Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Marching thru' Georgia- via Tokyo???

It's been an age since I've updated this blog. But a while ago I realized that I was working on so many different projects at the same time, so that nothing was being actually completed!

As a result, I've decided to spend the summer months working on finishing a couple of regiments of Napoleonic French infantry and cavalry that have been looking reproachfully down upon me from the bookcase in a their half-finished state for months now.

On top of that, we've had a few disturbing earthquakes here in Tokyo these past few weeks, a reminder that in this country I've got to get my painted units safely based and into a sturdy cabinet rather than perched precariously on the bookcase shelves as they are at present!

But I have been steadily re-basing the ACW collection at the same time as I have been basing my French, so when the
Crapauds are finished and photographed, they will soon be followed by some pictures of my Federals.

In the meantime, here is a YouTube video featuring a Japanese tune dating from the end of WW1- but with an ACW slant!

Marching Through Georgia by Henry Clay Work was popular with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and was later made into a popular song here, but with lyrics telling about a country girl visiting Tokyo for the first time.

A great video of a Tokyo now long gone, but some of the landmarks seen in the picture can still be seen today, despite earthquakes, bombs, and years of ceaseless development.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Remember when....

...ACW gaming was simpler? Everyone was happy using essentially the same figures for both sides, with the Union in kepis and the Rebs having a large number of slouch hats thrown in. Slop blue on on half your collection, grey on the other, and voila, you were gaming. At least I was, with our homebrew rules and a bunch of Dixon and Rafm miniatures.

Of course when I started out, I was ignorant of the more subtle differences of the uniforms- forage caps rather than kepis, four-button sack coats vs. short jackets and/or frockcoats, and Richmond-issue clothing vs. locally-made patterns. I was unaware of the Great Debates on knapsacks, blanket rolls, and of course the greatest issue that separated the enlightened from those still in the black darkness of ignorance, that of what pattern water canteen a figure should have.

Add to my list of sins the charge of actually having had enjoyed the games I played despite the presence of "wrong" figures in the ranks. These days, I'm somewhere in the middle of the spectrum- in the half-light as it were. I have seen some amazing bloodletting on the pages of TMP as well as elsewhere on any number of the aforementioned issues, and while I like to get things right where I can, I refuse to get steamed up too much about things and will accept some anachronisms if it looks good, and as a lot of the details cannot really be distinguished from two feet away on the tabletop it makes sense not to become too obsessed with such
minutiae anyway.

So I will try to have a -reasonably- authentic looking force, but I am never one to forego my right to indulge in a little artistic license. I intend on making some use of uniform and equipment variations to help distinguish one unit from another on the tabletop. For example, one Confederate regiment will be clad largely in dark bluish-grey short jackets made from English cloth that got throught the blockade, while Union regiments will be distinguished not just by pose but by some having had removed their backpacks before combat, with others still wearing theirs.

But if there are some amongst you that see something that really sticks out and feel the urge to scream out "too many Union slouch hats!" or to call me out on some other "unhistorical heresy" that I may be guilty of, all I can say is that the approach I'm taking works for me. My money and time after all! I'm looking for a "look" in my collection that appeals to my mind's eye of what an ACW army looked like.

For an example of the kind of variety one could find, I came across a rather interesting photo from a collection in the Library of Congress, taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, and purporting to show Union troops from the Second Bull Run campaign in 1862. They look more like ragged Rebs here!
Click on picture to enlarge

The fatigued feller sitting on the rail has a blanket roll over his shoulder, and next to him stands a barefoot gent leaning on his Enfield rifled musket, sporting a light-coloured slouch hat, wearing what looks like a faded frockcoat(?) with a blanket roll worn across his back. He looks much more like a Confederate than the Yankee he is! On the right is a soldier wearing dark-blue pants instead of the regulation sky blue.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"You will come back..."

"..faster than you go!"
-Spoken by a Floridian woman to the Union Gen. Truman Seymour, just before he commenced his fateful advance on Olustee.

click here for more info

I bought a copy of this book through some years back, and this past week I have finally gotten around to reading it.

