Miles of Blacktop Acres of Games

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Miles of Blacktop

Acres of Games


A road-trip through some of the best Wargames and History 

East of the Mississippi in July 2001


By P.G. Hunt


On The Road


With all due deference to Jack Scruby it has always struck me that Britain is the home of modern figure wargaming as we know it.  By the same token, and with all due deference to Charles Vasey, the United States  is undoubtedly the home of modern board wargaming as we know it.  On both sides of the Atlantic wargames conventions are supposed to represent the cutting edge of the hobby.  Showcasing what is best and newest, providing a safe environment to engage in the geekiest of wargames speak, and ample opportunity for the cash heavy and willpower deficient gamer to lay his hands on more games that will never be played and more lead that will never be painted.  Both Andrzej and myself had attended lots of conventions in Britain and very good they were too.  But the suspicion had long been there that in America they did things bigger and better.  So, for two glorious weeks in July 2001, we set out to find if this was true.


“Origins” held in Columbus, Ohio is the largest boardgames convention in the USA, nay the World.  “Historicon” held in Lancaster Pennsylvania is the largest figures convention in the USA, nay the World.  Between the end of the former and the beginning of the latter we had nine days to fill.  The answer was a road trip, an idea that is uniquely American and with which I have been in love with since I was a kid.  In my teens it was “Easy Rider,” in my twenties it was “On the Road” and in my thirties “Thelma and Louise” helped me get in touch with my feminine side.  As road trips go ours was pretty conservative, no narcotics were consumed, nobody was shot, nothing got blown up and we both survived.  And as road trips go this was less random than most.  We knew where we were ending up, and our aim was to take in the best history between the two points.  So, here we go with the highlights.


Fort Necessity


Whilst Andrzej was flying into Chicago and then taking the hop to Columbus I was driving overland from New York.  You only have to look at how rugged the West Pennsylvania countryside is today to realise what an amazing obstacle the Appalachians represented to the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Then, as now, the river valleys were the key to communications and from the 1750s the Virginians, with the backing of the British government, had been seeking to breach the mountain barrier and expand into the Ohio Valley .  This brought them into conflict with the French who held the Mississippi basin to be their own.  The key to all this was Pittsburgh , them much more romantically known as “The Forks of the Ohio ” where the French had built Fort Duquesne .


On May 27th, 1754 a Virginian expedition under Colonel George Washington bushwhacked a small French party south-east of Fort Duquesne killing their commander, Jumonville.  Washington seemed to have realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew and withdrew to an area of meadows in the forest, built a stockade ~ Fort Necessity ~ and awaited reinforcements until he eventually had almost 400 men and some small artillery pieces.


On June 3rd 700 French and Indians under the command of Jumonville’s brother surrounded the fort.  However this was to be no Alamo or Rorke’s Drift.  The French and Indians knew their fieldcraft and settled down to sniping at the Virginians and Brits from the treeline around the Fort.  Throughout a long rainy day losses on both sides mounted but the odds were with the French and by evening Washington had to sue for terms.  He had to admit to murdering Jumonville, (which he later retracted claiming that he did not appreciate the significance of the French term used,) and give up his artillery.  He was then allowed to march out with honours of war and his baggage.  Washington returned to Virginia as a bit of a local hero for having stood up to the French and their dreaded Indian allies.


Today Fort Necessity has been rebuilt and, two things strike you.  First it’s tiny – only 16 m in diameter.  Second, it’s still not a good position.  The “Meadows” were, and still are, more of a marsh than a field and the whole clearing is within easy musket shot of the treeline.  The stockade was used to protect the baggage and most of the troops fought from shallow entrenchments outside them.  What with the wet ground, the rain, and the incessant fire from the dark woods, morale must have fallen quickly.  In truth Washington should never have fought here and that opens up two fascinating historical what ifs?


What if Washington had pulled out before the French counterattack?  Would he have returned to Virginia a hero and put his political career in train?  Who knows?


What if Washington had pulled out but still been caught by the French counterattack?  The answer to this is easier because only a few miles from Fort Necessity lies the grave of the British General Braddock who followed in Washington’s footsteps a year later with a much bigger expedition, only to be ambushed near Fort Duquesne.  He died of wounds on the retreat and lies buried under his own road, his grave ridden over by the army’s baggage to prevent the Indians from identifying it and looting it.


Braddock is one of the most reviled of British generals and Washington one of the most revered of American generals.  But Braddock’s fate could easily have been Washington ’s too.  Funny thing history.




When it came to our first convention we were expecting big, but not this big.  To put things in perspective the set up in Columbus is exactly the same as the set up in Hong Kong , with a Hyatt Hotel connected to a huge exhibition centre.  So just imagine the entire Wanchai Waterfront full of wargamers and you have a good idea of the cornucopia that we were facing over the next three days.  The layout consisted of three large, (“large” means aircraft hanger sized,) halls housing the traders stands, figure games and board games respectively.  Smaller rooms housed non-stop “Magic” card competitions; real life role playing games, (so you got used to women dressed as fairies and men dressed as vampires wandering around the place,) auctions; anime movies, (we never quite got the wargaming connection but remained broad minded,) a policy making mega-game and lectures on history and wargames by the likes of Frank Chadwick and John Prados.  Add to this a collection of sci-fi and fantasy art, about 40 PCs networked for face-to-face games, lots of tables for pick-up games and numerous outlets for booze and junk food and the only epithet that is appropriate is “spoiled for choice.”


Games would start at 9 a.m. , usually scheduled for four hour slots, and go on until about 11 p.m.   During the wee small hours pick up games, all-night Magic tournaments and “Call of Cthulu” real-life role players in dinner jackets and 1920’s finery, gave the place a rather surreal air.  Programmed games were advanced booked through an efficient computer system but for many games you could just turn up and play.  Most of the tables in the bars and dining areas had some kind of game on them too as people would break open their latest purchase from the huge trade hall and get down to play.  Overall the atmosphere was a bit like Christmas morning.


Out of all this it is hard to pick favourites but ours included: shaking hands with Frank Chadwick; seeing all the pieces for Drang Nach Osten and Unterschnieden deployed over what seemed like an hectare of maps and guys using tweezers to move the stacks of counters; the display games in the dealers hall which were “blown up” about three times from the normal box size; chatting and playing with the guys from Columbia who have made so many good games; (add your own here Andrzej.)  The trade hall made a substantial dent in our wallets and baggage capacity and how I managed to resist buying a game of meglomanic monologues entitled “Before I kill you Mr. Bond …” I still don’t know.


Before commencing on a road trip it is important to ensure that you have the right wheels.  Consequently the only place that we visited in Columbus , apart from the bars and restaurants near the convention centre and a Paul Simon and Brian Wilson Concert, was the local Scalextric dealer so that Andrzej could fill up a bit more wall space.  I’m sure that the rest of Columbus is a wonderful place and look forward to going back some day, but if Origins is in town then its unlikely that we’ll see any more of it!


US Airforce Museum


About 90 minutes west of Columbus on Interstate 70, the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton , Ohio was the first of two unexpectedly good surprises on our trip.  Both Andrzej and I have plenty of experience with air museums, and we had a long drive ahead of us, so I said in all seriousness: “I’ll see you in an hour and a half.”  Two hours later I dragged myself away from the space stuff only to find Andrzej still open mouthed and drooling in the World War One Gallery.  The place has a really amazing collection both in scope and size.  By the time that we left we were way behind schedule and still regretting that we had not allocated a day to Wright-Patterson.  Definitely a place to go back if the chance comes.




