road-trip through some of the best
Wargames and History
of the Mississippi in July 2001
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
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.
Andrzej was flying into Chicago
and then taking the hop to
I was driving overland from
New York. You only
have to look at how rugged the
countryside is today to realise what an amazing obstacle
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
brought them into conflict with the French who held the
basin to be their own.
The key to all this was
, them much more romantically known as “The Forks of
” where the French had built
May 27th, 1754
a Virginian expedition under Colonel George Washington
bushwhacked a small French party south-east of
killing their commander, Jumonville.
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
~ and awaited reinforcements until he eventually had
almost 400 men and some small artillery pieces.
June 3rd 700
French and Indians under the command of Jumonville’s
brother surrounded the fort. However
this was to be no
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
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.
as a bit of a local hero for having stood up to the
French and their dreaded Indian allies.
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
should never have fought here and that opens up two
fascinating historical what ifs?
had pulled out before the French counterattack?
Would he have returned to
a hero and put his political career in train? Who
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.
is one of the most reviled of British generals and
one of the most revered of American generals.
But Braddock’s fate could easily have been
’s too. Funny
it came to our first convention we were expecting big, but not this big.
To put things in perspective the set up in
is exactly the same as the set up in
, 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.”
would start at
, usually scheduled for four hour slots, and go on until
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.
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.
commencing on a road trip it is important to ensure that you have the right
wheels. Consequently the only
place that we visited in
, 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
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
90 minutes west of
on Interstate 70, the
at Wright Patterson Air Force Base,
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.
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
town if there was even an insignificant skirmish there
in the Civil War it would be marked, and probably re-enacted on the
you drive down out of the Blue
and say goodbye to John Denver’s Country Roads, you
reach a valley; the Valley; the
temptation to turn left and head for
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
was a little consolation however as just off Interstate 95 we found the
archetypal “shiny-diner”. The
photograph describes this acme of
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.
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.
“spoiled for choice” epithet comes to mind again because two days is not
long enough to do
and its environs justice.
Within easy driving distance you can visit the fields of the Seven
, Yellow Tavern, (to shed a tear for Jeb,)
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 city the
is set up in the buildings of the Tredegar Iron Works on
. 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
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.
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
fell to Union land forces in May 1862 the
drew too much water to enter the
and had to be scuttled.
Thus the Monitor and the newly arrived ironclad
had naval superiority on the James and the route to
lay open. A
Union naval force under Farragut had just taken the Confederacy’s richest
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
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.
15th May 1862
made their move and the Monitor,
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
was knocked out of action, the unarmoured gunboats could
not face the rebel guns and the Monitor could not proceed alone.
did not share the fate of
and the war continued.
short drive from Drewry’s Bluff took us to Parker’s
where, in 1864,
general Benjamin F. Butler pulled at a door marked
“push” and failed to take an almost undefended
. Then we
drove on to
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
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
he repeatedly assaulted “Burnside’s Bridge” and,
when given command of the Army of the
, (against his own better judgement and following several
refusals it must be said to his credit,) he led it into the killing ground
. However the
new plan seemed set to restore his fortunes and he developed it well.
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.
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
. 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.
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.
the way back to
we stopped off at City Point, once the busiest port in
as Grant’s supply base for the siege.
His cabin still stands there and looks out over the
. To end the
day we returned to the 20th century for a bit and took in the
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.
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
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.
had been the 18th century Colonial Capitol of Virginia,
. This was
one of the heydays of the State when
was rich from tobacco and stretched from the sea to the
wilderness on the mountains and
the state capitol moved on the
declined into a sleepy university town.
A newer town developed around the
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
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.
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
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.
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.
is thus a collective labour of love, and the result is
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
’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!
easy driving distance of
you can go north to
or south to
. When we had
ceased marvelling at the stunning originality with which the early settlers
chose to name these bits of the
we opted for the latter. Founded in 1607
was the first major English settlement in
, 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
to sanitise the slavery issue, (the first Africans
in 1619 although slavery per se was not established
until the 1670s.) Whatever the
today has none of the hoop-la of
. 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
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.
on the road again our problem was not what to take in but what to leave out.
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.
Mariners’ Museum at
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.
aim was to spend the night on the
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.
is joined to the Delmarva (
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
on one side and
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
, fought on
September 5th, 1781
. Here the
French fleet under DeGrasse engaged the British under
in a straggling and indecisive fight over several days
that took them out into the
the engagement was tactically indecisive in naval terms, the result was
truly strategically decisive, as the failure to raise the French blockade of
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.
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
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
brought us to the southern border of
and with a bit of clever map reading we opted to take
not the direct route into
but looped around to the
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 “
” 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!
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
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.
next to the hotel is the house where
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!
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
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
’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!
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.
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.
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
I have always thought dimly of Ewell’s efforts in attacking the point of
the “fishhook” beyond the town of
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.
days turned out to be not quite enough for
. 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!
two hours drive on a wet afternoon brought us to
, 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
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.
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!
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
and Jon and Nick came down from
introduced us to his mates from his
club and these turned out to be as batty as most HKSW
members with added
attitude and almost incomprehensible accents.
Then again at
in the morning after several gallons of Yeungling Beer
our accents were pretty incomprehensible to the New Yorkers too.
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.
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.)
morning came too soon, especially for a weary and dehydrated Nick who we had
to pour into the car, and we headed back to
. 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.
team at Historicon about to drop Peter Hunt
left to right: Bill McIntyre, Nick Alter, Andrzej Cierpicki,
Davenport and Bruce Meyer
they're all wearing their spiffy HKSW shirts)
Ex HKSW member, Nick Alter, at
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