When I was a kid we would go to Massapequa (home town of Jerry Seinfeld and Jessica Hahn) to buy shoes and maybe get a haircut. We would stop at a nearby store (your typical 5 and dime store) to buy a toy. In my case, it was the chance to purchase another Civil War toy soldier, namely one of Marx’s “Warriors of the World.” Each hard (and somewhat brittle) plastic figure, just a tad larger than my army of 54mm soldiers, came in a box with a card that told the history of the enclosed figure. That’s right, each figure had a name and a history. I also have Revolutionary War soldiers and cowboys from the set, and I recall one of the World War II figures in another set in simple unpainted plastic (this web site is of tremendous assistance, although I was taken aback to see that Louis Marx also cast a private line of semi-clad women for private distribution to friends. Another childhood memory bruised).
Recently I saw three of these soldiers on sale on eBay. Although I was momentarily tempted to buy them, the price seemed to me to be a little high, and besides I still have all three figures (although I believe the rifleman’s weapon has been shortened due to the ravages of play war decades ago). What made this trio special was that the cards accompanied the figures. Then I started reading the cards, and a thought crossed my mind. Did these soldiers really exist? After all, they all fought at Gettysburg.
Take, for example, the card describing the service of pistol-wielding Harry Dugan (one of my favorite figures). Somehow he managed to see action at Shiloh and Gettysburg, where he helped Gouverneur K. Warren save Little Round Top. I’d never heard of Harry, and I could not readily come across him when I consulted the Soldiers and Sailors online database. What about Vermont bugler Bill Mason, who fought alongside “Dan Dickles” at Gettysburg? Well, there were three Vermonters named William Mason, but only one was with an infantry unit at Gettysburg, and that unit was with the Sixth Corps. I simply didn’t have the heart to check on Tennessean Mike Burns, because he would have had to join a regiment from another state. I even followed the hint about the three brothers who fought in a Tennessee regiment, and, since there were only three Tennessee units at Gettysburg, perhaps I could find what I wanted. For a moment, I thought I had struck pay dirt, for there were four soldiers named Burns in the 14th Tennessee. Two of the entries turned out to be the same person, with a surname spelled in different ways: no luck yet on whether there were two or three men named Burns, or whether they were related. Stay tuned.
Some of the Marx figures represented real people. The Confederate collection included James Longstreet, and there were figures representing Grant and Lee, each on a base. Additional internet research led me to this site, which covers even more figures, and includes the information that most of the figures were fictional. The text on other cards showed that a rather high percentage of these soldiers fought at Gettysburg … supposedly.
These soldiers (and, yes, I owned one of each, Union and Confederate) augmented my set, which was a mixed force derived from Lido, Britains, and a few other sets. I was fairly protective of these toys, and so that force still survives, although it has been some time since it engaged in action. There’s another sesquicentennial marketing opportunity here.