And what a book! Loads of fascinating information and an excellent account not only of the Battle of Olustee itself (well-illustrated with great maps, I would add), but of the whole strategy behind the campaign in Florida.

Like most gamers out there, when I decide to build up forces from any particular battle, I certainly don't want to fight the same engagement over again and again on the tabletop, but rather use the forces to play any number of different kinds of games. To my delight, I found that the campaign actually offers a lot of scope for a number of scenarios.

After the Confederacy had been split in two after Vicksburg, by 1863 Florida assumed a new-found importance for being, in effect, the last remaining "breadbasket" of the Southern cause. So aside from the prospects of Georgians and Floridians going toe-to-toe with New Englanders amongst the pines, there are also frequent instances of Union raids, large and small, along the coast of Florida with the object of interdicting supplies of materials like turpentine, lumber, and especially cattle in order to prevent such goods from being sent to the main Confederate armies in Tennessee and in Virginia.

Another goal of the campaign for the Federals was to bring in recruits for the Union army, in the form of liberated slaves who would then be encouraged to join the ranks of newly-formed coloured regiments.

Finally, there were several attempts to prevent disrupt vital Confederate rail communications to Georgia and the Carolinas, and even attempts to prevent and/or "cut out" Confederate blockade runners!

The mechanics for such scenarios are readily available in a number of sources, but if you haven't already gotten a copy of Battlegames magazine supplement, Tabletop Teasers Vol. 1 by Charles Grant, do yourself a favour and order one! There are a number of scenarios in the book which, with a little minor tweaking, are just the thing to recreate the kind of actions that were characteristic of the warfare that took place along the long coastline of the state of Florida.

In particular, the following scenarios can easily be adapted to allow for a game that will not only be fun and exciting, but which would capture the flavour of campaigning in Florida.

Teaser 3- "If You Go Down to the Woods Today": This would work with either Union or Confederates in the ambushing role.

Teaser 4- "Plunder and Pillage": One of my favourite Charles Grant scenarios, and one which would suit the Union forage parties moving inland from Jacksonville.

Teaser 6- "Getting Away with It", Teaser 7, "River Convoy" and Teaser 10- "Siege Train"- With a bit of creativity these scenarios would work for either side, for example the Union trying to escape with a group of newly-liberated slaves, or the Confederates trying to escape with a cargo of turpentine or- even more fun- a herd of cattle!

I may post my own version of these scenarios as my collection of minis grows, but suffice to say that there is a lot more to the Florida campaign than just lining up one brigade against another and blasting away until one or the other skedaddles!

Unfortunately, finding myself engrossed in the book, coupled with some unseasonably warm weather here in Tokyo this weekend (picnic time!) conspired against much progress on the painting front, but I'm still plugging away at a regular if not lightning pace, and this evening I started working on removing the flash from some Union artillery gunners.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

7th New Hampshire Regt.

It's been a long time since I posted, but this time for the best of reasons- I've been making progress on painting for a change!

First though, I have decided after all to go with collecting both sides for the Battle for Olustee, Florida, in 1864. For one reason and another this battle has really captured my imagination, and more importantly I actually have most all of the figures I need, at least for the Union.

Here is the orbat for the Union side:

Colonel William B. Barton's Brigade
  • 47th New York Infantry, Col. Henry Moore
  • 48th New York Infantry, Maj. W. B. Coan (Col. W. B. Barton)
  • 115th New York Infantry, Col. Simeon Sammon
Colonel Joseph R. Hawley's Brigade
  • 7th Connecticut Infantry, Capt. Benjamin F. Skinner (Col. J.R. Hawley)
  • 7th New Hampshire Infantry, Col. Joseph C. Abbott
  • 8th United States Colored Troops, Col. Charles W. Fribley

