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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Antebellum Antics..

A picture of one of the games my old group played back in the late 80's and 90's.
Dave Morgan's
Irish Brigade supports a faltering Union line.

The American Civil War (a.k.a. the 2nd War of Independence, or War of Northern Aggression- feelings still seem to run high in some quarters), has long cast a spell over many wargamers, and I've been no exception. In my childhood I played with a large number of Britains ACW 54mm toys, including a wonderful horse-drawn artillery set with firing cannon.

As I grew up (?), I became aware of the hobby of wargaming through games such as Avalon Hill's Chancellorsville, and ACW games were prominent in many of my early, (and now well-thumbed and dog-eared) wargaming books, such as Discovering Wargames by John Tunstill and of course Battles with Model Soldiers by Don Featherstone.

Later on I dabbled in 15mm gaming for a while- mainly with the old and much-lamented
Confederals range and some years later with the extensive range from Stone Mountain. We were using The Complete Brigadier rules at the time. However, nothing much memorable came of it. Although I found the rules themselves interesting, we probably had too many players than the rules were designed to cope with; as a result the games seemed to flow like molasses.

After a period of neglect the ACW did indeed rise again, in 1987 or 88, when our gaming group in Vancouver got into it in a big way with the release of what were then the state-of-the-art 25mm
Dixon miniatures. One member of our group, Dave Morgan, was the owner of what was then the premier gaming shop in town (anyone out there still remember Sentry Box West?), and we were buying up the Dixon minis as fast as he was getting them in. We fielded brigade after brigade of miniatures- with most of us basing our collection on the order of battle from Antietam in 1862.

I was firmly in the Confederate camp back then, and completed a brigade of Louisiana troops (Hay's). It was "fudged" to include- of course- the inevitable Wheat's Louisiana Tiger Zouaves with their striped pants!

We had many a fight, using home-grown rules that were based loosely on the Sword and the Flame colonial rule set. Bigads, the fun games we had! The annihilation of the Union Irish Brigade at 1st Taffyville by my brave Louisiana boys in defence of the local distillery will always remain fondly in this old campaigner's memory. Less happily, another time they got wiped out almost to a man when assaulting an entrenched Union cavalry regiment armed with repeating rifles. The unsporting cads.

All this dice-driven joy ended when I came to Japan in 1992, and interest in the ACW went on the back burner for a long while.

And just where
are those Louisianians now, I wonder?

However, over the last 16 years, the interest has been dormant rather than dead, and about eight years ago I started ordering some more Dixon miniatures from the UK- mainly for old-times sake. Over time I have found myself to have acquired quite a decent little collection. This time, out of necessity, doing both Yankees and Rebs- and enjoying both!