Miniature miniatures – the American Civil War in 13.5mm

A recent issue of Wargames Illustrated came with a free sprue of Warlord Games’ new range of 13.5mm plastic American Civil War figures. I couldn’t resist painting them up as an experiment, as I had never before tried working with miniatures this small.

The free sprue contains 100 (yes, 100!) tiny infantry figures, a mounted officer and an artillery piece with four crew. The infantry come attached in ranks of ten.

I painted the figures with Games Workshop Contrast paints. This made the job pretty fast, as the shading and highlighting happens by itself. But the fine details were still a little finnicky at times. I also had to be careful that I painted the rear of each figure the same colour as the front!

Just to give you an impression if the diminutive size of these little figures, here they are posed alongside a base of 28mm Redoubt infantry.

After removing the supplied bases from the sprue, I textured them with sand and static grass. The flags came from an image I found on the web. The whole regiment looks splendid with all five bases lined up.

The artillery piece is quite cleverly designed. It consists of three pieces: the carriage complete with its barrel, and the two wheels, each with two figures attached.

Just for fun, I tried a little forced perspective. I photographed the line of Warlord figures butted up against some stands of 28mm Redoubt figures. Then I used my graphics program to merge the bases. The four-inches deep set-up now looks like a wide battlefield!

Overall, these are really nice little figures. Whilst I don’t think I will turn this into an actual project for myself, if you are after an army or two of some very nice 13.5mm figures, I believe this Warlord Games range will indeed do the job.

On parade! Troops of the American Civil War

jan05_rebs7

I’ve been wargaming since the 1990s, and during that time have amassed many miniatures across a range of periods. However, I’ve never really catalogued them all, and some of them haven’t seen the light of day for many a year. So I’m now parading each army for inspection so as to take stock of what I’ve got.

Some of my earliest wargaming figures were for the American Civil War. My original plan was to paint both sides in 28mm, but by the time I had finished these three units, my interests had moved onto other periods, and that was that! But they’re still beautiful units, and so I’ve kept them all these years for old time’s sake.

 

1st Maryland Infantry at Gettysburg

b_20190629_144605

At about 10.00am on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 400 men of the 1st Maryland Battalion launched their attack on Culp’s Hill. They charged towards the Federal breastworks, but were eventually repulsed and had to fall back. By that time, they had lost nearly 50% of their number.

Band of Brothers

The sacrifice of the 1st Maryland has been immortalised by noted artist Don Troiani in his painting ‘Band of Brothers’. Redoubt Miniatures produce a set of 28mm figures partly based on this picture, which are the basis of the miniature regiment shown in these photos.

Painting Confederate troops was a real pleasure, as they tended to wear a range of uniforms and equipment. The 1st Maryland were dressed somewhat “nattier” than other Confederates, being uniformed mainly in grey, and nearly all wearing the little kepi cap instead of the hodge-podge of hats worn by other units. But they still have a range of different accoutrements (especially the blanket rolls that some of them have slung over their shoulders).

Redoubt also produce some very animated groups of casualty figures. I included six extra wounded men in this unit. The casualty figures didn’t come with rifles, so I glued some spare ones onto the falling figures as though they were in the act of dropping their weapons.

b_20190629_145339

It is known that a mongrel dog went into action with the 1st Maryland that fateful day (and was shot down). If you look very carefully, you will see it in this picture. It didn’t come in the Redoubt set – I advertised on the internet for a miniature dog, and was kindly sent this miniature. It is probably the wrong sort of dog, looking a bit too lean and thoroughbred!

The flags of my 1st Maryland Battalion were by GMB Flags, who produce stunningly beautiful paper flags for many famous Civil War units. I folded them so that they look as if they are streaming out as the standard bearers run forward.

b_20190629_145305

The figures were glued in groups onto 4cm wide cardboard bases, about four or five figures to one base. This size of base was not selected to go with any particular set of wargames rules, but rather because 4cms is just wide enough to show off these figures to their best advantage.

 

5th New York State Infantry (Duryea’s Zouaves)

a_20190615_140307

Some of the most colourful units of the Civil War were those who styled themselves as zouaves, named after the French colonial troops of that time. And one of the most famous zouave units was the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, known after their founder as Duryea’s Zouaves.

Redoubt’s 28mm zoauve figures are beautifully sculpted. This is especially so for the typical baggy trousers, where the folds of cloth look very natural. And of course these are set off by the distinctive red colour worn by Duryea’s Zouaves, giving rise to their nickname, the ‘Red Devils’.

The flags were again products of GMB Flags. These flags are absolutely exquisite! I also added Front Rank finials and cords to the top of each flag pole.

a_20190615_140653

The officer figure wears a frock-coat and trousers which are not quite so baggy as those of his men. He is running forward, holding his pistol out in front of him. I purposely made my bases quite deep so that I could have the officer running in front of the double line of men.

a_20190615_140204

The bases were textured with real sand and small stones, static grass, and clumps of long model railway grass, to give the effect of rough ground – perhaps the field of Gaines Mill, where in 1862 the Red Devils first made their reputation.