Colonel James Montgomery's Brigade
  • 35th United State Colored Troops, Lt. Col. W. N. Reed
  • 54th Massachusetts Infantry (colored), Col. Edward N. Hallowell
  • 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, Col. G. V. Henry
  • Independent Massachusetts Cavalry Battalion, (Maj. Stevens)
  • Battery B, First U.S. Artillery [Elder's Horse Battery] (4 pieces) Capt. Elder
Artillery, Capt. John Hamilton
  • Battery E, Third U. S. Artillery (6 pieces), Capt. John Hamilton
  • Battery M, First U. S. Artillery (6 pieces), Capt. Loomis L. Langdon
  • Sections C and B, Third Rhode Island Artillery, Lt. Henry H. Metcalf
  • Companies A and E, 1st New York Volunteers (engineers)
Basically I have enough figures for all the Union forces, except for the 35th USCT, the cavalry, and the mounted infantry. I'll probably take the Perry Miniatures route for the cavalry and mounted infantry (especially the plastic cavalry).

I am well within reach of finishing the
7th New Hampshire Infantry under it's Colonel, Joseph Abbott. Interestingly, it appears that this regiment had a fair number of French Canadians in its ranks.

"Refurbished" Dixon Miniatures, with one Rafm bugler in amongst them. Dixon minis go back a while, and seem to be pretty unfashionable amongst gamers these days, what with their chunky proportions, much-maligned "pumpkin" heads, and increasingly stiff competition from companies like Old Glory and particularly the offerings from the Perry twins.

Yet I like them and for some reason I always enjoy painting them, not something I can say for a lot of minis out there, no matter how exquisite the castings.

Note I did say "refurbished". I had a number of these figures painted already, but to my chagrin I realized that the blue I had used on the trousers was
much too light a colour, and I had spent time shading and highlighting the coats and pants with a result that honestly did not really add anything to the appearance of the finished miniatures.

To make matters worse the clear spray varnish I had used had "clouded" on about half the figures. A flat spray undercoat on flat-finished figures is risky; moral of story, varnish minis by hand with a semi-flat coat
before spraying on a topcoat. This seems to have eliminated the problem.

I have also learnt that that the deep folds in the Dixon castings mean that it really is not necessary to spend a lot of time with shading and/or highlighting. Not only does this considerably speed up the painting, but by keeping shading to a minimum, I find that this somehow makes the Dixon figures look a lot less "squat". I really don't know why, unless it is that horizontal shading has a "shortening" effect on figures which are already short enough already!

Likewise, the use of a dark brown undercoat in the faces while highlighting the flesh areas and leaving out the eyes actually seems to improve the look of the unit. You really wouldn't see eye details at this scale anyway!

A closer look at the 7th New Hampshire.
One base has already been completed, two more have been textured and are ready to be painted.

When the New Hampshire boys are ready- I have two days off this week so I'm looking at Friday as being a reasonable deadline- I will start on the
6th Georgia of Alfred Colquitt's Brigade for the 'Secesh, and prepare an artillery battery and the 115th New York- the "Iron-Hearted Regiment", recruited in the Mohawk valley- for stage II.

Finally, my old friend Dave Morgan sent me these photos of a recent game held at his place (Somewhere in Washington State) along with his son, Sterling, and some neighbours. Dixon and Rafm figures, and quite a few of those seen here I remember having had the pleasure of shooting down in droves many (many!) years ago when we both lived in Vancouver BC.

Click on each image for a larger view.

Thanks for the photos, Dave. I really was taken by the rustic simplicity and old-craft charm of those buildings!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cleburne Comic

Front and back cover from Cleburne

living in Japan where manga are everywhere, on every subject, and read by young and old alike, I'm not much of a comic book fan.

Of course I read a lot of them as a kid, and in particular I enjoyed the old Classic Comics based on famous work of literature, and I used to just eat up the old "Look and Learn" comics from way back in the sixties or so. But after "growing up (?)", I never really found myself attracted to the genre. Superheroes were not my bag and I have had pretty much
zero interest in fantasy.

But I do love history and have long had a fascination with
the ACW, and in the career of General Cleburne himself. And I did enjoy the movie 300- itself based on a "graphic novel" (the preferred term it seems these days- thought they still look like comic books to me!), so when I saw the following YouTube trailer for Cleburne, I thought it may be worth getting hold of a copy. And I did! It just arrived here his past weekend.

