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. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How Accurate were Regular Soldiers in the Mid-Eighteenth Century?

A Soldier from the King's Regiment takes aim.

Dear Readers,

Today, I want to touch on a rather controversial subject.* The subject is the infantry fire effectiveness of mid-eighteenth century European and Euro-American armies. At the outset, "shooting at marks" or target practice, was common in many eighteenth-century armies. Specifically, I am examining the accuracy and limitations of firepower regular soldiers from the British and Prussian armies in the 1740-1783 era.  Many people have firm beliefs on this subject and feel that the eighteenth-century musket was a rather poor weapon.

 First of all, by modern standards, the smoothbore musket of the mid-eighteenth century was not a terribly accurate weapon. However, we need to judge it by the standards of its own time, not modern standards. In the eighteenth century, more accurate weapons existed, such as the rifles carried by specialized American troops, and Hessian Jägers. However, those weapons also took a significant time to load.

To see the drawbacks of rifles firsthand, examine this pair of videos. The first shows a musketeer and riflemen loading side by side.  The second video, below, shows how quickly British soldiers could move in order to attack riflemen with bayonets. The rifleman, offscreen, is portrayed by the director of interpretation at Old Fort Niagara, Davis Tierney. Just before the video begins, Davis has fired a shot, incapacitating one soldier. In the remaining 13 seconds, the British troops quickly cross the 100 yards separating the opposing forces.




 When bayonets were not the primary form of attack, how accurate could smoothbore-equipped forces be against one another? The Journal of the American Revolution has featured a number of posts on this topic. The purpose of this post is not to rag on any of the work of these academic, public or amateur historians. In this sense, I use amateur as it is intended to be used: these individuals are interested in the topic for the love of it, and care for it, not simply motivated by the career-orientated goals of a professional historian. As a result of these works, the general public can access information in an easy to digest format suggesting that the soldiers of the eighteenth century fired at marks, and took time to aim. Almost two years ago, living historians at Old Fort Niagara made this video, in order to seriously address this question. Take a few moments to watch the link, or click on the video below.



Firepower was vital to armies of the mid-eighteenth century. A number of authors have amassed evidence regarding the British Army's dedication to accurate fire. In his book, Louisbourg 1758, Hugh Boscawen gives a very detailed description of the British Army honing their accuracy during the Seven Years' War. During the preparations for the attack at Louisbourg, British troops engaged in extensive marksmanship training, mostly consisting of "firing at a marque" or a man sized target. [1]  The 60th of Foot, the Royal American Regiment, was praised for taking good aim during the Seven Years' War in North America.[2] In the course of the American War for Independence, despite their reliance on bayonet tactics British troops frequently practiced shooting at marks, and their Germanic allies followed suit.

British Soldiers take aim near Ft. Niagara
Friedrich Adolf, Freiherr von Riedesel, often called Baron Riedesel by English language historians, left an excellent description of this process.

"General Carleton has decreed that that the army is to practice target shooting or shooting at a goal, I am issuing orders so as to adhere to this as well and as successfully as possible. Each squadron or company is to have some rough boards fastened together, on which a ring of black is to be painted proportionately. The target may be either square or round. Have this target placed at a distance of point blank shot."

"NOW WAIT A MINUTE," you say.  How helpful could target practice be at point blank range? Well, fortunately, we have an exact idea what "point blank" meant in the eighteenth century. It may surprise you. Lewis Lochee, the author of a military treatise in this era, notes that, "the point blank of our firelocks... is known to be about 300 yards." [3] For more on the subject, check out this website. With that in mind, let us return to Baron Riedesel:

"Each man of the company will shoot eight times... a non-commissioned officer standing some distance from the target will mark on the target the location of the shot... the company officers are to gather together to prove to the men how well they can shoot and aim. When each man has shot eight times, the entire target practice will be completed. In the judgement of the captain, the one who has made the best four shots will receive the following prizes..."[4]

Riedesel goes on to list a monetary reward, and also gives instructions that men who are waiting their turn to shoot should be kept at ease, so as not to think of target shooting as a hard duty, but something necessary for military life. If Germans in North America took to target shooting with such alacrity, we should not be surprised to find that German soldiers in Europe also worried about the accuracy of their shots.

Firepower was also a key feature of Prussian infantry tactics, where Frederick II's infantry had won him the province of Silesia in the War of Austrian Succession via their skill at loading the musket.  Wargamers and reenactors debate Frederick's devotion to infantry firepower based on his theoretic military writings, but that his infantry used firepower in both the attack and defense remains clear. Frederick's mind clearly seems to have been made up on the issue by November of 1757, when after witnessing infantry firepower shattering a spontaneous and abortive French assault in columns at the Battle of Rossbach, he famously stated, "If Chevalier Folard had known how it would have turned out, he would have cursed his sacred columns."[5]

Don Troinai's recent interpretation of Freeman's Farm, one of the
few heavy firefights of the American War of Independence

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their monarch's Enlightenment persuasion, the Prussian's under Frederick undertook a number of studies concerning accuracy of fire during his reign. The first, after the initial battles of the War of Austrian Succession, revealed that Prussian soldiers were firing to low. According to Mauvillon, a military theorist of the time:  "According to my sums, the Prussians fired 650,000 rounds of musketry during their advance at Chotusitz, and the enemy lost scarcely 2,500 dead and as many wounded. If you subtract the men who were killed and wounded by the sword, a great number of rounds must have gone astray!"[6]

