Friday, March 12, 2010

Something I've been working on

Many fine folks have teamed up  here at Antietam National Battlefield to provide a new Educational program for school groups this year.  The program explores the challenges of gathering accurate intelligence, specifically estimates of the strength of opposing forces based upon visual observation and the limitations of the modes of battlefield communications during the American Civil War.  The program was the idea of Ranger Christie Stanczak and fellow blogger and Park Ranger John Hoptak.

Christie hosts zillions of kids to the Park every year and provides some really outstanding hands-on programs.  This year she wanted to do one on Civil War recon and surveillance, so she teamed up with John and they came up with"Count the Flags, Sir!" a program designed to put students in the role of scouts trying to ascertain the size of Lee's invading forces.  It goes across the curriculum encompassing history, math, and english, and it should provide a lot of fun as well.

I volunteered some design and fabrication time to make the physical components for this new program which included nearly 800 54mm plastic toy soldiers in representative regiments of approx 40 men each mounted on poplar flats and two cool looking cases in which to safely store and transport them.

Here is one of the box carcasses prior to clamping and glueing.  Soliders, mounted on one of the poplar flats are in the foreground.  Note the slots milled into the sides of the box and the flats fitted into storage position.  The flats are grooved and I had to melt holes into the base of each of the plastic soldiers to maximize the adhesion abilities of the "Liquid Nails" used to affix the one to the other.

Mounting the horses was particularly challenging as the hooves provided very litlle surface area to attach to the flat.  To provide more secure anchorage, I used coathanger wire, bent in a flat-bottomed "U" shape   The base of the "U" was then fitted and glued onto a groove on the flat after heating the uprights to red-hot and passing the through the body of the plastic horse.

This resulted in a very stable (nice pun!) and durable mount for the horse.  (note: no horses were harmed in the making of this photograph).

Though Liquid Nails is not recommended for plastic, the grooved flats and the dimutive cannon wheels provide plenty of surface area to assure good adhesion.

Artillery and infantry units were mounted in both deployed as well as "on the march" positions.
As BMC/Americana sells only mixed lots of blue and gray soldiers, and that this is A.P. Hill's Division, all soldiers, once mounted on the flat and regardless of their actual loyalties, were given a nice overcoat of gray spray paint.

These are the finished transport cases.  With heavy duty handles and casters they are very easy to transport...

and they provide organized protection for the soldier-covered flats.

Park volunteer Marleen Robert spent numerous hours, carefully gluing the soldiers to the flats, she became mighty handy with a caulking gun!

Its surprising how many soldiers can fit in those two cases.

Confederate artillery  in  battery with infantry support moving into position behind.

Confederates on the firing line hitting the 16th Conn. in the flank on the afternoon of September 17th along the Harper's Ferry Road just outside of Sharpsburg.  A bad day for the Nutmeg State.

One flat is the headquarters group with mounted officers, dispatches being sent off, signal, state and battleflags.  Easy to identify, even at a distance, as a high-value target.  This flat also references another one of Christie's programs which has kids using signal flags and code discs sending and receiving messages in the field 1862-style.

Artillery column arrives just in the nick of time...

as A.P. Hill's Division arrives to save Lee from defeat.

There are many good history lessons still to be learned,
just north of Sharpsburg.



Jack Dempsey said...

Amazing! Ingenuity and skill on parade!

Jeff said...


If this does not deserve a Freeman Tilden Award I don't know what does....

The NPS is fortunate to have you!

Happy Spring!


Unknown said...

Completely freakin' awesome.

Mannie Gentile said...


Thanks, it was a big team effort, of which I was just a part. I work with really talented people.


Gary Dombrowski said...

What a great project. it's great what a little creativity will can do. ~Gary