Germanic Warrior Women

Logo_smallFor the Romans, ethnographic observations were often a by-product of campaigning. All the more is it noteworthy that Roman historians repeatedly delve into descriptions of the warlike nature of Germanic women.

The most common involvement of women in combat seems to have been in the defence of the wagon fort. Germanic tribes used laagers to protect their baggage and sometimes also as a defensive tactic in itself. For example, at the battle of Adrianople (378 AD), the Goths formed up behind a circular ring of wagons.

A Celtic Laager by Nick Speller and Simon Miller, made to be used for Simon's To The Strongest rules - visit his blog to find out more!
A Celtic laager by Nick Speller and Simon Miller, made to be used for Simon’s To The Strongest rules – visit his blog to find out more!

When an army was beaten and the enemy moved against the wagon fort, the women and sometimes even the children entrenched there often put up a fierce fight. Plutarch writes about one of Caesar’s battles against the Helvetians:

“After a long and hard struggle he routed the enemy’s fighting men, but had the most trouble at their rampart of waggons, where not only did the men themselves make a stand and fight, but also their wives and children defended themselves to the death and were cut to pieces with the men.” (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 18)

Scenes like this seem to have happened often, as they can be found in several sources. This of course if not surprising if one considers that surrender would have meant slavery at the best.

Apart from their role as a last-ditch defence, at least among some tribes women also seemed to have had an active role on the battlefield. Cassius Dio, in his Roman History, describes “women’s bodies in armour” found among the corpses of the “barbarians” after a battle Marcus Aurelius won against the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe. Marcus Aurelius also had ten women in male armament, who had been captured among the Goths, in his triumphal procession.

Intriguingly, apart from written sources, we also have archaeological evidence for Germanic warrior women. In an overview of bog corpse finds, the archaeologist Alfred Dieck drew attention to several female bodies found with weapons. For example, among eight bodies found in a site in Germany and dated to around 350 BC, three were young women equipped with shield, sword, spear and bow. All of them had died of wounds that indicate combat injuries. Corpses of women dating to the Roman imperial period have been found which were dressed and armed like men and which had been killed by sword thrusts. Dieck relates another find of spear- and sword-carrying women killed in combat from the 3rd century AD to the Goths in Marcus Aurelius’ triumphal procession, providing archaeological corroboration to the historian’s description. All in all, Dieck’s list contains twelve such finds up to the 6th century BC – who knows how many more might turn up?

Lots of reasons to include women into the Germanic hoards and warbands that make such a colourful sight on the tabletop. Fortunately, figures are available in 28mm as well as in 15mm.


In 28mm, Warlord have a splendid back of female Celtic Warriors, containing eight figures in different poses and armed with spears and swords. Crusader Miniatures also has a pack of skirmishing women and children which would be very useful for defending that wagon fort. The Boudicca models offered by Bad Squiddo Games would make fine leaders.

In 15mm, the Warrior Women of Erin range of Trey Corbies Miniatures offers a good choice of appropriate figures. Some of the slave revolt figures from Donningon might also be useful to fill the ranks or to defend a wagon fort.


Bruder, Reinhold: Die germanische Frau im Lichte der Runeninschriften und der antiken Historiographie, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter 1974.

Dieck, Alfred: “Germanische Kriegerinnen: Literarische Erwähnungen und Moorleichenfunde,” Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 5 (1975), 93-96.


New Project: Combahee River Raid

When I first read about Harriet Tubman and her involvement in the Combahee River Raid, I immediately knew that I wanted to do a project around this. The Haitian Revolution project is reasonably wrapped up, so I allowed myself to contemplate something new. The American Civil War was already in my mind because there is a Sharp Practice variant, Terrible Sharp Sword, which covers this conflict. Being a huge fan of Sharp Practice, I am very curious how the story goes on, that is how the new weapons and doctrines of the Civil War era change the tactics and the behaviour of the troops.

Reading about the Combahee River Raid made my decision easy: After all, it combines my interest in warrior women with my fascination for amphibious operations. And it gives me an excuse to build the model of a gunboat!

Another fascinating thing about the Combahee River Raid is that it also was one of the first actions of an all-black regiment, the 2d South Carolina Volunteers, which had been raised by Brigadier General Rufus Saxton and Major General David Hunter. Both officers were ardent abolitionists and intent on showing that black men were as capable of fighting as Whites, something that was doubted by many Southerners as well as Northerners.

Black Soldiers of the Union Army.
Black Soldiers of the Union Army.

The expedition consisted of 250 men of the 2d South Carolina Volunteers, supported by men of the 3d Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. It was led by Colonel James Montgomery. It is very probable that Harriet Tubman played an important role in the planning and execution of the raid, as there are reports from similar expeditions devised by former slaves who knew the difficult terrain. The force set out on three armed transports, the John Adams, a converted ferryboat, the tug Harriet A. Weed and the Sentinel. They sailed up the Combahee River and landed troops at different places, freeing slaves, burning down plantations and destroying rice fields. Such tactics were controversial at the time, but Hunter and Montgomery were veterans of the conflict known as ‘Bleeding Kansas’, which pitted antislavery against proslavery settlers in the late 1850s and which had seen many instances of low-level guerrilla warfare.

The expedition did not meet any effective resistance. The skirmishes that were fought proved that black troops were reliable and brave under fire, and the mission was hailed as a success. Montgomery and his soldiers managed to free and bring back more than 700 slaves, many of which joined the Union army.

