Field of Lost Shoes tell the story of the Battalion of VMI Cadets at the battle of New Market in 1864. There are two story lines.
Fist we have the story of the Cadets, young men doing what young men do at a military academy. The Drill and study, pull pranks, haze (yes hazing is part of the culture and is shown) and try to meet girls. Pretty standard teen age stuff really except this is Virginia in the Civil War and these boys could find them selves used to defend the Shenandoah Valley if, no when the Yankees come. They also enter in to a deal with the slave who bakes bread for VMI swapping game meat for bread. This becomes the main vehicle for addressing slavery in the film the elephant in the room all films with Confederate protagonists must deal with. One of the boys is actually portrayed as anti-slavery, not like a Boston Abolitionist but he thinks the institution evil, though he will only say so to his closest friends. The other boys seem indifferent to slavery, there are no impassioned defenses of it, the Peculiar institution is simply accepted. I found this far better than how some films address the question of slavery, Gods and Generals comes to mind which seems to give the impression that every Confederate General was Anti-slavery. One of the boys farm has been burned and his family killed giving him a clear motive for fighting other than Slavery. Most of the boys are motivated by the desire to defend their homes and families, Virginia is being invaded so all other consideration take a back seat.
I didn't really feel I got to know the boys as individuals but simply got a sens of them as a group of friends not unlike my group of friends in high school and I think that works for the film. That's not comment on these actors their characters all feel real its just that its very much a group with a blended personality like most high school clicks.
The second story is the story of the general in charge of defending that valley John C. Breckenridge. He is faced with the task of defend Virginia's bread basket with too few men we see him making plans with his officers, it gives you great sense of the strategic moves that are under way. You also get the sense of a man who is running out of options... He doesn't want to win glory at cost of the lives of children but to do his duty he must "Grid the seed corn of the nation" (a line that is not in the film but was used by a confederate contemporary in much the same situation).
There is a touching scene were our two story lines come together as the General meets the Cadets and has a talk with them. Breckenridge as the last Vice President before the Civil War expresses his sens of responsibility for not having done more to stop this madness before it got started (what exactly that would be is unclear). He asks the boys for there feelings, what they want out of life, etc. It all feels a little contrived but it makes us feel the impending loss of live in what is already a lost cause. It also give us some more insight into what motivates these young men, loyalty to each other, to family and to their native land.
The battle of New Market is the next day. The Director strikes a nice balance between action, and the confusion of battle and the story tellers need to let the audience know what is going on and why. As a War Gamer this was my favorite part of the movies. We see the Yankee moves the Confederate counter move and the growing realization that what ever his personal preference Breckenridge will have to use the VMI Cadets in the front line. In the end he calls on the boys and uses them in battle "Send the boys in to the line and God Forgive me for that order!"
To every ones surprise the boys fight well, marching though fire in perfect order and then charging into the teeth of the Yankee position capturing several guns. And winning the day for the Confederacy, though at terrible cost.
We then get to see several of the boys as they are gathered up dead from the field or as they lay in hospital. The cost of this very transient victory is thus made clear. One boy(who is Jewish) reads from a Bible to comfort a comrade. Another boy dies while being cared for by the girl he had so shyly courted earlier in the film, her desolation at his death is visceral and speaks for all those who lost a loved one. I was glad the film chose to give screen time this view of Civil War field hospital. I really enjoyed this film, special effect were minimal, but the acting and story telling were excellent and as the best war Gaming Movies will in inspired me to paint. I will be looking for this one to add to my collection
Here we have three artillery pieces to reinforce my Union Artillery corps for Longstreet. The Figures are Blue Moon but they were painted some time ago so only get points for guns them selves.
There are two 10 pounder Parrott rifles and one 12 Pound Napoleon. Blue Moon sells their artillery in bags of six I don't really need that many of any one gun so I have been buying up artillery a piece or two at at time from what ever source I can find them. These three are Essex they might be a bit small but not noticeably I hope.
I am not much of a movie goer, I just don't make it to the theater that often so I missed Fury in Theaters and only recently saw it via Netflix were I get most of my movies.
