Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It's About Weapons to Some Degree: A Response to The Tatooed Historian


Dear Readers,

I have noticed this article gaining some traction recently, and I wanted to jot down a few quick thoughts in response, none of which will endear me to the progressive reenacting community of my era.

1) Obviously, at the outset, non-combatants have existed in every theatre of combat since the beginning of human conflict. Portraying them is an important part of any military reenactment. One of the most interesting and memorable parts of my participation in the 2016 Welbourne event was how to deal with a group of non-combatant woodcutters who were in a combat zone. (It was not the most interesting, that was being attacked by American light dragoons).  Refugees, civilian urban populations, and non-combatants with an interest in following armies have always been a part of military experience. Armies do not exist in a vacuum.

2) The article by John Heckman asserts that unarmed, uniformed personnel have always played an important role and that significantly, there have always been more of them. This is certainly correct for 20th-century conflicts, but needs careful examination in earlier eras. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, or even nineteenth centuries, there were not more wagon drivers than musketeers. That is simply not how armies in that era were constructed. Musketeers often performed vital non-combatant service, and this must not be overlooked, but they remained musketeers. In essence, a British soldier in the American War of Independence might have spent more man-hours cutting wood than shooting at rebels, but his designation was not, "wood-cutter."

3) If we expanded this criterion to include civilians who support combat arms forces, obviously it becomes truer in this earlier era, but that is not what the above article argues for.  Civilians have always outnumbered soldiers in every society, even in Sparta, even in Frederick's Prussia. When you include foundry workers, agricultural labouers who grow food to supply armies, the definition of "support personnel" can become hazy, even in the eighteenth century.

4) In my opinion, this article is part of a growing trend in progressive reenacting which seeks to downplay combat operations in reenacting in favor of focusing on non-combat events. Partially, I believe this is a response to the relatively absurd nature of reenacting combat at most large, mainstream events. The response of progressive reenactors has been to attempt to portray combat in a better way, but also to marginalize its importance at reenactments.

5) There is something about violence which human beings find continually fascinating. You can believe that is a bad thing (indeed, it is often difficult to look at the trend with optimism) but it is also a reality of the world in which we live. The popularity of super-hero and action films speak to this trend. The popularity of military history courses at universities speak to this trend.

6) As a result of the previous point, and perhaps our uneasiness with it, I have anecdotally experienced a concerted effort to devalue my work and my field.   Every semester, I am told that my classes fill to capacity because military history appeals to "traditional" students, and that my students are "explosion-driven bros" (which devalues the presence of numerous excellent female students in my courses). When I expressed an interest in studying military history eleven years ago as an undergraduate, a professor glibly mentioned in class that most individuals leave that interest behind at age 12.

7) The closing lines of the above article are nothing less than a slap in the face to historians who seriously attempt to grapple with the nature of combat in the past:
In my opinion, it is much more interesting to open a person’s mind to larger issues during times of war than simply interpreting the role of a combatant who is more armed with weaponry than with good history.
This statement is a slight to the careers of historians who have revolutionized our understanding of how human societies experience combat. It is a slight to public historians and interpreters who have devoted hundreds of hours of compiling what life was like for ordinary combatants in wartime.

I'll finish this unvarnished rant with thoughts from two historians I have a great deal of respect for. In 2008, Matthew H. Spring commented:

“…the ultimate purpose of all armies is to fight, … therefore, the most fundamental task facing the military historian is arguably to study combat…”[1]

In 1987, Christopher Duffy observed:

“We can retrieve the military thought of Saxe, Frederick, and the rest only by the laborious business of retracing their campaigns (a deeply unfashionable exercise among the practitioners of the New Military History) and by reading correspondence and other forms of evidence that were totally unknown to most of their contemporaries.”[2]

What is the takeaway?

We need compromise and respect on both sides of this issue. Obviously, supporting roles and civilians roles are vital to the wholistic portrayal of the past. Some of the best reenacting in recent years has focused not on direct opposed combat, but operational level movement which I think is a vital trend which can incorporate both sides of this equation. Reenacting something like the Race to the Dan River is a military event which occurs at an operational level, and requires both combatant and supporting personnel to achieve well.

The recent Day-D commemoration at the National Army Museum carried this in an excellent manner. There were numerous combatant reenactors with weapons on display, but also members of supporting services in uniform to discuss the wider war with the public. Both were "armed with good history."