 

Major Pelham’s Artillery Battery

c_20190629_145102

Redoubt don’t specifically say so in their advertisement, but I suspect they were modelling the moment at the battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, when ‘the gallant Pelham‘ used two guns (a Napoleon and a Blakeley rifle) to great effect against the Federal flank. Certainly the models and the poses of the figures lend themselves to recreating this event.

c_20190629_144723

Back when I bought these figures, miniature artillery units were often sculpted with gunners in very static poses, or in a mix of action poses that are not coordinated together to show a particular part of the gun drill. These Redoubt teams, however, all appeared to be working together. One team is positioning their Napoleon 6-pounder ready to fire, while the other team is lifting a 3″ ordnance rifle gun by the trail, ready to swing it around to a new firing angle. Note that the latter should have an iron rather than bronze barrel – I must correct it one of these days!

c_20190629_144753

The figures include:

  • Major Pelham himself. He wears tall riding boots, and is standing with his arm held up behind him, as if to say “hold it there, guys!”. His shell jacket is secured only by the top button. On his belt is a pistol holster and a cartridge pouch.
  • Two men holding the trail of one of the guns. Very cleverly animated – you can just feel them heaving the weight of the gun. One is in a shell jacket, while the other is stripped down to his shirt and braces.
  • Two figures pushing the wheels. One is really exerting himself. He is wearing a shell jacket and long baggy trousers. The other is a bit more subdued in his efforts, pushing with one hand on top of the other. His shell jacket is nicely cast falling open.
  • One figure levering the gun round with a bar. He is leaning forwards very realistically. Once again, he is wearing a shell jacket and baggy trousers.
  • A gunner standing with his hands down by his sides. This fellow adds a bit of variety, as he is wearing a waistcoat and trousers. I wasn’t really too sure what he was supposed to be doing, but he looks OK just standing there, waiting to do whatever he has to. He could also be a gun-corporal, ordering his men to push harder.
  • Another gunner sighting along the barrel of his gun, with his hand out behind him, indicating to his men “this way a bit more!”.

animation2

Next time in On Parade! we’ll move to a totally different army from my wargaming collection. I haven’t decided which period yet, but it could perhaps be samurai, pirates, WW2 French or Dutch, the Wild West … or something else. Who knows! 

I was there – a Kiwi at Pickett’s Charge

cwt

Back in 1998 I travelled to the USA to take part in a huge reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. The highlight of the three days was taking part in Pickett’s Charge, the doomed frontal attack by the Confederates against the Union infantry and artillery ensconced behind a stone wall. In the real battle in 1863, the majority of Confederate troops fell or retreated before they got to this stone wall, but a few did make it over, until they too were killed or captured.

To reenact this turning point in American history, it was important that just as many reenactors fell before they got to the wall. Because every Confederate reenactor wanted the distinction of climbing over the wall, this was done by way of a lottery, with everyone except the winners having to die or retreat before reaching the wall – I was very fortunate to be one of the few who drew a winning number!

getty_46_cropped

There were about 12,000 Confederate reenactors involved in Pickett’s Charge, which meant we were doing a full scale reenactment of the event. We had to cover about half a mile of open ground, before finally reaching the blue-uniformed Federal infantry, lined up about four deep for the entire half-mile or so length of the low stone wall and fenceline.

In silence, each Confederate brigade headed off towards its ‘destiny’. We did a few obliques (diagonal movements) to place ourselves in the correct position, having some problems with our line bowing all the time. It seemed no time at all till we reached the first obstacle, a wooden fence denoting the Emmitsburg Road.

At this point the yell came for those who had drawn ones in the lottery to take a hit. Marching onwards, it must have made an impressive sight to the spectators, as the units shrunk with casualties streaming our behind their trail – it certainly looked it on each side as brigade after brigade of Confederates headed towards the long line of Union soldiers behind their stone wall. (Jill Russell photo)

getty_41_cropped

Down went our twos and threes, our corporal shouting for them to go down. Then at a run, instinctively bowing our heads, hunching our shoulders, and leaning forward as though walking into a headwind, we crossed the final gap towards the stone wall, the fours going down all around us. I clambered up onto the wall, behind which there was a twenty-yard gap, filled already with Confederate and Union ‘bodies’, then the solid line of Union blue. I ran towards them, watching others round me crashing down to the ground.

I felt someone brush past me, and saw it was General Armistead, carrying his hat pierced on the end of his sword (a famous moment in American history). At this moment, I made it to the front cover of the special Gettysburg edition of Civil War News. The photo below depicts General Armistead during Pickett’s Charge, and there I am right beside him! (Julio C Zangroniz photo)

cwt_detail

I then decided that it was time I went down myself.  I stayed down for a while, watching Union troops shooting, and hearing their ‘Hurrah!’ as the Confederate assault was thrown back. I looked back at the field, which was totally covered with casualties and retreating rebels running back individually and in small groups. There was a group of Confederate and Union soldiers standing near me, so I ‘limped’ over to see what they were looking at. In the centre of the group lay the ‘dying’ General Armistead.

After a while the shooting began to ease off, and it was evident that the battle was at an end. Taps was played on a bugle, and in a very emotional moment, we all, Confederate and Union alike, stopped and took off our caps to honour those real soldiers who fought 135 years ago.

