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.
Having some French and Indian War British Regular Infantry from Blue Moon Manufacturing under my belt, I turned to them again to build out more of my French Canadian forces. Their FIW 28mm figures line called “Drums In The Ohio Valley” has a box of twenty figures named simply “The French” and is themed as part of Braddock’s Defeat.
Blue Moon’s box of irregular French includes an officer and 18 figures in varying poses loading, walking, aiming and firing. A big bonus with these models is their cast round bases, giving them a nice heft and no need for any additional basing. My one pet peeve is the inclusion of a (for me) unnecessary casualty figure.
Aside from a minor complaint about one of twenty models, these Blue Moon miniatures scale nicely with my other Canadian Militia from North Star. I particularly like the various firing poses and two command figures gesturing orders to their men, ready to attack in the 18th-century North American wilderness.
The French and Indian War (1754-1763) called for new tactics for old, professional armies steeped in traditional European warfare. With hostilities among French, French-allied Indians and Canadians, British and colonists of all stripes erupting over territorial disputes on the frontier of North America, locally-mustered soldiers were of paramount importance to all sides.
Robert Rogers, born in Massachusetts of Irish immigrants in 1731, was key in raising forces in New Hampshire for the British in the mid 1750s on the eve of the conflict. With animosity toward Indians in the region, his recruits formed what came to be known as Rogers’ Rangers. Operating out of Northeastern and Central New York, the company of some 600 men who formed Rogers’ Rangers participated in some of the key actions of the war including the Battles on Snowshoes and the Battle of Carillon, both in 1758.
Aside from his leadership during the FIW, he also contributed significantly with his “Rules of Ranging.” Written in 1757, the 28 rules provide an outline for the discipline and tactics which defined Rogers’ own brand of guerilla-style wilderness war. So visionary in their combination of Native American style warfare with some European principles for the rules of war, some version of these have been used by US Army Rangers to this day.
Following the end of the FIW, Rogers continued to work with the British military during Pontiac’s Rebellion that swept through the Great Lakes in 1763-1766 and finally during the American War of Independence in the 1770s and 1780s. Despite having devoted his entire adult life to warring on behalf of the British in North America, Rogers died in 1795 poor and in obscurity in England at the age of 63.
Rogers’ Rangers in Popular Culture
Robert Rogers has managed to hold considerable space in pop culture for generations. Even though his alliances were with British rule during his decades-long career, his legend rests squarely within a particular type of colorful American frontier character who succeeds by breaking the rules and forging his own path. The persistence of his legacy has been helped by comics, books, movies and TV shows that continue to today.
Northwest Passage, the 1937 bestseller by Kenneth Roberts, probably did the most keep the legacy of Rogers alive in pop culture. The book’s popularity led to a 1940 MGM epic starring Spencer Tracy. Nearly two decades later, Rogers came to life anew in a 1958-1959 NBC half-hour show of the same name. This time Buddy Ebsen portrayed the famed ranger during the post-World War II boom in western and frontier pop culture.
The modern iteration of Robert Rogers appears in the AMC series TURN: Washington’s Spies, now into a fourth season. While the story focuses on the spy network surrounding New York City in the early days of the American Revolution, considerable space is given to Rogers and his complicated relationship with the British a decade after the FIW.
Modelling Rogers’ Rangers
For my Rogers’ Rangers, I’ve turned again to Galloping Major Wargames. GM figures, like those I modeled as my FIW Virginia Provincials, have a chunkier heroic 28mm scale I love for their detail and personality. The ranger miniatures offer some variety of irregular outfits and weapons including muskets and hatchets. Headgear include the signature bonnets as well as tricorn and rounded jockey hats with fronts cut and cocked back to the crown and detailed with white edging.
The famed short forest green jackets are detailed with lighter green lapels and cuffs finished with silver buttons over earthy red vests. For leggings, I mixed the figures up with colors ranging from a light brown buckskin to a more colorful blue.
Together, I feel my painted Rogers’ Rangers typify how they would have looked as they fought in the fields and forests of 18th-century North America.
Major Robert Rogers and “Duke” Jacob, a freed former slave who is said to have been a member of Rogers’ Rangers
One of the remarkable things about history is how individuals taking part in small events can carry weight across generations and around the world. George Washington was one of these people over and over again throughout his life. Washington wanted nothing more than to rise through the ranks of the British military, earning glory and status as part of what had become the most powerful colonial force of the 18th-century. Three formative events occurred for Washington in 1754 and 1755 as a British Colonial officer on the rise, and his fate would become wrapped up in what would become the French and Indian War.