A long drive through Ohio and West Virginia with overnight stops in Charleston, (where we got drunk with the West Virginia National Guard,) and a resort in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, (where we got drunk with the turkey Shooters ~ turkey shooting being the West Virginia national sport,) raised nothing of direct wargaming or historical interest but, even so, it did emphasize America’s love of history.  Every few miles or so you seem to come across some national, state or municipal historical marker.  Usually these one nothing more significant than “Killroy was here,” and many of the Killroy’s are pretty obscure, even by state or municipal standards.  But there they are, commemorated, which is nice.  Likewise, even in the smallest West Virginia town if there was even an insignificant skirmish there in the Civil War it would be marked, and probably re-enacted on the anniversary too.


As you drive down out of the Blue Ridge Mountains and say goodbye to John Denver’s Country Roads, you reach a valley; the Valley; the Shenandoah Valley .  The temptation to turn left and head for Winchester and Harper’s Ferry over the ground where Stonewall Jackson and Phil Sheridan made their names, was very great.  But we had to turn right: “On to Richmond .”  There was a little consolation however as just off Interstate 95 we found the archetypal “shiny-diner”.  The photograph describes this acme of Americana far better than my tawdry poetic alliteration can.  As I tucked into a gigantic stack of hotcakes I was expecting the Fonz to walk in at any moment.  Sadly he was off being cool someplace else that day.


Richmond was not the cradle of the American Civil War, but it was the focus of it.  The city itself still has an historical feel to its centre, a little run down, as the wealth has moved to its suburbs and the strip malls on the outskirts that make so much of America look the same, but historical for all that.  We picked a nice old hotel and made it our base for two days.


The “spoiled for choice” epithet comes to mind again because two days is not long enough to do Richmond and its environs justice.  Within easy driving distance you can visit the fields of the Seven Days, Petersburg , Yellow Tavern, (to shed a tear for Jeb,) Cold Harbor and Appotomax.  Not to mention Montichello which we had just driven past, or the attractions of the Peninsular, where we were heading next.  We opted for a day in the city, checking out the museums and a day on the road.


In the city the Richmond Battlefield Park Civil War Visitor Center is set up in the buildings of the Tredegar Iron Works on the James River .  There can be few more appropriately housed museums because Tredegar was the powerhouse of the Rebellion.  It produced many of the Confederacy’s guns and it was the only works that could roll armour plate for the Confederacy’s ironclads.  Next we visited the Confederate White House, mostly unchanged since Jeff’s days, and the Museum of the Confederacy.  The latter is very long on Robert E. Lee being an honourable man but does not put much stress on his dishonourable cause.  The slavery issue rates only a few panels in the place.  On our last evening we took a stroll down Monument Avenue where the great and good of the Confederacy are commemorated.  This is one of the few places where the rule applies about the number of hooves a statue’s horse has on the ground tells you if the rider died outright in battle, of wounds, or with his boots off.


Our day on the road took us first to Drewry’s Bluff.  I’m pretty sure that most ACW Buffs would not place Drewry’s Bluff on any list of the war’s most significant battles but to me it is one of the war’s great “what ifs”.  Everyone knows about the famous battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia/Merrimac, but when Norfolk fell to Union land forces in May 1862 the Virginia drew too much water to enter the James River and had to be scuttled.  Thus the Monitor and the newly arrived ironclad Galena had naval superiority on the James and the route to Richmond lay open.  A Union naval force under Farragut had just taken the Confederacy’s richest city, New Orleans and there seemed no reason why the Confederacy’s Capitol should not fall in the same way.  No reason that is except Drewry’s Bluff.  The Bluff is seven miles south of Richmond and dominates a long straight reach of the river leading to a 90 degree bend.  It was a good position but in May 1862 it was weakly held, mounting three heavy and three lighter guns with obstructions planted in the river.  On 15th May 1862 the Union made their move and the Monitor, Galena and three unarmoured gunboats attacked at dawn.  Over the next four hours a fierce artillery exchange decided the fate of the Confederacy.  Although the human cost was very small ~ 21 dead on both sides ~ the results were truly decisive.  The Galena was knocked out of action, the unarmoured gunboats could not face the rebel guns and the Monitor could not proceed alone.  Richmond did not share the fate of New Orleans and the war continued.


