Tag Archives: History


I rarely reblog or repost but since I can’t download the original source document being referenced here, I’ll post this in context.  There was an article in Mental Floss back in 2014 called (you guessed it): What Germans Said About … Continue reading


Deal with it.

Visting the Udvar-Hazy Center,29 Dec 16

Since we aren’t currently on a Cruise ship in the Carribean, sipping sugary rum drinks and wondering how the hoi polloi get by (this is a subject for another post, perhaps– we had to cancel our cruising plans) we decided to go visit the Udvar Hazy museum of flight and aeronautical technology near Dulles Airport, Chantilly, VA today. I took about 109 pictures, which I’d love to embed as an album on here, or even a slideshow. Sadly, Google’s move from Picasaweb to Google Photos makes identifying single albums in Google Photos next to impossible. So it goes. Below are a few links to many pictures of aircraft. The slide show works, but you won’t be able to read my comments. Mass adding of photographs also eliminates captioning somehow, so if you want to read my reverant, sometimes snarky, sometimes awe-struck commentary, you’ll have to go directly to the album, below.

Click here for SLIDESHOW

Click below to see the album

Enjoy. We had a blast visiting this museum.. it always has something new tucked away in a corner I haven’t seen yet.

Right about now, 75 years ago…

(This was written when it was still dark out, around 6 AM EST, hence “right about now”)

The West Virginia and Tennessee battleships are ablaze after the Pearl Harbor attack Dec. 7, 1941The USS West Virginia and USS Tennessee ablaze in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 DEC 41

Right about now, 75 years ago, the first flights of “Operation Z” were cresting the hills over the North edge of the harbor at Pearl Harbor and lining up for their assigned targets on Battleship Row.*  In a bid to remove the strategic threat of any Allied response to seizing natural resources in the Southwest Pacific, the Imperial Fleet of the Empire of Japan was now launching a devastating near-simultaneous attack on the overseas territories of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In hindsight, this seems like an insanely foolhardy strategic objective, but in 1941, almost every mind in the Imperial War Cabinet was supremely confident of Japanese success.  Why not?  They had marched boldly into China, set up a puppet government, and had been busy looting for several years.  This operation could hardly be that much trouble.

The strike aircraft from the Japanese force came from 6 carriers, and numbered somewhere between 375 to 414 aircraft, mostly the Aichi 3A2 “Val” bomber, Nakajima “Kate” Type 97, and Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, which would soon become infamous.  The pilots had been practicing this attack for months; each sub-component of the massive attack wave had their own targets they were assigned to. The attack generally went in two waves; a massive first assault on the ships in harbor and a follow up wave that pounded airfields, shore facilities, oil storage and repair facilities. The attack, in the eyes of the Japanese, was an astounding success– 4 battleships sunk, 4 damaged, multiple smaller ships either sunk or damaged. The big exception was discovering the primary targets of the raid– the three operational carriers in the Pacific Fleet, weren’t present. Still, after the 2nd wave returned, the Japanese Fleet sailed back West again, confident that the hammer blow would keep the American forces crippled for a long, long time. Perhaps, if it had been 30 years earlier, they might have been right.

The Americans were in shock after the attack, to be sure, but they were also enraged. Decades later I was a little snot nosed college kid waiting tables in Rossyln, VA at the Key Bridge Marriott. A group of Pearl Harbor survivors were in DC for some ceremony commemorating the attack. Being nosy and just as big of a history buff then as I am now, I plastered them with questions. “What was it like?” Years later, I could still see it in their eyes- the rage and futility, the sense of helplessness, as these men remembered. “I remember seeing a sailor in a small utility boat in the harbor, screaming incoherently in rage, firing a pistol at the aircraft, like he was daring them to attack him personally. That was what it felt like, kid“. I’ve never forgotten that visual.

Ironically, the Japanese unwittingly performed a great strategic service for America, though nobody saw it at the time. By sinking aged, but still formidable surface battleships, Japan was propelling American naval planning into the modern age. In the short space of something like 119 minutes, the Japanese fleet conclusively proved the future did not rely on the status symbols of the battleship era. The Great Pacific War that had long been predicted was now on– and it would not be won by fleets of surface dreadnoughts from the World War One era. The future belonged to those carriers that had not been present that day– and the many other carriers that would join them as the United States switched to full wartime production operations.

