Thursday, August 12, 2021

Frederick the Great and Washington: Truths, Myths, and Propaganda



Dear Readers,


Yesterday, a popular facebook page which commemorates the Revolutionary War in the United States shared an anecdote regarding George Washington and Frederick the Great. Quoting Frank Moore's 1860 publication, Diary of the American Revolution from Newspapers, volume 2, the post related how Frederick II of Prussia presented George Washington with a picture of himself, inscribed, "From the oldest General in Europe, to the greatest general on earth."[1] The anecdote continues at some length, with another Prussian general questioning Frederick's assessment, and Frederick giving a full explanation of why Washington was the greatest general on earth. The source of this anecdote is the August 9th, 1780 issue of the New Jersey Journal.  

The trouble is, this anecdote is not true. It never occurred. There are variations of it, sometimes a sword is the present, sometimes it is a portrait.  And the worrying part is, historians have known it wasn't true for over one hundred and twenty years. Paul Leland Haworth, writing an article entitled Frederick the Great and the American Revolution in the American Historical Review in 1904, noted: 

At one time a story was widely current, and it is still believed by many, to the effect that he [Frederick] entertained a great admiration for Washington, and that he even went so far as to send him a sword[.] This is one of those historical myths that have been eagerly accepted by a willing and credulous public, and it has been completed exploded.[] 

Haworth cites the work of writer Moncure D. Conway, who, writing in 1891, examines the stories of the sword and/or portrait in detail. Conway corresponded with surviving relatives to see if the portrait survived, and notes that other monarchs did send portraiture to Washington, and the records of those transactions (and the portraits themselves) survive to the present day. Conway also describes the way in which Washington carefully gave the provenance of items in his will, and no gifts from Frederick the Great are described in his will.[3] Likewise, Conway notes that Washington's will carefully preserved a sword from Theophilus Alte of Solingen, and passed the sword onto Washington's nephew, George Steptoe Washington. 

Conway concludes: "We may feel tolerably certain that no gift was ever sent by Frederick the Great to Washington, and that he never recognized in any remark the greatness of Washington."[4] Now, Washington as a figure was certainly known to Frederick. Indeed, in Frederick memoirs, he notes, "General Washington, who was called at London the chief of the rebels, gained, at the commencement of hostilities, some advantages over the royalists who were assembled near Boston."[5] So, while clearly noting the progress of the American War of Independence, Frederick did not sent Washington fan mail. 

If historians have known that this anecdote is false for over one hundred years, why does it get shared 150 times on facebook in the course of a day? This is because like many eighteenth-century anecdotes, true or false, the story of Frederick's portrait/sword is designed to communicate truths to the reader. These truths, that Washington was a inspirational leader who fought from a disadvantageous position, and that he had, "surmounted untold difficulties," were as accurate in 1780 as they remain today.[6] This does not obscure the fact that this newspaper report was a sort of propaganda: in 1780, Frederick II of Prussia was recognized as an authority on warfare. Having him write respectful letters of admiration to Washington would have been an immense public relations victory. As a result, the New Jersey Journal, together with the Providence Gazette, told a story that communicated truths about Washington's skills as a general. 

The May 20th story referenced in the Providence Gazette is relatively brief:  it simply provides the inscription. The August 9th New Jersey Journal provides more embellishment, and begins to raise questions in the mind of the reader. How would the author have been privy to the conversation of the King of Prussia and one of his generals regarding Washington's military qualities? These doubts, together with the lack of physical evidence, point to the fact that these stories are myths designed to impart truths, rather than factual occurrences. As a result, they are often more compelling than factual history. Thus, over a hundred years after Frederick's factual statement regarding Washington was disproved, the legend of Frederick's admiration for Washington continues unabated.  

You can read three more articles on these myths over on the Boston 1775 blog by J.L. Bell. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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] Frank Moore, Diary of the American Revolution: From Newspapers..., Volume 2, (1860), 309-310.
[2] Paul Leland Haworth, "Frederick the Great and the American Revolution", American Historical Review, (1904) Vol. 9 No. 3, 460-478. 
[3] Ibid.  
[4] Moncure D. Conway, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 41 (1891) 945-948. 
[5] Ibid, 947.  
[6] Frederick, translated by Thomas Holcroft, Posthumous Works of Frederich II: King of Prussia, Volume 4 (1789), 175. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Column Assaults during the Seven Years War: Myth or Reality?

 



Dear Reader,

Today, I want to discuss the idea of columnar assaults during the Seven Years War. This is a somewhat controversial topic, as it is usually asserted that attacks by columns were not a feature of the Seven Years War period, but only appeared with the advent of Revolutionary/Napoleonic Warfare. There is no question: during this later period, troops used a greater variety of column formations at the battalion, regimental, and division level.  However, this post demonstrates that the Austrians did attack in columnar formations during the Seven Years War. These formations were not only "march formations" which took the unit to the battlefield, but used within musket range of the enemy troops. 

