The construction of 17th and 18th-century European fortifications were revolutionized by the writing of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the French military engineer and author of A Manual of Siegecraft and Fortification. His formal star-shaped forts of the era defined military and city defensive architecture throughout Europe and in overseas colonies.
North American wilderness warfare of the French and Indian War often called for more hastily-built backcountry defenses. A paper by Military Architecture of the American Frontier, made available online by the National Park Service, provides an overview of how Vauban’s and other writings of the period influenced fort building in a very different environment. Blockhouses and stockades were common, and some reconstructed examples like Fort Necessity and Fort Ligonier can be visited today. Given even less time and planning, dirt, plentiful trees, and woven gabions filled with rocks could be used to create a somewhat formidable defensive position by throwing the strong backs of soldiers and hired civilians into the effort. While some Vauban-style grand forts of the period like Fort Niagara and Fort Ticonderoga still stand centuries later in the United States, countless small, temporary fortifications have been long lost to time.
A plan of Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania from “A Set of Plans and Forts in America. Reduced from Actual Surveys” by John Rocque (c. 1750)
My local club Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY has hundreds of pieces of terrain in multiple scales spanning many historical eras. Some of these pieces are decades old, once belonging to members who have long since moved on. They reflect different wargaming modeling techniques of the past and some bear the markings of manufacturers long gone.
I’ve taken it upon myself recently to rebuild and refresh some of these pieces, particularly a number of 28mm buildings and scratch built terrain models appropriate to 18th-century scenarios of the French and Indian War era. With this in mind, a large, banged-up and dusty wilderness fortress piece recently caught my eye on the club’s shelf and I set to work making it usable again.
A decades-old scratchbuilt piece of terrain in need of repair
Mounted on a piece of quarter-inch plywood measuring about 8″ x 18″, this hefty model features three canon positions on a plaster raised earth mound surrounded by resin-cast wicker gabions and sharpened wooden stakes. The years had not been kind to the model. Original trees had snapped off long ago, several breaks in the plaster were evident, grass had worn off, fences were broken and overall, the whole model had taken on a drab appearance.
Some initial repairs and a fresh coat of paint
The first step was to clean the model of the layers of dust accumulated over the years, remove remnants of broken trees and trim off flaking and broken bits of plaster. Next, I filled cracks and missing areas of plaster with lightweight wood filler. All the earthen areas then received a fresh coat of dark brown paint over which I dry brushed varying layers of browns and gray paints.
With the base repainted, I made small glued repairs to broken fencing. I also added a few spare sticks and a barrel to bring some detail to the model as if repairs were an ongoing part of the fortification’s use. From there, the logs, fence, sharpened stakes and gabions were repainted and weathered using more dry brushed coats of browns and grays.
New trees are glued to the model
With most of the new painting done, I turned to adding new trees. I drilled and glued nails into the trunks of pre-made trees from Woodland Scenics which were then glued into holes in the base at the rear along the fence. The trees added textural and vertical interest to an otherwise flat model and also provided some additional color to the overall earthiness of the terrain.
A layer of new groundcover is applied over the model
Further texture and color was added with my favorite Adirondack Blend from Scenic Express. This material contains grass of varying color and texture along with other larger bits of scattered twigs and wood chips which give a highly detailed look that reflects the ground of the North American wilderness. To attach, I heavily brushed white glue on a section at a time all around the base of the fortification and then shook a thick layer of the grass over the glue. Some areas around the logs also received a bit of grass to break up the sameness of the main battery area. Once dry, I lightly tapped the excess grass off the model, carefully scooping up the extra for use again. Finally, a couple small bits of clump foliage were glued around the trees and in random areas along the model’s base. With everything dry, the model got a matte spray coat to hold on the grass and seal the new paint.
In less than a couple hours work, the whole model popped back to life after sitting unused for years. The fortress also has a look more consistent with some of my other terrain pieces, allowing for a more unified look on the table. The project has inspired me to have a look at rebuilding other long-ignored pieces of terrain at the club, bringing them into a new century of miniature wargaming for hopefully years to come.