How to translate this story into a wargaming project? The most important things, of course, are figures. Now Mick kindly gave me as a farewell gift a shoebox full of 28mm ACW figures. At first, I wanted to use them as my basis, but I soon realised that I’m too much invested into 15mm to do so. And I couldn’t see myself building a steamboat in 28mm! So I decided to use Mick’s figures for small scale actions, which involve only a couple of figures per side and can be played with Ganesha Games’ rules, and get 15mm figures for Terrible Sharp Sword. I’ve already ordered a couple of packs from Peter Pig – I really like the style of their figures and the variety of poses they offer.

The Combahee River Raid.
The Combahee River Raid.

I also want to make one steamboat, probably the John Adams. There is one contemporary newspaper illustration of the raid, but it’s not fully reliable as the illustrator wasn’t present at the action. Still, he might have seen the ships coming back, so I’ll use this picture as a guideline for building the boat.

Combahee river.
Combahee river.

Finally, to play scenarios around the raid, especially the skirmishes at Joshua Nicholls’ plantation and at Combahee Ferry, I will try to make a dedicated terrain board. As Google Maps and Google Earth show, the terrain in the area is quite peculiar, dominated by rice fields and swamps, and I want my game to at least convey the right feel for the locale.

Of course, I also want to play non-specific scenarios, so I’ll assemble enough forces to cover different situations. This will also mean that, in the case my ambitious plan stalls, I’ll at least have the opportunity to try out Terrible Sharp Sword and learn something about a fascinating period.



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

Dobak, William A.: Freedom by the Sword. The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867, New York: Skyhorse Publishing 2013.

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.


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.


Women Combatants in the Haitian Revolution

Logo_smallThe Haitian Revolution is known as the only successful slave revolution in history. In 1791, the enslaved Africans in the French colony of St Domingue rose and fought French Royalists, a British expeditionary force and finally Napoleon’s troops to gain their freedom. This is not the space to recount the dramatic events that led to the proclamation of independence and the renaming of the state to ‘Haiti’ in 1804. I rather want to shed some light on a lesser-known aspect of the revolution, namely the role of women as combatants.

The plantations on the Northern Plains burning in 1791.
The plantations on the Northern Plains burning in 1791.

There are a number of accounts mentioning women fighting in the insurgents’ ranks. Armed women could be found among the bands of maroons, escaped slaves that often operated independently. Women also assisted in defending towns besieged by the British. One Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére joined the heroic defence of a redoubt near Crête-à-Pierrot in 1802, where the French lost nearly 1.500 men until they managed to capture the position. In a rebel attack against another fortification, women were found in the first wave, carrying fascines to cover the trenches.

Women were also often at the centre of local revolts. In the 1791 insurrection, a ‘girl of colour’ called Princess Améthyste is said to have organised a company of Amazons. This was probably linked to a religious cult, voodoo playing an important role as a means of communication and community building among enslaved Africans. In 1802, we hear of a woman called Lazare who was a ringleader of an insurrection against the napoleonic expedition.

Sanité Belair as depicted on a Haitian bank note.
Sanité Belair as depicted on a Haitian bank note.

Perhaps the most famous of all Haitian warrior women is Sanité Belair. She served as a lieutenant in Toussaint L’Ouverture’s army and was known for her hatred of the Whites. When the French expeditionary force captured her, she was to be beheaded but demanded to be shot like a soldier, a wish that was granted.

Why did those women fight? One explanation harks back to their African roots. Most of the St Domingue slaves had been born in Africa and had brought their culture with them. In several African societies, women combatants were nothing special – the most famous example being the Kingdom of Dahomey, from which many slaves came. Another explanation is the situation of slavery and the fight for freedom itself, which directly concerned every single individual. For women, slavery was perhaps even worse because of sexual exploitation, so it is only understandable that they fought with all available means – including weapons – to free themselves.

Haitian troops fighting against Napoleon's soldiers.
Haitian troops fighting against Napoleon’s soldiers.

What do we know about their equipment and tactics? At the start of the insurrection, the slaves were ill equipped and, apart from some stolen muskets and pistols, mainly fought with farm implements. The Spanish and later the United States sold them weapons and ammunition, while leaders like Toussaint L’Ouverture trained their troops to perform complex manoeuvres. Many sources stress the discipline and bravery of the Black soldiers. But even when they had acquired uniforms and were organised according to French regulations into demi-brigades, they shunned open field battles and preferred guerilla warfare, shooting from behind cover and retreating as soon as the enemy engaged them in numbers. However, there were a couple of field battles, the most famous being the Battle of Vertières in 1803, where the rebels beat the French expeditionary force.

Woman warriors played an essential role in the enslaved Africans’ struggle for freedom and even their enemies acknowledged their courage. General Leclerc, the commander of the French expeditionary force who was sent by Napoleon to reestablish slavery in the colony, wrote exasperated: “[T]hese men die with an incredible fanaticism; they laugh at death; it is the same with the women.”

The Haitian Revolution offers exciting opportunities for wargaming, especially for small-scale actions. Unfortunately, the choice of female miniatures for the period is very limited.

In 28mm, Trent Miniatures has a very nice range dedicated to the period, but no women. Redoubt have Spanish Guerrilla women which might work. On a pinch, one of the Brigade Games Buccaneer Ladies could also be used.

In 15mm, the female pirate officers from Peter Pig work rather well – those are the ones I myself use.



Dubois, Laurent: Avengers of the New World. The Story of the Haitian Revolution, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 2004.

Girard, Philippe: “Rebelles with a Cause: Women in the Haitian War of Independence, 1802–04,” Gender & History 21 (2009), 60–85.

Maurouard, Elvire: Des femmes dans l’émancipation des peuples noirs de Saint-Domingue au Dahomey, Paris: Éditions du Cygne 2013.