Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Other Prussian in the Continental Army: Friedrich Wilhelm de Woedtke


Reenactors portray Prussian Infantry Regiment No. 12
Dear Reader,


Today, we are going to examine a Prussian soldier who came to North America, in order to serve the fledgling United States against Britain. The most famous Prussian, of course, is Freiherr de Steuben, the famous, "Baron von Steuben" of Valley Forge.[1] However, Steuben was not the first, or even the most senior Prussian to travel to assist the United States.  Steuben had been a Captain in a Frei Infantrie Regiment von Mayr at Rossbach, served on the staff of Johann Dietrich von Hülsen, was seconded to Frederick II's staff late in the war, and selected for a special class of officer training by the monarch after the war.

Another Prussian officer Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Woedtke (who does nothing to erase the Anglophone perception that all Prussian men were named Friedrich Wilhelm), traveled to North America early in the American War of Independence. He arrived in Philadelphia in May of 1776, and then traveled North to assist the continental army in northern New York, before dying of disease on 31st July 1776. He lies in an unmarked grave near Fort George.

Prussian officers with Frederick the Great before Leuthen
as reimagined by a 19th century artist

Unlike Steuben, Woedtke served originally in the Prussian cavalry, in the Leibregiment zu Pferde, or Cuirassier Regiment Nr. 3. His father and brother both served in the Prussian army, his father Georg Eggert was a colonel in the Regiment von Kalckstein, his brother Leopold Christian rose to the rank of captain in Dragoon Regiment Nr. 4. On paper, he seemed to be the perfect soldier. At age 22, in 1758, he was attached to the suite of Friedrich II of Prussia, and was promoted to Brigade-Major in 1762. Woedtke developed a sense of cynicism and insubordination in the Seven Years War. Georg Heinrich Berenhorst, also serving as an officer with the King's suite, recalled:
"Frederick no longer commanded love, respect, or even fear among the nearest and most intimate members of his suite. I can say this because I saw it with my own eyes. When we rode behind him there was a mischievous young brigade-major of the cavalry, called Woedtke, who set out to amuse us by going into comic contortions behind his back, imitating the way he sat in the saddle, pointing at him and so on. Wodtke bestowed on Frederick the nickname 'Grave-Digger'. Later on he abbreviated it to 'Digger', and this is what he called the great hero when we came together in private for jokes and malicious talk."[2]
Rolf Zahren, dearly departed reenactor
of Frederick the Great
This type of behavior eventually led to career disaster. While traveling in Poland in 1771, Woedtke married the daughter of a German merchant without the king's permission. He wrote for permission after the fact, but the king treated him stubbornly, charging him with desertion, putting out warrants for his arrest. Although temporarily put under arrest, he eventually fled to Switzerland, and then to Paris.[3]Benjamin Franklin forwarded Woedtke to Congress, writing a letter of recommendation that he was as successful Prussian officer who would assist the American cause.

Like the later Steuben, it seems that Woedtke was only presented to Benjamin Franklin he was in Paris, and therefore no longer in high regard in Prussia. Indeed, American observers thought that Woedtke cut an odd figure.
"Though I had frequently seen him before, yet he was so disguised in furs, that I scarce knew him, & never beheld a more laughable object in my life. Like other Prussian officers, he appears to me as a man who knows little of polite life, and yet has picked up so much of it in his passage through France, as to make a most awkward appearance."[4]
Woedtke, who spoke little English, and wrote French haltingly, seemed to genuinely support the idea of the American Revolution.[5] When speaking with Congress, he exclaimed, "Ah, liberdy is a fine ding! I likes Liberdy, the Koenig von Prusse is a great man for liberdy!"[6] Upon reaching the front lines, Freiherr de Woedtke exerted little influence on military affairs. His only major contribution was to vote for retreat in a council of war. Officers noted that he was hard to find, and that he seemed to be more concerned with his comfort than leading the army.

Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben
Americans frequently complained regarding Woedtke's drinking, some going as far as to suggest that this caused his death. William Allen, an officer in the 2nd Pennsylvania regiment, told a soldier, "No doubt the beast was drunk, and in front of the army."[7] Benjamin Rush wrote that Woedtke died from, "the effects of hard drinking."[8] While it might be possible to dismiss some of these reports, it does appear that  Woedtke drank heavily. Indeed, Steuben, writing to a Prussian aristocrat after the war, noted: "Our poor friend, Woedtke, found a grave in this country. Bile and French brandy finished him at Lake Champlain."[9]

However, disease plagued the Continental Army at this juncture, and it is unlikely that Woedtke simply drank himself to death. Ten days before his death, on July 20th, 1776, he was still attempting to manage military affairs. He wrote to Major General Gates:
"Sir: I have to inform you that I still lie in a very weak and low situation. I find the Canadians are gone on to Albany. I beg leave to advise the General to recall them to this place, with the person who has assumed to himself the title of Major, one Mr. Hare, who, when he arrives here I pray may be put under arrest... I have the honor to be your Excellency's most obedient Servant, "[10]
Despite possessing a number of personal flaws and suffering from a debilitating illness, Woedtke served with the American army in the field and died before he could make a serious impact on the cause of liberty. His credentials came closer to a high ranking Prussian officer than Steuben's did, which in itself is an important lesson. On paper, Steuben was a less attractive candidate than Woedtke, but it was Steuben, not Woedtke, who would forever be associated with Prussian contributions to the cause of the United States. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:


Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

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[1] The most recent scholarly biography of the Freidrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben in English is Paul Douglas Lockhart's, The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army. 
[2]Georg Heinrich Von Berenhorst and Eduard Von Bülow, Aus Dem Nachlasse Von Georg Heinrich Von Berenhorst , 181.
[3]Rolf Straubel has recently treated this event in his masterful 2012 book: "Er möchte nur wissen, dass die Armée mir gehöret": Friedrich II. und seine Officier", pg. 305-307. Although an excellent treatment of the Prussian aspects of Woedtke's career, Straubel makes several mistakes, suggesting that Woedtke joined the English army and that he died in 1782 in Canada.  
[4] Life of Archbishop Carroll, 42.
[5] Douglas R. Cubbison, The American Northern Theater Army in 1776, 137.
[6] Alexander Graydon, Memoir of his own Time, 139.
[7] James Wilkinson, Memoirs of my own times, 53.
[8]Butterfield, Rush Letters, Vol 1, 110–12
[9] Friedrich Kapp, Life of Frederick William Von Steuben, 698
[10] American Archives, Series V, Vol 1, pg. 475.

