Wednesday, 30 December 2009


The Spanish royal cypher
Lettering around the breech, showing place and date of castingThe gun in place
On Monday Cindy and I took a trip over to Missouri's state capital of Jefferson City. We had a little time to spare after concluding our business so we took a walk along the Missouri Veterans' memorial on the north side of the Capitol building. Much to my delight we found the cannon shown in the photos above, mounted at the east end of the sidewalk. It's a Spanish gun, cast in Barcelona on 4th March 1769, and captured in the Spanish-American War of 1898. I'm a bit hazy as to its caliber, but suspect it threw a 24 pound ball. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the muzzle, but I can say it had a rather irregular bore. Firing it must have been an adventure every time!

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Merry Christmas!

It has been a really good day, with my new wife and I spending our first Christmas season together as a married couple. To complete the festive mood, for the first time in many years I'm experiencing a white Christmas! We had an excellent dinner in company with my step-daughters, with a nice big turkey cooked to perfection. To add to the occasion, I got to watch A Christmas Story on TV, a seminal American Xmas movie and one my wife has enthused about for ages. Now I know what those references to Ralphie and "You'll shoot your eye out!" mean!

As for presents, well..! Where I was half-expecting a nice parcel of dragoons from Dayton Painting Consortium, I actually got those and an artillery battery, as well as two extra 6-pounder guns. Once the holidays are over, I'll pitch into painting them up.

Just a reminder, the first volume of The Hetzenberg Chronicles are available in .pdf format. The paperback version will be released in the New Year.

In the meantime, a Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A busy little Xmas.

It has been a busy few days here helping my step-daughter come over from Denmark to spend Christmas with us. She got caught in the delays due to the bad weather both sides of the Atlantic and has spent more days in airport terminals than any sane individual would care for. Thankfully she's made it to St. Louis at last and is sleeping-off the jet lag.

I can now turn my thoughts to Hetzenberg matters. A box from those charming chaps at Dayton Painting Consortium arrived on
Monday in the middle of the hustle and bustle. On the threat of dire punishment from the Duchess I've had to leave it well alone until Xmas Day, but I suspect it contains the future Rumtopft Dragoons! With a bit of holiday money to hand I can also contemplate buying some DPC Hanoverian infantry and artillery to make up IR 3 Brabenachel and IR 4 Kranke, and a couple of batteries. This will finish off the nucleus of the Hetzenberg army, with two regiments of cavalry, four of line infantry and one of guard, one line and one guard artillery batteries. Even further good news, my family in the UK have discovered a courier company that can ship items overseas for about 1/4 of what others charge, so I may well get the army of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl over here at last!

For those awaiting the release of the Chronicles print version, various Xmas matters have delayed things until just after the holidays, but they will appear! Watch this space...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

On sale now!

So here it is, Volume One of the Hetzenberg Chronicles! It contains new material, is professionally copy-edited, and comes in Adobe .pdf format. A print version will appear soon!
To order a copy of the .pdf just send payment of $5.95 via PayPal to:-


(replace (AT) with @ )

Please note: This is not an automated system. The copy will be sent to you within 24 hours.

Watch this space or for further details
of releases!

Monday, 14 December 2009

On sale from tomorrow!


The year is seventeen-hundred-and-frozen-stiff...

In the space between European empires two small nations hover on the brink of war. As great men on both sides ponder the future, a secret agent and two unconventional women are about to make their mark.

The Convent of St. Ungulant is home to Sister Mary Amadeus, a nun with a passion for blowing things up, and her best friend Ursula Reitzell, a bold and beautiful novice. Little does Mary A suspect her friend is a spy in the employ of Hetzenberg secret agent Konrad Beckenbaur. Little does Konrad suspect Ursula hides a secret that will light the fuse for war.

When fate calls the three are swept up in events that lead them through moments of high terror and drama, comedy and pathos. Will their combined talents for explosives and mayhem see them through?

The Hetzenberg Chronicles Volume 1:

Prelude to War


With great pleasure I announce the .pdf version of The Hetzenberg Chronicles will go on sale tomorrow, priced at $5.95! Orders will be taken from 9am central time onward, and a zip file of the Chronicles sent by return email. Watch this space for further ordering details tomorrow!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

New recruits

Back in summer the Battle of Viehdorf was fought between the armies of Hetzenberg and Dunkeldorf-Pfühl. It was a sanguinary affair that saw much bravery on both sides, not least of which was displayed by the Rumtopft Dragoons in a sterling performance when they stemmed the advance of the Margraf's cavalry.

Will fought the battle by proxy for me as I was in the middle of immigration matters at the time. My thanks again to him. Now Xmas is drawing near, my lady wife has offered to buy me a unit for the Hetzenberg army. I have asked for some dragoon figures from Dayton Painting Consortium's RSM95 range so I can create the bold Rumtopft regiment for myself.

