Hills 2.0

28 07 2012

Early on in my blogging I posted an article on hills. In this blog I featured my GeoHex hill system which is really neat modular hill system that can be used to not just create hilltops but a very realistic undulating topography.


As cool as it is though, its a huge pain the butt to set up and tear down. It takes at least and hour to set up the hills and sometimes much longer to tear down. When returning them to their box they have to fit in just such a way. Ick. What I need is a set of hills I can just pull down of the shelf and plop on the table.

A more common hill solution involves making hill tops out of “blueboard”. Blueboard is a type of wall insolation that can be bought in 8” by 4” sheets at you your local handy dandy nifty neeto hardware store.


A sheet of blueboard costs about $10 a pop. There are a couple of funny things about blueboard; The only people that need a single sheet of it are wargamers. If you were building a house you’d use this stuff by the pallet. I have had the funniest interactions with people in hardware store when they apologize for how expensive it is or when I ask them if I can borrow a knife so I can cut it up to put it in my car.

To make a hill I start with a piece of blueboard (BTW…my blueboard is pink)


I then mark the shape of the hills on the blueboard using a sharpie. I want several hills to be of a manageable sizes ranging from about 1’ by 2’ down to small hills that are about 6” square.


I then cut out the hills using a hot wire. Hot wires (or foam cutters) are used by crafty types for sculpting.


First I cut the hills out making sure to leave a level edge.


Next I trim the edges do create as flat a slope as possible.


To create as gentle a slope for the hill as possible I continue slice off where the edge I cut intersects with top surface of the hill. This is a really inexact process. If it seems you are making a mess then relax… you are. The next set of steps are really forgiving and will make up for booboos you make here.


Next coat the hill in mod podge.


This is gooey and nasty. Do this in the garage.

Next I sprinkle Woodland Scenics blended grass everywhere and quickly. Once I get everything covered I shake off the excess. This makes a mess. Seriously. I do this over a box I keep on hand for this purpose. This is handy as it not only helps with the mess but it allows me to collect and reuse the droppings.


I let this dry and then apply a second coat.  Two coats should be enough to coat everything completely.


All this glue and grass creates a pretty thick layer and fills in the nicks and gaps I created when I haphazardly carved out the shape of the hill.

The next step is to coat the hills in a dilution of mod podge. If I don’t do this, the grass will come off to the touch.


I have a spray bottle I grabbed at my local hardware store for this purpose. I mix mod podge with water at about 3:1 ratio and spray it onto my hills 3 or 4 times. This is a really important step that makes the hill nice and hard to the touch.

Here is a finished hill.  As its covered in the same grass as my tiles it’ blends really well



Union Artillery, Part 2

14 07 2012

In my last Union Artillery post I based and primed my artillery along with their limbers.  This time we need to paint them up!


I begin by paint 4 out of 6 horsed on each of my limber stands a nice dark brown.  I mix up which horsed get a brown coat as much as I can so that there are no two stands alike.


I then paint the rest of the horses a mix of gray, tan, red-brown and beige.  This is a feeble effort to make it look like a mix of different horse colors.


I like the look of several horse colors but I have never gotten a really good feel for what the mix of colors of horses would have been common during the war. It seems like they are overwhelmingly dark brown though. 

Next I paint the “blanket” a navy blue and the leather harness and saddle a shade of brown.


I have two different casting for horses and the easiest way to tell them apart is how what I think are the saddle blanket (6mm is small after all) pokes our from under the saddle.  You can see on the horses closet in the image above that the exposed blankets are on the flank.  On the next limber the exposed blanket pokes out behind the rolled blanket (or rather what I think is a rolled blanket).

Next I paint the rolled blankets a vermillion red ( white red as opposed to a yellow red.)


The colored blankets actually make the mini’s pop on the table.  This is the easiest way to tell the Union limbers from the Confederate limbers.

Next I paint a whole bunch of things black.  It looks like I paint the horse collars, the wagon wheels and the tails and manes of the horses black here.


Next I paint the caisson a shade of pine green.  This would have been a really common color for civil war wheeled equipment.


Now the miniatures are painted.  Next I paint the dirt.

By the way… I know what you are thinking.  It would have been much easier to paint the dirt first. 

Yes.  Yes it would have.

I paint the base of the miniature brown (along with many a wheel and horse leg)


Then I dry brush pretty much everything ankle high and lower with a red brown.


I put the limbers aside for now and start in on the guns.

This time I paint the base brown first!


Next I dry brush the bases a red brown


I paint the guns a pine green (to match the caisson)


Next I paint the wagon wheels black along with the barrels of the rifled artillery pieces.


The barrels of the smoothbores get a coat of gold.  These cannons would be very bright given how often they were cleaned.


Next I painted the tunics of the artillerymen a dark blue (not navy blue… that would be goofy.)


Then some of the artillerymen get light blue pants.


I paint one the stands with red pants and another of the stands gets a red strip on their pants.  Artillery Units of both sides would commonly have red bling on their uniforms.


There are lots of little bits that need touching on the artillerymen at this point.  Hair gets painted brown or blond, bags and shells are painted black, and swabs are painted brown and grey.  I also give the tackle ropes on the carriages a nice yellow.


The next big step is flesh color.  As usual, this is the “magic” step.  I also paint the sides of the guns and Caissons black and the rear bevel of the guns white.


Next I add static grass to the bases and add another coat of black and white to the sides of the miniature stands.


Once everything is nice and dry I apply labels to the rear bevel of the gun stands.


Here is an action shot to give an idea of what these guys look like on the table.


Getting back in the game

7 07 2012

Troops get fundamentally tired of being shot at.  Not just tired in the “dead tired” sense but in the “they don’t pay me enough to do this @#)&$@!” sense.  When this occurs they walk off the job, or, as is more often the case, run pell-mell off the job.  Eventually running starts to look like a lot of work and they stop behind a convenient fence, a hill or in a barn.  At this point soldiers are on on or near the battlefield, recovering from the shock of battle. 

Maybe they do recover, maybe they don’t.  They may have it in them to be useful again today, even if only as units to protect a flank or defend a strong position.  They will never know what to do or where they are needed though because they are scattered and unorganized.  They no longer are a unit working with a single goal.  A ton of work must be done to get a significant enough group of them back together and give them an achievable goal that will inspire them to go back out and perform a dangerous job. 

This is one of the principle jobs of civil war commanders and their staff during a battle.  Good generals do this well. Bobby Lee famously waded into the 6000 surviving troops of his 12,000 troop assault on the third day of Gettysburg saying “This is my fault” over and over.  Not only did those troops rally but if contemporary records of that event are to be believed, they asked for another chance to carry the position with a second attack.  Regardless, those troops where in position to stop a Union counter assault. Other battles have notable failures where troops where around but were not able to be issued orders.  Recovering the Morale of troops is a foundational element of any Civil War Battlefield simulation.

Recovering Morale

Both brigade and division commanders can give orders for a unit to attempt to improve its morale.  This is literally an order by a general for a unit in its command structure to shape up.  Only one unit may be effected at a time.  It is totally conceivable that three units from a single charge should be huddling in the same barn but the order must be for a single unit (a regiment or artillery piece) to recover.

A unit that has been ordered to recover makes a skill check with the following modifiers:

  • -1 Unit Shaken
  • -2 Unit routed
  • -1 per stand lost
  • -1 if flanked (any of the shooting units can not be shot at)
  • +1 partial cover (fence or tress)
  • +2 full cover (building or works)
  • -1 if disordered (automatic if unit is routed)
  • + 1 for each foot the unit is away from the nearest enemy unit

Very happily, this list of modifiers is IDENTICAL to the modifier list for Flight Checks and Morale checks.  Huzzah!

With a successful skill check, the unit upgrades its morale status; from “Routed” to “Shaken” or from “Shaken” to “Good Shape”.  A routed unit that successful recovers morale (to shaken) can change formations too.  As all routed units are disorganized, this is a good thing.  

There is no bad outcome from a Morale Recovery check, failing just leaves it in its original (busted) state.


Consider the sad case of 47th Indiana.  As you may recall, we have shot the crap out of the 47th Indiana…


Having been reduced from 360 soldiers to a scant 30 in about 45 minutes of simulated battle, they “quit the field.”    We watched them degrade their moral and then flee until finally the found the backside of the battle and took a breather…


Now, they sit panting behind their fence listening to the battle and wondering how its going.  An order is given to reform!  (Some general must be bored because this is a seriously feeble unit now)

The following conditions apply to the poor 47th Indiana

  • The are routed
  • They are disordered (as are all routed units)
  • they have lost three stands (!)
  • They are in partial cover (woods or fence… take your pick (note… not both!))
  • They are (happily) over three feet away from the enemy

The 47th needs a modified 4…

4 + 3 = 7 for lost stands

7 + 2 = 9 for routing

9 + 1 = 10 for being disordered

10 – 1 = 9 for being in the woods (partial cover).

9 – 3 = 6 for being 3 feet away from the enemy

They need a ’6’ on one of their skill dice to recover their morale.  They are a veteran unit and get 3 dice.  Their general is also throwing in one of his dice because he cool that way and clearly has nothing better to do with his command influence.


Hey… we rolled a ‘6’!  Lets upgrade our morale to Shaken shall we? 


You can’t see it in this picture but the unit is now also in line. Note: I could create markers for showing formations for one stand units but this is a really odd occurrence and I doubt it will come up very often.

Now I have a shaken unit alone at the back of the battlefield.  In a subsequent officer order (perhaps even the same officer but a different order) another morale recovery order is given.

The following conditions apply to the poor 47th Indiana

  • The are shaken
  • They have lost three stands
  • They are in partial cover
  • They are still over three feet away from the enemy

The 47th needs a modified 4…

4 + 3 = 7 for lost stands

7 + 1 = 8 for being shaken

8 – 1 = 7 for being in the woods (partial cover).

7 – 3 = 4 for being 3 feet away from the enemy

They need a ’4’ on one of their skill dice to go from “shaken” to “good shape”. Again they are a veteran unit and get 3 dice and once again their general is also throwing in one of his dice.


All four die are rolled and each would have successfully rallied the unit.


The unit is now in “good shape” and eager to defend this section of the union line.  Huzzah!

My 50th post!

This has been the 50th post for McPherson and Revenge!  I started this blog in November of 2010 with little expectation of reaching 50 or even knowing I could stand work on a project that long.  By my own reckoning I am more than half way done but I still have a long way to go.  Thanks to everyone for reading and we’ll see if I can make it to 100!

Prelude to Jackson

28 05 2012

On May 1st, Grant’s army had pressed its way into Mississippi and defeated Bowen’s Brigade at Port Gibson.  Now, with the East Bank of the Mississippi abandoned by the Confederacy, Grant was free to do what he pleased without confederate supervision  and it pleased him very much to march on Jackson.  Jackson was the point that connected Vicksburg to the Confederacy.  It has rail connections to the South, North, and (as Grant rightly feared) the East.  If he were to ignore Jackson it would be the point were a great Confederate host would emerge in 3 or 4 weeks to crush him against the anvil of the Vicksburg defenses.  It would be the point at which food and supplies needed for a proper counter attack would (and had already begun to) be collected everyday until the counter attack was ready.  It needed to go.

With the destruction of Jackson on his mind Grant, began snaking his army east through Mississippi toward Jackson with McPherson’s XVII Corp in the lead.  Their march was deliberate but their decision to invade without supply would have consequences.  Grant’s army could not just march, they had to forage as well.  They spread into the rich countryside and gathered what they needed.  In fact, the land (and by land I mean the occupants of central Mississippi) provided amply.  No army ever marched better fed but it would take well over a week before Union Forces appeared at the outer defensive perimeter of Jackson near Raymond.

