Thursday, June 29, 2017

What did an Average Eighteenth-Century Soldier Eat?

Reenactors portraying a number of British Regiments work on at camp kitchen  (Photo credit: Tommy Tringale)
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to briefly touch an issue which has received much attention in recent years from progressive eighteenth-century reenactors: the issues of food and rationing. What soldiers' ate was a vital part of life in the army, and deserves a post in this series.

First of all, I highly encourage you to look at the work of John U. Rees, Todd Post, Gregory Theberge, and Christopher Duffy, if you are interested in more in-depth coverage of soldiers' rations during the mid-eighteenth century. These authors have brought together a wealth of information regarding period soldiers' food, and their work deserves to be read. What was common, or shared between many eighteenth-century armies, in terms of feeding the men?

Most mid-eighteenth century armies arrived upon a common scheme for delivering food to their soldiers. Soldiers were divided into sub-groupings, which each group referred to as a "mess," or Kameradschaft in German-language armies. These men were responsible for cooking together. The mess ranged from between 5-7 soldiers, depending on the army, conflict, and year. An NCO of some rank was responsible for each mess, with a corporal being the most common in the larger Germanic armies. So, on average,  what might soldiers eat?

Brunswickers at Fort Ticonderoga (Photo Credit: Ron Videau)

For a good daily ration, something like 1 and a half pounds of bread/flour 3/4 of a pound of meat, 3-4 oz of rice, and 5oz of peas was quite common. This likely ran in the neighborhood of 2200-3000 calories per day.[1] However, this ranged widely enough and was varied enough that any type of true, "average" may be impossible.

Exactly what the soldiers were issued to cook depended greatly on the army and campaign in question. All armies of the era desperately tried to give their soldiers carbohydrates and protein every day. Usually, this took the form of a daily bread or flour issue, and a daily or weekly meat issue.

Between 1-2 pounds of bread or flour per day was average. In the Continental Army, one pound of bread or flour per day was a normal official issue, potentially dropping to a half-pound of flour during hardships of 1777-1778. The British army attempted to issue it's soldiers slightly more, around 1.5 pounds of bread or flour per day.[2]

The Prussian service gave the most bread, at the rate of 2 pounds per day in both war and peace. Frederick's army stopped the pay of its soldiers in peacetime for bread, but issued it free of charge during wartime.[3] The Austrian Army issued their soldiers 1.75 lbs of bread per day, free of charge.[4] On the other hand, the Prussians gave out the least protein to its soldiers: at the measly rate of 2lbs per soldier per week. Again, this issue was free of charge during wartime alone. The Austrians followed the practice of other Western European armies, providing one pound of meat per day to the soldier. However, unlike most armies, Austrian soldiers had to purchase their meat from regimental butchers.[5]

The Continental Army, at least officially, gave out a comparatively large portion, at 1 pound of meat (mixed beef and pork) per day, although this dropped to 3/4 of a pound as the war progressed. The British army on campaign attempted to give its soldiers 1.5 pounds of beef per day.[6] In the British service, both the bread and meat ration would occur on a weekly basis, which led to it being referred to as, "Sevens."[7]

Soldiers in both Europe and North America would frequently supplement their food issue through both forage and purchases. Soldiers bought and requisitioned vegetables, fruit, and other food not issued to them by the military supply system. British soldiers would also [very] occasionally be issued other substances, such as sugar or cocoa.

Soldiers became quite accustomed to their particular army's way of issuing rations. The diaries of the German troops who came to North America are full of complaints. These complaints are manifold and can be found in a variety of sources, but I will share my favorite, from a Brunswicker with Burgoyne:

The banks of the lake are covered with the thickest woods, and every time a camp had to be pitched, trees had to be cut down and the place cleared. In spite of the hard work, no other provisions were furnished than salt meat and flour. As each soldier had to bake his own bread, and no ovens for baking the same were there, he had to either bake it in hot ashes or on hot stones. This bread was, of course, very hard and heavy, and required good teeth. Furthermore there was neither whisky nor tobacco, which the German soldiers were accustomed to have. I consider these last indispensible for soldiers. According to ar rangements of the English Commissary, the troops are never supplied with bread. Only flour is furnished and the men have to bake their own bread. We were not accustomed to this and did not know how to do it...It is not my intention to pity the soldier. He cannot always find things as he is accustomed to having them. He must know how to endure the hardships of his profession without murmuring. However, it would be better to prepare him rather than have him come upon these hardships unexpectedly.[8]
(Photo Credit: Wilson Freeman/Drifting Focus Photography)
Reenactors giving an excellent portrayal of Brunswick Regiment Prinz Friedrich.
In this passage, the Brunswicker refers to the Germanic practice of having large mobile ovens following the army in Europe. German troops did not have a frame of reference for baking their own bread, because they were accustomed to a slightly more developed military supply system. In North America, these expectations were shattered by a more hearty method of campaigning.

Soldiers in the eighteenth-century, by and large, depended on their armies to feed them. If this food and logistical support was not forthcoming, armies would quickly cease to exist as a credible fighting force. Frederick II of Prussia found this particular lesson had this particular lesson driven home during the lean months of the 1778 campaign in Bohemia. However, if all remained well, a soldier could count on his army to supply he and his mess comrades with a daily allotment of bread, meat, and maybe even a little something extra.

Please feel free to share if you know anyone who might be interested.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Anderson, A People's Army, 84.
[2] Post, "Victualling the Army," 8.
[3]Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 198-201.
[4] Duffy, Instrument of War, 324.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Theberge, To Nourish the Troops, 122.
[7] Ibid, 160.
[8] Du Roi, Journal of Du Roi the Elder, 90-91.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Was the Average Soldier "the Scum of the Earth" in the Eighteenth Century?

Reenactors portraying a variety of British military units at Mount Vernon in 2016

Dear Reader,

Having established the average age of the eighteenth-century recruit (as well as his height), we must ask a follow-up question: If the average soldier did not enlist until between 21 and 25, what did he do before enlistment? Historical enthusiasts often claim that soldiers were the "scum of the earth." This is a quote from the Duke of Wellington, a Napoleonic figure. At times, this quote is used to claim that armies in the earlier eighteenth century were composed of criminal elements, drifters, and the unemployed. Is this true? Or, to put the question another way: what were common prior professions of eighteenth-century soldiers? What, if anything, did they do to earn living before enlisting in the military?

The most interesting research on this subject was performed in the early 1980s by Glenn Steppler and Sylvia Frey. Although Steppler's dissertation is difficult to come by, Frey's book, The British Soldier in America, belongs on the shelf of anyone interested social make-up of eighteenth-century armies. However, their research deals specifically with the British Army in the late-eighteenth century. This post seeks to bring their data together with research on the Continental Army, Austrian Army, and Prussian Army, in order to get a better picture of soldiers as a whole.

Line Drawing of a British Soldier by Philip James de Loutherbourg, possibly taken on Warley Commons in 1778
In eighteenth-century armies, before enlistment, as many as 50% of men were unskilled day-laborers, or agricultural workers who did not own land. While not moving in the highest circles of society, these men were not necessarily criminals or untrustworthy characters: they simply sold their labor and owned no land. Indeed, in most European, or Euro-American societies of the eighteenth century, these individuals made up the largest segment of the population. Day laborers were certainly on the lower rungs of eighteenth-century society: to use a modern term, they lived from paycheck to paycheck. With that being said, they were hardly, the "scum of the earth" as Wellington would later claim.

 Ilya Berkovich has recently written an excellent book specifically on soldiers motivation. More importantly, Ilya looks at the sustaining motivations which kept soldiers in their armies.  Though soldiers would often enlist to escape troubling domestic circumstances (to avoid paternal responsibilities, for example), more often they kept up positive relations with their relatives and village communities at home. Indeed, a rather large proportion of all the surviving Prussian correspondence from private soldiers in the Seven Years' War, most of it is addressed to family.[1]

Eighteenth-century common soldiers were admittedly often poor individuals. In an assessment of private soldiers from Maryland in the Continental Army from 1782, it seems that some 15% of soldiers were destitute. Practically, this means they possessed less than 10₤ of total worth. The average total wealth of the other soldiers was 49₤: still in a state of poverty.[2] Practically, this suggests that 15% of the men were unemployed with no prospects. 85%, on the other hand, possessed an income of some type, even if they were poor. However, this data also comes from the late-war era, when many states south of Pennsylvania had difficulty recruiting men to fill the ranks of the Continental Army. 

A Prussian soldier working to supplement his income
In Prussia, the canton system of recruitment, an early type of selective service system, drew heavily on the unskilled labor force in order to provide men for the Prussian army. Individuals with certain careers were exempt from enrollment in the system, including: "clergymen, civilian officials, businessmen, small landowners, fathers of families, only sons of widows, first sons, (and later second sons as well)... craftsmen, cooks, and all other people who had been trained for specific work at the expense of their masters."[3] Thus, it seems that something like 60% of the Prussian army might have been drawn from unskilled day laborers. Even men such as Ulrich Braeker, who were forcibly conscripted from outside Prussia, were also day laborers.[4] During peacetime, Prussian and Russian soldiers often worked supplemental jobs in addition to their work as soldiers. These additional sources of income supplemented the soldiers' regular pay, and allowed them to raise families and improve their standard of living. If eighteenth-century soldiers were so crime-ridden, lazy, and drunk, why did a large number of them pursue civilian work even while in the army?

In the eighteenth-century Austrian Army, roughly 30% of recruits had mastered a trade prior to enlisting. Of those, 27.7% formerly worked in trades related to shoes and clothing production and repair, and amazingly, 13.26% were former tailors. On the other hand, almost 70% of recruits had not mastered a trade.[5]

However, by far the best data comes from the British army in the period. As useful as it is to examine data from the British Army during the American War of Independence, Britain developing industrially in the eighteenth century at a rate unmatched by other states. Sylvia Frey argues that out-of-work weavers (textile workers) may have made up 20% of the British Army in the 1780s.[6] For Glenn Steppler, that number rose as high as 37.8%.[7] However, as shocking as that is, in the years before 1784, day laborers made up an even higher percentage of the British army: some 50-55%.[8]

On the other hand, this same data means that some perhaps 45-50% of the British army in the eighteenth century were skilled workers of some type. From their relatively large numbers in regimental returns, it seems that weavers, tailors, shoemakers, and cutlers were the most prevalent. Thus, roughly half the troops entering the British army acquired some type of marketable skill before enlisting.
Soldiers did have regular contact with fringe elements of society, in their work assisting law enforcement
In major urban centers, soldiers acted as first responders to disturbances, which put them at odds, and in close contact, with many criminal elements. Although the actual judicial work was managed by civilians, soldiers played an important role in maintaining law and order, particularly in confronting rioters.[9] This close association with criminal elements may have turned the views of elites against common soldiers.

Although not a true cross-section of eighteenth-century societies, most armies contained men from the working and lower-middle classes. Despite their relatively poor background, most of these soldiers did not enlist because, "they had no other choice." On the contrary, men like John Robert Shaw (a private soldier in the 33rd Regiment of Foot), made a conscious choice to enlist. He writes, "I... banished all thoughts of domestic concerns and firmly fixed my resolution of enlisting as a king's soldier."[10] While most armies contained a small number of fringe element criminals or men living in a state of extreme poverty, it is only the snobbery of elites such as Wellington that turned the average fighting man into the "scum of the earth."

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

[1] See Bleckwenn, Preussische Soldatenbriefe, for a number of examples.
[2] Papenfuse and Stiverson, "General Smallwood's Recruits," 123.
[3] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 75.
[4] Braeker, Der Arme Mann, 85.
[5] Duffy, Instrument of War, 203.
[6]Frey, The British Soldier in North America, 12.
[7] Steppler, The Common Soldier in the Era of George III, 227.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Houlding, Fit for Service, 59-62, Hayter, The Army and the Crowd in Mid-Georgian England.
[10] Shaw, John Robert Shaw, 11.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Call for Research on Eighteenth-Century Warfare

Professor Jim McIntyre, Chief Editor of the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association
Photo taken by author, at the 2015 Seven Year' War Convention 

Dear Readers,

Do you have a great deal of knowledge on a specific aspect of eighteenth-century warfare? Have you always wanted to share your ideas, but had no way to express them to a wider audience? Do you know the particular history of a unit, battle, individual, or idea like the back of your hand?

If so, you should consider sending your research to The Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. This publication examines the history of warfare between 1740 and 1775, although, the editors also review content related to the American War of Independence, if it touches on the early period as well. For example, my article in a 2014 issue of the journal, "Peloton und Flanquers, Hessian Links between the Seven Years' War and American War of Independence," evaluated infantry tactics in both wars.

The journal began as a publication for wargamers in the 1980s, but has since expanded its scope to include material interesting to historians, reenactors, wargamers, and genealogists. If you have knowledge and want to see that knowledge shared to a wide audience, you should consider submitting a piece to the journal. Here are the submission guidelines:

Article Submission Guidelines
            Articles submitted for publication in the Journal of the Seven Years’ War Association Journal remain the property of the author. Articles on the middle third of the eighteenth century (1740-1775) are encouraged, though some that fall outside these parameters will be considered on a case by case basis. Format should be Times New Roman, 12 pt. font.
            It is the responsibility of the author to secure permissions for any copyrighted illustrations used in an article that is published. Illustrations included with an article submitted for publication will be assumed to have secured permissions.
The Journal retains the right not to publish an article submitted. In addition, it may return the piece to the author with requests for revisions.

