Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wargaming Media: Battleground - Part 5, Episode 6: Gettysburg

Episode 4: Gettysburg (1863)

Episode first aired 27/04/1978 - Players: Peter Gilder - Confederates; Paddy Griffith - Union.

'Ready, set...'

'Go!'This is, I think, quite an iconic image. The halo round the title is the bell of a bugle.

A reminder of what we're about to see.

EW: 'This is the last of our present series' [this kind of hints that there might've been hopes for more!] ' six programmes we couldn't hope to cover the whole timespan of wargaming. I mean, let's face it, it runs from prehistoric to intergalactic fantasy.'

Returning from his more general introduction to the theme 
of this episode, Woodward notes that the ACW is 'hugely popular with wargamers. And the most famous battle of that time is probably Gettysburg, which was, in fact, the turning point...'

One of the posters for the Callan movie. No hint here of any wargames references, alas!

EW: 'A few years ago I made a film [Callan] in which I had to play a wargame, and Peter Gilder built the terrain for Gettysburg, for that film. After the production I bought it... You'll see it in a moment. I thought at the time it was rather special, and I think you'll agree with me.'

Though shalt not cover thy neighbour's table: yep, that's a desirable work of art.

Well yes, I'm sure we're all bound to agree, Gilder's troops and terrain are truly magnificent. And Woodward has finally answered conclusively the question of whether wargaming is a subject dear to his heart, or merely something he was hired to present as a 'famous face'. Quite clearly he bought the Gettysbury set-up (I read somewhere that Woodward wanted the whole lot, but Gilder wouldn't sell the figures, so Ed' only got the terrain [1]) because he loved it. 

 Ed as 'The Equalizer' (note American spelling!).

Ed as Sgt. Howie, in The Wicker Man, a cult classic.

I've long been a fan of Woodward, firstly for his portrayal of Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man, and then for his role in The Equaliser, which I used to enjoy on TV as a kid. I love the webs of connections that what I term 'cultural archaeology' throws up: as a drummer myself, a fan of Stewart Copeland's playing with The Police, I like the fact that The Equaliser theme was by Copeland, in his role as a soundtrack composer. 

A black and white still from the (colour) Callan movie, showing Gilder's Gettysburg terrain.

There's also another funny connection, in that although Stewart Copeland is most famous for his role as founder member and drummer of The Police, he was one of several sons of Miles Copeland, a real life 'big cheese' in America's international espionage machinery! But, returning from yet another digression, my love for Woodward has multiplied exponentially with my discovery of Callan and Battleground, and his whole wargaming side.

Unlike most of the gamers, Woodward knows and loves the camera: 'C'm'ere son' he says, 'follow me!'

Woodward, consumate actor that he was, rest his soul, shows that it wasn't only Roger Moore whose eyebrows could command an acting salary of their own: pointing up, eyebrows raised.

Pointing down, eyebrows still raised. What a pro!

Woodward then gives a synopsis of the forthcoming scenario, in which he mentions that oft-cited and now semi-legendary bit of historical trivia, about how the the first of the Rebs to reach Gettysburg were in search of shoes! His summary comes to a close with Pickett's charge: '... they were massacred. The human toll was so great that the South never recovered... the Confederacy was doomed.'

Doc' Griffith gets down.

It's that Gilder again... has he ruptured something with all that stooping?

Next he introduces the players: Griffith is a senior lecturer at Sandhurst, where he was a developer of the wargaming used as part of the training of officers (can anyone tell me: was wargaming an official or unofficial part of the curriculum at Sandhurst?), and was a consultant for the series. Turning to Gilder, who we've already met in the Edgehill episode, Woodward drily notes: 
'This time he's given himself a crafty advantage: they're his toys, his terrain, and he wrote the rules.'

Dispostion, dat position.

True to the shows formula, next we see the map: the Union are Blue, the Confederates are Red. The battle can be seen to be a very compressed version of, more or less, the whole historical battlefield area, excepting that we are only dealing with the long straight western flank, and not the 'Shepherd's crook' at the top, where the lines bent around Gettysburg, as, in the northern zone, the Rebs almost encircled the Union position. 

Taking stock.

The dance begins.

This obviously simplifies things considerably, which is eminently sensible. In a similar vein, no mention is made, as it is in the Gettysburg movie, of any Confederates ideas about turning the right flank. 
Consequently the tabletop version, as presented here, starts with Gettysburg in the north, and ends with Little Round Top in the south, with the two armies facing each other in simple linear formation, Johnny Reb, emerging from a line of woods, to attack the Yankee line ensconced on the heights.

PG 'These have got a fascination for rocks.'

The two PGs - PG = Peter Gilder, DrPG = Paddy Griffith - immediately settle into the gentle competitive bantering typical of a wargame table:

PG: 'Sensible, sensible... (Gen. Meade, the figure of whom Griffith is moving rearwards) going back to write the historic orders to retreat.'
DrPG: 'Well, we keep them up our sleeves, in case we need them later. But I don't anticipate that just at the moment.'

'...cavalry in melée at the bottom of Cemetery Hill…' Not what you're seeing!

Well, yes, now that is cavalry.

Some single-figure eye candy.

'The smoke gets in your eyes…'

Nice beard! Is this, perhaps, 'JEB' Stuart?

'Sound the attack!'

A well dressed Union line awaits orders. Didn't they hear the horn?

