Thursday, May 25, 2017

British Soldiers in the Upper Country: The King's (8th) Regiment in the American War of Independence

Two British Soldiers at Montmorency Falls in 1781
Dear Reader,

A mix of American bias and scholarly emphasis is whittling away at the presence of the British empire in the upper country of Revolutionary North America. Books such as Daniel Ingram's British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century North America, and a host of scholars such as Katherine DuVal, Daniel Richter, and Micheal Witgen are accurately showing that Native Americans controlled almost all activities on the ground in territory west of Pennsylvania. These scholars are pointing us towards statements such as the following, from Major Arent Schuyler Depeyster, an officer in the King's (8th) Regiment, in October  of 1782:

"You must be sensible that my soldiers are little acquanted with wood fighting and illequiped for it withall. I have therefore only ordered to take post where they can secure ammunition and provisions,"[1]
And who can blame these scholars? Demographically, Native Americans and white settlers far outnumbered any military contribution that the British Empire could project into the upper country. However, despite these challenges, this post argues the men and in particular the officers of the King's Regiment played a vital and successful role in the maintenance of British power in the upper country throughout the American War of Independence.

Background to Service: 

Before diving into the sources, a brief description of the service of the King's (8th) Regiment in North America may be useful. First of all, by the time of the American War of Independence, the regiment had already been on a long deployment. In 1768, the men of the King's Regiment were sent to garrison Canada, at that point recently acquired after the Seven Years' War. From June of 1768 to 1774, the regiment guarded fortified positions around Montreal and Quebec City. Although the soldiers had hoped to be deployed home after this tour, the British government, facing a rising tide of dissatisfaction in colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America, sent the King's Regiment into the Upper Country posts.

Black: Oswegatchie/Carleton Island (1 Company)  Red: Fort Niagara (4 Companies) Green: Detroit (3 Companies) Blue: Michilimackinac (2 Companies) 

The men of the King's Regiment would spend 11 years in these posts, for a total 17 year deployment to North America. Even when close to full strength, the regiment numbered less than 500 individuals. The largest garrison at Fort Niagara was composed of less than two hundred men from the 8th, although soldiers from other units also supplemented the defenses. At their lowest strength, in 1770, the regiment numbered 379 men. They reached their highest strength of 603 near the end of the war.[2] However, even more impressive than the spread out nature of the garrisons are the distances that King's Regiment soldiers traveled to fight the American enemy.

Actions involving King's Regiment soldiers stretch from the Battle of Cedars southeast of Montreal to St. Louis, a distance of around 1,000 miles. 


In almost every one of these actions, a small group of soldiers from the King's Regiment joined forces with larger groups of Native Americans and/or Anglo/French militia in order to attack the enemy. For a regiment that supposedly did not have experience or the ability to fight in a woodland environment, the King's Regiment certainly performed the task a great deal. They conducted numerous successful interception of rebel forces or raids on rebel towns and outposts throughout the upper country, including:

1776 The Battle of the Cedars (Near Montreal, Canada)
1778 Cherry Valley Raid (Upstate New York)
1779 Siege of Fort St. Joseph (Western Michigan)
1780 Martin's Station and Ruddle's Station Raid (Northeastern Kentucky)
1780-81 Mohawk Valley Raids (Upstate New York)
1782 Hannastown Raid (East of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

There were failures too, such as the abortive Siege of Fort Stanwix,  or the capture of thirty men of the King's Regiment by George Rogers Clark at Vincennes, Indiana, in 1779.

A reenactor portraying a King's Regiment soldier during a New York Valley Raid, 2016


The King's Regiment in the Upper Country: 

Fortunately, we have somewhat detailed accounts regarding the actions of King's Regiment soldiers in the upper country, focusing around the expeditions of men such as Governor Henry Hamilton surrender at Vincennes in 1779 and Captain Henry Bird's invasion of Kentucky in July of 1780. Despite Depeyster's dour warning above, the men of the King's Regiment undertook many of the necessary preparations for wilderness warfare. In 1770, the regiment engaged in what Mark Odintz has called, "realistic wilderness training," including, "engaging in the woods, rowing in boats, landing and walking on snow shoes[.]" [3]

Even more importantly, the men of the King's Regiment practiced marksmenship while on campaign. As Lt. Govenor Henry Hamilton's forces traveled towards Vincennes in late 1778, his troops repeated practiced firing at marks, or targets. On November 12th, Hamilton recorded: "Exercised the cannon and small arms at Marks-- The arms in very good order-- the savages expressed great surpize to see a mark of a foot sqaure struck from the 6lbr . at about 300 yards distance." Again on November 19th, after an abortive meeting with Indian leaders, Hamilton took offense at the Indian suggestion that the French would reclaim the upper country. He wrote, "I broke off the meeting abruptly, and told them I was going to exercise my young men, and gave orders for the men to turn out and fire ball at a mark, which they did, and shewed great dexterity firing very quick and making excellent shots." Norman MacLeod, a militia officer accompanying the British on the campaign, also recorded this occurence on November 19th. He wrote, "the troops was ordered to fire three rounds, each man at Targets in the Presence of the Indians. And the Indians was Very will Pleasd at their Performance." [4]

The benefits of these firing at marks are two-fold. First, they kept the soldiers on Hamilton's expedition proficient in the use of their firearms. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they demonstrated British military power to Native Americans, who might contribute addition soldiers and supplies. Thus, on Hamilton's expedition, firing at marks possessed both a military and a political objective.

In 1780, Henry Bird and the King's Regiment launched an invasion of Kentucky, supported by around 900 Native Americans and Anglo/French militiamen. Henry Bird and the men of the King's Regiment operated effectively in the upper country, capturing two forts, and taking three hundred prisoners. Through use of waterways, Bird was able to cover 90 miles in four days, the last 50 of which he covered in one day alone. [5] By pushing his men to these extremes, Bird was able to avoid contact with larger American forces trying to run him down.

However, the most interesting aspect of the King's Regiment's expeditions is that they were conducted by volunteers. The letters and pay accounts of the King's Regiment make it clear that the soldiers who went on both Hamilton's march to Vincennes and Bird's invasion of Kentucky were volunteers.[6] Although he is probably also speaking rhetorically for Indian benefit, Hamilton may while be accurately describing the situation when he stated, "I told them I was going to exercise my young men."

A Seargent of the King's Regiment "exercises his young men," at Fort Niagara in 2016.

So, while Depeyster may have seriously thought that his men were ill-prepared for wilderness warfare, he may also have been exaggerating the situation. Indeed, in a subsequent letter to Lt. General Haldimand, he makes it clear that the lack of cold weather gear, not ill-preparedness, was the reason for his refusal to take part in the winter campaign of 1782.[7]

The King's Regiment served in an adverse environment, long after their expected deployment. They utilized realistic training in order to achieve battlefield success, they were able to move with a speed that confounded American forces, and they effectively utilized volunteers to get the most out of their limited resources. It's almost as if the borders of Canada correspond to where the posts of the King's Regiment stood.

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

[1] Depeyster, Miscellanies, pg. xxxvi
[2] William Potter, Redcoats on the Frontier, MA Thesis, unpublished, pg 40.
[3] Mark Frederick Odintz, The British Officer Corps. University of Michigan, Dissertation, unpublished, pg 88. Gage Papers, Letter from Guy Carleton to Gage, July 4th, 1770.
[4] John D. Barnhart ed, Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution with the Unpublished Journal of Lieut. Gov. Henry Hamilton. William Evans ed, From Detroit to Fort Sackville: The Journal of Norman MacLeod, pg 81. 
[5] Haldimand Papers, Henry Bird to Arent S. Depeyster, July 1st, 1780.
[6] Ibid, Hamilton to Haldimand, October 7th, 1778. This letter indicates that all Kingsmen on the expedition were volunteers. Haldimand Papers, "Volunteers on the expedition of Captain Bird with their Pay", March 24th-August 4th, 1780.
[7] Haldimand Papers, Arent S. Depeyster to Haldimand, November 21st, 1782.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Russian Account of Poltava

Peter the Great at Poltava, Artist Unknown
The following is an account the Battle of Poltava, which an English nobleman received from Russian colleagues present at the battle. I have standardized the spelling to be internally consistent, but not otherwise modified the text.

Mons 13/24 July 1709
Right Honble:
                On this day & night I had the honour to give you an account of the great victory obtained by his Tsarish Majesty on the 27th past near Pultawa. Counts Golopkin  and Scharproff have sent the following relation, which differs in some particulars from what I then mentioned.
                On the 20th June all the Muscovite Army past the River Worskla, and encamped a small German mile from the Swedes: On the 24th they advanced further within a quarter of a mile and intrenched themselves to prevent all surprises, posting their horse on the Right under cover of some thick Bushes and two or three redoubts which were well furnish'd with men and Cannon, designing in this posture to prepare all things for a Battle.  But they were prevented by the King of Sweden who on the 27th in the morning very early posted the defiles with his whole army and attacked the horse with such fury that he obliged them to retire from their redoubts towards the trenches, after brave resistance, where drawing up again they returned to the charge and routed the Swedes right wing, taking Major General Schlippenbach prisoner.
In the meantime, Prince Menschikoff and General Renkel had been sent with a Detachment of horse and foot towards Pultawa , to intercept any new succor, and to attack such of the enemy as might be lelft in the Trenches:  On the way they met with reserve of about three thousand men, most whereof, after a short fight were either killed or taken Prisoners;  on which the Prince returned to the Main Army, but General Renkel continuing his march obliged Maj. General Roos who was left in the Trenches with three Regiments to surrender on discretion after a small resistance. While this past, the Enemy's horse had retreated to their foot, and ranged themselves in order of Battle about a quarter of a mile from the Muscovite Camp, on which his Tsarish Majesty drew out two lines of his foot, leaving the third to guard the trenches, and posted his horse on both wings. General Rönke having been wounded in the first action, General Bauer commanded the Right, Prince Menschikoff the left (where the chief action was expected) and his Tsarish Majesty the Main Body. About nine the fight began on both sides and in half an hour the Swedes both horse and foot were entirely routed; nor could the foot ever come to rally again, the muscovites driving them with sword in hand to a wood, where first Major general Shulenberg and soon after General Hamilton, Field Marshall Rheinschild, the Prince of Wirtemberg, several colonels and their other officers, and some thousand common soldiers were taken prisoners. Three miles round Pultawa was all covered with dead Bodys, so that they reckon to have killed eight or ten thousand Swedes with very little loss on their side. His Tsarish Majesty gave all possible proofs of a brave general and wise prince, his hat was shot through with a musket ball and prince Menshikoff had three horses wounded under him.

                The first line of muscovite host (or foot), about ten thousand strong won the Victory the second never coming to charges; the King of Sweden 's litter was found shot to pieces, and general Gallirin and Bauer were sent after the Enemy with the Guards and two other Regiments of foot and ten of dragoons; On the 28th they were followed by Prince Menshickoff with more foot and they had news that their troops were almost got up with the enemy who continued his flight with all possible diligence  and had already abandoned about three thousand of his Baggage wagons.  Count Piper, Mons. Cederholm, and Secretary Daben finding as means of escaping went into Pultawa of their own accord. 


Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prague, Heinrich, and Itzenplitz


Carl Roechling's re-imagining of Itzenplitz and Heinrich
Dear Reader,

Anniversaries matter. Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Prague, one of the early battles of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Far from giving a history of the battle, this post focuses on how Prinz Heinrich (often rendered Henri or Henry) of Prussia, and the Regiment von Itzenplitz gained noteriety as a result of their role in this combat.  After the battle, both the man and the unit became household names in Prussia. This post attempts to examine why.

