Thursday, May 28, 2009

Published Articles

A friend reminded me that the blog would be a good venue for posting some articles that I've had published in Wargames Illustrated in the past. The first of these is a two part article dealing with the Fenian Raids into Upper Canada in 1866.

“And we’ll go and capture Canada,
for we’ve nothing else to do”
The Fenian Raids of 1866

13th Battalion deploying to face the Fenians at Ridgeway. The figures are part of Ken Cliffe's 54mm collection. Ken is the proprietor of All the King's Men Toy Soldiers.

"So, there I was, comfortably ensconced in my Southern Ontario home (that would be in the Great White North, eh? or Canada, for the non-North American reader) with a large well-equipped gaming room and enough lead in my basement that it threatened to sink the house. Well-educated, well-read (at least, I thought so), and comfortable in knowing that, having been in the hobby for 30+ years, nothing could surprise me. Well, lo and behold, earlier this year, something did come along the pike and take the wind out of my sails. I had recently purchased a copy of Fighting for Canada – Seven Battles, 1758-1945 (edited by Donald Graves of War of 1812 literature and research fame) and had settled into a favourite chair, assuming I would be reading things about which I already had a solid knowledge base. To give some context, I grew up in a Canadian generation that experienced little Canadian history in school; in fact, we learned more about our neighbours to the south than our own national culture and heritage (at least, that’s the perception from more years later than I care to count). Far from wanting to examine the possible shortcomings of our education system (or possibly my own ignorance at the time), I merely want to point out the paucity of historical information I received (or absorbed) in school. Later, in my adult years I made the effort to learn more about the history (particularly the military history) of my own country. I delved into the French and Indian War, the Seven Years War (what else in Canadian history could capture the imagination like the battle of the Plains of Abraham, both commanders dying heroic school boy-inspired deaths?), the War of 1812 (which I made my personal specialty), the Boer War, World Wars One and Two, and even the late 19th century western rebellion with Louis Riel; I even found some interest in the Mackenzie rebellion of 1837 (not an easy thing to do). Of course, it was my dumb luck to grow up and still live in Southern Ontario within easy driving distance from most War of 1812 battlefields in and around the Niagara Peninsula (i.e. Chippewa, Lundy’s Lane, Forts George and Erie). Perhaps that was why it came as such a shock to me to discover an essay by Brian Reid entitled “‘Prepare for Cavalry!’ The Battle of Ridgeway, 2 June 1866.” Surely, I thought, this was a skirmish in South Africa during the Boer War or perhaps some dashing cavalry charge in the latter stages of World War One. Then I looked at the date again: 1866! Interest piqued, I turned the page and was confronted with a passage from a Fenian drinking song: “And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.” Capture Canada? Why hadn’t I heard of this before? Turns out the Fenian Brotherhood, based in the United States, decided to try its hand at invading Canada immediately after the Civil War (that would be the American Civil War). In fact, the Fenians and the military wing of the movement, the forerunners of the Irish Republican Army, were the last ever to invade Canada – this makes for a great dinner party trivia question!"

Fenians reinforced! Figures again from Ken's magnificent 54mm collection. Many (if not all) of these figures are conversions.

For the full text with maps, look here.

“I’ll sup tonight in Baltimore, or hell.”
The Battle of Godly Wood - September 12, 1814

Part of the Maryland Brigade awaiting the British attack at Godly Wood. 28mm Old Glory figures from my collection.

"When I first began gaming the War of 1812, I was taken by arguably the most popular battles of the war: Queenston Heights, Lundy’s Lane, Chrysler’s Farm, etc. It was easy to find information on these battles and recreate the armies for them. The one overriding characteristic that they all had in common, however, is that they all took place in the northern theatre of operations (i.e. in the Canadas). The other battles (although at the time I hardly thought of them as such) in the south were, I believed, part of a mere sideshow and hardly worth my attention. This was, in part, a product of my childhood education, during which only the “Canadian” battles were highlighted. Of course, close proximity to the battlefields certainly had some impact as well. It wasn’t until I began some serious reading about the campaigns on the eastern seaboard of the United States and the New Orleans campaign (not to mention the advance and repulse of the Peninsular veterans at Plattsburgh) that I realized what I had been missing. Here I found one of the more interesting battles of the war, Bladensburg, featuring political interference (actually on the battlefield), gross strategic delinquency, and, of course, British rockets - what Napoleonic gamer couldn’t be enamoured of the idea of firing off a few rockets? But beyond this battle, or even New Orleans, were a number of smaller engagements worthy of gaming. In particular, the British army clashed with Cousin Jonathan during the advance on Baltimore after the infamous burning of Washington; hence, my discovery of the Battle of Godly Wood (or more commonly, North Point). Here was an engagement of manageable size, pitting Peninsular veterans against American militia of varying quality and, as a bonus, featuring interesting uniforms. Most books on the subject give short shrift to any actions between the Battle of Bladensburg in August of 1814 and the attempt on Baltimore in September, except to mention the “rocket’s red glare” over Baltimore harbour. As an example, Robin Reilly’s otherwise brilliant work on the New Orleans campaign dismisses the action at Godly Wood in a single paragraph; not surprising for a battle that arguably had little ultimate bearing on the campaign."

For the full text with maps, look here.

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