I think I became interested in the French Adventure in Mexico, or Maximilian’s Empire or the Mexican War of Independence, or Cinco de Mayo or the action at Camerone, after my friend Dave Demick became interested. Dave is interested in all things obscure. At that time, looonnnggg ago there wasn’t much specifically available. You could do Franco Prussian War figures for the French (still a viable option) and the Mexicans could be some collection of American Civil War figures with I dunno what for the Mexican cavalry.
Eventually Frontier Figures came out with a range of Maximilian figures, but it was never complete. Completing a range for this period is a challenge because of all the different nationalities, and units and uniform changes. It’s tough. There is the early part of the war in which there are mostly French units, traditional line infantry with some Chasseurs de Pied, sailors, zouaves, Algerian troops, hussars, Chasseurs D’Afrique and others. Gorgeous Second Empire uniforms, though they mostly toss the most onerous elements of those as they go trudging through the dry, rocky terrain.
The Mexicans, in this early period, have beautiful blue uniforms with a little shako and pom pom, nice stuff. They chuck those for a white campaign uniform with a raised collar, some blue piping and a kepi. Much more practical.
There is a middle period of the war, say after 1864 when Maximilian is headed toward his coronation in Mexico when the French are reinforced with Imperial units. These take many forms. The Belgian Legion and Austrian Legion arrive from Europe. The emperor forms his own units with their own uniforms. Many of these soldiers are conscripts or deserters from the Republican army, or veterans from Conservative militias that fought against Juarez in the early days of the Republic.
During this period, the Republican army is wearing whatever it can get its hands on, but mostly in loose fitting white garments with few markings. Sandals. Combinations of kepi, kepi with havelock and sombreros. The super cool short shakos are probably history.
By 1866 the French have began to ship their troops home which was completed by the end of the year. Maximilian was forced to rely on his unreliable Imperial troops who were subject to desertion and changing sides. Some of the foreign troops, Belgians and Austrians, also joined the Imperial units.
The Republican Army gets new life as the French depart and they re-arm and re-uniform with help from the United States. Repeating rifles and carbines, rifled artillery provide a nasty surprise for Maximilian’s troops. Elements of the Republican army begin to reappear in Union blues.
So, it’s complicated and developing a range of figures for the period is complicated too. So who has stuff, how much is there or is this all just hopeless?
To my knowledge, there are three ranges of Maximilian figures. These are the old Richard Houston range cast by the worthy Patrick Wilson at The Virtual Armchair General. Wargames Foundry has a range and sort of a half a bonus range. Finally Gringo 40’s has a range. Each of these manufacturers have virtue. Each also has a problem or two. I have figures from all of these ranges and I will share photos of each as well as commentary.
Houston’s Figures: Wilson markets these as part of his “Viva Juarez” project. As with other of his ranges, there is not only some figures but wargames guides to the period. I can vouch for the Viva Juarez books as worth having because there is such a paucity of decent information on the military history of this conflict. Not cheap, but good stuff.
The Smyth Holdings: I own 30 of the cavalry figures. Full disclosure: I bought these when this range was produced by The London War Room.
Virtues: This range is extensive and covers Republicans, French and Imperial forces. You could put together a pretty complete collection of all the combatants just buying from TVAG. The cavalry and artillery figures are inexpensive. Cavalry comes 12 to a bag for forty bucks which makes a figure about $3.50 a shot. That’s pretty inexpensive compared to other ranges. These figures are decent too. They’ve been eclipsed in detail by newer ranges but for the price they shouldn’t be overlooked. I don’t have any of the artillery but they come with a gun, crew, limber and draft animals for $16. Seems like a good deal to me without having actually seen them.
Drawbacks: I’m sorry, but the infantry figures are simply past their prime. Photos show they don’t proportion well. A friend bought the Austrian Legion and Egyptian figures and was quite disappointed. They come in a unit bag of 20 with command figures and flag which is nice, but they are forty dollars, so the price per figure is two bucks. That’s pretty steep for figures well past their prime. That’s in the ballpark for the cost of a Foundry figure ($1.99) and Gringo 40’s ($2.13), though that doesn’t include significant shipping.
Wargames Foundry: Wargames Foundry has the most extensive range of figures for the Maximilian conflict. However, it is not without complications. If you go to the Foundry site you’ll see two pages of figures in their range. These figures were sculpted by Aly Morrison, my guess is the early 90’s. This includes French, Republican and Imperial figures. You can get most everything you need here except the Austrian Legion In the Franco Prussian War range there is a huge variety of French figures to choose from including hussars, French infantry in light and campaign kit, Turcos and other figures not in the Maximilian range. These figures were sculpted by Alan and Michael Perry and are a tish bigger than the Morrison figures.
You’d think that’s it, but wait there’s more. In the Old West range, on pages six and seven there are 12 packs of various Mexican regulars, irregulars and command figures. There are also four packs of French Camerone personalities or filibusterers. These are more recent sculpts and are much larger figures. They might have been sculpted by Mark Copplestone, they have that large blocky look that is so much fun to paint, but no sculptor is listed. No cavalry or artillery are available for these guys
Smyth Holdings: Geez, where do I start? I have 150 of the Morrison and 100 Perry figures painted in my collection, including infantry and some (a few) cavalry, and more unpainted. I also have 40ish of the Old West figures. I’ve painted some of the Camerone figures and recently snagged a few of the Mexicans to at least get a look at the size. I also have some of the old Guernsey Foundry figures back when Foundry was trying to get its act together, and those are now in that Old West cluster.
Virtues: There are lots of choices here. The French are well covered. There are also sailors who appeared in the first siege of Puebla. There are a number of great cavalry choices. The Old West figures offer many different choices for regular and irregular Mexican foot. There are some good Imperial forces too, including the Belgian Legion, Imperial infantry and cavalry, the Egyptian battalion, and the Empress Lancers and Red Hussars. The Morrison Mexican figures, while all one pose, are well proportioned and have a variety of headgear. Great stuff. The Perry figures are also nice, more animated with more poses, though you have to buy each of them separately. The Camerone figures from the Old West range are terrific. They are much fun, and if you want to do the action at Hacienda Trinidad. They are large and well detailed and Foundry identifies each of the figures with one of the defenders.
Drawbacks: Lots of figures, but not without issues. The first issue is similar to the Houston’s problems. These are figures from the 90’s that are scaled from that decade. They are closer to true 25’s. In most cases they are really nice true 25’s. If anything they are a great exemplar for why Foundry became such a superior brand during that time period. But they aren’t going to match up very well with the Old West figures or the Gringo 40’s figures, and those figures are very desirable. Another problem is packaging. I ordered a bunch of the Imperialist figures, kind of mix and matching, but they come with just some random guys which I find a little irritating. The same with the Imperial cavalry figures, and because they are pretty spendy at $6.21 per figure (14 quid for three figures,) I don’t want any confusing mismatches. To be fair, Foundry does have some somewhat cheaper deals on one type one pose figures too. Hey, and one more thing, what is with the utterly uninteresting command figures? Why aren’t there ANY standard bearers?
Note: I also have a pile of Perry French Foreign Legion figures I bought to fight Camerone. I’ve used these many times in many different games. These were great figures–biggish 25’s in havelocks, sombreros, kepis. Are they still available? Not so anybody could actually find them. Not in the Maximilian range, or the Franco Prussian War line, or in the Wild West. Sad, because this is a nice collection of guys.
The Gringo 40’s range has some really nice stuff. They have a package of Camerone defenders that seem very nice. They probably have the nicest collection of Republicans I’ve seen. Because you purchase by-the-figure it really allows you to mix and match. There are also Austrian Legion and Belgian Legion figures, plus the Egyptian battalion (because everyone has an Egyptian battalion.)
Smyth Holdings: I have the Mexican Line Cavalry, the Mexican Irregular Cavalry and some Republican infantry, about 60 figures in all.
Virtues: These are nicely cast, clean figures with just the right amount of detail. The cavalry are maybe the nicest cavalry figures I’ve ever painted. Wonderful faces and some great horses. The infantry offerings have some 21 different figures with a variety of uniforms and headgear. I would like to add more figures from Gringo 40’s to my collection.
Drawbacks: Well, a couple of things. First, these figures are huge. They might match up okay with the Old West figures, but remember that range has no cavalry. They are a head and a shoulder taller than my Foundry Chasseurs d’Afrique. It’s not just the size that presents the real problem, it’s that the range is so incomplete. There are no French. There are no Imperial infantry beyond the foreign legions and no Imperial horse. No artillery except the tiny Austrian mountain gun. The figures are really nice but it’s almost impossible to match them up with anything else. And unfortunately the company has their attention directed elsewhere and likely won’t add the necessary bits. Few command figures and no standard bearers. What does everyone have against standard bearers?
All three of these ranges have virtues and drawbacks. First, to be clear, this is a very niche-y conflict with not likely to generate tons of sales vying in popularity with other little-known conflicts like the Taiping Rebellion, The Fenian Raids and the Second Ashanti War. It does have some cool units and the hypothetical conflict with American Civil War troops gives your Union troops something to do besides shoot at Rebs. But committing tons of resources to the period requires some faith that folks are going to buy ’em so there you go.
The Houston’s range is pretty complete, but quite dated. The Wargames Foundry range is likewise dated but more complete and the sculpts are somewhat stronger. The later Old West range are quite nice but larger and incomplete. The Gringo 40’s figures are better still, but again very limited. Sadly all the ranges suffer from size incompatibilities. There is no way you could mix figures between Gringo 40’s and the older Foundry ranges in a unit and honestly they look kind of goofy on the same table. I will also add that I’ve moved past that and I take the figures and units as they are.
It’s an interesting, interesting period with some pretty good figures available to paint up in picturesque units. You just have to make some allowances for what’s out there.
Note: While reviewing web entries for this article I stumbled across one more range of the figures for this period. Irregular Miniatures in the UK also has a Maximilian range. Not a lot of entries in their range and they same to rely more on vaguely attired figures than trying to capture the feel of the period. On the plus side they do have standard bearers and Mexican artillerists. That can’t be all bad.