Frederick himself was concerned with measuring the accuracy of fire, and as a result his general Winterfeldt had two platoons of Grenadiers fire at a target screen in 1755, scoring between 10 and 13% hits at 300 paces, 16.6% at 200 paces, and 46% at 150 paces.[7] It must be said that this target screen was around 30 feet by 30 feet. Finally, Scharnhorst tested the older musket of Frederick's period in 1813, producing the following results:

(Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 207)
However, it is important to realize that none of these tests, no matter how hard they might try, simulated the stress of combat. This prevents these studies from truly helping us understand what occurred on mid-eighteenth century battlefields. For an indication of what that combat might have been like, we can only turn to the documentary evidence. The following two excerpts come from Prussian common soldiers' experiences of the Battle of Lobositz, the first engagement of the European Seven Years' War:
“So the battle began at six o’clock in the morning and dragged on amidst thundering and firing until four in the afternoon, and all the while I stood in such danger that I cannot thank God enough for my health. In the very first cannon shots {my friend} Krumpholtz took a cannonball through his head and the half of it was blown away, he was standing just beside me, and the brains and skull of Krumpholtz sprayed into my face and the gun was blown to pieces from my shoulder, but I, praise God, was uninjured. Now, dear wife, I cannot possibly describe what happened, for the shooting on both sides was so great, that no-one could hear a word of what anyone was saying, and we didn’t see and hear just a thousand bullets, but many thousands. But as we got into the afternoon, the enemy took flight and God gave us the victory. And as we came forward into the field, we saw men lying, not just one, but 3 or 4 lying on top of each other, some dead with their heads gone, others short of both legs, or their arms missing, in short, it was a horrifying sight. Now, dear child, just think of how we must have felt, we who had been led meekly to the slaughterhouse without the faintest inkling of what was to come.” [8]
Prussian Soldiers, from a 1730s painting
Another Prussian soldier recalled:
     “Now an indescribable slaughter took place, before we could drive the Pandurs out from among the trees. Our advance troops suffered severely, but the rear ranks pressed after them at breakneck speed, until at last all had gained the height. There we had to go stumbling over heaps of dead and wounded. Then the Pandurs went helter-skelter down the hill, jumping down over one wall after another, down to the level ground. Our native Prussians and Brandenburgers sprang upon the Pandurs like Furies. I too was quite beside myself with heat and excitement, and conscious of no fear or repugnance I loosed off nearly all my sixty cartridges without stopping, until my flintlock became almost red-hot and I had to carry it by the sling; yet I do not believe that I hurt any living thing, it all went into thin air. “[9]
With these examples in mind, the chaos of eighteenth-century warfare can begin to seem a bit more real. These passages help explain Mauvillon's discrepancy between shots expended and casualties inflicted. Eighteenth-Century battlefields were truly chaotic places, and acheiving accuracy with a smoothbore weapon was difficult at the best of times.   All that the Prussians (or any other European soldier) could hope for was a comparative advantage in firepower which would drive off the enemy force. And, as a result of thorough training, the Prussians and other armies often achieved that comparative advantage.

Infantry firepower decided many of the battles of the eighteenth century, and as a result, helped shape our world. While, "Muzzle-Velocity" military history may be out of favor with academic historians, it remains a portion of lived human experience, and as a result, a topic worthy of historical thought and explanation.


Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*This is a largely updated version of an older post.
[1] Hugh Boscawen, Louisbourg 1758, 140.
[2] Alexander Campbell, The Royal American Regiment, 110.
[3] Lewis Lochee. Elements of Field Fortification, 1783,  37
[4] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Microform, "Riedesel's Order Book", 21.
[5] Quoted in Duffy, Prussia's Glory, 80.
[6] Translation  by Christopher Duffy, quoted in Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 209: Mauvillon, Histoire de la derniere guerre de Boheme, Vol. 1,  100-101
[7] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 128.
[8] Bleckwenn, Preussische Soldatenbriefe , 13.
[9] Ulrich Bräker, Lebensgeschichte Und Natürliche Abentheuer Eines Armen Mannes Von Tockenburg (Zurich: Hans Heinrich Füssli, 1789), 150.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Reenactors and Wargamers: Representing the British Army in the Mid-Eighteenth Century

A British Soldier on Campaign in North America
Dear Readers,


Today, I want to discuss the diffusion of historical knowledge and the representation of the past. Representations of the past are powerful. Many people will never open a footnoted history book, but they will attend a film, watch a reenactment, or play a game regarding the past. As a result, representations of the past, whether professional historians such as myself approve it or not, are often more powerful than scholarly books. This post examines the work of one historian, now almost a decade old, and surveys the impact of his ideas on representations of the British Army in the America War of Independence. After outlining the main areas of major research, the post will point to four ways that both mainstream reenactors and wargamers could improve their representations of the British Army on the battlefield during the "American War."

Since 1980, a number of brilliant scholars have redefined how historians understand the British Army in the eighteenth century. They include Don Hagist, Steve Rayner, Stephen Conway, Will Tatum, Stephen Brumwell, Mark Wishon, Todd Braisted, Mark Odintz, J. A. Houlding, Sylvia Frey, and Glenn Steppler. Their work, and the work of other historians not listed, has drastically changed how we view the British Army, and we are greatly in their debt. For the era of the Seven Years' War, Stephen Brumwell has radically altered the picture of how battlefield engagements occurred. However, today, we are going to specifically focus on the work of one historian: Matthew H. Spring. Spring's work deals with the British Army on the battlefield in the American War of Independence, and as a result, has perhaps the most import for representations of the British Army.

