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The War of the Lakes, also known as the Lake Wars, was a series of conflicts around Lake Winnipesaukee and central New Hampshire in the early twentieth century. The conflict saw the emergence of several competing rival houses, fighting for dominance over the lake and its people, spanning several years of conflict. The war led to the rise of the Moulton Dynasty, which would eventually rule as kings of Winnipesaukee and as King on the Mountain.
Conflict in the Lakes Region originated with the spread of Granite Paganism south from the White Mountains, along the Pemigewasset River, into several communities in the Lakes Region. Religious tension in the region would eventually lead to the devastating Graftonite Wars, a series of rebellions in the Governorship of Holderness, particularly in the County of Ashland, and other adjacent counties.
Roughly founded in the late 1880's, the religion of Granite Paganism, which had originated to the north of the Lakes Region in the White Mountains, had begun to catch on in south by the turn of the twentieth century. The first communities in the Lakes Region to convert to the religion were located northwest of Squam Lake, located on the banks of the Pemigewasset River, spreading slowly through trade and other interactions.
By the 1910's the religion had appeared in Ashland, where the religion had stirred up the local populace, causing many of the state's elite to believe that it was undermining the authority of the government. In 1911 the Count of Ashland, John Caelatus, convened the Council of Green Grove, a meeting of religious leaders in an effort to resolve religious tension in the city. The primary Granite preacher in Ashland invited to the meeting was Sigismund the Elder, a sixty year old man and religious leader who had traveled to Ashland from the town of Ellsworth, who along with several other individuals, attended the meeting. Sigismund was promised safe passage, but upon his arrival he was imprisoned, tried, and buried alive.
The action angered many knights and nobles, who were for the most part in favor of church reform in the town. Several protests broke out in the northwest Lake Regions, causing Governor Gabriel II of Holderness to send a small force west into Ashland to aid his vassal Caelatus. The Holderness force was almost entirely cavalry, which sought to scout ahead of the supply train. While a small portion of the detachment headed south into Ashland, the cavalry continued west hoping to surprise the rebel forces outside the town.
The Granite forces fled into the countryside, setting up fortifications in the fields west of the city. Consisting mainly of peasants or light troops, the rebel forces were armed primarily with pikes and close combat arms. The rebel force also included a small number of volunteers from the Pemigewasset cities, which helped to support the untrained units.
A detachment of Holderness cavalry closed in on the rebels, who upon seeing the vastly superior number of troops, attempted to surrender. The surrender was rejected by the cavalry, who charged upon the Granite forces. Although outnumbered and facing superior forces, the Granite forces had established significant defenses that took advantage of the local terrain and other features. The Granite front lines consisted of several lines of pikes, located up hill to slow down attacking cavalry. The Granite flanks were fortified with several lines of skirmishers. Positioned alongside several natural obstacles, the Holderness forces were unable to attack in many locations.
Initial cavalry charges were unsuccessful, as the charging horsemen were limited by the difficult natural obstacles and fortifications in front of the Granite pikemen. A force was sent to rush a weak flank of the Granite forces, but the horsemen were mired in marshy ground and forced to dismount to continue the attack. A deadly battle ensued between the Granite skirmishers and dismounted cavalry on the Granite flank. Unable to maneuver effectively in the terrain, the Holderness forces took heavy casualties. This caused a general panic among the main force, causing the Holderness forces to retreat into Ashland.
Badly defeated by the Granite forces, the forces from Holderness set up camp on the banks of the Little Squam and awaited reinforcements. Governor Gabriel II appealed to his ally in the south, Lesser King Charles I, ruler of Laconia, for help against the Granite Paganists. At the time of the request Charles I was in a dispute with Governor Nate Green of Meredith, and was unable to dedicate large amounts of troops. Instead a small force was sent by boat, landing in eastern Holderness. The move would cause many in Meredith to vocally support the rebels, angering Laconia further.
Holderness forces, supported by Charles I's detachment, would meet again with the rebels on the west shore of the Little Squam Lake, having caught up to rebel forces approaching Ashland. Suffering from a recent rain storm, the land on the battlefield was very muddy and soaked, causing it hard for the combating forces to maneuver. The rebel charge toward the lake would end up becoming sparse and chaotic, with skirmishers doing the majority of the effective fighting. The rebels did battle for several hours with Holderness' little troops, seizing parts of the lake side, although holding loosely. Holderness would respond by marching its main army from Ashland to flank the rebels, launching an assault against them from the west, leaving their backs to the lake.
The rebel army would collapse in the ensuing battle, with heavy casualties being suffered on both sides. Remaining rebel forces would be captured and imprisoned in Ashland for several days, with many being drown in the Little Squam Lake as a form of execution. Having suffered a heavy defeat, the rebels would be unable to launch any more major attacks. The leaders of the Graftonite movement in the south would send a delegation to Holderness in August of 1912, hoping to end hostilities. In the ensuing peace the Granite Paganism authority would be ousted from Holderness and Ashland, with its leadership fleeing to Plymouth several miles north. Granite Paganism would also be banned in the Lakes Region by many, although its influence would continue to spread south, despite its condemnation by authorities.
Meredith Bay War
In September 1912 the conflict between Laconia and Meredith would officially boil over into an all out war. A five year cold war and naval arms race had propelled both powers to create an extensive naval arsenal, developing several popular techniques later adopted across the Lakes. The primary ship used by the Meredith navy was known as the darag, a small wooden vessel propelled by sail and oar, based loosely on ships used in Scotland and nearby areas. About the size of a galley, Meredith darags primrily utilized sail, allowing crew members to focus on returning fire against the enemy. Meredith also possessed a number of fore-and-aft rig ships, usually of one or two sails, with the most abundant being the cutter, the ketch, and the yawl.
The Laconian navy consisted of many river boats, of northern design, which could be used on the lakes and rivers of the region for easy mobility. Although smaller, slower, and less advanced than others, these ships were able to transport large quantities of supplies, making them a valuable resource. The Laconian navy also held large quantities of cogs and transport boats, capable of moving troops over short distances, which would also be used in battle for support.
On 19 September the Laconian navy under the command of Thomas Hobbs, in command of two paddle steamers, three privateers, and five galleys, opened fire on a Meredith force of seven galley and two darags. Trapped on the eastern edge of Meredith Bay the Meredith forces suffered a heavy defeat, losing four galleys, and having another captured. The Laconians would lose two galleys themselves, as well as a privateer ship, but suffering less overall casualties. Known as the Battle of Spindle Point, the decisive naval victory would begin the Meredith Bay War between the two powers.
The Meredith Bay War would primarily be fought on sea, with the few land offensives ending mostly indecisively. The first major offensive on land was led by Baron James Smith of Laconia as part of the Pickerel Offensive, a plan to push north along the corridor between Paugus Bay and Winnisquam Lake, eventually capturing Meredith Center and Wickwas Lake. Such an offensive would create a large bulge in Meredith territory, cutting off part of their supply lines, and granting the Laconians a second route into the city of Meredith itself. At the same time a second advance would be led parallel to the Meredith Bay coast, assisted by naval assets, pushing surrounding the city.
The Pickerel Offensive began on 3 November, with Smith's army reaching within one mile of Pickerel Pond along the eastern coast of Winnisquam Lake. The Meredith forces responded, with Count Steven Brothers leading an army raised in Meredith Center, attacking Smith on the shore. The battle was mostly fought between each side's skirmishers, with little casualties on either side, and by night fall each side had fallen back after the first day of the Battle of the Corridor being unsuccessful.
