Thursday, December 28, 2017

Year In Review: Where Should Kabinettskriege Go Next?

Soldiers of the King's Regiment practice close-order drill at Fort Niagara

Dear Reader,

Whew! What a year it has been. I want to thank you all for reading these posts. Your enjoyment, and the spreading of historical knowledge, is the main reason for this blog. Kabinettskriege started in 2013 as a way for me to continually practice the art of writing, and has grown a lot since that time. This has been Kabinettskriege's second most prolific year, with a total of 45 posts.

I want to close this year with two questions for you:

Here at the beginning, I would like to ask you to take a moment and complete the poll in the upper- right-hand corner of the blog. Where should the blog go from here? Feel free to give me more detailed comments below, or contact me via the "about the author" page.

Second, I would ask you to consider writing for Kabinettskriege. Many of you know more about this period of history than I do, and you should consider sharing that knowledge with us! Again, if you are interested in writing for Kabinettskriege, contact me via the "about the author page." Any topic relating to warfare between 1648 and 1789 or its representation will be considered. We had an excellent first guest-post this year, written by Jack Weaver. There is a link to the post below.

Once again, I want to thank all of those who have given feedback and continue to research this era of conflict. The research of individuals such as Christopher Duffy, Don Hagist, Matthew Spring, Will Tatum, Ilya Berkovich, Steve Rayner, and so many others, makes this blog possible. With the remainder of this post, I want to provide a quick way for readers to catch up with posts they might have missed, as well as a way to return to previous posts for reference or enjoyment. To reach these posts, simply click on the links below.

A Prussian Soldier at the Stockade

This year's most popular series, by far, was the "average" soldier series. Beginning with a piece of the realities of eighteenth-century warfare, the series continued with information on the average length of battles, numbers of troops killed and wounded, the average number of battles a soldier was in, how far soldier's marched in a day, how old the average soldier was, how tall he was, his martial status, his social status, his diet, his daily work, his religious sentiments, his relative health, musket accuracy, speed of movement on the battlefield, and how perhaps how likely he was to desert.

One series which lasted the entire year covered that perennial interest of mine: the Prussian Army of the eighteenth century. I wrote a brief biographical piece on Prussian General Itzenplitz, examined camp security in the Prussian Army, and briefly looked at the role of Prinz Heinrich, Frederick the Great's brother, at the Battle of Prague. Later in the year, this series continued with coverage of the Battle of Kolin and the Battle of Fehrbellin, and a short examination of the Siege of Wittenberg during the Seven Years' War.

My favorite photo of the year

The blog also frequently covered the British Army of the eighteenth century, my other great interest. This year, coverage of the British Army began with a unit study of the 8th Regiment of Foot. We also  examined the adaptability of the British army, and the army's use of cover. The blog also explore the religious sentiments, or lack thereof, among British troops. Finally, I provided some advice on representing the British Army in the American War of Independence, applying some of the ideas of Matthew H. Spring.

A couple of posts examined the British and Prussian army in tandem, such as this post on wheeling.

Prussian officers and a minister

The blog also explored a number good and bad regiments, in a somewhat controversial series. The units included the exceptional Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army, the less-exceptional Regiment Prinz Friedrich, the Regiment von Bose, and Austrian Erzherzog Carl Regiment. Finally, the inestimable Jack Weaver wrote a post on the German Regiment of the Continental Army.

An original Prussian Musket in Ligonier, PA. 
Since Kabinettskriege is meant to make history available to everyone, one of my favorite uses for the blog is sharing interesting primary source accounts. Sadly, I only posted two of these this year, perhaps more next year. One was a Russian nobleman's account of the Battle of Poltava in the Great Northern War. The second was Hessian Staff Captain Hinrich's account of the Siege of Charleston in the American War of Independence.

There were also a number of miscellaneous posts, such as my appearance on a wargaming podcast, an examination of the Austrian vampire scare in the early eighteenth century, a post highlighting an opportunity to publish research on the Seven Years' War, and one highlighting cavalry and siege operations.

Finally, after some consideration, I have added a donate button to Kabinettskriege. If you enjoy the blog and would like to support the page, I would welcome it. I am dedicated to keeping this page ad-free.

As always, thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Did Soldiers Move Quickly on Eighteenth-Century Battlefields?

British Reenactors Move out at Speed
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to address one of the primary conceptions of eighteenth-century warfare: that on the battles were conducted at a slow-moving, geometrical pace to the sound of drums.  In 1987, Christopher Duffy, asserted that "the time has long since passed since it was fashionable to dismiss [warfare in] the eighteenth century as  decorative interval, suspended between the glooms and dooms of the Wars of Religion and the grinding industrialization of the nineteenth century."[1] Yet somehow, this is still the dominant image of warfare in the Kabinettskriege era. The eighteenth century, in the popular imagination, is still a time where English officers doff their hats and say to their chivalrous opponents, "gentlemen of France, fire first!"  According to this view, soldiers move to the beat of drums in perfect clockwork precision, and cannot imagine combat occurring outside of a geometric, mechanical framework. To holders of this viewpoint: this century is still a decorative interval, as the clip below indicates.

It goes without saying that some portions of this stereotype are correct. As a result of the principle weapons system of the time, the smoothbore musket, soldiers did usually fight in linear formations. In Europe, these linear formations were usually in close order. However, as I have suggested before, there was a difference in the eighteenth century, as there is today, between the parade ground and the battlefield. These officers and soldiers were not unthinking automata who were incapable of performing any tasks but those learned on the drill square. Rather, under the direction of junior officers, they frequently modified their actions to fit with local conditions. Soldiers often moved quickly on the battlefield as the situation demanded, often moving at a run in moments of crisis. 

To students of the British Army in the American War of Independence, this should not come as surprising news. Matthew H. Spring has recently shown that British soldiers fought unconventionally in North America. However: this trend goes beyond North America and the American War of Independence. Eighteenth-century soldiers were often rational actors, and made competent decisions based on the needs of the moment, and battlefield crises. This willingness to respond quickly to developing factors was not a feature of the British or Prussian armies, but common to almost all eighteenth-century militaries. In performing the research for this post, I have been careful to distinguish intentional quick movement on the battlefield from the speedy flight of retreating troops.

Jacques Mercoyrol de Beaulieu, a French veteran of the War of Polish Succession in the 1730s, recalled the types of battlefield movements possible in heat of the moment: "In these battles, (which were all victories) the Picardie Brigade... moved almost as in a race: the most nimble arrived first, their arrival awakened courage and new strength to those already engaged in combat."[2] Moving quickly, perhaps even at the run, was common enough on European battlefield when speed was required.

A nineteenth-century reimagining of the Battle at Leuthen

The Prussian army was famous for its attention drill and parade excellence. It may therefore surprise readers to learn that Prussian soldiers under Frederick the Great occasionally moved with great speed. The official war journal of the Prussian Fusilier Regiment of Jung-Brauschweig makes this clear. In describing the Battle of Prague in 1757, the journal describes two instances of quick movement: both the Prussian regiment and their Austrian opponents moved at speed.
In order to reach the position of advance, we had to pass a long dam, which delayed us. So, in order arrive at the correct time, we had to run past the village of Arhem: the regiment was not in perfect order. The (Austrian) enemy were already advancing on us at the quick step, and we engaged them.[3] 
Johann Jakob Dominicus, a musketeer in Frederick II's army, also remembers running at Prague. He wrote, "our left wing had its work cut out for it, and we had to run with energy, in order to get under the enemy guns."[4]

In Prussia, speed, and reaching the appointed position at the right time (so as not to leave a gap in the battle line) took precedence over moving in step and keeping good order.  Prussian veteran Georg von Berenhorst asserted that commanders who lost time by correcting minor irregularities in dress were punished, as maintaining a healthy and cohesive battle line was more important than keeping in parade appearances.[5]