 Front Cover 
Almost a decade ago, Spring authored his first book, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only. Like many revisionist histories, Spring's work has generated much controversy. However, it is possible to sum up 10 of Spring's contributions to understandings of the British Army in the American War of Independence:

1) In North America during the American War of Independence, British commanders often sought to maintain the operation and tactical offensive, frequently targeting rebel forces in flank attacks.[1]

2) In the course of their offensive actions, quickly-moving British troops often fought individual combats between regiments, in "fluid and ragged" battles, rather than deploying slowly with geometric precision.[2]

3) British soldiers were highly motivated by unit pride, a sense of their superior military abilities, and a distaste for rebellion. [3]

4) The British Army fought deployed in open order, in two ranks, rather than close order and three ranks.[4]

5) The British "made their initial advances into action at about a quick step, accelerated to a trot or a jog within small-arms range of the enemy, and then broke into a run for the bayonet charge." The British frequently cheered when close to the enemy, in order to weaken enemy morale.[5]

British Troops "Giving the Indian Halloo"

6) British junior officers directed the battle at the regimental level (see point 1) and exercised a large degree of initiative in North America that would have been impossible in Europe.[6]

7) The British Army relied on shock tactics, rather than pure firepower, to drive its opponents from the battlefield. As a result, the effectiveness of British firepower suffered. Technical problems, such as the low quality of flints, also decreased British fire effectiveness.[7]

8) Early in the war, the British reliance on bayonet charges proved useful, but by the later stages of the conflict, continental troops had become adept at standing firm in the face of British steel. [8]

9) British light infantry troops, though adept at seizing defensive positions and making use of individual cover, often employed the same bayonet tactics as the rest of the army. In open and light terrain, this was effective, but often more costly in heavily wooded areas.[9]

10) Despite winning the majority of battlefield engagements during the American War of Independence, British policymakers overestimated the politic results of battlefield victory and were eventually incapable of fully destroying the rebel field armies.[10]

"Progressive" Reenactors

Published in 2008, Spring's book has certainly made a stir in certain circles of the historically-conscious community. Many reenactors who portray the British Army, such as those in the "progressive" movement, attempt to demonstrate Spring's ideas to the public. However, the majority of British American War of Independence reenactors continue to portray an army which looks more like the eighteenth-century British army in Europe, or perhaps in The Patriot, than the historical reality of the British Army. With that in mind, I have the following four suggestions to British Army reenactors. Offering these suggestions does not in any way criticize the units currently not employing them. Historical knowledge, like medical knowledge, is frequently updated as new primary sources become available. Constantly being aware of new information is a key feature of any hobby or profession.

1)  Although this idea has already been adopted by many reenactors, British reenactors should commonly form at open order, in two ranks. This battlefield practice became so common that it was used for a royal review by Prince William in 1781. Although it might be a bit much to expect modern reenactors to run everywhere, British reenactors might attempt to portray troops slowly jogging into action, particularly when under fire by their Continental counterparts.

2) Rather than arranging troops by lines of battle, event organizers might consider pairing Continental and British units, and include interplay between individual units, rather than lines of battle as a whole. Especially in the later stages of battles, it may be easier to visualize combat between units, or groups of units, rather than battle lines as a whole.

3) Though often impressive to spectators, drums and colors often played a rather small role on the historical battlefield. As they fought these "fluid and ragged" battles, British soldiers usually did not worry about keeping drill-square precision. Though drummers accompanied troops into battle, keeping step, and especially calling cadence, should be a rather low priority for reenactors portraying troops in battlefield conditions.

4) Reenactors should avoid prolonged firefights at close range. British troops should quickly move into range of their opponents, and either push them back or be repulsed. Examining battles such as Guilford Courthouse, groups of British units approached the Continental third line, and were repulsed in waves, until finally breaking through. Rather than simply stopping at close range, the British attacks were mobile and fluid, as regiments advanced, fell back to regroup, and advanced again.

Perry Miniatures' plastic box set of British troops


Finally, we turn to wargamers. The recent plastic box set by Perry miniatures seems to show a familiarity with modern ideas on the British Army. Many individual wargmers understand the tactical realities of the American War of Independence. I recall a conversation with Lynn Langer at the 2012 Seven Years' War convention. We had both read With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, and were entirely convinced by the weight of Spring's evidence. We were disappointed to see that no rulesets at the convention captured the nature of the British Army in the AWI. To my knowledge, and I would love to be corrected, the only ruleset which allows the British to move and fight as Spring describes is Loose Files and American Scramble by Andy Callan. You can find a PDF here. This four-page ruleset, published in the 1980s by Wargames Illustrated, captured many of the conflict's historical realities, and was published many years before With Zeal and With Bayonets Only. While there are a large number of widely used rulesets, few allow for tactical developments like Spring describes. With that in mind, here are four suggestions for AWI wargame rulesets.

1) British troops should be able to move quickly. In the house-modified version of Dean West's Final Argument of Kings, that I use, British movement is increased to 14 inches when in line formation.

