Building a Cotton Press in 15mm

After building the Southern Mansion, I wanted to add more structures which would have belonged to Civil War plantation complexes. One of the most characteristic landmarks was the cotton press. This large wooden structure consisted of a screw mechanism and a wooden compartment into which the cotton and a piece of cloth bagging was put. By turning the screw, the cotton was pressed into a bale. The bag was then stitched together and bound with rope.


My model of a cotton press is mainly made out of match sticks and thin strips of wood. I often use old plastic cards for bases – they are thin, don’t bend or warp and have a good size for many 15mm structures. The cotton compartment was built up with matchsticks. The press part was made out of balsa wood and two dice frames. For the screw, I just took an ordinary screw. I also decided to use a clear acrylic rod as a buttress because I didn’t trust the stability of my construction.

Around those two parts, I built up the framework with thin strips of wood. After priming, I painted and drybrushed it to give the impression of weathered wood.

In my lead pile, I found a spare mule (well, I found several – for some reasons I’ve amassed a lot of mules!) to which I added a harness with bits of a paper clip and paper. I also made some cotton bales out of Green Stuff. They are based on a period painting and, while not perfect, were easy enough to make.

And this is the finished cotton press:

Belonging to the production infrastructure of the South, cotton presses were often destroyed by Union troops. My model will make a fine objective for games of Sharp Practice.


Building a Southern Mansion

One of the most characteristic buildings of the Civil War South is the plantation house or mansion. Often built in a sumptuous neoclassicist style, it served as the home for the planter and his family. Many examples survive and a quick internet search reveals a number of inspirational images.

My project started with a quick sketch and an outline of the necessary parts which would make up the building. Those were then cut out of plastic sheet. I then glued on windows and doors from Auhagen. Those are made for H0 model railways and are in 1/87, but they work perfect with 15mm figures.

I by all means wanted to have the characteristic weatherboarding effect and decided to cover the walls with thin strips of cardboard. This is labour-intensive work but the result looks rather nice. By the way, it turns out that the best cardboard for this purpose comes from spaghetti boxes – a welcome excuse to eat even more pasta!

The walls were assembled and the structure was strengthened with some pieces of wood. My models are gaming pieces and I always build them to survive the rough handling of eager wargamers.


For the columns of the balcony, I used wooden dowels. They have a nice structure but of course no capital; however, I decided I could live with that.

The rails of the balcony were made from fancy toothpicks I nicked at a buffet – when I saw them, I immediately knew they would be perfect for such a project!


I decided to make a removable roof and built a quick mock-up out of cardboard. This is something I sometimes do with more complex structures – I’m prone to making errors in my calculations, so it’s better to check it before cutting the wrong shapes out of plastic.


The roof shingles were made out of cardboard – again a mind-numbing work but the result looks nice.

When everything was finished, I assembled the whole structure, primed and painted it. And that’s how it looks:

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.