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]Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, xi.
[2]Christopher Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, viii.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Amateur Historians, Doing History, and Gatekeeping

The author, reduced to a state of childlike delight by cannon at Antietam
Dear Reader,

Today, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the contributions all of the amateur historians working in my field. Amateur, of course, means pursuing something for the love of it. I wake up every morning with the thought that I, too, am an amateur historian.

So whether you work in public history, have completed an MA thesis, or have researched a topic on the side for a number of years and shared your finding on a social media group, thank you.

This post has been rattling around in my head for a while. In 2012, Paul Lockhart wrote a piece on his blog entitled, "History: The Everyman's Discipline?", in which he, among other things, disparaged the knowledge of people who simply aggregate, "facts about the past just for their own sake." The post didn't sit well with me when I first read it, as a first-year MA student in the archives at Ball State University, and it doesn't sit well with me now, as 5th-year History Ph.D candidate completing my second large overseas research trip in Northern Europe.

I noticed this trend in another incident involving Dr. Lockhart on social media a couple of years ago, in which a living history interpreter at a world-class institution was snarky and glib towards an article where he had misidentified Dr. Lockhart as the author (mistakes were made.) Another senior scholar in the field (not Dr. Lockhart) quickly shouted down the offender, suggesting that he was not a historian, and the entry-point to becoming a historian was publishing a field-changing article in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. This type of activity, which a military friend in the know described as "gatekeeping" deeply concerns me as a historian. By these criteria, many of my friends who hold tenure-track positions in history at public, private, and community colleges are not historians. By these criteria, the historian who enabled me to publish my first journal article (not field-changing, sadly) is not a historian.

Perhaps it is because I am relatively conservative in my historical methodology, perhaps it is because I "feel too deeply", or perhaps I have not really been tested by the academic fire which produced the historians listed above, but I don't find these criteria regarding what makes a historian terribly compelling. Furthermore, I think using this type of argument to diminish other people with an interest in the past is extremely counterproductive. (Don't get me wrong, Doris Kerns Goodwin and David McCullough vex me as much as the next academic.) However, the majority of amateur historians I know are not publishing New York Times bestsellers. Rather, they are people who are attempting, day by day, in their careers or in their spare time, in their own way, to better understand the past. Perhaps, that isn't enough to be considered a historian. Maybe. I think in this case we might be stronger together.

This subject has become even more painful for me as I read the news regarding the closing of one of the treasures for those who study eighteenth-century America, The David Library of the American Revolution. I saw the different reactions to the closing of this library, and the moving of its contents to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia play out along academic/amateur historian lines. An academic historian who I respect a great deal was excited about the prospect of the collection being concentrated in Philadelphia. A man I respect even more wrote this on the subject:
"In my opinion, this is not a furtherance of Sol Feinstone's mission, it actually refutes it. Sol would have been very happy to see blue-collar researchers like myself using his collection, and for that reason, this move means the denial of the research collection (particularly books and microfilm from other institutions, but also other materials not available online for free), to non-academic researchers with few resources. APS[American Philosphical Society] is not open Saturdays, parking is cost-prohibitive, and public transit, while affordable, eats up valuable time that the amateur historian cannot easily afford to give up. I realize this move was likely inevitable, especially as Sol's descendants likely see the David Library as an albatross round their necks rather than the jewel it is". 
This historian has no formal academic training but has dedicated himself towards pursuing the past with an almost Rankean vision which I cannot help but sincerely admire. His first book comes out this year, and although it is published with a popular press than many academics will look down their nose at, I am confident it will change how I look at the field.

I can find no better definition for a historian than someone who, "does history" and preferably, "does history well." Doing history well doesn't necessarily mean gaining a tenure-track position as a professor. (I mean, sure, it would be nice.) Sometimes it looks like working as a historic interpreter, working as an archivist, being involved in the creation of historically-related media, writing history on the side while working another job, or just pursuing a passion for history in a serious way. Regardless of how you pursue it, as long as you pursue it seriously, I applaud it. Run after history to the best of your ability with all the energy you can muster.

If you are reading this, and think the above applies to you, thank you. You have almost certainly impacted my life and work for the better, and I am sincerely grateful.

This is nothing particularly new. The historian who I respect the most, who has inspired me with his insights and is dry wit, had this to say on the subject in 1996:
The decisive encouragement to return to the theme was provided by encounters with people in many walks of life in Europe and the United States, who find, like me, something of inherent appeal in the world of Fritz and Theresa. I am glad to associate myself with them as an amateur in the proper sense of the word, as a lover of history.[1]
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] Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 2nd Edition, 4.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Realities of 18th Century Combat Lecture/Podcast

British Reenactors from the 7th, 8th, and 71st Regiments of Foot


Dear Readers,

I had the good fortune of presenting part of my research at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Seven Years War Association earlier this month. Rob Rhodes of the History to Wargames Podcast was present, and recorded my talk. You can find the website for Rob's podcast here, and can listen to this specific episode here:

You can also download the podcast via his website, itunes, and the iphone podcast app.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns



Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: Men Who Are Determined to be Free



Cover Art
 Dear Reader,

Today we have a book review from Ben Olex. Ben reviews David C. Bonk's Men Who Are Determined To Be Free, a recent  title from Helion and Company. Without further introduction, here is Ben's review: 




          The Battle of Stony Point is certainly one of the more exciting and unorthodox battles of the American War for Independence. While it was rather famous in its time, it has become one of the lesser known battles of the war. In the early hours of July 16, 1779, the American Corps of Light Infantry assaulted the British position at Stony Point on the Hudson River. In twenty-five minutes American forces captured over 500 British troops, including the entirety of the His Majesty’s 17th Regiment of Foot, fifteen artillery pieces, and over 100,000 continental dollars’ worth of goods.[1] David C. Bonk covers this unique battle in this new book, Men Who Are Determined to be Free.”

         In Determined to be Free Bonk argues that Corps of Light Infantry played an important in the Battle of Stony Point, and that the battle played in the larger strategic role in the context of the War for Independence. The book is roughly 120 pages in length and contains a good number of photos and maps to help the reader in visualizing the events of the 15th of July. It is part of the “From Reason to Revolution” Series published by Helion and Company. It is good to see that Bonk draws from two of the most important secondary sources relating to the battle of Stony Point: Don Loprieno’s The Enterprise in Contemplation: The Midnight Assault on Stony Point, and Henry P. Johnston’s The Storming of Stony Point on the Hudson. Enterprise in Contemplation was written by the former site supervisor of Stony Point Battlefield and Lighthouse State Historic Site, and includes the full transcripts for the Court Martial of Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, the fort’s commander. Though published over one hundred years ago, Johnston’s Storming of Stony Point remains a reliable resources for those researching the battle as well.

      Bonk begins his coverage of the Battle of Stony Point by describing the strategic situation in 1778, delving as far back as 1777. To the reader who may be looking to learn more about the battle itself than the larger strategic situation, this may feel somewhat unnecessary. Bonk goes into a large amount of detail about these events, that while related to the battle, do not play a direct role in its outcome.[2]  However, Bonk does give a great deal of context for those looking to better understand the larger strategy at hand from 1777 to 1779.It is in the third and fourth chapters that the reader begins to get a clearer sense of how Stony Point fit strategically in the campaign of 1779. Chapters five through seven outline the defenses erected at Stony Point, the history of Anthony Wayne and the Corps of Light Infantry, and the American plan for attacking the fort. In the final two chapters the reader learns about the battle itself and the events that unfolded after the conclusion of the fighting.

Determined to be Free has a good amount of pictures, including many of the battlefield. Throughout the book the reader can find a number of maps that detail the movements of Washington and Clinton as they maneuver through the Hudson Highlands that are clearly marked and easy to understand. The middle of the book includes a section with several images and maps, including the map of Stony Point drawn by William Faden, and a modern map showing the movement of the battle. This last map has some small flaws, such as the positions of the pickets that are placed too far from the fort, or the position of the HMS Vulture which was more likely more to the South-East of its current position. However, the map is generally representative of the battle. 

The book falls prey to some small flaws, such as the idea that Lt. Col. Johnson was captured by Lt. Col. de Fluery[3]. There is one photograph which is mislabeled. That is the photograph labeled “Captured three-inch mortar deployed by the British at Stony Point”[4] The artillery piece pictured is actually an eight-inch howitzer, though the manner in which it is displayed (with the barrel almost vertical) may cause some people to mistake it for a mortar. There are two mistakes that should be addressed. The first involves the eight-inch mortar again. Towards the end of chapter eight Bonk discussed the eight-inch mortar and how the garrison was unable to utilize it.[5] It is clear from the details Bonk gives that he is actually referring to the eight-inch howitzer pictured in the book.[6] It seems that this is simply a typing error, because the events that Bonk describes are correct. His second mistake involves His Majesty's Galley Cornwallis, and the role that vessel played at Stony Point. Bonk writes that “On the south side the row-galley Cornwallis could bring fire from one 24lb and four 4lb guns to bear in defense of the lower abatis near the Hudson River.”[7] For many years it was thought that the ‘gunboat’ that is referred to in Lt. Col. Johnson’s court martial might be the galley Cornwallis, which was indeed in the area at the time of the battle. This is unlikely given that throughout the proceedings, the gunboat in question is consistently referred to as a gunboat by many different parties. Furthermore Captain Mercer, engineer at the time of the battle, testified that General Clinton ordered the two gunboats that had advanced with Collier’s fleet from New York to guard Stony Point and Verplanks’ Point.[8]

