Ambulance Wagon, 1861–1865

IMEX 1:72 Scale Vehicle Review

Ambulance Wagon

An ambulance arrives to evacuate stretcher cases to the nearest field hospital. The mules provided with the ambulance model have been replaced by more attractive draught horses taken from Revell's Thirty Years War Artillery. The armies involved in the American Civil War seriously underestimated the effect of modern weaponry on troops operating in relatively dense formations on the battlefield, and they were not prepared to deal with the enormous numbers of casualties requiring evacuation and treatment. Fortunately for the Union army, it received medical assistance and supplies from the Christian and Sanitary Commissions, in addition to many volunteer organizations which took care of sick and wounded soldiers. Confederate army medical services were in a much worse condition, they frequently had to rely on Union resources, and personnel to treat the wounded of both sides.

Letterman Hospital

At the beginning of the war, the available Union ambulance services and medical supplies were centralized at the corps or army level, a system which proved very impractical. When the Union army suffered reverses on the battlefield, the medical services were usually caught up in the retreat, and they frequently abandoned huge stockpiles of badly needed medical supplies. A Union army medical director by the name of Jonathan Letterman reorganized the medical services of the Army of the Potomac, and his work led to the creation of an independent Federal Ambulance Corps in August of 1862.

Three ambulances, with three drivers and six stretcher bearers commanded by a sergeant, were attached to each regiment in the division. Bandsmen, and additional men detailed from the regiment acted as stretcher bearers who took the wounded back to the regimental dressing station whence they were transported to the field hospital for treatment. Medical cadets were enlisted to assist at dressing stations or to dress wounds in the field. If a large battle had been anticipated, 12-15 regimental surgeons would be attached to the divisional field hospital to treat the wounded there, and additional civilian surgeons might be contracted for the duration. Despite these preparations, it took more than 24 hours to evacuate 8,000 wounded after the Battle of Chickamauga, on 17th September 1862. The following year, Letterman set up a tent hospital at Gettysburg which continued to treat wounded from that battle long after the armies had moved on.

Contents

  • Ambulance Wagon, 16 parts
    • Type: Ambulance
    • Length: 3.89 m
    • Width: 2.23 m
    • Height: 2.88 m
    • Cargo Bay: 3.13 × 1.08 m
    • Cargo Capacity: 0.5 t
    • Team: 1 Pair of Mules
  • Munitions Wagon, 14 parts

Evaluation

Excellent choice of subject. The medical services of the American Civil War have not been available in miniature until now. This is a subject which will inspire diorama builders.

The standard ambulance was a very modern looking vehicle, and the IMEX model is a good representation of it. The painted model will be the center piece of any collection of period troops and vehicles.

The sculptor is obviously the same who created the exquisite American Civil War soldiers for Accurate Figures, which were also distributed by Revell. Accurate Figures produced a set of Confederate engineers which includes unarmed soldiers who may be converted to stretcher bearers and hospital stewards. In addition, the old ESCI ACW infantry sets included soldiers supporting or carrying wounded comrades who will be compatible with the IMEX ambulance.

Illustrated assembly instructions are easy to follow. The vehicle is a snap-together model, although it snaps apart as quickly as it can be put together.

The vertical supports of the wagon body, bolt heads on wheel rims, and the canvas roof with rolled-up side panels provide enough detail to delight the painter.

The wheels are superb, with fine detail on the rims, and with unusually slender spokes. Unlike many other wheels we have seen in plastic, these are practically free of flash between the spokes.

The two wounded men on the stretchers are in generic Union or Confederate uniform. One man has a splinted leg, and the other has been bandaged in several places. These are excellent miniatures which will paint up very well. The ambulance is just wide enough to carry both stretchers, but the figures may as well be placed on the ground, awaiting evacuation to, or treatment at the field hospital. A hospital steward attending these wounded men would have been a welcome addition to the kit.

The civilian drivers included in the kit are nice figures, but a uniformed limber rider from one of the 1:72 scale artillery sets would be a more appropriate replacement.

Cast in medium brown plastic with grey plastic wheels, ready for play.

Good casting quality, but there is noticeable flash on drivers and mules.

Driver, casualties, animals and vehicle canopy sculpted by Bill Farmer.

Wagon built by Ted Tear.

The ambulance is drawn by the same unacceptable horses or mules provided for the munitions wagon in this kit. These animals measure only 13.2 hands, but there are a number of figure sets which provide suitable replacements:

  1. Revell Thirty Years War Artillery Horses: 16.9 hands, excellent animation and anatomy, fully detailed harness with heavy collar. This is the best alternative, the box provides two pairs of horses in four different poses, one of which is saddled. The conversion is a simple matter of slicing the draw bar off the Revell limber and gluing or soldering it to the IMEX wagon.
  2. Preiser HO (1:87) Farm Horses: 14.3 hands tall, despite the 20% scale difference between HO and 1:72, excellent anatomy, fully detailed harness.
  3. Airfix ACW Artillery Horses: 14 hands, good anatomy, compatible harnessing.
  4. Accurate Figures ACW Artillery Horses: 15 hands, similar anatomy problems, all horses are saddled, compatible harnessing.

Harness lines are cast on the draft animals, but there are no draw bars to attach the lines to the wagon. Instead, there is a T-bar attached to the wagon tongue which plugs into a hole in each horse's side. This method is convenient, it requires no fiddling with reins and harness lines, but diorama builders and modellers may find it unrealistically toy-like.

The horses have no bases, and they will be difficult to attach to a diorama or wargame base without sinking their hoofs into the glue. Collectors who do not mount their troops in dioramas probably prefer horses without plastic bases, because the relative height between the wagon and the draft animals would be distorted otherwise.

The model has a tendency to fall apart if touched, a feature which makes the ambulance unsuitable as a toy. There is significant tension on the eight vertical supports of the canvas tilt, and they snap out of their sockets if the model is picked up by the tilt. The only way to stop this is to treat the vehicle like any other model kit, and put it together permanently. The soft plastic does not glue well, but the parts may be fused together with a heated screwdriver or a soldering iron on very low heat.

Historical Employment

  • Federal Ambulance Corps, 1862-1865
  • Federal Military Telegraph Battery Wagon, 1861–1865
  • U.S. Signal Corps Cable Detachment, 1861–1865
  • U.S. Ballon Corps, 1861-1863
  • Mobile command post vehicle used by General officers
    who were physically unfit to ride into battle, 1861–1865
  • Field Headquarters of the New York Herald,
    and several other newspapers covering the war, 1861–1865

Possible Conversions

  • Supply Wagon. The ambulance is practically the same basic vehicle as the munitions wagon in this kit. It's a great model, but it could be converted to a supply wagon if ambulances are not required. The easiest conversion is to take the canvas tilt off and use the vehicle as is. A permanent conversion would be to cut off the sockets for the vertical roof struts. This conversion mimicks the actions of military authorities who frequently diverted men, draft horses, equipment, and supplies from the medical services.
  • Covered Wagon. Tissue paper may be draped over the existing roof supports to convert the ambulance to a covered supply wagon.
  • Mobile photo lab. War correspondents and photographers used vehicles not unlike this ambulance as mobile offices and photo labs. A photo lab vehicle would have to be fully enclosed, although parts of the superstructure may consist of canvas.

Bibliography

  • On Campaign – The Civil War Art of Keith Rocco, p. 90

This kit is an excellent addition to the growing range of American Civil War figures and models. Maybe it will inspire wargame authors to write suitable rules for medical services in historic simulation games and campaigns. The ability to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield should have a positive impact on army morale, and it should result in increased return to the ranks.

IMEX Miniatures sample from Toy Soldier HQ

Frequently Asked Questions

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American Civil War Miniatures