Monday, January 28, 2019

An American Soldier in Prussia: Colonel William Stephens Smith

Colonel Smith later in life by Mather Brown
Dear Reader,

As I have already noted on this blog,  the Prussia reviews in the late eighteenth century became something of an international affair, with military men from across Europe traveling to witness the Prussian army of Frederick II. Today, we are examining the experiences of just such a man: American Colonel William Stephen Smith. Smith was an officer in the Continental Army, and served in numerous actions from New York, to Trenton, to Monmouth. He served as a staff officer for both General John Sullivan and  George Washington. Famously, Smith married the daughter of John and Abigail Adams: Abigail "Nabby" Amelia Adams.


In 1785, while traveling with future Latin American revolutionary General Fransico del Miranda, Colonel Smith requested and obtained permission from Frederick II to observe the Prussian reviews. He kept a diary of this journey, which serves as the major source for his movements and actions during this time. Miranda and Smith traveled through Holland and the western Holy Roman Empire, and had the equivalent of "car trouble" when their carriage broke down just west of Magdeburg.[1] Upon reaching the Prussian dominions, Smith immediately began trying to reconcile the myth of Frederick's Prussia with his republican (ie, not monarchist) political leanings. According to Smith, Magdeburg:
is accounted the strongest fortified place in his dominions, and was the place of his residence in the last war. It is situated on the Lower Elbe in Saxony and has about 30,000 inhabitants. Here are about 260 prisoners of the state in the tower- on the citadel, which we visited, are the insignia of despotism. Here a subject is confined for any number of years or for life as his king, in a capricious moment, thinks proper to decide."[2] 
Smith spent considerable time in his diary dwelling on the injustices of absolutism and the fate of political prisoners. These subjects, Smith reminded his diary, were "lessons for republicans, and subjects of the advocates of despotism to blush at."[3] The poverty of Prussia also drew Smith's criticism. He recalled, "the sentinel at his post, high plumed and ready for heroic deeds, with an hungry countenance, will beg your charity- and if he is detected in this, he is punished." Even the Prussian countryside was poor even Smith's view: "the country between this and the Elbe is very poor, sandy- pine producing country- there is nothing remarkable in this place".[4]

View of Berlin, 1780s
After describing Potsdam at some length, Smith recalled meeting his former British foes on the review field. He had served against many of the officers during the war in North America, and had met several of them personally:
a number of British officers appeared on the field, amongst the rest was Lord Cornwallis, General Musgrave and Colonel Fox- these three I knew in America... I observed them notice me at a distance but no advance was made- I know so much of the British character as always to meet them upon the haughtiest ground and when they find you are stationed it is ten to one but they make the advance and become very civil- I took my position and entrenched myself and the morning passed in mutual attention to the manoeuvre.[5]
Much of Smith's diary contains similar observations, lauding and criticizing the individuals and cultures he came in contact. He mocked Frederick's adviser Moses Mendelssohn, calling him "a Jew-Philosopher... an old antediluvian figure—very deformed... [and] the Israelite."[6]
Even as he took in Prussian culture, Smith observed the mock battles and reviews of the Prussian miltitary with great interest. He was not afraid to give critical feedback when the Prussians employed a tactic he thought was outmoded on foolish. Using cavalry attacks as a method of buying time particularly drew his criticism, and he believed that the Prussians employed canister shot at too long a range. He:
went to the field-attended the manoeuvres of 4000 men under General Muellendorf—the governor of this place- the troops are superior to panegeric-- they marched in platoons from the town to their ground- on the word, the line was formed with the greatest perfection-- they advanced in line- advanced by platoon firing, then by regiment, and finally, on a supposition of being pressed by cavalry, they gave ground, retiring in eight detached lines of 500, each, in such a manner as to perfectly cover each other.[7]
Detail from Berlin Scene, 1780s
 At times he praised the Prussian reviews as realistic: "General Mullendorf, when the hussars began their skirmish, detached his jagers and a battalion of grenadiers with two six[pders] to occupy a small wood and hill."[8] Colonel Smith could not fail to be impressed with the movements of the Prussian troops, but found their weaponry to be a mixed bag. He reported that,
"the Grenadiers... move with great order and silence--their fire cannot be very destructive--the breach of their pieces is very light and not calculated to take aim, and the weight of the cylindrical ram-rod bears down the muzzle of the piece so much that it requires very considerable exertion to keep it any time steady."[9]
Despite the problems in aiming the Prussian flintlocks, Smith found some Prussian technological improvements to his liking:
 Each soldier is provided with a case for his lock which preserves the pieces effectually from rain during the march, and in action they fire with it fixed, but in the use of it the same mode of loading with the cylindrical ramrod must be adopted and of course the breach of the piece must be so formed as to admit the powder into the pan thro' the touch-hole, for this the powder must be fine—leather guards against the heat of the pieces.[10] 
Other military observers of the time, such as David Dundas, likewise took note of this particular Prussian invention. Like most visitors to Frederick's Prussia, he could not fail to comment on the person of the king. Lafayette found that Frederick was a dirty old corporal, while
The king commanded with great attention, dressing each platoon personally on the formation of the line—his military abilities are undoubtedly great and had he the affections of his army he might be a second conqueror of the world—his armies are composed of dissatisfied mercenaries, compelled by severity of discipline to discharge their duty... unfortunately the king on the night of the 20th was seized with a fit of the gout and was not able to attend the troops, but so loath is he to part with command that he made arrangements for the maneuvres in his chamber, and assigned every officer his station and business--he says the spirit deserves a better body—sometimes when age hinders his speed he says, "spirit can't you make this carcass move a little faster—march you old bugger-march!"[11]
In addition to taking the pulse of Prussia's military and ruling class, Smith displayed a keen interest in military history. He toured the battlefields of the Seven Years War and War of Austrian Succession. "We arrived at Pirna at twelve—this place is remarkable for the position of the Saxon-army under the command of its Elector in the campaign of 1756 when beseiged by the king of Prussia—it is a most elegant position."[12] Near Dresden, he recalled,  On the 4th. the Commandant sent an Engineer with us to view the field on which the battle of Kesseldorf was fought on the 15th December 1745, between the advance corps of the Austrian Army."[13] Crossing the border into Bohemia, Smith and Miranda walked the field at Lobositz, "On the 8th. accompanied by the School-master and an old woman as an interpreter we reconnoitered the field where Frederick with 24,000 Prussians attacked."[14] By the later third of the eighteenth century, observing battlefields had become something of a pastime for military men, long before the tradition of the staff ride made it a formalized experience.

Edward Francis Cunningham's
“Frédéric le Grand, retournant à Sans-Souci après les manoeuvres de Potsdam accompagné de ses Généraux”

However, despite the splendor of the review, Smith understood that the impressive edifice he witnessed was unstable. Unlike many officers inflicted with the sickness of "Prussomania," Smith found that:
The situation of his armies as to discipline, and the skill of his officers cannot be exceeded, but now they are at their zenith Frederick is gliding rapidly down the current of time, and according to the course of nature cannot float much longer on the surface.[15]
Colonel Smith's impressions of Prussia give us a unique window into the kingdom in Frederick's twilight years. Obviously, his republican sentiments gave Smith reason to criticize Prussia's authoritarian institutions. Despite this, he found himself fascinated by the military culture of Prussia, and from a purely tactical perspective, found something to admire about the Prussian military.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:



Thanks for Reading,




Alex Burns
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[1] William Stephens Smith to Abigail Adams, 5 September 1785
[2] Archivo del General Miranda, Vol 1, 371.
[3] Ibid, 372.
[4] Ibid, 374.
[5] Ibid, 379.
[6] Ibid, 384.
[7] Ibid, 380.
[8] Ibid, 399.
[9] Ibid, 380.
[10] Ibid, 399.
[11] Ibid, 383, 400.
[12] Ibid, 408.
[13] Ibid, 411.
[14] Ibid, 415.
[15] Ibid, 395

Friday, November 16, 2018

In the Service of Two Kings: Polish and Prussian Common Soldiers in the 18th Century (Part 1)



Painting of Polish soldiers by J. Ch. Mock,
"Kampament wojsk polskich i saskich pod Wilanowem w 1732 r.",
Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie.
Today, we have a post from Dr. Tomasz Karpinski, on Prussian and Polish common soldiers.[1] Few stories of common soldiers and their lives serving in either the Polish or Prussian Armies are passed down to us from written sources. It is not easy to follow someone's life. It is even harder if this person lived 250 years ago, especially when they failed to write anything down or leave behind a diary, a letter, or other writings. In these cases, still another way we can learn something more about common soldiers. This source is the Krixrecht or Kriegs-recht, or in simpler terms court martial records. 

Some time ago I discovered a very interesting article about former African-American slaves in Hessian service during war of American Revolutionary War. This brought me to learn about a very big database of soldiers served in "Hessian" units during that war. By curiosity I found out that also a few Poles served in the Hessian Landgrave’s Subsidientruppen army. It was strange to me that such men would choose hard service so far from home. But was the distance and their life choices really that exceptional? 

Over the next few weeks, I would like to describe the stories of 4 men that served in army of both Prussian and Polish armed forces. Their lives were simple and in many aspects still stand unknown to us, but understanding such lives is frequently the job of historians. The central basis for these stories are of course manuscripts of so called inquisitions - questioning and describing the criminal activities of those men, which have been in archives. Only a small fraction of these records survived the fires of the Second World War. Digging up these stories exposing them to the light of day allows us to understand a topic rarely examined by English-language historians, because of language barrier, etc. In today's post, we will examine the first of these four men: Michael Schultz.

Elbing in the 18th Century
Michał Szulc was of rather medium height, 73 1/2 inches (about 176,4 cm). Unfortunately we do not know how old he was. He joined the Polish Army, and had been recruited on the 24th December 1737 to the Prinz Foot Regiment, which stationed at this time in Elbing (Elbląg, PL). He served in company commanded by Lieutenant Baltazar Bystram, who was promoted to captain in 1740. As a younger inexperienced soldier, he was assigned to a musketeer company.