“Death of Jumonville”
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1859).
In the spring of 1754, a newly-promoted 21-year-old Lt. Col. Washington in command of the Virginia Regiment was sent into the Ohio Country of Western Pennsylvania to provide assistance to British fort and road construction. Accompanied by Mingo leader Tanacharison (also known as “The Half King”), a dozen Indians and 40 Virginians, Washington encountered a French-Canadian scouting party on May 28, 1754. Washington’s ambush of the French in what would become known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen quickly devolved into The Half King’s surprise killing of the French Canadian commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. Although a victory for Washington, the affair rattled the young officer. The event also escalated hostilities between the French and British in North America, contributing directly to the beginning of the FIW.
“The Night Council at Fort Necessity”
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1856).
Anticipating French retribution, Washington and his Virginians fell back to a nearby meadow and began work on a hasty stockade fort. On July 3, some 600 French, French-Canadians and French-allied Indians attacked at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Outnumbered with just 400 men, Washington surrendered at day’s end after a rainy, muddy and bloody fight. In signing the terms with the French, Washington may have inadvertently admitted to the murder of Jumonville. Again, Washington’s stature in the British military was used as propaganda in France to further stoke the fires of war in the American Colonies.
“The Fall of Braddock”
Painted by C. Schuessele, engraved by J.B. Allen, Virtue, Emmins & Co., New York. (1859)
With the war amping up, British Major General Edward Braddock arrived in the colonies in 1755 and set about a campaign deep into the Ohio Country to attempt again to oust the French. Beginning in May of that year, the ambitious campaign began with Washington at his mentor Braddock’s side leading over 2000 soldiers and ten cannon into the wilderness. The troubled and often stalled campaign finally arrived near their destination of Fort Duquesne (at present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on July 9, 1755. In the chaotic ambush, hundreds of Indians and French set upon the British advance column. In the ensuing battle Braddock was shot and eventually succumbed. Washington was devastated by the loss of his role model in another emotional loss that would weigh in him for years.
These events in the early career would go on to effect Washington for the rest of his life. His experience in the war and his rise within and eventual rejection by the British military system cannot be understated for how they molded Washington as the leader of the American Revolution and President of the United States.
Needless to say, if you’re going to wargame the FIW period, you need a little Colonel Washington on the table. For mine, I turned to Eureka Miniatures. For about $10 they offer a metal cast vignette of Washington dismounted holding the reins of his horse and two of his beloved greyhounds standing faithfully nearby.
Despite the charm of the four-piece set, I really wanted to model Washington with his boots on the ground. I’ll save the horse and dogs for some future project, and glued a spare musket to Washington’s extended hand.
For a painting guide, I used the iconic portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772. Although painted after the FIW, the image depicts Washington as a proud British Colonial officer of the war years dressed in his Virginia Regiment uniform.
With Washington, I have the charismatic leader from his early career ready to command forces on the tabletop.
Much of the fighting in the North American colonies for the French in what is known as the French and Indian War was in fact conducted by French-Canadians. As early as the 1740s, Canadians born in New France made up the majority of forces allied with Native Americans in staving off the spread of British settlers into the contested Ohio Country. Years prior, Canadian militia had cut their teeth fighting New England settlers during King William’s War (1688-1697) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713).
Well-versed in moving and fighting through the wilderness, these French-Canadian militiamen proved to be highly effective during the FIW against British regular forces yet to adapt to a very regional style of warfare. Their successes at the Battle of Fort Necessity, the Battle of the Monongahela and the Battle of Fort Oswego dealt hefty blows to the British war effort. Irregularly clad in rugged back country clothing and armed with muskets and native hand weapons, the Colonial French militia struck a rugged look as they fought on behalf of the French Crown in Europe.
I’ve begun building out my 28mm French Canadian Militia with a small pack of metal models from North Star Military Figures. Although many companies manufacture figures for the period, North Star serves as the official product line for the popular Muskets and Tomahawks skirmish game.
The main joy of painting these figures is in the variety and personality struck in each model’s clothing, equipment and pose. The imagination can really run wild in painting clothing in a variety of earth tones and muted reds, blues and green. Satchels, often traded with Indians in the period, can also be decorated with geometric patterns mimicking fine native finish work.
The North Star miniatures scale to a full 28mm, a bit taller and heftier than castings from manufactures like Conquest Miniatures and Eureka Miniatures. Those who are familiar with FIW figures from Galloping Major Wargames or Blue Moon Manufacturing will find their equal with these North Star models. That said, the look of these models fit in nicely as part of a rough force fighting the British for control of their frontier homeland of New France.