Civil War dioramas

Steve Miller’s diorama of Fort Phil Kearny

FPK closeups with backdrop 001

Steve Miller was an Indian Wars reenactor off and on for some 20+ years during his Air Force career. He has also been a board wargamer, primarily WWII but with 8 or 9 Civil War titles in his collection.

Another of his interests is the Old West.  Back in the early 1960s he borrowed Dee Brown’s “Fort Phil Kearny, an American Saga” as a book from his high school library.  He also built a small perhaps 24 inch by 18 “cavalry fort” and “manned” it with HO scale Thomas figures purchased from K+L of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and with AirFix plastic Indians.  When he was commissioned as a 2Lt in the Air Force in 1968 and left for active duty, both the fort and the miniatures were left at his parents’ home. Over time they disposed of all of them.

Years later, Steve began Indian Wars reenacting in Tucson, San Antonio, and finally southern California, but never thought much about his boyhood diorama until this past January. He re-read Dee Brown’s book about Fort Phil Kearny again,inspiring him to try to build another diorama.  He had taken Terry Johnson’s “Northern Plains Indian Wars Tour” in about 1999 which included a visit to the Fort Phil Kearny HIstorical Site outside of Sheridan, WY. That museum contained a diorama.
Steve googled Ft Phil Kearny, found its web page, and saw a picture of that diorama and a note showing that it had been created by Bob Wilson, once the site superintendent but since retired. Steve was able to contact Mr. Wilson, compare notes, learn of some of the factual errors in Dee Brown’s old book, and begin planning his own diorama.
As for the layout of the post, “MIlitary Posts of the Powder River” was the most useful.  In it and in “Red Cloud’s War” Steve Miller learned that the fort was much larger that what was mentioned in Brown’s book (400 ft by 400 ft). It turns out that was the size of just the parade ground.  The actual size of the “main” fort was 800 feet by 600 feet, and attached to that was the Quartermaster Yard of 600 feet by 250 feet.  At a 1/72 scale, he was going to need a table 20 feet long and 8 feet wide.
Oops, he didn’t happen to have a room that would accommodate that.   What to do?
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Old photos of a private Civil War diorama in Connecticut

Cannonball reader Mark Anderson supplied these photographs which first appeared in the Birmingham News supplement on June 24, 1956. Identifiable figure manufacturers include Bussler, Wm. Britains, and Tru-Craft.

The 1950s marked the beginning of the golden era of toy soldiers. So many manufacturers came and went in the 50s and 60s, with so many wonderful memories for a generation of boys. I had a huge collection of 54mm figures, which included Marx, Timpo, MPC Ring-hand, and so many others. My kids, and now my grandsons, played with them as well, so we have received three generations of fun and entertainment from the toy soldiers.

One wonders what ever happened to the Connecticut diorama shown above and below?

Scan of another page of the old newspaper article from 1956. Ike was in the White House, and interest in action-oriented themes was high. It was the era of Davy Crockett, science fiction, toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, and the like.

Categories: Civil War dioramas, Civil War toys | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Pennsylvania Dutch farm in miniature!

I have recently completed a small vignette for my wargaming table, as well as to use to attract attention to my table when I am selling and signing my Civil War books I have written. This scene shows a Pennsylvania German farmer, let’s call him Jacob, nervously guarding his barn as he spots a distant dust cloud which indicates the arrival of Confederate foraging parties in his neighborhood. “Here come the Rebels!” has been the cry for weeks, and they have not come.

Until now, that is.

Jacob has failed to take his horses to safety (they are in the stable in back of the barn). He will attempt to negotiate with the raiders. He has a yellow membership card to the Knights of the Golden Circle, knows their secret password and identifying hand signals. For this information he has paid $1 to a couple of men from New York City who have visited his farm. They sold him the ticket and secret signs and told him the Rebels would leave his personal property, livestock, and horses alone if he showed them he was a member of the Southern-sympathizing K.G.C.

Click on the photos for better views of old Jacob and his farmstead.

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Categories: Buildings and structures, Civil War dioramas, Civil War wargaming, Terrain | Tags: | 1 Comment

Wm. Britains dioramas

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Gettysburg Diorama at Gettysburg History Center

Here are a few photos of sections of the massive HO-scale diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg which is located at the Gettysburg History Center (formerly Patriot Point) on Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A Michigan man constructed the layout in the early 197os in southwestern Michigan and displayed it at a shopping mall in Kalamazoo. Later, the diorama was moved to Artillery Ridge Campground in Gettysburg and more recently was relocated to the present location along the main tourist street in Gettysburg.

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Wm. Britains dioramas at Manassas and Gettysburg

Wm. Britains has long been one of the best producers of collectible 54mm toy soldiers. In recent years, they have been producing dioramas as advertising pieces. Shown above is a part of the diorama at the Gettysburg National Military Park’s museum bookstore in the Visitors Center.

Here are two photographs of a similar diorama in the Visitors Center at Manassas.

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Britains diorama at Manassas Visitors Center

Wm. Britains is a long-time and storied name in toy soldiers. I had a small collection of Britains as a kid growing up in southeastern Ohio. The name has stood for quality for many decades. The firm has produced thousands of poses in a wide variety of genres over the years.

The company as sales promotion has provided small dioramas to several sales retail outlets such as Visitors Centers at selected battlefields, including the Manassas National Battlefield in Virginia.

Click on the photo to enlarge it for easier viewing.

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My vintage K&L 20mm Civil War figures – a mini diorama

Back in the late 1970s when I was in the undergrad Paper Science & Engineering program at Miami University near Cincinnati, Ohio, my roommate Charles Reace and I used to enjoy playing all kinds of wargames. One of my favorites was a board game from SPI entitled Fast Carriers. We spent hours playing that game and munching on pizza from Student Delivery Service (SDS had some of the very best pizza that I have ever eaten). Charles and I also enjoyed marathon games of Risk with some of our dorm buddies.

We also got into miniatures, thanks to a grad student named George Nafziger. He invited my roomie and me to start playing 25mm Napoleonics, and we were hooked.

Charles starting buying and painting WWII miniature aircraft, and I began painting 20mm ACW figures I bought via mail order from K&L in Oklahoma. I saw an ad in the back of Civil War Times Illustrated and ordered some figures. Whenever I had some extra money, which for a college kid was not often enough, I ordered a few more figures until I had amassed more than 100.

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Categories: Civil War dioramas | 3 Comments

Dioramist Dennis Morris offering new art prints!

Dennis Morris of New York is one of my cyber buddies on a popular website,, where he frequently posts photographs of his massive Gettysburg diorama. He sent me a couple photos of his latest diorama effort; it is a superb effort worthy of museum quality. He sells art prints based upon photographs he takes of his diorama layout; for examples from his portfolio and ordering information, please visit his website, Diographics.

Here’s his newest layout – what a magnificent terrain table!

Click on the photo to enlarge it for easier viewing!

What a massive layout! This is Dennis’s second layout; pix of his first effort have previously appeared here on the CHARGE! blog. Have a look!

To see all my previous posts on Dennis’s fantastic dioramas, please visit the links below!

The best Civil War diorama???

Art prints from Dennis Morris’s Gettysburg Civil War diorama

More photos from Dennis Morris

Some more from master dioramist Dennis Morris

Dioramist Dennis Morris now has a new website!

Categories: Civil War dioramas, Civil War wargaming, Gettysburg | 1 Comment

A large Gettysburg diorama/wargame in Germany

How’s this for a very large gaming layout / Civil War diorama? The tabletop is 80 square meters (yes, 80!!!) in area and there are 25,000 carefully painted 25mm figures in miniature action! A gaming group in Germany has constructed this impressive layout for their planned refight of the Battle of Gettysburg in miniature.

Very nice, indeed!

For more photos by Uwe Wild, please click here.

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