Monday, April 18, 2011

The New Toys of Spring, Part 1 - The iMac

This spring has seen the upgrading of a bunch of technological gadgets around the house. It is fair to say that I would not be confused in any way, shape, or form with an early adopter. There are some people that just love to have the newest gadgets, the best toys, the coolest things just released. I am not one of those people. I like my comfort zone. I have a certain... affinity... for the tried and true. I am familiar with what I am familiar with, and that is generally good enough for me.

But not this time. This time we needed something new.

My kids love to use mom's laptop, and we are fairly lax in letting them surf the web on it (within reason). Julia just likes to watch videos of all sorts of things on YouTube, and Grace likes YouTube as well as a number of kids game sites. The problem is, kids game sites and things of that nature are prime targets for viruses. The best Verizon/McAfee security suite in the world isn't going to protect you when a window pops up asking for permission to do something and your kid clicks the "OK" button in order to make the window go away so that they can get back to their game.

Having now been to the GeekSquad twice to clean a laptop, and being concerned about the erratic performance of my own PC (which the kids don't touch!), I was looking for something a little more stable and secure. So in a fairly impulsive move, we went to the nearest Apple store over the weekend and bought a 21.5" i3 iMac. This is the low end iMac, but has everything I need. I did upgrade to the 1 terrabyte hard drive. That's a lot of pictures, songs and video.

My wife had one of the very first versions of the Mac back in college (this would be about 1985-86). I believe it was a 128k Mac, with the single 3.5" disk drive built into the unit, which also housed the little screen. It could do practically nothing, but was leading edge for the times. We haven't owned a Mac since.

The thing that you always hear said about Macs is that they are "so much more intuitive than PC's." In a theoretical sense that may be true, but when you have been using Windows based PC's for your entire adult life, that becomes what intuitive is. Learning something new is not easy. I am writing this post almost a month after the fact and backdating it to coincide with the purchase of the machine, and I do absolutely love it. It is fast. It is smooth. And in the month I have owned it, it has never hung up or crashed once. Not once! My PC couldn't get through a day of hard use without blowing up somehow. I still have my PC, and I still use it. But I am starting to become an Apple believer... again. With an awful lot left to learn...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Riders of Rohan

Finished figures. Eight Riders of Rohan. Will wonders never cease...

Book Review - Gettysburg: A Journey in Time

Attending the spring seminar out at Gettysburg last weekend got me excited about reading some Civil War history, and before I left to come home a couple of trips to the visitors center bookstore netted me five books. After hearing Tim Smith's talk on the history of Devil's Den, which spent most of its time on the photographic record of the site in the days/weeks/years following the battle, I was interested in starting with this book.
Gettysburg; A Journey in Time (1975) by William Frassanito is a history of the early photography of Gettysburg, focusing on those pictures taken between the immediate aftermath of the battle in July 1863 (before the dead were completely cleared from the field) and an end point of 1866. Many of the pictures detailed here were taken by two of the most famous photographers of the day (or at least by their studios): Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner. Frassanito gives a brief history of the various photographers, discusses photographic methods of the day, but then gets into the real meat of the book, which is a detailed look at the photos themselves.
The book reads at times a little bit like a detective story as Frassanito attempts to unravel the exact timing of when the pictures were taken, by whom, and of exactly where on the battlefield. Wherever possible, he has found the exact spot each picture was taken, and taken a modern one to put side by side with the original. In many cases, a definitive case can be made that many of these pictures were mislabeled in terms of location and even subject matter. Specific geology, unique rock formations, and a pretty good knowledge of the itineraries of the photographers as they moved around the battlefield allows for this to be done with absolute certainty in many cases. This is possible because the photographers were very diligent about numbering their negatives and plates sequentially. Given the cumbersome equipment required to make these photographs and the resulting difficulty in moving about, a "trail" across the field can be constructed, and anomalies can often be pinpointed. These anomalies often help prove that the captions on the photos as published at the time were wrong.
This is a fascinating read for what it is, but this level of minutiae is not going to be for everyone. I will admit that by the end of the book, I was getting a little overloaded on some of the detail. Frassanito has done several other similar and equally well regarded books on both Gettysburg and other Civil War subjects, and I will consider them must-reads in the future. For now, this all needs to sink in, and I will not dive into the next one just yet.