Note: You can read more about my three days at Gettysburg on this old posting about my Gettysburg experience (posted back in February 2012).

getty_2

Ironclad gunboats on the River Waikato in 1863

production_cover.108194352_small

An old Police colleague of mine has recently written a book that will be of interest to colonial-period wargamers. The Waikato River Gunboats by Grant Middlemiss, and illustrated by marine draughtsman Harry Duncan, is the story of the gunboats used by the British during the invasion of the Waikato, New Zealand, 1863.

The Waikato Flotilla was purpose built for the New Zealand Colonial Government, and deployed during the British invasion of the Waikato 1863, when a force of 12,000 British and Colonial troops invaded the Waikato region.

To reach the rich pastoral land of the Waikato interior a reliable transport route was required to move the men and their supplies. The Waikato river provided that route.

production_cover.108194352_largeThe armoured iron gunboats of the Waikato Flotilla formed the base of a naval force and transport service to move the troops past the Maori fortifications along the river.

The Waikato Maori who took up arms against the British built sophisticated defensive lines along the river, and later inland, to stop the advance of the invading army.

This book tells the story of those gunboats and their life on the river during the Waikato campaign.

Framed_print-small.108194956_large2Here’s a poster by Harry Duncan, showing all the river gunboats of the Waikato Flotilla.

 

pioneerHMCS Pioneer, originally named Waikato, as she looked on her arrival at Onehunga from Australia in 1863.

 

koheroaHMCS Koheroa, built in Sydney and shipped to Port Waikato in sections where she were assembled in 1864.

 

avonHMCS Avon with reduced armour as she was deployed on the Waipa River in January 1864.

 

ant and chub2
The small gunboats Ant and Chub, two of the four coastal sailing craft that were armoured with iron plate and fitted with an Armstrong gun and Coehorn mortar.

 

  • The Waikato River Gunboats
  • Author: Grant Middlemiss
  • Marine draughtsman: Harry Duncan
  • Over 80 illustrations on 124 pages in B5 format
  • Website: www.waikatorivergunboats.com
  • $NZ35.00
  • Available by emailing the author: middlemissgrant@gmail.com or in New Zealand through PaperPlus stores

 

Here is the contents page of the book:

Preface ……………………………………………………………. 3

Overview of the conflict ………………………………………………… 5

Naval presence ………………………………………………… 10

Plan to invade: birth of the Waikato Gunboat Flotilla …………….. 13

Purchase of Avon ………………………………………………… 13

Avon arrives on the Manukau ……………………………………. 18

Maori threats concerning Avon ……………………………………. 22

From peaceful trader to armoured gunboat ………………………… 23

Construction of small gunboats ……………………………………. 29

Seizing Maori canoes ……………………………………………….. 34

Captain Mercer and his experiments ………………………… 37

Wreck of HMS Orpheus ……………………………………. 38

Avon deployed to assist rescue operations ………………………… 40

Intelligence from the Waikato interior ………………………… 40

Avon heads for the Waikato ……………………………………. 42

Battle of Koheroa ………………………………………………… 42

Avon reaches the Waikato river ……………………………………. 43

Exploring the Waikato ………………………………………………… 44

Avon in her first action ………………………………………………… 46

Maori fortifications July-October 1863 ………………………… 48

Consolidation of British position ……………………………………. 50

Arrival of gunboat Pioneer ……………………………………. 53

Battle for Meremere ………………………………………………… 61

Consolidating Cameron’s position ……………………………………. 66

Battle of Rangiriri ………………………………………………… 67

Capture of Ngaruawahia ………………………………………………… 74

Marching to the interior ……………………………………. 78

Establishing the Water Transport Corps ………………………… 81

Port Waikato naval dockyard ……………………………………. 85

Death of Lieutenant Mitchell ……………………………………. 87

Sinking of Avon ……………………………………………………………. 87

Arrival of Koheroa ………………………………………………… 90

Moving on to the Waipa Plains ……………………………………. 95

The raising of Avon ………………………………………………… 97

Move to Upper Waikato river ……………………………………. 98

The Royal Navy pulls out of the Waikato ………………………… 104

Epilogue ……………………………………………………………. 106

Kapiti Fusiliers: Battles of Rusty Creek and Gettysburg

Getty_9This weekend marks 150 years since the Battle of Gettysburg, the iconic battle of the American Civil War.  

To commemorate this historic engagement, you could re-visit two old postings about my time as a Confederate soldier during the massive 135th reenactment event way back in 1998, first here and then more photos here.

Getty_2

Or you could read the following one of my resurrected postings from the old Kapiti Fusiliers website describing a Civil War game. Originally posted on September 2005 by Fusilier Paul Crouch, who had recently moved up to Auckland, it describes a spectacular game played on John Berry’s 14′ x 6′ table …

banner_fusiliers

rustycreek_title_t
rustycreek3_title_b

We played an American Civil War game. There were four on each side, so eight of us all told, including all my old wargame friends from many years ago. Fusilier Mark Strachan was along there too.

The rules used were a set put together by the group up here. They really do work well and capture the flavour of the American Civil War and the ebb and flow of battle.

rustycreek9

John and the boys certainly put on games ‘in the grand manner’ and there was no lack of troops on the table. It was a magnificent sight. As you can see from the photos we reckon there were up to two thousand 25mm figures on the table.  They were mainly Dixon, but Wargames Foundry were in there too.

I tried to focus as many as possible of the photos on John’s buildings to let you get the feel of them. Hopefully you can see the work he does on them. The close-up of the forge (below) is brilliant.  He scratch builds a lot of the stuff you see in these pictures. Also the limbers and wagons in the photos are all John Berry originals.

rustyforge close up

The game was a fictional encounter somewhere in Georgia called Rusty Creek, late in the war … a last desperate attempt to throw the Damn Yankees out. I fought with the Johnny Rebs, and held the left flank with two brigades of infantry and artillery.

I was attacked repeatedly throughout the game – in fact my flank was under pressure from the word go. I had three brigade generals killed during the day, a battery of artillery smashed to pieces, and one of my brigades shattered – but they all died gallantly for the cause!

rustycreek1

Above: My own Confederate troops make a guest appearance on the left flank. Under pressure for most of the game, and suffering heavy losses, they held the flank with honour.

rustycreek10

Above: Brewer’s Farm, the centre of the Confederate position.

rustycreek19

Above: Confederate troops mass around Brewer’s Farm.

rustycreek16

Above: Through the cornfields come the Rebels under the command of our host John Berry, on their way to prop up the left flank. This shot reminds me of a scene from the movie Gettysburg … stirring stuff!

rustycreek_union1

Above: Union troops – loads of artillery. Note the wagons that John Berry has made.

rustycreek12

Above: Reb cavalry under Forrest move out on the right – almost to a man these brave lads were wiped out before the Reb infantry arrived.

rustycreek15

After the smoke died down it was decided that (as in all these large games) a fighting draw was the outcome. The Union hadn’t really coordinated their attacks, and the Rebs had defended stoutly in the face of the blue tide.

rustycreek4

Un-painting the Renedra ramshackle barn

Perry barn

I had tons of fun tonight painting the Renadra barn to look unpainted.  And I’m really pleased with the way it has turned out.  Quite sharp, as one might say …

The Renedra ramshackle barn is a plastic kit aimed for use with 28mm figures. It only has a very few pieces, and so goes together very easily.

But it is the painting – er, un-painting – that is the most fun.   This is my recipe for painting something to look like it hasn’t seen a lick of paint for some years:

  1. Undercoat with a flat black spraypaint.
  2. Apply a heavy dry-brush of medium grey student’s acrylic paint all over the whole model.
  3. Wash random boards and tiles with a range of different ink/wash colours (I used four inks: sepia, devlan mud, black and even some red ink).
  4. Go round all edges of door frames, barge boards, windows etc with devlan mud ink to give an impression of shadows.
  5. Wash the entire roof with devlan mud ink to pick out the tiles.
  6. Paint in the rusty hinges, hanging ropes and other details. 
  7. Cover everything (walls, doors, roof … the lot) with a light white dry brush.
  8. Go over the roof tiles again with a light green dry brush.

And that’s it.  Apart from the black spraypaint, which I left to dry for a whole day, the rest took me only about an hour!

barn 3

In police hands – my miniatures under arrest!

Displaying your miniatures in a police museum might seem an odd venue, but that is what happened to me recently when I was asked to take part in a police hobbies exhibition at the New Zealand Police Museum.

While I do actually have quite a large collection of police badges and miniature police vehicles (maybe the subject of another posting sometime, if anyone is interested), the event was intended to also show off other hobbies enjoyed by police staff.  So I was asked to exhibit my model soldiers.

I decided my display would be based on the adage that “few is more”.  Rather than ladening down a table with huge amounts of figures, I would put out only a few units to give give a taster of several different periods.  This also helped with transport and setting up, as I only had a very limited time.

But I wish I had pulled that tablecloth straight!

The main part of my display featured my New Zealand Wars collection, made up of the wonderful 28mm Empress Miniatures figures.

This was quite an appropriate period for the police setting, as the history of the New Zealand Police is inextricably entwined with those wars.  The particular part of the wars that my miniatures portray is a decade or two earlier than when the Armed Constabulary (forerunners of our modern police) came on the scene.  But it was a talking point for the audience, nevertheless.

I also displayed one of my 18th century battalions of Minden figures, painted as a British regiment from the movie Barry Lyndon.  This showed how impressive a large unit of figures could look.

In the background I set up one of my painting resources (in this case Mollo and McGregor’s Uniforms of the Seven Years War 1756-63). Many of the audience were very interested to see how detailed the research for our hobby could be … and laughed when I told them that I had painted my models to  faithfully replicate the inaccuracies from the movie!

The final exhibit was my entire American Civil War collection.  This is a period I’ve half-started, as you can see, but never really got anywhere with.  But those colourful zouaves certainly were show-stoppers at the display.  These, and the Confederates facing them, were all Redoubt figures.   Again, a colourful book in the background added interest.

Overall, it was great to be able to show off my figures to an audience who were more interested in them than most.  It was a evening function for the Friends of the Police Museum organisation, so everyone there had a natural inclination towards history anyway.

Oh, and one other thing.  Browsing through the Police Museum itself, I came across a picture of my much younger self.  What a creepy 1980s police-issue moustache, aye?!