 In his court martial records, we read:
"... when he was at furloughed in Danzig (Gdańsk, PL), he secretly married a woman, and upon his return, he kept that secret until it was revealed. He then deserted to the King of Prussia on 21 April 1744 and joined Möllendorfs' Dragoons [DR6] o. He served (in this Prussian unit) for two years, and during “the grassing” (and eighteenth-century term for pasturing) he deserted [from that unit] and asked for a pardon (from the Polish Army), which he received and was returned to his previous company with another deserter named Both, and once again swore loyalty to articles of war by the flag. He received Tractament [XVIII Century "pay" name] and uniform regularly with the others, and after 4 months with together with musketeer Both and one more musketeer ran away during the night from the regiment. He crossed the wall and ditches and cost his company loss of his weapon and uniform. On 17th this month when one of the NCO's was returning from furlough from Danzig, [Schultz] has been seen in Elbling in a suburb by others soldiers of the Garrison, and was identified, captured and taken under arrest. By the inquisition he could bring nothing llogical for his defense, whereupon for his malicious desertion by the laws of war and 8th article accordingly he was sentenced to death by hanging."[2]

In the eighteenth-century, furlough was not something that everyone could acquire, and it was often denied to common soldiers for fear of their deserting. We do not know what had happened in Danzig, and what was the name of woman who Michael decided to marry. Michael likely chose to keep that fact a secret for financial reasons, since soldiers marriage usually required the permission of the Regimental Chef who needed to be paid off for such agreements (Ger. Frau-schein).Clearly Michael fell in love or was being reckless, not taking into consideration those obvious obstacles and made a promise he could not have kept. The girl lived quite a distance from city where Schultz served in the garrison. When the whole affair (if we can use this word?) finally came to light (maybe the girl came to search for her husband?) and Michael was afraid of punishment and fled to Prussia, also changing his branch of service from infantrymen to cavalrymen. Maybe Michael was born into military service or really enjoyed this way of living. It is unknown when Schultz joined Möllendorfs' Dragoon Regiment, nor if it was in 1744 soon after he deserted from Prinz Regiment and took part in War of Austrian Succession or he wandered some time before joined the army again. 


Schultz was likely born in Prussia (Not the kingdom, but the region in 18th century Poland),and he chose to join a regiment which had its quarters nearby at Königsberg (Królewiec, today Kaliningrad, RU). Soon after, he deserted from Prussian service as well, and was willing to rejoin the [Polish] Crown Army. The reasons might be lighter duty or less rigor - we cannot say for certain. He did not flee alone, but took with himself a friend named Both. Serving his Polish Majesty August III wasn’t exactly the stuff of dreams, and after 4 months three soldiers (Schultz, Both and one more musketeer) deserted again. For Schultz it was probably last time. Michael decided that military life had nothing more to offer, and he laid low as a civilian until he was caught in April 1751, 7 year after his first desertion. The treacherous musketeer who had sworn his loyalty twice (three times including Prussian service) was punished with the highest vigor, although it turns out Michael was not killed.

A portrait of General Goltz, Chef of Schultz's Regiment
The court martial had not yet finished with Michael, however Two months after being captured and convicted he was sent deep into territory to Poland to Częstochowa (PL):

"As regards to convicted Michael Schullza, although for double desertion the holy Krixrechts recommends the gibbet, which is a just punishment for this crime, I will give him his life, but for the first 3 Fridays he shall run the gauntlet of 200 men 10 times, and after that pro comendo caput general major de Goltz has ordered for this Schultz to be sent to Fortress Częstochowa under secure guard, so he is unable to desert again. After running the gauntlet he will serve in this prison [working with a barrow] 1 year and 6 weeks after which He can rejoin his regiment or not."[3] 

This is the last trace of Michael Schultz in the documentary record. Over the next few weeks, we will examine of the lives of three more such common soldiers from court martial records. If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading,


Dr. Tomasz Karpinksi


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[1] Dr. Tomasz Karpinksi works as an archivist in Poznań. He has published on the Prussian and Polish armies of the eighteenth-century, and works to promote knowledge regarding military cultures in the ancien régime. 
[2]Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych, Archiwum Branickich z Rosi, Militaria,  Pudło 7, plik 3;
[3]Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych, Archiwum Branickich z Rosi, Militaria,  Pudło 9, plik 7;       


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Young Historian Spotlight: Davis Tierney

Davis Tierney as a Loyalist


Today, we are continuing with the second of a series of interviews with a number of young historians. By the time this series concludes in early November, we will have heard from Jack Weaver, Andrew Warren, Ben Olex, Casey Hill, Samantha Sproviero, and Davis Tierney. All of these individuals are broadly interested in the Kabinettskriege era, and have been selected as a result of recent promotion, impending graduate school applications, or work recently begun in graduate school or at a historic site. Today's young historian Davis Tierney, a seasoned historic interpreter, and graduate of William and Mary. Davis currently works as the director of the Old Fort Niagara historic interpreter program.

Alexander Burns: What drew you to study the history in this era? In 2018, much of popular memory of military history in the United States is focused on World War 1, World War 2, and the Vietnam War. What about the history of the 1688-1815 era do you find so compelling?

Davis Tierney[1]: Honestly? I totally stumbled into it. I’d always liked history but never really nailed down a particular period, but if I had to credit one thing, it was being introduced to Rev war reenacting in college, particularly going to events at Colonial Williamsburg. I had worked at Jamestown doing 17th century stuff in the past, and had been doing great war for a while, but being in a living 18th century town of that scale and seeing everything that 18th c. living history could offer really got me hooked. The more I read about the time period the more interesting I found everything. I liked being able to see the battlefields without having to buy a plane ticket, I loved (and still love) the aesthetic of the period, and found many of the period writers surprisingly relatable.

AB: Is there a particular person, conflict, event, or geographical setting which draws you to this era?

DT: I’m definitely a revolution junky. I enjoy reading about and studying the other conflicts (Seven years war is my #2) but the revolution is what I always come back to. In particular, the study of loyalists during the revolution is a subject that really grabbed onto me in college and didn’t let go. Whether it’s looking at tories raiding the New York frontier with Six Nations war parties, highland loyalists at moore’s creek, or the better known loyalists under Simcoe and Tarleton, I’m all about it. Loyalists have been given such a bad reputation for such a long time. I feel like much of the American public either knows nothing about them, or believes they are the incarnation of satan (Thanks Mel Gibson). As a public historian I feel it is my responsibility to humanize these people, explain their motivations, and show the public the facts of their actions in as plain terms as is possible, and let them draw their own conclusions.