The Battle of Raymond

General John Gregg arrived at Raymond on May 11th with 3000 men and some really bad intelligence.  Pemberton was convinced the Grant would turn north towards Vicksburg at the the Big Black River Railroad crossing near Edward’s Station.  He wanted Gregg in place to attack Grant’s rear once the Union army turned north and began their march towards Vicksburg.  From this position Gregg’s force would destroy Grant’s ability to move food and supply to the front and would disrupt his communications.

Leaving aside for a moment that Grant’s decision to ignore conventional military thinking and spurn supply for forage meant that cutting his supply line was not that useful, Pemberton’s plan had one other MAGNIFICENT short coming; Grant was ignoring Vicksburg in favor of Jackson.  Raymond is on a direct path from Port Gibson to Jackson.  His entire army was moving towards Gregg and his men.  The displacement of Confederate Calvary in Mississippi by Grierson’s raid and Nathan Bedford Forests defense of Alabama meant Grants army had effectively disappeared.

250px-John_GreggOn arriving at Raymond, Gregg began to hear tales of the industrial foraging that was going on to the west.  He also heard that troops where coming his way and would likely be there the next day.  Not doubting Grant’s intention to wheel towards Vicksburg, Gregg assumed that he would be running into a foraging brigade that was flanking the main advance.  Confident he could lick such a force, he spread his men out across the 3 roads that entered Raymond from the west.  The land here was very hilly and forested; well suited for defense.  He would have the element of surprise and would have no difficulty licking a marching brigade burdened with gathering and carrying forage.

On the Morning of May 12 McPherson’s lead division, lead by General John A. Logan, marched directly into a fight.  Picket’s began to fire from well obscured lines on wooded hilltops and the three guns that the confederates brought to the battle began to rain down shells from a commanding position to the confederate rear.  Logan deployed his lead brigade and the ample artillery he had at hand.  In short order he was able to set up 10 guns and soon began to give better than he got.


Gregg found himself in a peculiar situation.  It appeared to him that the blue clad scavengers had brought more guns than soldiers.  This was clearly a weird way to forage but “oh well”.  The confederates could not skirmish with big guns and had to either retreat from their hill top position or advance on the union troops now lined near the creek bed below.  The decided on the latter.  Greggs Brigade rose up and went on the attack.  This was, as you can imagine, the last thing that Logan expected.  Out of their original positions the union guns lost their targets to the topology of the battlefield and soldiers that were that morning intent of scourging local farms for bacon and beets found themselves the target a determined Confederate assault.

Gregg’s initial position astride three separate roads converging on Raymond meant his troops were in a good position to flank his initial target.  It appeared that the main confederate spearhead was coming from the direct from and Union troops began to bend in order to apply the fire of a seemingly longer line to the smaller confederate from.  As more confederate regiments converged on the fight they began to find the union soldiers badly out of position to received them.  Had this been a brigade on brigade assault it would have been a short one.

Despite initial success, Gregg finally began to understand the full gravity of his situation.  The brigade he had attacked began to be reinforced by other brigades.  Soldiers began attacking his position from both the left and right of brigade directly to his front.  The large numbers of artillery that outnumbered his own three guns suddenly doubled.  Furthermore, Logan began to make strengthened counterattacks directly to the confederate front.  This was not a foraging party.  This was a Union army.

Gregg realized that, despite early success, the gig was up.  He now had to get out of his current position as intact as possible and return to his base of supply.  Gregg’s troops successfully withdrew, screened by the topography of the battlefield.  They were through and out of Raymond before the ladies of the city had finished preparing a meal for their gallant defenders.  Not to fear though, the Union troops would be along soon enough.

Jackson was clearly the target of this invasion and Gregg would be needed there.  A whole army would be needed there.  What’s more… an army commander would be needed.  The city would have to be prepared for assault and the various disconnected commands of the west would need a respected  overall commander to coordinate them.  …And the south had such a man!  A man who’s audaciousness had saved the south from invasion time and again.  Robert E. Lee!  Sadly, Lee was busy in Virginia so they sent Joseph E. Johnston instead.