23,000 reenactors at Gettysburg – more photos

As promised in my last post about participating with 23,00 reenactors at Gettysburg in 1998, here are some more photos of the event.  Remember to click on them to see them full-size.


This banner sat at the entrance to our company’s camp throughout the reenactment.


Some of the company relaxing in our camp in the woods.


The horse-lines at dawn … or was it sunset?  I can’t remember!  Lovely, though.


Lieutenant (that’s Loo-tenan’) Bill Russell and my host Ed Christopher survey the massed Confederate army – or part of it, anyway.


Reenacting is a family hobby, especially down at Sutlers’ Row, a veritable shopping mall of tents selling every sort of 19th century paraphernalia. .


Ladies in hooped crinolines and snoods in their hair compare study the event programme in the sun.


A group of colourful 14th Brooklyn soldiers in their distinctive French-style chasseur uniforms.


The evening ball was another of those spine-tingling moments when I slipped back a century – beautiful belles waltzing and dixie-reeling with dashing soldiers to period music.


Time off from the hard work of reenacting in order to have a drink and a sit-down in Sutlers’ Row.


A Union bugler boy.


A Confederate drummer sounds an official note at a regimental square ceremony.


A female vivandiere and friend, in front of a row of carefully stacked rifles and equipment.


I have a feeling this wasn’t a shot I took, but one given to me. It shows a Union artillery limber, flag and guns, in swirling black-powder smoke.


Two Confederate horsemen. Note the modern artillery puller in the background – fortunately such modern anachronisms were removed from sight once the reenactment formally began.


Mounted Confederate officers and standard bearer.


Confederate ‘casualties’ lie prone beneath the guns of a Union advance into the woods.

A Kiwi amongst 23,000 reenactors at Gettysburg

Gettysburg, 1998 – 23,000 uniformed reenactors re-fight the great American Civil War battle that took place there 135 years earlier.  And this Kiwi was there as a private in the 47th Virginia Infantry.  

After the interest displayed in my previous posting on the 2005 reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, I thought people might also like to find out about my experiences of a few years earlier at one of the biggest reenactments ever held, which took place on the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  

This article was originally posted on my old Gettysburg website.  I’ve updated the article and added a whole lot more photos.  Some of these pics are pretty impressive when enlarged, so don’t forget to click on them. Note that these images are scanned from my old paper prints – one day I’ll take the negatives to a photographic shop and get better quality digital prints made of them.  

Anyway, let’s slip back to the year 1998 (and, with luck,  maybe even further back than that to 1863) …

‘Shoulder arms! …Right face! …Forward march!’ shouted our First Sergeant. Hefting my musket onto my shoulder, I stepped forward, keeping in line with the other men of the 47th Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, who were ranged in two ranks on either side of me. A soldier carrying a bright red flag emblazoned with a blue diagonal cross and white stars marched in front of our formation, while from behind us came the steady rat-a-tat-a-tat of a drum. The sun glinted off our bayonets as they swayed above us in time to our gait.

On either side of our lines, we could see other companies stretching off into the distance, all clad like us in a mixture of well-worn grey and brown uniforms, topped by battered hats of all shapes and sizes.

From my place in the rear rank, I could look over the shoulder of the man in front of me to where, a hundred or so yards in front of us, an apparently solid line of dark blue stretched away on both sides. The glinting of bayonets and the fluttering red-and-white-striped flags showed that this blue line was the waiting enemy.

‘Company! …Halt! …Front!’ came the shouted order. ‘Load!’ I pulled a paper-wrapped cartridge out of the box attached to my belt, stuck it between my teeth, and ripped off the end. Carefully I poured out the black granules of gunpowder down the barrel of the musket, then reached into another pouch on my belt for a small metal primer cap, which I fitted over a nipple near the trigger.

‘Fire by company! …Ready!’ I brought the loaded musket up in front of me. ‘Aim!’ Being careful to ensure that neither the end of the barrel nor the primer cap were right next to the ear of the soldier in front of me, I lifted the musket up and pointed it at the wall of dark blue in front of me. ‘Fire!’ With a sound like ripping canvas, the whole company fired in unison. The effect of this volley on the enemy was impossible to discern, as a blanket of white gun-smoke billowed out in front of us.

I suddenly felt the trappings of the twentieth century disappear. I was experiencing what my fellow reenactors termed a ‘period rush’. I really was a Confederate soldier, it really was 1863, and I really was fighting for my country in Pennsylvania, near a small market-town called Gettysburg!

How did I come to be in Gettysburg like this, feeling as though I had travelled back in time 135 years? The answer to that question has more to do with modern technology than history.

Civil War Re-enacting

The previous year my family had finally joined the Information Age by investing in a smart new computer, complete with Internet connection. Among the software we installed on our machine was the game Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, a recreation of that famous American Civil War battle, fought by tiny animated soldiers across a colourful map.

Making this game even more appealing was the ability to play it over the Internet against opponents all over the world, and so I met (or, to be exact, virtually met) Ed Christopher, a retired US Army officer living in Culpeper, Virginia.