For now, though.. 75 years ago, the infamy was very real. In a lot shorter time than it has taken to type this, America was experiencing real casualties on American soil, and as the fleet blinked its eyes, reddened by smoke and carnage and helpless rage, they were being transformed. It would be a very different America from this day forward, striding forth onto the world stage to fight (soon enough) three Axis powers. It all started today, right about now.. 75 years ago.


* Technically speaking, it would be about 4 hours in the future, not “right about now” due to time zones, but who’s counting?

On the canonizaton of Father Junípero Serra y Ferrer

Statue of Junipero Sera at the Mission School I attended in Carmel, CA.

The story of Father Junípero Serra y Ferrer, recently in the news, is one that few Americans are all that familiar with.  His controversial recent canonization by Pope Francis has caused many people to re-examine a record of both success and failure converting American Indian tribes to Christianity in California.

It surely is true that Father Serra founded a series of 21 missions along the California coastline, from Baja California in Mexico to San Francisco– including the mission at Carmel, where I attended the church school when I was ten (true story!).  In the eyes of the Church, Father Serra was doing the church’s work– converting the heathen, establishing infrastructure to expand the church, and making good Christian citizens.  Whether that achievement counts as a miracle or not is in the hands of the Holy Father, of course.

What often isn’t spoken of is the failure of a mission to Sierra Gorda, Mexico, earlier in his career.  With just himself, fellow friars Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespí, a number of Indians and a wagon of provisions in the form of groat cakes, he marched into the Serra Gorda region with the intention of establishing a mission there.

From the first, things went wrong.  The Indians, so compliant and docile elsewhere, were in active rebellion in the Serra Gorda.  The Mission building was behind schedule.  The extremes of weather, ranging from baking hot 100 degree heat to flash floods, caused the crops to fail.  The food crops did not thrive, except for hay– which was useless as the cattle had been slaughtered weeks prior.

Father Serra experienced a rare moment of doubt and despair, and summoned his compatriots Palou and Crespi to discuss abandoning the colony and returning South.

Francisco Palóu, a zealous missionary, was dead set against returning, and is recorded as saying: “Do not turn your back on God’s children in the Serra Gorda, Holy Father.  It is true, food is not abundant here, but we can grow hay for animal fodder in abundance, and soon we will have many cattle ranches in this valley.”

Juan Crespi, in contrast, seems more pragmatic. He agreed with De Sera, stating that bugs had invaded the Groat Cake supply, which were now weevily and running very low, advocating a return for basic food supplies: “We cannot grow anything further in High Summer, Father, the ground is baked too hard by the dreadful Sun”

In a passion, Palóu interjected, crying: “Holy Father, bless us! The Lord will show us the way”

Embittered, Father Serra replied: “What should I bless, Francisco??  the fodder, the Sun or the hole-y groats?”

Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome, a short review

Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of RomeCaesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caesar’s Legion is a short history, primarily focusing on the entire life of the Tenth Legion (aka Legio X Equestris) which was created by Julius Caesar in 61 BC when he was the Governor of Hispania Ulterior. Already immersed in a rivalry with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey the Great), it wasn’t enough for him to inherit Legions 7,8, and 9 from Pompey– he wanted a unit that would bear his own mark and be loyal to him. Dando-Collins traces the story of the Legions exploits, from the early campaigns in modern-day Portugal, to the Gallic Wars, to the Civil Wars, the assassination of Julius Caesar and its aftermath, and inclusion into the new Imperial Army of Augustus and later Emperors of Rome. Dando-Collins’s work is largely unknown to me; I suspect he got most of the facts right (based on the leading historians of the day that have come down to us). His writing style is adventuresome and dramatic, which fits well with his body of work, which appear to be mostly light historical books written for a young adult audience.

I enjoyed Mr. Dando-Collins’ specific focus on individual military units. Obviously the focus is on the Legio X Equestris, but there are many other fellow travelling Legions in the book that reappear in the narrative constantly. The Legions raised in Hispania (Pompey’s 7-9, Caesar’s 10 and later units) appear to have been highly prized by Roman military commanders and deserving of their reputations of ferocity, boldness and toughness. Mr. Dando-Collins has written books on other Roman military units (Nero’s 14th Legion, Caesar’s Sixth Legion, and the Third Gallica), which, if they follow the pattern of this book, I’d certainly be interested in reading.