A short drive from Drewry’s Bluff took us to Parker’s Battery where, in 1864, Union general Benjamin F. Butler pulled at a door marked “push” and failed to take an almost undefended Richmond .  Then we drove on to Petersburg where Grant turned the ACW into a precursor of World War One, laying siege to the Confederate trench lines and eventually destroying Lee’s army by attrition.  But the ten month campaign need not have lasted that long.  Shortly after the siege began, in June 1864, a unit of Union General Ambrose Burnside’s Corps which was largely composed of Pennsylvania miners proposed breaching the rebel lines by exploding a mine underneath them.  Following a promising start Burnside’s record in the civil war so far had been one of barely relieved disaster, largely attributable to his habit of reinforcing failure.  Thus at Antietam he repeatedly assaulted “Burnside’s Bridge” and, when given command of the Army of the Potomac , (against his own better judgement and following several refusals it must be said to his credit,) he led it into the killing ground of Fredericksburg .  However the new plan seemed set to restore his fortunes and he developed it well.


The mine was “T” shaped, 511 feet long with galleries on either side extending 75 feet under the Confederate lines.  It took a month to dig and was loaded with four tons of gunpowder.  Burnside trained one of his divisions to exploit the detonation and this was given specific orders to go around the crater that would be formed by the mine.  Unfortunately for Burnside and his men the division that he had chosen and trained was composed of United States Coloured Troops.  The army high command – Meade and Grant – were concerned that if the operation failed they would be accused of using black men as cannon fodder so, the day before the attack, Burnside was told to substitute one of his white divisions for the assault.


The mine was exploded on 30th, July 1864 and blew away a Confederate artillery battery and nine companies of men, creating a crater 170 ft. long, 60 ft. wide and 30 ft. deep.  No doubt the ejecta from the explosion kept rebel heads down for a much wider area too.  The Union white troops charged but they had not been trained to go around the crater and their divisional commander was leading from behind, ensconced in a bunker with a bottle of booze.  The result was a disaster for the Union .  Having got into the crater the troops could not get out.  The Confederates under Mahone and the wonderfully named Bushrod Johnson quickly recovered from their shock.  Lining the lip of the crater they shot down the helpless Union troops in it.  The initial assault having failed Burnside should have cut his losses, but he reverted to form and ordered his division of black troops into the crater as well, increasing the confusion and just giving the rebels a better target.  The “battle” continued into the night with the Confederates refusing quarter to black troops who tried to surrender.  By the time it was all over 3,798 Federals were dead, the Confederate line was restored, Burnside’s military career was over for good and the siege would go on for eight more months.


Today the Petersburg battlefield has to be explored by car because it is so big.  We caught up with one of the Ranger talks at the Crater.  Unlike its counterpart at Dien Bien Phu the crater here has not been cemented to preserve its original form so erosion and backfilling has reduced its size and steepness considerably but you still get a clear idea of what went on, and what went wrong.  There is a fascinating little display about how the mine was actually dug, especially how ventilation was provided by setting fires inside the mine shaft which would cause the stale air to rise through chimneys thus creating a draught to suck in fresh air from outside through a wooden trunk system.


On the way back to Richmond we stopped off at City Point, once the busiest port in America as Grant’s supply base for the siege.  His cabin still stands there and looks out over the James River .  To end the day we returned to the 20th century for a bit and took in the Virginia Aviation Museum near Richmond Airport .  This concentrates on the “Golden Age of Aviation” and has some lovely civilian planes from the 1920s and 30s, the sort that you always saw The Thin Man, Myrna Loy or Clark Gable stepping in and out of in newsreels in the days before cattle class and deep vein thrombosis.


