The Franklin Mint Civil War Chess Set
Private Daniel Hough awoke the morning of April 12th, 1861, to the batteries of confederate artillery. For 33 hours the newly formed confederate army bombarded the Union’s Fort Sumter with mortars. Realizing the situation was hopeless, the Union’s General Anderson surrendered before a life was lost. The losing side fired a final volley of a 50-gun salute to the Union colors as they were lowered. Unfortunately for Daniel, the gunfire ignited a powder keg and sent the poor private to the Promised Land. Thus marks the first death of the civil war. Yup, Private Hough was killed by friendly fire. But the American Civil War was far from friendly. All told, more than 650 thousand men died as brother fought brother over a period of just over four years.
In my first blog I wrote of how the TV commercials for the Franklin Mint Civil War Chess Set planted the seed for my chess-collecting obsession. I didn’t submit at the time, figuring the $600 cost was better spent on more pressing needs like cars and motorcycles. The collectible chess set is now a popular item on Ebay, and bottom feeders like me pick them up for a fraction of the original cost.
The set features 12 historical characters along with the armies, cannons, and mortars. Each piece is finely-sculpted pewter set on a brass base and includes a biography of the corresponding character. Although the Franklin Mint featured several different chess sets, the civil-war set remains the most common. The later version of the civil-war set featured gold and silver plated chessmen.
King Ulysses S. Grant
Queen Clara Barton
Bishops George, G. Meade; William Tecumseh Sherman
Knights Philip Henry Sheridan; George Armstrong Custer
Rooks The Cannon
Pawns The Iron Brigade
King Robert E. Lee
Queen Belle Boyd
Bishops Pierre G. Beauregard; Thomas “Stonewall: Jackson
Knights Joseph Wheeler; Jeb Stuart
Pawns The Stonewall Brigade
A few of the more significant biographies taken from the Franklin Mint’s booklets
The Blue King
Ulysses S. Grant battled his way to leadership by gaining more and more space. Late in the war he was promoted to lieutenant general of the Union. It was not without criticism as Grant sacrificed more than a few pawns along the way. Eventually his strategy paid off when the confederacy resigned. Grant went on to serve two terms as President of the United States.
The Gray King
Robert E. Lee was feared by the Union and idolized by the Confederates. He was neither a fan of secession nor of slavery. Lee’s dilemma arose from an allegiance to both America and his home state of Virginia. Lee tortured the Union army for slightly over four years before finally surrendering at Appomattox.
The Blue Queen
Clara Barton was appalled by the horrors of the war and served the Union by tending to wounded soldiers. She later was instrumental in introducing the Red Cross to the United States.
The Gray Queen
Belle Boyd was a bit sneakier than her queenly opponent. Belle was arrested more than once for spying on the union army. She eventually fled to England but not without leaving a mark on the game.
The Blue Knight
George Armstrong Custer was a lackluster student at United States Military Academy. He finished West Point under court-martial but his sentence was shelved so he could go on active duty. He quickly proved to be a brilliant leader and was later promoted from 1st lieutenant to brigadier general. Custer is best known for his defeat at Little Big Horn where a superior force on Native Americans checkmated the general with nary a single pawn left standing.
The Gray Bishop
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was best known for holding his brigade “like a stone wall” against overwhelming odds. Stonewall repeatedly outwitted, outmaneuvered, and outfought armies of superior force. Unfortunately, Stonewall was yet another victim of friendly fire when one of his own men accidently shot and killed him.
The remaining pieces complete the set as stated above. My collection also includes the civil-war checker set. The checker set also includes biographical booklets for each piece.
The Franklin Mint Civil War Chess Set honors the men and women who fought in America’s deadliest war. We learn history in the hopes of not repeating it. The civil war remains a black eye in American history. Yet there is a certain appeal in studying the characters that bravely fought to protect their freedom and those that fought for the freedom of others.