2) Because of their "loose files and America scramble" (a quote from David Dundas) British troops should take some sort of organizational check each turn in order to avoid falling into disorder. Period sources frequently describe British troops advancing at great speed, "in tolerable order." Speed comes at a price. This organizational check should be easy to pass when not in combat, but become more difficult as the game progresses.

3) British troops should be equal to or at a slight disadvantage to their opponents in terms of firepower. Particularly in the late war, Continental troops were capable of delivering fire which stunned British forces.

4) British troops frequently employed terrain to their advantage when under fire, and fought in open order. It should be slightly more difficult to hit British troops than their close-order Hessian and American counterparts. Some wargamers may feel more comfortable only giving this bonus to troops being targeted by artillery, and not small arms. It appears that British troops used cover in many combat situations, when not advancing with the bayonet.

As ever, I appreciate my readership's ideas and opinions. How do you think that we can better portray British soldiers on the battlefield as reenactors and wargamers? How important are realistic representations of the past to you?

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 74-75.
[2] Ibid, 102.
[3] Ibid, 137.
[4] Ibid, 139-143.
[5] Ibid, 161.
[6] Ibid, 190.
[7] Ibid, 215.
[8] Ibid, 244.
[9] Ibid, 262.
[10] Ibid, 281.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Hessian Jägers at the Siege of Charleston


A non-contemporary image, from the perspective of the siege lines



Dear Reader,

Today, we have an extract from the journal of Staff Captain Johann Hinrichs of the Hessen-Kassel Feld-Jäger Corps at the Siege of Charleston in 1780. Hinrichs gives an account of the entire siege, but it lasts for 50 pages, so I will only detain you will the final days here. Hinrichs' account is available in certain libraries via Microform, and is highly readable. He was a keen observer of siege tactics.

"May 5.

Today 1 Captain [Ewald] & company went towards no. 1 (a redoubt) by another road, that lay close to the Ashly and skirted the trench. Our batteries in the 3rd parallel were still all masked, and did not fire a shot. The enemy enfiladed them in the rear and partly on the flank, and they suffered a great deal. The mistake lay in the 2nd parallel, [His emphasis] As the enemy had got to know that the workmen were relieved at 3 o'clock in the morning by means of deserters from our side, and therefore kept up a steady cross ricochet fire along the road until daylight. I went there this afternoon and marked out another road to the right of the existing one, on which only 3 embrasures could play.  This night the battery in the 2nd parallel that had been commenced the preceding night was completed, and the batter en barbette on the highroad, 160 paces behind the 2nd parallel, was provided with 3 embrasures, repaired and strengthened.

Hessian Jägers, Don Troiani

May 6

This morning I marched along the new road with the detachment, and only one ball came near us. I went to the left and Lt. Schaeffer to the right. Our workers had been diligent, they had got a good deal done... We fired 3 6-pounders into the midst of the enemy's works. Our 3rd parallel ran towards the centre of the enemy's section in oblique lines. Not a single cannon in the enemy's advance redoubts on both wings had been silenced. Consequently their left wing enfiladed our left en revers, and their right our right. And our side had not attempted to rectify this mistake either by means of sufficient traverses or re-entering and salient angles. The rebels tried to avail themselves of every advantage and kept up a brisk fire. However, the Jägers always kept them in check, so that they dared not open their embrasures much during the day, and could only fire a shot now and then by one or other gun by stealth. But they fired all the more during the night, and razed our new batteries that were built of such light materials, so that there was enough to repair next morning.

A few bombs were thrown on our side, and the Jägers kept up a steady fire. I had 300 sandbags fetched during the day, and had proper embrasures made on the parapet for the rifles in a line with the rebels' embrasures. At 5 o'clock int  the afternoon, whilst we were constructing these embrasures, they enemy fired a salvo of 13 guns at us, that hit below the sandbags, threw them in to the air,a nd then into the ditch. Fortunately, none of the Jägers were wounded, although they were all occupied either in aiming at the enemy or arranging the sandbags. The blast and debris knocked us all down, and some rifles were smashed.  Almost all our batteries were completed during the night and supplied with ammunition. The enemy kept up a brisker fire than they had ever done before. At o'clock an alarm was sounded in the town. The noise never ceased, and it seemed to be seized with a panic.

[The entry for May 7th contains details for the surrender of outling forts]

May 8

As our breaching battery was now ready, the embrasures were opened last night, and another summons was sent to the town and garrison at daybreak. The whole of the opposite bank of the river was in our hands, from Cain Hoy to Fort Multrie, consequently, all the communications the enemy might have were cut off, their cavalry routed, no chance of succour, all their forces concentrated in the town, our works quite near their ditch, about 100 paces of this ditch was already dry and becoming drier every moment, and Fort Multrie and the whole of the harbour in our hands.  They were given two hours respite, which was prolonged from time to time, this went on until 6 o'clocl in the evening. Various points had already been settled, and then suddenly the negotiations were broken off.

At o'clock in the evening, the armistice was at an end, the enemy had all the bells in the town rung, and after 8 hurrahs had been given they kept up such a terrible fire the whole night as never before. It was a fire kept up by drunkards, for I believe the whole garrison was drunk...

Hessian Jäger, Don Troiani


May 9

In the Morning our batteries and bombs began to play, and kept up a galling fire. The enemy's front redoubt on the left wing demlished our one 24-pounder that had played on it straightway in the first salvo, but another was brought in in no time, which silenced all the 4 gun batteries of the front redoubt on the left wing, smashed 2 of the guns and destroyed all the 4 embrasures, so that nothing more was to be seen of them. The enemy had provided all their embrasures with mantelets, but some bar-shots cleared the embrasures and gave the Jägers a chance of shooting.

May 10t

The firing was kept up all day, and a number of bombs were thrown during the night. Th enemy had thrown very few for the  last fortnight. The 10-inch howitzer that had been captured at Fort Moultrie was brought up the river Ashley during the night, and taken into the 3rd parallel to the right.

May 11

The enemy bore up against the fire and returned it until noon, when another flag was sent out. The fire was so fierce that we did not see them come, and they had to retire again. At 2 o'clock they hoisted a large white flag on the horn-work and sent a second flag, and offered to surrender the town, etc, on the conditions we had already offered to them. An armistice was granted and a message dispatched to the admiral... and at 11 o'clock the same vening the main capitulation was in order.

[...]

As regards the rebel fortifications and their defence as well as our attack I will keep the account until I have finished the plan of the town, as it has been quite impossible for me to do it as yet. Their artillery was better than our, but they have confessed themselves that our rifles had cost them...killed and wounded since our 3rd parallel was commenced, and they could never open their embrasures without loss. The reason why they threw so few bombs during the latter part of the seige was because their best bombardier, a major in the artillery, had been shot on April 31, and they had nobody who could make good fuses, of which they stood in need."



Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, and the Seven Years' War



Joseph Fiennes portraying Martin Luther in the film , Luther 

Dear Reader,


Today is popularly remembered as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. If you are a grumpy cat historian like me, you might point out that November 11th, not October 31st, is really 500 years on from October 31st, 1517. On that day in October, Augustinian Friar Martin Luther circulated his 95 Theses, beginning a large and eventually successful movement to change theological understandings concerning Christianity. Luther, a professor of Theology at Wittenberg University, supposedly nailed this document to the doors of the local church, a common practice for circulating ideas. The doors of the schlosskirche, or Castle-Church (often referred to as All Saints Church in English) were much like a bulletin board, and Luther likely did not intend to start anything more than a local conversation. Despite that, he touched off a movement that would irrevocably change the world.

Luther's (rebuilt) church in Wittenberg, as it looks today

To this day, Luther's significance is widely debated. Many Catholics and some historians argue that Luther horribly divided European Christianity, and created the (in their view) horrible pluralistic society we live in today. Many Protestants, both Lutheran and otherwise, view Luther as a hero, who created the theological framework for their religious beliefs. Finally, there is the category I and others fall into: the belief that Luther was a deeply flawed individual, who greatly assisted created the modern Western World, with all of its flaws, foibles, triumphs, and achievements. It is possible to view Luther creator of much of the human freedom which has developed in the west since 1500: freedom of speech and religion being two of the largest consequences of his movement. It is important to note: as a late Medieval man, Luther would have been horrified at many of these developments, but he helped create them nonetheless.
Luther in 1520, by Lukas Cranach the Elder

After Luther's death in 1546, religious conflict devastated Europe for the next century. From 1546 to 1648, the wars of religion, culminating in the Thirty Years' War, caused an intense amount of suffering, particularly in German Central Europe. After the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, European statesmen began to realize that wars fought to enforce religious belief were often less than successful. The desire creation of a universal Protestant or Catholic Europe faded, and religious toleration began to grow, in fits and starts. Wars were fought between princes and states, not between fanatic adherents of rival religious groups.  Soldiers could still be incredibly religious: indeed, Swedish troops in the Great Northern War were some of the most devout religious believers in European history. Religous differences as a cause of war, however, became less common.

Hans Karl von Winterfeldt:
A Protestant-Warrior in the Eighteenth Century
By the mid-eighteenth century, warfare began to stoke the tensions of the religious conflict, not the other way around. The British developed an anti-French and anti-Catholic identity, while in German Central Europe, the birthplace of Luther and the Reformation, religious tensions remained. Indeed, the Seven Years' War in Europe may have been caused by Protestant ambitions on the part of one man: Prussian General Hans Karl von Winderfeldt. Winterfeldt, one of Frederick II of Prussia's closest confidantes, dreamed of "the creation of a new Protestant German Empire."[1] Frederick's record of religious toleration was mixed, he certainly sponsored it at times in his life and built Catholic places of worship, even in Berlin. However, he also persecuted disloyal Catholics in the County of Glatz during the Seven Years' War, and executed a Catholic priest. Prussian and Britain governments used religion as a weapon of propaganda in the Seven Years' War, in an attempt to represent the conflict as religious in nature. Frederick enjoyed a high reputation among Protestant and Catholic minor princes in the Holy Roman Empire, and Austrian Minister Kaunitz wrote that "favoured by fanaticism, the tempting prospect of the secularisations, and the strong solidarity which exists among Protestants ... the kings of England and Prussia could become effectively the masters of the whole of Europe."[2]

A Contemporary depiction of the 1760 siege
For their part, the Austrians took steps to solidify their religious position. Fear of defections among Protestant troops within their own armed forces prevented them from using religious propaganda to full effect, and Maria Theresa was warned, "Your Majesty would run the risk of losing a considerable number of generals and officers from Your army, or at least be unable to rely on their loyalty."[3] The greatest event with a legacy to the reformation occurred on the 10th-13th of October 1760. Wittenberg, the sleepy town where Luther had ignited the Protestant Reformation, had been occupied by Prussian forces and was surrounded and besieged by an Austrian Army.  The Austrian bombardment ignited wooden buildings within the town, and fire quickly spread to the schlosskirche, the church where Luther had circulated the 95 Theses. In the course of the fire, the church, and Luther's tomb were burned. According to rumor, the Austrian commander, Grumbach, had wanted to destroy Luther's tomb. This moral victory, and the enterprising work of Austrian light troops who destroyed the locks with kept the town moat secure, quickly allowed the Austrian forces to capture the town.[4]