The following morning Laconian riverboats departed from the city to Smith's campsite, bringing much needed supplies. Catching sight of this however, the Meredith navy launched a daring attack from the north, using the small navy they had stationed in Meredith Center to assault the supply ships. In the ensuing Battle of Winnisquam the Laconian forces suffered heavy casualties, eventually falling back. The Meredith navy would then proceed to bombard land forces on the shore, turning the tide of battle that day. A direct order would be sent by Henry Wentworth, head admiral of the Laconian navy, ordering the largely superior Laconian Winnisquam Fleet under James Paul Acworth to assault the Meredith forces while they were distracted. Waiting until sundown, Acworth opened fire, completely annihilating the Meredith navy on the lake, ending the battle in a Laconian victory.
On land the Meredith navy and land attack had shattered the Laconian army under Smith, causing them to fall back and await reinforcements. Such an opportunity arrived when Laconian forces from Pendleton were diverted to the southeast. The Pendleton army marched toward Pickerel from there, surprising the Meredith forces. Surrounded on two sides, the Meredith retreated north, but not before killing a large quantity of Laconian forces.
Also from Pendleton, on 18 December 1912 a large army departed toward Meredith, marching parallel to the Meredith Bay in order to complete the second phase of the Laconian plan. Bogged down by poor weather and heavy resistance, the Laconian army made little progress. Nicknamed the Snow Trail Offensive, forces from both sides would spend the next two months battling along the coast. By 20 February the Laconians had marched within a few miles of the city of Meredith, but lacked the proper supplies to launch an attack or move closer. Meanwhile on the water the Laconian navy still battled for access into the city's harbor.
Hoping to draw Meredith forces away from the Laconian advance in the south of the city, Laconia transported a large army from Pendleton to the Meredith Neck, the territory on the north and east side of Meredith Bay. The Laconians made quick gains initially, raiding Meredith villages on the far side of the bay. Raiding became essential, since at times supplies to the other side of the bay would be cut off by Meredith naval assets, or forced to be dropped to the south and marched by land to the front lines. Meredith moved forces away from the city to the east, hoping to stop the advance up the neck. Consisting mainly of cavalry, at the Battle of the Neck the Meredith forces ran down the Laconians, scoring a decisive victory against the invaders. The Laconians would be forced as pushed to the coast, fleeing by boat back into friendly territory. A second attempt to land forces in the Neck would be attempted, but ultimately they too would be pushed back, fleeing to Spindle Point.
With reinforcements lacking from campaigns in the Neck and elsewhere, the Laconian forces of the Snow Trail Offensive would be pushed back, never again able to reach as far toward the city of Meredith. Remaining land forces would instead be concentrated in the west, or toward preserving the front line as it remained. Following the failure of the Neck campaign, the Laconians would achieve their next victory at the Battle of Mile Point, a completely naval victory at the hands of Admiral Wentworth. In command of Hobbs' remaining squadron, as well a detachment of ten riverboats and four ketches, Wentworth combated the Meredith navy directly. Wentworth would suffer minor loses, making the battle a decisive and important victory.
In the west the Laconians found similar victory in the push toward Meredith Center. On 25 March 1913 Smith's army met the Meredith army at the Battle of Pickerel, the culmination of a several month long campaign to push up the corridor. Fighting primarily on the southwest and south shores of the pond, Smith's army encountered the Meredith forces fortified deep along the shores of the pond and surrounding forest. Smith would achieve a small victory, after seven days of clearing the southern edge of the pond. On 4 April Smith met up with a secondary army dropped to the southwest of him by boat, and together the contingent marched west toward Fort Parliament, a small wooden fortification guarding the entrance into Meredith Center by sea. The ensuing month long siege would end in Smith's retreat from the region, unable to effectively penetrate the north. Although heavily battered, the fort would survive the attack.
Ultimately the decisive sea battles would convince Meredith to pursue negotiations, whereas the land offensives mostly resulted in a stalemate. At the Treaty of Pitchwood the Governorship of Meredith agreed to minor territorial concessions and a large reparation to Laconia. Despite a loss of prestige for Meredith and the establishment of Laconia as the dominant naval power, the treaty would mostly end in status quo.