Ed spoke to me about his hobby of reenacting American Civil War battles in real life rather than on computer screens, a pastime I had never heard of. We exchanged a lot of e-mails in which I asked Ed all about his unusual hobby, and in the end Ed invited me to join him and Company I of the 47th Virginia Infantry at the forthcoming 135th anniversary reenactment of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.

‘Hot, tired, often miserable, sore feet, dying of thirst, bathed in sweat, eaten up by insects,’ Ed promised me, ‘but it will be the most fun you have ever had in your life!! Just wait until you see (and join) the first massive infantry formations, bayoneted muskets glimmering in the sunlight like a virtual forest of steel, colors flying, and the fifes and drums playing. If you don’t get chills down your spine something’s wrong!’

With the 47th at Gettysburg

The original Battle of Gettysburg took place over three days from July 1-3 in 1863. The Confederate army, under General Robert E Lee was defeated by the Union army commanded by General George Meade, with over 51,000 casualties to both sides.   The reenactment took place right next to the original battlefield, and involved 23,000 reenactors, including 700 cavalry and 135 cannons.

There were around 100,000 spectators over the three days of the reenactment. This was the biggest-ever battle reenactment held in the United States.

Reenactors are not real soldiers, but enthusiastic amateurs who do this as a hobby, with clubs portraying various Civil War units spread throughout the United States.  I played the role of a private in the 47th Virginia Infantry, a Confederate regiment which really fought at Gettysburg.

My fellow soldiers in the 47th included school teachers, farmers, grocery clerks, active duty and retired US Marines, a lawyer, a retired US Army officer, high school and college students and many others from all walks of life. There were one or two women who were uniformed as men (well enough to hide their gender), and the drummers and fifers were mainly young people.

My host, Ed Christopher

The reenactors went to great lengths to ensure accuracy. The uniforms were made of the correct heavy wool cloth, right down to the weave. They carried authentic replica weaponry and equipment. Even the shoes had to be replicas of 135 year old brogans.

‘I usually wear a (dirty and stained by the years) butternut sack coat and a pair of filthy and patched gray wool trousers,’ Ed told me. ‘I often sling a filthy patchwork quilt blanket roll over my shoulders, but when it is too hot, I usually leave it off. I always wear a beat-up brown slouch hat. I never clean either my coats or trousers, and they look and smell like it too!’

Accommodation was in period-correct tents with straw for bedding. The camp was situated on a large rolling wooded farm. One could walk for an half-an-hour in any direction and not be out of the confines of the camp.

At night the effect could be magical.  ‘The camps are illuminated by hundreds of campfires,’ commented Ed. ‘Meals are cooked in iron skillets and pots over the open fires. Around many of the fires, the boys break out the fiddles and banjos, and we listen to and sing along with all the old Civil War tunes and songs.’

I had to learn how to load and fire the fully-working replica musket, and also how to march in the intricate manoeuvres used on the field of battle in those days. The marching turned out to be easier than I expected, as it did not require the spit and polish expected on modern parade grounds – soldiers of those days ambled in formation, rather than marching, in time to the music of fife-and-drums.

‘There is nothing that will stir your blood more,’ Ed added, ‘than when we march in massive long columns to the fifes and drums. Dense gray and brown columns of Confederates, flags flying, muskets on shoulders (with fixed bayonets gleaming in the sun), that stretch as far as the eye can see; all swaying in time to the fifes and drums playing Bonnie Blue Flag, or Gary Owen, or Dixie, or any of a hundred other tunes, as we march onto the fields. Rebel Yells, screams, and cheers soaring above the columns, dusty hats being wildly waved above heads, and the cheers and applause of tens of thousands of spectators on the sidelines as we march by…. It sends chills down your spine!!!’

Health and Safety

Safety was rigorously enforced. Before every engagement the officers would carefully check every musket. These, of course, were loaded only with gunpowder and no bullets. But there was still the real potential for injury from concussion, paper wadding or unintentional discharges. Closer than fifty yards muskets were to be aimed five feet over the enemy’s heads, not at them. Despite the safety checks, one reenactor was shot in the throat by a bullet accidentally left in an officer’s pistol – fortunately he survived.

Ed warned me that one time when injuries could occur was when fighting for the enemy’s flag. ‘I have grabbed Yankee colors before,’ he explained, ‘but had the sense to clearly let the colorbearer and anyone of his nearby comrades know that it was really for ‘show’ and I wasn’t going anywhere with them……yeah, right!! However, in about every case I was (rightfully) beaten to the ground.’

‘In the making of the movie Gettysburg I went over the wall with General Armistead, and on one of the ‘takes’ found myself face-to-face with the colorbearer – who got a bit too far ahead of his men – of the 72nd Pennsylvania. I ‘bayoneted’ him in the gut, he went down gloriously with his colors, but before I could even hope to touch them, I was literally clubbed to the ground on top of a pile of other bodies. I got up bleeding … and this was for a movie, for God’s sake!’

The other main danger was caused by the extremely high temperatures. There were over 300 cases of heat exhaustion on the first day alone. Our officers often checked that our canteens were full of water and stressed the need to drink often.

How to Die!

