Returning to where it all began…

Posted on January 11, 2011 by


Fort Sumter

(cue the stylus scratching across a record!)

No, I don’t mean there!

I mean, where the Civil War “began” with me

Sure, I couldn’t keep my paws off Civil War books in my youth. In fact, at one point, my 4th grade teacher actually told me to no longer check-out war-related books from the school library. Yes, she really did… she wanted me to expand my reading list… and I did so, but found the joys of the local public library in the meantime, where I could continue satisfying my urge for more about the Civil War. I often wonder if my teacher’s less than subtle recommendation was a spin-off from the cultural experience that swirled around the Vietnam War (I was in 4th grade from 1974-75). Nonetheless, I cut my teeth on Bruce Catton (I used to obsess over some of the cover art used), Stephen Crane‘s Red Badge of Courage, and at the age of 9, I had read all three volumes of Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants. I even recall one summer in which I cracked open a book titled about some killer angels or somethin’… and wore out the spine.

But it wasn’t just about book-learnin’. It was also about wargaming!

My favorite Civil War board games

While I don’t play them any longer (the set-up just drives me nuts these days… when I can turn-on a game on the computer and get right to the action), they remain carefully put-away in a container in the attic. As some of you may have observed… yes, one of the boards you see in this picture is from Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg (made in 1959). I swear, I probably could have played this till my eyeballs bled.

Then came the Avalon Hill’s advanced version of Gettysburg… with a very cool and more colorful map… not to mention more colorful game counters.

Now, if you were really into “set-up torture”, Terrible Swift Sword would do it to you, but, man… once you got all three (yes, for those who have never seen it, or played it, it had three rather large map sections), it was a blast… and would consume hours.

Quick shot of the Fury in the West map

Gettysburg was often my main focus, but I still recall the day when I came home from school and found a postage box with Fury in the West… also a very cool game focused on Shiloh…

And then there were games like Shenandoah, Ironclads and Mosby’s Raiders… and the micro-games like Little Round Top. All quite enjoyable… but never quite as satisfying as playing on the “board game fields” that were… Gettysburg.

PIECES! Something one needs to learn how to properly maintain... so that set-up won't take as long.

In fact, it was on this virtual battlefield where I not only got my fix (when I could actually visit a battlefield), but it was also where I came to learn the lay of the land, the names of the commanders, the strategies, and the… order of appearance.  There was probably a time when I could recite the name of the unit, and when it arrived on the battlefield… or, at least the  game board. So, when I finally did begin visiting the battlefield, I knew what parcels of land to visit, and what monuments I might expect to see on those parcels.

I also came to understand the details of effective fire… and how a game could make it so incredibly complex in calculating casualties.

Various tables for Avalon Hill's advanced version of Gettysburg

Quick glimpse of the tables found on the Mosby's Raiders playing board

So, again, my Civil War began and raged in my youth, not just as a result of book-learnin’, but also as a result of game playin’… AND playing with my Marx Civil War set (sorry, but green army men never measured up to playing with the Marx Civil War set… and I also had the Rev War set and the Alamo set… sometimes integrating some of the figures into Civil War play. And yes… I still have many of those Marx toy soldiers… though I painted some way back in the day, to look like the real-deal)… which eventually led to… genealogical quests, and, yes, reenacting. Eventually, this led to writing… before, and after academia.  It has been a progression… an evolution… but no matter the version in which I partook, it has always been enjoyable.

Having come across my Civil War games again, I just thought I’d share. For some, “evolution of fascination” with the Civil War is not solely based on reading books… and I think an assortment of these types of things, from one’s youth, lend something to deeper discussions of the war, and especially the memory of the same.