Today in Forces of Fame we’re heading to the bloody fields of the American Civil War to take a look at one of the most legendary formations of the Union – the mighty and much-lauded ‘Black Hats’ of the Iron Brigade – and how to use them in Epic Battles (finally, something that isn’t covered in armour! -ed.)!

Formed from the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan Infantry regiments, along with Battery B of the 4th US Light Artillery, the brigade was uniquely clothed among the Union Army. Wearing a stylish dark blue frock coat and trousers, their most recognisable uniform item was the tall black 1858 model Hardee hat. Resembling nothing so much as a folded top hat and replete with a feathered plume, it was technically the regulation dress hat for all enlisted Union soldiers, although the vast majority considered it wildly impractical for campaign use. Nevertheless, the brigade wore them into combat with pride throughout the war in one of the last gasps of the Napoleonic ethos of going to battle in style, earning them the sobriquet of ‘Black Hats’.

Having been blooded at Second Bull Run, where they performed admirably, the brigade earned the ‘Iron’ moniker at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. Supposedly, Major General McLellan had stated to Major General Hooker that the brigade “…must be made of iron” and consisted of “the best troops in the world”. While this is possibly apocryphal, the name and story were enthusiastically adopted soon after by the troops, and the formation became known thereafter as the ‘Iron Brigade’. Discipline was good and morale high, aided by its ‘all-Western’ regimental composition and strong esprit de corps. The hats probably helped, too!

While well-known and regarded for its discipline, fighting spirit, and unique uniform, the Iron Brigade also held the doleful honour of suffering the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade during the war. While individual figures and reports vary somewhat, the litany of killed and wounded was staggering, even by the callous metric of the American Civil War. At Gettysburg in 1863 (where the unit fought well, capturing hundreds of Confederate prisoners) the Iron Brigade was severely mauled, with 61% of its men becoming casualties. The toll in the individual regiments was even higher – the 2nd Wisconsin lost two-thirds of its strength in those three bloody days.

After the losses at Gettysburg the Iron Brigade was reinforced by the addition of the 167th Pennsylvania, losing its ‘all-western’ identity but continuing to fight admirably through the war, taking part in the battles of Mine Run, the Wilderness, Petersburg, and Appomattox Courthouse (where General Robert E. Lee famously surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant) before mustering out with the rest of the Union’s volunteers. With an enviable reputation and combat record, the Iron Brigade legacy lives on in several modern-day US Army formations, although sadly the Hardee hats appear to have been phased out for good.

In games of Black Powder Epic Battles: American Civil War, the Iron Brigade are some of the finest troops available to a Union commander. Boasting excellent baseline statistics, they can furthermore be upgraded to Elite – either 6, 5, or 4+ – making them much more likely to reform from Disorder. They can also be made Brave, Stubborn, and Tough Fighters. Finally, they’re immune to the Rebel Yell special rule – for free! Taking all of these options brings the unit to a whopping 59 points, but makes them one of the nastiest bunch of fighters on the field! Even with fewer upgrades they’re still an ideal force to anchor your battleline – the only downside is that you can only take five units, because that’s all there were historically! I’ve used a couple of regiments on several occasions, and they’re some of my very favourite troops in all of Epic Battles.

As is standard for our Epic Battles range, the Iron Brigade boxed set contains three regiments, raring and ready to go. It was then pointed out to us by many of you wonderful types in the community that the ‘classic’ iteration of the brigade had five regiments, so could we please make the regiments available for individual purchase? This seemed sensible, so we did! For a full Iron Brigade of your own, pick up a Brigade boxed set and a pair of Regiment sets and you’ll have everything you need to send Johnny Reb packing – onwards to Richmond, boys!


Other articles in the Forces of Fame Series:

Bolt Action – The Tiger I

Blood Red Skies – Messerschmitt Bf 110

Victory at Sea – The Bismarck

Pike & Shotte – Cuirassiers




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