Union Artillery

25 03 2012

Artillery is a relatively small but critical part of the America Civil War battlefield.  They provided the only means of attacking units at ranges beyond a couple of hundred yards and at close ranges they could be used to mow down troops en masse.  Battles would sometimes hinge on the placement of a few pieces of artillery or the lack of these big guns at a particular place and time.

Artillery miniatures come in two parts; the gun and the limber.  A gun and limber stand combined represent a “battery” of artillery.  This was usually from 4 to 6 cannons, 50-100 men and the horses and limbers for carrying them.  (To find out more about my understanding of artillery please see my artillery blog entry)

Battery’s were further sub-organized into sections which where two guns.  Sections represent a “unit” of strength in my game and therefore are represented on the miniature itself.  A cannon stand will ether be a 2 or 3 section battery.  This is represented by the number of figures tending the gun. 

Note: Two and Three section artillery have the same footprints in my game.  They are NOT represented by a different size of stand or limber.  This is perhaps inconsistent and not 100% accurate.  I do not believe this inconsistency crosses a realism line given that artillery tended to spread out.  There could be as much as 20 yards between guns set up to fire because artillery tended to get shot at with by other artillery and they frequently exploded for no good reason all on their own.  With this low density its easy to cram in other guns.  The problem with having different sizes for units is that the larger batteries would need to be longer stands when be moved and wider stands when they fire.  Awkward.  You can see below why this would be difficult to represent in miniatures.

A bunch of bits

Below are all the minis I need for two batteries of smoothbores and two batteries of rifles


I look at this picture and immediately think “Wagon wheels… why did it have to be wagon wheels.”  These guys are small.


They are roughly the same width as the word “liberty” on a penny.  Fun!

Here are the bits for a rifled artillery piece. 


These are super glued together in a process that can only be described as haphazard.  A sort of “absence of process” if you will. I wish I could photograph this and glue at the same time but trust me I can’t.  Honestly this is hard.  Looking at this picture makes my fingertips hurt from the memory of prolonged exposure to superglue.  BTW… metal coated in super glue prefers to adhere to flesh than any other substance…. ask me how I know.   I couldn’t publish a video of me gluing these wheels on as it would get an NC-17 rating for language alone.  That reminds me… I need a beer.

Where was I?  Ah yes… miniatures.

Here is the smoothbore miniature from Baccus6mm…


Notice that the wheels come attached!  These miniatures are my very bestest friend.

Limbers are small wagons that are used to cart the gun to and around the battlefield.  They have detached wagon wheels as well.  More Fun!


Finally, here are the horses for the limbers.


These guys are cleverly cast.  They come in strips of three like a string of teamed horses.  If they are not needed this way then they can be clipped apart and used individually.  This saves a ton of work for spacing when being mounted as a team.

In addition to the minis I will need two types of bases; Gun and limber.  The gun base is a 1 inch by 7/8 inch piece with a bevel on one of the narrow ends.  This looks just like my infantry basing process but with bigger pieces of metal.

My limber stands are trickier as I use two 1” by 7/8” pieces of cut sheet metal to produce the right size.  It’s a bit of a pain to order 2” by 7/8” metal as they would need to be custom cut and I only need a few of them.  1’” by 7/8” is a standard size for me; I use it for my officers, my guns and and mounted Cav.  More importantly I can also order this size as a standard from Wargame Accessories who sell me my bases.


Here I have glued the bases to create a 2” by 7/8” stand.

Unlike my infantry projects, I mount my artillery BEFORE I prime them.  There is plenty or room to get a paintbrush between the minis and the artillery pieces and limbers will be just as difficult to attach to a popsicle stick as they will the final miniature stand so I just mount them up front.

To get the limbers and guns good and attached I will need to pin them to the stand using piano wire.  As you can imagine, given the wheels came detached, these guys are not sturdy enough for me to glue directly to the base.  To do this I will need to use a pen drill to drive a small hole into the bottoms of these pieces.



Once I’ve successfully drilled a hole on each of the wheeled bits I then attach a piano wire to it and clip it off at the desired height.


Before I attach the guns I need to glue the figures that will be servicing the gun.


Two figures are used for a two section gun, three figures are used for a three section gun.

The dudes manning the gun are cast with a “ground” surface.  The guns don’t.  This means that I will need to put my ballast (sand) on the stand before I attach the gun to get it to look like everyone is standing on the same surface.

To create a ground surface to my artillery stand glue is applied using my handy dandy nifty neeto one of a kind glue applicator (regrettably not pictured).


The stand is then dunked in fine ballast.


I clean up the edges of the stand with my finger and let the result dry.

Next I spot and drill a hole using my pen drill for attaching the artillery.


I then super glue the artillery piece to the stand.


I perform a similar process on the limber stands.  The first step is to get two sets of horses on the stand making sure to leave enough room on the end to hold the limber itself.


I then add glue and ballast.


Oddly enough, the horse stands I have are not quite flat.  The tend to be leaners so I deal with this by gluing some ballast directly to the stand and then using the horses to a bed of this glue ballast mix and then pressing it into a level disposition.

Once the ballast has had a chance to dry I then add a the limber.


Now that this is done I prime everything!


That is it for today.  Next time we will get these guys painted up.

Note:  I like taking my hobby pics with the data stamp turned on.  Sometimes the date chronology gets a bit mixed up because I forget a pic and go back to retroactively change the continuity of my project documentation (called a RetCon for those of you that are serious geeks) as needed to document what I am doing. Other times I get large breaks in my project because I get distracted so you can see the gaps.  This blog may be the high water mark for both of these phenomenon.  I have photos in this blog from April and September of 2011 and March of 2012.  I am pretty sure I did the basing of the minis last year while waiting for paint to dry on something else. 

In going back to my photo’s I can see that last summer I was really desperate to get pictures of me moving figures on the table so we could talk about rules such as fire and movement.  I got these guys based and realized that I didn’t need artillery for my blog just yet.  I needed confederate infantry and officers so I put the artillery (way back) on the back burner.

Toys for Boys; Artillery

26 02 2012

Artillery has a magical way of irritating the average Civil War infantryman.  Because of its tremendous range compared to the rifled musket, it punished the soldier that had found good position and was not eager to move.  Many battles hinged on where guns were or could be placed.  Little Round Top, probably the most famous brigade (smallish) action of the war, was fought over a hill that would have utterly exposed the entire union position had just a single confederate cannon made it up to its summit.

Artillery organization varied wildly depending on the wants or needs of the greater mass of infantry that it supported.  In my Champion hill order of battle you can see this. Pemberton’s Confederate artillery was organized such that each brigade(~1800 men) had one battery (4-6 guns).  On the table this will mean that for every four or five regiments, there will be a stand of cannons.  Grant’s Union artillery is organized such that each division (~5000 men) has three batteries (12 – 18 guns).

The ratio was mostly the same for both my armies but the Union army is organized in a way such that guns could be more concentrated.  This is a good way to organize your army if your infantry commanders trust your artillery commanders as it allowed larger collections of artillery to be where they needed to be.  Imagine, you are a lightly engaged confederate brigade in Pemberton’s army.  You get one artillery battery!  Your lightly engaged Union opponent gets no Artillery!  Huzzah!  Keep imagining!  You press your advantage and advance.  The fighting gets hot!  Across the way you can see 15 cannons being set up because an alert Union artillery officer knows where he needs to be.  You still have one battery.  Boo!

A single piece of artillery would have been serviced by about a dozen soldiers. Each gun would have been attached to a horse lead caisson or limber that carried its crew, equipment and some of its ammunition into battle. Usually 6 horses would be attached to the limber.  A lieutenant would have commanded a “section“ consisting of two guns, their combined crew and limbers.


Guns would be delivered into battle and quickly “unlimbered” from the caisson and the caisson moved to a safe but convenient distance.  This is about 20 – 50 yards; close enough that you can quickly grab ammo and get back to your gun, but far enough that a direct hit on the caisson wouldn’t kill everyone.  Remember… the caisson has the ammo in it! 


Civil war artillery came in two flavors; smoothbore and rifled. This is a fun fact.  No one sat around and said that the right mix of big guns was two major types of artillery.  This just happened.  Like most wars of the industrial era, the civil war was filled with innovative technology that was just this “far away” away from being perfected but not quite done yet.  Badass tech o’ the future had a tendency to do its job better but frequently had tremendous drawbacks.  For instance,  blowing up and killing it’s operator, being devilishly hard to make, or not being available at the scale needed to equip an army.

Smoothbore artillery

Smoothbore cannons were made of brass and were drop dead simple weapons.  They were just a long smooth tube with a small hole at the back on top that could be fitted with a fuse.  Quite annoyingly for the soldier firing the gun, they were loaded at the “wrong end” (known as the muzzle).  This makes them simple to operate but shockingly dangerous.  Let’s walk through the process shall we?

  1. Load the gun.  A 2 pound packet of gunpowder about the size of a bag of rice or beans is pushed into the gun along with a big ol’ cannon ball.
  2. Aim the gun.  Sadly this involves tools and math.  But, unlike regular math, if you get the problem right, you blow stuff up.  Fun math!  Rock on.
  3. Fire the gun.
  4. Watch stuff blow up.  This step is optional and would be highly dependent on whether or not you are being shot at.
  5. Fish out the burning burlap baggie that held the gunpowder.  Not optional.
  6. Swab the gun.  This is a feeble attempt to remove cinders or debris from the barrel.
  7. If the cannon is really hot, water can be poured on it from a bucket in a feeble attempt to cool it down.
  8. Repeat.

Does anything stand out about this process as being overly dangerous?  Imagine you are the guy pushing the gunpowder into the barrel of the cannon after its been constantly fired for an hour or so and is hot enough to burn flesh.  The signature wound of a nineteenth century artillery man is the loss of one or both arms to the powder igniting as it is being pushed in.  Proper drill here involves pushing the powder in using only the non dominant hand.  This must have been very comforting to practice.

Below is a lovely video of a smoothbore being fired.  Notice the guy pushing the powder in using both hands.  Yikes!

6 pounder smoothbore

Note: This video is of a “6 pound” smoothbore.   That makes this a very “small” cannon. 

The smoothbore of choice for both armies was the 12 pound “Napoleon’.  Interestingly enough the cannon is not named for the famous diminutive emperor but his grandson who was the current monarch of France and whose army developed the weapon design.  Napoleons where plentiful at the time of the war and both sides knew how to make them. This gun was the staple of all armies in this period.

Polished Napoleon

Smoothbore cannons had a theoretical range of 1600 yards (almost a mile!).  At this range cannonballs could kill and maim but this was usually the result of an accident as there was no way to aim a smoothbore cannon at something bigger than a barn from this far.  Smoothbore cannons fired ordinance in much the same way that knuckle ball pitchers through base balls; wildly.  The effective range of a smoothbore was 800 yards.  At this range that barn is in deep trouble.  This range compares vary favorably with the ranges on the infantry rifles of the period which typically got effective at 200 yards.

Depending on the distance to target,smoothbores had three different types of ammo; solid shot, grape shot and exploding shell.  Solid shot would be used at long range and grapeshot (think a coffee can filed with gumball sides ball bearings) would be used up close.  In addition, both sides used shells with fuses that were designed to create a secondary explosion (with shrapnel) at a particular range.  These were crap and typically killed the wrong people though they were as common as dirt..

Grapeshot rocked up close but infantry typically didn’t hang out at the appropriate range.  Solid shot was the secret weapon of the smoothbore cannon.  What it lacked in accuracy, it more more than made up for in deadliness.  Cannonballs would bounce for hundreds of yards and would remain lethal for most of that time.  They could pass through several waves of soldiers, killing one or two each time, and continue till finally rolling to a stop near the rear.  So long as the target of the cannon was spread out such that it was larger than a barn,it didn’t really matter where the cannon ball went.  Smoothbore cannons were extremely effective against infantry.

Rifled Artillery

Because rifles were bleeding edge technology there where a huge variety of them available.  No matter how many cannon designs were out there, none were globally adapted and all had issues.  One thing that is true of all rifled cannons is that the barrels of the cannon had spiraling that made the fired shells go very straight.  Their accuracy was quite good.  They could hit the proverbial barn door and given that cannons are themselves about that size, that made rifles ideal for counter battery fire.

Rifles of this period were made of iron, not brass.  This is due to the fact that the shell fired from the cannon caught the spiraling of the gun and would take on a spin.  Brass would be blown smooth very quickly by this pressure.  So instead of using church bell to make a cannon, designers used grandma’s iron skillet. Iron was more rigid than brass, preferring to break instead of bend… which is good until its not good.   BTW… if you were to mount grandma’s iron skillet on a gun carriage and leave it outdoors for a few weeks it would not turn that groovy blue green that brass does.  It rusts.  Badly.  To stop this they were constantly painted and repainted black.


Iron is MUCH heavier than brass so you couldn’t make rifles as big  as smoothbores. This really limited how big these guns could be.  To save on material, they would reinforce back of the rifle (the “breach”) with an iron band giving them a really distinctive looks.  This improved things but they still were considered dangerous weapons.  To make matters worse (and aren’t we always making things worse), Iron smelting is a really uneven, inconsistent process.  Many guns would be built flawed and there was no way to work out which ones where lemons.  Steel would make better, lighter cannons but steel is in the future.

MORE FUN RIFLE TRIVIA!  Shells needed to be snugly fit in the irregular shape of the barrel so they would grab the rifling on the way out of the gun.  This mean that the shell (weighing about 10 or so pounds) would need to be SCREWED into the gun.  Really.  While being shot at!  OH… and that “powder could blow up at any second problem”… you still have that!

MORE FUN!!!  Rifled shells don’t bounce.  You had better hit what you are shooting at because you are NOT going to get lucking on the hop.  Rifled shells hit the ground and burrow.

THE FUN CONTINUES!!!!!!!  Grapeshot in a rifle… not so much.  You could do it but it was a smoothbore afterwards.

KEEP THE FUN GOING!!!!!!!!!! Many different makes of rifle were produced during the war.  The two most common where the 3” ordinance rifle and the 10 lb. Parrott which had a muzzle width of <wait for it> 2.9”.  Really.  Remember that “snug” thing.  Their bullets where not interchangeable but not really different in size.  Much hilarity ensued.  Usually mistakes could be avoided so long as you were not in a hurry or badly needed ammunition… otherwise you would send both types and just asked if the wrong type be returned.  The Union army was so nonplused by this problem that it reworked it’s Parrotts to have a ordinance rifle compatible 3” muzzle.

Now for the good news…  Rifles had a theoretical range of 1800 yards. This is slightly longer than their smoothbore neighbors.  They also had an effective range of 1800 yards meaning that the gun was accurate… always.  It was as capable as the crew firing it and could be aimed at actual targets. 

At the battle of Pine Mountain Georgia in 1864, General Sherman ordered that a cluster of confederate officers be fired on at extreme range with a battery of 3” ordinance rifles. Three shells were fired, the third of which killed (nay, messed up badly) General Leonidas Polk. This episode led Sherman to write Halleck his famous line “We killed Bishop Polk yesterday and have made good progress today…”

Rifles where extremely useful at suppressing enemy artillery and would provide literally dozen’s of insanely accurate shots before exploding and killing their crews. 

Updates on my Garage Project

18 02 2012

I am very pleased to report that I have finished the work I intended to do in my garage this weekend and even managed to get a couple of hours in working on trees.  Here are some pics!


My first project was to get a great big shelf on the wall for storage.  My house comes with neither an attic nor a basement so if we want to store something then it had better fit under one of my beds.  This shelf is about 32” deep and about 17’ long.

Madeline thinks this is her new indoor tree house.  She spent most of the day out in the garage with me helping.


I also added quite a few smaller shelves to help out with storing my miniatures.




Here is all of my backup lead I’ve been schlepping around since college.  This is why I only purchase lead when I finish painting something.