Authored by Justin Murphy,
Cleburne tells (obviously!) the story of Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, the Protestant Irish ex-British army corporal from Cork who came to be known as the "Stonewall Jackson of the West". Set in 1863 and '64, when things started really started going south for the CSA, (pardon the pun) the book focuses on Cleburne's efforts to persuade the Richmond authorities to let slaves fight for the Confederacy as soldiers in exchange for their freedom, and of the hot water he subsequently found himself in.

While he looks squarely at the issue of prejudice and slavery in the ACW, one of the main points the writer wanted to emphasize is that the issue of States Rights was a bigger one than was the retention of slavery
per se, and that there were those in the South- Cleburne included- who recognized this. Murphy points his finger at the vested interests of the plantation owners, whose short-sighted prejudiced and racist attitudes are epitomized in the novel by the character of General Bate.

While it is clear that slavery was not the only issue of the south, I still feel that it was an important one. Despite efforts to downplay it's significance in some modern writing from a Southern perspective, I cannot help feeling from my reading that at the very least, slavery had become the symbolic issue of states rights, right up until near the very end when it all became academic anyway.

Pat Cleburne was very much in the minority. There was no great desire in the South to eradicate the institution. The need to preserve slavery (i.e. their investments) seems to have been an attitude certainly held by- but no means restricted to- the plantation owners and other powers-that-be.

This was despite the damage that hanging on to such a discredited institution was doing to "The Cause" by preventing any chance of international recognition and legitimacy. Simply put, they were out of step with the times; even Russia had freed the Serfs by 1862. This was not just an attitude held by the wealthy plantation owners; non-slave owners did not have any desire to see armed blacks serving in the army, either no matter how much more manpower it would have given the Confederacy.

But of course the book is also about Cleburne's hard-fighting division in the declining days of the Army of Tennessee, from Ringgold Gap and Kennesaw Mountain to the Battle of Franklin, where Cleburne met his death. It also follows his doomed relationship with Sarah Tarleton.

All in all, a good, well-illustrated comic (and "graphic" indeed- lots of blood, intestines and grey matter being sprayed about as troops charge gun batteries does not make this one for sensitive kiddies). As the author hopes, it may well make for a good movie at some time in the future.

I believe it was Lincoln himself who was supposed to have said; "People who like this kind of thing, will find this the kind of thing they like".

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Decisions, decisions...

The 8th Wisconsin of the Eagle Brigade at Vicksburg.
Lots of hats here! Note "Old Abe" on his battle perch.

I have the figures, but not yet a lot of flags, leaving me having to decide just who my Yanks and Rebs are to be, and where they will be fighting! I always go for a historical order of battle, as it makes a nice theme for any miniature collection. It also helps in that it can impose some "discipline" should I decide to order more miniatures!

I'm most likely to end up using the old
On to Richmond rules that were published by the Courier magazine (see sidebar) or one of its more modern incarnations- there are some out there on the net. These rules are long in the tooth, but simple and fun. In the rules each "unit" represents an historical brigade- but I am also willing to have a unit just represent a regiment and leave the rules as is. Call off the lawyers.

Some considerations on choosing an orbat. Many of my Union troops have hats rather than forage caps/ kepis. This from the fact that the first bunch of Bluebellies I painted had been originally slated for Confederate service! This means that they may be more suitable for Western battles than for battles such as Antietam.

Another factor is that I already have two units of US Colored Troops; this means I choose a battle or campaign from 1863 or later.

Finally, I already have a New York state flag from GMB that needs to be used! Although this is not a really big factor. However, I do like the flags that were used by many of the "hard-core" Yankee states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The large range of paper flags printed by Stone Mountain have some very nice examples of these.

There are a number of units/campaigns that interest me at the moment;

Olustee, Florida 1864: a small but remarkably bloody battle. A very one-sided Reb victory, and for the Union, the largest percentage loss in a single battle of the entire war. The combatants included Colquitt's brigade of Georgians (late of the Army of Northern Virginia) on the Confederate side, and on the Union side were a number of US Colored Troops and a brigade of New Englanders. It saw the 54th Massachusetts (of "Glory" fame) conducting a determined rear-guard action as the rest of the Union force fled past in disarray.