Despite these small flaws, Bonk’s research is generally correct, and readers will gain a good understanding of the battle, its key players, and important points. He is to be commended for adding to the relatively lightly trod history of the Battle of Stony Point. Determined to be Free offers the reader a great amount of information about not only the battle, but the strategy and people surrounding the Battle of Stony Point. We look forward to more titles from Helion addressing the American War of Independence.

 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,


Ben Olex 



           



[1] Don Loprieno, The Enterprise in Contemplation: The Midnight Assault of Stony Point, (New York: Heritage Books, 2009), 47.
[2] It is worth noting, as Bonk does, that the campaigns provided valuable experience for the Corps of Light Infantry.
[3] Henry P. Johnston, The Storming of Stony Point, (New York: James T. White & Company, 1900), 83
[4] David C. Bonk, “Men Who are Determined to be Free”: The American Assault on Stony Point, 15 July 1779, (Warwick, England: Helion & Company Limited: 2018), 54
[5] Bonk, 54
[6] For description of events around the howitzer battery see Testimony of Corporal Newton in Loprieno, 241-245.
[7] Bonk, 54
[8] Testimony of Captain Alexander Mercer in Loprieno, 259

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Other Prussian in the Continental Army: Friedrich Wilhelm de Woedtke


Reenactors portray Prussian Infantry Regiment No. 12
Dear Reader,


Today, we are going to examine a Prussian soldier who came to North America, in order to serve the fledgling United States against Britain. The most famous Prussian, of course, is Freiherr de Steuben, the famous, "Baron von Steuben" of Valley Forge.[1] However, Steuben was not the first, or even the most senior Prussian to travel to assist the United States.  Steuben had been a Captain in a Frei Infantrie Regiment von Mayr at Rossbach, served on the staff of Johann Dietrich von Hülsen, was seconded to Frederick II's staff late in the war, and selected for a special class of officer training by the monarch after the war.

Another Prussian officer Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Woedtke (who does nothing to erase the Anglophone perception that all Prussian men were named Friedrich Wilhelm), traveled to North America early in the American War of Independence. He arrived in Philadelphia in May of 1776, and then traveled North to assist the continental army in northern New York, before dying of disease on 31st July 1776. He lies in an unmarked grave near Fort George.

Prussian officers with Frederick the Great before Leuthen
as reimagined by a 19th century artist

Unlike Steuben, Woedtke served originally in the Prussian cavalry, in the Leibregiment zu Pferde, or Cuirassier Regiment Nr. 3. His father and brother both served in the Prussian army, his father Georg Eggert was a colonel in the Regiment von Kalckstein, his brother Leopold Christian rose to the rank of captain in Dragoon Regiment Nr. 4. On paper, he seemed to be the perfect soldier. At age 22, in 1758, he was attached to the suite of Friedrich II of Prussia, and was promoted to Brigade-Major in 1762. Woedtke developed a sense of cynicism and insubordination in the Seven Years War. Georg Heinrich Berenhorst, also serving as an officer with the King's suite, recalled:
"Frederick no longer commanded love, respect, or even fear among the nearest and most intimate members of his suite. I can say this because I saw it with my own eyes. When we rode behind him there was a mischievous young brigade-major of the cavalry, called Woedtke, who set out to amuse us by going into comic contortions behind his back, imitating the way he sat in the saddle, pointing at him and so on. Wodtke bestowed on Frederick the nickname 'Grave-Digger'. Later on he abbreviated it to 'Digger', and this is what he called the great hero when we came together in private for jokes and malicious talk."[2]
Rolf Zahren, dearly departed reenactor
of Frederick the Great
This type of behavior eventually led to career disaster. While traveling in Poland in 1771, Woedtke married the daughter of a German merchant without the king's permission. He wrote for permission after the fact, but the king treated him stubbornly, charging him with desertion, putting out warrants for his arrest. Although temporarily put under arrest, he eventually fled to Switzerland, and then to Paris.[3]Benjamin Franklin forwarded Woedtke to Congress, writing a letter of recommendation that he was as successful Prussian officer who would assist the American cause.

