"US Cavalry Trooper 1876 (Little Big Horn)"

Modeled by: Ned B. Ricks (IPMS #36013)


Following the Civil War, the United States government turned its military attentions to occupying the Reconstruction South and making expansion safe in the plains and mountains of the continent. The ten cavalry regiments of the Regular Army were primary forces for tackling the task of securing the vast American West. This figure represents a cavalry corporal of the year 1876.

Prior to 1861, the mounted arm of the US Army had been five mounted regiments, composed of two regiments of dragoons, one of mounted rifles and two of cavalry. In 1861, these were renumbered as cavalry regiments 1 through 5 and the 6th Cavalry Regiment was added. Immediately following the war, the 7th and 8th Regiments were added in addition to the 9th and 10th, which were composed of African-Americans. All of these regiments would fight the Native American Indians (dubbed "the finest light cavalry in the world") with distinction in spite of obsolete equipment, parsimonious budget constraints and harsh living conditions.


The Fusilier figure is cast in white metal and excellently detailed. The kit comes with the figure proper, the head with wide brimmed hat, two arms, the hands (one holding the 1873 Springfield .45-70 carbine), the base, the spur rowels and some arrows to add to the scene. There was very little clean up required before construction.

The sculptor has done an excellent job of depicting the uniform and equipment of the period. The only addition I would have made is the color cord with acorns around the crown of the hat, although some contemporary photographs show them absent. The corporal is also armed with a holstered pistol and a knife. The knife was for utility purposes more than fighting, and my research turned up a very important use for it. The issue ammunition belts of the time were acid tanned, and the cartridge cases were copper. When the two came in contact for any period of time, a chemical reaction put a residue on the carbine ammunition that caused fouling in the chamber of the weapon. The copper cartridges also had a tendency to swell in the chamber after several rounds were fired, and the extractor would then easily rip the base off the round rather than pull it out entirely. The knife was used to pry out the remainder so another round could be loaded. It would take several more years before the government would switch to brass-cased ammunition. The single shot carbine would remain in service for years, in spite of repeaters being available to any who wanted them (including the Indians), because multi-shot weapons might encourage soldiers to "waste expensive ammunition."


There was very little casting flash to scrape, and modest seams form the molding to be removed. The parts were washed and everything was tested dry-fitting. The figure proper was attached to the base, and the torso and arms assembled with a five-minute epoxy I buy at the hardware store. The arms fit into the torso in a fairly straightforward manner, but the join seam of the left arm needed a bit of filler, for which I used Milliput two-part putty. After this dried and was sanded smooth, I gave the figure a primer coat using Model Master gray Primer. This not only provided the future coats of paint a better "bite" to adhere to, but it also gave me a check on the finish. It was a bit of a puzzle as how to make the connection of left and right arms and the right hand, which holds the carbine, and have them fit at an appropriate angle. I accomplished this by the expedient of gluing on the left arm, then the right arm. Later, after painting, I positioned the hand/carbine with a bit of Milliput putty on the right wrist where it fit into the sleeve opening to get all the places in alignment. The head was attached last. A nice wooden base was attached to the figure’s metal base and groundwork blended to fill the area.


I started painting with the flesh parts: the face and the two hands. At this point, the head and hands were still separate pieces for ease of handling and to assure that I could complete the job unhampered by the final pose. The skin was undercoated with Humbrol 61 Flesh and set aside to dry. When dry, the skin areas were painted with artist’s oils mixed to a convincing flesh tone. One mixture that works well for me is mostly Titanium White, with some Yellow Ochre, a bit of Burnt Sienna, a little Cadmium Yellow and a touch of Cadmium Red. These are mixed until the result looks right for this character who would have been sun- and wind-burned. Extra Burnt Sienna is added for the shadow areas between fingers, around the nose, the eyes and under the chin and blended to look natural. If I get a face that looks right, the rest of the figure always seems to be more fun to do. I like doing the face in oils because you can go back and re-blend, add a bit more of come color for shading or highlighting and take you time until it is what you want.

Next, the figure was undercoated with Humbrol enamels. The uniform blouse was Humbrol 104 and the trousers Humbrol 96. The wide brim hat and boots got a coat or two of Humbrol 33, while the cartridge belt was 103 and the chevrons and piping were 24. The blouse and trousers were given a thin wash of 104 + 33 to pick out seams and details. Then the highlights were dry brushed using the undercoat color plus some 34 white to create a lighter shade. The hat and the boots were dry brushed using Model Master Burnt Umber to give some depth and illusion of wear.

The left hand was bandaged with cloth, which I painted Humbrol 147, a very light gray, washed with Burnt Umber and dry-brush highlighted with flat white. I thought about adding some very dark red for dried blood and decided not to.

The wooden stock of the trap-door carbine got a coat of Model Master Rust followed by a swipe of Burnt Sienna oil paint, which was then blotted off. The metal parts were painted Model Master Eurogray. After this dried, a thin flat black wash emphasized the detailed recesses and the highlights were rubbed with graphite sanded from a school pencil.

Milliput was used to cover the wooden pedestal from the edge of the provided base. A rock from the garden was pressed all over to make a texture impression before the putty set. Some kitty litter bits made do for rocks. The ground was given a Burnt Umber wash and a Humbrol 26 highlight. Some empty copper cartridge cases were fabricated from styrene rod and placed on the ground. Static grass and a bit of cat litter along with the kit-provided arrows completed the look


This figure kit is well done and offers the modeler an accurate miniature of period. I recommend it.


For reference, I recommend The Horse Soldier 1776-1943, Volume II by Randy Steffen, ISBN 0 8061 1450 9, Longknives, The US Cavalry and Other Mounted Forces 1845-1942, by Kurt Hamilton Cox & John P. Langellier, ISBN 1 85367 233 5, and Sound the Charge, The US Cavalry in the American West, 1866 – 1916, by John P. Langellier, ISBN 1 85367 319 6.