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!