Sunday, March 30, 2014

Links to Seven Years' War Convention websites

Dear Readers,

As a result of changes in the Seven Years' War Association, I have taken over management of the web related materials for the Seven Years' War Convention. You can find the new Seven Years' War convention site at, or you can follow us on Facebook. As a result, I will steer away from posting excessive SYW convention related material on this website. Rather, I will focus on the cultural and military history which you have come to expect from Kabinettskriege

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dogs in the Kabinettskriege Period

Charles Lee with one of his numerous dogs 
 Dear Reader,

Whether you are a good, loyal, dog loving person, or an evil, faithless, degenerate cat lover, you still want to hear more about animals in the Kabinettskriege period, right?

The fact of the matter is, dogs were loved in this period of history, much like they are today. At the Battle of Germantown, a fierce battle in the 1777 Philadelphia campaign, the American soldiers actually captured one of General William Howe's dogs, a fox terrier, (name, alas, unknown). The dog had followed Howe into battle, and in the confusion, retreated with the Americans instead of the British. Caroline Tiger has written a fascinating study of this incident. 

A recent study of dogs, gentlemanly conduct, and warfare
 Many Americans soldiers advocated taking the dog as a prize of war, or even charging it with being a spy. General Washington soon became aware of what was happening, and returned the pooch to his owner, with a friendly note, stating:

"General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe." [1]

Thus, Washington proved that he was a gentleman, and this incident left a profound effect on General Howe. Howe was far from the only dog lover in the Kabinettskriege period. General Charles Lee, a British and American soldier, was seldom seen without at least six dogs. General Washington had many dogs, and after the war, named one of them Cornwallis after the British general!

Frederick II of Prussia, working with his dogs
Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia also loved his greyhounds and whippets very much. While often spiky and unkind in human relationships, he always had a soft spot in his heart for animals. This might be a result of his childhood, where often pets were his only consolation when dealing with his menacing father. His favorite dog was Biche, a whippet who was given to him early in life. Much like General Howe's dog, she was captured by the Austrians during a battle. At the end of the war, the Austrians returned Biche to Frederick, and he cried tears of joy.

Later, when Biche passed away, Frederick wrote the following:

“I have had a domestic loss which has completely upset my philosophy. I confide all my frailties in you: I have lost Biche, and her death has reawoken in me the loss of all my friends, particularly of him who gave her to me. I was ashamed that a dog could so deeply affect my soul, but the sedentary life I lead and the faithfulness of this poor creature had so strongly attached me to her, her suffering so moved me, that I confess, I am sad and afflicted. Does one have to be hard? Must one be insensitive? I believe that anyone capable of indifference towards a faithful animal is unable to be grateful towards an equal, and that, if one must choose, it is best to be too sensitive than too hard.” 

One of our modern-day "dog's of war"
However, like James Herriot, Frederick believed that it was important to always have animals in his life, and went on to have many other dogs. He loved dogs until the end of his days, as evidenced by his last words, “cover the dog, he is shivering.” Frederick’s love for dogs, (and other animals) shows us another side of his character, often missed by historians. Much like today, dogs were an essential part of life during the Kabinettskriege period.

If you enjoyed the post, feel free to share it.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns 

[1] Washington Papers, Washington to Howe, Oct. 6, 1777. 

Russian Expansion in the Kabinettskriege Era

Putin as Peter the Great

Russia has a long and complicated history with her eastern European neighbors. At the beginning of the Kabinettskriege era, in 1648, there was no reason to suspect that Russia would rise to the status of a European power. Indeed, in those days, there was no Russia, only the small state of Muscovy. All eyes were on Sweden. Her powerful army, and exceptional leadership, gave the Swedes control and domination of much of eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic region. By the end of the Kabinettskriege era, Russia had displaced Sweden as the dominant power in eastern Europe, and was able to do this through a complex mix of factors.

Eastern Europe in the late 17th Century

Situation in 1648

Russia (Teal/Green) had a impressive territorial empire, but lacked strategic positions and resources. Russia also had a number of powerful enemies. The greatest of these, until 1721, was the Baltic empire of Sweden (pink). Another power opponent of Russian interests was the Ottoman empire (brown), and the Ottoman empire's client state, the Crimean Khanate (bright green). Directly to Muscovy's west, the Poland-Lithuanian commonwealth possessed much territory, but was showing signs of decline.

Muscovy itself had a number of problems. Muscovy had recent emerged from the time of troubles, a disastrous  period in Russian history, which saw much instability. The Russians had also managed to survive a series of long wars against the Mongols, but the army which defeated the Mongols was now outdated. In order make Russia into a great power state, the Russians needed: 1). A stronger army 2). powerful, skillful leadership, 3) and divided and weakened states in the rest of eastern Europe. By 1789, the end of the Kabinettskriege period, Russia would achieve all of these goals, and join the ranks of the European great powers.

Figurines of 17th Century Russian Streltsy

1). Reforming the Military
Until the turn of the eighteenth century, Russian military life was dominated by the type of soldier you see above, Streltsy. These soldiers were state of the art in 1550s, but by the 1650s, had begun to show their age. In order to join the ranks of European great powers, the Russians needed to reform their military along European lines.

They adopted the flintlock musket, as opposed to the primitive matchlock used by the Streltsy, and began to dress in French and German military fashion. For most of the Kabienttskriege era, the Russian military was one of the best in the world. By 1709, the time of the cataclysmic Battle of Poltava, the Russian army began to look a bit more like this:

Early 18th Century Russian Soldiers

Peter I of Russia, "the Great"
 2). Effective Leadership

The Russian army was modernized by a man who was not a masterful tactician, but a great leader: Peter I of Russia. He lost battles in the Great Northern War, but kept Russia in the fight when his allies deserted him. He was often a brutal leader, but his methods produced results. It was his influence, more than any other factor, which led Russia to embrace a distinctly European way of life and thinking.

He had other, very effective rulers follow him as well. Both Elizabeth Petranova, his daughter, and Katherine the Great of Russia followed in his mold of making Russia a first rate European power. Under Elizabeth, the Russians defeated Frederick the Great's Prussia in the Seven Years' War, and Prussia only survived this disastrous war by tenaciously hanging in the fight until Elizabeth's death in 1762.

Katherine the Great in military dress

 3). Weakened Neighbors in Eastern Europe

The Russians were able to achieve spectacular success, because of their great army and leadership, but also because of their diplomatic choices and options. Throughout the eighteenth century, Russia was able to isolate specific enemies, and destroy them in detail. This began with the Great Northern War in 1700, and would continue throughout the eighteenth century. In the Great Northern War, Russia was able to isolate Sweden, and attack it, in an alliance with Denmark and Poland.  This war was successful and Sweden's empire was dismantled. However, this achieved a dual purpose. In the course of the war, Poland was also weakened, both economically and militarily. This would lead to the partitions of Poland, later in the eighteenth century, where Russia, Prussia, and Austria would claim large swaths of Polish territory.

Another example of this is the Russian conflict with the Ottoman empire. The Russians used their common Christianity with the Austrians to gain powerful allies, and force the Ottomans to fight a two-front war. Many of the smaller states in eastern Europe, such as Courland or the Crimean Khanate, were snapped up in times of crisis, when larger powers were too busy to intervene.

 Practical Application Today

At first glance, it might seem as though Putin is a "new" Peter the Great, as the picture at the top implies. However, there are a number of historical differences which actually work in favor of the EU and their allies. First- in the twenty-first century, it is much more noticeable when large countries annex smaller ones, thanks to instantaneous communications, social networks, etc.

Second, Putin may be a charismatic strongman, and a capable strategic leader. His diplomatic maneuvering shows some skill, and his handling of the 2008 South Ossestia war show that he has the potential to force opponents to make mistakes, and back down. With that being said, he is no Peter the Great. While he may be attempting to revitalize the Russian armed forces, those forces are still years away from matching and exceeding first world armies, such as the United States, or even France and Germany. The fact that the dispute is happening in Russia's back yard, Ukraine, indicates that despite the saber rattling, NATO and their allies have Moscow on the back foot.

Third,  the Russian army, unlike the Russian army of the eighteenth century, is badly in need of reform. However, the Ukrainian forces they would be fighting are not much better off. With that being said, Russia should worry about more than just Ukraine, should it choose to invade. While the United States might not intervene, other powers, such as Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic States, will certainly not take Ukrainian annexation lying down.

This brings us to the fourth and final point: Europe is not divided. This is not 1914. This is not 1938. The entire continent of Europe condemns what Moscow is doing, and should Moscow attempt the total annexation of Ukraine, will act to protect European interests. The Poles, particularly, will fight to keep independence.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine in the Kabinettskriege Era

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire by IIjam Repin
Dear Reader,

Today, we are faced with a crisis in the Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history. The origins of Russian civilization are found in the region which today encompasses Ukraine. Kyivan Rus' was the oldest great civilization the Russian sphere, and it was located close to modern Kiev. So, as a result of this crisis, we are going to look at the relationship between Russia and Ukraine in the 1648-1789 period.

Eastern Europe in 1648
 Oddly enough, in 1648, Russia was not in control of Ukraine. The Ottoman Empire and the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth controlled the area we think of as modern Ukraine today. You can see Kiev on the Dnieper. However, in 1648, on the eve of the Kabinettkriege era, the Cossacks who lived in Ukraine began to fight a war of independence.

Box art from Zvezda 
In 1648, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the Zaporozhian Cossack host in a war of independence against the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. Zaporozhian means, "the land beyond the rapids," or in this case, the fields of modern central Ukraine. These men fought for an independence against Polish domination, with the goal of creating a Cossack Hetmanate in Ukraine.

This began a period in Polish history known as the Deluge, in which Poland was repeatedly overrun by more powerful neighbors. The Cossacks succeeded in breaking Ukraine away from the Poles, but they failed to consolidate power effectively, and sought support from outside the Ukraine. After Khmelnytsky died, the Cossacks lost vision, and failed to finish their independence movement. The Cossacks fiercely resisted any influence from the Ottoman empire, and were caught in a larger struggle between east and west. Russia and Sweden were battling for control of the Baltic world, and the Cossacks of Ukraine became entangled in that struggle.

Adam Mazepa and Karl XII of Sweden
In the early 18th century, the struggle between Sweden and Russia reached a breaking point, and the decisive battle of that conflict, Poltava, was actually fought just east of Kiev, in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Cossack leader, Adam Mezepa, sided with the Swedes, in an effort to defeat Peter I of Russia. Thus, even in the eighteenth century, Ukraine was torn between the east and west. Mazepa and Karl XII of Sweden were defeated at Poltava, and Mazepa died soon afterwards.

This defeat ended the Swedish alliance, and brought Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence. Throughout the eighteenth century, the Zaporozhian Cossacks loyally served the Russian crown, and fought in all of the major Russian wars. Cossacks lived a free life, so serfs from neighboring areas often fled to Ukraine in order to become free.

In 1775, Catherine II of Russia disbanded the Zaporozhian host, "for their deeds and insolence of disobeying the will of our Imperial Majesty." Russian military units moved in, and disbanded the Cossack way of life. Cossacks were incorporated directly into the Russian military units, and an independent Ukraine became a thing of the past.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns