Sunday, April 24, 2011

The River War

For those not averse to e-book formats, one of the classic works on the Omdurman Campaign in the Sudan is available for free through the Gutenberg Project at

The River War was an early foray into literature by Winston Churchill, and describes his adventures during Kitchener's successful campaign of reconquest. His description of the railway laid to carry supplies around a wide loop of the Nile is one of the most evocative passages I've read. Recommended!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Battlefields tour

The blog has been quiet for a week because my wife and I took a road trip to visit relatives. This gave us the opportunity to stop off at four Civil War battlefields along the way - Chickamauga, Franklin, Kenesaw Mountain and, shown above, Lookout Mountain.

Following their defeat at Chickamauga in September 1864, the Union army retreated into defences in and around the railroad hub of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Confederate army under General Braxton Bragg enclosed the town from three sides. The northern area of the town is ringed by mountains which, at the time, had very primitive roads that were often rendered impassable by the unusually wet fall that year. The Union army supply line was further threatened by Confederate cavalry raids.

The photo shows me looking out North-Eastward from one of the Confederate battery positions that were established above the rock palisades that run around the northern face of the mountain. The Tennessee River flows below the height, and just visible above my arm is the line of what was known at the time as the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. The peninsula of land showing just under the gun muzzle is Moccasin Point, site of several Union positions.

The batteries were sited to interdict any supplies and reinforcements moving to the Union army along the river. Confederate artillerymen worked extremely hard to get their ordinance to the mountaintop. Even these days the road switchbacks all the way up the 1,400 feet height, with sheer drops to one side most of the way. Once in position they were able to lob shells onto the Union positions in the town and Moccasin Point, but to little effect, due mainly to the heavy cloud that often rings the summit. We were fortunate in having a nice clear day and could literally see for miles.
The photo below is of Moccasin Point itself. The river makes a great loop around the point, and the neck is quite narrow, a matter of a mile or so. On the night of November 23-24, 1864, General Sherman sent a force of infantry in pontoons from the town, the men sailing around the river bend to Brown's Ferry. Here they went ashore on the left bank, capturing or dispersing surprised Confederate pickets. The pontoons were quickly fashioned into a bridge by that consummate engineer General 'Baldy' Smith, and within hours the 'Cracker Line was opened, bringing much needed supplies and reinforcements into the town of Chattanooga. 

Although it seems to practically beg for some kind of military position, the mountain really only possessed limited use as a signalling post and lookout station. It was taken in swift style by General Hooker leading a combined force of Union troops drawn from the Armies of the Cumberland, Tennessee, and the Potomac. General Bragg seems to have been let-down almost continually by his subordinates, including the much-vaunted James Longstreet, but especially by Leonidas Polk, a favorite friend of Jefferson Davis. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sharp Practice thoughts - Cards 3

Some more Sharp Practice cards today. In keeping with the British Empire theme I used photos of Martini-Henry ammunition, a classic bhisti-wallah for the Water card, and a Victorian illustration of a nettle. All my cards are printed on card-stock and kept inside plastic card protectors. Since these have opaque white backs there's no need to print anything on the reverse side of the cards. 

I have a few more cards to create. At the moment I'm thinking of having one of Queen Victoria (Gawd bless 'er!) in place of the Vive l'Empereur card. In the rules the shortest player in the room gets a bonus move as a Big Man when Vive l'Empereur is drawn. In my version, when the Queen's card is drawn, the first player to say Gawd bless 'er! or The Widder of Windsor gets the same bonus.    

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Arab tower

Some months ago my wife pointed out a useful item in our local Michaels hobby store in the shape of a wooden birdhouse. I bought it immediately, seeing the potential for a little augmentation. The basic form of it is shown below. 


I added the door and arch, all plaster moldings from a Hirst Arts mold, then covered the wood with a layer of diluted PVA and sand to provide a keyed surface. While this dried I added a flagpole receptacle cut from a short length of plastic coffee stirrer glued into place in a front corner.

The whole was covered with a layer of spackle, making sure to cover the flagpole holder. When the spackle was semi-dry I made firing slits in places where the wood had been cut to represent stonework. Once all had dried I painted the model with Craft Smart acrylics, picking out the firing slits in black. I gave the whole tower an ink wash using 8 drops of sepia ink and one of India ink to about two fluid ounces of water to age the appearance and bring out the texture. A dry brush of antique white then plain white followed. A flag based loosely on a Mahdist version completed the model. This can be substituted for any other flag as the tower changes hands.

After. Sub Chief N'kwana helps demonstrate the size.


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