The Wilderness, 1864: this would definitely mean having one unit representing a brigade given its scope. This brutal and confused struggle has always fascinated me, and using my brimmed-hat Yankees as "ragged veterans" has some appeal.

I'd likely do Burnside's 9th Corps-which at this stage of the war included Ferrero's Division of colored troops. The Corps would later fight at Cold Harbor and- notoriously- The Battle of the Crater.

This clip from the movie Wicked Spring gives a good portrayal of the terrain over which both sides had to fight in the Wilderness battles, as well as of the
resulting confusion.

Finally, the Atlanta Campaign, 1864: Go west, young man? This would give me a chance to include one of my favourite Confederate units, Cockrell's Missouri brigade.

While not strictly historical, I could "transfer" the Union Eagle Brigade for service in this theatre (and Dixon do a very nice representation of the 8th Wisconsin's mascot, "Old Abe" the eagle). The two brigades certainly fought on opposite sides during the Vicksburg campaign, although no colored troops were present then.

What do you think? I've added a poll on the sidebar on the right. What I eventually go for will come down to a pretty quick spur-of-the-moment call on my part (it usually does!), but it is always interesting to see where the preferences of
other gamers may lie.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Whistlin' Dixon

"Give 'em heck, boys!" Bluebellies With No Name.

A quickie shot of some of my Union troops using my cellphone camera in less-than-ideal lighting. Making a Daguerreotype would probably have been an improvement.

Note the generic flags- the jury is still out considering an order of battle to follow, so as yet my tiny warriors have no "identity" beyond "Yankee-type varmints in shoddy blue" and "Treacherous dang' Rebs in greasy butternut". They were based individually on 20mm square bases for a long time, but I'm in the middle of re-basing them; four to a 60mm x 30mm stand.

One time having to pack hundreds of individually-based figures for a move is enough, thanks very much...

As mentioned, Dixon Miniatures all. Now, more than twenty years (yikes!) after they first saw the light of day there are a lot of other miniature options out there, including very nice plastics from Perry Miniatures amongst others.

Dixon are not for everyone. To start with, the average size of what were known as "25mm" minis have "grown" over the years to 28mm in size, with most companies now admitting as much. My samples of Renegade's ACW range, for example, simply tower over the chubby little Dixons.

Did I say chubby? A lot of people are turned off by the chunky proportions of the Dixon range- the "pumpkin-head" syndrome. Some minis in the range seem more prone to this than others, and personally I do not find it as much as a problem as do some. But I'd have to admit that there is a fair amount of truth in the charge.

On the other hand the level of accuracy for the uniforms is quite astounding. This is one well-researched range of figures. There are as many variations in the range as you would ever want - well over 350 potentially different figures. It is really a complete range-
they even have a band!

Redoubt Miniatures also offer a wide range of variety, I believe, and are less "stocky". But with Redoubt I'd be looking at assembling heads and/or torsos for most each and every figure, which makes them prohibitive for me in terms of the time I have available for hobby stuff.

The great strength of the Dixon range for me is that they paint up so well! They have a nice, smooth finish that takes paint well. They are a real joy for me to work on, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of other ranges out there, no matter how gorgeous the sculpts.

One asset here is the deep folds and creases sculpted into the models. One discovery I made was that these are deep enough so that I don't need to add much- if any- extra shading, as given their size there is enough natural shadow to suffice. Not only does this speed up painting, but I found that a more "economical" painting style- not trying to paint too much detail on each and every figure, and leaving the eyes as just dark brown slits- can actually help to reduce the overall "pumpkin head" effect. The two-foot rule really suits this range, I think.

I have to say though, I feel that the Dixon artillery blows chunks. I opted for Foundry crews and Old Glory/ RAFM guns. Not sure on the cavalry either, but I'm primarily an infantry guy, so I haven't given it too much thought. The Perry plastic cavalry are probably going to be a lot more cost-effective anyway.

For more discussion on the merits or otherwise of Dixon Miniatures there is a good thread on this topic here on The Miniatures Page. Suffice to say that Dixons work for me!

Next post will be about orders of battle- my boys need state allegiances.