This post does not look at the most often cited example of a attack in column during the Seven Years War: the abortive French infantry attack at Rossbach. This is a clearly unintentional use of the column, born out of dire necessity. Likewise, I do not tap into the extensive theoretical debate regarding the use of columns from Folard on. Rather, in this post, I look at battles where the commanders made a conscious decision to engage enemy forces, whether in column or not.  At the battles of Moys, Hochkirch, Maxen, and Landeshut, the Austrians used a variety of successive linear and column formations in order to approach and attack the enemy positions.[1] At Adelsbach, the Prussians did the same. In each of these situations, circumstances and the terrain conspired to make attacking in a deep formation the most effective way of combating the enemy.  At Moys, Hochkirch, and Maxen, the Austrians attacked on a battalion frontage: what we might call battalion columns, or successive linear waves. At Landeshut, a single Austrian Grenadier battalion attacked in a column of companies. At Adelsbach, the terrain forced the Prussian troops to approach the enemy position in a column. 

At Moys in 1757, Christopher Duffy has clearly demonstrated that the Austrians employed a successive linear attack.[2] The Austrians arrayed their battalions in seven "columns" of three battalions each, separated by 100 yards. Within each "column" the battalions had 200 yard intervals between them. This allowed for flexibility, as the orders explained: "if a first-line battalion suffers heavy losses, or falls into disorder, we will file it off to the left or right, and replace it with the battalion behind."[3] This columnar, or successive linear assault would form a model for the Austrians during the war, as they attacked using columns with a battalion frontage again at Hochkirch and Maxen. 

At Hochkirch, the novel method of approach and attack meant that different officers had immediate tactical control of sectors of the battlefield, thus, some of the attacking "columns" formed into line of battle earlier, while others persisted in a columnar formation.[4] The Austrian veteran Cognazzio asserts that this was altogether too much to ask of the troops, and that his component division within his battalion was a mongrel force of collected men: "Grenadiers, Fusiliers, Hungarians, and Germans... [I] placed them together in rank and file, and brought the line into being."[5] Cognazzio asserts that in the heat of the fight, flexibility was the only thing that allowed for the creation of a "well-closed line."[6] So, at least in some instances, it seems that the columns of Hochkirch were intended to deliver men to the area of action, rather than a formation by which to actually conduct an attack. 

At Maxen in 1759, the situation is rather different. Here, the depth of the "battalion columns" of the Austrians was significantly increased to twelve battalions. Led to the attack by the grenadiers of the army, two Austrian battalion columns approached the enemy positions. The Austrian official report cites that they were greatly supported by an artillery bombardment, and seeing that: "Such a swift, sustained, and well-placed fire had caused great damage to the enemy lines, and that they were beginning to waver, the assault was allowed to go forward. It happened that the infantry were in battalion columns."[7] The same source continues, asserting that the battalion columns were not formed into a wider battle line until the Prussian position on the heights was broken.[8] 

Detail from, The Attack at Maxen, by Franz Paul Findenigg

Historians should use visual sources, even those painted closely after events, with extreme care when reconstructing battles. The Attack at Maxen, painted immediately after the battle by Franz Paul Findenigg, displays some features worthy of note. First: Findenigg correctly identifies the first two battalions approaching the Prussians as grenadiers (they have peaked caps, and carry no flags, while the other battalions all carry flags and wear cocked hats).  Findenigg also depicts the action of the battery disrupting the Prussians, as well as Austrian battalions in a "succcessive line" or "battalion column" formation, stacked several units deep. The individual battalions of the column seem much closer than the guidelines of the attack at Moys, perhaps supporting Christopher Duffy's assertion that "Austrian column[s] of assault" were formed in a dense closed-up formation.[9] We should not put too much weight on this visual evidence. Thus, while presenting the same issues as other visual sources, Findenigg's painting, at least, seems to support the idea that the Austrians made their initial breakthrough of the Prussian line using this formation. 


The attack on the Kirchberg at Landeshut, 1760 (circle added)
Detail from Jaeger's Plans von Zwey un Vierzig Haupt Schlachten

At Landeshut in 1760, we find something rather different. Here, two Grenadier battalions led the attack on Prussian fixed positions on the Mummelberg and Buchberg. The grenadier battalion of Major de Vins employed a column of companies for this assault. [10] Having taken these two positions and been returned to order, a larger force of infantry now combined into two "columns" and launched an, "assault of columns" against the Prussian position on the Kirchberg. As opposed to a column of companies, this attack, especially considering the way it is depicted on the map (three lines) was likely a successive linear wave attack as at Moys.[11] 

The Prussian approach at Adelsbach,
Raspe, Plan von der Affaire ... am 6. July 1762 bey Adelsbach,


The Prussian use of columns in the attack at Adelsbach on July 6th 1762 appears to have been largely unintentional. Attempting to get at the Austrian position, the Prussians had to march down a valley, through Ober Adelsbach, over the stream, and back up a valley to the heights where the Austrians were waiting for them. As a result, they were unable to properly form for the attack, and came on in some sort of marching column, likely of open platoons. The Prince de Ligne noted that the Prussians were marching to the attack, "dû défilér," indicating a formation narrower than a line.[12]  Upon reaching the height, however they attempted form a more traditional battle line. [13] This is was not, therefore, an intentional attack in a column, but one mandated by the terrain. 

