Friday, 2 May 2014
First of the ACW Zouaves
Technically I’ve been messing around. The knee has been a bit slow to get right, been on antibiotics and life, the universe and everything seems to have conspired against me doing anything worthwhile for a month or so. However, I have made a start on the mis-bought Perry Zouaves and I’ve fiddled around with other stuff.
I say the Perry figures were mis-bought because they’re really a failed idea. They were bought to represent the NY Fire Zouaves in their first uniform, which I think was rather natty, but, as usual, it pays to look more closely first. The figures are near enough, but not near enough for me (which is saying something). The presence of a cummerbund and the wrong shaped belt buckle killed that one. I’d be prepared to assault a handful with tools and Miliput, maybe, but not a couple of dozen. So, off we went (I actually mean ‘I’, but it sounds like some heroic quest) in search of a unit which had a) the appropriate uniform and was b) easy to paint. Well, easy for a zouave unit, that is. Although there were a couple of units which fit the bill, I settled on the Salem Zouaves as they’re easy to paint, but still look like flash coves.
The Salem Zouaves only accounted for Company I of the 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, so painting a whole battalion (or, if you’re an ACW purist, regiment) of’em is stretching a point. Still, when has that ever bothered a wargamer? They spent most of their time hanging around guarding things, so the Iron Brigade needn’t worry about losing their Michelin stars.
Quick snap of some of the first batch. More to come when the unit’s finished:
The next part’s on books, so anybody who doesn’t do reading can carry on surfing from here.
Having read the book on Buford, I thought I’d give Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels’ a go. This is the book which won the Pulitzer prize for Fiction in 1975 and was the inspiration for the film “Gettysburg”.
Now, I like the film despite its little foibles (stick on beards, salad dodging re-enactors and all) and I accept that it’s more a series of snapshots of the three day battle rather than a serious record of it. However, having now read the book, it’s apparent what a breeze of a job the screenwriters had as the film is pretty much an animated version of the book.
So, what about the book? Michael Shaara certainly had a good imagination and does bring the characters to life, but I’m not sure how accurate these lives are. It’s certainly a pro Longstreet tale, but I think it goes a bit far with the portrayal of Lee’s mental and physical condition and Lt Colonel Arthur Freemantle (Coldstream Guards) is an utter moron. In short, you’d be wrong to think of this book as being a definitive guide to Gettysburg, but it does give a flavor of the battle and the period. It’s much closer to the picture than, say, if you were to take “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” as a record of D-Day and the Normandy campaign. It’s pretty well written and changes its pace well, so give it a go. I do think it leaves us with the age-old debate as to whether Meade won the battle or Lee lost it.
WARNING: this next section includes questionable opinions and suspect facts. May contain nuts.
I know that the ACW is a bit of a Marmite period to many and I can appreciate that. It’s got a few hurdles to overcome and, for people of a certain age, there are questionable films, the Airfix figures and for years it was the only horse and musket gaming within the grasp of most mortals without surplus income, indulgent parents or access to enough plasticine and banana oil. Even after this, it existed as a poor cousin of Napoleonics (which demanded more painting skill and certainly more time and money). Eventually someone smelled a rat. These rules and figures weren’t producing games that looked anything like the ACW. Books were read and this caused other books to be written and a new species of button counter began to appear. After a while rules like “Fire & Fury” and “Johnny Reb” appeared and somebody put wheels on the bandwagon.
Having been through the ‘Civil War’ bubble gum card phase (weren’t they awful?) and done the John Tunstill’s rules thing, this was like a breath of fresh air because you know what comes with new rules? New figures! Bit of a chicken and egg here: did the (then) new Freikorps and Old Glory figures prompt new rules or vice versa? I remember the ‘Happy Time’ when the new style rules, new figures and Paddy Griffith’s books all blossomed more or less together. I say Paddy Griffith because he produced two excellent books on this period of warfare and these serve to represent the growth and increasing availability of ACW related titles, particularly via Amazon.
Battle in the Civil War: Generalship and Tactics in America, 1861-65; ISBN 1869871006
Battle Tactics of the American Civil War; ISBN 1861264607
If you want to get into REAL detail, then try to get hold of Brent Nosworthy’s
The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the American Civil War; ISBN 1845292200
By the time Ken Burns’ documentary series hit the screens I was under sedation.
Now, I did think of doing a what’s good and what’s dud on ACW books, but there’s a mass of good stuff out there. If you’re not that familiar with the period then Bruce Catton (like him a lot) and Dupuy & Dupuy produced decent, single volume primers:
Battle Cry of Freedom; ISBN 0140125183 (or hang your head in shame)
After this there is a mountain of good books on the various campaigns and battles and a fair pile on the personalities.
So where did that come from? Well, part of it is the result of an online discussion with a non-wargamer (but history buff) who sparked things off with a comment about the old Airfix ACW artillery set, which really captured my imagination back in the 60’s. The rest came about from reading gamers’ requests around the web who were asking basic questions. I’ve also got mildly excited (only mildy mind) about the impending arrival of some of the new Forgotten & Glorious Iron Brigade figures. I’m getting these to add to units in the queue: