Thursday, March 30, 2017

SPIRIT LAKE

     I picked up a few new books this month. When I say "new," I actually mean "used," as you might be able to tell from the photos. I really wanted to get these books -- and all books -- in Kindle format. But they're just too expensive. As I understand it, publishers are intentionally over-pricing e-book editions in order to prop up paper books (and paper bookstores). LOL! Good luck with that. It's interesting to see these buggy whip manufacturers go down kicking and screaming.
     For example, Frontiersmen in Blue sells for $24 on Kindle. I mean, c'mon man, that's not even serious. Hate to tell ya, but I'm not paying that for a trade paperback, either. I got it used for a couple of bucks. I'm glad, too, because, well, it's just not all that good.

     But let's start with a book that is all that good...mostly. If you read Andersonville by this same author, then you know what awaits you in Spirit Lake. It's a novel of the 1862 Sioux uprising and the massacre that occurred in the Spirit Lake region of Iowa. It's written in a kind of stream of consciousness. Not for everyone. You have to really love language as much as story to enjoy this. As you remember from Andersonville, Kantor can be a tad over-exuberant in his use of words, to put it lightly. To put it heavily, there are times when he just vomits words all over the page. So prepare yourself for that. I'm 300 pages into this 800+ page novel, and so far the author paints a compelling picture of mid-19th century America. 

800 pages of densely-packed verbiage. A 1/2" square chit for scale.
      This book is out of print. I've long wanted to read it, so didn't mind paying $14 for a used mass market paperback. Impressed with the book, I went to purchase Andersonville for my Kindle only to find that the publisher has set the price at $20. I guess they think they can stem the tide of progress. If so, they'll be the first! Off to the used bookstore again. Sigh...

     A couple more, both by Robert Utley: Frontiersmen in Blue and Frontier Regulars. These are something like parts 1 and 2 of a military history of the American West. The first covers the years 1848-1865, the second from '65-'91.
     I read Frontiersmen in Blue and found it informative but dry. Utley, I think, is an academic, and he definitely writes like one. Very by-the-numbers. But I found some good Indian Wars gaming scenarios in there from some little-known campaigns (at least to me) in Oregon and Washington among other places. It's a good reference book, if nothing else. I don't expect anything more from Frontier Regulars. They're both heavy, meaty books with some maps and plenty of photos.

     Forty Miles on Beans and Hay is a much better choice for enjoyable reading than the Utley books. It's pretty much everything you wanted to know about the frontier army during the Indian Wars. Rickey's a good writer and offers a complete -- and personal -- portrait of the frontier soldier of the day. Essential reading for reenactors and wargamers. You won't find any formal description of proscribed tactics used during battle, however -- because there weren't any. Tactics were pretty much improvised on the spot. The formal tactics of the day were for use against modern armies and not Indian bands, who were not considered a significant enough threat to warrant a tactical doctrine. Still, the book discusses weapons and tactics, at least as they were employed in the field. But I was a little disappointed in this aspect of the book. An entertaining read, though.

     If you want a good book on army life on the frontier, Eugene Ware's book is the one to read. He was an officer at Fort Kearney Nebraska during the Civil War. He's also a top-notch writer. The Indian War of 1864 is the somewhat mis-titled account of, well, just day-to-day life on the frontier. I love eye-witness accounts and this is one of the best out there. You learn stuff you've never heard before, such as how the Indians had a superstitious fear of telegraph wires after a group of them were hit by lightning while cutting some down and attempting to steal it. Just the parade of colorful characters that show up at the fort as they travel west (or back east) is almost unbelievable. Like characters from Mark Twain. If you have a Kindle, this book is free on Amazon. I recommend it without reservation.

     While I'm thinking about it, another good first-hand account is My 60 Years on the Plains. The author was a mountain man and Indian fighter. In those days, the Blackfeet were the main nemesis. Also, free, if I remember, on Kindle.




Saturday, March 11, 2017

HOKA HEY!

     (This is an old post from an old blog. In it, I chronicle my experiences playing a couple of miniatures rulesets. I'm actually trying to consolidate my various subject matters and spread it over three separate blogs -- so wargamers don't have to read about sports games, and vice versa, etc.)
    