Like the later Steuben, it seems that Woedtke was only presented to Benjamin Franklin he was in Paris, and therefore no longer in high regard in Prussia. Indeed, American observers thought that Woedtke cut an odd figure.
"Though I had frequently seen him before, yet he was so disguised in furs, that I scarce knew him, & never beheld a more laughable object in my life. Like other Prussian officers, he appears to me as a man who knows little of polite life, and yet has picked up so much of it in his passage through France, as to make a most awkward appearance."[4]
Woedtke, who spoke little English, and wrote French haltingly, seemed to genuinely support the idea of the American Revolution.[5] When speaking with Congress, he exclaimed, "Ah, liberdy is a fine ding! I likes Liberdy, the Koenig von Prusse is a great man for liberdy!"[6] Upon reaching the front lines, Freiherr de Woedtke exerted little influence on military affairs. His only major contribution was to vote for retreat in a council of war. Officers noted that he was hard to find, and that he seemed to be more concerned with his comfort than leading the army.

Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben
Americans frequently complained regarding Woedtke's drinking, some going as far as to suggest that this caused his death. William Allen, an officer in the 2nd Pennsylvania regiment, told a soldier, "No doubt the beast was drunk, and in front of the army."[7] Benjamin Rush wrote that Woedtke died from, "the effects of hard drinking."[8] While it might be possible to dismiss some of these reports, it does appear that  Woedtke drank heavily. Indeed, Steuben, writing to a Prussian aristocrat after the war, noted: "Our poor friend, Woedtke, found a grave in this country. Bile and French brandy finished him at Lake Champlain."[9]

However, disease plagued the Continental Army at this juncture, and it is unlikely that Woedtke simply drank himself to death. Ten days before his death, on July 20th, 1776, he was still attempting to manage military affairs. He wrote to Major General Gates:
"Sir: I have to inform you that I still lie in a very weak and low situation. I find the Canadians are gone on to Albany. I beg leave to advise the General to recall them to this place, with the person who has assumed to himself the title of Major, one Mr. Hare, who, when he arrives here I pray may be put under arrest... I have the honor to be your Excellency's most obedient Servant, "[10]
Despite possessing a number of personal flaws and suffering from a debilitating illness, Woedtke served with the American army in the field and died before he could make a serious impact on the cause of liberty. His credentials came closer to a high ranking Prussian officer than Steuben's did, which in itself is an important lesson. On paper, Steuben was a less attractive candidate than Woedtke, but it was Steuben, not Woedtke, who would forever be associated with Prussian contributions to the cause of the United States. 

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] The most recent scholarly biography of the Freidrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben in English is Paul Douglas Lockhart's, The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army. 
[2]Georg Heinrich Von Berenhorst and Eduard Von Bülow, Aus Dem Nachlasse Von Georg Heinrich Von Berenhorst , 181.
[3]Rolf Straubel has recently treated this event in his masterful 2012 book: "Er möchte nur wissen, dass die Armée mir gehöret": Friedrich II. und seine Officier", pg. 305-307. Although an excellent treatment of the Prussian aspects of Woedtke's career, Straubel makes several mistakes, suggesting that Woedtke joined the English army and that he died in 1782 in Canada.  
[4] Life of Archbishop Carroll, 42.
[5] Douglas R. Cubbison, The American Northern Theater Army in 1776, 137.
[6] Alexander Graydon, Memoir of his own Time, 139.
[7] James Wilkinson, Memoirs of my own times, 53.
[8]Butterfield, Rush Letters, Vol 1, 110–12
[9] Friedrich Kapp, Life of Frederick William Von Steuben, 698
[10] American Archives, Series V, Vol 1, pg. 475.

Monday, January 28, 2019

An American Soldier in Prussia: Colonel William Stephens Smith

Colonel Smith later in life by Mather Brown
Dear Reader,

As I have already noted on this blog,  the Prussia reviews in the late eighteenth century became something of an international affair, with military men from across Europe traveling to witness the Prussian army of Frederick II. Today, we are examining the experiences of just such a man: American Colonel William Stephen Smith. Smith was an officer in the Continental Army, and served in numerous actions from New York, to Trenton, to Monmouth. He served as a staff officer for both General John Sullivan and  George Washington. Famously, Smith married the daughter of John and Abigail Adams: Abigail "Nabby" Amelia Adams.


