Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Red Star Rising! Uncle Billy's Proud Nephews

As I mentioned earlier, I've a lot of different projects on the go.

Way too many honestly; but this is a hobby, variety is the spice of live, and anyway it has all been giving me a lot of pleasure.

So there.
These days I've been revisiting the ACW. One of my earliest loves in wargaming, thanks to a combination of two things.

First, as a kid, my brother and I each got a set of the old 54mm Britain's ACW horse artillery battery, with firing Napoleon guns. I was given the Rebs, my brother the Union.

Small wonder that between the two of us, we never took anyone's eye out.

The second was getting the classic book by Donald Featherstone, Battles with Model Soldiers. In it was a chapter called "Stepped-up situations", where he went through three very basic scenarios for beginners using the old Airfix HO/OO ACW figures. 

I loved it; it was my gateway drug to wargaming, so I was thrilled when just last week Norm revisited both the game and the book in his excellent blog post here.

Since those days, interest in the ACW has peaked and waned in cycles, but it's always been there. I find it far more fascinating than the AWI, and I even managed to plough through watching the movie Gettysburg (fast-forwarding my way through the turgid, tedious- and frequently embarrasing- speeches).

Before I came to Japan, the gang I gamed with were playing the ACW in a big way.

This pic is from a monster not-Antietam game we once played with several thousand figures, and all insanely individually based. Here the Irish Brigade is about to impale itself on my own line of Reb bayonets- Dick Taylor's Louisiana Brigade.
ACW game.jpg (262.23KiB)

The battles of Pepperidge Farm, Petticoat Junction, First and Second Taffyville; all became household names in our pantheon of great tabletop conflicts.

Almost all were Dixon and Rafm figures, which we bought and painted by the bucketful back then. I had- indeed still have- loads.

It helped that one of our group was Dave Morgan, then owner of Sentry Box West, one of the largest wargaming shops in the country- he stocked both ranges in industrial quantities.

I wore the grey back in the day; since then I (stupidly) sold off a bunch, but at least I kept my brigade of veteran Louisiana troops that I still have (again, stupidly) packed away somewhere back in Vancouver.

Later I turned my back on rebellion- not to mention all the Lost Cause, "it wasn't really about slavery" bullshit that I kept coming across in my reading- and decided instead to begin collecting a Union army. 

The "heritage, not hate" argument can be a contradictory one, which hasn't always been made convincingly- nor sincerely. I think it's pretty clear that much of the more overtly romantic bilge has been used as a fig-leaf to draw attention away from Joe Crow in the long years after the war.

Anyway, 'nuff politics, and suffice to say I haven't changed my mind. But Billy Yank needs an opponent, so now I am indeed working on some Confederates as well. 
The Dixon figures still hold their own; over the years I learned to weed out the codes with the worst of the pumpkin heads.  Although were I to start again I'd begin with the box set of plastics from the Perry twins. 

Fast forward to the next century, and the pre-covidian era.  We had of course been playing lots of Napoleonics using Black Powder, and I always had an eye to doing the ACW using the same rules. 

But that means a lot of figures to get mustered, equipped and uniformed, so the Rebels & Patriots rules from Osprey look appealing for getting started gaming using smaller numbers of miniatures. 

The Pig Wars of the Pacific Northwest are also an option- if Matt ever gets his British Intervention Force painted.

More on rules, specifically Rebels & Patriots, for a future post. 

But whatever the rules, over the past year I just found myself slowly, sporadically- but steadily- painting up more and more Union miniatures. 


So which Union formation did I choose?

After some consideration, I decided these were the boys I wanted to do: 

Union XII (later XX) Corps, 1863-1864
1st Div (Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams),
2nd Brigade (Col. Thomas H. Ruger, 3rd Wis.)