To submit an article for potential publication in the Journal, send it as an e-mail attachment to

You can contact the editor,  Professor Jim McIntyre, at Here is a link to the jounal's page. 

Feel free to comment or contact me via the "about the author" page if you have any questions.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Was the Average Eighteenth-Century Soldier Married?

Reenactors portray British Army soldiers and a laundress  during the 1781 Carolina Campaign
Photo Credit: Joe Bemis 

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at a subject more difficult to pin down than soldiers' average age or height. Obviously, eighteenth-century soldiers were real individuals with deep emotional and thought lives. Many of these men carried on relations of various formal and informal types with women in the area they were stationed. However, the question before us today is, did the average eighteenth-century soldier have a wife?

That women accompanied eighteenth-armies is not in question, and has been well documented by historians. As with most of these posts, I am standing on the soldiers of intellectual giants as I write. Don Hagist, David Christiansen, Paul Kopperman, and Jennine Hurl-Eamon have all contributed greatly to this subject with regards to the British Army.[1] Holly Mayer has provided a mass of useful data on the Continental Army in the American Revolution.[2] Finally, in English, Christopher Duffy remains our guiding star for the armies of central and eastern Europe, even if better data exists in other languages.[3] Wherever possible, I have attempted to collate data from situations when soldiers were in garrison, as many few wives accompanied men on campaign, even if some did.

So, without further adieu, was the average eighteenth-century soldier married?

Reenactors portray British soldiers and a camp follower during a Valley Raid in Upstate NY
Photo Credit: Tommy Tringale

Using data from reliable sources only, not estimates, it seems that the average soldier was not married. Indeed, data from three armies suggests that perhaps as few as 20.9%, or just over 1/5th of all soldiers, were married during the eighteenth century.

Scanty data for the continental army leads us to believe that regardless of how many soldiers were actually married, only 2-4% of the total number of men were accompanied by women on campaign.[4] This figure is unhelpful as it is not clear how many of these were married to soldiers or performed work for the army. Even assuming this number was a smaller fraction of married soldiers as a whole, it would seem that majority of soldiers were not married. Hopefully, with the work of American genealogists, we can someday expand this data.

A British Grenadier from the 31st works his magic circa 1748, Morier
In during the later-eighteenth-century, roughly 12.5% of  British soldiers were accompanied by their wives on voyages outside Britain.[5] This matches up rather well with the data from troops stationed at New York during 1779-1780 when there were roughly 17 women per 100 men with the army.[6] British military administration treated marriage in the army with a sort of aloof indifference, which Jennine Hurl-Eamon has compared to the "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy of the U.S. Army at the turn of the twenty-first century.[7]

The Austrian Grenadier on the right has found something intensely funny.
Perhaps it is the fact that he isn't married. (Morier, circa 1748)

Oddly enough, the best-kept records for this type of question come from Austria (possibly because the lack of success of Austrian armies after the eighteenth century) so we will first turn to that data. Thanks to the enterprising work of Christopher Duffy, we have muster roll data from 122,435 Austrian privates, NCOs, and invalids.[8] Of those men, some 14.03% of soldiers were married. As might be expected, the number is higher, on average, for NCOs and invalids, and lower for enlisted men. Of all the armies for which data is readily available, the Austrian sample is the lowest and the largest: which is perhaps telling.

An artist's imagining of a Prussian soldier's widow after the Seven Years' War
Beate Engelen asserts that in the Prussian army after the Seven Years' War, some 29.65% of soldiers stationed in Berlin and Potsdam were married.[9] Christopher Duffy puts the Potsdam figure for 1776 a bit higher: at about 32.3 percent of NCOs and men.[10] Thus, the data from the post- Seven Years' War Prussian army might be skewed compared to the average, even if it does come from an army of the period. Why is this?

Thanks to the movement of Russian and Austrian armies, Prussia had lost some 500,000 of its civilian population in the Seven Years' War.[11] Frederick II possessed no illusions about the state of Prussia's economy. Taking drastic and severe measures, he forcibly abducted teenagers (boys and girls) from neighboring states under Prussian control (Saxony and portions of Poland). The boys were placed into the army, and the girls were married to Prussian soldiers. This act was understandably later viewed with some embarrassment in Prussia, even if contemporary foreign observers did not find it shocking. Frederick was willing to take whatever steps necessary to rebuild Prussia, regardless of lives affected.

Whatever their policy towards soldiers' wives, states felt a deep responsibility to soldiers' children. In Prussia, compulsory public education (much like we have in the United States today) was instituted in 1763, and former soldiers were often the teachers. In both Russia and Austria, schools for military children sprang up throughout the eighteenth century. In Russian, they appeared as early as the 1730s, in Austria, they appeared after the Seven Years' War.

Soldiers' wives could be a headache of the first order for military administrators
Many military observers held firm opinions on soldiers' marriage. Prussian cavalry general Warnery, who possessed no great love for women, had this to say regarding soldiers' wives:
"when a German army is on the march, there is no more hideous sight than a whole pack of those stinking Amazons, proceeding on foot or on horseback. They act like raiding parties, and you find them with the advance guard, the rearguard, and on the flanks of the army. No village, no hut is spared their attentions. They comb through the cellars, the rooms, hidden recesses and chests, and make off with whatever they pleace. They put to shame the Cossacks, who are amateurs in comparison."[12]
On the other hand, Frederick II firmly agreed with the practice of marriage for soldiers but preferred his officers remain perpetual bachelors.[13] British Army chaplain William Agar published a series of sermons in 1758, where he called for the total number of recognized wives per battalion to 200 (approx. 1/5 of the paper strength) and defended the virtues of married soldiers.[14]

On average, then, the vast majority eighteenth-century soldiers remained unmarried, even if women and marriage played a vital if limited role in the military system in which they worked.

Feel free to share this post if you know individuals who might be interested.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Hagist, "The Women of the British Army in North America," The Brigade Dispatch, (1994-1995); Kopperman, "The British High Command and Soldiers' Wives in America 1755-1783," JSAHR no. 60, (1982); Christiansen, From the Glorious Revolution to the French Revolutionary Wars: Civil-Military Relations in North-East England during the Eighteenth-Century, (Dissertation, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2005) and Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army in the Long Eighteenth-Century, (2014).
[2] Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution, (1990).
[3] Duffy, Russia's Military Way to the West, (1981), Army of Frederick the Great, (2nd Ed, 1996) Instrument of War: The Austrian Army in the Seven Years' War, (Vol 1, 2000); Beate Engelen, Soldatenfrauen in Preussen: Eine Strukturanalyse der Garnisonsgesellschaft im späten 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, (2005).
[4] Mayer, Belonging to the Army, 133.
[5] Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army, 23.
[6] Hagist, "The Women of the British Army in North America,"
[7] Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army, 24.
[8] Duffy, Instrument of War, 208.
[9] Engelen, Soldatenfrauen in Preussen, 88-89.
[10] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 81.
[11] Schumann, "The end of the Seven Years' War in Europe," in The Seven Years War: Global Views, 514.
[12]  Duffy's translation, Warnery, Saemtliche Schriften, Vol 2, 26-27.
[13]  Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 81.
[14]  Agar, Military Devotion: or the soldier's duty to God, xxix.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Series introduction: The Best and the Worst Regiments of the Eighteenth Century

Prussian Guards attack the Church at Leuthen
Dear Reader,

In the past series, we looked at some of the experiences of the "average" eighteenth-century soldier. Now, we are going to turn from that task to evaluating some military organizations on both ends of the spectrum.  In order to do that, I am going to lay out some groundwork here at the beginning of the series. What makes a great, or horrible regiment? To answer that question, we are going to evaluate these military organizations by the following five criteria:

1) Noticed by its Peers
Eighteenth-century soldiers were keen observers of regimental reputation. They would often recall if a particular regiment had a good or bad reputation within the army. Thus, if a regiment was praised or criticized by fellow officers and soldiers, that will be a vital step in its selection.

2) Performance on Campaign
If the regiment repeatedly drove all enemies before it, it is perhaps deserving of a place among the best regiments in the eighteenth century. If, on the other hand, its' soldiers fled repeatedly, or surrendered to the enemy en masse, it might be numbered among the worst.

3) Opinions of the Army Commander
Eighteenth-century army generals were not afraid to bestow praise or criticism on a unit. Often, this is the most available type of source on a particular regiment. 

4) Reputation of the Regimental Commander
Many colonel-proprietors or chefs had a stellar or infamous reputation in the eighteenth century. Soldiers particularly used this officer's reputation as an indication of the esprit-de-corps within a particular formation.

5) Verdict of History
What have other historians said about this particular regiment? Evaluating soldierly effectiveness was a favorite pastime among 19th and early 20th century historians. Needless to say, this will be the least important category. Historians are at best, a necessary evil.

Finally, in has been brought to my attention by a number of individuals that this series may ruffle some feathers. Some of the units under review are portrayed by modern reenactors, or loved by certain historical institutions. Being among the worst regiments in an eighteenth-century army did not mean that these soldiers were incapable, or experienced the horrors of war with any less vividness. For reenactors, I would say that there is still intense value in portraying units that were poorly viewed by their comrades.

So, reenactors may raise an outcry against these posts, but wargamers, I think, may find them useful. Almost every wargaming system I am familiar with, from Final Argument of Kings, to Warfare in the Age of Reason, to Flames of War, attempts to realistically rate units on a scale of effectiveness. Assisting eighteenth-century wargamers in doing this forms part of my rationale for these posts.

The other part of my rationale is that the "average" soldier series we have just left behind was rather faceless, and impersonal. With this series, I hope to encounter concrete individuals and experiences from the past. Maybe together, these will bring us closer to a sense of what eighteenth-century warfare might have looked like.

I look forward to embarking on this series with you!

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

How Tall was the Average Eighteenth-Century Soldier?

Photo Credit: Tom George Davison Photography

Dear Reader,

One of the most pernicious and hard to eradicate myths about the eighteenth-century is that people were quite short, roughly 3/4ths the size of Americans today.  Visitors to historic sites and reenactments frequently offer it as an example of their knowledge of the period, or inquire regarding soldiers' height.

 In response to statement from a historic site employee: "soldiers often slept 4-6 men to a tent," or "in barracks, men slept 2-3 to a bunk," there is often a liturgical response of: "yes, but people were short back then...". How true, if at all, is this rumor? Or, put another way, what was the average height of soldiers in the eighteenth century?

They might have been small, or they might have slept like this:
An artists' impression of French soldiers in a tent circa 1760

Once again, I am standing on the shoulders of scholarly giants as I write this post. The painstaking work of John Komlos, Willfred Fann, Kenneth L. Sokoloff, Georgia E. Villaflor, and to a lesser extent, Matthew Spring, has allowed us to obtain a rather large sample size with which to arrive at an average.[1] When taken together, this data includes measured heights from over 13,000 soldiers between 1754 and 1783. These soldiers came from the American (Continental and Provincial), British, and Prussian armies during this era. Without further adieu: how tall was the average eighteenth-century soldier?

This individual, Jean Antoine Cüva, stood 5' 11" when he was painted in 1738.

When averaged, the height for these 13,000 men comes to 67.9 inches (roughly 5 feet 8 inches), or 172.6 cm. The average height for Americans today is 5 feet 9 inches, so while soldiers might have been slightly shorter, they were not exponentially shorter. Let us examine the data by army and continent:

By Army:

British Regulars in the American War of Independence (sample size 1462): 65.77 inches

It should be noted that a large part of this sample (roughly 2/3rds) comes from the Royal Marines, which did not prioritize enlistment based on height to the same degree that the British army did. Therefore, this sample should not be taken as a definitive measurement of British soldiers' heights. The average for only army soldiers is 68 inches.

American Provincials in the French and Indian War (sample size 3057): 67.55 inches
Sample contains mostly men from New York.

American Continentals in the American War of Independence (sample size 5092): 68.1 inches
Sample contains mostly men from Virginia and Massachusetts.

Prussian Infantry in 1783 (sample size 3749): 69 inches

This grenadier, Samuel Meissmer von Alstaedt, was 5 feet 9.5 inches in 1738

By Continent: 

Soldiers from North American Armies (sample size: 8149): 67.89 inches

Soldiers from European Armies (sample size 5211):  68.09 inches
Despite the relative similarity in heights of fighting men, individuals in North America possessed greater height when looking at the population as a whole, thanks to the better nutrition (read protein consumption) available there.[2]

A Lange Kerl, painted in 1737
Soldiers should not be taken as a representative sample of the population as a whole , as they were often selected for their height. Taller soldiers were consistently sought in all armies of the eighteenth century, although Prussia is often cited as a particularly extreme case. During the early eighteenth-century, Frederick William I (the father of Frederick "the Great"), sought out tall men for his army. The tallest were grouped into one of his grenadier regiments, often called "the giant grenadiers" in English language descriptions, or the "Lange Kerls," colloquially in German. It is often bandied about that these men were mentally disabled as a result of the giant stature, but that comes from a few descriptions of individuals, and the unit performed very well in combat during the eighteenth century.

Would these veritable giants have stood out in the 18th century? Let's be real, they might have.

In the British service, on average, the largest men went to the grenadiers, while the smallest and youngest men were placed in the light infantry. Former officer John Williamson complained about this method, saying it was impracticable for "real service."[3] Thus, when sailing for America in 1774, the 4th Regiment of Foot's tallest grenadier measured 6 feet 2 inches, while the tallest light infantrymen measured 5 feet 8.5 inches.[4]

So, based on these averages, it would seem that the height of eighteenth-century soldiers was not radically different from our own average height today. However, over the course of the eighteenth-century, average height was on the decrease, likely as a result of a rise in population without a commensurate increase in agricultural productivity.[5] So, while the myth that eighteenth-century soldiers were quite small is untrue, they were getting shorter, if ever so slightly.  In conclusion, even if modern Americans have on average, myself included, become somewhat more girthy than individuals in the eighteenth-century, they are not much taller than eighteenth-century soldiers.

So, the next time you are at a historic site, reenactment, or museum, and someone invariably points to an object and says, "wow, look at that, were people shorter back then", you now have the equipment to firmly say: "No. they might have been an inch or two shorter, but they were not tiny people."

You could even refer them to my blog, if you like.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Komlos, "On the Biological Standard of Living of Eighteenth-Century Americans," Fann,  "Foreigners in the Prussian Army 1713-1783," Sokoloff and Villaflor, "The Early Achievement of Modern Stature in America," and Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 60.
[2] Komlos, "On the Biological Standard of Living of Eighteenth-Century Americans."
[3] Williamson, Elements of Military Discipline, 5-6, note on page 6.
[4] Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 60.
[5] Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 5.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How did the British Army adapt to North America in the French and Indian War?

Old Fort Niagara Staff portraying 46th Grenadiers in July of 2016
Photo Credit: Lee Charles Gugino

Dear Reader,

By this point, in most academic, reenacting, and wargaming circles, it has been firmly established that the British army adopted a two-rank, open-order formation during the course of the American War of Independence. Thanks to the painstaking research of individuals such as Matthew Spring, Don Hagist, and Steve Rayner, we know much more about the British Army during the American War of Independence than was thought possible thirty years ago. This shallow open formation, coupled with a rapid advance was the hallmark of British tactics for most of the American War of Independence.[1]

A company of AWI British reenactors formed in the "common open order of two deep" 
Scholars and reenactors rightly point out the importance of inter-war experimentation in the development of this formation, namely those carried out by Townshend and Howe in the early 1770s. However, the point of today's post is to highlight the use of this formation during an earlier war in North America: the French and Indian War.

Stephen Brumwell's excellent 2002 work, Redcoats:  The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763, should be the starting point for anyone interested tactical developments of the British army during this era. How did the British army fight in North America? And is that fighting style accurately portrayed by reenactors and simulated by wargamers?

Observers in the era of the American Revolution remembered the adaptations of the British army during the French and Indian War quite clearly. During his stay in Canada in 1776, General Friedrich Riedesel (a soldier from Brunswick fighting as a British ally) recalled:

“But the English make it one of their chief rules and principles in this country, that no maneuvers may ever be carried out in serried ranks in these districts that are so terribly wooded. They found that out to their cost in the last war against the French in North America, in which they were always unsuccessful at the commencement, until they had taught their men to maneuver with open ranks and cover themselves by means of trees, after which they were always successful.”[2]
Riedesel's wife also kept a detailed journal of her experiences on campaign in North America
It is possible that Riedesel's received this information from British soldiers or French Canadian locals who were present at events. This quote makes it seem as though the British adopted this formation as a result of the harsh terrain of North America- a commonly cited reason for its adoption in the American War of Independence. Other observers in the revolutionary era, such as David Dundas, also commented on the development of the two-rank open-order formation as arising in North America during the French and Indian War.
"The Method almost universally adopted in our infantry, and in ours only, of forming two deep, and at open files, deserves the most serious consideration. It was not produced by the experience of the German war [War of Austrian Succession], but by that of the first American [French and Indian War]...The desultory service there carried on by small bodies of men...first introduced it as proper for that country[.]"[3]
Dundas clearly states that the low number of British troops made a two-rank open-order tactical system feasible in North America. As we shall see, contemporary commanders from the French and Indian War agreed.  Dundas also formulates another belief on why the two-rank open-order system could be adopted in North America: the lack of cavalry:
"The very small proportion of cavalry employed in the American wars, has much tended to introduce the present loose and irregular system of our infantry. — Had they seen and been accustomed to the rapid movements of a good cavalry, they would have felt the- necessity of more substantial order, of moving with concert and circumspection, and of being at every instant in a situation to form and repel a vigorous attack."[4]
There are numerous orders indicating that men should be drawn up two deep. Captain John Knox reproduces several of the general orders from Amherst in the campaign of 1759 in his journal. These orders give us a good window into how common practice of forming men two-deep had become in the French and Indian War era:
"The grenadiers and brigades are, do be drawn up on all services two deep...The men to be acquainted that this is ordered, as the enemy have very few regular troops to oppose us, and no yelling of Indians, or fire of Canadians, can possibly withſtand two ranks, if the men are silent, attentive, and obedient to their Officers, who will lead them to the enemy ; and their silence will terrify the enemy more than any huzzaing or noise they can make, which the General abſolutely forbids[.]"[5]
Careful students of the American War of Independence will notice that this is quite the opposite of British noise discipline practice then, when British soldiers were encouraged to cheer at the enemy frequently. So, why did British infantry embrace this practice in North America, and were the files spaced apart, as in the American War of Independence?

Two men, possibly from the 60th Regiment Light Company,
portrayed in a painting by Benjamin West

The first explanation is that it was simply a North American practice transferred from the provincial forces to the regular army. Amherst recommends that the provincials form in a two-deep order, "as they have always been accustomed to it."[6] This would go a long way towards explaining why the regulars did so early in the war, especially at disasters like the Battle on the Monongahela in 1755 and Carillon 1758. The British did indeed form in two ranks deep at both of these disasters.[7]

On the other hand, it is possible that necessity forced the British to open their files, and that the two-rank formation was not always in open order. Quarter Master Sjt. John Johnson of the 58th Foot explains that at the Plains of Abraham in 1759, Wolfe ordered the British fight with a formation opened to a three-foot space between files, in order to extend the line.[8]

You can almost hear him nitpicking.