Historic Williamsburg


Historic Williamsburg proved to be the second unanticipated delight of the trip.  We had chosen to stop off there because it is located in the middle of the Peninsular formed by the York and James Rivers and is about halfway between Richmond and Norfolk .  Therefore it would make a good base to explore the many other historical sites in the area.  I suppose that we were put off by the “historic” bit, and were mentally applying the rule-of-thumb that anywhere described as “historic” is tacky, commercialised and very simplified for the mass market.  Anyway we adopted our best intellectual snob, historical buff, attitude and deigned to give the place a couple of hours of our time … and a day and a half later our only regrets were that we didn’t have a few more days in the place and hadn’t brought our wives along to enjoy a very special historical tourism experience.


Williamsburg had been the 18th century Colonial Capitol of Virginia, after Jamestown and before Richmond .  This was one of the heydays of the State when Virginia was rich from tobacco and stretched from the sea to the wilderness on the mountains and Ohio River beyond.  After the state capitol moved on the Richmond , Williamsburg declined into a sleepy university town.  A newer town developed around the College of William and Mary and the old Colonial buildings fell into disrepair.  However in 1926 the rector of the parish church got the “robber baron”, billionaire, philanthropist John D. Rockerfeller interested in funding restoration, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Today the buildings of Williamsburg have been restored to their 18th century glory and they are inhabited by the most engaging, charming and knowledgeable bunch of historical nutters you are ever likely to meet.


Williamsburg is a bit like a good children’s book which works at many levels so that both kids and adults can enjoy it.  The straight up grockle tourist with no real interest in history can still have fun in Williamsburg seeing the town drunk in the stocks or watching the Militia band parade through the streets.  The mild historical buff can gaze at the lovely buildings, be gently educated on the guided tours and marvel at the demonstration of 18th century skills by artisans.  The really sad cases amongst us can chat away for an hour or so with the same artisans and discuss how they and others formed an integrated economy and society two hundred and fifty years ago. 


Williamsburg makes a few concessions to the 21st century in areas like plumbing and catering, but the thing that really puts it in its 18th century context is the people who live and work there.  Many wear period dress and a few refuse to acknowledge anything after 1780s, but all are committed to doing the history right.  Williamsburg is thus a collective labour of love, and the result is lovely.


We stayed in a modern motel off site but if you book in advance or are lucky there is plenty of accommodation in the “historic” part of town itself.  For dining you can sample the earthy delights of several taverns or the more refined charms of a coaching inn that was one of Washington ’s favourites.  In the latter we spent a very pleasant evening on July 14th, celebrating Andrzej’s birthday and the fall of the Bastille that was due to take place in about twenty year’s time!




Within easy driving distance of Williamsburg you can go north to Yorktown on the York River or south to Jamestown on the James River .  When we had ceased marvelling at the stunning originality with which the early settlers chose to name these bits of the New World we opted for the latter. Founded in 1607 Jamestown was the first major English settlement in America , 13 years ahead of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  There is an interesting controversy amongst American historians about why the Plymouth Colony has taken root in the popular psyche as the foundation of America, and later the US, (Vikings and Spaniards don’t seem to count to most Americans!)  Until the Civil War Jamestown was well ahead, as monuments on the site commemorating the 200 and 250 year anniversaries attest, but after the war Yankee historians are said to have shifted the emphasis to Plymouth to sanitise the slavery issue, (the first Africans arrived in Jamestown in 1619 although slavery per se was not established until the 1670s.)  Whatever the reason Jamestown today has none of the hoop-la of Plymouth .  It is just a quiet and very pleasant backwater.  The National Park Service Interpretive Centre is nicely done, there are the remains of a triangular fort to potter over and you can take a relaxed snack by the river.  There is also a charming statue of Pocahontas that everyone gets photographed next to.  This was erected in 1922 ~ long before the Disney movie.  If the real Jamestown is too staid for you, you can pop into the nearby “Jamestown Settlement” which has replicas of the three settler ships and the original fort which you can clamber over.  We didn’t have time to take it in but it looked fun.


