Getting into ACW naval / riverine miniature wargaming


I recently purchased a collection of painted and assembled 1:600 model Civil War boats, all of which are from Toby Barrett‘s Thoroughbred Figures. I went out and bought two yards of dark blue denim from Wal-Mart in historic Hanover, Pennsylvania, to use as coastal waters, and will later pick up some black denim when available for the darker, muddier look of the Mississippi River. At the suggestion of veteran naval wargamer Tim Marshall, I also purchased 2 yards of clear, thick vinyl to add gloss and sheen to the layout, and to make it very easy to move the boats (they tend to catch on the fabric). The denim has some directionality, so the ridges follow the direction of the water movement and the hint of white adds to the look of the layout.


The Union boats include the heavy ironclads Benton and Essex, as well as two City class ironclads (the Cairo and Mound City; this class was often called “Pook’s turtles” or “Eads’ turtles” for their distinctive shape and appearance in the water). In the back are a pair of Ellet rams, the Monarch and Queen of the West, plus the timberclad gunboat Tyler, which served at the Battle of Shiloh.


The Confederate boats include the ironclads Arkansas and Tennessee, the cottonclad rams General Price and General Bragg, and some support vessels such as torpedo boats and barges.


I will be touching up the paint jobs, and will likely either rebase the vessels or eliminate the basing altogether, which is what Tim Marshall has done with his models. Here the Queen of the West steams forward. I will add some cotton puffs dyed blackish to simulate smoke. I have been modifying the “River Wars” rules set for my own usage.


Another view of the powerful Union fleet in miniature. The opposing Confederates suffered significant defeats at Plum Point and at the Battle of Memphis, and the control of the river was pretty much decided by early 1863. All that was left was for Grant to send the fleet past Vicksburg. There was some occasional fighting further south during the Red River Campaign, but much of the action was confined to 1861-62.

What useful tips and ideas do you have for a fledgling naval wargamer???

Categories: Civil War wargaming | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Getting into ACW naval / riverine miniature wargaming

  1. The term Brown-water navy conotes that perhaps a grayish brownish fabric may be better than black for your riverine actions. I like the thought of no bases. Bases have actually got in the way on my ships, so I think I’ll take them off or cut them down to a short circumference of the waterline.

    As you know, I like the free “Steam, Iron & Tin” simple rules published on Anglefire. Then again, most of my games are played by the 11 to 16 age crowd.

  2. IMHO, you have made the best choice for models with Toby’s Thouroughbred Figures. I have used the old board game IRONCLADS by Yaquinto/Excalibre Games that I have adapted for miniatures play. I think they give the most accurate results.

    It is difficult to find play balance in strictly historical scenarios, but I have never liked the idea of massing Confederate ironclads to face their Union Navy foes in a fictional fleet action. There is an indication in the reports and letters that some Confederate naval officers thought the best tactics were to fight in conjuction with their forts. For example, Warley of CSS MANASAS realized that if he could disable a Union ship above Forts Jackson and St. Philip below New Orleans, the Union vessels could be pummelled by the large and numerous guns, just like USS MISSISSIPPI was the following year at Port Hudson.

    Anyway, I think this sort of thing is the direction to go in designing scenarios on the western rivers.


  3. I love Civil War Naval stuff. Dont forget about Bay Area Yards to fill in the gaps of Thouroughbreds stuff. You can do some line rigging by using black bead wire and glueing it. Painting Thouroughbred is great, I primer black then dark colors and drybrush lighter colors and highlight!
    I thought about getting rid of bases but my bases are tall and so I tell people to grab the bases instead of the ships.
    I like the vinyl idea. The coolest ugliest ships in the world!

  4. Fred Kurland

    Great Start. The Mississippi river campaign was critical to victory for the Union. Combined with the fall of Vicksburg, it virtually eliminated any hope of a Confederate Win. I personally prefer more of the Blue-Water Navy, paticularly games based on a face off between the federal Navy and the Royal Navy in 1863-64. Though most still think it would have been a walkover for the Brits, the 15″ s.b. in the monitors could put holes in anything afloat at the time, including the vaunted British Ironclads…Have fun, and good steaming.

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