Sunday 31 August 2014

National Geographic's 100th Anniversary ACW Series

Time for something a little 'off piste', i.e. non-Napoleonic. I hope none of my readers are, er, um ... 'piste off' by this sudden divergence? Sorry about that... but I just can't help myself!

Anyone who's gone back as far as my first post for this blog will have read about how Aifix 1/72, or 20mm plastics, were my introduction to collecting toy soldiers, or 'figures', as I prefer to call them. In that post I mention a series of articles run by National Geographic magazine, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ACW.

Last time I mentioned ACW Airfix figs, I showed Johnny Reb, so this time it's the Yank's turn.

Since that original post I've done a bit more online sleuthing, and, I'm pleased to say, had some success. After years of on and off searches that bore no fruit, this is something rather wonderful for me! I've been able to establish that there were at least three issues featuring ACW-themed articles in the series, appearing in the April '61, July '63, and April '65 issues of the famous periodical. I've been able to buy all three issues via Amazon UK's 'marketplace'.

What's driven this quest are the highly evocative memories of battlefield paintings by the (probably husband and wife) team of Robert and Dorothy Nicholson. The April '61 issue, the first I found on Amazon and bought, has none of their work. So I was pleased to get the magazine, but a little disappointed at this lacuna. But as it turned out somebody else's superb work made up for that (read on to find out more!).

The next I got hold of was the '65 issue, which had, joy of joys... one of their works. Okay, it's only one, but it's a start! I was utterly convinced there were significantly more such artworks, and consequently had high hopes that the '63 issue, which covers Gettysburg and Vicksburg, would have more of their work! I'd ordered this mid series issue last, and we headed off to visit Belgium and the battlefields of Waterloo before it arrived. 
Upon our return I was hoping to see it on the door mat, but I had to wait a few days longer. What did I find? Where there any more of those fondly remembered (or was it imagined?) battle scenes? Well, it kind of yes, and yet kind of no. Confused? Me too! So, without further ado...
Issue by issue, the contents.

April, 1961

As well as the very famous Battlefields Map, a separate foldable thing, which packs an amazing amount of information into its two sides, there are two ACW themed articles in this, the first of the NG's 100th ACW anniversary series.

The first is entitled simply 'The Civil War', and is written by none other than Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. That's U. S. Grant III, I should say, grandson of the head of the Union Army, from whom he derives his illustrious name. A second and much longer piece, 'Witness To A War', follows the civil war via the work of Englishman Frank Vizetelly [1], and is both fascinating and beautiful, the latter thanks not only to the NG's usually high standard of photographic accompaniment, but Vizetelly's own artwork, masterfully trancsribed from on the spot sketches and notes, to exquisitely beautiful woodblock prints, back home in England, for the Illustrated London News.

The Illustrated London News title, from an 1864 copy.

Gen. U. S. Grant III's piece is well-written, and, whilst he sings the praises of his famous forebear, admirably even-handed, and illustrated throughout to the usual high standards of the NG. But it's undoubtedly Frank Vizetelly's story, and the artwork derived from his field-sketches, that steals the show. So, although I was disappointed that the Nicholson's work was absent, this was more than compensated for by the Vizetelly story, with its sumptuous images.

If I get the appropriate permissions, I'll fill in more on this wonderful story when I get an opportunity. But for now, suffice it to mention, in passing, that Vizetelly's images, as transposed for print by unknown but superb craftsmen (often the wood engravings were composites of the work of several engravers), are amongst the things that add to the appeal of Amanda Foreman's superb book A World On Fire, which looks at the ACW through the lens of relations between protagonists here and in the divided U.S.

This unusual angle makes for an interesting and very different perspective on the conflict, with figures like William Seward and Lord Lyons figuring more in the telling of an oft-told story than such typical central protagonists as Lincoln and Grant, or Davis and Lee. Foreman also starts her chapters with the kind of headings and sub-headings that 19th Century writers used, and peppers the narrative with Vizetelly's works, which add much considerable and evocative charm.