Another good beard. Hang on... Maybe this is 'JEB' Stuart?

Natty looking Zouaves.

In the mid-episode interludicule [2] we get to gawp at Gilder's gorgeous Gettysburg terrain and his adorable ACW armies. You can see why Woodward wanted to buy the lot after the making of Callan

At the mid point things look good for Gilder, especially in the Gettysburg/Cemetry Hill area at the top of the table, where Griffiths' cavalry are in rout.

Mid-way through the game: if either side appear to be in the ascendent, it's Gilder, at the top of the board.

As Gilder's cavalry chase off Griffiths retreating riders he quips about his troops having '…repeating shotguns!' 'Rubbish!' sniffs Woodward, superciliously, 'No such thing!'

Griffiths removes mounted cavalry stands...

... replacing them with dismounted sharpshooters.

Artillery and signals/observers.

PG: 'I would like you test the morale of the lads on the hill, if you wouldn't mind!' Gilder is, to use the proper ACW vernacular, 'licking' Griffiths' troops on Cemetery Hill.

Griffiths' Union cav rout off the field with PG's Rebs in hot pursuit.

DrPG: 'I'll get these greatcoats in position at last, this turn.'' PG: 'You can, if you wish, take your greatcoats off. I've no objection!'

EW: 'He's going to run the famous Stonewall Brigade up on the top of the hill.' PG crest the rise of Cemetery Hill... and thinks he's won!

Gilder's bullish approach - he'd started out strong, and had Griffiths on the run in several places - which had helped him rewrite history in the Waterloo episode, simply results in a swap here; from Pickett's original historical massacre, in the centre, to a suicidal rebel charge of Gilder's own making , at the northern end of the board. This time the carnage falls to Stonewall's troops, not Pickett's, who momentarily capture Cemetery Hill, only to be blasted off it and into rout.

PG: 'Have they got repeaters?' Peter realises he may have made a mistake, rushing in where even Rebel angels ought to fear to tread. EW: 'He's taken the hill; he may wish he hadn't. Paddy's pulled off quite a flanker!'

Dr Griffths' 's guns, on Peter's right flank, will enfilade him… oops!  

Suddenly the tables have turned: EW: That's done it!' PG: 'Keep a smiling face Gilder!… Eighteen throwing a 12…' 

Stonewall's Brigade takes over 50% casualties, figures reminiscent of real ACW battles! EW:  'They've really been massacred.'

PG: 'It's amazing how that changed round. I'm going back to Dixie.'
DrPG: 'I think I would change the history books, and have Gen. Meade making a counter-attack.'
PG: 'You would, wouldn't you! It comes out on a wargames table, the true nature of a man.'

Snipers in cover.

Yep, Gilder's ACW collection is smashing!

The Union flag flies high at battles end.

More troop and terrain eye-candy is paraded before the camera, backed by 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' and suitable sound-effects, before Woodward delivers his final summing up.

One die!

Two dice!!

I can see why they saved the Gettysburg episode till last: it's probably the best in both visual and dramatic respects. Consequently I've used more stills from this episode than any other. Above are two of the less dramatic stills, visually speaking. But, despite the inanity of looking at dice rolls on TV, it was a dice throw upon which this game hinged: with one volley the tide of the battle turned, as Stonewall's Brigade found their graves upon Cemetery hill.

Edward Woodward was a canny choice of presenter, as he had the skills to deliver the content, and the passion for the subject that ensures that it is exciting. In tribute to this, I'll let him close the fourth and final post in which I cover the actual surviving episodes.

EW: 'That was a near thing. But it was a well fought game. And it was interesting, because Peter and Paddy had never played each other before. Up till now we've seen wargamers who face each other across the table regularly, and over the years they get a pretty good idea of the tactical thinking they're up against.

But neither Paddy nor Peter had that help. And so they had to rely on their considerable knowledge of both history and wargaming.

And that is what it's all about. Given a set of rules, and the toys, anyone can start to wargame. To get the most out of it, you've got to love the history and want to know more.

We've only given you a keyhole view on what is becoming the fastest growing hobby in the world. It's not expensive, and it's very rewarding. And it's great fun. So you try. I hope to see you soon. Goodbye!'

EW: 'I hope to see you soon. Goodbye!' Gone, but not forgotten.

The final bit of eye-candy is a real mouthwatering treat.

[1] I can't recall where I read that. Nor can I remember where I read that, in fact, Gilder sold the Gettysburg terrain three times! How? Apparently he was given it back, twice!

[2] Blackadder, Ink & Incapability.



  1. I wish I could have seen this series... and the movie. I was very much a Callan fan, way back in the early '70s (the series didn't appear in New Zealand until 4 years after their first showing in the UK). Incidentally, Ed Woodward made a fine Breaker Morant in the movie of the same name.

  2. Hi AP, thanks for dropping by and commenting. I think all the surviving Callan stuff is available on DVD now, inc. the movie. Whether Battleground will ever see the light of day, commercially or otherwise, I have no idea. It'd be great to be able to see all six episodes in decent quality. I believe the BFI may have the (full?) series in their archives. But how or whether the series could brought back into circulation, I don't know. I wish I did!

  3. A very enjoyable write up! I never saw the series, wish I had. I love Peter's vignettes and conversions, they add so much to the game.

    1. Thanks Simon, glad you enjoyed it. And yes, Gilder's eye for detail certainly helps bring the table to life... and no mistakin'!