Monday, February 2, 2015

Proof of Concept - 3mm ACW Regiments at 1:1 Scale

(Note: This is a cross-post from the Challenge blog.)

Alright everyone, this post exhibits a certain amount of nostalgic obsession and nerdy madness so please bear with me.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by miniatures and their relative scale. I have great memories of packing my Airfix plastics out into the garden and placing them at distances relative to their size (or the best I could determine, as math has never been my strong suit). So when the British were deployed amongst the peas and potatoes, and the Germans settled in amongst the corn and cabbage, they all somehow related to one another and therefore seemed more real to me. 

Anyway, when I started getting into historical wargaming in my teens I understood the need to abstract scales in order to fit scenarios onto tabletops, but I still held a desire to see these historical formations in their true form, at distances that reflected how the men of the various periods gathered, moved and fought.

Don Troiani's work seems to capture what it must have been like to live within the chaos of black powder battles...

These 3mm (1:600 scale) ACW figures (yes, they are very, very tiny) are from Pico Armor. I picked these up a few years ago in a fit of madness knowing I could finally indulge my fascination with 1:1 scale formations. I started working on a few bases, but soon became distracted by other projects (I know, how typical). Nonetheless, I found them tucked away in a drawer the other week, so pulled them out, the spark took light once again and so here we are.

What you see here is two American Civil War Confederate regiments. The one regiment on the left is made up of close to 500 figures while the other is about 340. These numbers align roughly to the historical strengths of average, campaign-strength ACW formations.

Each regiment is made up of 10 bases, with each base being a complete infantry company at 1:1 scale.

Below is a great educational photo. You can clearly see the incredible length of a mid-sized regiment drawn up into line (with another regiment in the distance). When I see this I’m immediately struck by what must have been a huge challenge of command-and-control for officer to exert their will over such a strung-out formation. I look at this and understand that having a good cadre of experienced NCO’s and junior officers was an absolute necessity for having any kind of battlefield effectiveness. 

Both regiments drawn up in line.
When you see the same regiments drawn up in open and closed columns it illustrates why so many generals (certainly in the Napoleonic period) liked to keep their soldiers in more compact formations as it enabled them to be better controlled and also it had a morale effect as they typically gained confidence by the closeness of their comrades. 

Column of divisions, two companies wide at full intervals.

Close column, two companies wide. Highly inefficient for combat but much easier to control.

Column, one company wide and at full intervals for ease of maneuver.
The 3mm farmhouse is from Pico as well. I’ve placed it on a pill-shaped base and made a snake-rail fence out of cut card ('Nells' the workhorse is in the paddock). 

Painting in such a tiny scale required me to rethink how I approached the whole process. The sculpting detail is surprisingly clear so it would be easy to go down the rabbit hole and attempt to paint these figures as individual models. But that way madness lies. Instead you have to think of these strips of figures merely as components of a mass and not get drawn into details that nobody will ever see. So with this in mind I primed them black, drybrushed them light grey, thin coat of brown wash, popped in three blobs of flesh for their faces and hands, brown for the musket stocks, bright silver for the bayonets and then put in some varied colours for blanket-rolls and hats. That’s it. Done. 

My first base. I has the Regimental Colours as part of a company (which is incorrect).

To me, the trick to doing microscale figures often comes down to the basing. It has to be minimalist enough for the figures to be clearly identified, but not so stark as to leave them looking simply like little nubs on strips. These come in strips of eight figures, so I mounted them in two ranks, but situated them off center on the base so players have a better sense to place facing the same direction (more on this in a moment). Then I used a smooth gel medium to build-up the base roughly to the edge of their bases so they are better masked. Once the gel medium cures I then drybrushed them shades of light brown and then use a green semi-opaque emulsion to infer grass. The only basing material I’ve used with these is a few traces of clump foliage to mimic bush and brush.

When I first started basing these I quickly realized that players needed some sort of visual queue to which way the units were supposed to be facing. So with this in mind I decided to design a special base for the colour party. As you see here it’s shaped roughly like an arrow with a rectangular tab at the rear in order to place unit identification (thanks to Martin at Warbases for manufacturing these for me). As an experiment I’ve tarted up one of these bases with a small piece of L-shaped plasticard and rare earth magnets so nameplates can be easily ‘clicked’ into place but otherwise be stored separately.

The Colour Party with arrowhead front and rear tab.
Magnetized rear 'L' tab.
I’ll be up-front right now in saying that this project is largely just a silly aesthetic and intellectual proof-of-concept, but who knows, if I get enough stuff accumulated I may try using something like ‘Black Powder’ to do a clash of brigade-sized forces in 1:1. Otherwise I think I may use four of these bases along with a colour party base to serve as a regiment in ‘normal sized’ games like Longstreet’. 

I have an artillery battery that I’m currently working on but more on that later. I’m not really sure if I’ll expand on this collection that much as what I’m really keen to do is Napoleonics in this scale. I have a suspicion that massed cavalry formations would look amazing done at 1:1 scale…

Thanks very much for sticking with me through this overly long post!


  1. Very interesting stuff. Fascinating insight into the reality of command and control and the need for drill, drill, and more drill in these period armies.

    1. You hit the nail on the head there Mike. When I look at these formations in their proper scale I'm immediately struck by how proficient the soldiers would have to be not to make a complete hash of maneuver, much less fighting.

  2. I like your solution with the base for the command section. Also really interesting seeing the unit at 1:1 scale with a wargaming perspective to it. I'm used to only seeing anything similar in the older museum exhibits ( now unfortunately rather tatty looking or replaced with poorly done videos.)

    1. Thanks Brian! I must admit to first looking at these and scratching my head to how to approach them. Thankfully with the wonders of laser-cutting you can pretty much custom order any design now. It's such a luxury.

  3. I can certainly remember the airfix soldiers out in the garden... fond memories of youthful summer holidays enjoyed outside...

    Must admit Ive never tried anything this small,... Warmaster at 10mm was small enough for me!

    Good luck with this endeavor, I can certainly relate to a desire for 1:1 scale and a greater sense of 'reality'.

    1. Thanks Scott! As I mentioned in the post, this is largely an exercise of aesthetics. I can't see myself putting together more than a reinforced brigade of these (in both ACW and Napoleonics). That alone will easily take up a good sized tabletop!

  4. This is an eye opener (and a very impressive one at that!). Command and control of a line must have been so difficult to co-ordinate as has been mentioned. How on earth does one control fire and organise disciplined volleys when voice control would have been so limited (and drums surely drowned out in the din of battle and hundreds of drums). Training must have been the key and an almost psychic awareness born out of so many hours of drill, of what the Colonel was likely to order next. Very impressive figures too!

    1. Thanks Jason! Yes, I look at these figures arrayed on the tabletop and get a whole new appreciation for the challenges facing black powder armies. I spent a couple years following the re-enactor 'circuit' and can attest that once in with a company of infantrymen you get to know your responsibilities pretty quick and have a sense of what should happen in the course of events (of course, this doesn't always happen which is what makes men in the ranks very nervous if they are not commanded well). Thanks for your comment!

  5. Madness. Magnificent madness.
    When I did ACW reenacting we could only guess at the problems of moving hundreds of men in close formation. We seldom had to cope with anything greater than one company, maybe two if we were luck, and with out minimal amount of drill, we could only do the simplest manoeuvres. You show how tricky it would be with 3-500+.

    1. Thanks Michael, much appreciated. I had the very same impression when I was re-enacting. Once you are part of a mass nearing the size of one of these battalions you completely understand the vital importance of incessant drill and good NCOs - otherwise you're just part of a mob.

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