The Road Less Traveled

24 04 2011

Roads are critical to the Civil War Battlefield.  Battles almost always occurred on terrain with road access and many famous battles were fought because of their proximity to a crossroads.  Antietam, Gettysburg and our very own Champion hill are but to name a few.

Roads had a number of notable impacts on the Civil War Battlefield:

  • Troops in column moved at a greatly accelerated speed along a road.
  • Roads were the principle means of access to the battlefield.  Once a battle was begun, troops that would join the battle would do so via a road.
  • Roads are easily navigated and orders involving roads are very easily understood.  Troops could make excellent progress on a road in part because no prior knowledge of the terrain was required to make progress.
  • Troops moving along a road are unbelievably vulnerable.  Formations for Moving are radically different than the formations for fighting.  Strategies for deploying troops often vacillate between getting the battle quickly or getting to the battle ready to fight.  Initial deployments of troops often occur not so much to engage the enemy but to provide cover for fresh troops entering the battle via a road that would otherwise be unusable because of enemy fire.
  • Roads were strategic in and of themselves.  This is particularly true of Champion hill where the two roads immediately behind the hill led to solid river crossings and had to be taken for the North to advance on Vicksburg and had to held by the South to allow for troops to withdraw to the city.

In McPherson and revenge roads will dramatically impact movement of virtually all troop types.  Troops will have to be arranged to make the most of roads; Infantry and Cav in column and artillery limbered.

Roads will also impact command and control in McPherson and Revenge.  Standing orders for troops to continue down a road can always be assumed given how easy it is to continue marching.  So long as troops are to move their full movement along a road as a general’s initial order, a general will not have to make a skill roll activate troops for road marching.

Scenarios will be massively impacted by roads.  They will be crafted to make the most of roads such that engaging troops and reinforcements will enter the battle via a road and holding roads and crossroads will be critical to winning battles.

Making the Roads

There are a few successful strategies for putting a road on a miniatures table, namely:

  • Have the roads as separate pieces that lay on top of a table surface.  Road pieces can include different lengths and shapes including forks.  This approach can be very versatile but requires set up and may not look 100% right.
  • Build the roads directly onto the battle surface and make the battle surface polymorphic.  This is the same approach I used with my rivers.  This looks like a million bucks but is not very versatile.  The upside here is that it sets up like a breeze.
  • Build the road out of something on the day of gaming.  I have seen this done in two ways.  One, using sand poured onto the table to look like a really rough dirt road.  Another approach I saw one I thought worked pretty good was 1” wide masking tape applied to green felt.  These are not overly attractive but masking tape is cheap.

Because I made the decision to put rivers directly into a polymorphic table system it would be REALLY limiting to do the same thing with my roads even though this would look the best.  I will go with the first approach, this is, creating separate road pieces that sit on top of the gaming surface.

In my previous adventures as miniatures terrain creator I once had a road system I built out of hardwood.  It looked pretty good and fit rather tidily under my bed in a box. It was versatile and attractive. The problem with this system was that hardwood roads didn’t go up and down hills worth a darn.  I found myself steering roads around hills as every time I hit a hill I had to find just the right length piece of road.

Rather than go with something firm like wood I have decided to create roads out of something really flexible… caulk. 

As I will be painting and gluing things to caulk I make sure that I uses a “paintable” silicon caulk.  Most caulk is either white or clear but some other colors are available.  As I will have to cut the caulk and invariable the base color of the caulk will poke through, I use brown caulk


Caulk sticks to damn near everything until its dry.  I have a couple of old pieces of silpat that I use for making the roads.  Silpat is a silicon based cookie sheet liner and is cools stuff.  On a side note, silpat is literally the only thing that I have seen with the words “Made in France” on it.

I lay a nice thin bead of caulk on the silpat


I then smooth this into the shape of the road.  One of my roads is about 1.5” wide and 12” long.


I also make curves and forks.


Once these are dry, I peal them off, trim them if needed.


I then spray them with matte finish and cover them in fine ballast.


At this point the ballast is “sort” glued to the roads pieces.  If I mess with it overly at this point the ballast comes right off.


Spray painting the roads, generously, with brown paint will not only provide a base color for the road but will make sure the ballast stays in place.


Next I paint the roads burnt siena.  Rather than paint off a palette, I think the paint in a squeeze jar and pour it directly onto the road pieces.  This is a messy process and is why my table is a shade of brown.


Once all the road pieces are painted brown, I then highlight them by dry brushing mixtures of Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna and white.  This step takes FOR. EV. ER.


At this point these roads are still really flexible. Glue will stiffen them up a bit but they will still drape very nicely.


Next I lay 20mm wide bases along the road to mark the area I intend to leave the painted surface exposed.


…and paint glue on everything else.


With the glue still wet I put Woodland Scenics Grass flocking onto the road. 100_3254

I have a box for doing this but some how I managed not to get a picture of it. 

Once this layer dries I apply another layer of thinned white glue (using may magic glue bottle!) and apply more grass.


Once dry I then cut the edges off all the road pieces using a craft knife and a strait edge.


To make sure I have a variety of lengths I cut some of the curves and straight pieces an number of times laterally.


Here are some road pieces on my table…







5 responses

3 06 2011
Mikko Asikainen

Wow! I’ve been looking for an effective way to do roads and streams for my 6mm bull run project for a while now, and this silicon method seems really good! I think I’ll drop by the hardware store and get me a tube without delay. Does the material warp or does it lay flat on the table? What about durability?

3 06 2011
Douglas G. King

I like silicon roads but I’m not 100% my implementation is the best.

When you buy make sure you get “paintable” caulk. The regular (an much more common variaty) is simply impervious to paint and glue.

I used quite a bit of paint and glue on my roads so the flexibility went down and the warping went up but I have a usable result. My approach did create a very durable result. By using brown caulk, cracks look fine. My initial prototype was white caulk and as the odd crack emerged it looked goofy. Clear caulk would have worked too I think.

Another approach that would have drastically cut down on hte paint would have been ot mix the ballaste with the caulk and create a gritty putty that could be sculpted into a shape. You could then just prime the result and start painting. If you make the road thin and flat enough then you wouldn’t need that much grass.

If you are more concerned about flexibility than you are durability then you could have applied ballaste and grass onto wet caulk and then sealed it with matte. I have seen this and it looks brilliant. Handling it will knock stuff off it but this may be the most realistic looking approach.

Silicon rivers also work well too. You can embed rocks right into the silicon!


3 06 2011
Mikko Asikainen

Thanks for the info! I bought a tube of the paintable white stuff today, and have a few test strips of different thickness laid out to dry. Our local hardware store carried only the not-paintable stuff in colors so I’ll see what I can do with the white stuff. I thought that maybe I wont use sand with the riverbanks, but just brown paint and static grass, so perhaps it’ll hold up better. Still the best idea for doing rivers I’ve seen in a while 🙂

24 03 2012
28 08 2013

Awesome write up! I’ve been looking for a way to make roads. Never considered caulk. Can’t wait to make some!

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