Making good neighbors

30 05 2011

Fences make a huge difference on the battlefield.  Not the paper thin fences we have today but great big fences they used to make when lumber still grew on trees.  Many famous fights pivoted on the fact that one or another side held a position along a fence such as “the angle” at Gettysburg.

No fence says “I belong on a civil war battlefield” more than the snake rail fence. 

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This guy is a monster.  It’s 100% wood.  As best I can tell it doesn’t even bother with nails.  If you were being shot at and you wanted to take cover behind something made of wood then you could do much worse than your standard issue snake rail fence.

In addition to stopping the odd bullet, a fence provides another stone cold value to the civil war soldier; It rarely runs away in panic.  Soldiers fought in lines.  They stayed in the fight so long as the soldier on either side of them stayed in the fight.  If a soldier lost the men around him then he is just standing there in a field being shot at.  In this way panic in battle is contagious.

A fence provides much better protection and survivability than running for your life over open ground.  Therefore soldier clung to fences in battle and stayed in the fight.

There are four principle effects of a fence on McPherson and Revenge.

  • Defense – Units in contact with a fence receive a +1 to be hit. (bad for the shooter)
  • Morale – Units in contact with a fence receive a –1 on morale checks (good for the fence sitter)
  • Movement – there is a 1” penalty for units crossing a fence (see movement)
  • Improvised Terrain – Split rail fences can be used to produce improvised terrain

Making fences

To make my snake rail fences, I start with 2.5” popsicle sticks and O scale lumber.  O scale lumber is just really small cut wood.  In this case I use 2” by 2” lumber in the O-scale.  This translates to 0.042” in reality…. small.

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I spend some quality time cutting the lumber into about 3/4” pieces

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It takes 15 pieces of lumber for each stand on fence and I make the fences five stands at a time.

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I then glue the wood to the popsicle sticks in a hash pattern.  The bottom layer gets 3 pieces of lumber and the second layer gets two whole and two half pieces.

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BTW… this is shockingly relaxing.

Next I spray paint the split rail fences a dark brown.

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Then I paint the fences brown.

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This seems like an extra step.  I do it because I don’t have brown spray paint that matches the color scheme I want to use and because pray paint just doesn’t go everywhere.

Next I dry brush the fences with lighter shades of brown (brown lightened with increasing amounts of white)

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BTW… It has take YEARS of abuse to get this paint brush ready for this task.  This is where having painting daughters come in handy. 

Next I paint the edges of the stand black.  Again.. maybe a wasted step.  Not sure why I do this but I do.

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Next I apply glue using the greatest glue applicator in the history of the world.

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I then blow static grass onto the glue.

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At this point the fence likes pretty done…

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… but something is missing.  What we need now is standard issue weeds, bushes and rocks.

I glue pieces of flocking and rocks to the stand.

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Here are a couple of action photos!

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Anachronism Alert

Snake rail fences where old tech by the time of the Civil War.  They existed on the East coast from Savannah to DC because they where there since before the Revolution.  They liked the look of the fence and as this was an established and relatively wealthy stretch of land, they continued to build and maintain them.  Mississippi would not have had these types of fences however.  I like them and I couldn’t figure out how to make more conventional fences so this is what I am using.

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Confederate Infantry, Part 1

15 05 2011

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I cannot handle the thought of painting a confederate soldier in a proper uniform.  It seems to me a treacherous act of revisionism.  Confederate soldiers did well to arrive at the battle field wearing pants.  In as much as the word “Uniform” means “the same” confederate didn’t really have uniforms.

Many regiments early in the war would have marched out of their hometowns dressed to the nines but within just a few months uniform options would have been reduced to what could be found or patched together.  A common source of confederate pants on campaign would have been the sky blue trousers of fallen union soldiers for instance.  Hat’s would predominately been just hats.   Later in the war things like dyed cloth had all but disappeared from the south and gray cloth required dying.  Un-dyed cloth was the predominate color of the confederate uniform throughout the war.  This beige-ish color was frequently referred to as “butternut”.

Gray had been the agreed upon color of the confederate soldier at the start of the war. This was a pragmatic choice. Cadets at all US military schools wore gray to distinguish themselves from actual soldiers and gray uniforms existed across the south in significant quantities.  As the war wore on gray continued to be a preferred color but it became increasingly scarce because of the increased processing require in its generation.

There was a huge difference in the soldiers that fought in Virginia and those that fought west of the Appalachians.  Western soldiers would have had MUCH worse access to uniforms because of the distances that supplies would have to be delivered.  A regiment of western confederates would have looked like well armed hobo on the battlefield.  In contrast, soldiers in Virginia would have been pretty well supplied with cloths given their distance from the confederate capitol. 

Many war gamers prefer to paint soldiers in their parade uniforms but I really like my confederates totally grubby.

The process

Here are a few of my minis.  Notice the shortage of distinct “kepi” hats.

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I replaced the flag on the command stand with a piece of piano wire and I modified the officer figure by giving him a flag.  I really like the look of command stands with two flags. (more on this later)

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After priming I paint a few random coats and pants gray.

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I then paint a similar number of pants and jackets a fairly dark off white.  This is my “butternut” color. By this time 3 out of 4 coats are painted and about half the pants are painted.

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Next I paint some pants a sky blue and some a dark brown.  I should be about done with my pants at this point.

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Next I paint coats/shirts weird colors like pale red, green and beige.

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At this point my guys look crazy unmatched.  Goody!

Next I paint the cartridge boxes and forage bags.  Just like their union counterparts I paint these black and off-white respectively.  I also paint a couple of hat black because I have the black paint handy.

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Soldiers typically fought while carrying a ton of their crap.  If I where a good blogger I would know how heavy the civil war soldiers stuff was but well… you know.  Many of my figures have a bed rolls slung across their soldiers.  This is common item on pictures and paintings of soldiers so it must have been really valuable.

I paint bedrolls a mix of colors including pale red, dark brown, light brown, dark green and grey.

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Next… hats!  I paint hats a mix of pale yellow, medium and dark brown.  (This is in addition to the black I used earlier.)

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Rifles and flag poles are painted a dark brown.

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I then paint flesh colored dots for the faces and hands.

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This is the magic step the same here as it was for the union troops.

Next time basing, flagging and labeling.





Going from Point A to Point B

8 05 2011

The civil ware battlefield was a place awash with organized units quickly hurrying to and from strategic positions.  Soldiers were trained to not only cover ground but to do so without sacrificing coherence.  At the end of a march or advance across open terrain a job would need to be done.

Likewise, organization could be sacrificed for the purpose of getting soldiers to where they were needed.  It did no good to show up rested and ready to fight after the battle had been lost.  Soldiers would occasionally be driven quite hard to reach an objective as quickly as possible.  That not all soldiers arrived ready to fight was an acceptable risk if those that did could get a job done.  Stragglers where a fact of the civil war battlefield frequently taking considerable time to rejoin their units.

Troops had multiple formations that they employed in order to impact how they fought and how they moved.  Infantry troops for instance would assume a 2 row deep “line” in order to maximize fire.  This formation was not the fastest for movement but was used if it was thought that soldiers were likely to get an opportunity to fire their guns.  Conversely, soldiers could be placed in a thin line or a column which would be ideal for getting about.

Not all ground on the battle field was easy to move about on.  Battles could be fought in the open but just as often they would be fought in the woods or on hills.  In some cases battles where fought in simply dreadful terrain containing marshes and rivers. 

The Battle of Fredericksburg had a REMARKABLE side show as a unit of cavalry artillery lead by a 24 year old John Pelham took up a flanking position on the far side of a creek where he could not be attacked without first crossing a small swamp.  This annoyance held up the battle for well over an hour as regiment after regiment broke waste deep in muck trying to push the gray artillery back.  Pelham eventually was ordered to withdraw  as he was holding up the battle and looked likely to win it by himself.  This all happened in plain site of nearly 100 thousand union and confederate troops..

Finally, going somewhere was considerable easier if you knew where you needed to go.  Following a road for instance is incredibly efficient for no other reason  than roads where easy to follow and it was hard to get lost.  Additionally, officers who had an exact idea where soldiers where needed might provide additional motivation by traveling with soldiers and offering encouragement.

Movement rules for McPherson and Revenge will provide modeling for the following:

  • Different speeds for different formations
  • Formation changes
  • Hurried movement
  • Spent troops (unready for combat or reaction due to exhaustion)
  • Road Movement
  • Officer Bonus

There will be more movement rules hidden in other post later but these will likely deal with specific terrain types or formations and are more appropriate for discussions focused on these exceptions.

Movement

Movement can be as simple as taking the a value for a certain troops type/formation and moving that unit with the aid of a ruler.  Miniature gamers do this by second nature.  The trick is to intuitively know what this value is and to know when an exception should occur.  There are a couple of things that impact how far troops might move, first and and foremost of these is formation.

Formations come in two basic flavors; those that favored fighting (line and assault column) and those that favor movement (column, skirmish and disordered).  Rather than come up with a tediously precise movement range for each formation, I’ve decided to produce movement values for each of these basic categories.  Without stopping to explain what these formation looked like and how useful they are (that being the subject of other blogs) here is how I see infantry movement distances for infantry:

Line 6”
Skirmish 8”
Column 8”
Assault Column 6”
Disorder 8”

When moving infantry the base movement value is either 6” or 8”.  This will be pretty easy to remember and should keep the movement charts on the side table.

Next to consider is what the terrain is like and how that impacts these easily remembered numbers.

Terrain

Rather than create rules for every conceivable type of terrain or creating a complex matrix of movement values for each formation type, I have decided to categorize terrain in a fashion similar to what I did with formations above and then applying modifiers.  Terrain is either “open”, “rough” or “utter crap”.

Open terrain is flat and dry.  Movement in open terrain is done at full speed.  in addition to grass and pasture plowed and planted fields will also be counted in this terrain category

Rough terrain is broken by rocks or trees and is pretty tough to move through.  Going uphill might also be considered rough terrain.  Units in rough terrain have their movement halved for the distance moved in rough terrain.  If a two inch patch of trees lay in the path of infantry for instance they will spend 4” of movement going through it.

“utter crap” is stuff you go around.  Its knee deep water, a stream, or a particularly heavy forest.  Movement is quartered in “utter crap”.  BTW…Utter crap is not my final title for this third, most worse terrain type but I am at a loss for a better name.  Every other game I have seen that employs good/bad/awful naming to terrain categories confuses me.  The words for mildly bad terrain and really bad terrain overlap to much (broken? rough? difficult? bad going?).  They all sound the same.  “Utter crap” communicates in a way that can be appreciated how tough it is to assault a position in waist deep water.

Roads are really convenient for moving on while in column.  To reflect this, Units that spend their entire movement on a road get a 1/4 movement bonus.  For instance, infantry columns get 10” movement on the road.

Examples

Infantry in line, in open terrain:

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In this instance infantry can move 6” straight ahead.

Infantry in skirmish moving into a woods (rough):

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In this case, infantry can move at half rate through the woods so the net movement in the example above is just over 4”.

Infantry in column across a creek (utter crap):

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In this case the infantry column has to cross 1.5” of utter crap which translates into 6” or open movement.  With a total of 8” of available movement, that leave 2” of movement left for the other side of the creek.

Changing formations

Units can change formations as a part of movement.  This operation would have been more complicated than it sounds as most formation changes  involved communication between 400 or so men to do something unexpected.  Additionally, many formation changes involve the considerable displacement of troops.

A formation change could take the entire turn(15 minutes of real time) or only a few minutes.  Skill level would make a huge difference.  To model this and entire turn movement must be expended to change formation minus a quarter movement for each success of a roll for effect.  A minimum of a quarter movement is required for a formation change.  Remember, a roll for effect involves rolling a number of dice based on the skill of the unit in questions (green = 2 dice, Elite = 4 dice) and counting each die that equals a ‘4’ or more.

In the example below an elite unit in line changes to skirmish and moves forward

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In this case the unit in question changes to skirmish formation (the faster formation) and then moves the maximum distance.  Maximum distance in this case though is an unknown.  If the unit makes 3 or 4 successful skill then it can move 6” (after losing a quarter movement to the formation change.  If there are 4 failures than the unit changes formation and is done.

Infantry Columns can convert into line and lines into columns with extra efficiency as the displacement of troops is relatively minor and this maneuver was practiced.  In this case a formation change only costs 3/4 movement  minus 1/4 movement for each success.

