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 mcintyrej@sevenyearswarassn.org


You can contact the editor,  Professor Jim McIntyre, at mcintyrej@sevenyearswarassn.org. 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

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 inquiry 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 at the 1759 Siege event

Dear Reader,


After tallying up the votes, more people wanted to hear about the French and Indian War in North America than any other topic. Well, the people have spoken, here is your post! Feel free to vote in our next post selection, up in the right hand corner of the page.

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.

Please feel free to share this post if you know others who might be interested in it.


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 mixed war-party with men from the King's Regiment in North America (Photo Credit: Tommy Tringale)

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." 

Christopher Duffy has addressed this issue in some detail in his book Military Experience in the Age of Reason. He asserts that it would be normal for an eighteenth-century soldier to move between 6-8 miles a day, and perhaps move as fast as 12 miles a day during "urgent phases of a campaign" and that this speed was sustainable for two weeks.[2] However, it has been thirty years since the publication of this fine book, and so some reassessment might be helpful. Duffy is at least clear that eighteenth-century armies gave nothing in terms of speed to their Napoleonic counterparts, quoting this source:

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.[3]

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 410 individual days of marching, and the distances of covered by soldiers on those days. Of those days, around 243 represent troops marching without impediment, and 170 of them represent troops cutting a trail through wooded terrain. For now, just looking at the 240-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 14.3 Miles, or 23.19km per day. 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. Duffy's estimate may well be more accurate, but his claim does not seem to be supported by a citation. 

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: 14.44 Miles per day (23.25km) 

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: 15.75 Miles per day (25.4km)
(26-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. The only army even within Duffy's original range is the French army, apparently the slowest of the five armies in question.


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 British Army in the American War of Independence: 14.8 Miles per day (23.8km) 
(25-day average) 

The American Army in the American War of Independence: 17-18 Miles per day (27.5-29km) 
(92-day average) In this case, potentially erroneous data makes only an estimate possible. 

Of all the armies in the eighteenth century, the Continental army under George Washington may have been the most capable of fast, sustained movement. The British army was capable of sustained spurts of great speed, as incidents like the Race to the Dan show, but fell somewhat short of the American total.

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. Obviously, 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.


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, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 160.
[3] Lossow, Denkwürdigkeiten zur Charakteristik der preussischen Armee, 10-11.


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 www.bieli.de

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.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How many Major Battles did the Average Mid-Eighteenth Century Soldier fight in?


Reenactors portraying the men of Prusisan IR 4 and IR 12 anticipate the enemy

Dear Readers,

As a companion to my previous post on soldiers' ages, I would like to examine once again the quote that drew my attention so strongly:

"One old [British] veteran I observ'd (that was shot through both legs and not able to walk) very coolly and deliberately loading his piece and cleaneing it from the blood. I was surprised at the sight and asked him his reasons for it. He, with a look of contempt, said, to be ready in case any of the Yankeys came that way again." [1] 
In the previous post, we examined what an old soldier might look like, but what did it mean to be a veteran? Or, to ask the question with a slightly different set of criteria, how many major battles was the average soldier in during the Seven Years' War era (1754-1763)?

There has been relatively little research on this topic because the movements of individual soldiers are so hard to track down. A soldier might be with his regiment for one battle, in hospital for another, and transferred to a different regiment for a third. For the purposes of this data, it is assumed that soldiers remain with their regiments throughout the war. That is a big assumption, again, but one that allows us to see some interesting data patterns. On the other hand, when regiments took such heavy losses that they needed to be re-raised, I account for the idea that most the men in the original regiment were "new" men.


25th Regiment of Foot at Minorca, 1771, Cecil C. P. Lawson
What does this data look like? In order to answer this question, I compiled the service records of 100 infantry regiments, from five different nations in the Seven Years' War. In order to achieve a relatively balanced sample, I simply chose the twenty regiments by precedence from each major nation of the Seven Years' War. These Austrians, British, French, Prussian, and Russian regiments performed much of the major fighting of the Seven Years' War, and so might be a good benchmark to establish how many battles an "average" soldier went through. In this case, a battle means a large field engagement with over 15,000 men involved. Skirmishes, sieges, and combats were certainly deadly, and worth examining in their own right, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to look at major field battles.