A lot of people I know had enjoyed the movie(with some technical quibbles) and I was eager to see it. The movie start with us in side the tank Fury and Easy 8 type Sherman under the comand of a tough as nails Sargent with the Nome de Gerre of "War Daddy" played by Brad Pitt. They just lost their assistant driver/bow gunner. The crew has been together since 1942 when they went ashore in Africa in operation Torch. They manage to get the tank running again and head back to base. There we meet the replacement Norm who is trained as a clerk. We also meet several other grizzled Sargent and a young lieutenant who probably graduated from West Point or OCS about the same time these guys arrived in Europe. They have a mission to go join up with Baker company (an infantry unit) and on the way the LT and his tank get knocked off).
Once they find Baker company we meet my favorite supporting character Captain Waggoner this guy is the image of war weary but determined infantry officer he feels like he has his own movie that just happens to intersect with this one(and its one I want to see!). He give has a platoon that is pinned down and needs support he sends War Daddy and his tanks out to save the men. When War Daddy looks a the map and purposes an alternate route Waggoner says "..You can ride on a fucking magic carpet for all I care. I know who you are. I know you know what you're doing. You just paste them hard for me. They murdered some good boys out there today. "
Thus starts the best part of the film the Tanks rescue the infantry and together they take out a defensive line of AT guns and MGs then they move into the town and working together clear the town of resistance street by street. The tactics used seem very realistic Along the way Norm has to be broken in a process that War Daddy does in non-too-gentle a fashion but by the end he clearly is on his way to being part of the team.
We then have a brief interlude as the crew over nights in the now captured town. Next Morning Waggoner send War Daddy and his tanks off to hold a cross road that "some troops are approaching." He doesn't know how many or what they have but its critically important they hold the cross roads because a Germans could make it through and kill lots of allied support personal. The tanks go off alone which is inexcusably stupid from a tactical stand point in 1945.
Along the way the encounter a Tiger I and this tank takes out every US tank but Fury in a the fight. The results are bit of stretch but the tactics could have been lifted from Flames of War the US tanks use smoke then charge and go for flank shots. Furry is left alone to continue the mission...
They reach the cross roads and then hit a mine... knocking off a track and immobilizing them just on top of the cross roads. At this point the story goes off the rails. They send Norman off to a high point to watch the approaches while the rest of them try to repair the track, so far so good. Then when Norman comes pelting back down the road at twilight with the news that two to three hundred SS infantry are on their way the only sensible move is to grab hand weapons, toss a grenade in the ammo box of the Tank and get the hell out of there. They don't have a radio (it was knocked out in the fight with the Tiger) and if holding a cross roads with 4 tanks by them selves is a bit silly, trying to hold it with one broken one is suicidal and no soldier would tell them to do it. They ought to run but this is Hollywood so they don't they fight it out OK if they don't we have a sort of disappointing movie if our heroes are not heroic and there are all those defenseless rear area troops to worry about. That said this suicide last stand sort of undermines War Daddy's motivation, state earlier in the film, to get his crew through the war alive...
The problem is both sides fight stupidly (OK if you accept the tank crew should stay in this situation they fight their damaged tank really well) and after the clever tactical move we saw earlier int he movie at least one side should be smart about this. The other problem with this fight is the SS after initially being surprised by the torrent of fire coming from what they believe was a busted and abandon tank behave in an absolutely stupid manner they attack the tank in human waves (lots of them get killed) then they try sneaking down the side of the road and hitting the tank with Panzer Faust, but they do it close to the thank on the road when they have woods and field on either side of the road to work with. That kills one crew man. At no point do they do the logical thing and just go around the immobile tank swinging wide in the dark!
The scene is still visually stunning and the acting feels very real. You can see each man think it over and decide to stay, go down fighting you feel each death its powerful, its gut wrenching and I at least couldn't help thinking 'they all knew better'. Norm survives by slipping under the tank through the escape hatch and is rescued the next day by infantry... so I guess there really was something between Furry and all those rear area troops.