The actual engagements were awe-inspiring experiences. I ‘died’ four times during the three days of the battle. In general reenactors ‘took a hit’ when it was obvious that they should. ‘You will notice,’ Ed explained, ‘that often the officers (and the rank and file) will start shouting ‘Take hits, boys!!! We need to take some hits!!’ This is the case when we are clearly in a situation where we should be falling like flies due to the massed musketry and/or cannon fire directed at us. Then, we start to fall here and there or in clusters.’

‘Dying’ was also a good way of just having a rest and enjoying the sights and sounds. Returning to life had to be done very discreetly so that it would not be obvious to spectators. ‘The battle-lines ebb and flow back and forth most of the time,’ Ed told me. ‘If you are lying on the ground dead or wounded, when your own battle-line passes over you again, simply get back on your feet and blend into the mass of men. No one can see you do this from the spectator standpoint, and we all do it. I make a habit of it. Where it really looks unprofessional is when fellows rise back up in the middle of the open field with no one around them, and resume their fight.’

Pickett’s Charge

The highlight of the three days was the reenactment of what has become known as Pickett’s Charge, a doomed frontal attack by the Confederates against the Union infantry and artillery ensconced behind a stone wall. In the real battle, the majority of Confederate troops fell or retreated before they got to this stone wall, but a few did make it over, until they too were killed or captured.

To reenact this turning point in American history, it was important that just as many reenactors fell before they got to the wall. Because every Confederate reenactor wanted the distinction of climbing over the wall, this was done by way of a lottery, with everyone except the winners having to die or retreat before reaching the wall – I was very fortunate to be one of the few who drew a winning number!

There were about 12,000 Confederate reenactors involved in Pickett’s Charge, which meant we were doing a full scale reenactment of the event. We had to cover about half a mile of open ground, before finally reaching the blue-uniformed Federal infantry, lined up about four deep for the entire half-mile or so length of the low stone wall and fenceline.

In silence, each Confederate brigade headed off towards its ‘destiny’. We did a few obliques (diagonal movements) to place ourselves in the correct position, having some problems with our line bowing all the time. It seemed no time at all till we reached the first obstacle, a wooden fence denoting the Emmitsburg Road.

At this point the yell came for those who had drawn ones in the lottery to take a hit. Marching onwards, it must have made an impressive sight to the spectators, as the units shrunk with casualties streaming our behind their trail – it certainly looked it on each side as brigade after brigade of Confederates headed towards the long line of Union soldiers behind their stone wall. (Jill Russell photo)

getty_41_cropped

Down went our twos and threes, our corporal shouting for them to go down. Then at a run, instinctively bowing our heads, hunching our shoulders, and leaning forward as though walking into a headwind, we crossed the final gap towards the stone wall, the fours going down all around us. I clambered up onto the wall, behind which there was a twenty-yard gap, filled already with Confederate and Union ‘bodies’, then the solid line of Union blue. I ran towards them, watching others round me crashing down to the ground.

I felt someone brush past me, and saw it was General Armistead, carrying his hat pierced on the end of his sword (a famous moment in American history). At this moment, I made it to the front cover of the special Gettysburg edition of Civil War News. The photo below depicts General Armistead during Pickett’s Charge, and there I am right beside him! (Julio C Zangroniz photo)

I then decided that it was time I went down myself.  I stayed down for a while, watching Union troops shooting, and hearing their ‘Hurrah!’s as the Confederate assault was thrown back. I looked back at the field, which was totally covered with casualties and retreating rebels running back individually and in small groups. There was a group of Confederate and Union soldiers standing near me, so I ‘limped’ over to see what they were looking at. In the centre of the group lay the ‘dying’ General Armistead.

After a while the shooting began to ease off, and it was evident that the battle was at an end. Taps was played on a bugle, and in a very emotional moment, we all, Confederate and Union alike, stopped and took off our caps to honour those real soldiers who fought 135 years ago.

Overall the reenactors were not glorifying war. ‘For most of us,’ commented Ed, ‘this is genuinely stepping back 135 years and seeing and hearing and doing what our great-grandfathers experienced. Many in the ranks claim a direct connection to the war, and Gettysburg in particular. A direct desendant of General George Pickett is in one of the units. We are what we call ‘living historians’ and do our utmost to be very professional about all this. For ourselves, for our forefathers, and for the public who attends.’

To me the sincerity of what they were doing was obvious. Some were honouring those who had fallen (often direct ancestors), some were there to add to their already extensive knowledge of Civil War history, some were genuinely feeling what it was like to live 135 years ago in a time of bitter strife, and some were there more for the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned way of life than for the battles.

All in all, it was amazing to be able to travel not only half-way around the world, but also 135 years back in time. My sincerest thanks for an amazing experience go to Ed Christopher and the men and women of the 47th Virginia Infantry!

I’ve got quite a few more photos of this huge event, so I’ve added another gallery here.

My ‘bits and pieces’ display case

Do you find that when you are playing a wargame at someone’s house where they have their other armies in display cases or on shelves, your eyes are continually drawn to their arrayed troops?  Whenever there is a break in the play, I love studying other people’s miniatures collections, no matter what the era. 

Often the most interesting display cases are not the ones with the owner’s main armies, but the cabinets that store all their extraneous bits and pieces.  I particularly like it when there is an element of clutter, where you just can’t predict what units will be sitting beside each other, or what individual figures, bits of scenery or even non-related items get tossed into the mix.   

