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Monday, June 13, 2011

Sullivan Ballou letter

I don't know if you have ever seen the 10 hour documentary of the Civil War by Ken Burns or not but if you have not here's a very moving piece from it. This was posted on YouTube with the same narration (from the documentary) but new images by someone else. It's a letter written by a Union solider before the battle of 1st Bull Run to his wife. It is some damn good writing by this soldier, Maj. Sullivan Ballou, Second Rhode Island Infantry. If you can, check out the whole documentary or buy it. It is well worth the money.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Edwin Forbes sketch book

While searching Amazon for interesting Civil War things, I came across the book by Civil War illustrator Edwin Forbes. Alfred Waud, Winslow Homer and Forbes are considered the premier illustrators of the Civil War. What is so valuable about their work is the fact that they sketched what they saw while standing near the fighting. Whether it was on the battlefield, on the march or in camps they drew what they saw and unlike the photographs we see they can sketch action. Their relationships with the men made gave them access to every day activities. They drew what was there and not posed studio sessions with regular soldiers. We get a better picture now of what they wore and how they wore it. For historical purposes it is invaluable. The other great thing they did is capture the funny and the sad part of the war which is sometimes hard to do with the photographic equipment back then.

Most Civil War buffs have seen all three of artists’ works used over and over again in hundreds of books. It is rare to see something new even though you would assume there is much more of their work some place. This book re-published by Forbes is chock full of many I had never seen before. I was blown away how many different kinds of sketches he did in addition to the amount. I had never seen the original book from 1890 so it was a revelation to me. In the book he has sketches of even major Generals from the Union army and some of the not the best known. Have you ever seen a sketch of Gilmore at the siege of Charleston, Reynolds at Gettysburg (alive) or Halleck at the battle of Corinth? Not me. This book should be more popular with buffs, reenactors and historians.

A few things that surprised me the most in his illustrations is the common practice of blousing of the trousers, the Union soldiers depicted (by at least75%), using blanket rolls instead of knapsacks and the stranger variety of hats/caps then I imagined. He even illustrates some soldiers wearing Forage caps backwards and side wards. What the hell…?!

If you are familiar with Hard Tack and Coffee by John Billings you will get a good idea of how this book is layed-out. It is 319 pages filled with Forbes experiences and sketches in this reprinted soft cover book. The style is just like Billings’ book so if you liked Hard Tack and Coffee you will enjoy this as well. There are several books published with his work in them but I think this one by far is the best because it has more sketches and his own personal experiences written first hand. Buy it. An Artist's Story of the Great War should be on your shelf.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Snake rail fences (or Worm fences)

Proper snake rail fence (or Worm fences... same thing) common in the U.S. These are NOT from the website. Note old and gray weathered fences?

 Okay today is the day to check out the Gettysburg Daily website. The Friends of the Park are erecting new fences from scratch. Click on the link at the side to go there. If you are reading this after today make sure you go to the archive section for June 5th. Each day they change the posts. If you intend to make some of these fences for your Civil War game or any American period from F&I until now you will see exactly how it is done.

Another shot of older fences.
 I see many gamers make these fences and they are wrong wrong wrong! There was even an article in Wargames Illustrated a few years back that was totally wrong. What?! Yup. The beauty of these fences was the method of construction. It was easy! Farmers had tons of trees that they needed to clear for planting. This method involved _NO_ post hole digging. All you would do it lay the rails (split rails into quarters) one on top of the other, done! It separates the fields and keeps grazing animals out of the planted fields.

stonewall topped with rails

Above is another example of easily made fences. North America has a lot of rocks beneath the soil. Farmers could break the blades of their plows on these rocks. It is back-breaking work but they needed to be cleared from plowed fields. You can easily stack the rocks to separate the field but getting them high enough to keep out farm animals is a problem. The photo above shows how to raise the height with little effort for the over-worked farmers. On a typical battlefield you would see these two types of fencing in abundance. The post and rail style is good but requires lots and lots of hole digging and holes cut for the cross rails. That is not fun and very labor intensive.

Go to the Gettysburg Daily website to see the progress of the fence building and check back often for updates.

Yes, it has nothing to do with fences. This monument depicts Color Sgt. Ben Crippen, a Pennsylvania soldier, that shook his fist defiantly at the Confederates as his regiment fell back to Seminary Ridge on July 1st, at Gettysburg.