Conclusions

In the Seven Years War, then you have a variety of columnar attacks. In order to assist with visualization, I have snapped some photos below. These attacks are made with a variety of successive linear or column formations. The first employed, and most clearly described is the attack a "column" of three battalions deployed in line, with significant intervals. 

The successive linear attack ,as at Moys 

Second, we have the assault in battalion columns, as happened at Maxen. Intervals are still present, though intentionally or unintentionally, they have been reduced. 

The column of battalions attack as at Maxen

Third, we have the single battalion attacking in a column of companies, as at Landeshut.  This attack was likely designed to take a fixed position. 

The column of companies attack as at Landeshut

Last, and honestly least, we have the bumbling and unintentional attack by marching columns, as occurred at Adelsbach. 

A Prussian column of march by platoons, opened. 

Thus, during the Seven Years War, the Austrian army did attack in a columnar formation. These attacks were less varied, less coordinated, and more ad-hoc than later Revolutionary and Napoleonic attacks in column.  Despite this, the evidence is clear: the Austrians did indeed innovate with alternative linear and columnar attacks during the Seven Years War, not just in theory, but actually on the battlefield. This may have been unintentional: a feature of the novel Austrian grand tactics of the time. Innovation is sometimes unintentional.  By the time the Seven Years War had ended, the Austrians had attacked in successive linear waves, columns of battalions, and a battalion column of companies. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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] In using the language of a "successive linear" attack, I have followed the convention of Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, 151-152. 
[2] Duffy, Prussia's Glory, 97. 
[3] Quoted in Prussia's Glory, 97. 
[4] Duffy, By Force of Arms, 129-143.
[5] Jakob Cognazzio, Geständnisse eines Oesterreichischen Veterans, (1790) Volume 3, 47. 
[6] Ibid, 48. 
[7] J. G. Tielcke, Beytraege zur kriegs-kunst und Geschichte des Krieges, (1775) Volume 1, 30. 
[8] Ibid, 31. 
[9] Duffy, Instrument of War, 405. 
[10] Duffy, By Force of Arms, 233. 
[11] Johann Christian Jaeger, Plans von Zwey un Vierzig Haupt Schlachten, Treffen, und Belagerungen, (1790)  124-125. 
[12] Prince de Ligne, Melanges militaires, litteraires, et sentimentaires, (1796) Volume 16, 124.
[13]Gabriel Nicolaus Raspe, Plan von der Affaire ... am 6. July 1762 bey Adelsbach, legend entry E. 


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Statue Removal and Frederick the Great: A Story of Three Statues

 

The Unter den Linden statue being replaced, 1980
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W1127-030

The post looks at statue/commemoration removal, an idea that dates back to at least the Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, and likely before. Over the past few years, citizens of the United States have confronted the issue of the removal of statues of historic figures from prominent places in public life. In the United States today, opinions towards statue removal are often split along party lines, exacerbating the tension of an already charged issue. I will attempt to tread carefully, and my point is certainly not to advocate for the removal or maintenance of statues.  Rather, I hope to provide some comparisons that will allow for reflection regarding statue removal debates as a whole. King Frederick II of Prussia, a figure that few Americans could pick out of a lineup, also has a contentious legacy of statue removal, destruction, and replacement. 

Without becoming enmeshed in the politics of the debate in the United States, I seek to examine the story of three statues of Frederick, their removal, and fate (to the present). In doing so, I hope to demonstrate a few things: First, statue removal and replacement is a struggle that is located in specific, often politically charged, moments in time. Second, when statues are removed, destroyed, or replaced, the decision is not always final. Debates over historical commemoration of specific individuals will continue, regardless of statuary. Finally, knowledge of historical figures, and even debates over their merits, are rarely impacted in the long-term by the removal and destruction of statues. I've been to see all of these statues in person, and that is part of how I know their stories. Two of them are in Germany, one is in the United States. All have been removed, one was destroyed, and two have been replaced. 


The Kloster Zinna Frederick

The drive between Dresden and Berlin can take many different routes, such as Autobahn 13, part of Germany’s famous interstate highway system. If you stick to the path less traveled, however, you might find yourself driving down small rural route 101, a two-lane highway broken up by turns and stoplights. On this scenic drive, which could easily be mistaken by Americans for the rural Midwest, you will pass by small industrial city of Jüteborg, a “city of the reformation,” as the town slogans remind you. Just north of Jüteborg, an hour away from Berlin Mitte, sits the small village of Kloster Zinna. Originally an abbey in the medieval era, the Prussian King Frederick II founded a small community of weavers on this site in the year 1764. The memory of Frederick, the father of the city, is all over Kloster Zinna. Walking through the central square and park, you see the local eatery, “Curry-Fritz,” an amalgamation of the King’s nickname “Alte Fritz” and the popular twenty-first century dish “Currywurst”: a spicy sausage plate. The centerpiece of Frederick’s historical memory in Kloster Zinna, however, is the Denkmal, or commemorative statute, which stands proudly next to rural route 101, reminding all the visitors to Kloster Zinna that this was a city founded by Frederick the Great.