     After Piquet, I went back and tried "Too Few to Fight, Too Many to Die" again. Played it straight, as written, with no mods.
     Well, that didn't last very long. It just ain't plains warfare. Sorry, Charlie. As the Indian, you move to within 4" of an enemy base, force him to make a 50-50 morale check (for being approached by warriors), fire at him on top of it, then charge next turn -- and promptly wipe him out. I just don't see this "terrify-shoot-charge" scenario played out anywhere in history. Maybe Stillman's Run during the Black Hawk War. But that was against raw militia who a week ago were farmers and clerks, not soldiers. Does the author of this game really think trained and disciplined US troops quaked in their boots at the very approach of stone-age savages? I can only assume the author is British and this is a classic case of projection.
     Speaking of "Too Few," here's something that bugs the hell out of me. When describing the "Terror" component of the game, author Chris Peers writes: "A few tribes enjoyed a particularly terrifying reputation (whether deserved or not)..."
     Whether deserved or not? What tribe, Mr. Peers, enjoyed an undeserved reputation for terror? "Really, fellas, don't bother saving that last bullet for yourselves. The Shawnee's reputation for burning captives alive or pulling their guts out bit by bit is totally overstated. After all, some guy writing from his warm den 140 years from now says there's nothing to worry about, that we're all just a bunch of white-privileged racists, or something." The truth is, our society is now in its third generation of education by left-wing propagandists. So twisted have we become that we can no longer even say with certainty that 2+2 does not equal 5. Right, Mr. Smith? We don't even know what bathroom to use anymore. The best we can do is to slander people far better than ourselves, all the while believing -- believing, mind you -- that it is because we are so much smarter and more enlightened than they. Hey, just ask us, we'll tell ya.
     Whether deserved or not....Give me a f---ing break!

     For this reason, most -- if not all -- books on the Indian Wars from the last 50 years are unreadable. Here's a good one I found recently. Not surprisingly, it was written in the 50's and consists mainly of first-hand accounts of Crook's Rosebud campaign:


     Awesome book. If you want to know what Plains warfare was all about without the leftist tilt, read this. It's a bargain for $3 on Kindle. Here's an evocative description of the Shoshone Indians (allies of the U.S. forces):
     "A long line of glittering lances and brightly polished weapons of fire announced the anxiously expected advent of our other allies, the Shoshones, or Snakes, who to the number of 86 came galloping rapidly up to Hdqrs and came left front into line in splendid style. No trained soldiers ever executed the evolution more prettily. Exclamations of praise and wonder greeted the barbaric array of these fierce warriors, warmly welcomed by their former enemies, but now strong friends, the Crows. General Crook came out to review their line of battle resplendent in all the fantastic adornments of feathers, beads, brass buttons, bells, scarlet cloth and flashing lances. The Shoshones were not slow to perceive the favorable impression made and when the time came for them to file off by the right, moved with the precision of clock-work and the pride of veterans."
     That's awesome.
     Later, the writer assumes that after having ridden 60 miles that day, their Indian allies would immediately retire for the night. Not so:
     "A long series of monstrous howls, shrieks, groans and nasal yells, emphasized by a perfectly ear-piercing succession of thumps upon drums...attracted nearly all our soldiers and many of our officers not on duty, to the allied camps. Peeping into the different tepees was much like peeping through a keyhole to Hell. Crouched around little fires, not affording as much light as an ordinary tallow candle, the swarthy figures of the naked and half-naked Indians were visible, moving and chanting in unison with some leader. No words were distinguishable; the ceremony partook of the nature of an abominable incantation and as far as I could judge had a semi-religious character."
     One more:
     "Crook had mounted the infantry upon mules so it could move faster and keep up with the cavalry in the march ahead. Col. Chambers...and other officers...went through the ordeal of breaking the infantry and animals to the saddle. This proved as amusing to the men as it was to Crook." "The first circus Goose Creek Valley ever beheld began. Many of the infantry (Walk-a-heaps, as the Indians called them) had never been in a saddle in their lives, while none of the mules had ever had a saddle on their backs." "I never saw so much fun in all my life. The valley for a mile in every direction was filled with bucking mules, frightened infantrymen, broken saddles and applauding spectators. The entire command took half a holiday to enjoy the sport and some of the most ludicrous mishaps were witnessed. But the average soldier is as persevering as the mule is stubborn and in the end the mule was forced to surrender."
     Color like this needs a set of rules to do it justice.
   
(And later, after a full reading...) 

 HOKA HEY!
       I finished "With Crook at the Rosebud" and am recommending it wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest in the Battle of the Rosebud in particular or frontier warfare in general. This is a very detailed, mostly first-hand, account of the battle told from many perspectives. The only downside is that, without maps, the troop movements, as described by the participants, are a little hard to follow. Still, a very worthwhile read. You'll learn a lot you didn't already know.
     In an earlier post, I highlighted several remarkable passages from the beginning of this book. Now, I'll share a couple more.
     This one puts to rest Chris Peers' "Terror" rule from his "Too Few to Fight, Too Many to Die."
     Among the armed men accompanying Crook during this campaign were a group of civilian packers and miners. From the book:
     "Tom Moore with his sharpshooters from the pack train and several of the Montana miners were ordered to ... make the best impression upon the flanks of any charging parties [of Indians]...It was one of the ridiculous episodes of the day to watch [the Indians] charging at full speed across the open space commanded by Moore's position...
     "...beyond taking an extra chew of tobacco, I do not remember that any of the party did anything to show that he cared a continental whether the enemy came or stayed. When those deadly rifles, sighted by men who had no idea what the word 'nerves' meant, belched their storm of lead in among the braves and their ponies, it did not take more than seven seconds for [the Indians] to conclude that home, sweet home was a good enough place for them."
     Moore and his boys must've passed their 50-50 morale check. Good for them!
     And finally, this surprising disclosure:
     Years after the battle "I asked John Stands-In-Timber, 'If Crazy Horse's forces were doing so well in the battle, why did they quit and go home in the middle of the afternoon?' John's reply was, "They were tired and hungry, so they went home." Here endeth the battle, apparently.

      In stark contrast to this excellent book is a passage from this "modern" book, by Jerome Greene:


     "Pervading all aspects of Nez Perce existence was their ancient and overriding relationship with the land. The earth" (not the moon or Jupiter, presumably, but the EARTH) "was the supreme provider, to be revered -- not owned -- as the mother of life for all creatures."
     Oh, goody. To what people is the EARTH not important to the point to which it at least warrants a passing mention by their religion? Apparently, Jerome Greene expects us to believe that this is something unique to the Nez Perce. About two sentences later, though, he says this (remember, the Nez Perce don't believe in anything as crass as land ownership):
     "Central to the Nez Perce concept of land was the notion that the people of the different bands were predestined by a supreme entity" (No common ordinary Entity, this guy) "to occupy designated areas of the country and were constrained to remain in those homelands." (Calling these areas "homelands" elevates this notion, I admit). "Bands mutually recognized each other's areas" (just 'areas' this time) "as places set aside to sustain the group economically, socially and spiritually." (It's that last one that makes it so special.)
     Yeah, um, well, let's see....sole possession and exclusive use...Yeah, that's what we heathens call OWNERSHIP. I'm no historian, but it seems to me the problem was less the concept of ownership than who actually owned what.
     The lack of footnotes sort of gives this kind of bullshit away.
     I read this book years ago and remember it as a pretty solid military history. But these days I read stuff like the above and I can just feel myself getting stupider. I'm cursed with an intense interest in the Indian Wars, but I find this all-too-typical stuff nauseating. Actually, condescending and stupid might be a better way of putting it.

HEY! HOW'D THESE GUYS GET IN HERE?

Friday, March 10, 2017

KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER

     For my next project, I'm undertaking an examination of the Indian wars in North America from first contact through 1900 (excluding the Aztecs). I'm starting with the French and Indian War and the American Revolution eras, including especially the savage conflict in the Ohio River country. Kan-tuck-ee as Hawk-Eye in The Last of the Mohicans called it. You know, "face north and real sudden-like turn left." So at least we know how to get there.
     So I bought several packs of 15mm Frontiersmen and Woodland Indians from Blue Moon. I also picked up some deciduous tree armatures from Woodland Scenics and a Cigar Box Battle Mat.
     By way of initial review, let me tell you, the battle mat is outstanding. The company's website says to allow something like 6-8 weeks for delivery, so I wasn't expecting a quick turn-around, to say the least. Mine showed up in about 2 days! Now that's service! Seriously, the best companies I've dealt with in this hobby are Cigar Box and Wargamer's Terrain (where I got my river). I'll set up links to these places soon and give them a permanent spot on the blog.
     For rules, I'll be using "Our Moccasins Trickled Blood" for battles through 1800, and my own "Scalp Dance" for mounted warfare. I might give "Too Few to Fight, Too Many to Die" another shot at unmounted warfare (for which it is probably better suited than the wars on the Plains). I'll talk about "Moccasins"  in a future blog. (That's two C's, one S. Whenever I go to type the damn word, C's and S's begin raining from my keyboard, for some reason.) I might just concoct my own for all of them, though.

     So here's the plan. All minis are to be 18/15mm Blue Moon (figures in italics are those I do not already have in my possession).
1500-1650
Florida 1500s (TOO FEW TO FIGHT...)
French & Indians vs Spanish
Minis: Arquebusiers + Eastern Indians
Canada 1600s (TOO FEW TO FIGHT...)
French vs Iroquois
Minis: Arquebusiers + Eastern Indians

1750-1832 
FIW, Ohio 1750-1800 (TOO FEW TO FIGHT...)
Frontiersmen vs Indians
Minis: Frontiersmen + Eastern Indians
Northwest War 1790s (OUR MOCCASINS TRICKLED BLOOD)
Mad Anthony Wayne vs Indians
Minis: Mad Anthony Wayne + Eastern Indians
Creek War + Tippecanoe etc (OUR MOCCASINS TRICKLED BLOOD)
Andrew Jackson vs Indians
Minis: 1812 + Eastern Indians
Black Hawk War 1832 (TOO FEW TO FIGHT...)
US Militia/Army vs Indians
Minis: 1812 militia + Eastern Indians

1833-1890 (SCALP DANCE)
Soiux + Nez Perce 1870s
US Cavalry vs Plains Indians
Minis: US Cav + Plains Indians
Western Settlers 1870s+
Settlers + US Cavalry vs Plains Indians
Minis: US Cav, Frontiersmen, Plains Indians

Battle Mat from Cigar Box. Trees from Woodland Scenics. River from Wargamer's Terrain. Field and fences scratch-built.
Close-up of the field.
Styrofoam hill under the battle mat makes a fine-looking hill.
The view from said hill.
I plan on using the guy on the right as a leader of the frontiersman -- Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, George Rogers Clark or any of a myriad of other incredible American heroes. The guy on the left is a British regular. Hiss!
Some figures I plan on using for French and Spanish arquebusiers. These guys tangled in Florida in the 1500s, with the Indians taking the side of the French Huguenots. Who wouldn't? The Spanish of that era seem like pretty unlikable fellows, to be sure.Wonderful figures from Essex, via Noble Knight, a retailer out of Janesville, Wisconsin. Excellent service from these guys, too!

WITH ROYALL ON THE ROSEBUD

     Playing a game of my semi-home-brew Sioux Wars game, Scalp Dance. It's an amalgam of Chris Peers' "Too Few to Fight, Too Many to Die" (which by itself has much to recommend it -- though not necessarily for Plains warfare) and rules of my own concoction.
     I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The game starts with Lt Col Royall's 3rd Cav defending some high ground. Unfortunately, Co I has become isolated after  pursuing some retreating Sioux. One platoon is all by itself (on the right), while two more occupy a little rise on the left.
These Sioux occupy a hill. They plan to dismount to pour some fire on the lone platoon of I Co below. Another group of Injuns go looking for some I Co scalps.
Making for the flank.



The Sioux get cocky. Not only one, but two, bases attempt to count coup. Both are driven back. I Cos chestnuts pulled from the fire.
The lone platoon of I Co high-tails it to the safety of his comrades on "Royall's Ridge." On the 3rd Cav's right, the rest of I Co tries to fend off two groups of mounted warriors, to no avail.
D, E, and L Cos, commanded by Lt Col Royall hold the high ground in the center. The command has become isolated from the rest of the army. Their horses are on the other side of Kollmer Creek (Seen here in the distance). The unit will attempt a fighting withdrawal to reach their comrades. Reinforcements are possible, but not likely.
Crazy Horse's minions approach! Steady, boys...Steady....
The Sioux isolate the remnants of I Co. One platoon has been pinned by "Skirmish Fire" as depicted by the fallen soldier on the round base.
Dismounted Indians on a hill pour fire into I Co.
The Sioux assault I Co. from the front but are driven back by withering fire from the cavalrymen's breech-loading carbines.
But now the 20 men of  I Co are hit from behind. Massacre!
FIRE! The Indians turn and flee.
Fleeing Sioux throwing up some clouds of dust.
With the TV playing on the horizon, a group of Indians attempting to flank Royall come under devastating fire.