Davis (left) with some of his interpretive staff from Fort Niagara

AB: Working at a historic site, do you ever get push-back from the public as you attempt to humanize these figures? As your historic site is close to Canada, what do Canadian visitors think of your humanization of Loyalists?

DT: It’s extremely rare that people react negatively in any significant way. They might crack a joke or two, but I have yet to encounter anyone really nasty about it. The closest I get are traitor comments, (in a joking manner) which are easy to direct into a discussion about who is betraying who in this conflict. As to the Canadians, they love it, as it’s totally not the perspective they thought they’d get in the US. Southern Ontario, being the place where many loyalists ended up after the war, is full of families that can trace their heritage to American Loyalists, and references to important loyalist figures are all over the area.

AB: How do you plan to continue your research into this era? Many of you have been employed in public history settings, or are currently applying to graduate programs. Why have you chosen your particular path?

DT: I chose public history largely because I needed a break from school. I just didn’t have it in me at the time to go get another degree, but I still wanted to spend my time doing historical work, and now here I am. I absolutely love my job. I get to go to work, do cool stuff, learn interesting things, and then tell other people about them. I get to come up with the programs that will (hopefully) light a spark in some kid’s head, maybe convincing them to become historians. The further I get from my undergrad days, the more I like the idea of going back to school, but that’s years in the future.

AB: How does your particular line of research or interpretation style share your topic, not just with fellow historians and researchers, but with the public in the United States?

Davis working at Old Fort Niagara

DT: Being at a historic site, sharing with the public is the job. The key to that is making sure you’ve done your reading on the academic side, and knowing how to distill With Zeal & With Bayonets Only into a demonstration in a way that people who aren’t massive nerds like us will actually understand. Generally I find that the public, whether children or adults, are almost always capable of understanding more than you might initially think. We are here to make this more than an old place with some “boomsticks”. It is the job of a good interpreter to impart why all of this is important, how did these things change the lives of very real people, and what can we learn from them.

AB: What have you been reading, recently? Could you recommend one book on your topic of interest, or any recent work on the era?

DT: I’ve been working my way through a bunch of books by Gavin Watt. Right now I’m on his book called  I am heartily ashamed, The Revolutionary War’s Final Campaign as waged from Canada in 1782.   I continue to be impressed by the degree of specificity with which he nails these raids down. Compared to reading about the massive coastal battles, his works on the frontier war feel much more personal and specific (perhaps because of the smaller scale?) and are introducing me to an element of the revolution I only had vague knowledge of. I knew there were raids, and what their broader objectives were, but to get nice and detailed about each one is fantastic.

AB: Thanks Davis! I look forward to seeing where your career takes you!

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[1]Davis Tierney has been a historic interpreter for nine years, both professionally and as a hobbyist, starting out with the Jamestown-Yorktown foundation. After graduating from the College of William & Mary with a bachelors in History, he worked for the Colonial Williamsburg foundation as a tour guide, military interpreter, and a brief stint in historic trades. He is currently the Interpretive Program Manager at Old Fort Niagara.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Young Historian Spotlight: Samantha Sproviero


Today, we are continuing with the second of a series of interviews with a number of young historians. By the time this series concludes in early November, we will have heard from Jack Weaver, Andrew Warren, Ben Olex, Casey Hill, Samantha Sproviero, and Davis Tierney. All of these individuals are broadly interested in the Kabinettskriege era, and have been selected as a result of recent promotion, impending graduate school applications, or work recently begun in graduate school or at a historic site. Today's young historian Samantha Sproviero, gifted young graduate student focusing early nineteenth-century Prussia. Sam's exciting research focuses on queenship during conflict in German Central Europe. She is a second-year MA student at West Virginia University, working with Dr. Katherine Aaslestad. 

Alexander Burns : What drew you to study the history in this era? In 2018, much of popular memory of military history in the United States is focused on World War 1, World War 2, and the Vietnam War. What about the history of the 1688-1815 era do you find so compelling?

Samantha Sproviero[1]: To be honest, I think I was a bit repelled by military history initially. I realize that’s a strange reason to study something, but sitting in my first military history class I was taken back by the fact that it was a male-dominated class in which many of my fellow classmates were fetishizing weapons and destruction. The class itself, however, turned out to be nothing like that—it wasn’t about weapons or destruction at all. It had more to do with society—the changes war had on the lives of people. I think it evoked such a strong initial reaction because I recognized it as so vitally important to understanding history. I also felt my importance as a woman in a class like this, and the importance of including the voices of women in military history classes. So I wouldn’t really identify myself a military historian, but I can’t see myself being a gender historian or a social historian—or really any kind of historian—without understanding the importance of the military. You’re missing a big piece of the story without it. The Napoleonic era was particularly interesting to me because it highlights a lot of the ideas I saw as so important. It’s also an interesting period in Prussian history, as the esteemed Prussian military faces a devastating defeat at Jena, is placed under Napoleonic rule, and then rises up to help defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. I’m interested in that process and how it impacts the Prussian people (and women!) in particular.

AB: Is there a particular person, conflict, event, or geographical setting which draws you to this era?

SS: I think individuals are what draws me to history in general. Being that I’m interested in gender history during the nineteenth century, Queen Louise of Prussia is a particularly compelling figure. On a personal level, Louise symbolizes my first time living abroad, and my first experience in Berlin. Visiting her mausoleum in Charlottenburg was probably one of my favorite experiences there, which sounds strange—I don’t usually enjoy walking around mausoleums—but I was particularly struck by the marble sarcophagus of Queen Louise. She was only 34 when she died, yet she managed to leave behind a legacy as a unique German queen—really the only one to express interest in wartime decisions. It was easy to picture her alive, leading dragoons through the Brandenburg Gate. Louise’s story as a woman during a war has piqued my interest in the role of women in Prussian society during the Napoleonic Wars in particular… Not to mention the fact that any woman who threatened Napoleon was, to be frank, pretty bad-ass. He allegedly referred to her has “my beautiful enemy,” and French newspapers called her an “Amazon woman.” She was greatly offended, but I think it serves as a testament to her importance in Prussian society and her impact on her husband’s decisions during this period of war.