I have had the great good fortune to stop by Kloster Zinna twice in the course of my dissertation research. During my first visit, in 2018, I had never heard of the place before, and it was only the statute of Frederick which caused me to pull my micro-sized rental car to the side of the road for a closer look. The second time in the summer of 2019, I returned with a bit more reverence, and snapped a selfie with the Kloster Zinna Denkmal. Secondary research and discussions with the gruff but friendly townspeople of Kloster Zinna revealed that much like the memory of Frederick across all of Germany, the Kloster Zinna Denkmal, too, had a turbulent and contested meaning. Like so many monuments, the statute of Frederick was built on an anniversary, in 1864 during the centennial of the founding of the city. The Denkmal became a site of congregation for local school events. During the twentieth century, with the image of Fritz used so widely in the National Socialist era, the Denkmal became a symbol of the Nazi legacy in Germany. With the fall of the Nazi Regime in 1945, the legacy and memory of Frederick the Great took a radically different turn. As denazification proceeded in both East and West Germany, the memory of Frederick was tarnished by its association with the Nazi Regime. The former eastern lands of the German state (East Prussia, Pomerania, and Silesia) were given over to new Polish and Soviet leaders. On February 25, 1947, Prussia which had existed as a state in the German federal system, was now replaced with Brandenburg and the very name of Prussia was erased from the maps of Europe. After the Second World War, a communist youth organization was set up nearby, and during a village outing which took most people out of Kloster Zinna, a group of communist party youth destroyed the statute with sledgehammers. 

The blindfolded statue in 2016. 

The memory of Frederick, however, endured. On the 8th of April, 1994, a group of citizens who had collected the pieces of the old, smashed Denkmal, fused them into a new monument, with an inscription proudly stating: “Frederick the Great: Founder of the City in the year 1764. This thanksgiving monument erected in 1864.” A plaque on the reverse side of the monument reads: “This monument was destroyed in 1949. It was renewed on April 8th 1994 thanks to the funds from the citizens and friends of the city.” The contested nature of the statue has continued since that time: when I visited in 2019, there was graffiti, and in 2016, the stature, and many other statues across Germany, were blindfolded in order to demonstrate their historical figure's blindness to the problems of hostility to Jewish communities. The Kloster Zinna monument, a local story, demonstrates the ways that Germans have engaged with and contested the memory of Frederick the Great.

The Washington D.C. statue in its original location

The Washington D.C./Carlisle Frederick   

In 1904, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany presented a statue of Frederick II to the United States as a symbol of goodwill. That stature was originally placed on a military base in southern Washington D.C., Fort McNair. It remained in that location between 1904 and 1918. Almost immediately, there was trouble. In January of 1905, Gessler Rousseau, attempted to destroy the statue with an "infernal machine" (bomb). The Saint Louis Republic reported on January 16th that Rousseau was a "patriotic fanatic" with a history of bombing attempts. 

During a surge in anti-German hostility during the First World War, there were calls to remove and destroy the statue. Ralph Block, for the New York Tribune, reported on February 9th, 1918: 

The deadly statue of Frederick the Great, the statue of the man who was termed by Dr. R. M. McElroy of Princeton university, "the head devil of the whole Prussian philosophy," still lurks in front of the War college. Doctor McElroy announced at a luncheon in New York he was gong to start of movement to tear down Frederick and turn him into bullets. But Washington so far has manifested an alarming apathy to the patriotic project.

On August 25th of the same year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that statue had been melted down, but this was premature. Many newspapers, including the The Herald, out of New Orleans, ran this cartoon accompanying the story. 

The statue was removed to a cellar after popular demand grew for removal. In 1927, Dwight F. Davis, the secretary of war, returned the statue to its original location, asserting, "Frederick lived many years before the World War and was not identified in any way with that conflict."[1] Concerns about the statue returned again during the Second World War, and it was removed again. 

The Carlisle Frederick in 2018


With the end of the war, desiring to move Frederick to a "relatively inconspicuous site," he was moved from Washington to Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.[2] The statue remains at Carlisle to the present day, and civilians can indeed gain entrance to the base in order to visit the statue (as of 2018). 


Unter den Linden  Frederick, 2018

The Unter den Linden Frederick

In 1851, perhaps the most famous statue of Frederick, sculpted by Christian Daniel Rauch, was unveiled and displayed on the Berlin boulevard Unter den Linden. It remained their in relatively the same way until the Second World War, when it was encased in cement for preservation from allied bombing. 

Frederick being removed from carbonite, 1950

As we have already seen above at Kloster Zinna, statues of Frederick were torn down and demolished in Soviet-controlled East Germany. The Unter den Linden statue was removed by the East German government, and nearly melted down. Prussia, and by extension, Frederick, were blamed for the disaster at the end of the war, or leading to militarism and the rise of National Socialism, and a host of other problems. 

The statue being moved in the 1980s, from Christopher 
Clark's Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia


After being nearly melted, and saved by chance, the statue was sent to the Charlottenhof palace in Potsdam for twenty years. By the 1980s, however, the East German government had officially softened its position on Frederick, and Erich Honecker, the East German head of state, personally ordered the restoration of the Rauch’s equestrian statue of Frederick the Great on Unter den Linden. In the later stages of the Cold War, Frederick was remembered in East Germany for his progressive social and legal policies. By emphasizing Frederick’s progressivism, rather than his military feats, the East German government found a way to rehabilitate his historical memory. The equestrian statue remained in place after the reunification of Germany, and it continues to inspire visitors to the Berlin State Library.[3]


Final Thoughts 
What do the stories of these statues tell us? Very little about Frederick himself. Instead, they tell us about the changing nature of historical commemoration across time, regimes, and national boundaries. 
These three statues display the variety of experience in contested historical commemoration. The story of historical commemoration is not a tale of permanence. Statues are built, they are celebrated, they become controversial, they are protested, they are removed, they are destroyed, they live in obscurity, they are rebuilt. Every generation must decide how to commemorate its own past. What is certain, however, is that future generations will continue to contest this legacy: changing, revising, and rediscovering how the past is remembered. What we believe about historical figures and their commemoration is important to us today. It is almost guaranteed that the next generation will remember the same set of historical figures with a different lens of significance. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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]Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 08 Nov. 1927. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1927-11-08/ed-1/seq-15/>
[2] Historical Marker with the assistance of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle. 
[3] Helmut Engel and Wolfgang Ribbe, Via triumphais: Geschichtslandschaft, “Unter den Linden” zwischen Friedrich-Denkmal und Schlossbrücke, (Berlin: Akadmie Verlag, 1997), 52.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Separating Fact from Fiction in Historical Writing: Popular Military History and How to Read It

 

Dear Reader,

Unlike many academic disciplines, military history, as well as political history and biography, have long contained writing targeted at a non-specialist audience. That is to say, people who are non-specialists (who did not obtain graduate degrees in the field they are writing in) author books targeted to appeal to the broad audience that military history garners. Often, these books are well written, but contain some factual or interpretive errors. So, today, I am setting out to give some brief guidelines that I use when evaluating a book, so that you can use your own best judgement when thinking about claims made by an author, or whether to spend your hard-earned on a book. 

This post is not a screed against writers without Ph.Ds. I have good friends outside the academic world who not only write history, but write history well. John U. Rees, the author of They were Good Soldiers, with Helion and Company, is a perfect example of this type of author. John has spent a lifetime as an amateur (one who works for the love of the subject) historian, and has learned more about the Continental Army of the American War of Independence than any specialist scholar I know. When you read John's work (and John is simply an example, there are many like him) it is clear from the copious quoted citations from original sources, that he has done the necessary footwork in research. 

I am increasingly concerned, however, that non-specialists make it difficult for professional historians to effectively challenge myths. In May of 2019, journalist and award-winning author Rick Atkinson gave a engaging talk at George Washington's Mount Vernon. In a hour of speaking, Atkinson held forth knowledgably on many topics. When he turned to the subject of combat during the American War of Independence, however, he began to falter. Atkinson asserted that, "Unlike modern war, killing is usually intimate, at very close range, face to face, often with the bayonet. That's partly because eighteenth-century muskets were mostly inaccurate beyond fifty yards and usually hopeless beyond one hundred yards."[1] Here, he paraphrases claims made in his book.[2] Readers of this blog will recall the various ways that these myths have been addressed, both here and in the published works of historians like Christopher Duffy. Atkinson then discusses the number of rounds necessary to hit an enemy soldier as evidence, despite the fact that the figure has only increased in modern warfare, despite the obvious increase in weapon accuracy.[3] 

Atkinson's stereotyping regarding eighteenth-century warfare is followed by Patrick K. O'Donnell, in his popular treatment of an elite Maryland regiment the Continental Army, Washington's Immortals. Like Atkinson, O'Donnell has written award-winning books on more recent military conflicts. O'Donnell summarizes infantry combat in the period as follows: 

Technology drove tactics. Because muskets were so inaccurate, troops practiced laying down concentrated fire in large numbers. Soldiers of the time lined up in rows, sometimes eight or ten ranks deep, and fired en masse, meaning that everyone in the front rank wo had a clear line of sight to the opposing side pulled his trigger at the same time. This massed fire improved the odds of hitting the enemy. 

As formidable as they sound, most of these volleys weren't very successful. "It was just possible for a good marksman to hit a man at 100 yards; a volley could be fired with some chance of obtaining hits on a mass of troops at 200 yards, but at 300 yards fire was completely ineffective." [4]  

O'Donnell clearly misleads the reader, as firing lines in the eighteenth-century were ranged between two and four ranks deep, and during the war he is discussing, two was the norm.[5]  

In Washington's Immortals, O'Donnell does not provide a reference for this quotation above. His more recent book, The Indispensables, reproduces this passage almost verbatim, and does source the quote. O'Donnell found this quote, likely in Michael Stephenson's Patriot Battles, a passable secondary work, who in turn, found it in Major General Basil Perronet Hughes 1974 work, Firepower: Weapon Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 163-1850. So, to review, O'Donnell has used a quote in his book, that was quoted in book from 2007, which in turn was quoting original material from 1974. In making strong claims about the accuracy of musketry and the range of firefights, which contradict the more recent scholarly assessments (Duffy, 1987), O'Donnell is fairly far removed from primary sources. 

Now, it might seem that I am picking on Atkinson and O'Donnell, both of whom are far more well-known than I will ever be, and who are the award-winning authors of many books. They are both excellent writers, and many of their books are outstanding. The trouble arises when these authors, who do not have formal historical training, having written many well-received books, begin to think that they can write in all periods of history with equal skill. The casual reader of military picks up these books, often cheaply, in paperback form, and assumes that because the author is well-known, and claims to be a historian, that they have done the necessary research and know what they are talking about. This, naturally, perpetuates myths asserted when non-specialists use older secondary works to frame their perspectives. 

What I hope to do in the remainder of this post, then, is provide a checklist that the casual reader of military history can use to evaluate the abundant works of popular history which they might find at the local bookstore. 


A somewhat worn copy of Dr. Matthew Spring's
With Zeal and With Bayonets Only shows Notes and a Bibliography

1. Survey the Contents. 

A necessary first step for anyone who seeks to judge a book by more than its cover. Open the book to the "table of contents" page. In addition to the listed chapters,  is their an endnote section, or a bibliography, or even a "suggested further readings" section. If the book has all of these things, regardless of who the author is, or who the publishing house might be, it is apparent that the author has at least tried to provide an apparatus for where the reader can evaluate their claims based on evidence. 

The Publication Page (Left) for Dr. Andrew Bamford's 
Sickness, Suffering and the Sword promisingly shows 
a university press affiliation, as well as a recent publication date

2. Look at the Publication Information 

Almost all books have a page, usually opposite of the table of contents, which list of information about the work. Look at this page briefly, with a few things in mind. Where was the book published? If it came out with a university press, you can be fairly certain that the book has undergone a peer-review process, that is, the chapters of the book have been scrubbed the author's personal information, and reviewed by at least one, and often multiple, other historians who specialize in this area. This is not a fool-proof answer for problems, academic historians make mistakes and can be wrong. Secondly, look for when the book was published: books which were published, broadly, after 1960, began to be subjected to much more rigorous scholarly review and quotes and claims are more likely to be footnoted with primary-source evidence. 


In his 1812: March to Moscow, Paul Austin provides a bibliography
and notes,but his quotations are uncited, a potential headache. 

By contrast, in Military Experience of the Age of Reason, 
Christopher Duffy provides large quotes and in-text citations


3. Leaf through a few pages 

Starting from your place at the publication information, select four or five pages, at random, from the main chapters of the book. Examine each page. Are there quotes? Do these quotes have citations? Are their citations for more than just the quoted material? Are there footnotes at the bottom of the page? If there are uncited quotations, that is a potential warning sign. If none of the pages you randomly select have footnotes or in-text citations, that is a potential warning sign. 

In his introduction, Dr. Andrew Bamford is referencing
historiography and giving footnotes: a promising sign. 

4. Engagement with Historiography

At this point, I am sure some of my readers eyes are beginning to glaze over. How well an author connects with historiography, or the collected works of historical literature on a specific topic, can give you valuable information. First of all, referencing other arguments that have been made demonstrates that the author of the book you are holding has read widely, and is not unnecessarily covering ground that other historians have already trod. 

The opening of the Bibliography of Thomas Chavez's 
Spain and the Independence of the United States
shows primary sources that have been subdivided by type

5. Examine the Bibliography or Notes 

In this step, judge how much material the author has collected. Specifically, you should hope to find collections of both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources (quotations from the period being studied) are very valuable. A good work of history will often list these sources separately, and even break down primary sources and secondary sources into sub-categories: Archival Material, Publish Primary Sources, Periodicals, Unpublished Dissertations, etc. 

The author blurb for The British are Coming 

6. Think about the qualifications of the Author

By now, you will already have some sense of the level of expertise that the author has brought to bear on their subject. With that said, it may still be helpful to examine their stated qualifications. Did they go to graduate school for their topic? Have they held a long-term interest in the topic, or have they mostly published in other fields? None of these questions should cause you to dismiss the book out of hand, which is why I place this criteria last: it is probably the least important. 

Armed with this guide, I hope you have the resources necessary to evaluate the quality of your reading material, on whatever your topic may be. Historians of various backgrounds should be able to write their books for a wide audience, but make sure that they are adequately supporting the claims that they make. By finding works which do so, you can better equip yourself for whatever you hope to obtain from your library. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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

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[1] Quote comes from Atkinson's lecture, available on youtube, at 31:00 minutes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFKmvgF6vG0

[2] Rick Atkinson, The British are Coming, 62. 

[3] https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/us-forced-to-import-bullets-from-israel-as-troops-use-250000-for-every-rebel-killed-28580666.html

[4] Patrick K. O'Donnell, Washington's Immortals, 29. 

[5] James Scudieri, "The Continentals: A Comparative Analysis of a late eighteenth-century standing Army." Unpublished Dissertation, City University of New York, 1993. 203-204 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Did Soldiers use Grenades in the Mid-Eighteenth Century?

 

Plate from, The Grenadiers exercise of the Granado...
published December 4th, 1744

Dear Reader,


I sincerely apologize for the long silence. It has been too long since I've created any content on this site. I promised someone very dear to me that I would not write any more posts until after I had defended my dissertation, and I am delighted to report that I passed my dissertation defense on March 1st. Although I am still hard at work on revisions, I decided to take a bit of time out of that schedule to provide a short write-up on grenades. 

The use of hand grenades is commonly associated with the period just before the Seven Years War: the grenadiers of the 1690s employed grenades in siege combat, and no-one would dispute this.  Likewise, it is common knowledge that grenades continued to be employed by naval forces during the eighteenth century. On land, however, it is commonly asserted, that grenades fell out of fashion after the War of Spanish Succession, and played little part in warfare during the Seven Years War or American War of Independence. Evidence shows that this is incorrect. Grenades continued to play an important part in siege warfare throughout this period, and both European and American officers concurred that armies needed to be supplied and equipped with grenades. 

During this entire period, the hand grenade was a hollow ball of metal (glass grenades were also employed by the Austrian military, but may be from an earlier period) filled with gunpowder and ignited by means of a short fuse. A military author defined grenades in 1783: 

The hand-grenade, which is a hollow ball or shell, generally of iron, but sometimes of tin... of about 2 1/2 inches in diameter; was first used in 1594... it is filled with a very fine powder, and set on fire by means of a small fuze driven into the fuze hole.[1]

 

A pile of early modern grenades and musket balls,
Forchtenstein Castle

Evidence for the continued use of grenades by European armies is substantial. In 1747, two (probably drunk) Prussian cantonists disrupted a engagement party by exploding hand grenades nearby, until the minister had them chased off (no mean feat).[2] When the Austrians captured Schweidnitz in 1757, they inherited a store of almost 81,000 hand grenades from their former Prussian owners.[3] In 1779, Gaston de Commines, a soldier formerly in Austrian service, writing from the United Provinces, attempted to convince Benjamin Franklin of the efficacy of his new grenade launcher, which he envisioned mounted troops employing.[4] Lewis Lochée, a naturalized British military writer from the Austrian Netherlands, wrote on hand grenades in his 1783 treatise on field fortification, arguing that camps should have, "palisades fixed at a certain distances from the parapet.. to obtain the additional security against hand grenades." Lochee continued, "the distance that hand-grenades can be thrown is from 25 to 30 yards."[5] Thus, Prussian cantonists had access to grenades in peacetime, and set a considerable store of them aside. Authors and inventors with Austrian, Dutch, and British connections likewise considered the use of hand grenades, and developed new weapons for their employ. However, were they used in actual combat? 

It seems that, much like their use during the Nine Years War and War of Spanish Succession, hand grenades were most commonly deployed around fortresses. British troops utilized hand grenades in colonial conflict, such as against the Native Americans who took part in Pontiac's War in 1763. Simeon Ecuyer, the officer commanding at Fort Pitt, noted that the Indians, "continued firing at the fort all night, [we] threw some hand grenades into the ditch where we imagined some of the enemy were."[6] Captain Dalrympe of the Loyal Irish Volunteers wrote Lord Germain in 1779, describing the attack on the fortress at Porto Omoa, asserting that his troops, "were formed into four columns in line, four men advanced in each column, with guides at the head... followed [by] eight men with carrying the ladders, who were followed by a few hand grenade men."[7] Although the Loyal Irish took part in this assault, seamen and marines also formed part of the attack. 

Grenades were also captured, acquired and employed by American troops during the War of Independence. At the capture of Fort Chambly in October of 1775, part of the stores which fell into American hands were, "500 hand grenades."[8] American Colonel Richard Gridley estimated that American troops would need, "2000 hand grenades" in order to successfully besiege Boston.[9] Captain Thomas Antoine Mauduit du Plessis, a French engineer working with the American troops, wrote to Washington in 1777 that Fort Red Bank could better defended if, "we can with mines [and] hands grenades... secure him."[10] Like most European armies, then, the North American rebels primarily used grenades in the context of sieges and defending positions. 

Russian Troops experimenting with mortars, 1750s[11]

The Russians, in contrast with most armies in Military Europe, stood out for their great love of hand grenades during the eighteenth century. Russian grenadiers and fusiliers carried grenades throughout the Seven Years War, carrying two grenades in a special bandoleer.[12] Grenadiers were instructed to throw these grenades whenever the enemy was close enough.[13] This was also done by the dragoon regiments in the Russian Army, who like the infantry had special ammunition carts for the transport of grenades. Perhaps uniquely among eighteenth-century armies, Russian troops planned for the use of grenades outside siege warfare. In skirmishes with East Prussian militia forces, Russian dragoons were instructed to dismount and throw their grenades whenever the enemy took cover or used buildings as a strongpoint.[14] The Russian army employed grenades in a variety of settings, and even equipped their mounted troops with grenades.