2nd Mass.advancingpacks/ bedrollssky blue trousers
27th Ind.advancingpacks/ bedrollsblue-grey trousers
3rd Wis.firing linelight ordersky blue trousers
13th N.J.firing linepacks/ bedrollssky blue trousers
107th N.Y.firing linepacks/bedrollsblue-grey trousers*
(*...and that, kids, is how to do the Union without needing labels on the bases)

It's a formation that never gets a lot of press; but it is an interesting one to do, as unusually it served both with the Army of the Potomac and out in the west under Sherman.

The XII Corps was formed from an unlikely- and unlucky- source; the army that had been commanded by General Nathanial Banks, and which had been thoroughly whipped by Stonewall Jackson in his celebrated Valley Campaign.

It was more a case of terrible (if well-connected) generalship than of poor troops, as they did much better at Antietam in 1862- at a high cost.  

There the 2nd Massachusetts in particular paid a high price, with many officers and men killed and wounded- including among the latter a Lt. Robert Gould Shaw (remember that opening scene of Glory?).  

In 1863 the brigade was at Chancellorsville (ouch!) and saw fierce action at Gettysburg, Almost immediately afterwards it found itself sent to New York to help put down the draft riots. 

Shortly afterwards, the XII Corps was transferred out west to bolster the Union western armies there in the dark days after Chickamauga. 

There would be some minor changes in commanders and in brigade/ division organization over the rest of the war, but with the Army of the Cumberland it gained an excellent reputation, no doubt helped by its experience in the major leagues, as it were.

Later the hard-luck XI Corps was absorbed into the XII, and a new organization was formed; the XX Corps. But to the relief of the veterans they all adopted the XII Corps red star insignia and its higher command structure.

Must of been something of a clash of cultures when the XII met their new comrades from the western theater; there was none of the Army of the Potomac's spit-and-polish about Sherman's men, as this picture attests:
Old sweats; western officers from the 105th Ohio Infantry Regt. Not much polish, but probably plenty of spit. Lt. Albion Tourgee, on the left, was to go on to become a well-known and tenacious civil rights lawyer.
Weary XII Corps men soon after arriving in Tennessee.
But on the other hand, apart from Chickamauga, the westerners had been used to actually- you know, like winning -most of their fights. 

The XII/ XX Corps went on to fight in the Atlanta campaign with great distinction, being the first Union troops to enter the city.
Looking over the old Confederate defences at Atlanta. Note the stripped-down Hardee hat with the Corps badge. Forage caps were not as popular with Union troops in the west.
The 27th Indiana Volunteers was a celebrated regiment in its own right, with a hard-fighting reputation. In 1862, it was some soldiers of the 27th who found the “Lost Orders”- that copy of Lee's orders to the ANV- which were promptly passed up on to Gen. McClellan. Thus the regiment was instrumental in sparking off the Battle of Antietam, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation.

At Gettysburg, along with the 2nd Massachusetts, it participated in the ill-fated charge at Spangler's Spring at Culp's Hill. 

Brig. Gen. Alpheus Starkey Williams: commander of the XII Corps' 1st Division, Williams was one of the more capable, if under-rated, divisional commanders in a rapidly-expanding Union army. 

Never a glory-seeker, "Pap" Williams was popular with his men- but he wasn't a West-Pointer, and he also wasn't inclined to suck up to the press or to politicians. 

To the detriment of his career, if not his character.
Proudly wearing his XII/ XX Corps red star badge.
His statue in his home state; Detroit, Michigan.  He's portrayed here on his favorite old war horse, "Plug Ugly".  A wonderfully un-heroic, yet workmanlike, pose.

Col. Thomas H. Ruger, former regimental commander of the 3rd Wisconsin, before being appointed commander of the 2nd Brigade. 

And in miniature, here accompanied by the flag of the 2nd Brigade, 1st. Division XII/ XX Corps: the 'Bloody Pentagram'.

"Go clear those people from those woods!"

So far I have the 13th "Noo Joisy" done- or would have if I hadn't recently decided to add three more stands- along with some "Badgers'- the 3rd Wisconsin- coming hot on their heels. 