In 1785, while traveling with future Latin American revolutionary General Fransico del Miranda, Colonel Smith requested and obtained permission from Frederick II to observe the Prussian reviews. He kept a diary of this journey, which serves as the major source for his movements and actions during this time. Miranda and Smith traveled through Holland and the western Holy Roman Empire, and had the equivalent of "car trouble" when their carriage broke down just west of Magdeburg.[1] Upon reaching the Prussian dominions, Smith immediately began trying to reconcile the myth of Frederick's Prussia with his republican (ie, not monarchist) political leanings. According to Smith, Magdeburg:
is accounted the strongest fortified place in his dominions, and was the place of his residence in the last war. It is situated on the Lower Elbe in Saxony and has about 30,000 inhabitants. Here are about 260 prisoners of the state in the tower- on the citadel, which we visited, are the insignia of despotism. Here a subject is confined for any number of years or for life as his king, in a capricious moment, thinks proper to decide."[2] 
Smith spent considerable time in his diary dwelling on the injustices of absolutism and the fate of political prisoners. These subjects, Smith reminded his diary, were "lessons for republicans, and subjects of the advocates of despotism to blush at."[3] The poverty of Prussia also drew Smith's criticism. He recalled, "the sentinel at his post, high plumed and ready for heroic deeds, with an hungry countenance, will beg your charity- and if he is detected in this, he is punished." Even the Prussian countryside was poor even Smith's view: "the country between this and the Elbe is very poor, sandy- pine producing country- there is nothing remarkable in this place".[4]

View of Berlin, 1780s
After describing Potsdam at some length, Smith recalled meeting his former British foes on the review field. He had served against many of the officers during the war in North America, and had met several of them personally:
a number of British officers appeared on the field, amongst the rest was Lord Cornwallis, General Musgrave and Colonel Fox- these three I knew in America... I observed them notice me at a distance but no advance was made- I know so much of the British character as always to meet them upon the haughtiest ground and when they find you are stationed it is ten to one but they make the advance and become very civil- I took my position and entrenched myself and the morning passed in mutual attention to the manoeuvre.[5]
Much of Smith's diary contains similar observations, lauding and criticizing the individuals and cultures he came in contact. He mocked Frederick's adviser Moses Mendelssohn, calling him "a Jew-Philosopher... an old antediluvian figure—very deformed... [and] the Israelite."[6]
Even as he took in Prussian culture, Smith observed the mock battles and reviews of the Prussian miltitary with great interest. He was not afraid to give critical feedback when the Prussians employed a tactic he thought was outmoded on foolish. Using cavalry attacks as a method of buying time particularly drew his criticism, and he believed that the Prussians employed canister shot at too long a range. He:
went to the field-attended the manoeuvres of 4000 men under General Muellendorf—the governor of this place- the troops are superior to panegeric-- they marched in platoons from the town to their ground- on the word, the line was formed with the greatest perfection-- they advanced in line- advanced by platoon firing, then by regiment, and finally, on a supposition of being pressed by cavalry, they gave ground, retiring in eight detached lines of 500, each, in such a manner as to perfectly cover each other.[7]
Detail from Berlin Scene, 1780s
 At times he praised the Prussian reviews as realistic: "General Mullendorf, when the hussars began their skirmish, detached his jagers and a battalion of grenadiers with two six[pders] to occupy a small wood and hill."[8] Colonel Smith could not fail to be impressed with the movements of the Prussian troops, but found their weaponry to be a mixed bag. He reported that,
"the Grenadiers... move with great order and silence--their fire cannot be very destructive--the breach of their pieces is very light and not calculated to take aim, and the weight of the cylindrical ram-rod bears down the muzzle of the piece so much that it requires very considerable exertion to keep it any time steady."[9]
Despite the problems in aiming the Prussian flintlocks, Smith found some Prussian technological improvements to his liking:
 Each soldier is provided with a case for his lock which preserves the pieces effectually from rain during the march, and in action they fire with it fixed, but in the use of it the same mode of loading with the cylindrical ramrod must be adopted and of course the breach of the piece must be so formed as to admit the powder into the pan thro' the touch-hole, for this the powder must be fine—leather guards against the heat of the pieces.[10] 
Other military observers of the time, such as David Dundas, likewise took note of this particular Prussian invention. Like most visitors to Frederick's Prussia, he could not fail to comment on the person of the king. Lafayette found that Frederick was a dirty old corporal, while
The king commanded with great attention, dressing each platoon personally on the formation of the line—his military abilities are undoubtedly great and had he the affections of his army he might be a second conqueror of the world—his armies are composed of dissatisfied mercenaries, compelled by severity of discipline to discharge their duty... unfortunately the king on the night of the 20th was seized with a fit of the gout and was not able to attend the troops, but so loath is he to part with command that he made arrangements for the maneuvres in his chamber, and assigned every officer his station and business--he says the spirit deserves a better body—sometimes when age hinders his speed he says, "spirit can't you make this carcass move a little faster—march you old bugger-march!"[11]
In addition to taking the pulse of Prussia's military and ruling class, Smith displayed a keen interest in military history. He toured the battlefields of the Seven Years War and War of Austrian Succession. "We arrived at Pirna at twelve—this place is remarkable for the position of the Saxon-army under the command of its Elector in the campaign of 1756 when beseiged by the king of Prussia—it is a most elegant position."[12] Near Dresden, he recalled,  On the 4th. the Commandant sent an Engineer with us to view the field on which the battle of Kesseldorf was fought on the 15th December 1745, between the advance corps of the Austrian Army."[13] Crossing the border into Bohemia, Smith and Miranda walked the field at Lobositz, "On the 8th. accompanied by the School-master and an old woman as an interpreter we reconnoitered the field where Frederick with 24,000 Prussians attacked."[14] By the later third of the eighteenth century, observing battlefields had become something of a pastime for military men, long before the tradition of the staff ride made it a formalized experience.