General Ludwig Matthias von Lossow recalled that as soon as the firing began, "the orderly lines fell by the wayside, as they did whenever troops advanced through terrain, as it is rarely open enough to permit lines of this size. Units only needed to keep in contact with the other parts of the line, that was the main thing, as the experienced army of Frederick II knew well."[6] Keeping in contact with other units, and keeping up the advance, it seems, was more of a priority than keeping in perfect close order. A Dutch officer in Prussian service recalled a nighttime skirmish in 1757:
"Because of the darkness of night, we had difficulty distinguishing our troops from the enemy, so Lt. York received orders to reconnoiter the enemy with two platoons. They fired on him. Captain Rodig, who had been fired upon, rode out to these flanquers[7]... His pickets behaved bravely, and kept up and orderly fire in the manner of platoons. They then rushed forward on the command, "Marsch! Marsch!" The enemy took flight with haste. [8]
David Dundas, one of the principal English-language observers of the Prussian army in the later part of Frederick II's reign, recalled this after seeing the Prussian maneuvers in the 1780s: 
"Quick movements, which considerable columns or lines of infantry,[Frederick II] considers as impracticable and ruinous from the hurry and disorder that must thence ensue... but brigades, or smaller divisions of the line, [such as regiments or battalions] occasionally lengthen their step, and move on with rapidty at the moment of attack.[9]
British Soldiers Moving to Attack the Enemy
In delegating more responsibility to junior officers, the British facilitated quick movement even more in North America during the American War of Independence. Matthew H. Spring exhaustively shows that British troops moved at a kind of jog or trot:
"The King's troops, 'briskly marched up to' the enemy at Long Island, 'briskly ascended ' Chatterton's Hill, 'advanced fearlessly and very quickly' at Brandywine, came on at Bemis Heights at a, 'quick step' stormed for Clinton, 'with as much velocity as the ground would admit,' and 'after a very quick march moved up briskly' against the enemy at Monmouth. Likewise, in the South, the redcoats, 'marched forwards briskly, or rather rushed with great shouts,' at Savannah, were observed 'advancing rapidly' at Briar Creek, and 'rushed on with the greatest rapitity' (or 'as fast as the ploughed fields they had to cross would admit') at Spencer's Ordinary. Most expressively of all, one rebel militiman at the battle of Cowpens later recalled, 'the British line advanced at a sort of trot with a loud hallo. It was the most beautiful line I ever saw,' while another reported that the King's troops, 'advanced rapidly as if certain of victory."[10]

All of the quotes in the above paragraph come from observers present at the battles, and Spring provides a detailed footnote for those looking to track them down. Thus, in the American War of Independence, British soldiers moved quickly as part of usual practice, rather than speeding up when the circumstances demanded it. Roger Lamb recalls that the British moved forward at Guilford Courthouse, "in excellent order, at a smart run, with arms charged."[11] At the same battle, the normally slower Hessians in the Von Bose Regiment joined the British advance with speed:
"After quickly laying aside our tornisters and everything that could impede a soldier, the 71st and von Bose recieved orders to more forward and attack the enemy... We had not advanced more than 300 yards when we found a deep ditch in front of us, with tall banks and full of water. After crossing it with difficulty, we then came to a fenced wheat field; on the other side of this field 1500 continentals and militia were deployed in line... I formed the battalion into line with the greatest of speed and we ran to meet the enemy in tolerable order."[12] 
Don Troiani's Study of a Von Bose private

Other German allies of the British, the Brunswickers under Baron Riedesel, appear to have moved at speed during the culmination of a flank attack during the Battle of Freeman's Farm on September 19th, 1777. Hearing the English troops engaged with the rebel Americans, Riedesel moved out, "as quickly as possible," and launched his final attack, "at the quick-step."[13]

It is important that we do not overdraw these examples. In the eighteenth century, most European commanders valued ordered bodies of men, and preferred to attack in an orderly fashion. However, in moments of crisis, European junior officers frequently took it upon themselves to move bodies of men at speed, in order to contain crises or take advantage of conditions. The British took a decidedly different approach in the American War of Independence. In that conflict, speed was instiutionalized in the British Army. Whether in Europe or North America, these soldiers were not automata: they moved at the speed demanded by the situation.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Christopher Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 3.
[2] Mercoyrol de Beaulieu, Campagnes, 184.
[3] Anonymous, Sammlung ungedruckter Nachrichten, Vol 4, 118.
[4] Dominicus, Tagebuch, 16.
[5] Berenhorst, Betrachtungen, Vol 1, 221.
[6] Ludwig von Lossow, Denkwürdigkeiten zu Charakteristik, 242.
[7]Possibly a type of skirmisher, see my publication in the 2014 issue of the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association.
[8] Anonymous, Schreiben eines Hollaendischen Volontairs, 5.
[9] David Dundas, Principles of Military Movement, 9.
[10] Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 146.
[11] Roger Lamb, Journal, 361
[12]Du Buy, Raports vom Oberst Lieut. du Buy Regts v. Bose zu der General Lieutenant v. Knyphausen, Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 4h Nr. 3101.
[13] Eelking, Leben und Wirken, Vol 2, 149-50.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Who Were The Greatest Commanders Between 1648-1789: Candidate Pool