So how many major battles did an average soldier go through in the Seven Years' War era?

The Assault at Hochkirck, La Pegna

As it turns out, between 3 and 4 major battles was quite average for the 100 regiments examined for the study. If you examine the memoirs of soldiers at the time, many of them describe a similar number of engagements. So, let's break this down by nation, and then by regiment, from lowest to highest.

British Grenadiers, Morier


British Army Average:  .85
Once again, this does not include the numerous sieges and assaults performed by British forces around the globe. Many regiments of British veteran troops had never been in a major field battle, but performed between 4-6 sieges or amphibious descents by the end of the Seven Years' War. Many more troops were on garrison duty in the home islands.

Notable Regiments
20th Regiment of Foot: 4 Battles (Minden, Klosterkampen, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
8th Regiment of Foot: 3 Battles (Warburg, Klosterkampen, Vellinghausen [grenadiers only])
6th Regiment of Foot: 0 Battles (Gibraltar Garrison)

An artist's reimagining of two Russian officers in the Seven Years' War
Russian Army Average: 2.5 
The Russians fought quite well in the Seven Years' War, but only committed their forces to a relatively small number of battles, which impacted their total.

Notable Regiments
Novgorodskiy: 4 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Paltzig, Kunersdorf)
Kazanskiy: 4 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Paltzig, Kunersdorf)
Ingermlandskiy: 0 Battles (Garrison duty in Russia)

French troops on the long march in the era of the Seven Years' War

French Army Average: 3.5

Much of the French army was deployed for garrison duty in coastal fortresses around France. However, a larger portion of their army (compared with the British) fought in the western German theater of the Seven Years' War.

Notable Regiments: 
Touraine: 7 Battles (Rossbach, Krefeld, Lutterburg, Minden, Warburg, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
Champagne: 6 Battles (Hastenbeck, Krefeld, Bergen, Minden, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
Eu: 1 Battle (Hastenbeck [The regiment suffered a horrible friendly-fire incident in this battle, and was placed on garrison service the rest of the war.])

Morier, Austrian Grenadiers in the late 1740s 


Austrian Army Average: 5.6
The Austrian Army was concentrated in a number of battles against Frederick II's Prussian forces in the central European theater of war.

Notable Regiments:
Baden-Durlach: 9 Battles (Lobositz, Reichenberg, Prague, Breslau, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Maxen, Torgau, Burkersdorg)
Botta: 7 Battles (Kolin, Breslau, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Maxen, Torgau, Reichenbach)
Kaiser: 4 Battles (Prague, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Torgau)

Prussian Troops, 1735


Prussian Army Average: 5.75
The Prussians were fighting on between two to four fronts at any time during the Seven Years' War. As a result, their totals are slightly higher than the Austrians.

Notable Regiments:
Prinz von Preussen: 9 Battles (Reichenberg, Prague, Breslau, Leuthen, Zorndorf, Hochkirch, Liegnitz, Torgau, Burkersdorf)
Itzenplitz: 8 Battles (Lobositz, Prague, Rossbach, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Liegnitz, Torgau, Burkersdorf)
Below: 3 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Maxen [The poor Below regiment had the misfortune to be in two battles against the Russians, and also assigned to Finck's corps at Maxen. It ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.)]

So, as you can see, the average soldier from the Seven Years' War would have been a veteran of three or four major field battles, although much higher and lower totals existed.

Feel free to share if you know individuals who might be interested in these numbers.


Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns


[1] Creswell,  A Man Apart, 171.

Monday, June 12, 2017

How Old was the Average Late-Eighteenth-Century Soldier?

Photo Credit: Jerry Wolford/Perfecta Visuals

Dear Reader,

This weekend I was reading for my dissertation, and I came across the following quote:

"One old [British] veteran I observ'd (that was shot through both legs and not able to walk) very coolly and deliberately loading his piece and cleaneing it from the blood. I was surprised at the sight and asked him his reasons for it. He, with a look of contempt, said, to be ready in case any of the Yankeys came that way again." [1] 
I asked myself: how old is an "old veteran"?

To answer this question, we are going to examine a topic near and dear to military and social historians, and reenactors, but perhaps less intriguing to wargamers. (Sorry guys, but I am sure you have plenty of lead to paint anyway.) As you consider military life, it may be natural to assume that soldiers are young. Men over the age of 25 rarely enter the military as recruits, and after age 26 are no longer eligible for the selective service system in the United States. War, it seems, is a young man's game. This trend has led to much commentary from intellectuals, from Herodotus ("In peace, sons bury their fathers, in war, fathers bury their sons.") to the present day.

I have spoken to reenactors who are old enough (refraining from specifics) that they feel sheepish at their portrayal of soldiers who were supposedly much younger: but is such sheepishness warranted? How old was the average eighteenth-century soldier?


As you look deep into the eyes of this Prussian Grenadier from the late 1730s, do you get the impression he is a young man?


Once again, I am standing on the intellectual shoulders of giants as I make this post. The leg-work for the present claims was performed by industrious historians such as Glenn Steppler, Sylvia Frey, and Willerd Fann and Claus Reuter. Their research and their arguments are well worth considering for those truly interested in learning more about the social life of eighteenth-century armies. By bringing their research together, we can hope to get a more accurate picture of the life in eighteenth-century armies.[2]

The data used to make these assertions is drawn from the British, Braunschweig and Prussian armies between the years 1775 and 1783. They rely on ages from a relatively small number of soldiers, (some 9,500) drawn from 17 regiments, twel of infantry, and five of dragoons. With any amount of luck, social-military historians such as Don Hagist may be able to give us a better window into these questions in the future.

Soldier Study, Phillip James de Loutherbourg

The average age of these men appears to be 30 years old, which matches the individual assertions regarding the Prussian case (made by Willfred Fann) and the British case (made by Sylvia Frey.)  The two data sets from Prussian regiments are much larger, (some 3,000 out of the total) but from significantly different units, one containing much younger men in 1777, the other containing older men in 1783. On the other hand, Sylvia Frey's British data is skewed by the inclusion of the 8th Regiment of Foot. Her use of a 1782 return shows that the King's Regiment possessed an average age of almost 37 years old. As we discussed last month, in 1782, the King's Regiment was 14 years into a 17-year deployment to North America, so men who were young in 1768 had grown gray in service during their tenure in North America.

Recruits to the regiment, on the other hand, were much younger. In Prussia, the average recruit was in his early twenties. In Britain, peacetime recruiting seems to suggest that men between 16 and 25 were highly valuable, but in wartime, around of third of total recruits were men over the age of 26 years old.[3] The length of service also differed from state to state. The British average was just under 10 years (9.75), with the King's Regiment again moving the data towards the long end (14.7). In Prussia, the average length of service for in Musketeer Regiment von Hacke was 8.8 years, but the Grenadier company's average length of service was almost double that: an impressive 15.7 years. Data suggests that in German armies (Prussia and Hessen-Kassel) the average NCO served for much longer.[4] The oldest regiment of men between all three armies considered was Braunschweig Grenadier Battalion von Breymann, with the average age of 38 years old.[5]

The epitome of an old soldier: the 89 year-old Jean Thurel in 1788

However, as the title suggests, these are averages. The outliers are interesting in their own right. Both the British and Prussian cases include large numbers of men over 40, and unlike the British calculations, the Prussian regiments include a low number of men over fifty and a very small number of men over sixty. Men like Jean Thurel, despite the appeal of their stories, were very much a rarity even if they did exist.

Kabinettskriege warfare was an active business in the eighteenth century, and men in their prime were in high demand. However, the average soldier was an experienced man in his late twenties or early thirties, with close to ten years of experience in the service. Younger soldiers certainly existed, but they might be more susceptible to disease, having not built up the immunities necessary for the crowded conditions of military life. Perhaps this is why Frederick referred to the younger cantonists as "weakly boys" during the crisis Seven Years' War.[6] Middle-aged, experienced soldiers, not eighteen-year-old recruits, were the staple of eighteenth-century armies.

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns


[1] Creswell,  A Man Apart, 171.
[2] Sylvia Frey, The British Soldier in North America, 23-26; Willfred Fann, "On the Infantrymen's Age in Eighteenth Century Prussia, Military Affairs, (Dec. 1977)
[3] Steppler, The Common Soldier in the Age of George III, 229.
[4] Fann, "On the Infantrymen's Age," 168.; Atwood, The Hessians, 40.
[5] Reuter, Brunswick Troops in North America, xii.
[6] J. Preuss, Friedrich der Grosse: Ein Lebensgeschichte, Vol I: Urkundenbuch, 75.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kabinettskriege Cavalry in Europe and America: How Important was it?




Reenactors portraying Austrian Cuirassiers at Terezin in 2011


Dear Reader,

There is a narrative that touches all levels of interest in our period. Academically, as the result of figures such as Victor Davis Hanson, this narrative asserts that western militaries, from the Greeks to the present day, have traditionally relied on infantry forces, with a brief hiccup in the middle ages.[1] In reenacting, it is a simple function of cost. How many reenactors, the fine gentlemen in the picture above excluded, can afford to maintain and feed a powerful warhorse, in addition to all of the other expenses of the hobby? Finally, in wargaming, there is a powerful belief that cavalry played a much less important role in the Kabinettskriege era than the later Napoleonic Wars. After being chased by a dragoon through the Virginia wilderness in outside Yorktown in 2014, I had to ask:  are these views supportable? That is the question that bears consideration today. Let us first look at Europe, before turning to North America.

A Swedish Regiment of Horse receives communion after battle, by Gustav Cederstrom

In conflicts in Europe between 1648 and 1783, cavalry played a vitally important role. Cavalry made up varying proportions of European armies in this period, from around 1/3rd (or even over 1/2!) of Swedish armies in the Great Northern War, to a much more common figure of 1/5 to 1/7 of most armies during the middle of the eighteenth century.

 Even if the confines of the period forbid us from examining the cavalry of Gustav II Adolph, we can still look at the Swedish cavalry of kings Karl X Gustav, and Karl XII. For both of these monarchs, cavalry played a pivotal role in their military success at battles such as Fraustadt in 1706.  Importantly, they did not view cavalry as a way to deliver firepower via the caracole (as had been common in the 1500s), but as a way to deliver a mass of mounted men towards the enemy at the trot or the canter. Charging at the gallop was not unknown, but relatively rare until the last few hundred paces before contact with the enemy.

Polish Winged Hussars 
Throughout the eighteenth century, cavalry took on an even more important role for powers facing the Ottoman Empire. Polish Winged Hussars were able to sweep Turkish forces away during the relief of the Siege of Vienna in 1683, and Russian Cossacks were able to negate the advantage held by the swarms of Ottoman Sipahi. Christopher Duffy has described the process of readying for war against the Ottoman Empire, and how Austrian cavalrymen were issued extra armor at the prospect of extensive hand-to-hand fighting against the Turks.[2]

Richard Knoetel's re-imagining of the Bayreuth Dragoons at Hohenfriedberg 

On the European battlefields of the mid-eighteenth century, cavalry played a decisive role time and again. Indeed, if we look at the battles of the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, cavalry played a decisive role on numerous occasions, such as Hohenfriedberg, Rossbach, Zorndorf, Kunersdorf, Maxen, and Reichenbach.  Although most useful as a weapon for chasing down a defeated enemy, cavalry could deliver smashing blows, ending a battle in their own right. Rossbach itself was a victory of Prussian cavalry almost by itself, the Prussian infantry played a secondary shaping role. At Hohenfriedberg and Kunersdorf, cavalry was able to seize upon the decisive moment, sweeping the enemy army from the field at the climax of the battle. In a lecture given at the meeting of the Seven Years' War association in 2016, Christopher Duffy suggested that a cavalry wing commander was one of the few individuals with almost absolute autonomy on an eighteenth-century battlefield.  

