It’s the third day of fighting for Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Just outside of town, Major General George G. Meade’s Union soldiers on Cemetery Ridge are defending against the Rebel soldiers positioned along Seminary Ridge under the command of Robert E. Lee.
Lee decides to make a bold move. He plans a great assault on the Union centre by taking out the Union’s artillery up on the ridge and then following the bombardment with an infantry assault. At 1:30 p.m. the Confederate troops fire two signal shots and the big guns start blasting. At 2:55 p.m. silence descends across the smoky battle field. Within five minutes, soldiers in gray emerge from the woods along Seminary Ridge and march towards the Union line with rifle muskets at the ready.
The outcome of the battle will depend on the roll of a die.
War gaming. The battle is historic, and the numbers of soldiers accurate, but the battlefield is a table top arranged with model trees, hills and buildings, and the soldiers are 15 mm tall and made from metal. The battle progress, including the outcome, may vary greatly from what occurred historically, and according to Paul Jenkins, Director of Library Services at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, it is a lot of fun.
Jenkins’ hobby is collecting miniature soldiers and fighting war games. This hobby is multi-faceted and involves history, gaming strategy, a crafting element of painting the figures, and the lure of collecting. “A lot of people strictly collect . . . they’ll never fight war games. Other people just fight war games. I do both,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins became interested in this hobby at the age of four in the mid 1960s, when his father became interested in Napoleonic war-gaming. “The idea was to re-fight the battle of Waterloo when Napoleon’s French troops were defeated by Wellington’s English troops in 1815,” Jenkins said. His father, an English professor, was a military historian for fun. “My father knew which regiments were there, how many soldiers were there,” Jenkins said. Then it was simply a matter of deciding on the scale, how many historical soldiers are represented by each model soldier, and deciding on the rules of the game. There are hundreds of different sets of rules to use that basically involve the use of dice to calculate the number of casualties inflicted in a battle.
Jenkins and his older brother Hugh played war games regularly with their father throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s until they left home for college.
Jenkins estimates he has 800 to 1000 figures from different historical eras ranging in size from 54 mm to as small as 15 mm. His favorite time period is that of Frederick the Great’s wars, Jenkins said. As ruler of Prussia, Frederick was busy fighting wars against the Austrians, the Russians, the French and the English for 23 years, from 1740 to 1763.
“I like the uniforms. Frederick was a very interesting personality. There were very many different armies involved so you have different paint jobs. There’s a lot written about them, so you can do a lot of research on them,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also made the point that he is anti-war, and that contrary to many peoples’ assumptions, most war-gamers are not war-mongers but merely enthusiastic historians. Jenkins said, “You learn a lot about history. The aesthetics of painting these guys is a lot of fun. You move around from different sizes of soldiers and different periods. It keeps it interesting. You learn different uniforms, you learn different generals, what strategies they used . . . That’s what keeps it fun for me.”
Excerpts from Fun Hobby Teaches History published in Dateline at the College of Mount St. Joseph, March 2004