A World On Fire, by Amanda Foreman. Lengthy and highly detailed but fascinating.

July, 1963

I awaited the arrival of this middle-war issue, the last to be ordered, with bated breath, thinking 'Will it contain the lion's share of the Nicholson paintings, that I recall so fondly?' They were things of beauty. At least they were as my mind recalls them! And having seen one of them again, in the '65 issue - at last, after more than twenty years of occasional looking - my anticipation grew as the days of waiting went by.

Well, upon returning from a trip to Belgium, to visit Waterloo and numerous other Belgian attractions (such as the splendid Hergé museum [2]), I was obliged to wait several more days, as the hoped for package wasn't there, amidst the pile of bills and junk mail that greeted our return.

The three-page spread of  July 1, Gettysburg.

July 2, Gettysburg.

July 3, Gettysburg.

When it finally did arrive, I was able to peruse the two articles it contained, namely 'Just A Hundred Years Ago', by Carl Sandburg, and 'The Battle Towns Today', by Robert Paul Jordan, in search of the elusive battlefield paintings. As it turned out, both Robert W. Nicholson and Dorothy Nicholson did do work for the second of the aforementioned articles, Robert providing three spreads, two double and one a triple (with a fold out page) for Gettysburg, Dorothy working on numerous maps, and a similar hybrid-map/battlefield artwork on the Vicksburg campaign signed 'Dick Loomis'.

Unless there are further pieces, with accompanying artworks, that I have yet to unearth, then it would seem that my memory has made multiple hybrids based upon the Appomattox and Gettysburg spreads. The whole lot adds up to something pretty wonderful, but not quite what my memory had lead me to expect.

April, 1965

The third in the original series, this was my second acquisition, and the first in which I touched the 'holy grail', namely those long-remembered images, the battlefield painting of Mr & Mrs (I'm assuming?) Nicholson. This issue once again features U.S. Grant's grandson, this time contributing another very diplomatic piece entitle 'How To end A War: Grant And Lee At Appomattox'. Pages 460-1 feature a two-page spread by the Nicholsons, depicting the events of 9-12 April, 1865.

The Nicholsons' evocative Appomattox painting.

Lee signs the surrender in the McLean family parlour, as Grant and his staff look on.

As well as the Nicholson artwork, there is also the superb painting by artist and illustrator Tom Lovell, shown above, which was commissioned especially for the series, to augment this article, depicting the actual signing of the surrender at Appomattox Court House. This famous and historical moment was not, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given how this was one of the first heavily photographed wars, captured by a camera lens. 
Although photography documented this war like none before it, save perhaps the Crimean, several key moments were missed, the surrender being one, and Lincoln's speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, possibly, another. Regarding the latter event, there is a photograph in which it is claimed Lincoln can be seen, although how certain one can be that this definitely is Lincoln remains, to me at least, a matter for debate and speculation.

As a quick aside: the story of Wilmer McLean's relationship with the war, which I first heard about during Ken Burns superb ACW documentary epic, is amazing: McLean and his family left their Manassas home when the first Battle of Bull Run took place outside, Confederate commander Beauregard using their home as his HQ. Beauregard would later tell the following story: 'A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House'. How funny McLean found it all, I leave to your imagination.

Wilmer McLean: 'The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor'.

Having moved about 150 miles south west, from Manassas to Appomattox, and no doubt thinking he'd escaped the war, Wilmer must've been slightly surprised when, on 8th April, a messenger from Grant knocked on his door asking to use their home as a meeting place for the signing of the surrender. 

Apparently, if not perhaps surprisingly, McLean agreed somewhat reluctantly, and on the 9th, the surrender took place in his home. In the Burns doc, McLean is quoted as having said 'The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor'. Whether this apocryphal or not, it makes for a great story! I read on Wikipedia that the Union officers then made off with the McLean household furniture, as souvenirs, pressing dollar bills into the homeowner's hands to salve their consciences!

