Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Logo_smallHarriet Tubman was born under the name of Arminta Ross as a slave to Southern farmer Edward Brodess around 1822. From childhood on she experienced the hardships of slavery: she was often hired out to other masters who mistreated her badly and her family was torn apart when her sisters were sold.

When Brodess died, she feared that she and her remaining family would be sold. In 1849, she escaped and went to Philadelphia, where she organised the escape of her niece and her children. From that moment on, she became involved in the Underground Railroad, a clandestine organisation dedicated to helping slaves escape to the North. Using a network of free Blacks, Quakers and Abolitionists, she made numerous dangerous trips and personally guided about 80 people to freedom.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Tubman (she had changed her name to Harriet Tubman after marrying a free black man named John Tubman) was a fighter by nature and not above getting into the fray herself: When a fugitive slave named Charles Nalle was detained in Troy, New York, under the Fugitive Slave Act (which, in the minds of many Northerners, violated States’ rights), she led a crowd to storm the building were Nalle was kept and helped to free the prisoner.

Her successes and her dedication brought her into contact with leading abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas and John Brown. Brown invited her to take part in his raid on Harpers Ferry, which was intended to start a slave revolt on a grand scale. Tubman admired Brown, who in turn used to call her “General Tubman”. However, while she initially agreed to join Brown, she was not present when he attacked Harpers Ferry in October 1859. Later, she herself stated that she fell ill, but perhaps she was convinced by Douglas, who believed that the raid was futile. Indeed did the attack fail and Brown was hanged, becoming a martyr to the abolitionist cause.

When the Civil War broke out, Tubman went to South Carolina, where the presence of the Union army on the Sea Islands had attracted many fugitive slaves. She organised and taught the slaves, which trusted her and gave her valuable information on Confederate troop movements. Her efforts were recognised by local Union officers like General David Hunter, who was known for his abolitionist views, and Tubman became a spymaster, commanding several scouts.

Tubman during the American Civil War

Her most famous endeavour during the war was the Combahee River Raid. Hunter had organised a regiment of Black soldiers and sent them to raid several plantations on the Combahee River. The operation, whose main aim was to free slaves and to destroy the cotton and rice production, was commanded by Colonel James Montgomery. However, Tubman seems to have played a decisive role in planning and conducting the raid, which was a resounding success: The expedition brought back more than 700 slaves, many of which joined the Union army.

After the war, Tubman committed her energies towards promoting women’s suffrage, attending meetings and delivering speeches where she cited her own activities during the war and those of countless other women as proof of women’s equality to men. When she died in 1913, she was buried with semi-military honours at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.

Harriet Tubman’s actions before and during the Civil War would lend themselves well to small-scale skirmish games. But how to represent her on the tabletop?

Dixon Miniatures
Dixon Miniatures

In 28mm, Dixon Miniatures have several very nice women with dress and gun in the Pioneer Women section of their Old West range. Black Scorpion have a model in their Town Watch pack that might work. Knuckleduster Miniatures have a woman with a dress and a gun and in their Women of the Gun pack. Irregular Miniatures also offers a woman with rifle. Brigade Games have a woman with a shotgun, albeit with a hat instead of a scarf.

In 15mm, Peter Pig have a women with shotgun in their Wild West range. A similar model can be found in the Minifigs Wild West range.

Bibliography

Larson, Kate Clifford: Bound for the Promised Land. Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, New York: Ballantine 2004.

Grigg, Jeff W.: The Combahee River Raid. Harriet Tubman & Lowcountry Liberation, Charleston: The History Press 2014.

 

Meet the Neighbours!

We’ve settled well into the new city and apartment, although the heat is unbearable at the moment. Fortunately, I met fellow wargamers Sigur Skwarl and Virago, who took my mind off the weather by preparing a game set in good cold England.

This was my first game of Dux Britanniarum, but as a longtime Lardies fan, I recognized many of the mechanisms. Also, my hosts occasionally gave me hints when I was about to make a mistake – they don’t know yet that this had nothing to do with me being a beginner and all with me being a tactical dunderhead!

The British village.
The British village.
Close the door, I spot Saxons!
Close the door, I spot Saxons!

I took the stalwart Romano-British, which had to defend their village from a raid by greedy Saxons played by Sigur. The first couple of turns, Sigur rushed his men towards the village centre while the Saxons advanced at a more leisurely pace.

Saxons storming into the village...
Saxons storming into the village…
...and British marching to stop them.
…and British marching to stop them.

The only exception was a young British Big Man, who spurred his warriors on and advanced in front of the British line. When the Saxon saw this, they immediately charged, massacring their poor enemies. Fortunately, my force morale didn’t suffer – seems no one liked the overambitious guy.

The victorious Saxons form a celebratory shield wall.
The victorious Saxons form a celebratory shield wall.

The Saxons started searching the houses for loot but didn’t find anything for several turns. I used the time to organise my levy into one big mass of unwashed terror and ushered them towards the Saxons.

The great unwashed.
The great unwashed.

They proved more resilient than any of us thought! In the end, however, they succumbed to the superior fighting skills of the Saxon elite.

With those guys gone, there was no real resistance left and the Saxons managed to carry off a couple of pigs. Salad only for the poor British this week!

This was a great game and a fun evening. Rules-wise, I really liked Dux Britanniarum. It was interesting to see how mechanisms already present in Sharp Practice have been refined and streamlined. Especially Force Morale is a concept that I would like to see in SP – maybe I’ll make a house rule to include it. The card system is very clever and the campaign looks impressive. All in all, it looks a bit as if Sharp Practice were a rough gem while Dux Britanniarum was a polished diamond. Don’t get me wrong: I still love Sharp Practice as it’s incredible versatile and lends itself to all kinds of tinkering, which is something I like to do. However, I’m really tempted to get a copy of Dux Brit and dust off my SAGA figures for some Dark Ages rumble.

But most importantly, my hosts were gracious and fun and it was a pleasure to game with them. Thanks Sigur and Virago, I hope we’ll have more games in the future! And thanks for letting me use your photos.

Review: Battlefields in Miniature

Pen & Sword Books are publishing a growing range of wargaming books. Some of them are rules – the latest being One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas, more of which in another blog entry – while others cover more general topics, such as Wargaming on a Budget or Henry Hyde’s unrivalled Wargaming Compendium.

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Paul Davies’ Battlefields in Miniature belongs to the later category. It’s basically a compendium of terrain building for wargamers. Paul Davies is a regular contributor to Wargames Illustrated, where he has published a number of articles on how to build specific terrain features.

The book is a lavishly illustrated hardcover volume. One thing I immediately liked is that the photos of demonstration or participation games from diverse UK shows are not just random illustrations – the author discusses many of the games depicted and gives hints on how the terrain was constructed. This is especially useful for someone who doesn’t live in the UK and has no opportunities to visit the shows there.

The book starts with basics, discussing tools and materials, before moving to the topic of gaming surfaces. This covers terrain cloths, tiles and sculpted terrain. There is a lot of useful information in there and I learned some new techniques.

Afterwards, we come to the staples of wargames terrain: Rivers, hills, trees, walls and all the other features we fight over. The book presents different building projects and describes how to make specific features such as trees, stonewalls, wattle fences and so on. While those are pretty basic, the buildings, which are described in the last (but lengthy) chapter, are more involved. There’s a Saxon Great Hall (with interior!), a half-timbered building and finally a splendid looking yarn market.

There are several things I like about the book. I’ve already mentioned the lengthy discussion of gaming surfaces, which is a topic that is sometimes a bit neglected in books like this. Also, while 28mm is the focus, the book includes images of 15mm or 6mm games and discusses at least some terrain solutions for those sizes. Most of the examples covered are pretty generic, though they tend towards depicting terrain for the western hemisphere – there is no specific information on how to make desert or jungle terrain. A drawback might be that the buildings are all from the ancient to medieval periods, so of you are looking for inspirations for your WW2 table, you might be disappointed (at least by the section on buildings). One interesting thing to note is that the book clearly mirrors current fashions in terrain building, especially with the copious use of teddy bear fur.

The projects are a bit more detailed and therefore more time-consuming than, say, the projects presented by Diane Sutherland in Miniature Wargames. The author also stresses the need to take your time and work diligently – good advice, but if you are impatient like me or if you have a huge table to cover like Diane, you might want to look for short cuts.

I like Battlefields in Miniatures, but then I like nice books and this is a very nice book. From a practical standpoint, it’s a compendium that allows you to compare terrain solutions without wading through hundreds of web pages. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s something to browse while lounging on the couch and to take inspiration from. If this is something you enjoy, I can highly recommend it.

To Catch a Queen – WotR AAR

Recently, we had K.’s brother J. and his son over to play a game of medieval Sharp Practice. Some of you might remember that I built a medieval cog once – well, it was time to finally put her on the table!

The scenario was set after the Battle of Northampton in 1460, where the Yorkists managed to capture King Henry. Queen Margaret, however, managed to escape to Wales, despite being ambushed on the way by some Yorkists, who took all her valuables.

In our story, the Queen wants to escape to the coast to take a ship to France, no doubt to get some money from her father to raise an army. The Queen was escorted by her loyal bodyguard of Men-at-Arms and some mercenary handgonners. Waiting for her on the beach were a group of Archers and a detachment of sailors from the ship’s crew. Hot on her heels were the Yorkists, who had a slight superiority in troop quality, fielding two groups of Billmen, one of Archers and one of Men-at-Arms.

K. and the kid played the Lancastarians while J. and me took the Yorkists. We decided to split our forces: the Billmen were deployed to pursue the Queen’s entourage while the Men-at-Arms and the Archers were to advance on the beach.

"Any sign of them yet?"
“Any sign of them yet?”
The Queen and her retinue.
The Queen and her retinue.
Yorkist Billmen hot on their heels.
Yorkist Billmen hot on their heels.

The Yorkist Billmen stepped lively and were able to engage the handgonners positioned to the rear of the column. The handgonners shooting hurt but didn’t deter the brave lads.

Billmen engaging handgonners.
Billmen engaging handgonners.

Still, the handgonners kept up an efficient defence, falling back without breaking when attacked, shooting and blocking the way for their pursuers. In the end, they succumbed to the greater numbers, but they had successfully delayed the Yorkists’ advance.

The Handgonners' fighting retreat.
The Handgonners’ fighting retreat.

Meanwhile, on the beach – nothing happened. K. and the kid had deployed their troops to secure the embarkment and waited.

Lancastarians waiting.
Lancastarians waiting.

Unfortunately, neither of our two Big Men positioned on the beach could be activated, as their cards just wouldn’t turn up before Tiffin ended the turn. This went on turn after turn, and we were getting quite frustrated, as we knew we had almost no chance to stop the Lancastarians now. Finally, we got the Archers and Men-at-Arms going, but it was too late.

Finally the Yorkists advance.
Finally the Yorkists advance.

The Archers managed to do some damage and our Men-at-Arms took their anger out on the poor sailors, but this couldn’t change to inevitable result: The Queen embarked in her boat, and while the Archers took one last shot at her she was rowed to the ship, which set sails and took her to France.

The end.
The end.

It was great fun to play with J. and the kid, and I was happy to get the boat out and use the beach mat for medievals. However, the game was very frustrating for J. and myself. I felt like a bad host as J. didn’t have much opportunity to actually play! Perhaps I should consider to soften the effect of the Tiffin card a bit, at least in scenarios like this, where a chase is going on and it is not even very plausible for the pursuers to stand around and do nothing.

Still, everyone agreed that they had a good time, so I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to play again soon.