The rebuilt schlosskirche doors in Wittenberg
In the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, the church was rebuilt, and in the nineteenth century, Frederick II's great-great-great nephew, Frederick William IV, had commemorative doors cast in bronze, to replace the original wooden doors lost to the bombardment. Eventually, a Protestant-led German nation-state was created, but by that time, the fire of Christian religious conflict had faded from Europe. Martin Luther, however, remains a dividing figure.


Thanks for Reading,




Alex Burns

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] Christopher Duffy, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, 86.
[2] Quoted in Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 349.
[3]Ibid.
[4] Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, 280.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Common was Desertion in the Eighteenth-Century Armies?

Soldiers from Germanic armies often had a reputation for desertion. Was it deserved?

Dear Reader,


I was speaking on the phone with one of my friends a few weeks ago. A veteran reenactor, and living-historian in his own right, he made a peculiar statement. He said that sickness, death in battle, enterprising foes and surprise attacks by the enemy all might be difficult for reenactors to simulate, and indeed, some (like death) should remain impossible to do so. "But desertion," he said, "desertion, I understand." Leading reenactors often feel a slight sense of betrayal at the tendency of unit members not to show up at events.  As a unit commander, he believed that he had a rather good understanding of how a regimental commander might have felt while facing desertion, as his (modern) eighteenth-century soldiers trickled away from his control.

This brings us to another question: how common was desertion in eighteenth-century armies? Like the previous post on sickness, this post is connected to my average soldier series. It may seem at first glance as though desertion was quite common: indeed it was much more common than it is in militaries today. J.A. Houlding quotes Frederick II of Prussia (as so many people do), who supposedly said that, "If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one of them would remain in the army." [1] This is at least as true as Frederick's statement, "Soldiers should be more afraid of their officers than the enemy," that is to say, not at all.[2] Christopher Duffy has shown, from research in Austrian archives, that Prussian prisoners of war often refused to desert their army, and as prisoners frequently preached their thoughts on the positive qualities of their prince.[3] How likely, then, were most soldiers to desert from their armies?

Recaptured deserters would "run the gauntlet" 12, 24, or 36 times, often a death sentence

Much more qualified scholars have spilled a great deal of ink on this subject. For German speakers, Michael Sikora's excellent work, Disziplin und Desertion: Strukturprobleme militärischer Organisation im 18. Jahrhundert, provides an excellent baseline of understanding. Once again, Christopher Duffy is our leading light for Central-European armies, but he is now joined by Ilya Berkovich, whose outstanding new book, Motivation in War, devotes a chapter to this important subject.  André Corvisier has long provided a rough estimate for France, arguing that between 1700 and 1763, approximately 1/5th of all French troops deserted. Berkovich implies that this figure has been taken for an eighteenth-century standard too often.  Sylvia Frey and Glenn Steppler give excellent information for the British Army during the American War of Independence, while James H. Edmonson, Charles Royster, and Mark Lender contribute to this topic with regards to the Continental Army. So, without further adieu, how likely was an eighteenth-century soldier to desert?

Any sort of exact average figure, when dealing with multiple armies, over the course of the eighteenth century, is rather difficult. By way of a rough estimate, perhaps 11% of soldiers deserted, though that figure was much smaller during peacetime, and potentially greater in wartime.  However, it may be possible to venture a more accurate guess when figures are separated by era and army. At times, it is only possible to give a percentage of total losses. Thus, we will begin data from armies over long periods of time, and then move to figures connected with the Seven Years' War era, and move to the American War of Independence. Despite the problems connected with the datasets, it is possible to observe several trends. Ilya Berkovich gives the best summary of trends during this era, which I will quote here:
"[N]ew recruits and foreigners were more likely to desert than veterans and native-born soldiers. There were more deserters in wartime than in peacetime. Units on the march were particularly susceptible to desertion, as were regiments whose soldiers learnt that they were to be send abroad. Not unlike recruitment, desertion rates demonstrate correlations with economic conditions, or even particular months of the year. Finally, armies whose desertion figures were examined over a prolonged period reveal that peacetime desertion rates declined as the century progressed."[4]


The Prussian Army in peacetime
Longterm Desertion (years):

Prussian Army (1713-1740): 3.2% per year.

French Army (1716-1749): 4.4% per year

Saxon Army (1717-1727): 7% per year. 

Average:  4.9%  [5] 



The Battle of Krefeld 

Seven Years' War Era:

Hanoverian (Electorate of Hanover, not British) Army: 14%

Austrian Army: 6-7% per year or 20.49% of total losses  (circa 62,000 men)

Prussian Army: 18% Total
                            28% of total losses   (circa 70,000 men) 
Data from the Hacke Regiment indicates a desertion of  6% of regimental strength per year on average during the Seven Years' War.