QuickTime

Units that are willing to sacrifice their reaction capabilities (an entire set of rules I am going to decline to explain at this time) can “push” to maximize their movement.  Before moving, a skill roll can be made to determine bonus movement.  For each success an additional 1/4 movement can be added to the total move.  Once this roll is made the unit need not use the bonus but the penalties will be applied.

Units that move quick time are marked with a “spent” counter which indicates that reaction rolls are conducted at “+2” and that reaction ranges are halved.  I’m not gonna tell you what this means but, trust me, it’s bad.

ALSO, Straggling may have occurred.  Once the unit is moved, two straggling hits are accessed to the unit minus one for each success on a skill check.  Straggling hits are similar to battle hits (another major game concept I will explain later) but are different in that they will be automatically recovered over time.

In the example below an infantry regiment in line quick time moves over open ground:

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It’s maximum movement is 10.5’ (6” plus 3/4 of 6”).  This measurement is made and place holders are put on the table where the troops would end up if all three skill dice where to roll 4+.

Dice are rolled and only 1 success occurs.

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This leaves the regiment half its normal move (3”) short of its target.

Now its time to see if there are stragglers.  Dice are rolled and again, there is only once success.

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The regiment is now spent and has one straggler.  The straggler is marked with a yellow o-ring.

BTW… keep the image above in mind when reading the next section.

Standing orders

When ordering troops to move, it is not known if soldiers will be able to reach their maximum possible potential move.  It is pretty easy to imagine though that commanders would have given orders frequently that assumed optimistic speeds.  Officers also would not have thought of a 15 minute turn as a limit.

To model some of this, units when moved may have their maximum movement marked on the table using the markers I have shown in the example above.  These markers can be left on the table over the following turn and when the unit is next activated, they can finish the last turns orders much more easily than being given new orders.  Marked orders can be given to a unit with a “+2” on the officers activation roll and, if the order is the first order given then it is automatically successful.

Standing orders can always be ignored and new orders can be given.

If an officer fails his first attempt to give orders, then he may issue standing orders in order to improve the likelihood that troops will be able to move in subsequent turns.

This rule will likely not impact officers with 3 or more dice but, as officers get fewer and fewer dice for activating, this will allow them to keep some of their troops in the game.  Interestingly enough, this delayed order means that opponents will be able to see what a unit intends to do which is probably really fair given the time it takes to do it or the decrease in command competence.

Don’t’ forget officer influence

Just a reminder… Officers have influence dice that can gift a regiment under their command when making a roll.  These dice must be outnumbered 2 to one by the dice being rolled by the unit (that is they can never be more than a third of the dice being rolled.

These dice can dramatically improve the movement of a unit when used on either changing formations or pushing for extra movement.

Making markers

I created the move markers by painting 3mm litko bases.

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One side I painted blue, the other gray.

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To the blue side I added a light blue “X” (the military sybol for infantry) which I outlined in black.         

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To the grey side I added brown.

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and I painted the edges black.

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The arrows for movement I created by cutting sheet form into strips and cutting pointed tips.

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I captured quite a few images of movement that I did not use for the writing of this blog.  I intended to give a few more detailed examples of movement including a brigade movement but I seriously ran out of time and I think most of this came out pretty clear.





The Steele Bayou Expedition

1 05 2011

Despite the loss of two of his best ironclads, Admiral Porter was not giving up.  If there were no spare heavy ships for running the guns and Vicksburg then there was at least an abundance of shallow draft transports and cottonclads for turning the confederate position along the Yazoo.

Back in December, Grant had lost nearly 2000 men assaulting Haines Bluff.  This position was not only proofed against a frontal assault but its guns dominated the river itself and would have made the passing of a fleet carrying troops and supplies too expensive to be considered.  What was needed was way to go around the confederate defenses and with the Mississippi Delta flooded from the breaking of the dykes from the Yazoo Pass expedition in February many new “rivers” had bee created where only streams and swamps had been previously

Preliminary scouting revealed that Steele’s bayou, who’s mouth attached to the Yazoo just below the Haines Bluff fortification, was navigable for nearly 20 miles.  Navigable in fact until it connected to Black Bayou which jogged east and connected to Deer Creak.  Deer Creek was connected to the Rolling fork which attached to the Sunflower which in turn ran back to the Yazoo upstream of the confederate Fortifications.  It was 200 miles of meandering swamp but it appeared that Porter was in business.

Steele's Bayou

On March 16th 1863, on its assent up Steele’s bayou, Porter’s fleet picked up one of Sherman’s Divisions.  Up until very recently Sherman’s men had been trying to dig their way pass Vicksburg.  Flooding had ended this effort.  The very flooding that made this expedition possible made his men available for the work required to circumnavigate the confederates on the Yazoo.

All went well until the union fleet made its way to deer creek.  The assumption that flooding would make the waterways of the delta deep enough for navigate had proven true but the flooding had done little to move the trees lining the creek further apart.  Flooding had also moved the canopy of the forest that much closer to the surface of the water.  As with the Yazoo river expedition, navigation of the river had become perilous to man and ship alike.  River vessels had stacks and rigging destroyed by continual contact with the Delta’s flora and with each bump of a tree, the decks of the union fleet would be covered by all the bugs and critters of the swamp that had been forced to seek refuge.

In order to make Deer Creek passible to union navigation, Sherman’s men took to felling and moving trees.  A task that had them in the water and tugging on ropes for days.  In the mean time Porter’s gunboats continued ahead without infantry support.  What could possibly go wrong?

By this point Confederates had a pretty good idea of what the union fleet was up to.  At choke points in the creek cotton was stacked near the edge of the water and would be lit as the union ships approached.  This didn’t stop the fleet but it did manage to make life pretty miserable for union crews.

On the night of the 18th, when the ships stopped and made repairs the sound of axes could be heard as confederates had taken to blocking the waterway with trees.  After sending mortar rafts ahead to run off the gray woodsmen in the night, the fleet pressed ahead the next morning and nearly made the mouth of the Rolling Fork.  There they found a problem.

Near an Indian mound, the river turned on a ominous bright green.  For an extended stretch of deer creek, a pervasive patch of willow weed grew beneath the surface of the water.  Believing that steam powered river gunboats had what it took to make it through such a growth, Porter ordered his lead gunboats to go ahead at full speed.  Of course this did not work.  Porter’s fleet became completely stuck, and stuck in a really bad place.

High ground could be found in range of the river fleet and the ironclads would have difficulty shooting back given their inability to move and their relative elevation.  Porter was screwed and he knew it.  He put ashore some of his more mobile smoothbores which took up position on the nearby Indian mound.  His crew he put overboard with knives and hooks in an effort to free his ships.

No sooner had the union troops fortified the mound than confederate artillery had taken position both north and south of the fleet and opened fire.  Not just any confederate artillery either but rifles with much more accuracy and range.  Porter was desperate and had to send for Sherman.  Unable to send back some of his still mobile gunboats for help because of the guns in his rear and the felled trees they used to block the river, Porter was forced to rely on slaves to deliver messages to Sherman many miles away.

Three days later, on the 22nd, Sherman’s  men arrived, wet, muddy and disgruntled.  Forced to travel cross country due to the inability of the fleets transports to navigate Deer Creek, Sherman’s men took a full day to make it to the stranded fleet.  Once there however they had no difficulty pushing the confederates out of both of their positions and clearing the river of felled trees.  After a short discussion both Porter and Sherman agreed that they had been whooped and it was time they made their way home… in reverse.

The Seventh Failure

This phase of the Vicksburg campaign is known by historians as the “Seven Failures”. We have chronicled six failures so far including Grant’s advance through Holly springs, Sherman’s assault on the cliffs of Normandy Haynes Bluff, Grant’s canal, the Yazoo Pass expedition, the Lake Providence expedition and the Steele Bayou expedition.  For Grant’s final failure he chose another canal.

Grant’s canal across Desoto Point had been obliterated by spring floods but, with higher water, new routes for a canal were possible.  A mile or so above the original canal site, at a place improbably named Duckport, a new canal was begun.  This new canal would connect the Mississippi to the Walnut bayou, which connected to Roundaway Bayou and in turn into Bayou Vidal with reconnects to the Mississippi at New Carthage below Vicksburg.

This is not really a sexy story.  It was never thought a very good idea as only small boats could use the bayou on the far side of the canal.  This plan was only practical because of the flooding and when the flooding stopped in April the plan was abandoned.

Grant had failed to get around Vicksburg.  He had Failed seven times.  Fear not though.  Grant had one more plan… and it was a corker.