Again and again, sources indicated that the practice of drawing up two deep in the battle was a desperate measure designed to make the British force appear larger than it actually was, or extend the line to cover key portions of terrain. At Sainte-Foy in April of 1760, John Knox reports that, "The second line was composed of the thirty- fifth, and the third battalion of Royal Americans, drawn up, to appear more numerous, two deep."[9] So, perhaps as the war continued, the slightly different practice of forming two deep was modified into what became the "common open order of two deep"  by the American War of Independence.[10]

This could occasionally have disastrous consequences, as Brumwell argues happened at the Battle of Sainte-Foy. At Sainte-Foy, the open ranks of the British formation produced a relatively low volume of musket fire, especially as the firefight continued for a long period of time. Likewise, the British regiments at the Battle of Freeman's Farm in 1777 were unable to quickly drive off the enemy and began the process of slowly losing an infantry firefight with rebel Americans. Fortunately for the British at Saratoga, they had German allies prepared to support them in the nick of time; there were no such allies at Sainte-Foy in 1760.  

So, what does all this mean? For reenactors, forming in two ranks, usually in open order, should become the norm if portraying troops after 1758. It could certainly be used before 1758, although more sources have survived from the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy to document its specific use in those field battles. Again- just to be clear, these sources are not describing light infantry, but rather are orders designed to manage the entire rank and file of the British army. 

For wargamers, basing British units a bit wider than normal might be a way to incorporate these changes. Also, after the first volley (which was quite devastating at close range at Quebec in 1759) the firepower of British infantry in this formation should drop off considerably. Likewise, they might want to take slightly fewer casualties than normal, to represent the space in the formation. At the Plains of Abraham, this formation was used to full effect: the British advanced with opened files, taking light casualties from long-range French fire before replying with a devastating double-loaded volley of their own. The ready adaptability of the supposedly hide-bound British army proved to be a great strength at battles such as Quebec and Brandywine. However, it also proved to be a weakness in the face of determined opposition, in battles like Sainte-Foy and Freeman's Farm.

 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:

Best Regards,

Alex Burns


[1] Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 139.
[2] Riedesel, Journal of General Riedesel, in Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, 118. (Microfilm)
[3] Dundas, Principles of Military Movement, 51.
[4]Ibid, 11.
[5] Knox, An Historical Journal of the Campaign in North America, Vol I, pg 384-395.   
[6] Ibid, 374.
[7] Brumwell, Redcoats, 255.
[8] Doughty eds, The Siege of Quebec and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Vol V, 107.
[9] Knox, An Historical Journal of the Campaign in North America, Vol II, pg 293.
[10] Quoted in Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 143.

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Far did the Average Mid-Eighteenth-Century Soldier March in a Day?

A reenacted British Soldier from the American War of Independence
(Photo Credit: Lee Charles Gugino)

Dear Reader,

Historians of other eras often assert that: ""In general, an ancien regime [eighteenth-century] army was a slow and unwieldy mass of disgruntled and terrorized soldiers led by untrained and unimaginative officers."[1] By doing so, they prepare the way to discuss how armies in the era of Napoleon were fast moving, lithe, killing machines led by professional soldiers promoted on merit alone. Leaving aside the fact the Ilya Berkovich as destroyed the notion that eighteenth-century soldiers were "disgruntled and terrified," we should turn our attention to the question of whether an eighteenth-century army was a "slow and unwieldy mass." 

It has now been almost thirty-five years since Christopher Duffy first began to contemplate the marching speed of armies in the eighteenth-century. He noted that,
"I must say that I am impressed, almost disconcerted by the very high level of mobility of the monarchical armies. The invention of the sheet-copper pontoon enabled these old warriors to take a river barrier in their stride, as Frederick rightly claimed; they pushed and hacked their way through gloomy forests; they and their guns passed over the merest hillside tracks; they were halted by nothing short of genuine mountains, of the kind which have their peaks capped with snow for most of the year. In other words, before the advent of the railway and the internal combustion engine, the physical improvements in mobility were ones of degree rather than kind."[2]
A mixed war-party with men from the King's Regiment in North America
(Photo Credit: Tommy Tringale)
Duffy also addressed this issue in some detail in his book Military Experience in the Age of Reason. He asserted that an eighteenth-century soldier could perhaps move as fast as 12 miles a day during "urgent phases of a campaign" and that this speed was sustainable for two weeks.[3] It is at least clear that eighteenth-century armies gave nothing in terms of speed to their Napoleonic counterparts:

It would appear mistaken to claim that recent wars [the Napoleonic Wars] are the only ones which have demanded great physical exertion, or that these exertions were greater than those of our ancestors. We would be just as wrong to suppose that the soldiers of those times, most of whom were probably aged between thirty and forty, could not have been a match for our present soldiers, the majority of whom are between twenty and thirty.[4]
This point is also taken up by Carl von Clausewitz in On War. Clausewitz did not believe that the Napoleonic era represented a watershed in speed of movement, but rather that:
"[T]he Seven Years War produced marches that have still not been surpassed: Lacy's for instance, in 1760, in support of the Russian diversion toward Berlin. He covered the 220 miles from Schweidnitz through Lusatia to Berlin in ten days-- a rate of 22 miles a day, which would be astounding even nowadays for a corps of 15,000 men... Bonaparte, when pursuing the Prussians and trying to cut off their retreat in 1806 and Blücher, intending to do the same to the French in 1813, both required ten days to cover only 150 miles or so. That was a rate which Frederick the Great achieved, baggage and all, when marching from Saxony to Silesia and back."[5]

Clausewitz comments, further, arguing that the reduction of baggage in the Napoleonic era did little to increase the speed of marching. He comments on the fact that reducing the amount of baggage in an army rarely accelerated movement.
"Once tents had gone out of use and troops began to be supplied by requisitioning food on the spot, an army's baggage shrank considerably. One would expect the most important result to be an acceleration of mobility, and as a consequence, an increase in the range of a day's march. But this will only occur under certain circumstances. The change did little to accelerate marches in the theater of operations. The reason is the well-known fact that whenever in earlier times the situation called for an exceptional amount of marching, the baggage had always been left behind or sent ahead, and in general, separated from the troops for as long as movements of this kind were still in progress. Baggage, in point of fact, rarely had any influence on movements[.]"[6]
So, how far did soldiers march in eighteenth-century campaigns? To answer this question, I have drawn together data on marching from a number of armies between 1755 and 1781. For this project, I looked at around 420 individual days of marching, and the distances of covered by soldiers on those days. Of those days, around 249 represent troops marching without impediment, and 170 of them represent troops cutting a trail through wooded terrain. For now, just looking at the 250-odd days of marching, how far did the average soldier march in the mid-eighteenth century? 

According to the data which I gathered, the average mid-eighteenth-century soldier marched around 15.51 Miles, or 24.96 km per day.[7] While Duffy's figure may be more accurate for the entirety of the eighteenth century, I argue that my sample size is large enough to push for a slight revision upwards for the era between 1755 and 1781. At the very least, this difference is worth further investigation. 

With that in mind, let us look at the averages by army, from lowest to highest: 

A (not completely accurate) depiction of Prussian soldiers on the march, by Carl Roechling.
 The Seven Years' War Average: 15.9 Miles per day (25.5km) 

The French Army in the Seven Years' War: 11.7 Miles per day (18.9km) 
(14-day average) 

The Russian Army in the Seven Years' War: 12.9 Miles per day (20.85km) 
(7-day average) 

The British Army in the Seven Years' War: 14.1 Miles per day (22.7km) 
(35-day average) 

The Austrian Army in the Seven Years' War: 17.48 Miles per day (28.1km)
(36-day average) 

The Prussian Army in the Seven Years' War: 17.74 Miles per day (28.6km) 
(44-day average) 

These numbers are interesting in their consistency. None of the armies fall within Duffy's proscribed 6-8 mile estimate, and most even go beyond his assertion of 12 miles per day during intense campaigning. 

Reenactors portraying North Carolina militia working on Forbes Road in 1758
Cutting Trail during the French and Indian War: 2.75 Miles per day (4.42km) 
(170-day average) This total comes from work on Braddock's and Forbes' roads during the French and Indian War. Braddock moved much faster than Forbes, who steadily approached his target (Ft. Duquense) at a crawling pace of 2 miles per day. On the other hand, Braddock's army was annihilated as a cohesive fighting force. 

Reenactors portraying American forces during the War of Independence

The American War of Independence Average: 16.15 Miles per day (26.01km) 

The American Army in the American War of Independence: 14.77 Miles per day (23.77km) 
(84-day average)

The British Army in the American War of Independence: 19.6 Miles per day (31.5km) 
(29-day average) 

Much of this data comes from the experiences of the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army. During 1777, the Delaware Regiment covered 796 miles in 57 marches, or roughly 14 miles per day. Once again, these totals are surprisingly higher than Duffy's estimate of 6-8 miles per day, and even if they represent a particularly intense phase of the campaign, it is a phase worth considering.

Reenactors portraying men of the 8th Regiment of Foot on the march
Obviously, this is a very small sample size compared to all distance/days marched by soldiers in the eighteenth century. Soldiers did not march this far every day, as armies took occasional rest days after moving long distances. It seems, then, that we should update our evaluation of how fast eighteenth-century armies could move. Or, at the very least, call for more detailed and thorough research on the subject. The myth that eighteenth-century armies were slow and unwieldy is simply untenable. Napoleonic armies were certainly capable of moving quickly; the 70-mile march to action at Austerlitz comes to mind. However, when the armies of the eighteenth-century were capable of moving 145km (approx 90 miles) in 3 days, as Prinz Henri's army did in the Seven Years' War,  does the Napoleonic era truly represent a watershed in army movement?

Please feel free to share if you know individuals who might be intrigued by this post.

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

[1]Andrew R. Wilson, "Master's of War: History's Great Strategic Thinkers" (lecture, The Great Courses, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island).
[2] Duffy, The Fortress in the Age of Vauban and Frederick the Great, 291-2.
[3] Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 160.
[4] Lossow, Denkwürdigkeiten zur Charakteristik der preussischen Armee, 10-11.
[5] Clausewitz, On War, (Michael Howard and Peter Paret edition), 320.
[6] Ibid.
[7] While I am not going to provide an itemized list of where this information comes from (I hope to publish it in paper format someday), many of the totals come from commentaries by authors such as Clausewitz and Jomini, primary sources cited in the works of Christopher Duffy (the majority come from By Force of Arms), The Journal and Order Book of Captain Robert Kirkwood, the Papers of George Washington, in addition to manuscript sources.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Battle of Fehrbellin: the Start of Prussian Military History

A drawing of one of the flags carried by Brandenburg militia troops from Altmark at the battle.

Dear Reader,

Although of late, I have been focusing on the middle and late eighteenth century, this blog is dedicated to covering all of the Kabinettskriege era. While many of us doubtless remember June 18th for a much more famous battle occurring on that date, (take your pick, Kolin or Waterloo), I want to take a moment to remember an older battle, one which had vital consequences for European history.

Swedish Empire in  late 17th Century

In the 1670s, there was no state of Prussia, much less Germany, on the map of Europe. Rather, in Northern Europe, the dominant state was the Swedish Empire. Since the 1630s, Sweden had played the role of great power in Northern Europe, controlling parts of modern Germany, Norway, Finland, and the Baltic States. Gustav II Adolph (often rendered Gustavus Adolphus in English) had managed to forge a competent military force. His successors, most notably Karl X Gustav, had repeatedly enlarged Swedish holdings and confirmed Swedish military power. Since 1660, under the leadership of King Karl XI, Sweden had embarked upon a series of successful wars against its neighbors.

An artists reimagining of a Swedish Soldier in the Scanian War

One of those neighbors, Brandenburg-Prussia, had formerly played the role of an ally to the Swedish forces. Elector Friedrick Wilhelm had successfully managed to rebuild his North German state, crippled by the Thirty Years' War, into a small regional power.  Swedish and Brandenburg forces had fought together in Poland, often with great success. However, when the Elector moved his forces south to campaign with the Holy Roman Emperor, disaster struck. During the Scanian War,  French envoys to Sweden convinced the Swedes to attack Brandenburg-Prussia. The French argued that this was the perfect time to strike, since the Elector was away with his army.

A Map of the Battle of Fehrbellin

This set the stage for one of the more memorable moments of early Prussian history: the Battle of Fehrbellin, fought on June 18th, 1675. In this battle, Swedish and Brandenburg forces clashed over the future of Brandenburg. Would the state of Prussia continue to be a relatively minor power subject to Swedish ambitions, or would Brandenburg-Prussia be free to manage its own affairs?

The Elector quickly brought his troops back to Brandenburg, where the Swedish forces were waiting for his return. The Swedish army under the command of Waldemar Wrangel anchored its forces between a small village and some marshy ground, with their cavalry on the wings and infantry in the center. The Swedes numbered around 7,000 men and 28 cannon, with 4,000 more troops in the area.The Brandenburger forces initially numbered around 5,000 men and 13 cannon, with 2,000 more soldiers arriving in the course of the battle.

German reenactors portraying Brandenburg artillerists at Fehrbellin, in 2010

Friedrich Wilhelm noticed that the Swedish forces had failed to occupy some small hills to the right of their formation, so he send dragoons (mounted infantry) and his artillery to occupy this high ground. From this position, the Brandenburgers were able to enfilade the Swedish line with artillery fire, causing large losses to the Swedish army. The Brandenburger cavalry, under the command of George von Defflinger, attacked the Swedish cavalry in the flank, routing it, and forcing the Swedish army to withdraw. The battle had lasted barely two hours, and ended in a decisive victory for the Brandenburg-Prussian army. The Swedish forces lost between 2,500 and 2,800 men, while the Brandenburger losses amounted to slightly less than 500.

A soldier of the Scanian War 
This battle, although small by our standards today, had far-reaching consequences for Northern European history. Brandenburg-Prussia would continue to grow and professionalize its army, eventually creating the state of Prussia and the nation-state of Germany. Sweden, although still a great power, would eventually crumble under the pressure of Russian forces during the Great Northern War, less than 40 years after the Battle of Fehrbellin.

Feel free to share this post if you think others might like it.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kolin: Why did Frederick lose?

Richard Knoetel's reimagining of Frederick and a Cuirassier after Kolin. Edited for Richard's apparent lack of understanding how shadows work.

Dear Reader,

This Sunday is the 260th anniversary of one of the most important battles in the Seven Years' War, the Battle of Kolin. In this battle, fought on June 18th, 1757, Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) lost for the first time in his military career. From the beginning of his military career as king in 1740, to the Battle of Prague, fought on May 6th, 1757,  Frederick had never lost a battle. Without delving too far into the narrative of the battle, this post attempts to establish why this battle was Frederick's first taste of defeat.

A map of the battle, likely copied from Christopher Duffy, from the German website

If you want a narrative of the battle, and don't have any books by Christopher Duffy close at hand, try this site, or this one.

So: What explanations for the defeat have historians advanced in the past?

1) The Lost Cause explanation
According to this line of thinking, it was hopeless to expect the Prussians to win at Kolin. How could 34,000 Prussians ever hope to overcome 52,000 Austrians in a defensive position? Oddly enough, the folks in this camp are often cheering the most when 22,000 Prussians beat 42,000 Frano-Imperials at Rossbach five months later at Rossbach, or when 33,000 Prussians defeat 65,000 Austrians six months later at Leuthen.

2) The Overconfident Frederick explanation
According to this theory, such as advanced version advanced at the second link above, all of the success had gone to Frederick's head, and he did not respect the real threat presented by Daun and the Austrian field army under his command. "Like Lee at Gettysburg," in the words of the blogger above, Frederick believed that his men were invincible and that they could carry any position. If that is true, why didn't Frederick order frontal assaults more often? Why did maneuver and flanking still form such a key part of his strategy?

3) The Exhausted Prussians explanation
For believers in this explanation, the Prussian army was simply pushed to the breaking point by the the Battle of Prague on May 6th, 1757, and had not had sufficient time to recover. Christopher Duffy appears to be in this camp, quoting the following source:
"Never did troops march less willingly than did our men on this occasion - it was as if they were being led to a place of execution. They were shocked by the resistance the Austrians had put up [at Prague], and they feared the worst... our strength and courage seemed to have drained away."[1]
This is a hard idea to refute, supported as it is by primary source evidence. With that said, Warnery was writing over thirty years after the events. A quick examination of the service record of Prussian infantry regiments reveals that around 40% of the infantry regiments had not fought at Kolin, while 60% had. In addition, as the day wore on, multiple units who had been engaged at Prague were moved from the rear of the Prussian army into the heaviest fighting.

An artist's reimagining of the Prussian 2nd Battalion of Guards at Kolin

4) The Frederick's Tactical Blunders explanation
Frederick II's military reputation has suffered in recent years, as impartial historians credit him with a 50/50 win-loss record, polemic Frederick-bashers place all blame for Prussian defeats on his shoulders, and even positive biographers note that he was more useful as a campaign planner than as a battlefield commander.  Could his plan have been flawed? Absolutely. Frederick would misjudge attacking a defensive position again in the Seven Years' War, at the Battle of Kunersdorf. However, his exact plan at Kolin seems to have made sense and been clearly understood by his generals. According to a Royal Page, Prinz Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau replied after the king's briefing: "No one can misunderstand it: It is so clear that no-one will make a mistake."[2]

5) The Blundering Subordinates explanation
Like the American Civil War lost-causers attempting to blame James Longstreet for what happened at Gettysburg, Frederick's subordinate generals have certainly been accused of failing the Prussian monarch at this critical juncture. In this view, Johann Dietrich von Hülsen, Prinz Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau, or Duke August Wilhelm von Bevern are responsible for the failure of the Prussian attack. By and large, these accusations are unfounded. Hülsen rose to successful independent command later in the Seven Years' War, winning smaller battles such as the Combat at Strehla. Prinz Moritz was also successful, and redeemed his reputation at Leuthen, but died in the course of the war. Bevern had shown great skill in commanding men on the battlefield, and would again, at battles such as Reichenbach in 1762.

6) The Austrian Military Competence explanation
This final explanation put forth by Christopher Duffy over his two-volume examination of the Austrian army in the Seven Years' War, makes the most sense. The Austrians knew Frederick's strategy and planned accordingly. A clever Austrian junior officer, Franz Vettesz, correctly predicted the Prussian plan of attack on the morning of the battle. Daun, the Austrian field marshal, quickly acted on this information. Seeing his path to victory, Daun used delaying forces such as Croats and light artillery to slow the main Prussian attack under Hülsen while bringing the weight of his superior numbers to bear on the Prussian force.

With this in mind, the battle looks less like an Austrian Gettysburg and more like an Austrian Antietam. The Austrians correctly divined the Prussian plan, and defeated the Prussian army, but failed to capitalize their victory or, as was common in the eighteenth century, pursue their defeated foe. In addition, the battle was costly for the Austrian force.  When the 4,000 Prussian prisoners are removed from the equation, the Austrians and Prussians lost a very similar number of men (approx. 9,000) dead and wounded. Kolin was a hard fought Austrian victory. Rather than always looking for an explanation on the Prussian side of the equation, perhaps some credit is due to the men who earned it.

Austrian Grenadiers in 1748

 The Prussians fought hard and long, following a strategy that had previously been highly successful. They inflicted large losses on the Austrian army and exhausted the Austrians so much that a pursuit of the defeated Prussian army was impossible. Kolin ended a victorious chapter in the history of the Prussian army but did not end the Seven Years' War. It would take five more years of bloody conflict to draw this war to a close.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Warnery, Campagnes de Frederic II, 135.
[2] Duncker, Aus der Zeit Friedrichs der Grossen und Friedich Wilhelm III, 90.