The charge of Prussian Cuirassiers at Zorndorf 
Indeed, one of the reasons for Prussia's survival and victory in the Seven Years' War was the high quality of Prussian cavalry, thanks to the reforms of Frederick II and the input of Hans Karl von Winterfeldt. Under the control of men like Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, and Hans Joachim von Ziethen, the Prussian cavalry became a battle-winning weapon. The charge of the Bayreuth Dragoons at Hohenfriedberg certainly wormed its way into the canon of Prussian mythology. Even after Frederick the Great complained that his infantry soldiers consisted of "weakly boys" the Prussian cavalry proved its effectiveness time and again late in the Seven Years' War. 

But what about warfare in North America? 

Some Continental Dragoons run into trouble at the Battle of Eutaw Springs
Well, first of all, cavalry obviously did not play an equally important role in North America. Among other problems, horses in North America were less readily available for military use. Aside from the Corps du Cavalry, horsemen played almost no role in the French and Indian War. Throughout the American War of Independence, cavalry forces often operated at the fringes of the larger combats, playing an important role in the war of outposts. Historian Matthew H, Spring has gone as far to suggest that the lack of cavalry played an important role in the development of quick-moving, shallow, open order tactics utilized by the British throughout the war.[3] 

Recreated dragoons at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Photo Credit: Dan Routh Photography)


However, particularly in the southern campaign, cavalry began to take on a new-found importance towards the end of the war. Daniel Murphy has written a couple of very good posts on this subject over at The Journal of the American Revolution.  Especially in the southern campaign, cavalry played an important, if not always decisive role at battles such as the Waxhaws, Blackstock's Farm, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Hobkirk's Hill, and Eutaw Springs. 

What does all this mean for historians, reenactors, and wargamers? Although large models, (such as Hanson's western way of war thesis) may be convenient to teach undergraduate courses, they need to be carefully qualified in serious study of the past. In the eighteenth century, cavalry was not simply waiting to be pushed off the stage by the advent of smokeless powder and repeating rifles: it still played a vital role in warfare. 

For reenactors, using horses can be indimitating, expensive, and dangerous. I have personally been at a reenactment and witnessed horse-related injuries occur (to a person, the horse was fine.) However, having proficient mounted reenactors adds a layer of realism (not talking about the injury, here) to reenactments. There is nothing more frightening than seeing a line of horses barreling towards you. 

For wargamers, taking eighteenth-century cavalry seriously is a vital step in modeling the conflict of this era. I have heard many wargamers refer to players assigned to cavalry commands as "General Kill-Cavalry," the idea being that cavalry have no purpose other than to kill one another. While such actions did indeed occur, cavalry also swept infantry from the field at Kolin, Rossbach, and Kunersdorf. I have never seen anything like the charge of the Bayreuth dragooner on the tabletop, and in most rulesets, such an occurrence would be impossible.  Should spectacular equestrian phenomenon like this be allowed? Even designed for?  

Although not as decisive in North America as in Europe, it is foolish to ignore the role played by cavalry during the Kabinettskriege era. Infantry may well have been the queen of battle, but cavalry played a vital role on the battlefield and certainly possessed the ability to decide the course of an action if managed correctly. This ability was recognized by competent commanders on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Friedrich II of Prussia, Leopold Joseph von Daun, Charles Cornwallis, Daniel Morgan, and Nathaniel Greene. Infantry provided stability and firepower, but cavalry gave commanders flexibility and striking power. 

Feel free to share this post if you know individuals who would find it intriguing. 

Thanks for Reading, 


Alex Burns 


[1] Hanson, Western Way of War, 9-10. For its widespread acceptance among academic military historians, see: Parker eds, The Cambridge History of Warfare,  2-3. 
[2] Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 279-80.
[3]Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 161.