Wednesday, January 29, 2014

47 Ronin

Ronin Samurai
Dear Reader,

Today, we are taking a moment to pause and celebrate one of the most enduring stories of heroism in Japanese culture. It occurred, today, January 30th, in 1703: 311 years ago.  It was retold in a recent movie released around Christmas. This story, the story of the Forty Seven Ronin, is one greatest examples in Japanese history of bushido, or samurai culture.

Essentially, the story is one of loyalty to a deceased lord. When Lord Asano was forced to committed suicide because he was bullied into striking his etiquette teacher, his retainers were forbidden to seek vengeance. The etiquette teacher was a powerful nobleman, with many guards, who suspected that these samurai would attempt to avenge their lord's honor.

Upon the death of their lord, the retainers became Ronin, or samurai with no master. These 47 Ronin waited for over a year, until the nobleman who had caused the death of their lord dismissed many of his guards. Then, on Tuesday, January 30th, 1703, they attacked his palace, and killed him. The Ronin knew that even if they succeeded, the penalty for their actions would be death, but they proceeded with the plan.

The gravesite of the Ronin

In the end, they were forced to committed ritual suicide to atone for their actions, but they earned immortality within the bushido code for their actions. While many debate the, "honor" of their decision to disobey a command not to take vengeance, all respect their courage.  You can still visit the graves of these warriors in Tokyo today.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Journal of the Seven Years' War Association

Front cover of issue XVIII no. 1. 

Dear Readers,

Today I wanted to link to a journal which publishes work on the late Kabinettskriege era. This is somewhat self-serving, as I published an article with them last year, and I have another one coming up in March. If you like this blog, you will really enjoy the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. It has book reviews, articles on eighteenth century warfare, and information on upcoming conferences and conventions!

Check it out at:

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Warfare in the Seventeenth Century

Cover Art 
Dear Readers,

Today I am reviewing John Childs' Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. This book provides an excellent introduction to the period, at least in terms of European conflict. It fails to provide a good comparison with non-European styles of warfare, but Childs does not set out to provide a definitive global history. Rather, warfare and tactics in Europe interest him the most. The Ottoman Empire is as close to non-European history as the book attempts.

On the plus side, Childs gives an excellent discussion of 17th century warfare. While he continues to argue his thesis from Armies and Warfare in Europe: 1648-1789: that the Kabinettskriege era did not see any real changes from the Thirty Years' War, he has retreated from some of his more outlandish claims. When attempting to say that warfare just as cruel towards civilians, he prefaces his sentences with, "Perhaps."

As one would expect of a book directed by the Smithsonian, there are a huge number of wonderful pictures and artwork throughout the book, including some excellent maps. Childs covers the Thirty Years' War in great detail, discusses the English Civil War, and gives Vauban and Coehorn their due. He concludes with a discussion of the Wars of Louis XIV, and how warfare changed in the later half of the 17th century.

Despite the cover art showing the Raid on the Medway, the book lacks any real naval information. The Anglo-Dutch Wars have been given short shrift. It appears, then, that a better title of this volume might be: Land Warfare in Europe in the Seventeenth Century. That would give a better picture as to the focus of the book, and allow potential buyers to make a more informed decision.

However, this book does go into much greater detail about European warfare than Jeremy Black's contribution to the same series, Warfare in the Eighteenth Century. As opposed to Black's whirlwind tour throughout space, geography and time, Child's focuses on what he knows, and give the best possible book for beginners on European land warfare in this period.

Thanks for Reading,

Alexander Burns

Monday, January 20, 2014

New American Revolution Series


Dear Reader,

So today, I wanted to share a trailer for a new show about the American Revolution. Here it is.

I can't say that I am super excited. This goes back to the the problem of good and evil, and heroes and villains in history.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A sign of things to come:

Dear Readers,

So after reading Jeremy Black's Warfare in the Eighteenth Century, I have decided that the content of this blog is very Euro-centric. This is not necessarily a problem- after all, the goal of the blog is the examine the Kabinettskriege era- an era which is specific to European and American warfare. However, for the sake of completeness, I think that it might be important to cover non-western methods of warfare.

I will attempt to do this over the course of the next few weeks, as well as review John Child's and Jeremy Black's contributions to the Cassell History of Warfare series.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Frederick II, "the Great" of Prussia as a military commander

A Flute Concert at Sanssoucci 
Dear Reader,

Few figures in the Kabinettskriege era have attracted so much attention as Frederick II of Prussia. He has been the subject of numerous biographies, and his actions changed the face of European power dynamics. If I was to recommend one biography, it would have to be that of German historian Gerhard Ritter. It is available both in the original German, and in English.  However, many have tried to give their take on the life of this, "Great Man."

Thomas Carlyle, a biographer and pseudo-historian of the nineteenth century wrote a massive biography of Frederick. Carlyle believed that Frederick's choices had changed the course of history, and that he was a, "Great Man." Needless to say, Carlyle downplayed Frederick's more feminine qualities, such as his love of the French language, his flute playing, and his possible homosexuality.

In the most recent monograph on the Seven Years' War, Franz Szabo's The Seven Years' War in Europe, Szabo demonizes Frederick. In Szabo's opinion, Frederick was, "an opportunist and risk taker, dressed in the veneer of an intellectual, but at root, a heartless killer." He lambasts Frederick's dental hygiene,  flute playing ability, and poetry. He rightly points out that Frederick lost half of the major battles during the Seven Years' War, and uses this as evidence that Frederick was a poor commander.

The Prussian army won all the battles of the War of Austrian Succession, and won a string of victories at both the beginning and end of the Seven Years' War. Frederick was involved in many of these battles, but he was not exclusively responsible the victories or defeats. Szabo's greatest fault is that he attributes all Prussian victories to other leaders, while the defeats are Frederick's sole responsibility.

Friedrich und seine Generale

One of Frederick's greatest talents was his ability to see talent in others. In addition to being a capable military commander, Frederick surrounded himself with excellent military men, who served him well, even when his judgement was in error. Schwerin saved the day at Mollwitz, and Seydlitz won the victory at Rossbach.

Frederick had expansionist designs for his kingdom: that is, he was willing to fight wars with his neighbors to expand his territory. However, Peter I of Russia and Louis XIV of France also fought expansionist wars: it was a normal activity for kings in the Kabinettskriege era.

As the debate concerning Frederick and his "greatness" continues into the 21st century, I would like to see more emphasis placed on the actions and decisions of Frederick's generals, who have stood in the shadow of their king for too long. In addition, as opposed to examining Frederick's great victories such as Rossbach, Hohenfriedburg and Leuthen, and his defeates, such as Kolin and Kunersdorf, I believe we should pay more attention to his middling battles, such as Chotusitz, Soor, Lobositz, Prague, Burkersdorf, and Torgau. Finally, while this post has focused on Frederick as a military commander, we should also examine Frederick's "greatness," in non-military matters.

What do you think of Frederick II? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

2014 Seven Years' War Convention

Dear Readers,

Today I am doing a promotion for the 2014 Seven Years' War convention. This year will feature a presentation from Dr. Christopher Duffy, and potentially, a presentation from Ken Bunger about Seven Years' War battlefields today.  The convention will be located at its usually place at South Bend, Indiana over the 28th and 29th of March.

If you are interested in hearing a great historian speak, looking at a number of book vendors, or playing in a wargame, this is the convention for you! The Duffy lecture and the book retailers are always my favorite part. You can often find out of print books dealing with Kabinettskriege era warfare.

If you want more information- let me know in the comments. I highly recommend the convention for anyone who enjoys this blog.  Here are some links to past events:

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

On the water: Does the Kabinettskriege period have anything to do with Naval Warfare?

Kabinettskriege Era Landing Craft from the Art Gallery of Ontario
Dear Readers,

Today, I wanted to take a look at something that I've been thinking about for a while. You are reading a blog entitled Kabinettskriege, which is a term that covers land warfare from 1648-1789.  But does this period really have anything to do with naval warfare? After all, doesn't the Age of Sail last from the Battle of Lepanto (1571) to about 1850? Surely the Kabinetskriege period only holds up on land?

After doing a bit of digging, I seem to have found some evidence that naval warfare was distinct during the Kabinettskriege era. I would not say that this term should replace, the age of sail, but that it should be viewed as a subcategory of this larger period. After all, the Kabinettskriege period on land is a subset of the larger, "horse and musket," age, which lasted from about 1550 to 1865. Let me explain why I think that the Kabinettskriege era, (1648-1789) could be used on sea, as well as on land.

In the lower portion of this picture, you can see two opposing fleets in line of battle

The first large battles between ships of the line occurred between 1639-1653, or, close to the end of the Thirty Years' War. In fact, the term, "ships of the line," refers to these large ships' place within the "line of battle," which was a evolving concept in this time period. By the end of the Thirty Years' War, two opposing fleets would attempt to approach each-other in a line, and fire as they passed the opposing fleet. This development, the line of battle, forms the beginning of the Kabinettskriege era at sea. This was the basis of Kabinettskriege era naval warfare. In the eighteenth century, this led to many naval battles without decisive outcomes.

From 1648 to the 1780s, there were not many large tactical changes. Technology progressed, with the introduction of the carronade and the flintlock cannon. However, there were not many radical changes in large fleet actions. The two sides formed line of battle until one side fled. Much like warfare on land, sea battles in the Kabinettskriege era were not designed with annihilating the opponent in mind. Rather, they were designed to create a system were one side to slightly higher causalities, and then withdrew.

Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

Toward the end of the 18th century, in the Global Eight Years' War, and French Revolutionary Wars, this changed. Lord Nelson, and other British commanders began advocating for a more one-on-one style of combat, where British naval superiority could have a more decisive effect.  Note the distinct lack of battle-lines in the map of the Battle of Trafalgar above. By the French Revolutionary Wars, some forward thinking British commanders were beginning to advocate for battles such as the above, which relied on breaking the enemy line and engaging in single ship actions. While some naval battles in the French Revolutionary Wars employed the linear formation, it was going out of style by this time.

Thus, at sea, there is a good reason to use the Kabinettskriege period. It marks when the line of battle was going into favor, and falling into disuse.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cold in the Kabinettskriege period

Continental Army in the Snow
Dear Reader,

As we brace for cold temperatures across much of the Midwest, I would like to remember another winter, which occurred during the Kabinettskriege era. While most of American readers probably jump to the winter at Valley Forge, which was very cold, I am actually talking about the, "Great Frost," of 1709.

A frozen lagoon in Venice during the 1708-1709 winter
During this winter, the canals of Venice froze, the cold caused a famine in France which killed 600,000 people, and many recorded that it was the coldest winter in living memory.

Swedish Karoliner attack during the winter
For soldiers, this cold winter put a freeze on operations. Karl XII of Sweden was campaigning against Russia, and his army was faced with the brunt of the cold. Lieutenant Lyths, one of the the Swedish soldiers, gave the following description in his diary:

“It was a great sorrow to behold the poor men, who were frozen by means of the slow march. Indeed, many a cavalrymen and dragoon sat frozen to death still on their horses. The day after, which was the 24th of December, the companies were surveyed, and each had 25 or 26 men found frozen, and regrettably, this forced the amputation of hands, legs and feet. There was more sorrow and sadness than one could believe. Frozen birds fell to the earth, smaller livestock, such as chickens and geese, likewise lay dead in their outbuildings from the cold. We also could not protect our horses from the cold, and many fell.
Blessed be the Lord my God, who has brought me warmly through so many dangers. Blessed be my God, in both good and bad times, in all times. Indeed, Eternal glory , thanks, and praise to my God, full of grace, goodness and mercy. To me, the proof is now evident that the day of my death is swift approaching. So, I ask you, my God, with a humble heart, full of grace, send your peace and blessing to me, remain with me, and allow me to abide with you forever. Oh my Lord God, hear and grant me this, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen." 
This shows the extreme cold that the Karoliner experienced, as well as the deep religious devotion which drove them to carry on. The Swedish army was weakened by the cold, and this contributed to their decisive defeat at the Battle of Poltava during the following summer.  Cold was difficult for many armies in the Kabinettskriege era, but usually the Russians and the Swedish were able to carry out difficult winter operations. However, the Great Frost of 1709 proved to difficult for the Swedish army.

Stay warm- and thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review: Bill Potter's Bayonets! Heroes, Villians and Character Lessons from the American War of Independence

Audiobook Cover
Dear Readers,

For Christmas, my wonderful fiancee purchased a copy Vision Forum historian Bill Potter's Bayonets! Heroes, Villians, and Character Lessons from the American War of Independence. This audio book is a series of lectures about the American War of Independence, using specific scenarios to impart lessons to homeschooling children. The audio book- no longer in production due to the collapse of Vision Forum- is still available on Amazon. 

First of all- let me say how surprised I was by the good quality of Potter's lectures. His discussion of the military aspects of the American War of Independence is quite excellent. I was expecting 1776-style propaganda concerning the Subsidientruppen ("Hessians") who were involved, but Mr. Potter demonstrates that they were competent professionals, even if he does make glaring generalities about, "the German mindset," throughout, and compares Hessian tactics with those of the Germans in World War 2.

Mr. Potter often describes the role of, "providence," in his lectures. He asserts that God ordained the various facets of the American War of Independence. This leads to an age old question- does God pick sides in war? Mr. Potter sites the wounding of James Monroe, and the presence of an able surgeon to the will of God. However, this begs the question- if God wanted to spare Monroe, could he not have directed the bullet some place else? Many nations throughout history have attempted state that God was on their side- even the German soldiers during World War 2  had the inscription, "Gott Mit Uns," (God with Us) on their belt buckles. As a historian, regardless of my personal beliefs, I would be extremely wary of making the claim that God supported or caused an event.

Women do not seem to figure into Mr. Potter's calculations, with the exception of Benedict Arnold's second wife, apparently a, "Jezebel," who according to Potter, led him away from God and the American cause. White men are featured prominently- and this product could be seen as an attempt to teach history as it was in the late 19th century. G.A. Henty would be most pleased, my dear lads.

Their are other minor, more humorous mistakes, such as the claim that Freiherr von Steuben died in the Battle of Camden (or Brandywine, I can't remember). Contrary to this, Steuben lived to a ripe old age, and George Washington's last act as commander and chief  was to grant him a pension.

I would hesitantly recommend this product for ages 10-15, with the caveats that I have mentioned above. If used in conjunction with a more modern textbook, it could be very useful as a fun anecdotal supplement.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns