Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Militia in the Kabinettskriege period

Afghan Militia in modern Afghanistan 
Dear Reader,


Today, we will look at the use of militia, and other populist forces throughout the Kabinettskriege period. My American readers may be familiar with the role of militia, "minute-men," and other irregular forces in the American War of Independence. These men, and sometimes women, fought the British throughout the American colonies, in smaller engagements, all the way to the large battles, such as Guildford Courthouse and Saratoga.

Militia at the Battle of Guildford Courthouse


Militia in the American War of Independence
A cursory look at the militia forces give a clear picture, which is difficult to argue with. In essence: the militia were bad, often horrible soldiers. At Guildford Courthouse, the British overran two line of militia before even reaching the Continental army in the third line. These troops were panicky, prone to flee at the first sign of a British bayonet charge. As a result, the American commanders ordered their militia to fire two shots and then flee, a prudent use of soldiers who were likely to flee anyway. Towards the end of the war, American commanders learned to deploy their militia in front of their regular battle line, as a sort of speed bump to slow  and weaken the oncoming British. In this role, the militia proved quiet effective. While unable to compete with regular soldiers, the militia effectively drained the strength of the regular forces opposing them.

Off the battlefield, militia assisted the Continental Army in the so-called Kleine Krieg: the endless series of little skirmishes which made up the vast majority of this war. The militia proved effective in these type of skirmishes, as they could use the ambush tactics which they knew very well. They sometimes possessed hunting rifles, which they often used to target British officers. At the Battle of Bemis Height's Colonel Daniel Morgan ordered his riflemen to deliberately target General Simon Fraser from hidden positions. In the Kabinettskriege context, this seemed more like murder than war. In fact, Frederick II of Prussia reprimanded two of his Jägers for targeting enemy officers with their rifles. While the Americans eventually obtained their independence as a result of French help, the militias assisted in keeping the contest running until the French, Dutch, and Spanish could help the colonists.

Swedish Uppbåd (quasi-militiamen) 


Swedish Auxiliary Forces in the Kabinettskriege period
In addition to the usually discussed American militia, Swedish armies often called on the support of militia-type forces in this period. If the lower part of Sweden (Skåne, or Scania in English) was invaded, the peasants often turned up in numbers to fight, as they had a tradition of freedom not unlike the American militia.  At the siege of Malmö or the battle of Landskrona during the Scanian War, or the battle of Helsingborg in the Great Northern War, Swedish peasants joined the ranks of the army, and often went into battle with little or no training. Although in the Great Northern War, these soldiers were hastily armed with muskets, their original weapon was spiked club. While the Swedish soldiers fought well, much better than American militia in similar circumstances, they still lacked the trained skill of the Swedish Karoliner. 

Whether in Sweden, North America, or elsewhere, the appearance of large militia groups meant that one side had popular support. Even if it did not mean popular support across the board, the presence of militia meant that one army had the support of a vocal minority. Countries with militia proved difficult to invade, as the militia troops would harry the invading army, and sometimes, as at the battle of Bennington in the American War of Independence, destroy detachments of invaders through tricks and disguising themselves as friendly soldiers.

Modern Lessons: 

After Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the American army is starting to appreciate the predicament of the British in the American War of Independence. It is next to impossible to achieve victory if neither the invading army's home population, or the population being invaded supports the war. The presence of militia and other paramilitary forces make victory hard to achieve. In the modern War in Afghanistan, American soldiers defeated local militia groups time and again in open conflict. However, these continuing conflicts sap the strength of the American military, and quickly eroded the American population's willingness to see the war continue.

While Britain lost the American colonies, and America lost in Vietnam, the American's in Iraq and Afganistan have had more success. The answer may lie with the American's dedication to training and handing over the fight to Iraqi and Afghani security forces, comparable to British-leaning loyalists in the American Revolution. The key to success against militia is to obtain militias of your own; in order to end the "foreign" occupation in the minds of the occupied populace and the populace supporting the invading military.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Women in Kabinettskriege Warfare

A depiction of the Quasi-Mythic "Molly Pitcher" 
Dear Reader,

While so far, the majority of my blog posts have dealt with men, one of my concerned readers (looking at you, Adi Moore) reminded me, in the words of Kabinettskriege era wife and mother Abigail Adams, to "remember the ladies."




Maria Theresa of Austria
Catherine II of Russia

Female Rulers

Women often played a vital role in the various events of the Kabinettskriege period. During the 18th century, Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine II of Russia ruled and reformed their states with great skill.

In addition to being a first class monarch, Maria Theresa of Austria raised a family, while her almost useless husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine was busy having affairs with women much his junior. Maria assisted with reforming the Austria military, which helped the Austrians perform much better in the Seven Years' War. Like US. President Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century, she was frequently frustrated by her military commanders.

Historian Christopher Duffy believes that if she had not been born a woman, she would have gladly gone on campaign with her soldiers. Whenever troops would return from the war, she would ride out to meet them, and was often regarded by soldiers as something of a mother figure. After the battle of Kolin, the first major Austrian victory of the Seven Years' War, she created the order of Maria Theresa to honor successful military commanders.

In 1757, Austrian forces raided Berlin, and levied large amounts of money from the captive population. In addition, they demanded a number of gloves, in order to present to Empress Maria Theresa. Upon leaving the city, they found that the wily Berliners had only given them left-handed gloves. As a mark of respect, the officers of the Austrian military only wore gloves on one hand from that day forward.

Catherine II of Russia provides us with a somewhat more controversial figure. English speaking historian often focus on the fact that she ordered her lover to murder her husband, or many of her more sultry aspects.  Dr. Sergei Zhuk, and many other Eastern European historians are trying to change that frame of mind.

They argue that Catherine's political and military accomplishments are much more interesting, and worthy of study. Like Maria Theresa, she became highly involved in military affairs, and even had her picture painted while in uniform, on horseback! These aspects of her reign tell us much more about the type of ruler, and woman, that she was.

















Women and the Military in the Kabinettskriege Era

When historians examine the women and the military, they often focus on camp followers. These women and children were often soldiers wives, and traveled with the army on campaign. Don H. Hagist has a vast amount of information on these women who followed the British army in the American War for Independence. You can read his blog here.

Women also played a role in the actual combat operations of the Kabinettskriege period.  Women often disguised themselves as men, and fought on the battlefield. During the reign of Frederick William I of Prussia, a woman was actually executed for this! Other women, such as Mary McCauley (the "molly pitcher" of legend) assisted with battlefield tasks, such as loading and firing cannons.

During the Seven Years' War, Rafaela Herrera, the nineteen year old daughter of a Spanish garrison commander, took command of the Castillo de Immaculate Concepcion in present day Nicaragua. Her father died just prior to an English attack, and the second in command of the fortress was preparing to surrender, when Rafaela took the keys of the fortress from him, and begin firing one of the cannons at the English. The Spanish soldiers, emboldened by the young woman, resisted the English for in a week long siege. The Spanish eventually drove the English away, and Rafaela recieved a pension from the king of Spain for her actions!

So, as you can see, women played a vital role in this period, as monarchs, wives, mothers, soldiers, and even commanders!

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns


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Film Review-Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World



Dear Reader,


Historians frequently discuss the historical value of films. Usually, we get hung up on a few historical inaccuracies which prevent us from enjoying the film as a whole. However, many films, such as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, display fictitious events in an extremely historical fashion.  For those who have not yet seen this film, and don't want to know how things turn out, stop here.

The film takes place in the waters of Brazil, Cape Horn, and the Galapagos Islands. The film draws from the Aubrey and Maturin naval series, by author Patrick O'Brian, but does not take the plot points from any particular novel. Rather, the series draws on a smattering of these novels to make an interesting and exciting plot line.

The main storyline of the film follows the crew of the 28-gun HMS Surprise, commanded by Jack Aubrey (Russel Crowe), as they attempt to stop a massive French warship/privateer (the movie is unclear). The movie opens with a textual description of Aubrey's admiralty orders, which inform the viewer that the French ship, the Acheron, is attempting to destroy British shipping in the Pacific.  The Acheron is a heavy 44-gun American built frigate. In the course of the movie, the viewer finds out that the Americans built the Acheron in Boston before the outbreak of war with France.

The Brits eventually overcome all odds through a mix of courage, ingenuity, and surprise. Russel Crowe gives an excellent performance as Aubrey, and Paul Bettany equals him while portraying Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon.

Master and Commander and History

The movie accurately portrays the HMS Surprise, an actual ship from the period, (built in France as the Unite' and captured by the British) although, by the year which the movie is set in, the Royal Navy had already decommissioned the HMS Surprise. 

However, the Acheron give historians a bit more trouble. The character of Sailing Master Allen gives us the most information regarding the Acheron. Upon seeing the Acheron for the first time, Allen comments, that the ship is a "Two decker more than a frigate." For an explanation of ship types in this period, click here. As the officers are discussing the Acheron, Lt. Pullings remarks that, "you have to wonder about the nature of her hull, our shots wouldn't penetrate."  A little while later in the movie, two of the seamen present Aubrey with a model of the ship, which one of them saw being constructed in Boston before the war. When Aubrey shows his officers the model, Allen remarks the Acheron must be a 44-gun ship. From this information, we can glean that the Acheron is a 44-gun American built frigate, with excellent heavy timbers in her hull. These type of ships did exist, they were the original six ships of the United States Navy.

During the War of 1812, these ships often fought and defeated smaller British frigates, like the HMS Surprise. The designer of these ships, Joshua Humphreys, planned frigates large enough to overpower any other frigates, but fast enough to flee from ships of the line. In a way, Master and Commander attempts to redeem British honor in the War of 1812.

Overall, the film does an excellent job of portraying life in the Royal Navy at the end of the Kabinettskriege period, and is extremely enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Dreimal blau und dreimal des Teufels"- Prussian Freikorps in the Seven Years' War

Freikorps von Schony by Knötel
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at Prussian Freikorps during the Seven Years' War. (For more info on the Seven Years' War, click here!) The Prussians formed these units from unemployed laborers, enemy deserters, and other less than reputable sources. These troops were more like independent companies, who followed their regimental leader into battle, and received their pay from him. In a sense, they were the 18th century version of independent military contractors.
Frederick the Great described these troops as, "Dreimal blau, und dreimal des Tuefels," or, "triple blue, and three times the devil." He called them triple blue because of their blue coats, turnbacks, and waistcoats. Frederick believed these soldiers were "three times the devil," as these troops did not always perform to his standards. As such, he advocated using them as cannon fodder in the opening stages of a battle. However, with respect to Frederick, he never truly grasped the value of the Freikorps, and the possibilities which they represented.

The Freikorp and Frei-Infanterie units were often combined arms organizations, including regular infantry, rifle armed marksmen, and small units of cavalry. This type of organization made them ideal for raiding missions, which they often performed with distinction.


Prussian Infantry at Freiberg, by Menzel
Prussian Freikorps at Freiburg

While the Freikorps, and Frei-Infanterie regiments made up a large portion of the Prussian army, they rarely fought in large set piece battles during the Seven Years' War. Frederick preferred to use them to guard key points and baggage trains, and not employ them in the main battle line. Prince Henri, Frederick's brother, commanded a smaller army in Saxony, and towards the end of the war, fought a large battle at the town of Freiberg in Saxony. Here, the Freikorps formed a significant part of his army, and fought quite well. The large "Green-Kleist" Freikorp made up a significant part of Henri's vanguard. While the Freikorps were not used en-masse in many other battles, they distinguished themselves in a number of independent actions.

Prussian Freikorps elsewhere in the Seven Years' War

At the battle of Breslau on Nov. 22, 1757, the Frei-Infanterie battalion de Angelelli gave an excellent account of themselves, and showed the type of action Frei units were suited for. At Breslau, the Austrians attacked the Prussian army in force. The de-Angelelli battalion faced sixteen companies of Austrain grenadiers while defending the village of Kleinburg. They held out against this force for some time, and eventually, withdrew after setting fire to the village. They reformed in a ditch to the rear of the village, and continued to resist the Austrian grenadiers until support arrived. Frei units excelled at this type of improvised action.

At the small combat of Sorau in 1759, the Frei-Infanterie battalion Salemnon formed part of the Prussian vanguard, crossing the bridge near village. However, it quickly became apparent that a huge Austrian force was closing on Sorau, and the Prussian army needed to withdraw. Frei-Infanterie battalion Salemon formed the rearguard, holding of repeated cavalry attacks. When the last of the Prussian units managed to cross the bridge, a group of volunteers from this unit formed a square, holding of the enemy cavalry long enough for the Prussian army to retreat.

Blackwater "Private Military Contractors" 
Modern Lessons

In a day and age when the term "mercenary" conjures up negative emotions, various countries should consider the option of hiring independent military contractors, not unlike the Prussian Freikorps. While many critize these companies for making a profit on war, they provide willing and experienced soldiers for a price. If human history has taught us anything, it is this: conflict is here to stay. For countries who are stretched military, such as Prussia during the Seven Years' War, or Britain during the American War of Independence, hiring auxiliary forces provided a solution. Whether or not it is morally acceptable, these soldiers for hire continue to be employed in the present day.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns




Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Native American Warfare in the Kabinettskriege period


Native American Tribes in North America at the end of the American Revolution
 Dear Reader,

While historians usually associate the Kabinettskriege period with fighting in Europe, many conflicts also occurred in North America during this period.  Films like Last of the Mohicans, attempt to portray the fighting in North America during this period. Native American warriors fought Europeans and eachother, and adapted European fighting equipment to their particular methods of fighting. In this post, we will look at these warriors, and see how the Kabinettskriege period effected their lives. The Native Americans approached warfare very differently from the Europeans of the period. For a post on how the Europeans fought, click here.

Woodland Native American Warriors, from the Italeri Toy Soldiers box set art
Native American Tactics

Growing up in America, watching movies like Last of the Mohicans, I was very familiar with scenes like the above, where Native American warriors rush out of the trees to attack columns of brightly attired European soldiers. During King Philip's War, (for a timeline of conflicts in this period,click here), English Captain Benjamin Church asked Native American prisoners why the Native American tactics were so effective:

"They told him... two things, {First} the Indians always took care... not to come to thick together. The English always kept in a heap together... it was as easy to hit them as to hit a house. {Second} If at any time {the Native Americans} discovered a company of English soldiers in the woods, they knew that that was all {of the English in the area} for the English never scattered; but the Indians always divided and scattered."

Thus, we can see that the Native American fighting style offered advantages in the dense wooded terrain of North America. With the introduction of muskets after European colonization, Native American's absorbed these weapons into their style of warfare. Ignoring the mass fire tactics of the Europeans, the Native Americans focused on individual accuracy and firing from covered positions. For most modern observers, Native American firing tactics more sense then the linear firing patterns of Europeans. Native Americans focused on killing the enemy while attempting to ensure that they were safe from enemy fire. If this is the case, historians must ask:


Why did they lose? 

If Native American firing techniques were so much more effective than Europeans, surely they should have won the wars during this period, right? Unfortunately, there is much more to warfare than who shoots the best. By the time of King Philip's War, the Europeans had many more warriors than the Native Americans. In this war, the Native American's had a population of roughly 10,000 people, while the European settlers had almost 80,000. By the time of the Seven Years' War, the English settlers numbered almost 1.5 million. Even before European contact, Native American populations never significantly exceeded 300,000.




The Trail of Tears-The landmark event of Indian removal

In addition, newer scholarship suggests that European brought the horrors of war to Native Americans. The Europeans destroyed villages, and massacred civilians. While the Native Americans would often kill  enemy wounded, massacres of civilians were less frequent than have previously supposed. The Native Americans were skillful diplomats, but often allied with the Europeans against one another, as opposed to allying with each other against Europeans.

While the Indians failed to embrace European firing tactics, they did so for explainable reasons. The Native peoples didn't have the population to risk men in decisive field battles, and the terrain of North America was much less suited to linear formations. In the end, the European population advantage mattered more than the Native American firing advantage. The diseases which the Europeans brought to America greatly assisted with destroying Native American populations. The Europeans conquered America through migration, and warfare was only a part of this dialogue.

Thanks for reading,


Alex Burns

If you enjoyed this post, or like the blog, please become a follower! Let me know what you think in the comments below.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Ships in the Late Kabinettskriege Period




Ships in the Late Kabinettskriege Period

The picture above depicts the Battle of Chesapeake Bay in 1781, where the French fleet prevented the British fleet from rescuing Cornwallis' army at Yorktown. This picture shows what a typical naval battle looked like in the late-Kabinettskriege period. Two lines of large ships, (Ships of the Line) firing cannons at one another. One side would eventually attempt to retreat, leaving behind a few crippled ships to be captured by the enemy.

When looking at the enemy fleet before a naval battle, commanders would attempt to place ships of a certain size next to an enemy ship of the same size. In order to formalize this process, the navies of the period developed ship ratings. The first four ratings (1st rate through 4th rate) were considered ships of the line; large warships designed for fleet combat. The final two ratings, (5th and 6th rate ships) were considered frigates; fairly large combat ships designed for independent cruises, attacking merchant ships, and similar work. Even smaller ships existed but were mostly used in coastal areas and the Great Lakes.


Ships of the Line

A model of the HMS Victory, a beautiful example of a first rate ship. 




















First Rate

These ships could not maneuver very quickly, but had a massive amount of firepower, usually over one hundred cannons. These ships were hugely costly to maintain, and almost only used in huge naval battles. The HMS Victory is the only remain example of this type of ship. Most first rate ships had three gun decks, which is to say, they had three horizontal rows of cannons on each side of the ship. The heavier, more powerful cannons were on the lower decks.

Second Rate from 1665














Second Rate
The British navy employed second rate ships as flagships for its fleets in non-European waters. The ship was almost unique to the British navy. The ship design was not extremely successful, as the ship was as unmaneuverable as a first rate, but did not give the same boost in firepower. This helped develop the use of the terms "first-rate" as something of high quality, and "second-rate" as something of inferior quality. Second rate ships carried about 90 guns, depending on the ship.These ships usually had three gun decks.


An excellent model of a 74-gun Third Rate built in 1760.




















Third Rate

Almost all European fleets in this period employed the third rate ship of the line. The third rates housed between 68 and 80 guns.  These ships saw service all across the globe. "The Seventy-Four," or a third rate with seventy 74 guns, was the most common ship of this type. The French designed the original "Seventy Four" and the other European navies quickly copied the design. The third rate combined good maneuverability with heavy firepower.These ships had two gun decks.


A 3D model of the HMS Leopard, a Fourth Rate built in 1790




















Fourth Rate
Somewhere between a small ship of the battle line and a very large frigate, the fourth rate carried between 46 and 60 guns. These ships could stand in the battle line, but towards the end of the Kabinettskriege period, most were used as convoy escort ships. These ships had two gun decks.

Frigates: 



USS Constitution, the most famous of the Heavy Frigates 



















Heavy American Frigates

At the close of the 18th century, American shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys designed a class of six '"super" frigates, designed to fit somewhere between a ship of the line and a frigate. This class of ship had far superior maneuverability when compared with the available fourth rate ships. During the War of 1812, this ship class scored a number of notable victories. I will do an entire post on these ships in the near future. These ships had one full gun deck, sometimes another deck.



Model of a Fifth Rate Frigate




















Fifth Rate

Carrying between 32 and 38 guns, fifth rates were the ship used by various nations of this period to raid shipping and hunt down privateers. These ships were incapable of standing in the line of battle with larger warships. These ships had a single gun deck, but also mounted guns on the upper decks



Model of a Sixth Rate



















Sixth Rate

The smallest rated ship, a sixth rate carried between 26 and 32 guns, and was incredibly fast and maneuverable. These ships could operate in fairly shallow waters, making them useful for coastal missions. Usually assigned to younger officers, these ships would hunt for merchant vessels, and smaller privateers. These ships had a single gun deck.



US Brig Niagara



















Unrated Vessels (Brigs, Sloops, and so on) 

After sixth rates, smaller warships existed, but were mainly used in coastal operations. Ships like the United States Brig Niagara (which you can see in Erie PA) were used in warfare on the Great Lakes. These ships could have any number of cannon. Extremely small ships might only have one or two cannons, but Brigs like the Niagara carried between 20 and 24 guns on a single gun deck.

I know this post got a little long, but it will be a good place to refer back to as I discuss naval warfare in the future!

Thanks for reading,




Alex Burns

Spotlight on: The Jacobite Rebellions

The traditional image of Jacobite Highlanders
Dear Reader,

During the midst of the Kabinettskriege period, Great Britain's ruling family, the House of Stuart, lost power during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. A protestant ruler, William of Orange, crossed the channel and ousted the Stuart king, James II of England. The Stuart family was Catholic, and this caused major unrest and support for William of Orange.  For more info on this event, and a timeline of the entire Kabinettskriege period, click here. The Stuarts, unwilling to let this stand, attempted to retake the throne in a series of conflicts, known as the Jacobite rebellions. These rebellions began in 1689, and were finally crushed in 1745.

The Stuarts turned to the traditional, Catholic highland clans of Scotland in an effort to retake the throne. The  rebellion became known as the Jacobite rebellions, after the Latin name of King James II: Jacobus. The majority of these rebellions never really got of the ground. The Jacobites would raise the standard of rebellion, and fight one or two battles, but would eventually melt away after the first serious defeat.

The Jacobite Soldier
The image of the Scottish Highland clansman is inseparable from the Jacobite rebellions. For many years historians believed that the Highlanders attacked with sword in hand during the battles of the Jacobite rebellion. This image has been immortalized in hundreds of paintings. These paintings show the robust, hardy Highlanders dashing at the enemy, clutching a basket-hilted sword and Targe (a small shield). However, recent studies and battlefield archaeology show that this romantic image of the Jacobite soldier does not accurately represent history.

The updated view of highland soldiers from Stuart Reid's book, Like Hungry Wolves 
The soldiers of the Stuart armies during the later Jacobite rebellions probably looked much more like this second image than the picture at the top of the post. Battlefield archaeology at Culloden Moor (a prominent battle during this period) shows that many more of the highlanders had muskets than we previously believed. Their tactics slightly resembled those of the Swedish Karoliner. The Highlanders would charge forward, stop to deliver a musket volley at close range, and then attack with bladed weaponry. These types of attacks had a way of unnerving the Jacobites opponents, who usually fled in the face a such an attack.

The End of the Jacobite Rebellions

Unfortunately for the Stuarts, support for the Jacobite cause usually evaporated after the first major defeat. The best examples of this are the Battle of Glen Sheil during the 1719 rebellion, and the final defeat of the Highland cause at Culloden Moor in 1746. While the Scottish Highlands provided the Stuarts with excellent soldiers, the lack of staying power in the face of defeat led to the collapse of the Scottish Jacobite cause, and ended serious hopes of Stuart restoration. After the defeat at Culloden Moor in 1746, the English government eradicated the Highland way of life, by disarming the population of the Highlands, and forbidding traditional Scottish clothing. By the end of the Kabinettskriege period, the Jacobite cause had faded.

For further reading on the Jacobites, check out the works of Christopher Duffy and Stuart Reid.

Thanks for reading,


Alex Burns

Beat to Quarters! Naval Posts Incoming!

Opening Scene from the 2003 movie Master and Commander: Far Side of the World
Dear Reader,

Last week was spring break for my masters program, and over the break an odd mix of factors helped push me in the direction of naval warfare in the Kabinettskriege period. First of all, we recieved one vote for this topic! (Unfamiliar with voting on Kabinettskriege? Check it out and vote!) Second, for one of my masters classes, I was assigned to read the book, 1812: War with America, by Oceanographer and historian Jon Latimer. Third, I traveled to be with my parents at their home in Erie PA. Erie is home to an excellent naval museum, as well as the United States Brig Niagara. Finally, I watched the excellent film, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, with my lovely girlfriend and her family (while the movie was not exactly her cup of tea, she was a good sport about it.)

So, as you can see, a potent brew of information. In light of these developments, I am going to do a series of posts on naval experience in the Late Kabinettskriege period, or roughly 1740-1815. While the Napoleonic Wars mark the end of Kabinettskriege style warfare on land, the Age of Sail, (or the naval wars which occur simultaneously with the Kabinettskriege period) lasts until roughly 1815.

Hope you enjoy this series,

Alex Burns