French Army (estimate 1700-1763): 20%

Average: 17.3% [6]



Perhaps surprisingly, the British Army had a low rate of desertion 


American War of Independence Era:

British Army: Frey: 4% (circa 3,700 men) 
                       Steppler: 7-8%, with recaptures/reenlistments a net loss of 4.4%
Sylvia Frey: "[D]esertion was apparently not a significant problem."

Hessen-Kassel Army in North America: 11.5%

Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Army in North America: 11.7% 

Continental Army: 20-25%.

Average: 12% [7]


Continental Army desertion was somewhat higher than this stalwart pose might suggest.

Let us analyze these figures. The Prussian army, oft-maligned as harsh and draconian, had lower figures than some of its competitors. The Continental Army, suffering frequent privations and battlefield reverses, suffered a great deal at the hands of desertion. Perhaps most surprising is the relatively low figures for the British army, and it should be noted, they are not exact. However, Frey and Steppler concur that desertion in the British army was "not the most serious drain on the army's manpower."[8]

In summary, the data seems to imply that desertion was often less common than we have been led to believe. Although, admittedly, desertion in this era was much greater than in the 20th century, when less than .5% of the U.S. army deserted in Vietnam. However, desertion was perhaps less of a problem then has previously been believed. It remained a headache for eighteenth-century commanders, as desertion could skyrocket in adverse circumstances, much like illness. In one campaign in 1744, Frederick II lost 15% of the entire Prussian army to desertion.[9] Rarely, however, do the figures support the longstanding belief that it was normal for more than 20% of an army to be lost to desertion during a campaign.[10] Ilya Berkovich has recently used this more developed figures to argue that lower rates of desertion and higher rates of retention could have implications for the motivations of soldiers in the eighteenth century. Inflated claims regarding desertion have long been a part of the "these soldiers were the scum of the earth" myth, and deserves to be evaluated in greater detail. Desertion was a scourge in the minds of eighteenth-century commanders, but perhaps not totally debilhatating for eighteenth-century armies.

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service, v.
[2] Sascha Möbius, Mehr Angst vor dem Offizier als vor dem Feind?: Eine mentalitätsgeschichtliche Studie zur preußischen Taktik im Siebenjährigen Krieg. 
[3] Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 201.
[4] Ilya Berkovich, Motivation in War, 59-60.
[5] Willerd Fann, "Peacetime Attrition in the Army of Frederick William I," 326-327.; quoted in Ilya Berkovich, Motivation in War, 58.
[6] Data comes from: Michael Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion : Strukturprobleme militärischer Organisation im 18. Jahrhundert, 74.;  Berkovich, Motivation in War, 77.; Duffy, Instrument of War, 212.; Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 85.; Daniel Krebs, A Generous and Merciful Enemy, 252.; Bagensky, Regiments Buch des Grenadiers Regiments koenig Friedrich Wilhelm IV., 79.; André Corvisier, L'Armee Francaise, 736-7.
[7] Data comes from: Sylvia Frey, British Soldier in North America, 72.; Glenn Steppler, "The Common Soldier in the Reign of George III," 189.; Daniel Krebs, A Generous and Merciful Enemy, 251-252.; James Edmonson, "Desertion in the American Army during the Revolutionary War," pg. 261.
[8] Steppler, "The Common Soldier," 189.
[9] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 84.
[10] Willred Fann, "Peacetime Attrition" 323.; Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 172.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Sick were Eighteenth-Century Soldiers?





Men from the 7th and 8th Regiments of Foot. Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum

Dear Reader,

Today, we are confronted with some rather heavy subject material. At the large Battle of Brandywine reenactment recently, I was fortunate enough to find myself lying on the ground, in a sense of general malaise, having just emptied the contents of my stomach into the grass next to me. I fell prey to one of the classic blunders: don't attempt to fight George Washington in 80-degree heat while suffering from a fever/sinus infection. Against the protests of my significant-other, I allowed the allure of a revolutionary war reenactment potentially numbering over a thousand individuals to draw me away from where I should have been: recuperating.

In the vein of the average-soldier series I embarked on earlier this summer, this post will examine data from a number of eighteenth-century armies, in an effort to establish how frequently sickness played a large role in the life of soldiers. To put it another way, how sick, on average, were eighteenth-century soldiers? How likely was an eighteenth-century soldier to die from disease?

Image result for Military Hospitals 18th century
Camp life in the era of the American War of Independence,
A number of scholars have written on this topic, usually with reference to a particular army and era. As usual, Christopher Duffy provides a window into the experience of armies in Central Europe. Sylvia Frey has written on the British army in the later eighteenth century, while Bill Potter and Piers Mackesy provide interesting supplementary information. Caroline Cox and Ann Becker write on sickness in the Continental Army, with an eye to the experiences of ordinary soldiers. Charles Lesser's work The Sinews of Independence provides a great mass of material on this subject. Those willing to step outside this era should examine Andrew Bamford's excellent book Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword, which examines the Napoleonic Era.  So: how sick were eighteenth-century soldiers, on average?

At first glance, it may appear as though eighteenth-century armies were quite sickly. Legends abound about the notoriously bad hygiene of these soldiers. Certainly, by modern standards, bad hygiene was rampant, although not, perhaps, in the grotesque ways often believed. As the eighteenth-century wore on, more military manuals called for soldiers to bathe frequently, and regimental orders bear this out.[1] Many Americans picture the Continental Army when Washington took command or the months or the hardship at Valley Forge, but these were perhaps outliers in terms of sickness. However, when smallpox, dysentery, and other quickly transmitted diseases could spread rapidly the setting of a military camp, ensuring that if an epidemic broke out, it would quickly incapacitate a large section of the army.