Queen Louise review her regiment of Dragoons
(Richard Knotel, late nineteenth century)

AB: How do you plan to continue your research into this era? Many of you have been employed in public history settings, or are currently applying to graduate programs. Why have you chosen your particular path?

SS: I’m currently a master’s student at West Virginia University studying European History, with a focus on 19th Century Germany. I’m working a graduate instructor here, teaching Western Civilizations since 1600. I’m open-minded about the future, and hope to pursue a Ph.D. in history. I really love teaching, which is why I’ve pursued graduate school at all. My interests have always been rooted in storytelling. In college, I began as a journalism major. Writing articles allowed me to listen to my community’s stories and share them. My sophomore year of college, I worked as a supplemental instructor for a world civilizations class and although hesitant, capitalized on the opportunity to lecture. Once I saw lecturing as a form of storytelling, I felt at home. Now, focusing on the lives of women in particular, I feel especially fulfilled—I’m sharing the stories of voices that were missing from the narrative.

AB: What have you been reading, recently? Could you recommend one book on your topic of interest, or any recent work on the era?

SS: I’ve currently been working on a historiography of queenship for my thesis, so I’ve been reading through a pretty long list of books on queens. But I think if I had to make a specific recommendation, it would be "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," by Joan W. Scott. It’s a tough read, but really provides a theoretical foundation for the inclusion of gender in historical analysis. It’s helped me better understand a lot of the queenship studies I’ve been reading, and gender history in general. My favorite queenship study so far has been Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette by Carlyon Hariss. Hariss directly compares Henrietta Maria of England and Marie Antoinette of France in order to use the role of queen consort as a lens to better understand the political and social changes during the early modern period. Although the two queens lived in different kingdoms and during different centuries, Harris draws parallels between their lives to draw larger conclusions about the role of queen consorts in general—but read Scott first!

AB: Thanks Sam! We can't wait to see where your career takes you!


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[1]Samantha Sproviero graduated from the Ramapo College of New Jersey, summa cum laude, with a B.A. in history and a minor in literature. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in history from West Virginia University where she works as a graduate instructor. This semester, she is teaching Western Civilizations since 1600 and working on her master's thesis. Her current research interests include nineteenth century women and philanthropy and nineteenth century queenship studies with a focus on Prussia. She hopes to graduate this spring and apply to Ph.D. programs in the near future. Her dream is to spend her days teaching as a professor, traveling to Berlin, and sharing her love of history with her students.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Young Historian Spotlight: Casey Hill

Casey Hill working at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Today, we are continuing with the second of a series of interviews with a number of young historians. By the time this series concludes in early November, we will have heard from Jack Weaver, Andrew Warren, Ben Olex, Casey Hill, Samantha Sproviero, and Davis Tierney. All of these individuals are broadly interested in the Kabinettskriege era, and have been selected as a result of recent promotion, impending graduate school applications, or work recently begun in graduate school or at a historic site. Today's young historian Casey, a historian interested in a vital era of colonial conflict. Casey has worked as an historic interpreter at the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments, and is currently in the process of applying to graduate programs in historical archaeology. Casey possesses a broad range of knowledge on the War of Jenkins Era, and plans to study this topic in graduate school.

Alexander Burns : What drew you to study the history in this era? In 2018, much of popular memory of military history in the United States is focused on World War 1, World War 2, and the Vietnam War. What about the history of the 1688-1815 era do you find so compelling?

Casey Hill[1]: What drew me to to the military history of this particular era was actually getting involved in it. From a young age, I have always had an interest in history and naturally, this interest has expanded over the years. In 2013, I made the first step by establishing myself as a volunteer with the National Park Service at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida. I was doing this while working on my undergraduate so unfortunately, I didn’t have ample time to dedicate to it but I managed a couple weekends each month. This was my first involvement with reenacting and living history. I eventually was fortunate enough to  be able to get a student job with the NPS at the Castillo, which really changed things up for me quite a bit. I was able to learn so much about the Castillo and its involvement in history. The main interpretive theme is the time portrayed during the British siege that St. Augustine experienced in 1740. Naturally, I wanted to find out as much as I could, not only for my job, but because I was personally very interested. I learned all about the War of Jenkins’ Ear which I personally find the most compelling about this era.

AB: Is there a particular person, conflict, event, or geographical setting which draws you to this era?

CH: Yes. As I had mentioned before, for me it is the War of Jenkins’ Ear but I would also have to say King George’s War and the War of the Austrian Succession in general. Again, being surrounded by and involved with St. Augustine’s history when I was working there, really sparked my interest not only in that conflict, but the specific siege that St. Augustine experienced in 1740 led by General James Oglethorpe. The British invasions of Florida and the Spanish Invasions of Georgia and the Carolinas have always fascinated me. They are very obscure parts of American history, but are also quite important which is one of the many reasons I love talking to people about it. Political cartoons, ballads, broadsides, maps, pamphlets, commemorative medals, just about any type of 18th century material culture you can think of was produced during this war especially regarding Admiral Edward Vernon and the capture of Porto Bello in 1739, the successful capture of Porto Bello made Vernon an instant hero in Britain and really helped to establish the national pride of Britain, the image of the British Tar and Britannia ruling the waves as we see this famous song come out of this period. That victory also created so much interesting material culture!. My interest has evolved so much that I even find myself acquiring said original items from this period.


Casey working at the  Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments

AB: Casey, that is really interesting. Do you view the War of Jenkins Ear as part of a global conflict between 1740-1748? I know that is a common interpretation of the Seven Years War, and wonder if you have seen it with this conflict as well?

