On the Painting Table

I’ve been pretty industrious painting-wise during the last weeks. After finishing the Confederate cavalry, I’ve decided that I also want a force of white Union troops. I got figures in marching pose for a change and have now finished three groups of those. I’ve got a couple more coming up, this time in shooting and loading poses so they can also be used as skirmishers.

The last issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy contains a fun looking mini campaign for Sharp Practice featuring the Louisiana Tigers, the most famous (and one of the few) Southern Zouave regiments. I wanted to paint Zouaves for a while and this seemed as good an excuse as any. Fortunately, the scenario specifies only one group of skirmishers as the Tiger Rifles, the company that wore the characteristic uniform with striped trousers. I was a bit apprehensive about doing the stripes, but I think they worked out ok.

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And now for something completely different: rats! My recent game of Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes gave me the spontaneous idea to make a small fantasy warband. I like rats and I’ve always wanted to have Skaven, so I got a couple of figures very cheaply second-hand. Virago has promised me to give me some more.

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This is actually my first attempt at 28mm Games Workshop figures. I’m not totally convinced, as they contain too many frills and furbelows for my taste. Still, second-hand GW figures are arguably the cheapest option of getting 28mm fantasy figures and they will work fine enough. I hope that I can wangle some plainer rats off Virago.

Finally, I’m making more sabot bases for the 15mm ACW figures. They are made of magnetic foil on thin sheets of brass – looks ok, is very handy for moving groups in formation and allows easy removal of casualties.

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Building an ACW Earthwork

In July 1864, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers took part in a probing assault against Confederate fortifications on James Island. Together with two other regiments, they attacked a Confederate fieldwork fitted with artillery. I have found no detailed description of how this particular piece of fortification looked, so I decided to make a generic earthwork for the scenario.

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Drawing of Confederate earthworks by Alfred Waud

I normally only make rough sketches for my projects, but this time, I drew the outline of the structure in the size that I actually wanted to have it on a large sheet of paper. This made it easier to determine the overall size – I wanted it to be an imposing center-piece for the table, with space enough for three guns with their crews, but I also didn’t want it to become too large.

The structure itself was based on a 1mm thick sheet of plastic. To make it more massive, I used two layers of 5mm thick foamboard to raise the whole thing a bit. I then drew the outline of the fortifications on the foamboard.

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The wooden walls stabilising the inner face of the fieldwork were made out of match sticks. As always, I glued them unto a piece of paper and, when the glue had set, cut them out in the shape I needed them. This saves as lot of time and is less of a hassle than fiddling around with matchsticks trying to fit them into place individually.

On the flanks, I made raised platforms for infantry to shoot from. I also made wooden platforms for the guns. These can be seen in many period photos and were built so the guns would not sink into the earth when recoiling and could be pushed back into position easier.

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The actual earthworks were then modelled with DAS Air Drying Modelling Clay. It was the first time I used this clay, which is recommended by master modeller Tony Harwood. I’ve only used FIMO Air Light before, which is much lighter and a bit softer, but also more expensive. DAS is surprisingly stiff and it takes some work to make different bits stick together seamlessly. When I had the feeling I finally got it, I was almost finished, so the parts I modelled at the beginning look a bit uneven.

Normally, I would use sand to get a surface structure, but I discovered that I had run out of fine sand, so I decided to try structural paste. I primed the whole thing with Vallejo IDF Israeli Sand Grey and then used Vallejo Dark Earth, which is the same paste I use for the bases of my figures. This was then drybrushed with GW Terminatus Stone. The wooden parts were first painted with GW Stormvermin Fur (a brownish grey), washed and drybrushed with GW Baneblade Brown and Vallejo Silver Grey.

And here it is with artillery:

It looks impressive enough to be a daunting objective for the 1st South Carolina, and I could even use it to recreate the famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts on Fort Wagner.

Playing with History

History has a tendency to not stay dead. In many countries, it is evident how issues of the past still shape the political landscape.

Although I’m not American, after the events in Charlottesville, after president Trump’s statements and after reading discussions in ACW forums, I felt sick with gaming the American Civil War for a moment.

What follows is my attempt at trying to clarify my own stance towards wargaming controversial subjects. Perhaps some of you might find those rather rambling thoughts interesting. If not, have no fear – normal service will be resumed shortly.

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I have to admit that I’m generally a rather squeamish player when it comes to periods that have an impact on current politics. I normally avoid WW2 games and only play them with people I trust, because the ideology of National Socialism is still alive in certain parts of Austrian society and I just couldn’t stand it to spend my evening with someone who downplays Nazi crimes.

Now, many people might say that ‘we’re just playing games’. This is, of course, true, if we mean that we shouldn’t take winning or losing too seriously, that no one gets hurt in our games and that we – fortunately! – miss the danger and the suffering experienced by the people we base our games upon.

However, it does not mean that those games have no meaning. Historical wargames always represents something. To say that ‘this is just a game’ misses the fact that we play a game with stories and symbols that still touch people. For example, SS units are not just elite assets on the tabletop, but they represent mass murderers, men who were willing accomplices of a genocidal regime. Swastikas are not just historical symbols, they are still used by political extremists.

As could lately be seen in Charlottesville, the same is true for Confederate symbols. There are people who would prefer to rewrite history and tell us that the Confederates were not racist at all, that it was not about slavery and that their cause was a noble one. This rightly enrages others whose ancestors have made a different experience and who themselves make different experiences each day of their lives. A half-way honest investigation of its history shows that the CSA was a nation based on the suppression of African-Americans, and to deny that is to not only deny the historical experience of slavery and racism, but also the fact that racial inequality still is an experience for many people today.

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This does not mean that we shouldn’t play with this history. But at least for me it means that we should do so respectfully – respectfully not only towards the men (and women) who fought and died in that conflict, but also towards the people who are touched by this history today. This, in turn, means having an open ear for their stories and concerns and not dismiss them by saying they are ‘easily offended’ or ‘politically correct’, or by using any other of those intellectually lazy phrases that signal nothing but an unwillingness to accept that there are other perspectives than ones own.

And before anyone says that this takes out all the fun – really, it’s not that hard to have fun without being a dick!

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By painting figures, writing scenarios and playing games we always tell stories, whether we intend to or not. But we also have it in hand to choose which story we want to tell. For my Civil War gaming, I do not want to repeat the trite and deluded narrative of the chivalrous South and its noble cause. Instead, I want to tell other stories and bring different actors into the foreground: The 1st South Carolina Volunteers, an African-American regiment, for instance.

Which does not mean that I won’t collect, paint or play with Confederate figures. But I will always remember what happened more than a 150 years ago and I won’t whitewash the conflict or downplay the issues that were at stake.

Clearing out the Rebels – Sharp Practice AAR

At the moment, I’m playtesting a series of scenarios for Sharp Practice. My intent is to have them eventually published in some shape or form, but before this can happen, they have to be researched, written up and playtested. All of them depict historical actions of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, one of the first African-American regiments of the American Civil War.

The objective of this scenario was for the Union to clear out the Rebel pickets and burn huts so as to establish a defensive perimeter. K. played the Union, while I took the Confederates.

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The first two Union groups deployed in line at the center, no doubt intent on heading straight for the central building, which also served as the Confederate secondary deployment point. K. also sent a group of skirmishers to her far left flank. To counter the thread in the middle, I deployed two groups in line behind the fence so as to defend the house. Two other groups marched along the road at my left flank.

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I also sent both of my skirmishers to protect my right flank, where K.’s guys were running towards the house with spirits & tinder box. They managed to check the Union advance. However, K. then deployed her regimental chaplain, who rallied all the shock, bringing the skirmishers back into the game.

However, an even more dramatic turn happened on the other flank. K.’s second group of skirmishers worked their way around the flank of my second line of infantry, which was taking up position to blaze away at the Union center. I had to detach one group to chase away the pesky guys. At first, they duly fell back.

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However, before my guys could react, they turned around and charged them! The Rebels, who had unloaded muskets at the time, were pretty surprised – which must have been the reason for the disastrous result of the melee: The group lost by a margin of 4, fell back and broke, taking the Rebel commander with them.

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The lone Confederate group on the road was now in a bad spot. I made my biggest mistake by deciding to get them behind the fence in the center, were they could join the other Rebel leader. However, I somehow overlooked that to do this, they would cross the line of fire of a Union formation which had not yet fired a shot. A controlled volley later, and those Confederates were also running.

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The Union skirmishers were now free to advance towards the leftmost building and set it ablaze.

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There was still an intense firefight – with lots of smoke! – going on on my right flank, but K. was starting to divert one of her center groups to this action and my Force Morale was at 2 while hers was at 8, so I conceded.

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A very enjoyable game with some unexpected turns! This was actually the second version of the scenario. The first proved to be far too hard for the Union, but this was quite balanced. It’s never easy as the attacker in Sharp Practice, especially if there are objectives to be fulfilled. But we both agreed that the scenario offered plenty of options how to attack and how to set up a defense.