This map shows the Prussian plan at Prague: to outflank Austrian positions by traversing the marshy ground east of the city


Although technically a Prussian victory, the day at Prague did not go well for the Prussian army. Fighting against a competent Austrian opponent (Ulysses Maximilian von Browne) as well as the nature of the swampy terrain around Prague, the Prussian advance stuttered and stalled most of the day. The first line of Prussian infantry was shattered in the initial attack, and Feldmarschal Schwerin, probably the most experienced general in the Prussian army, was killed while attempting to rally his regiment.


The Grosser-Generalstab Map of Prague, with Heinrich's progression highlighted
Seeing the difficulty of the Prussian advance, Prinz Henri, Ferdinand of Brunswick and General Christian Hermann von Manstein began an attack on their own initiative. Mannstein noticed a lightly defended gap at the northern end of the Austrian defensive line, just north of the Kejer-Teich (Kejer Pond). Manstein himself commanded the attack on an Austrian redoubt holding this position, while Prinz Heinrich subsequently led the Itzenplitz Regiment and the Manteuffel Regiment across the Roketnitzer-Bach in order storm a battery of cannons. 

Gunter Dorn's re-imagining of this famous scene
Legend has it that the diminutive Heinrich jumped into the river, and was swallowed up by the currents. The musketeers of Itzenpltiz grabbed the prince, raised him on their shoulders, and waded across the stream. Upon crossing the stream, Heinrich led the Itzenplitz and Manteuffel regiments in an attack on a battery of Austrian cannons on the northern edge of the Tabor-Berg. Having taken the battery, and protected the crossing of Manstein and Ferdinand's troops, the Prussians turned the Austrian cannons and bombarded the Austrian positions across the valley in the direction of Prague. By the end of the day, the Prussians had trapped the Austrians within Prague, but had lost a fearful toll of their best infantry. 

Prinz Heinrich
Although Friedrich II and Heinrich had already been the closest of the various Hohenzollern brothers, Prague cemented their relationship, just as it cemented Heinrich's position within the Prussian army. Heinrich's older brother, August Wilhelm, wrote of Prague: "My brother did wonders. The officers admire him, and the common soldiers swear by him. Heaven be praised that he was preserved, it is a miracle."(Aus der zeit des siebenjährigen krieges, 297.) 

The case of Heinrich and Regiment von Itzenplitz at Prague show that the Kabinettskriege era possessed capable junior commanders who were capable of efficiently taking initiative without orders, and decisively seizing ground which could impact the outcome of battles.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reforming Front on the Battlefields of the Mid-Eighteenth Century

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De Loutherbourg's Mock Battle at Warley Camp (1778)

Dear Readers,

Today, I want to examine two methods of changing  front in the eighteenth century. The first method, called wheeling, is quite well known even to individuals with a passing knowledge of military life. Timestamp 00:30 in the following video displays Hessian reenactors demonstrating a wheel in the 2015 Battle of Trenton reenactment. The basic concept is that one end (or the center,) of the line remains relatively stationary, while the rest of the formation pivots around it.


The concept is quite simple, and was widely used in eighteenth-century armies. However, historians and reenactors have identified another way which troops in the eighteenth century also reformed their front. By the 1780s, the British had developed a number of different ways of using this type of motion, with different orders for different situations. Troops would perform tasks such as forming to the right and left, a much faster way of wheeling on the run. Another way of changing the unit frontage in a rapid manner was breaking and reforming. In this method, the troops are dispersed, and then commanded to reform, usually facing a different direction than before. 

As opposed to the more stately wheel, troops were expected to reform the company at a much quicker speed. At timestamp 00:34 in the following video, you can see reenactors portraying British troops part of the way through executing this maneuver. In the video, they are reforming their front from a position perpendicular to the camera to one parallel, facing the camera. 


Up until this point, the exact origin of this maneuver is unclear. Reenactors have theorized that it came about as a result of British experience during the Seven Years' War in North America. Specifically, the first British source to mention this idea, Townshend's Orders to the Irish Establishment, given on May 15th, 1772, reference the idea as a light infantry exercise. The maneuver is to be carried out by "Light Infantry Companies...marching through a Wood or any Strong Country." 

The next British source to describe this idea, Thomas Simes, The Military Instructor, was printed in 1779. Rather than a company, Simes describes the maneuver as something that a battalion to execute in case of dispersal by the enemy. This command is a three step process. The commanding officer of the battalion gives the order: "Take care to disperse: March." At this point, the officers and colors of the battalion take six paces to the front, and the drummers give a long roll. Upon the command, "to arms," the battalion reforms around the colors. 

Finally, John Williamson's The Elements of the Military Arrangement, published in 1782, gives a much greater discussion of the various ways a company could use this process in order to reform on the run.

If not for the obvious similarities in these discussions, you could almost believe that they were three separate ideas, independently formulated. Townshend's is clearly a measure designed to change the front of company sized element of light infantry, Simes is a formalized order for reforming a battalion he does not even mention changing frontage.  Williamson's treatise makes it clear that speed, rather than formality, is the purpose of the exercise. However, my submission to you all is that all three of these authors drew on the same idea, and that the originator of the idea was not even an officer of the British army, but rather, this guy:

Frederick II, King of Prussia
In the 1743 Prussian infantry regulations, authored by Frederick II, often called, "the Great" contain a passage in which the kernel of all of these elements can be identified. 

Like Simes, Frederick identifies dispersal with an enemy attack, or "entstandenen Alarme," (Spontaneous Alarm), and describes the maneuver with a battalion size element in mind. Indeed, Simes seems to lift much of his text directly from the Prussian Reglement. 
Like Townshend, Frederick intends his officers to use the maneuver to change the frontage of their units. The officers were to swiftly, "change the front via the colors," and that soldiers received commands to, "face to the colors."
 Finally, like Williamson's treatise, Frederick indicates that the maneuver should be carried out with a high degree of speed. After dispersing, battalions should reform themselves, "with the utmost speed," and that after the order to reform has been given, "rush to reform themselves in their ranks and files."
You can find this passage on pages 130-132 of the original Prussian manual, and pages 107-108 of Fauwcitt's 1757 translation.

Thus, it would seem that Prussian ideas, rather than North American experience, led to the development of reforming fronts. This should not necessarily, surprise us: Williamson is explicitly overt in praising and copying Prussian ideas, while Simes directly copies portions of Faucwitt's translated Prussian regulations. With that being said, the British developed and perfected this idea in North America.  As Matthew Spring has shown in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, the British greatly adapted their tactics to a North American environment. By 1785, Charles Cornwallis expressed disgust at the outdated Prussian infantry maneuvers:

"The cavalry is very fine ; the infantry exactly like the Hessian, only taller and better set up, but much slower in their movements. Their manoeuvres were such as the worst General in England would be hooted at for practising ; two lines coming up within six yards of one another, and firing in one another's faces till they had no ammunition left: nothing could be more ridiculous."                                                                         (Cornwallis, 1859, vol I, 212.)

The description sounds like many twenty-first century reenactments.

So, while the Prussian infantry may have been at the cutting edge of tactical development in the 1750s, the British had clearly surpassed them in infantry maneuvers by the 1780s.

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Prussian Camp Security in the Eighteenth Century


Dear Reader,

When thinking about warfare in the eighteenth century, the minds of many enthusiasts immediately go to the great battles of the age. But what was a normal day like for these soldiers? My article over at Regiment von Itzenplitz examines the routine of camp security in the Prussian army. I hope you enjoy it!

Best Regards,

Alex Burns

Friday, March 3, 2017

Individual Spotlight: August Friedrich von Itzenplitz

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An officer of the Itzenplitz Regiment by Menzel
Dear Reader,


As a result of the famous Swiss diarist, Ulrich Bräker, many know that August Friedrich von Itzenplitz had a "Donner und Blitzen" reputation as a harsh commander of men, but did you know that he rose from the ranks? The Itzenplitz family served the Hohzollern dynasty of Prussia for much of the early modern period, and Friedrich August grew up in a family with a tradition of military service. 

August Friedrich von Itzenplitz enlisted in the Prussian army 1709 as a private, at age 16. He was assigned to an infantry regiment, sources disagree on whether this was IR 12 or IR 13, the unit which would later bear his name. Both after the Seven Years' War, and in the mid-nineteenth century, it was thought that he first served in IR. 13.  Itzenplitz served with distinction in the War of Spanish Succession, and was present at the bloody battle of Malplaquet in 1709. He transferred to leadership in 1715, when he was promoted to the rank of Ensign. 

By the time Frederick the Great ascended to the throne in 1740, Itzenplitz was an experienced junior officer, of the type which would carry Prussia to victory in the mid-eighteenth century. He served with distinction at the Battle of Mollwitz, and commanded both the IR 29 and IR 1 in the War of Austrian Succession. Itzenplitz met his greatest success in this conflict at the Battle of Hohenfriedeberg, where he commanded IR 1 (which exploited the charge of the Bayreuth Dragoons) and won the Pour le Merite. 

Itzenplitz was promoted to Major-General in the summer of 1750, and received the unit who would bear his name, IR 13/von Itzenplitz, in 1751. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, he consistently held a brigade command, and successfully commanded infantry assaults at Lobositz, Prague, and Rossbach. At Rossbach in particular, he earned distinction, as he commanded a brigade of Grenadier battalions in Prussian first line, and his troops captured a battery of five cannon. Itzenplitz missed the Battle of Leuthen, remaining in Saxony to watch the French and Reichsarmee. 

Itzenplitz gained further notoriety in the retreat from Bohemia after the Battle of Kolin. A battery of Prussian guns was left exposed to a mixed force of Croats and mounted troops in the withdrawal from Prague. Itzenplitz, seeing this, rode up to the guns with a single adjutant, and remained with the gunners until the artillery was safely withdrawn. Itzenplitz and his adjutant were exposed to a heavy fire, and his aide received a minor wound. 

In 1758, he was given independent command of a Corps of 12,000 men, which he led in a march to join King Frederick's army. For successfully organizing this independent command, he was awarded the order of the Black Eagle, the highest honor for Prussian nobility. In 1759, he successfully raided Imperial territory, before meeting his end during the disaster at Kunersdorf. At Kunersdorf, he commanded the center right division of the second infantry line, behind Johann Dietrich von Hülsen. In this battle, he was non-fatality wounded in the head, but his leg was mangled when his horse collapsed on him, and he took a musket ball through the hand. Together, these wounds forced the 76 year old general to succumb to blood loss, and he was taken off the field. Itzenplitz died a month after the battle from these wounds, but was recognized by contemporary Prussians as a hero.

Today, a number of individuals in Europe and North America continue to remember the legacy of Itzenplitz's unit, later known as IR 13. Through public history events, these reenactors seek to keep knowledge of the Seven Years' War alive. You can find a link to the North American site here.

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: Motivation in War by Ilya Berkovich

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Cover Art for Motivation in War

Dear Readers,

Today, we are going to look at the first major book of a younger historian of eighteenth-century conflict: Dr. Ilya Berkovich. Berkovich has impeccable academic credentials. He worked closely with Dr. Timothy Blanning at Cambridge and received advice from Dr. Christopher Duffy in the course of his studies.  Motivation in War examines the rationale for enlistment, reasons for continued service, and motivation in combat of eighteenth-century soldiers. In this framework, Berkovich uses the model of historian John Lynn's older but standard work, Bayonets of the Republic. Berkovich argues that soldiers, "embraced a unique corporate identity based on military professionalism, forceful masculinity, and hostility towards civilians." In the following review, I will evaluate the book on two levels. First, how successful is Berkovich at proving the main argument of his work? Second, how approachable is this book as a work of historical scholarship? In essence, does Berkovich show his due diligence as a scholar, and is his work readable for a general audience? 

