Marx Giant Blue & Gray playset – “Centennial Series”

I had a wonderful childhood, growing up in a small lakeside village nestled in the scenic wooded hills of southeastern Ohio. It was an area steeped in history; an area where famed Civil War generals Phil Sheridan and William T. Sherman grew up.  My own family was rich in Civil War heritage, with direct ancestors on both sides of the family serving in the Union Army, including three of my great-great-grandfathers.

My Dad, whose 97th birthday would have been yesterday, and Mom gave me a giant set of Civil War toy soldiers for Christmas back in 1962. It was the 54mm Marx Giant Blue & Gray playset which I believe they bought at the local Montgomery Wards store, which my Mom frequented in those long ago days. As a kid I played with them extensively and lost parts of the set in my outdoor “wargaming” activities. The rest survived the years, and are now enjoyed by my two grandsons.

Here are a few shots of the remnants of that old playset (I also still have the tin mansion).

President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee direct the action from the porch of the ruined mansion. These are some of Stonewall Jackson’s boys in action.

The original playset had perhaps 25% more figures than I still have, including a falling horse and rider which I left behind accidentally at a beach when I was a lad. I still wish I had those two particular figures!

The rare occurrence of U.S. Grant and Abe Lincoln surveying a battlefield while bullets and cannon shells whiz by.

Rebel artillery takes aim at the distant Grant and Lincoln… bad day for the Union in store.

Categories: Civil War toys | Tags: , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “Marx Giant Blue & Gray playset – “Centennial Series”

  1. Scott, This was my first Civil War set too! I eventually painted the soldiers and created my first diorama with them. I recall the “exploding” sandbag redoubt, and the spring-load mortar that could fire cannonballs. The popular favorite falling horse & rider is still available as recasts. Reviewing your photos, I had forgotten how many animated figure poses there were, including falling wounded, swinging muskets, etc.

  2. Great tale. I had this playset. Along with my first boxes of Airfix figures which were Civil war figures, it definetly set me on the course to be a gamer. Nice post Scott.

  3. I lost or misplaced so much of the original set over the years, including the commander’s tent, white plastic porch for the mansion, most of the accessories and stretchers, flagpoles, etc. I am thankful for what remains, and on occasion have paused at toy soldier shows and debated buying examples of the pieces I am missing.

  4. Chris Johnson

    It’s astounding how many of us got this playset–in a way it should join Jack Scruby, Donald Featherstone, and H.G. Wells as one of the progenitors of wargaming!
    I kept mine until I left for college in 1969 (ouch), when I threw it all out, figuring I would never again have any use for it. I’ve kicked myself ever since…

  5. I went over to my brother’s friend’s house with him in Puerto Rico in 1963. The friends, said, want to play with my Civil War set? My dad had purchased the Bruce Catton centennial book on the Civil War, with all its color plates of the battles. This Marx set was the Bruce Catton plates in three dimension. As a 7 year-old, I was open-mouthed and breathed excitement. There was so many myriads of odds and ends pieces; and, very cool poses (especially of the yelling confederate with rifle raised). I begged my dad (who was a Staff Sgt in the US Marine Corps) to buy me a set. He said he couldnot afford it. My brother’s friend’s dad was a Lt.Cmdr in the Navy.

  6. This is a great play set and it’s wonderful that you could hang on to so much of it for so long.

  7. Michael Gilbreath

    I was born in 1963 and missed out on the heyday of the playset era, but in 1973 for Christmas that year, I asked for and recieved a sears “Heritage” version of the blue&gray set. That set really left a lasting impression on me and to this day I still have about 40% of the figures and have over the years filled in all the missing pieces and now have a complete set. I developed a love for u.s. history at a very young age – about 8 or 9, and eventually aquired the alamo, sons of liberty, battleground, and several other sets by the age of 13. Seeing these old sets again really brings back memories!

  8. RedLgs14

    I got my first Marx “Blue and Grey” set when I was eleven back in 1961. In 1962 I got the other bigger Marx Civil War playset. I loved those playsets and painted my figures into differant units. My friend and I would combine our sets for days of playing fun.
    I loved all my Marx playsets and kept them in their original boxes.

  9. SocallyMike

    Wonderful review of my favorite toy growing up. That same year I got the Fort Apache toy also. Is there any sites that show the original box it came in? Again, the year was 1962, was that the first year it was sold? Thanks again for the rekindled memory.

  10. Hello Mike!

    If you google Marx Blue Gray box and then check the images, a few photos should show up, in among all the reprints and modern boxes for sale. My box wore out many years ago when I was a kid and apparently was tossed out.

  11. After my dad was transferred from Puerto Rico to California in 1965, he was still a Staff Sergeant on a very limited income. Nevertheless, for Christmas, 1966, my mother, herself, bought me the $14.00 Battleground Europe with the British, French, Americans and German poses. The metal flag for the Germans was the Imperial national flag of WWI Germany. I guess, WWII having ended only 21 years before, the Swatstika would have been too inciteful for little American boys. My battleground Europe did not have the silver airplanes though; but, had two pillboxes: the brown earthen one and the larger white one. It also had the exploding bunker, a silver howitzer and a German 88. The German vehicles were numerous enough to make an impressive convoy. In 1967, I added a box of MPC Russians, and more Marx Germans to balance out the battlefield. At the same time that I was opening the large SEars box for Battleground Europe, my little brother was opening his large, super deluxe Fort Apache, with about 4 sets of pioneers, two wagons, (including the hospital wagon), the cream colored falling horse and rider and about 24 cavalrymen. I lay on the floor many hours looking down that long line of cavalrymen. There were about 6 to 8 teepees for the 60 dark-red/brown Indians. The pioneers included in the set reminded me that perhaps the Fort could be Fort Dearborn or Fort MImms. But, the plains Indians with the Rin-Tin Tin cavalrymen always returned my mind to North Dakota, Montana, etc. Thanks to my mother for buying us those very nice Marx sets. Shortly afterwards, my dad made Gunnery Sergeant.

  12. Mark Smith

    I’m another who got the Marx Civil War set – though it was probably in the 50’s (if it was out that early). Rather than marbles, I acquired two large spring-loaded cannons; they fired fluted plastic “bolts” about 2″ long. My brother and I each got one to mow down the other side. When it came to close quarters, you could put three bolts in the cannon for “canister!”
    I also got at other times Marx sets for Ft. Apache, for WWII Europe, and WWII Pacific. I painted a lot of my soldiers, but by no means all. Just painting “flesh” really elevated the realism.
    Unfortunately, my mom discarded most of this while I was in college. However, in the 90’s I discovered many of my WWII soldiers hidden away in the basement, and I secured them to my own home, and I have them now. They survived many grueling living room battles and getting blown up in the sandbox outdoors with traps containing gunpowder caps, lit off with the help of a magnifying glass. They’re pretty brittle. But my son enjoyed them in his early years, and I’ll keep them for the next generation!

  13. Dean

    Anybody interested in buying a complete MARX Civil War Set in the original box? I have one.

  14. Dean

    What would be your price for the Civil War set?

  15. Hi Dean!

    You might want to check with some of the leading dealers of collectible Marx soldiers. For example, Jon Zabawa at Gettysburg Miniature Soldiers handles old Marx sets and figures.

  16. Dean

    Will do! Thank you Scott.

  17. see my website for pictures of all of the Marx Civil War figures + thousands more.

  18. That is a neat website. I have perused it a few times over the years!

  19. Karen Belinko

    Dean, Is that set still for sale? Looking at buying it for hubby.

  20. Richard Myhra

    I got a smaller set for xmas in ’59. It had 25 rebs & 25 yanks. My little brother and I went civil war mad for years (our older brothers were at a military academy in Lexington, MO which was the site of a battle early in the civil war). We’d get larger Centennial sets over the years. Unfortunately, my brother had the habit of selling pieces of the sets around the neighborhood until Dad caught him. He became a car dealer. But, I still have quite a few worn-out troops left at least.

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