CH: I most definitely do. As far as the War of Jenkins’ Ear goes, Britain officially declared war on Spain in October 1739 and a little over a year later, the War of the Austrian Succession (WAS) broke out in Europe. It was very much a global conflict and encompassed several theaters of war. In addition to the War of Jenkins’ Ear (WJE), these include King George’s War (KGW), which was a conflict between the British and French primarily over Louisbourg and Nova Scotia which erupted in 1744.  WAS also included the First Carnatic War (1746-48) between the French and British over control of Madras and Pondicherry (which were two major battles in their own right) in India, two very important trading ports that the French and British East India Companies fought over for control. There were roughly nineteen battles/engagements that made up KGW (1744-48) which covered the areas of New York, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia as well as roughly nineteen engagements that made up the WJE (1739-48) that covered the south British colonies of North and South Carolina and Georgia and Spanish Florida, the Caribbean, South America and various naval engagements in European waters and the Pacific. It was also very much a global conflict for Colonial Americans as it was the first foreign war they directly fought in. Sir William Gooch’s 42nd Regiment of Foot, or the “American Regiment” was the first all Colonial American regiment raised and put on the British Establishment and consisted of roughly 3,000 men from 10 different colonies from New York to North Carolina. It was established with the sole purpose of fighting the Spanish in the West Indies, primarily the ill-fated Cartagena expedition of 1741. Lawrence Washington, George Washington’s older half brother, was a commissioned officer in this regiment. 

AB: How do you plan to continue your research into this era? You have been employed in public history setting, and are currently applying to graduate programs. Why have you chosen your particular path?

CH: I am also in the process of applying for graduate school; planning on pursuing historical archaeology, collections management, and historic preservation. I also do substantial independent research on my area of interest which includes collaborating and/or visiting historic sites that are relevant to my research but also acquiring primary sources that pertain to my area/conflict of interest. I would also love to do some proper funded research, perhaps in my masters program with a visit to Spain to visit some of the archives, museums, and libraries. I hope to eventually start giving talks/presentations on the War of Jenkins’ Ear using my collection as a visual and tangible aid, which I managed to do at my previous job and hope to continue in the future.

AB: What have you been reading, recently? Could you recommend one book on your topic of interest, or any recent work on the era?

CH: Since I have many books on many different topics of the period, I will stick with the main topic of the era being discussed. Apart from the primary source material from my collection, I have a handful of good books I could recommend for the War of Jenkins’ Ear period. The one I have acquired recently, which actually just came out in 2016 and I highly recommend, is titled The Temptations of Trade: Britain, Spain, and the Struggle for Empire by Adrian Finucane [University of Pennsylvania Press]. The others I would recommend (and have read) are: America’s First Marines: Gooch’s American Regiment, 1740-1742 by Lee G. Offen, On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World by Paul M. Pressly, Trade and Privateering in Spanish Florida, 1732-1763 by Joyce Elizabeth Harman (a great little book!), A Relation, or Journal, Of a late Expedition, &c.: A Facsimile Reproduction of the 1744 Edition with an Introduction and Index by John Jay Tepaske [Bicentennial Floridiana Facsimile Series/University of Florida Press] (this is also available digitally), and last but not least, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South by Alejandra Dubcovsky.
AB: Thanks! Is there a reason you enjoy Finucane’s book? Can you tell us a bit about it?

CH: I am always excited to see new books/research/material come out about this period. I found that it read very well and I feel it greatly explained the reasons behind the lead up to the outbreak of the War of Jenkins’ Ear, beginning right around the time of the end of the War of the Spanish Succession when Britain wins the right to begin trading with the closed Spanish market by way of the Assiento all the way through to when war was declared, and even the years of conflict. April Hatfield of Texas A&M University summed up this book pretty well and I would like to use an excerpt from what she said: “Adrian Finucane puts a human face on the Caribbean’s imperial and commercial struggles by bringing to life the stories of the South Sea Company’s agents in Spanish America. In the process, she answers a number of important questions about the nature of eighteenth-century trade and illustrates how British and Spanish empires, despite their unrelenting rivalry, depend on one another.” It is always important in this field to try to “put a human face” to any type of struggle or conflict that is going on to help try to understand the bigger picture, and I believe this book does that very well by not only telling stories of the South Sea Company agents experiencing the rising tensions first hand, but explaining the fact that Britain and Spain heavily relied on each other in trade in the West Indies, but at the same time, fought for dominant control of the seas and for free and warranted trade rights. It’s interesting also because Spanish Florida relied heavily on trade from the northern British colonies of Georgia, the Carolinas, and even New York (though it was illicit) because St. Augustine could no longer rely on the nearly nonexistent yet promised supplies from the Spanish via Mexico City. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting aspects of this conflict, and this book really helps to delve deeper into that. I would like to end my answer with the last line of this book: “The increase in imperial control enacted by the British and Spanish in the second half of the eighteenth century shifted the opportunities of empire away from those who succumbed to the temptations of trade during earlier iterations of empire.” I think that is one of the most important lessons that can be taken from this conflict. 

AB: Thanks Casey! We look forward to following your career as it continues!

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[1] Casey Hill graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with his BA in Anthropology, focus specifically in historical archaeology. He hopes to one day work with a university, museum and/or a historical site/city as a historical archaeologist. He plans to begin his MA next year in Historical Archaeology (maritime and terrestrial). His is particularly interested in the late 17th century to the mid-18th century. His main area of interest for research is Western Europe, North America, and the Caribbean (particularly during the colonial period) the War of Jenkins' Ear/King George's War/War of the Austrian Succession. He has worked for two years (2015-2017) as a historic interpreter at the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments in St. Augustine Florida.



Monday, October 22, 2018

Young Historian Spotlight: Ben Olex



Ben Olex, giving a presentation to visitors at the Stony Point Battlefield and Lighthouse

Today, we are continuing with the second of a series of interviews with a number of young historians. By the time this series concludes in early November, we will have heard from Jack Weaver, Andrew Warren, Ben Olex, Casey Hill, Samantha Sproviero, and Davis Tierney. All of these individuals are broadly interested in the Kabinettskriege era, and have been selected as a result of recent promotion, impending graduate school applications, or work recently begun in graduate school or at a historic site. Today's young historian Ben Olex, a gifted young historian interested in naval affairs. Ben has worked as an historic interpreter at Stony Point, is currently in the process of applying to graduate programs, and has a forthcoming article on the American War of Independence in coastal areas.  

Alexander Burns : What drew you to study the history in this era? In 2018, much of popular memory of military history in the United States is focused on World War 1, World War 2, and the Vietnam War. What about the history of the 1688-1815 era do you find so compelling?

Ben Olex[1]: I have always had a fascination with ships.  When I was younger it was more challenging to understand the maritime world of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, since it is so different from our own, so I stuck to landborn military topics for a while.  When I reached the age that I could begin really comprehending naval history, I found it totally engrossing. With regards to why 20th century conflicts are so interesting,  I believe that modern wars are more easily understood by modern people.  Many people alive today grew up with grandparents or great grandparents that fought in a world war.  For those who did not, photographs and videos are available, which makes it easier to connect with the experiences of those wars. As for the eighteenth-century, it is hard to say why I am so drawn to this period.  Something about it just fascinates me.  

AB: Is there a particular person, conflict, event, or geographical setting which draws you to this era?

BO:  I am really torn between the American War for Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (if I’m allowed to lump them all together).  Since I work at a Revolutionary War battlefield it really brings home that connection for me.  When it comes to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars I am much more interested in the naval aspects of the war.  These wars represented over twenty years of almost incessant fighting around the world and it was the navy that brought that war to the Cape of Good Hope or the Caribbean, for example.  It is also arguably the golden age of the Royal Navy.  The Royal Navy was one of the largest institutions in Britain, if you take into account the dockyards etc.  I think the effect that the Navy had upon the war and Britain itself is very intriguing.

AB: How do you plan to continue your research into this era? Many of you have been employed in public history settings, or are currently applying to graduate programs. Why have you chosen your particular path?


Ben as a historical interpreter at Stony Point
BO:  I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school.  At the same time I’m trying to  research a little into some of the events on the Hudson River surrounding the Battle of Stony Point, where I currently work as a public historian.  I originally went to college to be a highschool-level history teacher.  After completing my  my student teaching,  I realized that I would prefer to teach at a higher level, so I am returning to my education, in order to hopefully teach at the university level.

AB: Ben, you have a forthcoming article about floating batteries, tell us a bit about more about your interest in the conflict along the Hudson during the American War of Independence. How did the combatants try to control the river?

BO:  Absolutely!  So one of the main interests I’ve had while working at Stony Point concerns sa type  of gunboat that guarded the left flank of the fort.  If you look up a map of the battle you can see that Stony Point is a sort of peninsula that juts out into the Hudson River.  The American plan for the battle consisted of two columns attacking both flanks of the fort with bayonets only at night.  So the American right column would have come into contact with this gunboat, and presumably the ensuing fight would have alerted the fort sooner to the American attack or at the very least have slowed the American attack.  The problem was that the gunboat just wasn’t there.  We know that it was absent from its post very often, but no one knows why or where it went. So the more I looked into this as an interpreter at Stony Point, the more I realized that there wasn’t really a satisfactory answer for it.  Therefore, the goal of my article is to try to bring as much information as is available about this gunboat and put it in one place and use it to try to answer as many questions as possible.  For example, I try to look at other examples of gunboats during the war, most notably on Lake Champlain in 1776 and try to see if they might have been similar to the vessel at Stony Point.  My other goal is to dispel the idea that the gunboat was actually the British row-galley Cornwallis.  I’ve just about finished the article now. This is only an article length treatment, and there is much work left to do, but hopefully it can clear up some of the confusion around this critical part of the battle.  With regard to your second question, I would say yes.  In researching this topic I was able to see a lot of how the relationship between land and naval forces works, (or sometimes doesn’t work!)

AB: What have you been reading, recently? Could you recommend one book on your topic of interest, or any recent work on the era?

BO:  At this moment I am reading a biography of King George III, appropriately titled King George III by John Brooke.  I always wanted to read more about him since he is frequently portrayed as the enemy of the Revolution.  I’m very interested to see to what extent he was involved in the war and the lead up to it.  Before that I was reading a book exploring warfare from the 1600’s to 1815 called The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo by Russell F. Weigley.  If I had to recommend a book about naval history I think I would recommend Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy by Roy and Lesley Adkins.  It explores the life of regular sailors in the Royal Navy, a topic which can be hard to find information on.  To understand the how the navy functions I think it is imperative to understand the common sailors.

AB: What do you think of Russ Weigley’s book? It is an older work, but an ambitious attempt to synthesize a wide period of European military history. Have you ever looked at N.A.M. Rodger’s The Wooden World?

BO:   I would definitely agree Weigley’s book is rather ambitious.  I found the premise rather interesting, and he makes some interesting points.  I think at some times he jumps to conclusions with certain leaders or battles.  Nonetheless I thought it was a good book, one that takes a wide look at this era of military history.  I am currently in possession of a copy of The Wooden World.  I was planning on reading it this summer, but unfortunately time got away from me.

AB: That sounds good! Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview! I look forward to talking with you more in the future.

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[1] Ben Olex is a recent graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey where he received a bachelor's degree in history and a secondary education certification. He is currently an interpreter at Stony Point Battlefield and Lighthouse in Stony Point, New York. Ben is currently in the process of applying for graduate school, and eventually plans to earn his Ph.D in History. His current research interests include the experience of war in coastal areas, British naval history in the 18th and 19th centuries, the American Revolution and Civil War.