As an aside, the other four books purchased were:
  • Early Photography at Gettysburg, by William Frassanito (1995).
  • Devil's Den, A History and Guide, by Garry Adelman and Tim Smith (1997).
  • Confederate Monuments at Gettysburg, by David G Martin (1986). I probably wouldn't have gotten this encyclopedia style volume if it had cost much more than the $14.99 that it did, but I am a sucker for a nice cheap hardback, and there is a lot of good information in here.
  • Gettysburg Campaign Atlas, Philip Laino (2nd ed, 2009). This is the real gem of the bunch. 482 pages of map after map after map covering everything from the operational overviews of the larger troop movements before and after the battle down to the movements of regiments and batteries minute by minute across individual fields and fences. A treasure trove of detail for a wargamer or map geek.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let's Go Flyers!!

Despite being a pretty big sports fan in some regards, I almost never post a blog entry on sports-related subjects. But my beloved Flyers start the 2011 post season tonight against the Buffalo Sabres. We are a 2 seed against a 7 seed. We (using the term "we" loosely) are a team loaded with young talent and veteran leadership, and during the course of the regular season were in first place in the conference for most of the year. But my boys stumbled pretty badly down the stretch, and now I don't know what to expect. Is this the team that was on pace to have the best season ever for a Flyers team, or is this the team that limped into the playoffs looking like it might have trouble beating a club team? I don't know. And being a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, I have been conditioned to expect the worst. But I should expect more, right? We're better. We have home ice advantage. We have a coach that has won a Stanley Cup. With Carolina of all places. How do they even have ice down there? So... Keep the faith. Expect to win. Let's Go Flyers!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oooh Shiny - Hobby Update

It has been a busy month or so from a hobby standpoint, but I definitely have fallen into the "ooh shiny" trap again. I detailed some specific plans around my Crusades project, did ok with my focus for a week or two and then pretty much went completely off the rails. In other words, it's been business as usual around here.

Over the past month or so I...
  • Began removing 15mm Crusades figures from their old bases in order to re-base on Impetus style bases. I've barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done.
  • Began making a pair of 4 foot by 3 foot desert terrain boards to make a four by six battlefield. Sand has been glued and base coat (mostly) painted on. Needs painting and dry brushing to complete.
  • Began painting a half dozen or so mounted Saracen leaders for the Crusades. None completed.
  • I did buy ready to use desert terrain items at Cold Wars, so in that regard I have made progress even though I didn't do much other than pull out my wallet.
  • Noticed the half finished units of Ottoman heavy infantry and Janissary archers sitting off on the side of the painting table from about a year ago and put a little time in on them. Still not done of course. But closer.
  • Caught part of The Two Towers movie on TV and decided I just absolutely had to paint some Riders of Rohan immediately. Did a test fig as documented here, liked the result and set out to do 7 more. These were actually finished last night and just need their bases to be finished.
  • Was so pleased with how the Rohan figs turned out and realized that they have no painted enemies to face, so began painting 25 or 30 Isengard uruk-hai. These will be easy to paint using the dip method and a very limited (and dark) color palette. Then I will need more Rohan, then more Isengard, then more Rohan...
  • Played a fantastic game of Fire and Fury (Civil War) and remembered how much fun those games always are. Remembered also that I need to upgrade the quality (and quantity) of this piece of my collection, especially as far as the Union side is concerned. Began plotting and planning a purchase.
  • Went out to Gettysburg for a day and a half seminar. I am now fully immersed in ACW and have been rereading Regimental Fire and Fury with an eye towards that being our next group game.

So. Have I finished much of anything? Not really, although the Rohan figs prevent me from having to admit to having finished nothing at all. And after a hiatus of many months of very little hobby activity in general, and even less painting activity, I am glad that things are sort of back to... well... normal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A few Civil War pictures

These weren't narrative shots, so they didn't make it into the battle report posts, but they are nice pictures. I always try to remember to take a few shots from a low angle to give more of a realistic view. Sometimes they turn out really nice like these.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gettysburg - Union Defense of Devil's Den

Saturday Afternoon Session - LBG John Winkelman
The morning session followed the attack of Hood's division, with an emphasis on Robertson's Texas brigade, and a particular focus on the 1st Texas regiment. The afternoon session was similar in that it nominally covered the Union defense of Devil's Den, but really focused primarily on Ward's brigade and Smith's Battery. In fact, while the program was subtitled "The Struggle for Devil's Den", it just as easily could have been called "The Struggle for Smith's Battery".

As in the morning session, there was a tremendous amount of great detail, and in addition to the very knowledgeable session leader, there were a half dozen other guides tagging along in support and contributing as well. Most of the walk was spent on and in the immediate vicinity of Houck's Ridge, but we began by following the route Ward's brigade would have taken to arrive on the field in this location. We started at the brigade bivouac in the yard of the G Weikert house a ways to the northeast. We walked the short distance down the farm lane to the J Weikert house, and then continued southwest across Plum Run. We then skirted the eastern edge of the Wheatfield and into the east end of the Rose Woods. Here we saw where the right flank of the brigade (99th PA and 20th IN) would have been posted in the woods, where they would end up facing the 3rd Arkansas. We then continued on to the top of Houck's Ridge. Most of the rest of the session was conducted from this location with brief side trips up and down the various slopes of the ridge as we tracked the progress of the battle.

Once again I will not outline the history here, but have attached another batch of photos of some of the more important and interesting views.

Gettysburg - Confederate Assault on Devil's Den

Saturday Morning Session - LBG Rich Kohr
The morning walking tour followed the route of the Confederate attack on Devil's Den. We started from a spot on Warfield Ridge near where the junction between Law's Brigade and Robertson's "Texas" Brigade would have been. We walked east downhill to the Bushman farm, northeast to the Slyder farm lane, southeast to the Slyder farm, and then east to the lower shoulder of Big Round Top. This would have been roughly the path of the right flank regiments of Robertson's brigade (the 4th and 5th Texas). Due to the soggy ground conditions after recent rain and a wet spring, rather than wade across flooded fields to Devil's Den, we rode a bus to Rose's Woods and picked up the walk from the area near the Timbers farm (also known as the George Weikert farm). From there we walked east up the slope of Hauck's ridge following in the footsteps of the 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas. Extensive discussion and Q and A happened all along the route, which took about 2.5 hours in total. Rather than try to recreate the walk, I will just show a bunch of pictures taken on this overcast walk. Out of the multitude of pictures I took, I have tried to select those which represent the most important and interesting views.

Gettysburg - ALBG Spring Seminar

"Into the Jaws of Hell"
The Struggle for Devil's Den
The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides
Spring Seminar, April 8-9, 2011

A few months ago my friend Phil called and told me about this event, and asked if I wanted to go. With advance warning to be able to plan for it I said "sure", and I am extremely glad that I did. The Gettysburg ALBG apparently does two of these a year, one in the spring and a full weekend one in the fall. This specific one focused on the attack and defense of Houck's Ridge and Devil's Den.

The first part of this was a lecture and slide show at 7pm on Friday evening at the Grand Army of the Republic hall in Gettysburg. Just being in that building on that site was pretty cool. The talk was given by LBG Tim Smith, a guide who I have seen several times on the PCN channel's battlefield walks that are shown every year around the anniversary of the battle. I also have one or two of his books, including one titled "Devil's Den; A History and Guide". The talk focused on the history and legacy of Devil's Den, with a major focus on the contemporary and near-contemporary photographic record of the site. Truly fascinating stuff, and a talk which made me go out and buy a couple of William Frassanito's books on the photographic history of Gettysburg.