Edward Francis Cunningham's
“Frédéric le Grand, retournant à Sans-Souci après les manoeuvres de Potsdam accompagné de ses Généraux”

However, despite the splendor of the review, Smith understood that the impressive edifice he witnessed was unstable. Unlike many officers inflicted with the sickness of "Prussomania," Smith found that:
The situation of his armies as to discipline, and the skill of his officers cannot be exceeded, but now they are at their zenith Frederick is gliding rapidly down the current of time, and according to the course of nature cannot float much longer on the surface.[15]
Colonel Smith's impressions of Prussia give us a unique window into the kingdom in Frederick's twilight years. Obviously, his republican sentiments gave Smith reason to criticize Prussia's authoritarian institutions. Despite this, he found himself fascinated by the military culture of Prussia, and from a purely tactical perspective, found something to admire about the Prussian military.

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:



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Alex Burns
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[1] William Stephens Smith to Abigail Adams, 5 September 1785
[2] Archivo del General Miranda, Vol 1, 371.
[3] Ibid, 372.
[4] Ibid, 374.
[5] Ibid, 379.
[6] Ibid, 384.
[7] Ibid, 380.
[8] Ibid, 399.
[9] Ibid, 380.
[10] Ibid, 399.
[11] Ibid, 383, 400.
[12] Ibid, 408.
[13] Ibid, 411.
[14] Ibid, 415.
[15] Ibid, 395

Friday, November 16, 2018

In the Service of Two Kings: Polish and Prussian Common Soldiers in the 18th Century (Part 1)



Painting of Polish soldiers by J. Ch. Mock,
"Kampament wojsk polskich i saskich pod Wilanowem w 1732 r.",
Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie.
Today, we have a post from Dr. Tomasz Karpinski, on Prussian and Polish common soldiers.[1] Few stories of common soldiers and their lives serving in either the Polish or Prussian Armies are passed down to us from written sources. It is not easy to follow someone's life. It is even harder if this person lived 250 years ago, especially when they failed to write anything down or leave behind a diary, a letter, or other writings. In these cases, still another way we can learn something more about common soldiers. This source is the Krixrecht or Kriegs-recht, or in simpler terms court martial records. 

Some time ago I discovered a very interesting article about former African-American slaves in Hessian service during war of American Revolutionary War. This brought me to learn about a very big database of soldiers served in "Hessian" units during that war. By curiosity I found out that also a few Poles served in the Hessian Landgrave’s Subsidientruppen army. It was strange to me that such men would choose hard service so far from home. But was the distance and their life choices really that exceptional? 

Over the next few weeks, I would like to describe the stories of 4 men that served in army of both Prussian and Polish armed forces. Their lives were simple and in many aspects still stand unknown to us, but understanding such lives is frequently the job of historians. The central basis for these stories are of course manuscripts of so called inquisitions - questioning and describing the criminal activities of those men, which have been in archives. Only a small fraction of these records survived the fires of the Second World War. Digging up these stories exposing them to the light of day allows us to understand a topic rarely examined by English-language historians, because of language barrier, etc. In today's post, we will examine the first of these four men: Michael Schultz.

Elbing in the 18th Century
Michał Szulc was of rather medium height, 73 1/2 inches (about 176,4 cm). Unfortunately we do not know how old he was. He joined the Polish Army, and had been recruited on the 24th December 1737 to the Prinz Foot Regiment, which stationed at this time in Elbing (Elbląg, PL). He served in company commanded by Lieutenant Baltazar Bystram, who was promoted to captain in 1740. As a younger inexperienced soldier, he was assigned to a musketeer company.

