Union Infantry Part 1

20 03 2011

Infantry formed the backbone of both the Union and Confederated armies during the American civil war.  In my union order of battle I have 31 regiments of on average 5 stands a pop (155 stands).  By contrast I have 10 artillery batteries (20 stands) and 5 battalions of Cavalry (40 stands).  The vast majority of work in painting an American Civil War army is tied up in painting infantry.

Rather than painting a nearly infinite number of units all at once and NEVER finishing, I have divided the painting of regiments roughly into thirds.  Like to paint whole units when I can so rather than drawing the line at 10 regiments I have decided to paint the 12 relatively small regiments  of Garrard, Lindsey and Hovey’s brigades.  Of these 12 regiments one contains 3 stands and rest have 4. 

A stand of infantry represents 90 men so a 4 stand regiment equals 360 men which is  about the size of a “veteran” unit.  A 3 stand regiment (270 men) or smaller is most likely an “elite” unit on its 3rd or 4th campaign.  5 stands(450 men) could be either “veteran” or “green”.  6 or more stands is most certainly a “green” unit on its first campaign.

To begin with I count out 12 command strips and 82 regular infantry strips.  Command stands (of which each regiment get one) has one command strip and one regular infantry strip


The Command strips are different in that they have flag bearers, a drummer and officers.


The flag poles on these stand are frankly pathetic.  Soft metal has a low melting point and is easy to work with but it not NEARLY as stiff as it needs to be not bend during play.  I have just painted flagpoles on a miniature before and its super distracting to someone as anal as myself.  I end up spending the whole game straightening the flags.  To get past this I replace the flag pole with a .025 gauge piece of piano wire.

To do this I first remove the tip of the vestigial pole…


Next I trim as much of the pole as I can away from the unit…


I then use a craft knife to cut the pole away just above the left hand of the flag bearers…


I don’t bother to cut away the bottom half of the pole.  Its really small, not in the way and I couldn’t get to it with wire cutters if I really wanted to.  Next step is to drill really small holes using a #71 .026 pen drill into the tops of hands/arms of the flag holders…


Finally I attach using super glue a short piece of piano wire in the new hole…


This is faster than it looks.  I did all twelve stands in less than an hour.

Next step is to white glue all the stands to popsicle…


Popsicle sticks are a GREAT solution to the “how the hell do I hold these guys while painting” conundrum.  Sometimes you can paint them on their final base but this won’t work here because I will be mounting them two deep.  Also… white glue works best here because the miniatures stick until I want them to come off.

Next step is to prime them black…


Black is THE right color at this scale.  Purists prime with white so the colors pop but you mistakes really stand out in white.  If a bit of black sticks out on the minis it looks good.  In fact it looks like will defined lines between colors even.

Time to start painting!  As a rule you should paint the bottom garments first and move towards the items on top later.  This has me painting either pants or coats first.  I choose coats (and hats) because it harder and I can be sloppy as its my first color…


This is an icky step.  The soldiers have bags and guns and stuff all over them and I need to squish the paint into all the gaps.  Blue is hateful on these guys. 

I know what you are thinking… I could spray-paint them blue.  I have tried this before… it sucked… a bunch. 

  1. Spray-paint, despite its reputation, does NOT get into all the gaps.  You WILL miss things. 
  2. I don’t have a pot of paint that matches the spray paint so when I mess up later, I can’t cover it up with matching paint
  3. I don’t get the cool black undercoat advantages.  If I make a mistake then blue sticks out. (imagine a line of blue between a face and hair.  ick.

The Blue is the hardest step.  All told it took me 4 hours to paint all 47 stands.

Here is a stand painted blue front and back…



I paint the pants next a light grey blue…


This step took me 2 hours.

Next I paint black onto the minis.  All Civil War soldiers carried a leather ammo bag on their left shoulder across their body so that it would be sitting handily on their right hip so they could use their right hand to draw new cartridges during a fight.  This bag would have been very dark and in virtually all drawings I have seen, black.

I also painted officer belts and the bills of the soldiers kepi’s black…


If you can’t tell what I painted here then you are not the only one.  I could not talk myself out of doing this step but it really is hard to tell what I did.  This step took two hours.

Next I paint haversacks.  Soldiers of this era kept their food and stuff in a giant canvas sack they wore over the other shoulder.  Think a man-purse with raw bacon and apples in it.  This bag was made out of a natural fabric and was a shade of off white…


Though not pictured, drum heads also get a shot of off white.

Next I paint  canteens and some of the guys hair a mediums shade of brown…


After this I paint rifles, drum sticks bases and some hair dark brown…


Next, I paint the blonds in my army.


Finally I paint the units faces and hands a flesh color…


This is a magic step.  Once you have flesh colored dots poking through all the darker colors they look like something.

Here are the completed units…


Next time I will walk through basing, labeling and flags for these 12 regiments!


Into the Woods

27 02 2011


Let me start by saying that I am REALLY pleased with the ways my trees have turned out.  So much so, that I am reluctant to blog about them for fear that next weeks work will really seem lame by comparison.  Not everything turns out the way I hope and on more than one occasion I have “taken a C” on a particular element of my miniatures and moved on.  Trees I nailed though.

A number of years ago I created trees for my original miniatures project.  I made about 20 or 30 one inch square stand with three trees on it.  It took a while to do but I was generally pleased with the results.  I used really colorful fall foliage because I thought it looked really nice.  In retrospect not my best move as very few battles where fought in the fall.  Still, it was my forest and I wanted fall colors.  Nyaah.

The first time we played with my trees I received a rude awakening.  20 or 30 stands of trees on a 8 foot by 4 foot table looked pathetic.  I missed creating the correct number of trees by well over an order of magnitude.  In fact I needed to go into mass production on my trees if I wanted my trees to look… well like a forest.  Instead of representing trees on my table with trees, we instead used green felt cut into patterns.  I stored the better part of a bolt of green felt along with my hills and would cut new pieces as needed whenever we set up a new game.  It was a workable but unsatisfying solution.


When I revived the notion of having a Civil War table, I considered the trees to be a central part of the problem.  My forests WILL be made of trees.

Impact on Battle

Scarcely a single battle of the civil war lacked for trees.  Some battles, like the Wilderness or Shiloh could be said to have been fought in a forest.  Even in battles where there was much open terrain, stands of woods had a mighty impact on the battle.  Here are a few ways trees influenced the Civil War battlefield.

  • Reduced visibility – Troops in woods could become virtually invisible.  Troops within the woods themselves could vanish within just a few dozen yards of heavy forest and many impressive acts of deception where achieved by maneuvering just on the other side of a path of trees.  Jackson’s surprise flanking march at the battle of Chancellorsville was achieved largely by the presence of trees
  • Cover – There is lots of cover In a forest.  Holding a wooded area proved to be a successful tactic, particularly if a unit held the edge of a wooded area and fired at the enemy in the open. 
  • Building supplies for improvised cover – If troops did not have the great fortune to be positioned within a forest, being close to trees and having a few minutes to prepare was very nearly as good.  Confederated in particular seemed to be extremely skilled moving felled trees to where they could provide meaningful cover for crouching and firing.
  • Reduced movement – On the downside, movement through woods would occur at a much slower rate than in the open.  Potentially movement could be halved or even quartered based on the density of the woods.

Building Trees

In my original tree project I mounted trees on the same kind of bases I mounted my miniatures on, namely hand cut bass wood glued to a piece of metal.  My thought originally was that I could store them on magnets.  This is a deeply bad Idea.  Given that my scenario calls for at least 10 square feet of woods (and the more I think of it, more like 16) storage will be an issue.  16 square feet of storage space will be costly, especially if I have to cover it in sheet magnet which can be $10 or so a square foot.

If I make everything light, I could just chuck everything into a shoebox and fix battle damage as it occurs.  Also, I need something a little easier than hand cutting bases.  Don’t they make bits o’ wood already? 


Michaels, seller of cool stuff, has on their popsicle stick isle, bits of stunningly cheap round bits o’ wood for about $1.99 a bag.  Huzzah!  A single bag will cover about 9 square inches in two different sizes(about 1.5 inch and 3/4 inch diameter circles.


I start by gluing two layers of Fine ballast to the top of the disk.  This will make for the painted dirt service.


Once done I spray paint the bases, generously, with brown paint.


I then dry brush the bases with burnt sienna (a style of painting where only the raised areas are touched by the paint).


I then paint the edges of the base with black paint.


This finishes the painting of the bases.  Next step is to drill three different size holes in the base for tree trunks.  I do enough of this that I have a drilling station in my garage.



I then cut dowels to fit the two larger holes.  These will become tree trunks.


I then glue the two different size dowel bits to each of the bases.  (note:In the smaller bases, I either put a small or medium hole.)


I then use ink to dye the dowels a more trunk like color.


Once dry I apply glue and static grass.  This is a really bizzare process involving a blowing the grass using a large squeeze bottle.


This finishes the ground appearance of the tree stand.


Next I create trees.  To create conifer trees I use black bump chenille.  This is basically a pipe cleaner with alternating long and short hairs.


I cut the chenille so that I have about 3/4 inch tall bits that go from wide to skinny.  I pull the a little of the black fur out of the chenille bit on the wide end so that I can attach these guys to the bases later.


Next I put a “light” layer of glue on the chenille…


… and dip the chenille into a dark mix of forest scenics grass blend.


Once dry, I can glue the trees to the bases by taking the protruding wire coated in white glue…


…and slipping them into the small holes in my bases.


I finish the trees by super gluing different colored bits of clump foliage to the tree trunks.


This is the completed batch of trees…


… and this is about 4 completed batches of trees.


I expect I will have about 8-10 batches of these trees by the time I am done.  It’s slow work but it beats the bejesus out of felt.

Stands 2.0

20 02 2011

As I established previously, my basic infantry stand is 7/8” by 5/8’.  Groovy.  With width and depth determined we have only the issue of height to be settled. How tall should a stand be?  Should it have any height at all?  This is one of those strange and nuanced topics that can divide miniature war gamers into different, almost religious, camps.

On one side are what I shall call the “flat-earthers”.  Soldiers did NOT fight on raised pedestals and neither should their miniature counterparts.  To the flat-earthers there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing troops standing virtually level to the table.


On the other side of this robust debate are a somewhat more pragmatic group that mount their minis on deliberately tall bases.  Many don’t like to pick up miniatures by their painted surface or or are concerned that some minis are fragile and might break.  Also… they think pedestals are cool.


I like the look of both but I even if I didn’t, 6mm miniatures are just too small to pick up and move by the lead itself.  It would be great to have enough surface to move minis around without overly touching the lead itself.  Also… where would you put the labels?


So, another age old divide amongst wargamers is whether or not units should be labeled.  This is actually a pretty big problem with, again, several almost religious schools of thought. 

Most gamers prefer no labels permanently affixed to their miniatures.  This allows for great flexibility.   One does not have to know in advance their order of battle before painting and units can be assigned a designation as needed.  Armies can be generically painted and divvied up to their scenario dependent units on the day of battle.  The only problem is that it is not overly easy to track un labeled units on the table.  Usually a temporary label is joined to the mini’s for a gaming session.


Another approach is to make the label free standing like a name card.


In the image above, generic units are tracked using trifold labels.  (If you look closely, even the units themselves are massively generic;  25mm miniatures on circular bases are attached to green cards allowing the gamer to change the scale of the base or to reflect casualties by removing miniatures from their stands as they take hits.)  More common than the trifold label is the use of stickers or post-its to make a unit a battle time.

Another way to distinguish units on the battlefield without resorting to any sort of label is the distinctive paint job.


There where a lot of variation with uniforms during the war.  By using Zoaves, great coats, colored bed rolls and back packs, and other variations in uniform you can create enough distinction to tell troops apart but this is a lot of work and , once again, 6mm is no scale for counting on uniform details for distinction. Besides, troops with distinctive uniforms where rarely able to maintain these distinctive looks more than a few months in the field.

Another reason for using thick bases is to allow for a beveled surface to attach a label.  I have seen many flat bases with labels but it always looks a little awkward to me.


I like to bevel the backs of my bases and the base need only be tall enough to allow a 45 degree bevel to contain a single line of text.  This fits nicely on about a quarter of an inch.

Steel, magnet, card, wood, etc.

I have seen MANY different materials used for creating miniatures bases.  Basically, there are two approaches to basing miniatures.  Permanently base them and temporarily base them.  Now… I am a big fan of permanent basing.  To me it is more important that the miniature be well based than well painted.  The smaller the scale of mini, the more important this is and we are doing very small mini’s indeed.

However… IF I owned EMACULATELY painted 25mm miniatures and did not possess the skill or time to produce another whole set of painted minis AND I wanted to play many different games systems and scales with these minis I would be VERY reluctant to permanently base them.  It is not uncommon to see someone at a game convention attaching very big and NICE minis to a plain piece of thick card using trace amounts of rubber cement in order to temporarily make them street legal for one game system or another.

To make the pedestal deep bases I really have only one option for building material… wood.  I could run out and buy Bass or Balsa wood from Michaels if I liked or I could custom buy precut bases online from a miniature accessories company such as Litko.  Sadly wood as a basing material has one serious shortcoming.  There is no condition in which it is naturally sticky.

Metal is sticky… when placed on a magnet.  Magnets, conversely, are sticky when placed on metal.  Both give you the option of storing miniatures in an environment where you can be pretty confident that they will not shift.  Magnets can be bought sticky backed and applied to precut wooden bases with a great deal of success.  This is a really common scenarios.  If stored in a metal container or a metal bottomed container then this will work really well.