The Saturday part was the main event, and was to consist of three hours of walking the battlefield from the Confederate point of view in the morning, followed by lunch, then three more hours of walking the battlefield from the Union point of view in the afternoon. The weather, which had rained on my geocaching Friday during the day, was not supposed to be an issue on Saturday (although the forecast was for cool and overcast), but there was a more serious threat. The government budget was set to expire at midnight, and if the budget impasse could not be broken and a settlement reached (however temporary), the park would be closed, as would all other federal facilities, and we would be unable to walk the field. Which meant that the Saturday program would be conducted as a series of lectures in an indoor room. Ugh. Fortunately, that would not come to pass, as a one-week extension was reached at 11:45 pm that would keep the government from shutting down.

I will follow this up with a post on each of the morning and afternoon sessions, with pictures, but suffice it to say that this was a FANTASTIC day and a half of hardcore history geekiness. I can't stress enough what a wonderful job these guides do, and what a tremendous wealth of knowledge they are. I would strongly recommend that anyone with a serious interest in Civil War history in general, or Gettysburg in particular, do whatever they can to attend one of these. They are well worth the modest cost of about $100 for a day-plus of immersing yourself in the history of the battle with people who know it all, inside and out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Geocaching my way to Gettysburg

This weekend I will be attending a history seminar in Gettysburg with a couple of friends, Phil and Tim. The Friday evening session is a lecture that begins at 7pm, so I really didn't need to be out there until 6 or 6:30, but I figured as long as I needed to take part of a day off, I might as well take the whole day and see how much geocaching I could cram into one day.

My plan was to get the kids off to school and be on the road by about 8:00am. Total drive time to Gettysburg isn't much more than 2 hours if all went well, which would leave me a good seven hours or so to geocache and maybe spend some additional time on the battlefield. I knew that there were 6 virtual caches on or near the battlefield that I wanted to do, and having done my homework, I had mapped out lots of easy caches in the area.

The only down side to the day was the persistent off and on light rain showers, which were just enough to be annoying without getting me too wet. The weather could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse. I started the day with 4 caches in Cumberland county (a new one for me) just off the PA Turnpike at route 15, and 3 more near Dillsburg in York county, where I had only had one cache previously.

Then on to Gettysburg, where I accomplished everything I could have hoped for and more. The picture of the map shows everything I found, which also included most of the cluster of caches in the area to the SE labelled "map 1" which aren't crossed off. By the time I met Phil at the hotel before heading to the lecture, I had found 34 caches, making it my best day ever. My previous best had been 31 caches on the American Tobacco Trail in NC. The day's final tally included 2 puzzle caches, 6 virtuals, 24 traditionals, and surprisingly 2 earthcaches. Earthcaches are educational geology-oriented caches that can either be fairly easy or in some cases very difficult. The two that I did here were easy, and included looking at the rock formations of Devil's Den and finding a fossil footprint on a stone used in constructing a bridge on south Confederate Avenue. These were only my 3rd and 4th earthcaches, and were fun to do.

The actual seminar was absolutely terrific; more on that in other posts.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ACW Game - Part 6

Turn 6: 10:30am-11:00am
Union problems in the center.

Panorama at 11:00am. More and more troops are getting fed onto the flanks, while the Union center is a serious cause for concern. On the Confederate side, Pender in the south and Hood in the north are both beginning to deploy and should be in contact with the enemy next turn. For the Union, the entire 11th Corps is on the field, but is spread thin in the center and in the south, as Barlow's division is pretty well wrecked. McLaws' rebels occupy the center wheatfield, and Barksdale's battered brigade can be seen wildly chasing Barlow's remnants at lower right. Schurz's newly arrived division will need to plug the middle long enough for a cohesive line to be formed. If they can...

Center - Howard hurries to deploy Schurz's division in hopes that they can get into a blocking position ahead of McLaws' troops. Both flanks are relatively stable at the moment, but the center has a gaping hole where Barlow used to be.

North - The northern flank is setting up to be the scene of some vicious fighting in the turns ahead. Reynolds has Wadsworth's division up and deployed, and Robinson's division just about ready for battle as well. Which is a good thing, because Hood's powerful division is forming on the hill to their right front and looks to be ready to attack at any moment. Wadsworth, Reynolds' last division, has been ordered off to extend the left of Reynolds' line in the wake of Barlow's misfortune.

South - Union situation stable at the moment, but Confederate forces are building. Steinwehr is in position, with Buford's dismounted troopers and artillery support. But Heth's guns are up, his infantry is pressing the line, and Pender's division is filing across the ford and is about to begin deploying. When Pender is in position, the Yanks will be seriously outnumbered.

At this point, our gaming evening came to an end. The game is still set up here in my basement, and can stay set up as long as I want in the hopes that we can get this same (or similar) gang back together to keep going. It's shaping up to be a good game, and if it looks like getting the boys back together won't happen any time soon, I may be forced to forge ahead as a solo game. We shall see.

...To Be Continued...???

ACW Game - Part 5

Turn 5: 10:00-10:30am
Aggressive Confederates push the Union front line back.

Panorama at 10:30am. The rebels are doing well early, and more are arriving. Dorsey Pender's division of Hill's Corps is crossing the south bridge and coming over the hill toward the ford at middle left. In the right distance, the first two brigades of Hood's division of Longstreet's Corps are forming on the hill while the rest file over the bridge in the far distance. At lower right, Schurz's division, the last of the 11th Corps, advances.

Center - Things are not going at all well for Barlow in the middle. Barksdale and Wofford have hammered his two brigades, inflicting substantial losses and driving them way back. Kershaw's big South Carolina brigade is supporting them to the rear while artillery comes up. Gamble's troopers are no longer in a position to readily help out, as they have been committed into the woods to the upper left of the picture to help Steinwehr deal with Heth's attack.

North - The situation is somewhat more stable for Reynolds and the Union forces in the north. Semmes has driven Cutler back, but most of McLaws troops have been fighting Barlow in the center, so there have not been additional troops available to reinforce this attack. That will soon change as Hood's leading brigades deploy on the hill at upper right. Robinson's Union division continues to file onto the field in Wadsworth's rear to counter this threat.

South - Heth's attack on Devin and Steinwehr meets with success as the Union troops find it hard to deploy effectively and bring their artillery to bear. In their haste to get the guns into the front line, they have been exposing them to enemy fire and have had a difficult time keeping them in line. In the picture below, Pettigrew and Davis have driven in Steinwehr's leading brigade and damaged an artillery battery, exposing another battery that was coming up. Devin's cavalry has temporarily been forced back out of the picture. In the upper right, Gamble's dismounted cavalry brigade has formed up in the woods to contest Davis's further advance. Note that the Union 11th Corps supply wagon can be seen behind the woods. As noted before, we play that a unit can only resupply ammo if it meets the normal rules and can trace a 12 inch path to a supply wagon.

...To Be Continued...

Monday, April 4, 2011

ACW Game - Part 4

Turn 4: 9:30-10:00am
Confederates arriving in droves...

Panoramic view of the field taken from the East. For the Confederates, Pender's division of Hill's Corps and Hood's division of Longstreet's Corps have both begun to arrive. On the Union side, Robinson's divison is coming up for Reynolds, and Steinwehr's for Howard. The roads are pretty full of converging troops.

South end of the field - All four of Heth's brigades are at the front, along with both artillery batteries. Devin's cavalry is hard pressed by Pettigrew's North Carolina boys, but the lead elements of Steinwehr's division and some attached artillery are arriving to extend the line.

The Center - A very eventful single turn. Gamble's troopers, seeing Barlow's infantry coming up, have fallen back. Ames' brigade advanced to take their place and hold the fenceline, but was charged by Wofford's brigade. After a three round melee, Ames' brigade was badly beaten up and ultimately pushed way back. Having been all the way up to the fenceline, they can now be seen at lower right, disordered, low on ammo, and reduced in strength.

Northern flank - Cutler advances to face Semmes while the Iron Brigade deploys behind them. Hopefully this will divert some of McLaws' attention and take some pressure off of Barlow, who is hard-pressed in the Union center. At the bottom of the picture, the head of Robinson's division arrives.

...To Be Continued...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

ACW Game - Part 3

Turn 3: 9:00-9:30am
The action begins to heat up as more of McLaws' men contact the enemy.

McLaws' division is now pressing the Union cavalry in force. Wofford's Georgia brigade has come into line next to Barksdale's Mississippians, with Paul Semmes' Georgia brigade in support. Buford's battery, being out of ammo, has limbered and retired to the rear to resupply. The cavalry troopers themselves are also disordered and low on ammunition.

As McLaws' presses eastward, Wadsworth's division deploys to their northwest. Cutler's brigade is in the lead with artillery moving up in support, and Meredith's Iron Brigade is moving up behind them. To counter their advance, a Confederate battery has taken up a commanding position on the hill.

To the south, Devin's brigade has galloped across country to block Heth, and has gone low on ammunition almost immediately. Buford's cavalry has done some fine shooting early in the game, but are paying the price by shooting off most of their ready supply of ammo. We are playing a house rule on resupply whereby a unit wishing to resupply must follow the normal restrictions as written in the rules but also be within 12 inches of a supply wagon unit. With no supply wagon nearby, the ammo situation for Devin is critical. Pettigrew's men are disordered at the moment, but are a very large unit, and have supports moving up behind them, as well as artillery.

...To Be Continued...

ACW Game - Part 2

Turn 2: 8:30-9:00am
Not too much fighting in this turn as forces from both sides continue to move onto the field and deploy.

Barksdale's brigade continues to aggressively front Gamble's dismounted cavalry. Buford's battery inflicts another casualty on Barksdale, but goes out of ammo in doing so (the black bead behind the gun). Barksdale assaults the Union troopers along the rail fence but is pushed back. In the background, McLaws' remaining brigades and artillery continue to pour over the bridge and deploy for action. In the foreground, Ames' brigade of Barlow's divison (11th Corps) pounds up the road as fast as possible in support of their hard-pressed comrades.

As McLaws' men deploy for battle, Buford receives good news - the cloud of dust to the north has been identified as the lead elements of Wadsworth's division of Reynold's 1st Corps. This division is one of the better ones in the Union army, and includes the Iron Brigade. That will give McLaws something else to think about.

Meanwhile, on the southern end of the battlefield, Heth's division begins to deploy after crossing the southern bridge. Pettigrew's large and excellent North Carolina brigade is in the lead, followed by some artillery and then Davis' Mississippi brigade. As the rebels deploy, Buford dispatches Devin's brigade to block Heth as best he can while more of Howard's Corps comes up.

...To Be Continued...

ACW Game - Part 1

Without having too much time to get ready for this game, and having a few players who are not very familiar with the rules, I decided that the easiest thing to do would be to play a meeting engagement. This would allow most of the troops to begin off the table, and allow the newer players a chance to get their feet wet with the game mechanics while only having a few units to worry about. By the time more and more forces arrived, hopefully the players would be comfortable enough to be able to handle things by then.

The Situation
The scenario is set in June 1863 and uses the historical order of battle from the Gettysburg campaign. Initial Federal forces would include Buford's cavalry division (Me), John Reynolds' 1st Corps (Ryan), and Oliver Howard's 11th Corps (Mike). The Confederates would have parts of both James Longstreet's 1st Corps (Anthony) and AP Hill's 3rd Corps (Dave). The picture below, taken from the East looking West, shows the initial deployments. Buford's two cavalry brigades are in the center, one holding the nearer crossroad facing south and one holding the more distant crossroad facing west. The Confederates will be entering the battlefield from the west and southwest, crossing the stream in the distance. Union forces will be entering from the north and northeast. McLaws' division of Longstreet's Corps is advancing on Buford in the far distance. Lead elements of Howard's Corps are moving along the road in the near right of the picture.

Turn 1: 8:00-8:30am
The first turn was mainly movement, with more of McLaws' troops arriving and deploying to engage Buford. Buford's artillery immediately put a casualty on the lead Confederate brigade, but went low on ammunition in the process. The yellow bead indicates low ammo. The small orange beads that can be seen in this picture are 3 of the 7 objectives that the players are fighting for control over - these are typically high spots on the battlefield or road junctions. Control of the locations will go a long way toward effectively controlling the battlefield.

On the southwestern side of the field, lead elements of Harry Heth's division of Hill's Corps file toward the bridge crossing.

...To be continued...