I show their planned uniform above, although I may add a little yellow trim around cuffs and facings. Of course, the battle honor of Viehdorf will be appended to their flag! The colors and heraldic insignia are satisfactory but I'm not sure about the shape. It strikes me as being more of a cavalry design than dragoon. Any thoughts?
Work is still underway in completing the Chronicles. We've both been slowed up by post-Thanksgiving bugs these last two weeks but we should get the .pdf version out in time for Xmas - possibly the paperback version too.
One of the websites I follow is that of the Edinburgh wargames club. A nice after action report of a SYW game fought by them can be found in their journal.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A (belated) Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a good holiday! It was a busy few days for us, with me and Cindy driving over to Ohio ("round at both ends with a Hi! in the middle") last Wednesday to spend time with her family. It was my first encounter with them and it passed off peacefully, although my poor wife went down with some kind of bug on Sunday and it's still bothering her today. I don't think we ate too much, and it was interesting to drive around Cindy's peaceful little hometown of Findlay. On Monday I took and passed my driving test here in Missouri. It was nowhere near as comprehensive as the UK version - which explains a lot about the way some folks drive here in St. Louis...
The copy-editing of the Hetzenberg Chronicles is now complete! All that remains is to format it to the publishing template. The .pdf version will probably be first to step up to the plate. Watch this space...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Poll closed.

The poll for the published form of the Chronicles is now closed. You the people have spoken and we have listened! ;)

There's a decisive result for paperback and pdf versions, so we're going to publish both forms. They'll be published under the Smiling Assassin Publications umbrella. This is a new creative endeavor intended to produce quality materials for wargamers and like-minded individuals. First out of the gate will be the Hetzenberg Chronicles in three volumes, featuring the life and times of two imaginary nations somewhere in 18th century Europe. Upcoming projects include a set of naval wargames rules for World War Two.

Meantime, here's a brief excerpt from Chapter One of Volume One, the Hetzenberg Chronicles...
* * *


Ursula stumbled to a halt in the lane and stared aghast as the old barn at the edge of the field flew apart like a bursting bubble. A white mushroom cloud speckled with debris lofted high into the frigid air and blotted out the early morning sun that hung low over the mountain.

“Oh! Mary A!” she yelled. A wave of hot air washed over her, plucking at her habit and wimple and filling her eyes with dust. Ursula flung up her arms to protect her face as something large and black hurtled close overhead. She dropped flat on the frosty ground. Whatever it was plunged into the flooded ditch alongside the lane and showered her with icy water. Ursula cringed from the drenching cold and flinched as more debris rained down. The ground shuddered under some close impacts. By a miracle she was untouched. Finally the rain of debris ceased. Ursula rolled over and stared at the plump legs sticking out of the water. They moved feebly, showing glimpses of thick winter-weight stockings and a flash of sky-blue habit. A sensible black shoe dangled from one foot then dropped onto the broken ice and sank slowly out of sight.

Ursula scrambled to the edge of the ditch and slithered down the bank to the water. Dimly aware of other nuns approaching at a run, her priority was to rescue her friend. She reached out and seized Mary A’s legs and tugged with all her strength until her head emerged from the water.

“What happened?” an educated voice called anxiously from above. “Who’s in there?”

Ursula recognized the voice and looked up to see Abbess Hilda, the Mother Superior of the House standing on the edge of the ditch. “It’s Sister Mary Amadeus, Reverend Mother!”

“Why am I not surprised?”
* * *
Watch this space for publication dates!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A new poll.

Cover art © 2009 Cindy & A J Matthews.
The year is Seventeen-hundred and frozen-stiff. In the space between European empires two small nations hover on the brink of war. As great men on both sides ponder the future, a secret agent and two unconventional women are about to make their mark...

The Convent of St. Ungulant is home to Sister Mary Amadeus (a nun with a passion for blowing things up), and her best friend Ursula Reitzell (a bold and beautiful novice). Little does Mary suspect her friend is a spy in the employ of Hetzenberg secret agent Konrad Beckenbaur. Little does Konrad suspect Ursula also hides a secret that will light the fuze for war!

When fate calls at the convent the three are swept up in events that will lead them through moments of high terror and drama, comedy and pathos. Will their combined talents for explosives and mayhem see them through? All will be revealed in -

The Hetzenberg Chronicles -
Volume 1: Prelude to War.

* * *
Final preparations to publish the Chronicles are in hand. Such is the flexibility of modern publishing I can now ask for the format readers would like to see. Check out the poll on the left. Feel free to leave me comments on the price you'd be willing to pay, and any other ideas or suggestions you may have. Any short reviews or blurbs you'd like to give on the Chronicles as they were published here are welcome.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A welcome surprise!

BREAKING NEWS... Some of the pioneering names of our hobby have joined forces to create a blogspot of their own. Entitled The Blasthof Blog it is dedicated to the classic Charge! rules by Brigadier Peter Young.
Featuring such luminaries as Stuart Asquith, Steve Gill, Phil Olley and John Preece, the aim is to explore the book, depict units in the old school style and play out the occasional game. Please join with me in wishing them well!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Friday, 30 October 2009

Plastic Fantastic..?

Zvezda's Great Northern War Swedish infantry.

I'm hugely tempted to buy some Zvezda plastic figures! Stokes Schwartz's excellent accounts of their use on the Stollen blog, plus recent postings on Sir William's blog have tipped my hand somewhat. Economically it makes sense. For instance, two boxes of the above set of figures gets:-

18 Hat company, marching.
12 ditto, loading.
24 ditto advancing (two poses)
12 firing
6 pikemen (convertible to standard bearers)
2 standard bearers
2 drummers
4 officers
6 grenadiers.

86 figures in total for $14.58 + shipping & handling.

Since I form regiments into 24 figures, that makes three whole units for the table, plus a few left over for use as skirmishers, vignettes, conversions, etc. True, the uniforms are of the Great Northern War, hence somewhat dated by the time of the War on the Eisenwasser, but hey, it's my imagination! In matters of scale, the figures are somewhat smaller than the metal ones I have, but since the different types will be in discrete units it won't be a factor.

Three regiments would complete the bulk of the infantry for my armies, leaving three cavalry regiments (Rumtopft's Dragoons for the Grand Duchy of Hetzenberg, the Tuhellenbach Hussars and the Seinfeld Kurassiers for the Margravate of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl) and an artillery battery apiece. As has been pointed out elsewhere, kürassiers can be modified to SYW standard from Zvezda's 1812 Saxon K
ürassiers by using head swaps from excess infantry figures. The hussars, dragoons and everything else can be made up from metal figures.

Am I tempted? You bet!
Work is progressing on the copyedits for the Chronicles. Due to work and other commitments publishing date has been postponed for a couple weeks later than I expected. They should be out in time for Xmas, so watch this space!

Monday, 26 October 2009

DPC update and a useful ink.

This weekend I got an email with some excellent news from Richard Masse at Dayton Painting Consortium. Some of you may know of the sad demise of the London War Room, which had an excellent range of 25-28mm Spanish for the SYW. DPC has acquired the molds for these and are already producing figures. It's early days, but the range is shown on DPC's newly-refurbished website. It includes grenadiers, fusiliers, and dragoons, along with useful miners for siege work. An interesting group for amphibious operations includes oarsmen, steersman, seated officers and fusiliers - something I'm taking note of for future scenarios involving the Hetzenberg riverine flotilla.
As a member of the Too Fat Lardies wargames rules group pointed out, there's a dearth of 17th-19th century buildings suitable for middle Europe. He went on to provide this link to a German site, Pretzschendorfer Weihnachtsberg which has a useful range of free to download printable buildings. The scale appears to be in the 10mm-15mm range, but with a bit of computer printer or copier adjustment it can be altered upwards.
On a personal note my status over here has been formally confirmed. I am now officially a resident alien! Must go now as I have to inform the mother ship and polish my ray gun...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Dayton Painting Consortium

Does anyone know what's happening to DPC? I checked their website with a view to buying a few figures and found it's not functioning. The only page showing is for their Colonial 20mm range.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Busy busy busy...

I'm going to be busy for a few weeks! The publication of The Hetzenberg Chronicles, Volume One is coming up. Also, a new publisher has expressed interested in the manuscript for a novel I submitted, so there's that to take care of too. Tomorrow I'm off to the annual Archon sci-fi convention near St. Louis. There'll be lots of fellow nerds plus a dash of real science this weekend - Marvelous! If that wasn't enough, Cindy and I are in the early stages of creating the screenplay for a movie. Even with all this going on, I hope to buy some more figures for Hetzenberg and write the early stages of the third volume of the Chronicles. Busy busy busy! Watch this space...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

An emissary arrives.

Here's a brief excerpt from the next volume of the Hetzenberg Chronicles, occasioned by the entrance of the Kingdom of Syldavia upon the European scene...

The Syldavian Order of the Black Pelican.
Grand Duke Karl leaned on the table in the inn's principal upstairs parlor, studying the map and listening with half an ear to the sound of his army on the march. Every footfall passing beneath the window was a measure of success. Randstadt lay just three miles away from the commandeered inn. Occasional gusts of the mountain breeze carried the sound of musket volleys and artillery fire as the army's advance guard skirmished with the town's defenders. All in accordance with his plans. Now he could turn his attention to a pressing matter of diplomacy.

As if sensing his cue Count Ostenberg entered the room and the assembled aides and messengers made room for him. Karl looked up at his Chancellor and nodded. "What news?"

Ostenberg bowed. "Excellency, the King of Syldavia's messenger awaits outside to pay his respects and to convey a gift."

"The Kingdom of Syldavia..." Karl muttered. "Close by Morea, yes?"

"Just so, Your Excellency. The country is ruled by the Almazoutian dynasty. Their regime is conservative but friendly to the Imperial court.

Karl straightened up, wincing from a twinge in his back. "That's good news. Apart from the Principality of Morea we have scant representation in that region of Europe. Send the gentleman in."

Ostenberg went to the door and spoke to someone waiting outside. A short, swarthy man entered. He wore a uniform of exotic cut comprising baggy white pantaloons and gold- embroidered scarlet waistcoat over a tunic of peacock blue. A white silk turban fitted neatly on his close cropped black hair, and a saber in a bejewelled scabbard hung by his side. Black brogues of shiny leather clad his feet. He was followed by a slender youth in only slightly less fine apparel, bearing a red Morocco leather case.

s the man executed a bow a sparkling chelengk fixed to the turban threw shards of light around the room. Count Ostenberg, the model of polite diplomacy was nonplussed at the Syldavian emissary's Oriental splendour; but only one who knew him well could see it. Karl hid a smile as introductions were made.

"Your Excellency, may I present Colonel Gavrilio Aliolikos, the plenipotentiary of His Majesty the King of Syldavia."

Aliolikos executed another bow with his hand on his heart. "Most Excellent, I am honored by your reception of me at such a busy time for you."

He had a strong accent but his German was comprehensible. "Not at all, my dear sir," Karl said, inclining his head. "You are most welcome, and I'm sorry you had to seek me out here instead of finding me at my palace."

"I am not sorry to have such a chance to see your magnificent army on the march!" Aliolikos' face flushed and his eyes sparkled as he
gestured to the window. "It is a glorious sight, and no soldier would wish to be anywhere else than with an army!"

"You are too kind," Karl murmured. Aliolikos is a most enthusiastic gentleman, it seems.

"Excuse my enthusiasm, Most Excellent," Aliolikos continued, again with that odd flush. "It is a pleasure to see real soldiering for a change." He did not expand on the comment, gesturing instead to his aide. The youth stepped forward with a bow and presented the case. Aliolikos opened the lid and drew out a splendid medallion hung upon a thick red ribbon. "My King has commanded me to award you with our Order of the Black Pelican as a gesture of friendship and peace."

Karl looked at the golden device emblazoned upon the black enamelled Maltese cross. "Thank you for this most exotic and regal Order, my dear sir. Allow me to reciprocate." On cue one of Karl's aides stepped forward with a case clad in black velvet. Karl took it and opened the lid. "Please present this award of our Freundshaft Order on my behalf to your gracious King as a gesture of amity and goodwill between our nations."

With the formalities over Karl decided it was time to cut to the chase. "My dear sir, you may inform your King that Hetzenberg will receive with the utmost pleasure any ambassador he chooses to appoint. We will appoint an ambassador to his court within the next few days, and perhaps you can make the journey to Syldavia together." He gestured to the window
as an ammunition caisson rumbled by, shaking the floor. "With Europe in such turmoil at present there is safety to be had in numbers, even for diplomats."

"Your wisdom is unassailable, Most Excellent," Aliolikos murmured. "I shall heed your advice." Thinking the audience to be at an end Karl began to turn his mind to other matters but the emissary spread his hands. "There is one other matter I have been commanded to raise, Most Excellent."

Karl waved his hand. "Please, sir, speak your mind. If it's within our power to address your concern, rest assured we shall do so."

"You are most kind. It is this: Syldavia has limited access to the sea, and our maritime trade is valuable to us. My King has grave concerns over the activities of pirates and privateers that harass our merchantmen. He asks Your Excellency that if a suitable officer of experience within your service can be seconded to our humble navy, it would be deeply appreciated."

"A naval officer?" Karl exclaimed. "Forgive my
surprise, sir, but I would think His Syldavian Majesty would find more fertile grounds for recruitment amongst the navies of Britain and Gallica." He frowned. "We have a small, efficient navy, but it is a riverine force only."

Aliolikos bowed. "It is that splendid force to which my King looks, Most Excellent. He has heard of the prowess shown by a young officer of promise, one Commander

"Good Lord!" Ostenberg exclaimed. "Young Horatio!"

"Just so, Count Ostenberg. News of his exploits was received with deep interest in Syldavia. May I have your permission to approach him, Most Excellent?"

Karl thought briefly. "You may, sir, but please be advised; Commander
Horngebläse is recently married. He may not wish to take employment outside of his current duties."

"I thank you, Most Excellent, and shall be sensible of your advice."

An aide entered the room bearing a dispatch and a strong whiff of burnt gunpowder. Aliolikos took the hint and bowed. "I shall not trespass upon your valuable time any longer, Most Excellent. With your permission, I shall withdraw."

Karl and the emissary exchanged bows and Aliolikos departed. As the door closed Karl turned to his Chancellor. "Well, Ostenberg, that's a turn-up for the books, as the late Captain Creighton used to say."

"Horatio's a sound fellow, Your Excellency. If he has any sense he'll consult with Grafin Ursula first."

Karl grimaced. "If he does go, I hope he can persuade that young spitfire to stay here! The Good Lord knows what Ursula could do if she gets loose in the Balkans!"

Ostenberg said then frowned. "The situation regarding Morea is very uncertain these days, Excellency."

"Indeed. It will stand us in good stead to appoint an ambassador with plenipotentiary powers to Syldavia. I still remember the unease caused by that wretched Vizier Evidya's saber rattling. Although the threat to us is slight the Sublime Porte needs to be watched." Karl paused. "No doubt you've already selected a list of suitable candidates. Please make time this evening for us to review it."

Ostenberg bowed. "Of course, Most Ex... Your Excellency."

Karl grinned. The slip was deliberate, the humor it generated welcome. A louder than normal salvo of gunfire sounded and Karl sighed. "Now, gentlemen, let us return to the war."
* * *
More of Volume Three will follow in the fullness of time once a few other projects are cleared. The cover art for Volume One is complete and the final copy-editing underway. I expect to go to press toward the end of October. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Koh Koh Mah 2009 - full report with pictures!

The 78th Frazer Highlanders on the march.

Advancing by fire. Spot the Hessian flag in the background.

The sound and fury of battle.
Credit: All photos © Cindy Matthews.

The Koh Koh Mah re-enactment event is full of things to see and do. There’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy and a wonderful opportunity to learn about a time when the American Colonies began to coalesce into the United States. There are traders a’ plenty dealing in everything of the period, from candles through woven goods to fine leather and metalwork. Entertainers sing period songs and there are numerous displays and demonstrations of 1750’s fashions and way of life, both Native American and Colonial.


Then of course there are the battle re-enactments - which y'all as wargamers really want to know about…

For Great Britain, Koh Koh Mah saw attendance by the 77th Highlanders, 78th (Frazer's) Highlanders, Colonial militia, Rangers, even a few dragoons. I was particularly impressed by the smart turn-out of the Hessian company that fought alongside us. For the French there were the marines, militia, coureurs du bois. Both sides had artillery, and each had its own contingent of Native allies.

Events begin around 10 am with the Colors parade. All the units taking part parade around the site in march-step before assembling on the central parade ground. Here they salute the flags of the United States and those of the combatant nations of Great Britain and France. A break of an hour or so follows before the units assemble again, ready to march to the scene of battle.

The battleground at Koh Koh Mah comprises a dell of about an acre of wooded, level ground through which a creek loops, all surrounded by steep wooded slopes of roughly 1-in-2 gradient. Some parts of the dell have pre-made abatis formed from plashed branches, piled debris and foliage. The slope to the north-east rises to a fortified angled spur projecting out from the line of the slopes: This is Fort Richardville. The eastern slope is given over to public seating. Three wooden bridges of varying widths cross the creek which averages ten feet wide and a foot deep, with a rocky bed.

As Martin commented on the earlier post the scarlet coats of the British infantry show up quite clearly against the greens and browns of the woodlands. This changes in the fall when red becomes an excellent camouflage color!

The battles that took place over the weekend were “opportunity” encounters. Both sides had definite objectives. Ours was to push the French back from the bridges over the creek and take the fort. The French had to defend the fort and, if possible, to push us back from the creek and prevent our return. Each side seeks to accomplish their objectives by firing then maneuvering into the safety zone of 30 feet between combatant units. Safety is paramount, so once a formed unit enters that zone the unit they’re opposing has to give ground until the safety zone has opened again. Of course, when firing muskets anywhere both sides aim high. This is crucial, as even blank charges of 71 grains black powder can seriously hurt someone and, in certain circumstances even kill.

There were two actions on Saturday, the first of which saw the flint in my Brown Bess fail twice. Lacking the means to replace it I had to ‘take a wound,’ dropping dead or wounded at the next French volley to decorate the battlefield with my handsome corpse. As luck would have it, my company of the Frazer Highlanders were pushed back a ways, and I had the unique experience of lying between the two sides as they fired volleys of musketry over me! As I was only wounded I had the pleasure of being captured by a friendly French soldat. Like many re-enactors he had come up with an interpretation of his “character’s” life, that of a French-Irish soldier seeking a new life in the French colonies in Canada.

The afternoon battle was the most intense I’d taken part in to date. By now I’d bought new flints, musket tools and topped up the cartridges in my belly-box. Eighteen rounds and boy! Was I ready to burn those suckers!

That fort still needed taking, so once more we were on the attack. This time we pressed forward hard in classic fire and maneuver fashion, and I fired off half my ammunition on the way. We forced the French back across the bridge and occupied the loop of the creek, filling the air with powder smoke and the roar of gunfire. Still the French held on, although I think we had them beat. We had just taken a line of abatis when the call for Parlay followed and the encounter was held to be a draw. I stood with my comrades, chugging down most of the contents of my canteen (water only, I hasten to add!), thinking the French had gotten away lightly.

The battle on Sunday was constrained. Due to the threat of rain the powers that be had decided the action would be a timed encounter of only thirty minutes. Whoever had achieved most of their objectives when time was called would win.

The Frazer Highlanders formed up high on the hill with a good view through the trees down into the arena, and here we awaited the call to battle. It wasn’t long coming. The guns of the Royal Artillery were lining the ridge-top on our side. They opened the action with a roaring salvo and the commanding officer gave us the order to advance.

We dropped down the steep slope in column of fours, skidding in the deep layers of dust that covered the hard ground. Our shoes rolled on fragments of twigs and many a fallen chestnut yet somehow we kept our footing in spite of the weight of man, musket and accoutrements. Before long we were closing on the level ground at the bottom of the dell. The French fusiliers de la marine were waiting for us inside the loop formed by the creek, aided and abetted by militia scouts. It appeared their commander’s plan was to straight-arm us and prevent our nearing the palisades of the fort.

Ahead of me the front ranks of the Frazer’s and our Ranger flank guards began exchanging shots with the enemy. Before the battle our Captain had given the order – bring as much fire to bear as often as possible and this we did. The Frazer’s began to advance by fire, pressing forward under command. I was in the forth rank and soon found myself advancing to the line of an abatis where we gave fire at the dimly-seen white figures across the creek. We kept up a hot fire, some five or six shots as I recall, and then advanced from our position. Shot up by us and the Rangers the French began to give ground, falling back from the bridge they had been defending, and the Frazer’s pressed them closely.

Then a hissing noise made itself heard high in the trees above, the sound audible over the rattle of musketry, the booming of cannon and the war-whoops of native allies. Someone shouted “here it comes!” and within a second a downpour descended on our heads!

We were soon struggling to keep our powder dry! Our lieutenant shouted “get those muskets good and hot, gentlemen!” He had a point. Firing a dozen rounds in quick succession renders a musket barrel hot enough to evaporate rainwater in moments. Unfortunately my musket was nowhere near hot enough yet. Soon a nasty black sludge of burnt gunpowder began to clog frizzen-pan and touchhole in spite of my best efforts to cover the pan during the loading process. I reached for my whisk-and-pick hanging on a button of my coat, only to discover the copper pick had disappeared! Without it I could no longer clear the touch-hole of my musket and had to drop out of the line.

Technically I should have ‘taken a wound’ and dropped, or borrowed a whisk-and-pick off one of the ‘dead’ men now littering the trail so I could get back into action. Taking stock I saw the action had moved on, the French were giving ground, so since I was wet through and feeling pretty fed-up, I decided to drop back and watch as your war correspondent.

That first shower lasted a few minutes, but although we left some dead on the ground they indicated a clear advance upon the enemy. Our fire was as brisk as ever in spite of the rain. I watched through the drifting powder-smoke as the Frazer’s marched forward again and again, keeping up a heavy fire in spite of another brief downpour. On crossing the bridge they formed up three-deep, executed a wheel to the left and lined an abatis facing the French. From here Frazer’s and Rangers began to unleash rolling volleys that lit up the darkness under the trees to eerie effect. The Royal Artillery seemed unaffected by the rain too, as the fire from the ridge never wavered. In the confines of the dell the noise was incredible!

The firefight continued longer than I would have expected. Our French opponents could not match the sheer volume of fire we gave them, but then we heard them shout for a parlay. Ceasefire was called and the commanding officers advanced to discuss terms. There was little to debate. We held the field, the fort was directly threatened and the French no longer in good enough shape to dispute matters. With courteous bows on both sides they withdrew, allowing us uncontested entry to the fort. The grenadiers marched up and into the fort compound, British ‘Huzzahs!’ rang out, and with the traditional cry of ‘the dead shall rise!’ the battle was over.


So what did I learn from this that would be of use in understanding more of what our ancestors may have experienced? What did I pick up that could be used in gaming?


Firstly, I learned just how limited a view the average soldier had of his surroundings, especially in wooded terrain. For instance, at one point during the Saturday afternoon action the Hessian company was moving up to the left of the Frazer Highlanders. I know this as Cindy took a photo that clearly shows their standard not far from where I stood; yet I don’t remember them being there! All I was concerned with was hearing and following the orders shouted by my section commander over the roar of battle, looking to my firelock and keeping in step with my comrades. Very occasionally there was a pause where I was able to look around and take in the wider picture, but even then I could only see so far. I could see formed bodies of French marines and scouts and militia over the way; I could see the dead of both sides, the Highlanders clear in their scarlet coats. I could hear musketry, cannon fire and the war-whoops of natives on both sides. It was very hard to make out the course of battle outside our immediate area.

Second, I learned the impact a dysfunctional firelock can have. I’m not that experienced at firearms, being equivalent to a fairly recent recruit; so the wonky flint of Saturday and Sunday’s heavy rain put me out of commission quite quickly. A much more experienced soldier such as our own Captain can do much better. On one occasion he fired seventeen rounds in succession using a Brown Bess during a heavy downpour. ‘Get those muskets hot, gentlemen!’ and the problem of wet powder is much reduced. Something to ponder on when writing those rules covering the effect of rain in horse and musket era wargames.

The third phenomenon I encountered was the treacherous ground underfoot in the battle arena. As it’s a demonstration area the undergrowth is kept clear so the public can view the re-enactments unhindered. Perhaps it would be typical of the terrain found in the vicinity of forts and settlements in the historical locales fought over during the French-Indian War rather than the deep forests. In any case, the ground is littered with broken twigs and small branches, some as thick as a thumb; in some places there are fallen chestnuts (similar to the British conker or horse chestnut). The gradient is roughly 1-in-2 over much of the sides. Add to that a layer of dust one or two inches deep, often over hard-packed ground, dust that developed a layer of mud after the rain, and you can see it can be a hazard to cross. Dust, twigs, chestnuts like big ball bearings; all of these are murderous to step on, especially in military shoes with hard leather soles. And yet, we moved and operated as a unit over those slopes. Our only casualty was our piper, who had to retire after spraining his ankle.

Fourthly, there’s thirst. Since we were fighting for only short periods of time we weren’t burdened with packs containing rations, but no-one, no-one goes out onto a re-enactment field without a canteen full of water. That’s the rule and it’s a necessary one. The greater part of the weekend was fine, really pleasant weather, yet after carrying 10-11 lbs of musket plus kit over difficult terrain while wearing a red coat I was quite happy to swallow down a pint or two of cool-ish water. Think on what it would’ve been like at the height of summer for those soldiers of long ago.

Fifth, and certainly not last, there’s the comradeship found in a unit, even one that only meets for re-enactments at certain times during the year. You’re with a bunch of guys who know what they’re doing, led by competent officers. Look to your fellows and follow orders and you can’t go wrong.

So that’s our first experience of Koh Koh Mah, and Cindy's first experience at re-enacting. I believe she's going to post something of her experiences on her blog, so I'll leave that to her. Due to leave constraints Cindy and I won’t be fielding again until the Massac event at Paducah, TN next May, but we’ll be up at Koh Koh Mah again for the tenth anniversary, I’m sure. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Back in the 21st Century

And so we are, after an exhausting but very satisfying weekend spent at Koh Koh Mah, Indiana. I'll post an account of the events that took place, along with photos, over the next couple of days. For further information on re-enactment events in the USA/Canada, go to the Montcalm & Wolfe site.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Off to Koh Koh Mah 2009

Me and Cindy will be heading back to the 18th Century at Koh Koh Mah 2009 in just a few hours. At least a dozen members of the 78th (Frazer's) Highlanders will be there along with a contingent of the 1st Foot (Royal Scots), Rangers, Native allies and many others. We'll be ready to take on the might of King Louis' French army with staunch support from the Royal Artillery on Saturday and Sunday. Pictures will follow after this weekend.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A useful mold.

I'll indulge in a bit of a plug here for Hirst Arts, if I may. The picture above shows a useful mold I bought recently from that company - #85 Dungeon Accessories. It was bought with the aim of furnishing a modular dungeon complex I've built for fantasy RPG's; but looking at the results I can also see endless applications for dressing up wargaming scenery and buildings in any period. They would make a great addition to barricades, for instance.
The mold produces sealed, open and broken barrels, and a large wine-cellar type barrel (very useful for those ImagiNations that produce "happy grapes" in all their charming variety!); buckets and large ceramic-style pots; a fountain/font/bird bath; open sacks and closed sacks both individual and piled; a treasure chest (suitable for any 17th to early 19th century game, especially those involving pirates!); three types of wooden crate (the largest size is open with an optional lid, the other two are molded in sealed configuration). There are a few items specifically for fantasy/sci-fi games such as crystals and stone formations, and a rough stone slab which can be used as a door or the back of a fountain and so on. These can also be adapted for wargaming purposes.
I use Merlin's Magic, a hard molding plaster from Clint Sales produced specifically for the hobby and it produces good results as seen above. Another cheaper type perhaps more readily available in hobby outlets or online is Hydrostone. Both plasters are durable and take inks and paint easily, especially the cheap acrylics sold in most hobby stores. I don't recommend plaster of Paris as it's too soft for the molding process.
The mold retails at $34, and lasts for years. Anyone can produce good casting results by following the simple advice given on the Hirst website. I think one would be of most use to a gaming group or club, who can spread the expense of buying the mold and plaster and share all the products therefrom. For a big gaming project that requires a lot of scenic items of this kind, I think it's more economical to produce them this way than to buy retail. Although it does take time to make castings in worthwhile amounts, there's a certain satisfaction gained from the process.
For the record I have no connection with the Hirst Arts company other than as a very satisfied customer. The opinions above are just my 2 cents worth of contribution to my favorite hobby of wargaming.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Fort des Chartres, Illinois

The main gate.

Along the rampart to the magazine.

Inside the magazine. My wife shows the scale of the place. Note the fleur de lis brand mark on the barrels.
A few more shots of Fort des Chartres in southern Illinois. I would like to post more photos of this interesting site but the blog doesn't seem to like it. I did get quite a few good pictures here, and some I'll use to illustrate future issues of the Hetzenberg Chronicles.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Boy is Back in Town

Fort des Chartres - Cindy and the gatehouse.
Cindy and I spent the afternoon of Labor Day touring a couple of French-Indian War sites over in southern Illinois. The first was Fort des Chartres, built by the French in 1720 to guard their possessions in North America. It was constructed first of wood, then rebuilt in stone in 1752, making it one of the most formidable colonial fortifications of its day. Fort des Chartres was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, although the French occupied the fort until it was formally taken over by the British army in 1765. Renamed Fort Cavendish it was held by Britain until 1772, when it was abandoned and destroyed. The site is now a venue for re-enactment events.
The above photo shows the reconstructed gatehouse to the fort, located on the north wall. Only this wall and two bastions have been reconstructed, none of which have parapets, although it is possible to enter one of the sentry "pepperpot" turrets via a very narrow handrail-free stair. Cindy thinks the gatehouse may originally have been on the south side of the fort facing the Mississippi - the highway of the day - but was "flipped" to the other side when reconstruction was done for the sake of access to the modern road. I've several photos of the walls and interior buildings which I'll post another time.
* * *
Our other visit that afternoon was to the site of Fort Kaskaskia, some miles south along the river from des Chartres. Only the earthworks from the walls and bastions remain and the site is surrounded by trees, so it's not really possible to picture the place as it once was. The fort was another French construction, built to protect the important settlement of Kaskaskia on the other side of the Kaskasia River, which then ran at the foot of the bluff.
Occupied by the British following the Treaty of Paris, Fort Kaskaskia was held until July 4th 1778 when it was successfully stormed by US troops led by one George Clark. The US army garrisoned the fort and it was a source of twelve recruits for the Lewis and Clark expedition when it stopped here in 1803. Deserted for a while soon thereafter Fort Kaskaskia was reoccupied and garrisoned during the War of 1812, after which it was abandoned for good.
The settlement of Kaskaskia itself, briefly the state capital of Illinois, no longer exists. In the late 1800's a flood surge broke through the narrow strip of land dividing the Mississippi from the Kaskaskia River, overwhelming the latter channel and directly menacing the town. The citizens were determined the bodies of former inhabitants lying in the town graveyards would not be left to the river. In a rather frantic and macabre operation the remains were taken up and re-interred in a new cemetery further up the bluff and the town was then abandoned to the waters. The Mississippi now flows over the site of the town and the old course of the river dried up. A curious souvenir of that long-ago crisis remains in the large loop of Illinois that lies on the Missouri shore.
* * *
Before this we had a nice couple of days in Hannibal, Missouri. The Mark Twain caves and the nearby Cameron caves are well worth a visit. Sam Clements explored the Mark Twain caves as a boy and used them as the model for those Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher were lost in during the school picnic. The town museum has a nice selection of original Norman Rockwell illustrations showing scenes from the books, along with lots of other memorabilia, and Twain's boyhood home is open to the public.
One of the highlights of our stay came at the Planters Barn Theater where actor Richard Garey put on a superb performance as Mark Twain, delivering homilies and anecdotes taken directly from the great man's life and writings. I've always wished I could meet Mark Twain. After that afternoon I can almost believe I have!
I would also recommend Lulubelle's Restaurant-cum-B&B. Based in a former purpose-built brothel (!) it has a very nice selection of delicious food for a reasonable price, and good service.
We stayed at the "Heaven Sent" B&B on Fifth St. It's an interesting Victorian-era house and a relic of the town's "Millionaires' Row," but as a B&B it's not recommended, I'm afraid. Although it has period charm, the bed in our room was too small, there were no tea & coffee facilities in the room itself, instead refreshments were stored in a rather grubby refrigerator down two flights of stairs. The breakfast food was indifferent and the less said about the coffee, the better...
Beware of staying in Hannibal overnight - the main railroad to St. Louis is just the other side of the levee and loops around the south edge of the town. Coal trains rumble through day and night, and they sound their horns at all of the many crossing points, no matter the hour! Those trains can be heard all over town, as I found to my cost on Saturday night and Sunday morning...
But all in all, it was a good weekend, and I found several ideas for a new novel, a little something in the Steampunk line. =)

One great writer meets another... Me with "Mark Twain" (actor Richard Garey).