So that is what I want to show off on the blog today: my ‘bits and pieces’ display cabinet.  I’ve photographed it exactly as it is, without any attempt to tidy up or re-arrange.  So, let’s take a look (and, as usual on my blog, don’t forget to click the pictures to get a closer view!):

[above]  Well, here’s my bits and pieces display cabinet opened up for you.  Later we’ll explore what’s in each of the shelves.  But for now, in this photo you can see that on top of the cabinet itself are parts of the 28mm Spanish town and some 40mm houses I made a few years ago.  A 1:43 diecast Swiss ‘Polizei’ VW Beetle seems to have made it up there, too … not sure why I put that there!  And there’s also an old board game called Campaign that I’ve never played (and is missing some of the pieces anyway).

On top of the drawer unit lies part of the overflow from my bookcase, my beloved Sharpe DVD set, a couple of 1:72 Italeri houses  and a lovely resin La Belle Alliance inn from Waterloo.  Also a baby picture of one of my children seems to have migrated from the dresser in our lounge.  The little parcel on the right is an old one from Minifigs – a friend sold me some cannon still in the box he got them in years ago. 

I can’t recall where I got the American flag that hangs to one side – I’m a New Zealander, not from the USA.  But the flag looks splendid hanging there, anyway. 

[above] OK, let’s start with one of the top shelves of the cabinet.  This one contains a selection of 28mm Napoleonic British and Spanish command bases.  There are also a few British and Spanish figures based singly to act as ‘Big Men’ for the Napoleonic skirmish ruleset, Sharp Practice

In the background there’s a resin house and also a couple of hangovers from my days of collecting model police cars  – a 1:43 Citroen H van of the French ‘Gendarmerie’ (isn’t that shape of van so Gallic?!) and a Dutch ‘Rijkspolitie’ (State Police) Shorland armoured car. 

[above] This shelf contains my 28mm Napoleonic French command bases, along with a unit of voltigeurs that there isn’t room for in my main display case. 

The houses in the background are low relief ceramics that my wife and I bought during our honeymoon in Paris some 20 years ago.  They were quite expensive compared to wargaming scenery, but do look nice, and oh so French!

[above] This shelf has a really eclectic selection.  First, more 28mm Big Men for Sharp Practice, both on foot and mounted.  On the right are several colonial New Zealand wars figures by Eureka Miniatures –  Maori warriors and also NZ Armed Constabulary in their distinctive blanket-wrapped bush uniform.  In the background are some units from the small Warhammer Empire army, which was the first army I painted on my return to the wargaming hobby about ten years ago. 

In the left background is a diorama made up of German 30mm flats, showing the poet Schiller reading to some of his friends – even the tree is a lead flat.  I bought these flats on my trip to Europe in the late 1970s, in the tin figure museum at Kulmbach (Germany) if I recall correctly, and painted them on my return home. 

[above] Another rather odd mish-mash of figures.  On the left are some 28mm Spanish civilians by the Perry twins.  Front centre are a quintet of  cowboys I painted for use in Western games – though sadly they haven’t walked the dusty streets of Laredo yet.  Behind them is one of my favourite pieces, but one that again hasn’t seen a tabletop as yet: my Brittannia Miniatures armed longboat.  Off to the right are a couple of Napoleonic French vignettes, including a rendition of the famous David painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps. 

Sitting at the back are a couple of Napoleonic French vignettes (including a lovely Foundry cantiniere), some of my British rocket troops, and a miscellaneous Front Rank cart.   There are also a few other little odds and sods if you look carefully, including a Front Rank conversion to the Scarlet Pimpernel (wearing a natty yellowish coat), and another conversion to his nemesis French policeman (in a rather fanciful black outfit).

[above] This shelf contains my entire collection of 40mm Napoleonics, made up of a number of makes such as Sash and Saber, Perry Miniatures, Trident Miniatures and the Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company.  You can see French on the left, British on the right (including the ubiquitous Sharpe and Harper figures) and even some sailors at top right.  At the back are a few Spanish guerillas.  The resin windmill is a 28mm Grand Manner piece that really sets the scene for any Peninsular War game.  

[above] The final shelf is again a real mixture of periods and pieces.  Most of the miniatures are 28mm American Civil War by Redoubt.  In fact, this is my entire ACW army!  While it is a period that I like, it is not one that has enthused me enough to continue collecting the armies.  The banknote is an obvious fake!  Also shown are some Conflix resin carts, and a well by the same maker. 

Finally, yes, some more police vehicles:  a Cadillac Gage armoured car of the Los Angeles Police Department (sadly the long ram on the front has snapped off – on the real vehicle the ram was used to smash into crack houses, and was adorned with a smiley ‘have a nice day’ face!), a tiny German ‘Polizei’ BMW Isetta, and a Dutch ‘Rijkspolitie’ Porsche 911 – particularly meaningful for me as I did a police exchange to the Netherlands in 1992 and actually went on patrol in one of these iconic and ultimate patrol cars!

So, there we have it … my bits and pieces display case as it stands this cold and rainy weekend in late May 2010.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the browse round, and do leave a comment if you can.