I loved the first say 2/3rds of the film but the last part nearly ruined it for me. See the movie for the first part and then forget what ever you know about tactics and common sense and enjoy the explosions and gun fire at the end if you can.
Saturday my Fiancee was off to Newport RI for a bridal show with her girlfriends so I went to the Whiz and took part in a mid war tournament (yes it was a busy weekend).
Game one was against Mike and his Fallschirmjagers I lost the roll so my US infantry got to defend in a hasty attack scenario.
You can see both deployments above. I had to defend a long line while Rob was weighting his attack on my right. I had some depth on that side because I deployed half my HMG platoon out on that side.
A platoon of FJs and FJ pioneers on the right
The other platoon of FJ's was in the center left and could swing to join the attack on the right or advance on its own.
No kills but my Artillery would be pined an remain so for a few turns.
My HMGs send fire up the road we get a kill or two and get the FJs to hide in the woods.
Mike was very respect ful of my HMGs especially when the Sherman tanks arrived form reserve and tolled up on their flank.
One Sshurman was hit and kill by Mike's Maraurders but my own fire took them out in turn.
The then swung to the left to keep the JFs heads down and to get out of the way of an on coming Tiger
Here come the Pioneers!
Artillery finds the Shermans and takes out one.
My MGs face assault by JF and pioneers and are overwhelmed.
My tanks don;t do so well when assaulted in their turn but two survive and even pass moral..
Armored cavalry and TDs cam in on the far side of the bard (darn scattered reserves) so I use them to threaten Mike's objective.
Mike ends the game contesting the objective but we time out and by scenario rules having held my own objective I have the win 5-3.
My second game was on the desert table facing James and his British Motor Infantry. The US infantry really doesn't stack up well against it UK counter parts IMHO and James is a good player so I had a bad feeling on this one. the Scenario was fighting withdrawal and I was the attacker
I made a key error on deployment I should have put my cavalry recon and TD security secion on the right hand side but put them on the left flank instead.
Even so my Cavalry got around the flank and took out a 25 pounder and its staff team but then Jams was able to concentrate fire on my units and even destroyed my security section in a spot where I could not deploy the TDs. To make matters worse James was able to withdraw platoon after platoon just as I had taken them down to the point were I might destroy them.
My Sherman made a last forlorn hope attack and almost took an objective but British infantry with sticky bombs took them out an the survivors fled. I extended my had to congratulate James on a flawless victory. I lot this one 1 to 7
This time I was paired off against Nick and his Soviet Militia company a huge force of infantry in the free for all game. Technically I was the attacker but it hardly matters in free for all.
I sent tanks running up the flank using cover and got one T-34 I also ran recon up the left flank and let his infantry have it with massed MG fire.
Nick had a huge wave of humanity advancing on the center...
and right flank were he got an early lucky kill on my HMG teams with his Katyusha rockets. I had better than deserved luck on the left killing quite a number of infantry defending the left flank objective on Nick's side.
This forced him bring his T34s back to help out...
My men made short work of them though my Tank destroyers were taken out by the lone survive of that platoon.
Nick was able to drive back my front line of infantry in the woods using weight of numbers but I had a buffer zone so my objectives were safe. I was able to assault and drive off his troops on the left flank giving me a 5-3 win just as time expires because Nick graciously skipped one of his turns (he was at least two turns from any of my objective and we had mere minutes left in this round and Nick felt I had earned victory) and I am very grateful to him .
These are Bluemoon 18mm figures that will serve as my dismounted cavalry troops for my Union Longstreet Army.
The troops have too many men using pistols for my taste but they do make it easy to see which unit is dismounted cavalry and who is infantry.
The Bugler with his yellow lace tunic was a bit hard to get right but really looks cool.
The color guards bearers are carrying flags from four States.
Rhode Island (this one will also work as a good generic flag)
This is the guidon of a Massachusetts Cavalry regiment
This butterfly flag is for a New Jersey regiment its a rather interesting embalm for a military unit. The 3rd New Jersey was a rare "Hussar" regiment named the Butterflies by the rest of the army when they joined it in 1864. Rather than take offence the men apparently adopted the name as their own.