Friday, 4 September 2009

Chronicles update

Progress has been made as my old driving instructor used to say! The first edition of the Hetzenberg Chronicles is tidier and features new material. The whole is shaping up into a trilogy, with the first book covering events up to the rescue of Ursula and Mary Amadeus and their landing in Kimmelsbrucke. The second book relates the events thereafter through the Battle of Viehdorf and the Battle of Wentwitz Bridge. The third will cover the Seige of Randstadt, the peculiar adventures that befall Mary Amadeus, and the conclusion of the War on the Eisenwasser. My beloved will cast a final copy-editor's eye over all while I create cover art. With luck and a following wind everything will stay on schedule.
* * *
Tomorrow is Labor Day weekend here in the USA. Cindy and I will be heading up to Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Mark Twain, for a brief honeymoon. We'll be out and about, and no doubt we'll visit the caves that inspired those Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher got lost in.
* * *
Two weekends after that we're heading over to Kokomo, Indiana for the Koh-Koh-Mah 2009 re-enactment meeting on 19-20 September. The venue is particularly well-suited to public viewing as the battles take place in a natural amphitheater and features a reproduction of a fort from the French-Indian War period. It's the first time there for both of us and it promises to be a great event! If you're in the area come over to the Frazer Highlanders' camp and say hi!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Chronicle to come.

Things are moving on in the Grand Duchy! I'm copy-editing previous chapters of the Chronicles detailing the adventures of Ursula and Mary Amadeus et al, and adding all-new material to expand points in the storyline. Next month I'll be working on cover art, with a view to publishing the Chronicles in e-format sometime in October/November. I hope also to be able to offer paperback versions at some point. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Pootling onwards and upwards

Thanks, gentlemen! The visa process is slow and the USCIS website info is as clear as the Mississippi. As my wife says, everything got so much more expensive and complex post 9/11. The green card should come once I get the next visa interview stage over with. And yes, I will apply for citizenship at some point.

Geoffrey, one of the guys I contacted is Blake Walker. He runs games at a local store (which stocks a nice line of Vallejo paints and other goodies, BTW =). As far as I know there's no particular scenario in mind for the upcoming game. Blake said he's in the middle of a painting frenzy and should have some British good to go for the game.
* * *
Spearhead 2009 is coming up on 8/8/09 at the St. Louis Mills Mall. A one-day event it has games ranging from Napoleonic through to sci-fi. That Saturday looks clear so I think I'll trot along.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pootling onwards

Nothing much is happening on the wargames front right now, although I've made contact with a couple of local gamers and have a SYW game in 15mm coming up in August. My primary occupation this last month involved figuring out the labyrinthine matter of "stopping the clock" on my visa so I can actually stay here with my wife.

It seems from the pictures I've seen of the Perry plastics Napoleonic French hussars that these could be an interesting set. Due to be released early next year, the set apparently includes a head wearing the mirleton. Possibilities for conversion abound!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Wedding Daze

The Happy Couple.
Your host and his lovely bride were married in Kirkwood, MO at 5.30pm on July 3rd. Luckily the beautiful dress did arrive in time for the wedding! A good time was had by all, and we'll be honeymooning sometime in the fall, possibly in Pennsylvania.
My kilt is the Black Watch (modern) tartan, as worn by The 78th (Fraser's) Highlanders during the French-Indian War. As you may know I'm a member of a reenactment group that recreates the Grenadier Company of the regiment. The stockings are black rather than the usual red to avoid clashing with the bride's dress (women do think of these things!). The tan belt holds my sword, "peace tied" for the occasion, and the buckled shoes are surprisingly comfortable.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A bit of a hitch...

Members of my regiment "78th Fraser's Highlanders" with their 'musket faces' on.
Thanks for your good wishes, gentlemen! Yes, 3rd July should help me remember our anniversary. Being an absent-minded professor at times, I need all the help I can get! Even so, I've already mastered the two little words every wife wants to hear from her husband -

"Yes, dear..."

If I forget, then there will be fireworks! ;)

And now a word from our "Everything was going so well!" department.

After a long delay that was already cutting things too fine the dressmaker dispatched my fiancee's wedding dress to us by the wrong service.
The consequence is, it won't be here until next week! Needless to say Cindy is most upset! Luckily her eldest daughter is back in town. An expert dressmaker, she's risen to the occasion and we're going all-out to find an alternative in keeping with our 18th century theme. With luck and a following wind, we'll have something ready by tonight. Even my famous sang froid has taken a bit of a pasting over this...

GenCon. I've heard so much about it and would like to go. I have friends in the Indy area who'll give me a bed for the night. I'm not sure I can make it this year but I'll aim to attend next year for sure.

We're both going to be at the Koh-Koh-Mah reenactment event
September 19 & 20, 10 miles west of Kokomo, Indiana. It's the meeting of the year as far as the French-Indian War reenactment groups are concerned. I've wanted to go for years and now I can! The link above takes you to the title page.