All in all, the NG coverage over the five years of the centenary appears not to have been as large as one might've expected, or as I myself had remembered, but it is nevertheless very good, and occupies a very special place in my childhood memories. Lovell's painting and the battlefield panoramas of the Nicholson's have haunted me for over two decades, and collecting these magazines - binned by my parents at some point, unaware (I assume/hope!?) of my attachment to them - has been an odyssey of exploration and fulfilment that I've thoroughly enjoyed.

All this leaves me really wanting to start collecting ACW figures, but I figure (sorry!) I'd best wait till I've got a bit further with my Russia 1812 work first!

[1] Vizetelly doesn't sound very English does it? Frank's father was of Italian origin. 
[2] Teresa and I were pleased to note National Geographic magazines displayed amongst Hergé's research resources at the museum.

Friday 29 August 2014

Royal Green Jackets Museum - Other Stuff

A cannon outside the museum entrance. I didn't find out what era or calibre. Anyone know?

... Mostly More Dioramas!

Of course there's much more at the RGJ Museum than just the amazing Waterloo diorama. Here's a few more pics of some of their other stuff... mostly more dioramas!

Vimiera, 1808

First off, there's this rather fabulous depiction of a Peninsular action: The Battle of Vimiera, Portugal, 21st August, 1808. The Frenchies, under Kellerman, are dressed in a more or less completely white uniform, a look I'm not very familiar with, not being much of a Peninsular campaign buff. I was aware that the armies of early Revolutionary France were often dressed mostly in white, but I didn't know such a practice persisted or recurred eslewhere.

The top pic show most of the diorama, with the French funnelled down the valley, with Vimiera, in the background, held by the British, their main force out of view in reserve behind the town. On either flank are elements of the 95th Rifles (of Sharpe fame!), the 2nd batt. on the left, along with some artillery, and the 1st batt. on the right

The massed French columns look great! But they're starting to lose their shape under the British fire.

The artillery atop the left hand heights.

A close-up of the French columns... lovely! Really gives a flavour of the 'big battalions'.

I really like this pair of pics, the first of which, above, focuses on the French in the valley, and the second of which, below, refocuses on the 1st/95th, firing down into the valley beneath. 

My iPad is clever, in that you can select an object on which to focus by tapping part of the screen. My 'proper' camera, admittedly not a very good one, can't do as much!

Bridge at Vera, 1813

Another and much smaller diorama, and one that's not quite as finessed as either the monumental Waterloo, nor the smaller but still very impressive Vimeira, is this one, entitled The Bridge at Vera,1st September 1813. This one's also from the Peninsular campaign, but this time in Spain, and a pretty long way from Portugal! Part of the Battle of San Marcial, the action at Vera occurred right at the Western end of The Pyrenees. By this later date, as the location makes pretty clear, the French were decidedly on the back foot!

An overview, taking in most of the diorama.

The left side, showing the Rifles (2nd/95th, I think) firing on the advanced elements of the attacking French column.

The Frenchies crossing the bridge. Can anyone identify the make of figures used here? They look like old-ish Minifigs 25mm to me.

The other side of the bridge, with further french troops coming up.

More Modern Stuff...

There are also several dioramas depicting more modern actions, from a scene that might be the Indian Mutiny (I didn't take notes or read the captions, I just snapped away!), to several WWII scenes. Here are few more pics.

These next four look like they're in France or Belgium. Some of the detailing on the burned out vehicles is stupendous. I reckon these are Tamiya 1/35th, as I recognise some of the figures and models from sets I built, rather poorly, as a kid.

I wish I'd have made some notes or read the captions now! Obviously we're looking, below, at a glider-borne action here. Is this perhaps somewhere in Holland? As you may have noticed, I love dioramas! And I particularly like them if they have water featuring somewhere. Why is it that modelling water, a fluid, in a solid form, should be so seductive? Of course it's more seductive the better it's done.

And the final diorama - there were a few more, but either I didn't photograph them, or the pictures were so poor I've chosen to leave them out - is a very well made jungle scene.

Of course it's not all models and dioramas. As the museum of the Rifles regiment, there's a lot more, including flags, uniforms, medals, large and small scale models of figures in uniform, weapons, correspondence, maps, and sundry other interesting militaria, mcuh of which relates specifically to the regiments and their antecedents. 

A rather realistic life size figure. Doesn't look too chuffed, does he? Mind you, how would you feel being stood there for years on end?

Ah, a cute little howitzer!

Above and below, miniature figurines depicting soldiers of the Rifles regiment, in the Sharpe-era dress so well known from on't telly.

Rather dapper looking gear, eh!?

The trinkets chest: as Boney said 'with such baubles, men are led'!

The obligatory cache of Nazi memorabilia. Always makes me think of that Father Ted episode (Father Ted: 'Funny, how you get more right wing as you get older.'). I have to confess though, I'd rather like a set of swastika emblazoned playing cards!

If you're near Winchester, give the museum a look over. In fact, even if you're not near, get you down there! We went on a day trip to Winchester from cambridge, in honour of which journey, and its point of origin, I include this final photo, from the Great Hall of Winchester Castle.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Waterloo Dioramas - Pt II: Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester

The Diorama

Although this isn't the sharpest image, I like the busy, crowded sense of action. The lighting almost mimics sunlight through broken cloud cover. Certainly this image also conveys the intensity of the action depicted on the superb RGJ Museum Waterloo diorama.

Whilst I'm calling this part II of my series on Waterloo dioramas, it's actually, strictly speaking, my fourth post on subject. But I'm not counting the first two, both on Siborne's models, as I plan to revisit them, take much better pictures, and write much fuller accounts of both.

In the mean time, after my wife and I recently visited Winchester, I now have a load of pics of the Royal green jackets Museum Waterloo diorama. So to day I'll start work on documenting that trip, or rather the model itself. The museum were kind enough to allow me to take a few pics with some of the glass protective doors open. Some of these shots were taken before I worked up the courage to ask, some after. Can you tell which are which?

The Commanders

All three commanders are depicted on the field in this model. Below I show Boney, with his 'grognards' of the Old Guard, Wellington, by 'his' tree, and Blücher, riding into the action (despite his earlier fall at Ligny) in the south-eastern corner.

It was pointed out to me, and observant viewers might've noted this already, that Blücher and his ADCs are a lot crisper and brighter than most of the other figures. This is because they're new additions. I was also told that the model is set to undergo a major refurb. It'll be interesting to see how things change.

The above two pictures are of a French battery near Hougoumont, on the Frnech left, at the western end of the model. I think the lines, in the upper photo, where the guns have rolled back, are a nice touch.

I hope the above two pictures convey that 'big battalions feel. The sweep of the advancing Old Guard grenadiers is quite a nice effect, I think. Whilst the line infantry moving past caissons have a good authentic battlefield vibe

 Above are two views from the british side of the field: a battalion in square, and another advancing into the fray, though the messy rear of the lines. There are all kinds of lovely little vignettes, such as the one below, with wounded troops who've been taken to the rear resting amongst trees and being attended to.

These two pictures of the road, littered with wounded men and abandoned wagons, strewn with battlefield detritus, are, i think, very evocative. And their slight lack of clarity actually give them a bit of atmosphere, almost like those vintage coloured photographs of yesteryear, such as one sometimes sees under the banner of 'WWII in colour', or such like.

The following pictures are from the sharp end, where the bloody melee is at its fiercest. The scene is the Grand Battery, near the French center, at the extreme point where the Union Brigade cavalry reached, before retiring in a tattered, bloodied mess.

I like the next three as a sequence, zooming out from a close-up of the French officer and Scots Grey, locked in single combat, to a wide-sreen view of the ragged carnage of battle, again just in front of the Grand Battery (and not too far from where Boney and his guard reserves are).

I like this last one, not because it's great photo... it's pretty poor, obviously. but with a tiny bit of adjustment to the brightness and contrast, I think it comes out looking like an old-fashioned hand tinted black and white photograph.

This is just a quick upload, to get the post live; I hope to add more information to this post, as time allows.