I already have all the flags I need for the brigade, courtesy of GMB.
"Down with the traitor, and up with the (red!) star!"


I'm in the middle of prepping a section of Federal artillery as I type- Foundry figures this time, destined to be Battery "I", New York Light Artillery, who were attached to the division. One of the packs of the Foundry artillery are in frock coats and campaign Hardee hats, and will be perfect for the western theatre.

On Dixon miniatures: there are more modern and more anatomically accurate figures out there, but when I got into the ACW it was easily the most comprehensive range available, and as I said, I had lots.

And they actually get painted, where sometimes more state-of-the-art miniatures never even make it to the painting table. They are fun to paint- being able to keep myself engaged in the painting process is essential. It’s a hobby, so I need to like what I am doing.

When I got back into the period, pre-Perry and post- ridiculous Foundry price rises, it was logical to pad out what I had with more Dixons.

And if I don’t “overdo” the painting (the heavily-sculpted folds and creases cast their own shadow and don't need much contrast), avoid the more oddball poses and pumpkin-heads, and don’t mix too many different poses in a unit, they look good. 

Seen close up, the exaggeration can jar; but a unit seen from a distance on the gaming table, they can look really effective.

They’re characterizations, not scale models.

I have just about all the Union (need one more advancing regiment) and most of the Confederates I’ll need. I may pick up a few Foundry units to flesh out the Secesh.

On basing: the round bases came into vogue with the Osprey Rampant rule series. I thought they looked good, even for closely-ranked units as here.

Although they are meant for semi-skirmish games, I see no reason why they can’t double-duty for Black Powder.

Besides, I was getting bored with rectangular bases; more base than figure, more often than not.

Here is the 27th Indiana which are next in line for cleaning up, here based as a twenty-four figure unit for Black Powder
The double- and singly-based figures can be used as skirmishers, although I may recruit the 150th NY, which joined after the Corps was transferred to the west, as a dedicated skirmish unit.

I like the round bases, as with only 24 figures they give me a line formation that bears at least some resemblance to the real thing- yet still gives the impression of some depth, helped by staggering the figures on their bases.

And here I have broken it down into two, twelve-figure “companies” for Rebels & Patriots (I’ll be playing it so that companies are the basic maneuver units, which I think makes more sense).
The basing system might not be to everyone's taste, but it works for me. Reminds me of the games I played as a kid! 

Need some terrain, though- currently working on a Renedra church and a Warbases barn. 
"Captain! Go organize me a painting detail!!"
Another project I'm thoroughly enjoying.


Jonathan Freitag said...

Excellent brushwork and interesting historical bio. Dixon ACW figures are really nice but as you say, they suffer from “Pumpkinhead Syndrome.”

Robert said...

Hi Jonathan,

I've come to terms with the pumpkins, and they look good enough for wargaming purposes.

I rather like them (obviously!), but the more idiosyncratic poses and heads go out the window(or have a deep slouch hat added fashioned from epoxy putty).

I like the Foundry figures too, but have to wait for the planets to line up; good exchange rates, the disposable income on hand, and one of The Foundry's periodic sales.

Norm said...

Enjoyable post and browse at your collection. I like very much the character like nature of the figures.

DeanM said...

Very cool rundown of your ACW gaming interest, Robert. Wow! I can only imagine you and your brother playing with 54mm figs and firing cannon as well! That image from your past game with thousands of individually based figures was also very impressive! BTW, I like the round basing you're doing - very adaptable to different scenarios/rules.

Gonsalvo said...

Some lovely figures, interesting background, and some appealing plans!

von Peter himself said...

Howdies Robert

It's great to see you back posting again. Excellent in fact!

Covid-19 and the lockdown here in NZ has allowed me to restart (again!) some consistent hobbying activities though this working from home thing does impinge somewhat.

I'll keep an eye out for more output from your keyboard.

von Peter himself