In the first category, Berkovich succeeds admirably. He marshalls close to 250 primary sources from common soldiers of the eighteenth century, some of them previously unknown to historians such as Christopher Duffy. Although utilizing new material, Berkovich also efficiently examines known published accounts, gleaning new details from the older source material.

Motivation in War also demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the secondary literature on combat motivation, citing both eighteenth-century specialists such as Duffy, Lynn, and Nosworthy, in addition to more modern ways of thinking such as Marshall, Stouffer, Shils and Jannowitz's contributions to thinking about the primary group. Particularly, Berkovich follows in the footsteps of Sascha Möbius, Mehr Angst vor dem Offizier als vor dem Feind?, an important 2007 study which turns the famous quote of Frederick the Great, that men should be more afraid of their officers than the enemy, on its head. Surprisingly, Marcus von Salisch's recent Treue Deserteure: Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg is not cited.

Berkovich successfully shows that desertion was not an insurmountable obstacle for eighteenth-century armies. He also demonstrates the nuanced nature of military punishment and its effects on soldiers. However, Dr. Berkovich briefly overstates his case when arguing that soldiers created an identity for themselves in opposition to civilian life, and more importantly, that this resulted in violent actions towards civilians. Certainly, this occurred in the eighteenth century, but it was not necessarily the norm. Gemeine Hoppe, a Fusilier in the Alt-Kretzyen regiment, had this to say about his feelings towards civilians during the 1758 Zorndorf campaign: 

“We were all smoldering with anger over the destruction of Küstrin and the sufferings of the poor country people. The enemy had wasted and destroyed everything, and even broken into churches and robbed them. The poor farmers were scattered over the woods and fields like sheep with their wives and children. The children were crying for bread, so we gave them most of our rations, for which they brought us water in return.”

Hoppe's relation demonstrates a familiarity and reciprocal understanding of the suffering of civilians during wartime. In Hoppe's view, both Prussian civilians and soldiers worked together against a common enemy. His relation is all the more telling because Hoppe was not a native Prussian, he was a foreign-born ethnic German serving in the Prussian army. Other frequently cited common soldiers, such as Roger Lamb, also recorded their experience with civilians in mixed terms. It is undeniable that officers encouraged their men to stand apart from the norms of civilian life, but eighteenth-century soldiers rarely embraced an open hostility towards the civilians of their own nations.

Aside from this minor quibbling, Berkovich contributes an outstanding volume to the growing literature on eighteenth-century common soldiers. His work is quite successful as a scholarly monograph.  

In this second area of evaluation, approachability Motivation in War falls slightly short of the mark. Although doubtless interesting for specialists in the field, Berkovich uses a large amount of academic jargon in this work. For example, on page 10: 

"The claim for novelty of the current model is that it considers these two theories within a single matrix which defines the components of motivation. Although the subdivision of such a complex subject is artificial, it allows for the formation of distinct analytic categories which can be applied systematically, helping to counterbalance the anecdotal nature of the narrative sources and their authors' choice of incident and choice of language."

Although fascinating for an academic and interested reader, this type of writing may push away a more general audience. Berkovich's use of precise and exacting terminology is admirable, especially as English is not his first language, but this is still a potential drawback of the work, which often reads more like a dissertation. Finally, although Berkovich draws on an astounding number of narrative sources, the reader rarely becomes familiar with them as individuals, and their writing is rarely reproduced at length. All of these criticisms fall away when the book is evaluated as an academic monograph, and not a work of history intended for a wide audience. 

For anyone interested in the soldiers of the eighteenth century, this book is required reading. Historians, soldiers, reenactors, and wargamers could all learn from Berkovich's powerfully argued work. The eighteenth-century myth of a cowed group of hapless conscripts being driven into combat by cane-wielding officers is no longer tenable: Motivation in War has destroyed it.

If you are interested, you can find it available for purchase here.


Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns