I have a whole pile of 1/600 scale American Civil War ships. It’s one of my very favorite projects. Though I don’t drag my ships out very often, there were times when it seemed that was all I played. I began with the Richard Houston/Lyzard’s Grin 1/1200 ships, using hex mats and the Yaquinto Ironclads rules. When Toby Barrett introduced his Thoroughbred Figures in 1/600, I sold off my smaller ships and became an immediate fan. Over the years I accumulated 70 ish ships from Thoroughbred, Peter Pig and more recently from Bay Area Yards, as well as a few scratch-built models from artist Larry Enoch.
As with all my periods, I’ve accumulated a stockpile of models and miniatures to work on, so during this summer of recovery, I dragged a few of them out. But I made a deal with myself that these would not be quicky, finished jobs, I wanted to provide some extra detail and goodies where I could so I’ve got a few different miniatures to share.
First up is the Thoroughbred miniature of Neosho/Osage. This class of turreted ironclads were driven by a paddle wheel aft and mounted a pair of 11-inch guns in an Eads-designed turret. They were purpose-built, light-draft vessels, with a small but potent armament. The vessels were fairly speedy for river vessels, rated at 12 knots, but were often difficult to manage in strong currents. Lightly armored compared to coastal monitors, Neosho and Osage both served on the embarrassing Red River Campaign. Osage later served on the Alabama River in the campaign to capture the Spanish Fort, but was sunk by a torpedo.
I pretty much did the Thorougbred miniature out of the box. I gave a basecoat of Vallejo’s Neutral Gray. I dry brushed with a lighter gray, and where it was lightest added a touch of gunmetal, as though a hit might have shown some bright metal. I decided not to show any rust on the ship, though localized washes of a rust color could be appropriate. There are a number of portions of this monitor class that were wooden. The pilot house and deckhouse were both wood, though all the critical spaces were armored. I painted this Vallejo deck tan. I painted the smokestack gunmetal and then gave a fairly heavy wash of black. When all was done i gave multiple coats of Vallejo black wash to the entire ship.
I think one of Toby’s real masterpieces from Thoroughbred is the river ironclad Benton. Benton, like the City-class ironclads and the Essex was a workhorse on the rivers in the west, fighting at Forts Henry and Donelson, the siege of Vicksburg to the final closure of the Mississippi. I already have the Peter Pig version of the Benton. It’s actually one of their better models, which tend to be a little exaggerated and simplistic for my tastes. However, when Thoroughbred offered their own version of this classic ironclad gunboat I snapped it right up. The dimensions of this vessel seemed just a little longer and included the prominent masts carried by the Benton, no doubt to prevent “hogging” so prevalent in Civil War vessels.
Very little assembly involved with Benton and I followed the same pattern I did with the Neosho. I painted the two prominent masts on Benton a medium brown, Ceramcoat Territorial Beige and gave them a good wash of black, because these were heavily creosoted. I chose not to use the deck tan color I used for the wooden surfaces for Neosho. I liked the yellowish tint of Vallejo buff so stuck with that, knowing it would be altered considerably by washing. After painting the guns black and giving the whole model a thorough coat or two of Vallejo black wash, I began surveying the vessel and tried to decide what detailing to do. The masts are there to be rigged. I took a look at early photos of the Benton, and there are a few. Something had to brace those masts. i decided to use brass wire fore and aft. Doubtless they were also rigged to port and starboard as well. I did the best I could to start, but when I couldn’t get the glue to set properly I chose not to take chances. So I’ve got a miniature looking like it could have been rigged further, but it’s okay the way it is.
My next vessel is the Confederate river ram Webb by Bay Area Yards. Bay has really grown over the years. They started with resin hulls that had to be completed through scratch detailing and kitbashing and now have gone to full blown models including masts, hulls, guns etc. The model has a resin hull with with many details, including guns cast into the miniature. The deckhouse, wheelhouses and smokestack were cast separately. There were a couple of complications. No smokestack came with my model. Okay, drag city. I dashed out to one of the few local hobby shops that actually carries brass tubing, and cut some to a suitable length to fit in the space provided. A second problem is there is not a usable illustration of this miniature. There are lithographs of an exploding Webb as it was scuttled at the end of the war, but no photos or drawings. There is a photo of a completed version of the miniature, but really that’s just speculation. What we do know about the Webb is that it was an armed river ram, incredibly fast at something like 25 knots, and it was also armed with a spar torpedo. The vessel played a game of hide and seek with the Union Navy until it was destroyed to avoid capture.
My choice was to go with a “natural look.” This vessel was probably modified by hand as any good moonshiners bootlegging machine would be. No paint, weathered natural looking wood would do. The miniature comes with an assembly for twin walking beams. The walking beams themselves are encased in a resin “lozenge;” they required some trimming.and they have to fit between the jaws of the walking beam assembly. I painted the whole assembly Neutral Gray and then painted the raised bits representing the walking beam gunmetal. In addition, there is the whole business of the spar torpedo. Again, no photos of how this might have been housed. Patrick Hreachmark’s Webb, on the Bay site, shows it sprouting from the bow, so I used some brass wire to create the spar and a lump of epoxy to make the torpedo, mounting it in the bow of the model.
There is also the business of a mast. Or masts. This was very puzzling to me. However, Hreachmark’s miniature shows two masts, one forward of the deckhouse and one aft. The model came with a hole for the forward mast only, so that’s where I went. I drilled the hole a bit deeper and planted my length of brass wire. All that remained was to contemplate what to do in the way of supports or rigging. Again, using Hreachmark’s example, it seems he went with wire for the stays. This gave me an opportunity to try something I’ve been hanging on to for a while. Last summer I picked up some 1/700 scale ratlines from BattleFleet Models. They are photo etched, and if you haven’t worked with p-e before, they require some care. Sharp knife and floss scissors for sure. The ratlines come in a variety of lengths depending on the size of your model. I haven’t used them on a sloop or frigate yet, but I definitely have the sloops and frigate to work on. They worked quite neatly on Webb, however. I always have difficulty painting rigging. I don’t generally prime it, and the ratlines pose an additional problem because they are so fine that paint simply glops in between the stays. I don’t yet have an answer, but I’d sure like one. I added a bow stay as well. I’m pretty pleased with the simple, natural look of this ship.
The last vessel I chose to work on was the 400 ton coaling schooner, also by Bay Area Yards. C’mon, everyone who is serious about this period needs a few of these to follow around their Alabama in parts unknown. It’s only five bucks. Small all-metal miniature with adequate detail for a small mini. But you can make it look like a million bucks with some detailing.
I stuck with the overall black. Probably could have gone with a brown-gray deck for all the coal dust, but stuck with the deck tan, with medium brown deck details. I did some charcoal gray highlighting on the hull and masts, before the inevitable black wash.
Moved on to rigging and again hauled out my ratlines. The smallest of the ratlines worked for this model, but required some careful trimming. It’s hard to even see the ratlines on this little model, but if folks choose to look close they are there. With the ratlines and rigging, it became an elegant little five dollar miniature.
I’ll follow up with a piece on rigging tips, but I’ve gone on quite long enough.