Saturday, March 1, 2008

A House Divided's odd look

The Phalanx Edition of A House Divided is a truly handsome game. It has a large mounted board, extra-large thick game counters and full-color rules. It's a thoroughly euro-ized American wargame. Which is to say it has the really high quality look of the best German games but plays exactly the same as it's early Made-in-USA editions.

Still, as much as I liked my new copy, I have to admit it left me a little unsettled. Somehow the look seemed a little "off."

Looking at it in more detail, I could see where the discomfort came from. The game's art choices are a little on the strange side for the topic, especially the depictions of the fighting men.

I assume that, from a European perspective, it makes perfect sense for the more elite troops to be better equipped and more snap and polish. But from an American perspective it's completely wrong.

Tidiness has rarely been the watchword for the American fighting man in any era, but among the many rumpled armies the United States has fielded, both of the combatant forces in the Civil War were especially so. For the American fighting man war is all business and every day is casual Friday.

In the 1880s, about a generation after the fighting ended, two Chicago lithographers, Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison produced a series of lithographs depicting the major battles of the Civil War, among other topics. These were quite popular, but clearly depict a romanticized view of the war and the fighting. The main customers for these works would have been the middle-aged Civil War veterans and their children, so perhaps a sanitized version of the fighting was in order. But in Kurz and Allison's Civil War both armies almost always appeared well-clad, well-drilled and generally well-fed.

This is particularly noticeable on the Confederate side. According to the Official Atlas of the war a CSA private looked like this:

But photographic evidence reveals something quite different, as this famous image of prisoners taken after Pickett's charge show:

So the depiction of the troopers in Phalanx's edition of AHD has things quite backward.

The militia troops should be the ones decked out in crisp new uniforms, full back packs and kit. The Crack troops, especially on the Rebel side, should be well-worn, even threadbare, with their equipment cut down to the minimal kit that long experience in campaigning revealed sufficient.

So, while a very attractive product, Phalanx's edition presents a rather misleading visual account of the war.

1 comment:

  1. Well said - I like that grizzled veteran look myself, and not the cleaned up European ideal