Improvised Cover

27 03 2011

The Civil War battlefield was a dangerous place.  This was partially due to the fact that there were tons of people with guns shooting at you and partially because the tactics of the day dictated that you should stand up and take it.  It did not take long for veterans of both armies to realize that cover improved during the fight improved survivability and if the battlefield did not provide you cover then you needed to make your own.

There was no “ideal” technology for creating cover in battle.  Soldier could get access to tools when entrenchment was a known strategic objective but during the battle shovels and picks would have been hard to come by.  Improvised cover appears to have come predominately in two types; digging and debris such as logs and rocks. 

Digging would be done with whatever was at hand including cups and plates.  This type of work could be time consuming.  If troops were able to stay in a single position  for a period of time they would invariably improve there position notably.  At the battle of Malvern hill the 22nd Massachusetts held a seemingly open position for well over an hour by lay flat in a field and alternating digging in using mess tins and firing at the enemy. 

Far preferable to digging was using available debris.  A position could be considerably improved by moving logs and rocks that might be available .  If the fight is within easy distance of a forest or close to split rail fence that could be disassembled then solders would take advantage and create a barrier that would provide measurable protection.  Though I call this type of cover “Improvised cover” throughout this blog other games would also refer to this type of feature as a “Hasty Work”.  Both are correct.

Factors that contribute to the amount of time it would take to produce effective cover would be determined by

  • Distance from debris
  • Skill of the soldiers
  • Condition of the soldiers
  • Luck

Improvised Cover rules

Orders can be given to create improvised cover to one or more infantry regiments (or dismounted cav) as an “order”.  Each regiment being ordered to create cover will make “rolls for effect” to accumulated enough successes to create cover.  The number of successes required depends on the distance to either a forest, fence or building.  In all cases this terrain feature must NOT be closer to an enemy than it is to the unit trying to dig in.

The number of successes needed to produce cover is indicated below along with a distance

Distance Successes
2” or less 2
4” or less 4
More than 4” 8

As usual, these distances and values come directly from my butt.  Play testing will bear these values out.  My inclination though is that nobody is going to go more than 200 yards to grab a log though.

Morale will modify these rolls. I haven’t explained morale yet so I don’t want to tip my hand here but units that are not ok are either shaken or routed.  Shaken units will have a –1 on each dice rolled making it harder to succeed.  Routed units can’t create cover.  They are to busy trying to create distance.

If a roll for effect does NOT generate enough successes then the number of success will be noted (by a dice most likely.  Haven’t made up my mind yet.)  Subsequent attempts to dig in will add to this accumulated total

If a unit moves before establishing cover then the accumulated successes are lost.

Once the number of successes indicated has been accumulated then the regiment is marked as being in cover and all rolls against it are modified as though the unit is in “light cover”.  I have NOT discussed the concept of cover yet.  Cover will be either light, heavy or entrenched.  More will be revealed once I get to “fire and morale” in a few weeks.

If a fence is the object the unit creates their cover from then the fences will be removed when the cover is added.  (It got moved!)

If a unit moves out of cover then the improvised cover remains on the table and can be assumed by a different unit later.

Creating Improvised Cover

I have become a big fan of using popsicle sticks.  Not sure when it happened.  They are absolutely the right price when it comes to buying a lot of stands.  I have created cover of this type before using metal bases but these had to be stored on magnets as the sharp heavy metal bases would have damaged each other had I placed them in a container.  Popsicle sticks are really light.

I start by painting short popsicle stick with raw umber paint


I then cover the popsicle stick in white glue…


and cover with static grass.


I am not wanting to limit the actual type of cover that can be used by soldiers but I do have to model something.  I have chosen to create long thin stands of fallen trees.

Next I take Woodland scenics plastic tree armatures…


… and paint them brown…


and drybrush them with a lighter color.


Now that I have painted tree branches I cut them up using a pair of wire cutters and bend them into more plausible shapes.  Where I cut I paint a light brown to look like cut wood.


I next glue the branches to my popsicle sticks along with some rocks.


I then finish up by gluing bits of clump foliage.


Here is a finished batch.


This project went really well and was a pleasant surprise.  It too very little time to create this.  Had a known this would have gone this well my first batch would have gone larger.

As an interesting aside I had an aborted prototype for this project using wires instead of tree armatures.  I had intended to glue small pieces of wire to the the popsicle stick, paint the branch brown and then glue on the grass.


My prototype ended up a train wreck.  I would have had better results if I started with brown wire but the glue and the grass just went wrong.  Applying glue to a surface with wire attached made for strange surface tension experiment.  The grass ended up everywhere.  Fail.