Building an ACW Blockhouse

The current issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine contains a very nice scenario for Sharp Practice featuring a fort, so naturally, I wanted to build one. For the ACW, a fortified blockhouse seemed to be the most appropriate version.

During the American Civil War, blockhouses were widely used to secure lines of communication, such as railroads. The were massive constructions: the walls were often made out of two layers of logs and the foundation was covered with earth. The rooms were at least 9 feet high so as to faciliate loading the muskets.

I decided to make a two-storey construction with the second level built at an angle. My model was based on an illustration in the Osprey volume on American Civil War Railroad Tactics:


After drawing a simple plan, I cut all the wall elements out of thin plastic and glued them together. This was easy, as the whole structure consists basically of two square boxes. For the logs, I used 3mm wooden dowels which I roughened up with a rasp to give them some structure.


The dowels were cut into the appropriate length with secateurs (the best tool for this kind of work) and glued to the walls. As the lower half of the ground level was supposed to be covered with earth, I attached bits of blue foam – I would create the earth mound later with modelling clay. Like all my buildings, this one is reinforced inside, as I want it to withstand rough handling at the hands of wargamers old and young (I always ask myself: Is it robust enough for my nephew?).


The base for the outer fortifications was also cut out of plastic sheet. I used matchsticks for the woodwork and air drying modeling clay for the earth mounds. The modeling clay shrinks when drying, but the gaps will be covered during the next step.

Copious amounts of PVA glue were applied to the ground parts and everything was covered with sand and grit. After this has dried thouroughly, I washed the whole structure (including the buildings) with thinned down PVA glue. This makes the sand stick, seals the wood and makes it easier to apply paint.


Now the second level had to be attached to the first – but how to align it properly? I marked the centre of area of both parts and then drilled holes. A short piece of wire (actually a piece of a paperclip) was used to fasten the two levels together.

Now the upper part is in the exact centre and can be povited so that its corners project over the middle of the walls of the lower level.

The next step was to make the roof. The shape of the roof is a pyramid which I wanted to cover with wooden planks. The easiest way to do this is to make a paper cut-out model of the pyramid and glue the strips of wood unto the paper. Their edges don’t have to fit, they will be trimmed afterwards.

With a sharp knife, the wood can now be trimmed along the edge of the paper. Fold the paper and voilà, you’ve got a pyramid-shaped roof! The same technique was used for the half-pyramids of the lower level corner roofs.

I decided to keep the main roof removable. This was mainly for storage reasons (I found a box that fits perfectly, and building terrain to fit your storage space is always a good idea), but it also allows to put figures into the upper level.

The whole thing was primed with Vallejo Surface Primer IDF Israeli Sand Grey. I wanted to give the wood the look of freshly cut logs which had the bark removed, so I tried to get a brighter, more yellow-brownish hue. The wooden parts were first painted with Baneblade Brown and than washed with an mixture of Nuln Oil (2 parts), Seraphim Sepia (1 part) and Agrax Earthshade (2 parts). I applied three layers of drybrushing, first with Vallejo Gold Brown, then Vallejo Yellow Ochre and finally a very light drybrush of Vallejo Silvergrey.

The earth was painted to fit in with my mat and the bases of my figures, namely with a layer of Vallejo Beige Brown drybrushed with Terminatus Stone.

On the top of the roof, I applied a flagstaff made of steel wire and a flag – I’ve made two flags, one Union and one Confederate, so the blockhouse can be used by both sides.


This was a fun and not too complicated project. I’m not sure about the colour of the wooden parts, for my taste it doesn’t ‘pop out’ enough and is a bit too similar to the colour of the earth – maybe next time, I’ll stick to my tried and tested grey hue for old wood.

I’m really looking forward to using the blockhouse on the gaming table!


3 thoughts on “Building an ACW Blockhouse

  1. Pete S/ SP August 22, 2016 / 1:05 am

    Very nice- the way to do the rooves is very clever and I shall try it next time I build one.



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