Knotel image of a Prussian officer, filled with frustration that he failed to make the cut for this post

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to do something a little fun. Motivated by a recent article about math and military greatness, I have updated an older series on commanders in the Kabinettskriege era. For those new to the blog, essentially: Who were some of the greatest generals between 1648-1789?  In the vein of my earlier post, Who was the Best? on relative efficiency compared between eighteenth-century armies, we will be examining the great captains this age. But how can we define military "Greatness?"In order to get a wider picture of these individuals military capabilities, I will be ranking the 15 men as commanders by 5 criteria:

A) Battle win-loss record.
B) Achievement and sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

The top fifteen enumerated in the following posts were chosen from this list. In order to make the list, they had to hold an independent command on land (I might consider admirals in a separate post). If your favorite Kabinettskriege-era general didn't make the list, comment below, give some reasons why, and I might just consider updating the post.

Here are the contenders, in order by time period:

Karl X Gustav of Sweden
Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland
Henri, Vicomte de Turenne
Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde
William III of England, Prince of Orange
Duc de Villars, Marshall General of France
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
Prinz Eugene of Savoy
Peter I of Russia "the Great"
Karl XII of Sweden
Peter von Lacy
Nadir Shah
Maurice de Saxe, Marshall General of France
Leopold von Anhalt Dessau
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
Prince Charles Edward Stewart
Frederick II Hohenzollern, "the Great"
Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick
Prinz Henri of Prussia
Leopold Joseph von Daun
Ernst Gideon von Loudon
Franz Moritz von Lacy
Pytor Alexandrovich Rumyantsev
Piotr Semionovitch Saltykov
Sir William Johnson
James Wolfe
John Bradstreet
Robert Clive
Jeffery Amherst
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
Victor Francois, Duc de Broglie
Obwandiyag (Pontaic)
Sir William Howe
George Washington
Charles Cornwallis
Benedict Arnold
Nathanael Greene
Bernado de Galvez
Banastre Tarleton
Daniel Morgan
Alexander Suvorov

This post will be followed by three others, each containing five individuals who made the top fifteen spots.

Top 5

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Monday, December 11, 2017

Two Methods of Wheeling on Eighteenth-Century Battlefields

British Reenactors at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

Dear Readers,

Today, I want to examine two methods of changing front in the eighteenth century. The first method, called wheeling, is quite well known even to individuals with a passing knowledge of military life. Timestamp 00:30 in the following video displays Hessian reenactors demonstrating a wheel in the 2015 Battle of Trenton reenactment. The basic concept is that one end (or the center,) of the line remains relatively stationary, while the rest of the formation pivots around it.

The concept is quite simple, and was widely used in eighteenth-century armies. However, historians and reenactors have identified another way which troops in the eighteenth century also reformed their front. By the 1780s, the British had developed a number of different ways of using this type of motion, with different orders for different situations. Troops would perform tasks such as forming to the right and left, a much faster way of wheeling on the run. Another way of changing the unit frontage in a rapid manner was breaking and reforming. In this method, the troops are dispersed, and then commanded to reform, usually facing a different direction than before. 

As opposed to the more stately wheel, troops were expected to reform the company at a much quicker speed. At timestamp 00:34 in the following video, you can see reenactors portraying British troops part of the way through executing this maneuver. In the video, they are reforming their front from a position perpendicular to the camera to one parallel, facing the camera. 

Up until this point, the exact origin of this maneuver is unclear. Reenactors have theorized that it came about as a result of British experience during the Seven Years' War in North America. Specifically, the first British source to mention this idea, Townshend's Orders to the Irish Establishment, given on May 15th, 1772, reference the idea as a light infantry exercise. The maneuver is to be carried out by "Light Infantry Companies...marching through a Wood or any Strong Country." 

The next British source to describe this idea, Thomas Simes, The Military Instructor, was printed in 1779. Rather than a company, Simes describes the maneuver as something that a battalion to execute in case of dispersal by the enemy. This command is a three-step process. The commanding officer of the battalion gives the order: "Take care to disperse: March." At this point, the officers and colors of the battalion take six paces to the front, and the drummers give a long roll. Upon the command, "to arms," the battalion reforms around the colors.[1]  Finally, John Williamson's The Elements of the Military Arrangement, published in 1782, gives a much greater discussion of the various ways a company could use this process in order to reform on the run. Williamson describes this as a new method of wheeling, which is making the old style of wheeling obsolete.[2]

If not for the obvious similarities in these discussions, you could almost believe that they were three separate ideas, independently formulated. Townshend's is clearly a measure designed to change the front of company-sized element of light infantry, Simes is a formalized order for reforming a battalion he does not even mention changing frontage.  Williamson's treatise makes it clear that speed, rather than formality, is the purpose of the exercise. However, my submission to you all is that all three of these authors drew on the same idea, and that the originator of the idea was not even an officer of the British army, but rather, this guy:

Frederick II, King of Prussia
The 1743 Prussian infantry regulations, authored by Frederick II, often called, "the Great" contain a passage in which the kernel of all of these elements can be identified. 

Like Simes, Frederick identifies dispersal with an enemy attack, or "entstandenen Alarme," (Spontaneous Alarm), and describes the maneuver with a battalion size element in mind. Indeed, Simes seems to lift much of his text directly from the Prussian Reglement. Like Townshend, Frederick intends his officers to use the maneuver to change the frontage of their units. The officers were to swiftly, "change the front via the colors," and that soldiers received commands to, "face to the colors."  Finally, like Williamson's treatise, Frederick indicates that the maneuver should be carried out with a high degree of speed. After dispersing, battalions should reform themselves, "with the utmost speed," and that after the order to reform has been given, "rush to reform themselves in their ranks and files."[3]

Prussian Reenactors performing this manuever

Thus, it would seem that Prussian ideas, rather than North American experience, led to the development of reforming fronts. This should not necessarily, surprise us: Williamson is explicitly overt in praising and copying Prussian ideas, while Simes directly copies portions of Faucwitt's translated Prussian regulations. With that being said, the British developed and perfected this idea in North America.  As Matthew Spring has shown in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, the British greatly adapted their tactics to a North American environment. By 1785, Charles Cornwallis expressed disgust at the outdated Prussian infantry maneuvers:

"The cavalry is very fine; the infantry exactly like the Hessian, only taller and better set up, but much slower in their movements. Their manoeuvres were such as the worst General in England would be hooted at for practising; two lines coming up within six yards of one another, and firing in one another's faces till they had no ammunition left: nothing could be more ridiculous."[4]

So, while the Prussian infantry may have been at the cutting edge of tactical development in the 1750s, the British had clearly surpassed them in infantry maneuvers by the 1780s. I believe the lessons for reenactors are rather clear, and many reenactors are currently implementing these ideas. But what about wargamers?

Many rulesets make wheeling a more costly affair (in terms of inches available) than simply moving straight. European soldiers appear to have applied inventive solutions to the problem of wheeling, but how often do we see these abilities on the wargame table? I would like to offer the follow solution to the issue of changing front. As opposed to a manner requiring a move, any unit should be able to change front with no penalties following a check. In Dean West's Final Argument of Kings ruleset, this is called a TCT, or tactical competency check. If units fail this check in the movement phase, they should still be allowed to change front, but must fall into disorder. John Williamson is particularly clear that troops could perform this maneuver while under fire, and that it performed well, it would not impede their ability to return fire.[5]

Could our perception of wheeling in the American War of Independence need to be updated? Is this another area where British soldiers employed cutting-edge tactical thought, perhaps with questionable results? 

Finally, if anyone has information regarding the use of this maneuver earlier than 1743, please come forward! Frederick II was doubtless influenced by contemporary military thinking. Some have claimed that this practice is found in the Ordonnances du Roi, but I have yet to find a version before 1743 which describes changing front in this way.  Has anyone seen this tactic used in the Marlburian era?

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Thomas Simes, The Military Instructor, 29.
[2] John Williamson, Elements of Military Arrangement, 50-52.
[3] Reglement vor die Königl. Preussische Infanterie, 1743, 130-132.; Fawcett, Regulations for the Prussian Infantry, 107-108.
[4] Cornwallis, Correspondence,  1859, vol I, 212.
[5] Williamson, Elements of Military Arrangement, 51.