Two Peninsulas


Back on the road again our problem was not what to take in but what to leave out.  Yorktown and Fortress Monroe are just two of the places we had to drive past and neither did time permit a boat trip on Hampton Roads where the Monitor and the Merrimac slugged it out.


The Mariners’ Museum at Newport News was well worth a visit however.  Here they house the bits that have been raised from the wreck of the Monitor along with good displays of Cris Craft, (those wonderful 1930’s mahogany cruising boats that the Thin Man, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable got into when they got out of the aeroplanes,) the development of the US Navy and a gallery on the slave trade.  They also had perhaps one of the best specialist naval bookshops that I have ever seen.  It was here that I gave up any hope of sticking to the airline baggage allowance.


Our aim was to spend the night on the Atlantic Coast in a place called Chincoteague which is famous, for its wild horses.  These turned out to amazingly stealthy and well camouflaged because we didn’t see hide nor hair of one.  However the drive to Chincoteague was not without interest.


Norfolk Virginia is joined to the Delmarva ( Delaware , Maryland and Virginia) Peninsula by a tunnel and bridge.  In the middle of this there is a rest stop and café and you get a free coke with your bridge toll ticket.  So, with the Atlantic on one side and Chesapeake Bay on the other, you have the unique experience of standing on the site of a decisive naval battle.  This is marked by two small brass plaques in the car park, one in French and one in English, which commemorate the Battle of Chesapeake Bay or the Virginia Capes , fought on September 5th, 1781 .  Here the French fleet under DeGrasse engaged the British under Graves in a straggling and indecisive fight over several days that took them out into the Atlantic .  Although the engagement was tactically indecisive in naval terms, the result was truly strategically decisive, as the failure to raise the French blockade of Yorktown sealed the fate of Cornwallis who surrendered five weeks later.  The Colonies had won their independence.  My favourite bit of trivia about this battle of that one of the British squadron commanders revelled in the name of Sir Francis Drake, but even that bit of typecasting didn’t swing it for the Brits.


On terra firma again on the drive north up the Demarva Peninsula you come across a gobsmacking example of American culture at its most bizarre, as the signs on the petrol stations all seem to read “Gas, fireworks, roast ham.”  Only in America would it seem like a good idea to put fireworks and gasoline together and we had to speculate as to whether the roast ham was not a linear, perhaps inevitable, result of the juxtaposition of the other two.




A drive across Maryland brought us to the southern border of Pennsylvania and with a bit of clever map reading we opted to take not the direct route into Gettysburg but looped around to the north west to come in on the Chambersburg Pike, just like Robert E Lee did.  I must admit to having a little tingly feeling as we passed a Park Ranger station on our right, a couple of 12 pounder Napoleons sitting nonchalantly on the kerb to our left and then breasted a ridge, McPherson’s Ridge, to see “the good ground” where Buford decided to make a stand, and Meade decided to give battle, laid out before us.  Without trivialising things it was just like the movie “ Gettysburg ” with the seminary to our front the town behind it and Cemetery Ridge stretching off to the right into the wooded hills of the Round Tops.  This of course is a tribute to the accuracy of the movie but never before have I seen a battlefield for the first time that was so familiar!


The town of Gettysburg itself has expanded a little since 1863 but most of this has been in the parts of the field where little of significance took place so if Lee or Meade walked the ground today everything would still be clear to them.


We stayed in the Gettysburg Hotel in the town’s main square.  It was already a hotel in 1863 although it has been rebuilt since then.  I commend it too you.  The main street still has some buildings that were standing in 1863 and in one of these, “The Farnsworth House” which is now a B&B and restaurant, we had a 19th century dinner, complete with lead plates, chinz upholstery, authentic stodgy food and dim lighting.  I couldn’t eat like that every day but once is fun.  The street itself has little plaques and period photographs marking the street fighting that took place on the first day of the battle.  This, coupled with shops full of antiques, books, models, souvenirs and artists prints, makes it a really good walk.  In the Main Square next to the hotel is the house where Lincoln put the finishing touches to the Gettysburg Address.  Outside it is one of the most charming statues I have ever seen.  On his plinth, larger than life, is a bronze Abe, and next to him at street level is a life sized modern man, (also in bronze but with a white painted woolly sweater on,) looking up in admiration.  I know that this all sounds like a really szmaltzy cliché but it worked for me and I felt the need to declaim “Government of the people, for the people, by the people,” every time I walked past!


Back in the hotel bar we made our rendezvous with Bruce and our plans for more detailed exploration the next day.  Being familiar with the battle and able to read a map, (on a good day,) I had planned a route that would take in the main sights in chronological order.  The morning was quickly to prove me wrong!  You can’t choose your own route because the roads are laid out in a one-way system, roughly anticlockwise.  Andrzej and Bruce took this in their normal good humour and kept the verbal abuse to the level strictly necessary to castigate my foolishness.  Then we did what every sensible person should do and started off at the visitor centre located on the reverse slope of Cemetery Ridge to familiarise ourselves and plan our route.  This visit also shows you why the one-way system is necessary: on a weekday morning in July all of the parking spaces were already full.  On a long holiday weekend I would imagine that traffic is nose to tail.


Everything on the battlefield is well signposted and is very much what anyone familiar with the history of the battle or the movie will expect.  A statue of Robert E. Lee looks out wistfully from the “Point of Woods” towards the “clump of trees” that was the target for Picket’s Charge.  As well as the usual informative Parks Department markers which describe the major events of the battle, the location of some of the Confederate Units and practically all of the Union Units are designated by markers.  Unlike many battlefields these markers were erected individually by the states or unit veterans association concerned so they are all different.  Indeed the Union position on Cemetery Ridge actually looks like a graveyard because it has so many different markers and monuments on it.  Being a little cynical I would even suggest that the style and scope of some of these monuments are in inverse proportion to the part the unit played in the battle.  For instance the 20th Maine ’s position on the end of the line is designated by a small, simply marked, square block hidden in the woods, whilst other units, which have been mostly forgotten, have grandiose monuments full of gothic carving, larger than life figures and Latin inscriptions!


The battlefield itself rendered few surprises, but many subtle insights.  The view from the Point of Woods to the clump of trees, and the view back from the stone wall and the Angle to the Point of Woods leaves you with the greatest respect for Picket’s men.  There is no dead ground on the whole route of his charge and the “High Water Mark” is indeed a tribute to Confederate courage.  They did well to get so far.


The size of the rocks in Devils Den is also something that has to be seen to be believed.  I had always thought they had been fighting through an overgrown garden rockery but these boulders are the size of houses.  With the smoke, the screams of the wounded and the general confusion of the battle the fighting in this strange landscape must have been even more horrendous than normal for those involved.


The Round Tops were both higher and steeper than I expected but the trees less dense, (although this may have changed since the battle.)  However the real insight was how the Round Tops do dominate the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.  Getting guns up the Round Tops would have been difficult but far from impossible, and a few guns would have unhinged the Union line and Lee would have been “On to Washington ” again.


Finally I have always thought dimly of Ewell’s efforts in attacking the point of the “fishhook” beyond the town of Gettysburg on the second and third days of the battle.  I think that this has been reinforced by wargaming the battle as this area of rough ground is marked on most game maps as the same as all the other rough ground on the map.  On the real ground however it comes across as a complete hilly, closely wooded wilderness.  Much bigger and worse than the Round Tops.  Ewell’s men had marched and fought hard on the first day of the battle and had made another good go at it on the second day.  Having seen the ground that they were dealing with I now feel the same way that I feel about Picket’s Men ~ its amazing that they got as far as they did.