I certainly enjoy the author’s style– it’s chatty, focuses on the human moments that we can all relate to, and he does not shy away from the unpleasant topics. Directly after the epic Battle of Pharsala, where Caesar defeated Pompey, the much valued Spanish Legions all lapsed into mutiny over pay, retirement and the non-payment of bonuses, causing the entire Caesarian army to grow mutinous by their example. This is a fact that Caesar himself never mentions in his history books. There’s a lot of interesting detail in Caesar’s Legion; not just about the wide scope of history but also about the day to day life of a common Roman soldier. If you are an uncompromising history enthusiast who insists on original sources for any book on an ancient subject, you might not like it.  I enjoyed it– it’s certainly not on the level of, say, Adrian Goldsworthy, but I’d read this author again.

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Napoleon’s Wars: A Review

Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 by Charles J. Esdaile
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charles Esdaile’s Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 provides an interesting perspective on the cataclysmic events during the first decade and a half of the 19th century. The focus of the book is, of course, Napoleonic History. It is not, however, a minute examination of his military campaigns beyond a broad brush recounting of the results of battles. Instead, Esdaile examines the political, economic, technological and sociological changes that occurred in Europe that brought a collection of frequently squabbling dynasties (often far more interested in their own localized geopolitical issues) to the point where they could unite simultaneously to overthrow Bonaparte by 1814, and again in 1815. Although Esdaile is clearly no great fan of Napoleon, he is still very objective in his analysis of the Emperor’s driving ambition and his motivation– to be the de facto ruler of Europe by conquest. Napoleon was less driven by political credo than by ruthless realities– he was in turns a Corsican Revolutionary, a Jacobin, a Republican, and finally an Emperor, cheerfully discarding one mask for the next.

Napoleon’s Wars tells most of its story as a treatment of the geopolitics of the era, and most importantly, provides the reader with a decent analysis of the main players in the diplomatic dance of the early 19th century. Much has been written about France and Great Britain during this time period; much less so about Spain, Germany, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Turkey. The great strength of Napoleon’s Wars is the portraits of the other rulers and their localized concerns– and how Napoleon successfully played them off against each other for so long.

I would certainly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Napoleonic history, but especially for history fans who are more interested in the political and diplomatic developments during the years of warfare.

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I think I would have liked General D.H. Hill, CSA

D.H. Hill,  Math Professor and Sardonic Genius (from Wikipedia)

I have not read much, if anything specific, about Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill (also known as D.H. Hill to de-conflict him with his relative Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill).  Having opportunity to review the events of his life and his commentary of involvement in the American Civil War, I am now intrigued enough to seek out his biography.

D.H. Hill grew up in South Carolina, attended the U.S. Military Academy graduating in 1842 among a raft of future Civil War generals.  His Mexican War service was impressive, being twice brevetted (to the rank of Major) for actions on the field of battle.   After the Mexican War, Major Hill resigned his commission and became a professor of Mathematics for the college that would become Washington and Lee university (eventually).  It’s during this period of his life that we get an idea of the personality of D.H. Hill– a character trait that would get him in hot water with his future Confederate bosses.   D.H. Hill had a sense of humor a gentle person might characterize as “sardonic”.  In modern terms, he comes off as a bit of a smart ass.   An inveterate proponent of Southern Culture, he held the Northern states in great disdain.  His text book on Algebra, Elements of Algebra,  widely read in the South before the war, is incredibly jingoistic by modern standards.  He certainly wasn’t ashamed at the notion of geographical bias.

Note the difference between NORTHERN examples and SOUTHERN examples in the following problems, taken directly from the text book:

Seriously, you have to admire a fellow who can effortlessly insert the term “bedlamites” into an Algebra problem.  That takes a deft hand.

