Building an ACW Tollhouse

During the Civil War, tollhouses were quite a common sight. There is even an anecdote about General Sheridan being held up by one Charlotte Hillman, the keeper of a tollhouse, who refused to let his army pass. Only after Sheridan promised to send the money the pike was raised.

This already shows the potential of such a piece of terrain for a game like Sharp Practice, so I did some research on the Internet and looked for a suitable building to replicate.

There was one type I especially liked, namely the small octagonal stone buildings that were erected on the National Road in 1835. My first thought was: I want to build this! Followed by: Are you mental?

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The Petersburg tollhouse.

This would be the most complex scratchbuilding project I’ve undertaken until then, so I drew a plan for a change. Normally, I just make a sketch and then get going, but the octagonal layout, the porch and the roof demanded a bit of thinking ahead.

First, I cut the wall elements out of 0.8mm plastic. I glued on the windows, which I got from Auhagen – they offer packs of spare H0 windows which fit perfectly for 15mm and are pretty good value. Their doors, however, are too small, so I made my own.

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The wall elements and the base.

Assembling the walls showed how sloppy a worker I am – with the octagonal layout, errors in cutting are visible pretty soon. It worked out fine in the end and I knew that any gaps would be covered by structural paint anyway. I do however marvel at the precision of architectural model builders!

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The walls are glued together.

After the structure was done I covered the walls in structural paste. This served to cover up any gaps and also to give them a nice surface.

Then came the dreary part. As the roof is too fiddly to use premade plastic sheets, I covered the whole thing with tiny cardboard rectangles. This is mind-numbing work of the highest degree and it took quite a while, as there is only so much of it you can bear at one sitting.

I also added a Peter Pig trough and a spare barrel to enliven the base.

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The roof is finished.

After priming the whole thing, I painted the walls with Vallejo Stone Grey and the roof with Citadel Stormvermin Fur. The wooden parts were done in a light brown colour. And ink wash was applied and then everything was drybrushed several times.

And here it finally is:

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By my standards, this was quite an ambitious project, but it was fun to make and I’m really happy with the result. I’m sure it will provide our ACW games with dramatic as well as amusing narratives.

Waterloo in 15 Minutes

Originally, I wanted to publish this review last year, what with the anniversary and everything. Everyone seemed to be busy painting hundreds of Imperial Guard miniatures and Waterloo games were all over the place. Even I succumb to the buzz and managed to read two books: The first being the excellent The Battle: A New History of Waterloo by Alessandro Barbero, the second the rather disappointing The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. I never, however, even thought about gaming Waterloo – the model count is too off-putting and I’m not really interested in big battle games anyway.

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But then I stumbled over a review of a boardgame that promises to let you replay the Battle of Waterloo in 15 minutes. I was hooked. Generally, I’m not much interested in board wargames (although I like other kinds of boardgames). I’m turned off by the hex-and-counter aesthetics and the complicated rules with their paragraphs.

W1815 is an attractive little game published by the Finnish company U&P Games. It comes in a plastic bag, which contains wooden blocks, a cardboard map, cards and two dice. The game places the player at the highest level of command: Basically, you are Napoleon or Wellington, you have already positioned your troops and the battle is about to begin. There is no room for manoeuvring – in fact, there is no movement at all. This may come as a surprise to wargamers, but thinking of some miniature wargames of big battles I’ve seen, there is no real manoeuvring either, as there is no space for it.

Instead, the game is all about timing. Each player has a selection of action cards and is allowed to conduct one action on his or her turn. Some actions can be countered by the other player, and some can trigger further events. The aim of the game is to force the enemy to make and fail a morale test. If the army is broken, the game is over.

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The game is easy to learn and quick to play. It nevertheless gives very exciting and dramatic games. We’ve played several times now and each game had a unique narrative. I fondly remember winning with the French by committing the Guard at just the right moment!

W1815 is a very abstract model of the Battle of Waterloo. For me, it nevertheless – or perhaps for exactly this reason – captures what such a battle was all about on the highest level of command. It’s not about manoeuvring regiments, forming squares and trying to get the right angle for a flank attack, but about getting a grip on the flow of events and finding the right moment to commit your troops.

I can highly recommend W1815 – it’s an innovative game with interesting mechanisms that deliver a fun and exciting game. I think it would also be an excellent instrument for teaching or explaining the Battle of Waterloo and napoleonic tactics.

Soldaderas

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All the armies of the Mexican Revolution were accompanied by women. As no side had professional support units, the work of female camp followers was vital to provision the troops and to provide logistical support. Many women, however, also took up weapons and joined the fighting.

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According to one newspaper reporter, in 1913 there were around 200 female soldiers scattered in all warring factions. Some were wives or daughters of soldiers; others were outlaws who had joined the various revolutionary bands. If they proved themselves in battle, they could rise through the ranks, as indeed many did.

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Female soldiers can already be found in the early phase of the revolution among the Maderistas and Orozquistas. Rosa Bobadilla, who commanded a cavalry unit in Morelos, became famous, as did ‘La Coronela’ Carmen Parra, who participated in the first battle of Ciudad Juárez in 1911. After Victoriano Huerta had seized power in 1913, the federal army was increased by forced recruitment of men as well as women. While the women were mainly employed in supporting roles, many ended up on the battlefield.

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The machismo of Pancho Villa did not care for an active role for women, and Villa tried to ban soldaderas from his army. However, even among his troops, contemporaries witnessed women on horses, equipped with rifles and cartridge belts. One of them was Petra Herrera, who first fought under a male disguise and participated in several battles. Later, she raised her own all-female unit and changed side to Carranza. The Zapatistas also had several female fighters in their ranks. One of them, Maria de la Luz Espinosa Barrera, rose to the rank of colonel and was described as a woman who “smoked, drank, gambled, and feared no man”.

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How did they look? There is ample photographic material on the Mexican Revolution and we have many contemporary images of Soldaderas. From those pictures and descriptions in books and newspaper articles, we learn that some women retained their traditional costumes and wore dresses. Most of those who took up a combat role, however, seem to have donned male clothing, such as the khaki uniforms used by the Federal troops. In any case, the cartridge belts across the chest, which have become such an iconic piece of equipment for the period, can be found on almost all of the images of female soldiers.

What figures are available?

In 28mm Gringo40s offer several Soldaderas in their Mexican Revolution range. Those are very nice figures and they even include some unusual poses, such as the woman throwing a dynamite stick.

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My Gringo40s Soldaderas.

Old Glory have a pack of Mexican camp followers which contains 15 figures in five poses. They paint up nicely and go together well with the women offered by Gringo40s.

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My OldGlory Soldaderas.

In 20mm, Early War Miniatures offers a pack of Soldaderas.

15mm is badly served for the period. Only Peter Pig have some armed Mexican women in their Wild West range which might work at a pinch.

 

Bibliography

Fuentes, Andrés Reséndez: “Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution,” The Americas 51 (1995), 525-553.

Poniatowska, Elena: Las soldaderas. Women of the Mexican Revolution, El Paso, Texas: Cinco Puntos Press 2006.

Salas, Elizabeth: Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History, Austin, Tx.: University of Texas Press 1990.

On the Painting Table

I’ve now pre-ordered Sharp Practice 2, so naturally I want to bolster my ACW forces with additional troops.

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On the painting table right now are two units of Union skirmishers, again from the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers. You can also see two dismounted cavalry officers, a spare Union artillerist and a Confederate bugler. While the bulk of my ACW collection is composed of Peter Pig figures, for the skirmishers I used Essex to provide some variety.

By the way, for most of my painting I use cork stoppers to hold the figures. They have little magnets on one side, and as all my figures are based on steel washers (or round steel bases), this is a simple and versatile system of holding the figures for painting.

Like many of the recent Lardies games, Sharp Practice 2 will also have Force Morale. When I recently made an order from Warbases, I also got myself two of their casualty markers, which I just painted red and blue. I like their look and they take up less space then the Force Morale table that I’ve seen used for Chain of Command.

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I’ve also recently finished some more figures for the Mexican Revolution. Those will be used as American mercenaries, akin to the guys from the Wild Bunch, and are all from Pulp Figures. I really like the sculpts and the poses, and they were a treat to paint.

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Watching movies taking place in the Mexican Revolution period, you’ll always see an old car driving around. It is, however, not too easy to find a car from the 1910s in the right scale. There is one on offer from Brigade Games, but that was a tad too expensive for my taste. After some research and browsing the web, I found an old GDR-made toy car on ebay. It was cheap, the scale is perfect and it was easy to repaint:

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So what’s next? Some more ACW guys, of course! And I also got myself a couple of buildings from Hovels. I like their old-school style, they are very reasonably priced and look good on the table. Here you can see the Sharpsville church (which I will use as a generic church building) and a brick building.

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