 In his court martial records, we read:
"... when he was at furloughed in Danzig (Gdańsk, PL), he secretly married a woman, and upon his return, he kept that secret until it was revealed. He then deserted to the King of Prussia on 21 April 1744 and joined Möllendorfs' Dragoons [DR6] o. He served (in this Prussian unit) for two years, and during “the grassing” (and eighteenth-century term for pasturing) he deserted [from that unit] and asked for a pardon (from the Polish Army), which he received and was returned to his previous company with another deserter named Both, and once again swore loyalty to articles of war by the flag. He received Tractament [XVIII Century "pay" name] and uniform regularly with the others, and after 4 months with together with musketeer Both and one more musketeer ran away during the night from the regiment. He crossed the wall and ditches and cost his company loss of his weapon and uniform. On 17th this month when one of the NCO's was returning from furlough from Danzig, [Schultz] has been seen in Elbling in a suburb by others soldiers of the Garrison, and was identified, captured and taken under arrest. By the inquisition he could bring nothing llogical for his defense, whereupon for his malicious desertion by the laws of war and 8th article accordingly he was sentenced to death by hanging."[2]

In the eighteenth-century, furlough was not something that everyone could acquire, and it was often denied to common soldiers for fear of their deserting. We do not know what had happened in Danzig, and what was the name of woman who Michael decided to marry. Michael likely chose to keep that fact a secret for financial reasons, since soldiers marriage usually required the permission of the Regimental Chef who needed to be paid off for such agreements (Ger. Frau-schein).Clearly Michael fell in love or was being reckless, not taking into consideration those obvious obstacles and made a promise he could not have kept. The girl lived quite a distance from city where Schultz served in the garrison. When the whole affair (if we can use this word?) finally came to light (maybe the girl came to search for her husband?) and Michael was afraid of punishment and fled to Prussia, also changing his branch of service from infantrymen to cavalrymen. Maybe Michael was born into military service or really enjoyed this way of living. It is unknown when Schultz joined Möllendorfs' Dragoon Regiment, nor if it was in 1744 soon after he deserted from Prinz Regiment and took part in War of Austrian Succession or he wandered some time before joined the army again. 


Schultz was likely born in Prussia (Not the kingdom, but the region in 18th century Poland),and he chose to join a regiment which had its quarters nearby at Königsberg (Królewiec, today Kaliningrad, RU). Soon after, he deserted from Prussian service as well, and was willing to rejoin the [Polish] Crown Army. The reasons might be lighter duty or less rigor - we cannot say for certain. He did not flee alone, but took with himself a friend named Both. Serving his Polish Majesty August III wasn’t exactly the stuff of dreams, and after 4 months three soldiers (Schultz, Both and one more musketeer) deserted again. For Schultz it was probably last time. Michael decided that military life had nothing more to offer, and he laid low as a civilian until he was caught in April 1751, 7 year after his first desertion. The treacherous musketeer who had sworn his loyalty twice (three times including Prussian service) was punished with the highest vigor, although it turns out Michael was not killed.

A portrait of General Goltz, Chef of Schultz's Regiment
The court martial had not yet finished with Michael, however Two months after being captured and convicted he was sent deep into territory to Poland to Częstochowa (PL):

"As regards to convicted Michael Schullza, although for double desertion the holy Krixrechts recommends the gibbet, which is a just punishment for this crime, I will give him his life, but for the first 3 Fridays he shall run the gauntlet of 200 men 10 times, and after that pro comendo caput general major de Goltz has ordered for this Schultz to be sent to Fortress Częstochowa under secure guard, so he is unable to desert again. After running the gauntlet he will serve in this prison [working with a barrow] 1 year and 6 weeks after which He can rejoin his regiment or not."[3] 

This is the last trace of Michael Schultz in the documentary record. Over the next few weeks, we will examine of the lives of three more such common soldiers from court martial records. 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,


Dr. Tomasz Karpinksi


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[1] Dr. Tomasz Karpinksi works as an archivist in Poznań. He has published on the Prussian and Polish armies of the eighteenth-century, and works to promote knowledge regarding military cultures in the ancien régime. 
[2]Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych, Archiwum Branickich z Rosi, Militaria,  Pudło 7, plik 3;
[3]Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych, Archiwum Branickich z Rosi, Militaria,  Pudło 9, plik 7;