Two days turned out to be not quite enough for Gettysburg .  As well as the main battlefield our precious time went to visits to the East Cavalry Field, (where Jeb Stuart and George Armstrong Custer slogged it out on the third day, talk about romantic,) and the cyclorama picture of the battle.  We missed out on being able to walk Picket’s Charge, you have to join a Ranger tour and Bruce had a bad blister, and also on the model of the battlefield made with thousands of Airfix figures.  Dwight D. Eisenhower’s estate would also be more than worth a visit.  Anyway there is nothing wrong with leaving the table when you are not completely full.  We now have a good reason to go back!




About two hours drive on a wet afternoon brought us to Lancaster Pennsylvania , home of the Historicon Convention.  The weather wasn’t a problem as we had no intention of spending much of the next three days outside anyway.  Having said that we almost felt a pang of regret about the orgy of wargaming ahead for Lancaster is in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish country.  You really do see men in beards, and black suits driving pony and traps down the street, and it would have been nice to do a bit more sightseeing.  Also, three days of solid wargaming food, (beer, burgers, pizza and more beer,) left me thinking that one of those Amish home-cooked feasts that you hear about would have made a very welcome change.


Historicon is not as big as Origins but it is still huge.  As well as the host hotel all of the motels for a mile around were booked solid too.  The organisation is not quite as slick as Origins ~ it is after all run by enthusiastic amateurs giving up their own precious wargaming time to help their fellow wargamers whereas Origins is run by professional convention organisers, with costs to match.  But the major difference between the two conventions is that whereas Origins covers all aspects of wargaming Historicon is strictly figures only ~ and my, what a lot and what nice figures too!


The layout is one very large room and several smaller rooms of participation games, a large room for the competitions, a big bring and buy, a lecture room and a dealer’s hall about the size of Origin’s held in a Dutch barn in the hotel grounds.  We had lots of ex-HKSW Historicon veterans who had already “seen the elephant” to show us around.  As well as Bruce from the west coast, “Whistling” Bill came up from Florida and Jon and Nick came down from New York .  Nick introduced us to his mates from his New York club and these turned out to be as batty as most HKSW members with added New York attitude and almost incomprehensible accents.  Then again at three o’clock in the morning after several gallons of Yeungling Beer our accents were pretty incomprehensible to the New Yorkers too. 


The showpiece of the convention was a huge 25 mm chariot game staged by the legendary Duke Siegfried played before the walls of Babylon on a table about 20 feet long by six feet wide ~ complete with its own floodlighting!  The rules were a modified DBA/DBM so despite the huge size the games played quickly.  They were subsequently published in Slingshot and are well worth a look by anyone who has a hundred chariots or so!  Truly this was wargaming on the grand scale and a fine showcase for the hobby.


Other highlights of the convention were a lecture from Christopher Duffy, an after-dinner speech from Donald Featherstone, a Gilbert and Sullivanesque pre-dreadnought game in which Peter did rather well, (well most Americans are not really up to speed on Gilbert and Sullivan or Captain Pugwash so he had an unfair advantage,) a beautiful and accurate recreation of the Gettysburg East Cavalry Field in 15 mm (add your own here Andrzej.)


Sunday morning came too soon, especially for a weary and dehydrated Nick who we had to pour into the car, and we headed back to New York .  Behind us were over 1500 miles of highway, seven days of wargaming, six battlefields, a dozen museums and a lot of good memories.  At the end of it all Andrzej and I were still talking to each other which is either a tribute to our genial good natures or our high pain thresholds!  Like all good holidays we were also talking about going back.

The team at Historicon about to drop Peter Hunt

from left to right: Bill McIntyre, Nick Alter, Andrzej Cierpicki,

John Davenport and Bruce Meyer

(note they're all wearing their spiffy HKSW shirts)

Ex HKSW member, Nick Alter, at Historicon

WWI dog fighting using 1/72 scale models and Stanley Kubiak's

very accessible "Aerodrome" rules and splendid wooden control panels

Now that's what I call a wargame table!

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