Image result for Prussian Soldiers Marching Menzel
The Prussian Army suffered from the heat on the way to Zorndorf in 1758.

On average, it appears that just less than 10% of any given military formation might be listed sick during the eighteenth century. During epidemics, that number could spike in a worrying way, up to about 1/3 or an army or more. Although there is not clear data for all armies in all situation, a surprising amount of data does exist regarding the levels of sickness in eighteenth-century armies. What is clear is that military forces with a clear framework for treating their sick men had an advantage over armies who were establishing organizations and treatments as war continued. The data for this post breaks down into three broad categories: estimates of army-wide sickness throughout conflicts, numbers of sick men in individuals regiments throughout a conflict, and individual regiment return percentages. Though 10% may seem like a small figure, it could quickly escalate in the face of highly contagious diseases.

In 1757 during the Seven Years' War, the Austrians suffered quite heavily at their defensive camp at Zittau, when 24,000 men fell ill, perhaps around 28% of their army in Silesia. This is an extreme example, usual army totals were likely lower.  In 1751, Austrian army doctor Giovanni Gabavlio estimated that some 28% of peacetime casualties were caused by fever, 18% were caused by scurvy, 15% were caused by infection, and 11% by venereal disease. The remaining 28% were seemingly unknown.[2] The Prussian army acquired "Hungarian fever" from Austrian prisoners after Leuthen in December of 1757, and by April of 1758, 15,000 men, or 27% of the army under Frederick's command, were still suffering from illness.[3]

His Excellency visits unwell soldiers (probably wounded, not sick)

During the American War of Independence, I estimate that the average number of British soldiers sick out of the entire British army, including militia in Britain, was 4.6% of the entire army. The data used to make this estimate runs from 1775-1780.[2] By contrast, I estimate that the average number of sick Continental Army soldiers was about 20%  of the army as a whole.[3] The reason for this extremely high number is that smallpox devastated the continental army in the early years of the conflict, with 31-37% of the army falling ill (not just from smallpox) during this crisis. After 1778 and Washington's program to inoculate the army, the average number of sick men dropped to within much the more normal levels of 13-15%. Perhaps 18,000 in the American military forces died of disease during the War of Independence. By contrast, between 1775-1780, the British lost 6,107 men to disease in North America. Despite this, British regular army losses and American losses are quite different (about 25,000 Americans to 43,000 British) so, as a result, it is possible the British lost heavily from disease in other theaters of war, in addition to battlefield casualties taken in other theaters.[4]


In places like Fort Niagara, the King's Regiment suffered little compared with the Continental Army
Leaving the army level, the post will know examine incidents of disease among individual units.
Thanks to the industrious research of Bill Potter, we have a sense of the level of illness among the King's Regiment during the later years of the American War of Independence. All in all, 7.5% , or around 40 men, of the King's Regiment were sick during the years between 1778 and 1783.[6] The regiment was relatively healthy in 1770 when 2.6% of its soldiers were listed sick, but in the months of 1781, Regiment had fallen prey to disease, when 11.75% (55 men) of the regiment fell ill on average. By the end of the conflict in 1783, the total number of men listed sick had returned to roughly average, around 7%.  Other regiments from this era follow this trend. In May of 1775, around 6.9% of the Royal Highland Regiment was ill, or 24 men out of 346.[7] During the Trenton Campaign, the Rall Regiment had 12.3% of its rank and file listed sick, while the Knyphausen Regiment had just 5.8% of its complement sick.[8]  When large-scale epidemics were not a factor, just less than 10% a regiment seems to have been sick, on average.

How likely was death by disease for an eighteenth-century soldier? Roughly 60% of all deaths in the Continental Army came from disease, meaning a soldier in that army was perhaps twice as likely to die from disease than in combat. Again, however, the Continental Army suffered from greatly from disease. On average, though, it was still more likely that a soldier would perish from illness than combat. Christopher Duffy argues that this trend continued throughout all eighteenth-century armies.[10] Sylvia Frey counters by suggesting that soldiers in the British army were no more likely to die from sickness than civilians, but her figure of 6,107 British soldiers dead of disease from 1775-1780  still outnumbers combat deaths in North America in the same era. Disease, not combat, killed more men in eighteenth-century armies. Soldiers died via disease in large numbers, and their experience involved great sacrifice.

I know this post has been rather heavy, and despite charges of insensitivity, I think it best to end on a humorous note. To the question: "How sick were eighteenth-century soldiers?  I think I can safely answer:  "They were, like, totally sick, man."

Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum 
Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Sylvia Frey, The British Soldier in North America, 51.
[2] Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 338, 341.
[3] Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 204.
[4] The data for this estimate comes from: Frey, British Soldier, 52; Piers Mackesy, The  War for America,  523-527.
[5] The data for this estimate comes from: Charles Lesser, The Sinews of Independence; Ann Becker, "Smallpox in Washington's Army," The Journal of Military History, (2004), 392-394, 419-420.
[6] Caroline Cox, A Proper Sense of Honor, 134-5; Frey, British Soldier, 52.
[7] Bill Potter, "Redcoats on the Frontier" MA Thesis, pg. 133-141.
[8] Waterford Inspection, Online Version
[9] David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing, 396.
[10] Christopher Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 170.