When the American Civil War started, it was a given that Hill would return to the colors, this time fighting for his beloved South against the so-called Yankee aggressors.   Hill performed very well at the outset of the war, fighting at the outset as a Colonel of volunteers and later as a Major General during the Peninsular Battles.   It’s clear that Hill was a quarrelsome and difficult subordinate, when you read between the lines.  General Lee was never one to air his grievances about a subordinate,  but certain facts speak for themselves. Hill was a gifted, passionate and aggressive commander who contributed to Southern success in the Seven Days’ Battles and Antietam campaigns– particularly at South Mountain, where Hill’s division was isolated, fighting off repeated attacks by stronger Union forces and giving Lee time he needed to reorganize and meet the Union assault.   Despite his qualities as a military leader, one gets the opinion that he wasn’t easy to get along with.  Hill did not achieve corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, and after the Battle of Fredericksburg (where apparently he was in dispute with Lee), he was sent to backwater theaters of the War.  First out West, where he quarreled with Bragg (and earned the enmity of Jefferson Davis), and then to the Carolina command.  Hill’s promotion to higher command was effectively blocked by Davis, and he ended the war fighting to the end, as a divisional commander at the Battle of Bentonville, the last great battle of the war.

Hill was a successful educator and magazine editor after the war, and died in 1889.  I will have to dig in to his life for the details, but the adjectives that keep popping up when reading histories are acerbic, sardonic, and bitter.   Even sneering.  One gets the impression of the classic guy who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and won’t be diplomatic about his opinion.  I can see how he must have been an extraordinarily difficult subordinate to manage (for both Lee and Bragg) and I can guess that he must have been an awkward resources to use, even for President Davis.  For all of that, there’s something about Daniel Harvey Hill that seems so modern when you compare his period writings and statements to the more reserved commentary from his fellow officers.  He comes off as the Ambrose Bierce of the Confederate Army.  It’s a senseless exercise to imagine myself in those times, but I think I might have liked D.H. Hill.  He might have been a jerk at times, but he certainly was an individual who didn’t toe the party line.

Road Trip Fall-IN! 2014! and *last* Guidebook Update

We're offff on the rooooad to LANCAS-TER P-A!

We’re offff on the rooooad to LANCAS-TER P-A!

A little road trip Audio for Fall-IN! 2014:


I just added NINE updates for the last update for Fall IN 2014.
These were events 428-436. Two by Steve Gelhard, Four by Carlos Cardozo,
One by Mark Yingling and Two by Dave Yingling.

To update, open the Guidebook in a wireless zone, and just accept the update.  It does the rest for you.

This is the last Guidebook Update. Please open Guidebook in a Wirless zone and let it upload the changes for you. Enjoy! See you at the convention. I’m already there!

PS: If you have NO idea what Guidebook is, GO HERE.

In Progress: Waterloo; a new history of the Battle and its Armies, by Gordon Corrigan

Waterloo: A New HistoryWaterloo: A New History by Gordon Corrigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wonderfully chatty, iconoclastic look at the great Waterloo battle is worth a read. The author, Gordon Corrigon, gazes at both the French and Allied side with a somewhat sardonic eye. The resultant prose is humorous, informative and quite interesting. Waterloo is a battle I have read many treatments on– books, articles, and even wargames. I appreciate an author who can bring a new point of view to this familiar ground.

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The Largest Game I’ve ever seen– Borodino 92 NOW with pictures

NOTE: I was recently contacted by Mr. Gary Jones, who just happened to be at the Battle of Borodino 1992 for THIRTY MINUTES, and he took a plethora of pictures which he has made available to me.  My thanks to Gary for this invaluable visual record!  The following narrative relates events to the best of my recollection.  Where I have erred or omitted, I apologize in advance.

Those were the days…   I zoned on this in 2012, but I had an anniversary of sorts.  22 years ago, roughly, I attended what ended up being a formative event in my participating with miniature wargaming.  The year was 1992, I was working for Booz, Allen and Hamilton.  One of my work colleagues was Patrick Berkebile.  Pat was interested in miniatures, just like I was, but we were both kind of still on the outside looking in.  Patrick approached me about participating in a project he had heard about– recreating the Battle of Borodino (1812) in grand tactical scale .  This was the project of Mr. Tony Figlia and the late Wally Simon.  They wanted to create a gigantic gaming experience that would simulate the Battle from the “thousand foot up” vantage point.  This was a project most hobby players couldn’t hope to emulate on their own;  the amount of figures and terrain required spiraled way out of control.   So Simon and Figlia quickly built French and Russian teams, built around the order of battle as we knew it, working from public sources, especially David Chandlers’ Campaigns of Napoleon and Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars.   Patrick, his brother (whose name I have forgotten, alas) and myself signed up and were assigned to the French team.  In the order of Battle, we were assigned IV Corps, Commander-in-Chief: Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy (Napoleon’s stepson, who ended up commanding the entire Grande Armee on the retreat to France).   I recall that the Corps were divided into Divisions, and I ended up with the supporting cavalry corps (which was divisional sized):

My Unit: Corps Cavalry : Général de division Ornano

12th Light Cavalry Brigade: Général de brigade Guyon – 6 squadrons (~800 men)
— 9th Chasseurs a Cheval: Colonel de Bruneteau de Sainte-Suzanne (3 Squadrons)
— 19th Chasseurs a Cheval: Colonel Vincent (3 Squadrons)

13th Light Cavalry Brigade: Général de brigade Villata – 8 squadrons (949 men) — 2nd Italian Chasseurs a Cheval: Colonel Banko (4 Squadrons)
— 3rd Italian Chasseurs a Cheval: Colonel Rambourgt (4 Squadrons)

Bavarian Cavalry Division: Major Général von Preysing-Moos

21st Light Cavalry Brigade: Major Général von Seydewitz
— 3rd Bavarian Chevau-Légers Kron-prinz: Colonel Elbracht (4 squadrons)
— 6th Bavarian Chevau-Légers Bubenhofen: Colonel von Dietz (4 squadrons)

22nd Light Cavalry Brigade: Major Général von Preysing-Moos
— 4th Bavarian Chevau-Légers: Colonel Seyssel (4 squadrons)
— 5th Bavarian Chevau-Légers: Colonel Gaddum (4 squadrons)

I’m not sure what my “Cavalry Corps” represented in terms of actual men per figure, but I do recall that I purchased one large bag of 15mm Old Glory Chaseurs A Cheval to represent all of them– all the Italians and all the Bavarians.   AND I had lots of figures left over!   This is what they looked like:

Old Glory Chasseur figures, from the OG 15s website. Pretty much the same paint scheme I used.  My uniform painting resource was Osprey’s NAPOLEON’S LIGHT CAVALRY.

I gave away those figures years ago since I have never really collected 15mm Nappys.  Even for such an early effort, and my dubious painting skills, they really didn’t look too bad.  Of course 15mm usually does from 3 feet away.  I took my time and tried to paint scientifically but fell behind, so the night before, my girlfriend (and later bride) jumped in to mass paint horses for me, grumbling good-naturedly.

Day of Battle

The Battle of Borodino 1992 game took place in a giant field house located on Fort Meade, Maryland.  The initial battlefield looked like this:

Borodino Battlefield.  The Blue line of tables is the French set up area, the Green line of tables is the Russian.  Troops would enter the center battlefield (brown) from these locations.  The Red spot was my approximately location in the center.

Borodino Battlefield. The Blue line of tables is the French set up area, the Green line of tables is the Russian. Troops would enter the center battlefield (brown) from these locations. The Red spot was my approximately location in the center.

There were tons of gamers present– almost 100% men in those days.  I didn’t know it, then,  but I was encountering a lot of people I would come to know in the years to come as my participation in the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (East) grew.    My troops came on the blue table and my general position for the next two days of the game was generally in the area of the red spot in the picture above.


Pictures provided by Gary Jones.

This is looking North along the battlefield of Borodino.  The French are on the left.  I can’t make out myself in this gaggle of people but I’m there in the center. 

Pictures provided by Gary Jones.

Looking South down the battlefield.  The participants are in the bleacher end of the battle, which indicates this is probably the second day.  You can barely make out famed historian David Chandler in the first row, just to the right of the fellow raising his arm and speaking.  This was the reading of the referee’s results, which took a while with all the cheering going on.

Pictures provided by Gary Jones

Pictures provided by Gary Jones.  French to the left.  The swampy clearing to the right of the Fleches where I spent most of Saturday is in the foreground.

Randy Meyers and Wally Simon played Napoleon and Kutuzov (respectively) and assumed positions on elevated chairs some distance away from the setup tables.  During the course of the battle, their only communication to the 0battlefield was by written order via paper, carried to the corps commander the supreme commander wished to influence.   I remember that Randy was using binoculars to determine what was happening on the field (as his historical counterpart would have used a spyglass).

We were using a set of rules called EMPIRE 2 by Scott Bowden. The only Napoleonic miniatures game I was familiar with (then) was Napoleon’s Battles by Avalon Hill, and Empire was very, very different.

I certainly wasn’t a seasoned veteran or anything, but I got the sense (then and now) that Empire 2 was a compromise candidate for a rule system. It was dense, chart heavy and there were some rules that made little or no sense to me. There were also rules, as we will see, that contributed to a memorable event in wargaming for me.

I roleplayed the Corsican General Phillipe Ornano to some extent, and was essentially attached to Eugene de Beauharnais’ IV Corps on paper and at the outset of the battle.  That meant I was theoretically under Patrick Berkebile’s orders, but he was involved in heavy infantry fighting the first and second days so there really was nothing for the cavalry corps to do.  IV corps was left of the Fleches (the center of the battlefield in our setup)– very hilly terrain and not ideal for cavalry fighting.  I was new to all this, but I didnt’ need an expert to tell me that.   So by mutual agreement, I detached from IV Corps and was stationed to the right of Davout’s I Corps slightly to the right of the Great Redoubt.   The player running Davout’s role was also very distracted by the largely infantry and artillery fight around the Redoubt on the first day, but he did take the time to assign me to something to do– and it turned out to be pretty valuable, as things fell out.  To the right (South) of the Redoubt from the French perspective was a largely flat area with few terrain breaks, just some marsh in areas.  As I and IV corps were concentrating on the attack, they didn’t have sufficient frontage to extend far down before connecting to the Corps on our right, which was Poniatowski’s V corps if memory serves.    Into that flat, somewhat marshy gap he placed me.  That is, Ornano’s Cavalry “Corps”, which really was a smallish Division.  I had another unit of “Lithuanian Cossacks” attached to me as skirmishers and scouts.  Not much of anything happened during the early half of the first day from my perspective.  My Lithuanians skirmished with some proper Russian Cossacks from the Hetman Platov, run by none other than Pete Panzeri, future HMGS President.   The Russians had the better of my Lithuanians, to my chagrin, and they were pretty badly cut up– at least I think so, I had to have an Empire 2 translator (referee) talk me through the complicated charge/countercharge process using their rules.

More Pictures:

Pictures provided by Gary Jones.  Fierce infantry fighting in the village of Borodino.

Pictures provided by Gary Jones

A staggered line of French Chasseurs. They might have even been mine! Pictures provided by Gary Jones

Massive Infantry Assault. On the French left, I think. Pictures provided by Gary Jones

Later in the day, I noticed that the good Hetman was emboldened by his earlier skirmishes and was massing a very large cavalry attack; first a line of Cossacks, then a line of Hussars, then another line of Lancers of some kind.   The big advantage to being outnumbered in this situation is that it gives you plenty of time to get ready while the other guy is getting his big, dramatic charge ready.  So I put my tiny division in a line to receive and poked Davout in the shoulder, nodding towards the disturbing development with cavalry.  He was concerned, but also had most of his assets committed to the ongoing battle around the Redoubt.  His comment was the kind of supervision junior commanders the world over revel in: “Yikes!  Improvise and do the best you can to hold those guys off– if they get in on my right flank, I’m in deep trouble here!”
The Russian cavalry flanking move began late in the first day, and as the three lines moved forward, I noticed something.  They were on the edge of a marsh that edged firm ground from the rise where my small line was located.  If I acted promptly, I could have the advantage on them.  So once again with the assitance of a very patient referee, General Ornano sounded the charge and the Cavalry Corps tore across the field to hit first edge of Cossacks as they were just coming out of the swamp.  And here is where the confusion of Empire 2 parted, and I could see, for an instant, how brilliant those rules were.  I charged HOME on the first line and due to a fortuitious roll, totally ROUTED them.  But this was only light cavalry.  The fun really started when they retreated away from me at high speed.  They collided with and dashed through the line of Hussars behind them.  Due to some obscure rule about broken units passing through formations, the line BEHIND them broke, and ran for the rear.  Now the last line did not break, but seeing the bulk of the attack heading for the horizon, Platov turned his Lancers around and adopted a covering position, and thus the threat of the first day was over.  Davout, looking on from my left, was astonished.  “You’ll remember that“, he said.  “That was a once in a lifetime thing that just happened“… and he was right.

Randy Meyers and the Napoleonic Command team (if memory serves, Neil Brennan was Berthier) implemented a nice touch for French commanders.  If they did something pretty spectacular, they would dispatch a staff runner with a piece of paper, which represented the award of the “Legion D’Honor” on the battlefield.  In some cases (Bob Giglio, for one, playing Latour-Marbourg) battlefiled promotions ensued.  It was only a little piece of playacting, but I remember feeling kind of proud of myself for getting a “Legion D’Honor” award for my defense of Davout’s right flank at Borodino, and having these crusty wargaming veterans clap for the newbie.

I had taken some losses, which has an impact on your formation.  There may or may not have been some house rule about reorganzing units with losses in effect, but in any event I didn’t do much else for the rest of the day, just moved my guys back to a covering spot and reorganized.

picture from the actual game, back in 1992. Credit: Small Wars website, see below.

The second day dawned with us present and ready to fight but the Russians were in even less shape to go on the offensive than they had been on the first day.   I patroled my area of the field, but Platov had moved off during the night and was now plaguing another sector of the field.  The Austrian Duke Schwarzenburg’s corps was to our right, to the right of Poniatowski.  On the second day, the Austrians got stuck into it with the Russians as the Russians attempted to flank to the left of the line.  The entire Austrian corps refused the right and didn’t allow it.   This created a comical situation where the Austrians were running out of room to maneuver as the Russian attack bent around them.   To compensate, they kept relocating tables  to extend the action to the Southwest, creating a kind of sharp bend in our lines.

About midday the Corps Commanders in the Center had been fighting a largely infantry action  for almost two days and the casualties were piling up.  Napoleon decided to go for plan B.  Murat moved his cavalry corps in besides Davout, to my left.  Looking for something to do, I asked the player running Murat if I could tag along.  He didn’t mind.  So the gigantic charge around the back of the Fleches and Redbouts began.  It achieved great results, getting in behind the line in the center and causing a regular smash up.   My guys just went along for the show and because I was getting bored just watching everyone else.

The impact on the larger battlefield appeared to be to draw the entire event to a close.  That suited me fine; I had been playing for a day, almost two, and for much of that time I did nothing but watch over a field.

Here’s a few from that moment:

Massive Cavalry Assault. Pictures provided by Gary Jones.  This also makes me think Mr. Jones visited the game during the second day.

More cavalry scouting. Pictures by Gary Jones

David Chandler himself was present, dressed as a French Marshall.  He was much impressed with the effort and consulted on the victory conditions at the end of the second day.  It was agreed, by gentleman’s agreement, that the French had indeed won this thing, mostly through NOT emulating the historical French disposition and tactics.   Three cheers were heard for both sides, then the French side launched into Le Marseilles.   The Russians counted with “Winter is coming! Winter is coming!  Winter is coming!!!!

David Chandler, noted Napoleonic Era historian, was present. A delightful guest and a thorough gentleman.

And so we headed home.  That was my first really big wargame event.  I had been to Historicon before this, and had played miniatures games before, but nothing on this scale before that, and only very rarely since.

This epic miniatures battle has become something of a legend for many who were there or wish they were.  Yet, it took place at the dawn of the Internet age.  There are surprisingly few references to the 1992 Borodino game anywhere on the Internet except a small snippet in the Baltimore Sun HERE.   I recall the old extinct Courier wargaming magazine published a small piece on the game with one blurry halftone photograph.  I remember taking pictures.. lots of guys took pictures.  But this was in the days just before the advent of cheap digital photography, and if I have the film pictures of this event in a shoebox somewhere, I lost track of them years ago.  I have only found a few blurry scanned pictures on a website called Small Wars, which recounts the 1992, 2002 and 2012 Borodino games– the organizers of the 1992 game have continued the tradition every ten years since then.

Fortunately, I have found a new source for images.  Read below.

A note on the new photos: I despaired of ever seeing visual references to this game again, until I was contacted by Mr. Gary Jones, who by the grace of God was just passing through that day and managed to snap a few pictures.   22 years later, he contacted me through this blog and the battlefield pictures you see included are almost all taken by him.  Many thanks, sir!

Miniatures from Borodino 92:

Mr. Jones also picked up a few painted figures from a vendor present, probably it was GAJO.

Not sure of the Scale, but the units appear to be from Waterloo. Credit: Gary Jones

More figure purchases by Mr. Jones

More figures by Gary Jones

As a player, this game did have a big impact on me.. as a player and a designer.  I knew I liked historical wargaming and still do.  I also knew I didn’t have any love for those Empire 2 rules, or really games at this level.  I admired the huge aspect of the game simply from the logistical end of things, but had no wish to emulate a game at that scale again.  Without a doubt, I had a great time and that countercharge against Mr. Panzeri’s Cossacks is one of those golden moments that keep you in wargaming forever.   My largest miniatures game became the game that really got me involved in the hobby, at the end of the day.

Animated Stereogram from Washington DC, 1922, looking down PA Ave from the Treasury

A little matter of historical interest. When you take an old fashioned stereogram picture, and animate it between left and right rapidly, you derive a rudimentary
Three dimensional effect. Fascinating!

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator

Courtesy of NYPL Labs Stereogranimator.

Chancellorsville Battlefield Walk

I just thought I’d post my advance slides for the Chancellorsville battlefield walk here. I get tasked to do these on the job. These things are a lot of fun, both from a research and getting out of the office for an activity perspective.


Quick Review: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1)The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of the Saxon Chronicles novels by Bernard Cornwell. There are six novels in the bunch (so far), depicting the life and times of one Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional character that is depicted as living in the time of the Viking invasions of Great Britain. As is the case in many of Cornwell’s historical novels, reality and fiction blend smoothly as Cornwell interlaces a fictional POV character with the historical figures and events of his day. In THE LAST KINGDOM, the novel portrays the Viking invasions and Uhtred’s interaction with the leading Vikings and Englishmen of the era, particularly Ragnar Ragnarson and King Alfred the Great. Uhtred is the blustery type, wanting to grow up to be a warrior and disliking the early Christian religion. His portrayal reminded me of a lot of other Cornwell POV characters in his historical series– particularly Derfel Cadarn from the “Winter King” (King Arthur) sequence, who is another character of divided loyalties, hobnobbing on the edge of great events and telling his stories from the vantage of old age. So, yes, it’s much of the same old, same old with Cornwell, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Cornwell does a decent job of research and has grown in my estimation from his Sharpe days. His characters are far more complex now than in previous novels. I rather liked that at times Uhtred lies shamelessly, kisses arse to get ahead, and cheerfully switches sides from Viking to English to Viking to English, depending on the situation. That strikes me as being a bit more believable. I did find the depiction of King Alfred to be a bit of a cypher– he’s depicted as being clever and a strategic thinker, but that’s not immediately obvious by his actions in the novel. Regardless, it’s a fun read and easily devoured in Summer time.

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LORDS OF THE SEA, a short review

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of DemocracyLords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read LORDS OF THE SEA in a somewhat desultory fashion in paper about two years ago, and put it down, not to get to it again, not because I didn’t like it, I just lost track of it and didn’t get back to it. Recently I checked out a library audio copy from Overdrive, and I finished it last weekend. I am now going to go back and re-read the paper book to get the names right. LORDS OF THE SEA is an excellent, readable history of the rise of the Athenian navy and the Wars of the Delian League that followed. The author, John Hale, inculcates the story with moments of high drama as the city of Athens struggles to meet the challenge of Persian obliteration, then to achieve naval supremacy against the Persians and other opponents (often other Greeks) in the century that followed the Battles of Salamis and the Eurymedon. This was not a time of unending successes; a disastrous expedition to Egypt to support a revolt against the Persian Empire ended in failure, with 20,000 Athenians lost. Internal disputes among the Delian League members and conflict with the Spartan’s own Peliponesian League in the first First Pelopenisian War further eroded Athens’ claim to hegemony in the Aegean. Throughout their period of ascendancy, Athens understood their power (and culture, as Hale points out) derived from a relentless pursuit of a superior navy and overall “navalization” of their culture. Much like Sparta’s militarization of their entire populace, so did Athens adapt an overall naval focus to every level of society. In an undertaking that required rich men to sit on the same rowing bench as poor men, society soon became democratized as well. Hale’s book touches on all levels of the naval revolution of Athens, including the arts, democracy and society– as well as being an exciting and engaging work of history. LORDS OF THE SEA reads like an adventure book, not a history, and I devoured it. Highly recommended.

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