Metal bases, which can be glued to wood, provide a good base when stored on sheet magnet.  Additionally, if you wanted to cut your own bases and bevel them, it would also provide an excellent template for doing so and would be resistant to forces that might be used to shape the wood, such as a rapidly spinning disk of sandpaper.  I use this technology.

Making bases

To start with, I buy precut metal bases from the aptly named Wargames Accessories out of St. Petersburg Florida.  Not only do they have a wide variety of miniature base sizes but, if you happen to choose an amazingly odd size, such as 7/8” by 5/8”, to base your game upon then they are really eager to custom cut that size base for you!

Next… I need the right depth wood to get a quarter inch tall bevel, about the height of text I need, so I will use… <Math> …and keeping in mind Pythagorean theorem… <Math> …at 45 degrees… <Math>… and rounding the nearest depth of commonly available bass wood boards… <Math>… I therefore will use 3/32 of an inch as the depth of my bases.  3” by 24” Basswood boards are readily available at this depth.


Next I use white glue to attach bases to the basswood in lines and columns.  Once I attach the base I use a small clamp to hold the base in place while it dries.  Because I only have about a dozen clamps I glue bases to the board after a painting session working on something else.


Once I have a board or two filled up with bases, I cut around the bases using a scroll saw.


For those of you that you that know me… yes… this seems like an excellent way to hurt myself.


Once I have my bases cut out I then sand a strait edge onto all four sides using a belt sander.


The metal doesn’t sand all that well so the bases typically get really well squared.  This process works very well.

Once all bases are sanded, I then tilt the guide on my sander to 45 degrees (or so) and put a bevel on on side.


Repeat until finished


I now have a set of bases that are just high enough to pick up without lifting by the miniature, beveled to provide amply room for a label and just big enough for the miniatures I am using.



30 01 2011

How soldiers are presented on the war-gamming table is a central question of any miniature gaming rule set.  Some systems have units that are a constant size, manpower density being the only variable. 


In the image above, each of the regiments sit on individual stands.

Using this approach, planning is a breeze.  Each regiment is the same size so it’s a simple matter of painting as many as possible.  The downside is that you don’t have any variation in unit footprints.  All regiments take up the same space regardless of the number of soldiers they represent.

Another approach that is sort of novel is using a fixed number of troops (regardless of how they are organized) rather than using the “unit” as the basis of the game, .  The only rule here is that troops should be organized by type.  Using this system means a greatly simplified order of battle.  I need X stands of this and Y stands of that.  No generals.

Psioli vs Knights

In the image above, the knights on the left have the EXACT same width as the skirmishers on the right.

This allows for games where enemy units can come into contact and not overlap. It makes for an eloquent system and is REALLY popular in ancients war gaming.

One MAJOR issue ignored by both of the approaches above is that of formations.  Units of the Civil War typically fought in close order, two lines deep.  They also fought in a more spread out formation called skirmish lines.  Additionally they would have marched everywhere in columns.  And finally, troops exposed to too much battle would eventually break and run for their lives in no particular formation at all.

Another concern is that as units of the Civil War took casualties they tended to compress into smaller footprints, preferring to maintain a constant density rather than a constant frontage. 

What is needed is a method for laying out troops that can visually reflect different formations and can get smaller to accommodate battle casualties.  Using multiple stands to represent a singe unit allows for both of these.


In the image above 6 stands are used to represent a single unit.  Notice the third stand has the unit’s office and color bearers.


By turning all elements 90 degrees and placing the command stand in front, the unit now appears to be marching.

Basing for McPherson and Revenge

As I mentioned in a previous post, a 400 man regiment, while in line, would have occupied a frontage of 200 yards and 200 yards is 4 inches on my table.  This same regiment in columns would be much shorter.  Probably closer to 120 to 150 yards (2.4”-3”).

I could just say that I would use a one inch wide by 3/4 inch wide stand to represent 100 soldiers.  That would work really good.  However, I need the soldiers to look right on the stand too.  I know from experience that the 6mm minis I have ordered (and have AGRAVATINGLY not yet received) are only about 3/4 wide and 1/4 inch deep.  Even if I put two rows of these guys on a stand it would look a little goofy.  Instead, I will use 7/8” wide by 5/8” deep stands and say that each stand represents 90 men.  This too will work really well.

The number of stands used to represent a unit will be variable base on 90 man increments.  Rather than worry about odd numbers, I will just round the units either up or down as needed.  This effectively means that all infantry units in my game will represent units strengths of 90, 180, 270, 360, 450 and 540 men.


Using stands side by side, a regiment will form a line.


Using stands front to back, a regiment will form a column.


By placing stands side by side with a goodly bit of spacing, a regiment my form a skirmish line.


And by placing stands close but facing in all directions, a regiment may appear disordered.