 mules), with the idea that we could run the mule train 3 wide or 4 wide so that it was only 15 elements long. I added 8 muleteers, so each was leading a train of 7 or 8 mules. We can substitute some camels for mules as we wish, although there seemed to never be enough healthy camels available — everyone back then complained that the camels they got were old, sick or diseased.
If we were using a smaller scale, we might add some scyce elements — the grass-cutters who had to forage for the mule’s food along the way. Minifigs made a nice Zulu figure that was supposed to be a boy with a sleeping matt, but could be painted up as a syce.
In theory, we might even have had a mixed load of pack animals. North West Frontier could have had a couple of Elephants (who packed the load of 10 bullocks), mostly bullocks (cause they were the easiest pack animal to find), about ¼ might be donkeys, and another ¼ might be camels. The officers might have had pack-horses, but these would have been a very small part of the train.
And of course, no baggage train would be complete without “Countess Mont Belle”, the Colonel’s “Actress” (in a suitable coach-and-four) and the Sutlers — the band of sturdy women who tag along to sell the commodities that the men forgot to bring, like tea, better rations of meat, or spirits. I particularly liked Madame Fleurie and her Goode Tyme Dancing Acadamie that followed one of my campaigns. Madame Fleurie’s jaunty little two-wheeled cart was pulled by a zebra. Very chic.
Signals! We have to have a couple of Heliographs. And no camp is complete without a temporary tower to receive signals.
Long-range shots would be more effective on that mass of the mule-train, so in Tag Dum Bash we took 1-5 on the men, but 6 & 7 on the mules/muleteers. This was just a first guess, but the attrition from fighting (with combatants) has tracked pretty well with the attrition on the mule trains. Also, the baggage animals died off — they went lame, ate bad stuff (during the Boer war a third of the mules succumbed to sickness), they were bit by snakes, or just couldn’t keep up the pace. In Tagh Dum Bash, we used “snowmen” (we took a simulated attack by natives, but translated the results into an avalanche falling on the column), and I suppose the same could be done with a sandstorm for the desert.
Baggage animals had a nasty habit of stampeding under fire. This could get quite exciting if we were talking about an elephant. Even stampeding mules would hamper forming a square in time (and under fire).
Protection on the Road
Lets suppose we have a platoon of British, 3 platoons of Egyptians, and one troop of Cavalry. Most of the time, we would have had a forward-heavy column to start (say two of the Egyptian platoons), with the baggage train stuffed in the middle (probably with a half-platoon of Egyptians to guard each side), and a full platoon of the Brits at the back of the bus to act as rear-guards. If we had any guns they would probably go behind the Brits (who didn’t like to eat their dust), assuming we had a decent rear-guard in place. All the ammo and powder would usually be on a separate train following the guns (they might get moved up if we were expecting action to the front, very soon). As the column progresses, “scouts” are deployed in pairs as piquets, off to each side of the column. They stay in place, looking outward, until the column passes, then fall-in as part of the rear-guard. Withdrawing those piquets was a tricky thing, especially if we were traveling through rough terrain with lots of hiding spots. That’s where the Cavalry would prove useful. The other role for the Cavalry was to extend the forward “eyes” of the whole column.
Hm? The General you say? Well they tended to stick in front of the baggage train, so that the Countess Belle didn’t complain too much about the dust kicked up.
Speed versus Squares
No question, moving in squares was much safer. Trouble is, squares are also a lot slower, as they need frequent stops to “dress” the square. Also, a general who always marched in square would have been considered excessively cautious by his peers. The best scenarios encourage speed, and only allow forming square when imminent enemy attack is certain (besides, squares give a whole lot of benefits to the Brits and their allies). Getting that baggage train into the square slows down the formation, and adds to the excitement.
Raids on the baggage train can take on a couple of scenarios. First, the enemy want to steal them — maybe using a “fake” attack on some other part of the column as a diversion. Second, just killing off the baggage animals would seriously hinder the Brits. Third, sometimes the enemy just wanted to show off — get in there and steal some small trinket to prove they were warriors. Fourth, there was always Madame Fleurie, or Countess Belle (the Actress). She’d make a great addition to the harem.
Pack Mules are ornery beasts that don’t take kindly to change. They don’t think much of loud noises, and especially don’t like prickly things (like thorns or bayonets). So when the raiders break into the baggage train and try to take them away, they naturally do as much opposition as they can. Specifically, if a muleteer tries to get them out of harms way, they will stop on a 1 or a 2 (on a D6) and rebel and stomp on a 6. If they are loose they can be caught on a 1 or a 2 (on a D6) and will run on everything else but a 6 when they stomp the catchers. The direction is random — 1 for North, 2 for South, 3 for East, 4 for West, 5 away from the raiders/catchers and 6 follow the nearest loose mule.
There’s a great 4 page write up in Battle in Africa by Whitehouse, from Field Books on collecting supplies and march security. Other good novels that outline supply trains include George Shipway (Free Lance in NW India) and Duncan MacNeil (mostly NWF like Drums Along the Khyber, with one in Boer War)