Thus, although there were some regional differences, troops all across Europe and North America continued to employ hand grenades in specific settings during the middle decades of the eighteenth-century. These weapons did not disappear with the end of the War of Spanish Succession, and continue to be employed throughout the period. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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

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[1] Lewis Lochée, Elements of Field Fortification, 22.
[2] William W. Hagen, Ordinary Prussians, 155, 472.
[3] George Grey Butler (editor) and Horace St. Paul, A Journal of the First Two Campaigns of the Seven Years War, (Cambridge: 1914), 380.
[4] Barbara B. Oberg, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, November 1, 1779, through February 29, 1780, Volume 31, 48–54.
[5] Lewis Lochée, Elements of Field Fortification, 22.
[6] Mary C. Darlington, Fort Pitt and Letters from the Frontier, 105.
[7] The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Volume 65, 319.
[8] The Scots Magazine, Volume 37 (1775), 651.
[9] Philander D. Chase, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 2, 210.
[10]Philander D. Chase, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 12, 287.
[11] For this and more excellent images of the Russian Army, see: Tomasz Karpinski, "Unknown Iconographic Sources for the History of the Russian Army: The Russian garrison in Elblag during the Seven Years War though the Observation of Eyewitnesses," Milihist Info. Link
[12] Groβen Generalstabe, Die Krieges Friedrichs des Groβen, Teil 3, Der Siebenjaehrige Krieg, Volume 4 (Berlin, E. Mittler und Sohn, 1914) 5,29.
[13] Ibid.
[14]Christopher Duffy, Russia's Military Way to the West, 64.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Life in the Red Coat Podcast


Dear Readers,


I wanted to attach a link for a podcast, Khaki Malarkey, which I was recently on, discussing the publication of a new book on British soldiers in and out of combat during the eighteenth century and Napoleonic era. I had the good fortune to join Dr. Andrew Bamford, in addition to a number of other historians. 

Podcast Link

If you enjoyed this podocast, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

260th Anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefecht bei Oschatz)


View from the Dürrenberg to the southeast, where the vast majority of the
Reichsarmee remained as a fixing force.

Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefect bei Oschatz), during the Seven Years War in German Central Europe. A small battle by the standards of the European Seven Years War, with perhaps just under 40,000 men on the battlefield, it is larger than any of the battles of the American War of Independence. Fought in the electorate of Saxony, allied forces attempted to use their large numerical superiority to force the occupying Prussian army to abandon a good defensive position on the river Elbe. I had the good fortune to be able to walk this battlefield in 2018, in the summer just a few weeks before the battle's anniversary.

A (not breath-takingly accuarte) period map of Strehla
In this battle, the 67 year-old Prussian Lt. General, Johann Dietrich von Hülsen was attacked by an Austrian and Reichsarmee force under the command of Karl Friedrich Graf von Pfalz Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld.[1] At this battle, the allied Austrians and Reichsarmee numbered between 25,000 to 30,000 men, and faced a Prussian Army of 10,000 to 12,000 men.[2]

Hülsen deployed his soldiers on two sets of rising ground near the small town of Strehla, with his main army in a defensive camp by the town, and a detached force of grenadiers and artillery further west from the river on the high ground north of the village of Clanzschwitz. In this battle, the Austrians would ignore Hülsen's main camp, and focus their efforts on the relatively isolated grenadiers.

The view from Prussian positions at the Dürrenberg, towards Gausco's Austrian
Grenadiers. The village of Clanzschwitz is in shadow

Attempting an attack by multiple columns, the allies surrounded Hülsen's isolated advanced post at the Dürrenberg, where Major General Braun stood with 4-5 battalions of Prussian Grenadiers. Tying up the Austrian Grenadiers from the south with an artillery duel, Braun shifted his forces move towards a large hill with a windmill to the west, just as FML. Kleefeld's detachment of five battalions broke out of woods directly to Braun's north. Shifting his battalions to meet this more immediate threat, Braun benefited from the relative inactivity of Austrian forces to his west and south, who continued to engage his forces in an artillery duel, but did not launch heavy attacks. FML Kreefeld's force engaged the Prussian grenadiers in a close range firefight.

Looking north from the Dürrenberg, to where the Austrians under Kleefeld would
have emerged. 
At this point, Hülsen, realizing the danger, immediately moved the Schorlemer Dragoons across the battlefield, riding between the dueling Austrian and Prussian artillery, to attack the flank of Kleefeld's corps. Eventually, these troops were bailed out by Austrian cuirassier, but not before the dragoons had broken up the attack, with the support of the grenadiers already engaged. The battle ended with a cavalry fight on the north end of the battlefield above the village of Laas, where Colonel Kleist, having redeployed to face a large body of allied cavalry, pushed these forces back, ending the battle. 


A view of the northern cavalry battlefield on the flat ground northwest of the
village of Laas
In a sharp fight lasting only two hours, the Prussians had defeated an enemy force that outnumbered them over two to one. The Prussians suffered approximately 1,000 killed and wounded, the allies suffered 1,800 killed and wounded, and 1,200 prisoners lost to the Prussians.[3] Realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, Hülsen withdrew to the stronger defensive position at Torgau the same day, delaying the allied advance for a month from that position.

The battle shows fighting typical of the middle stages of the Seven Years War. The Austrians, impressed by their success at Hochkirch, continue to employ the  method of moving independent columns to partially surround the enemy before attacking. Likewise, Austrian and higher quality Reichsarmee troops are used for actual combat operations, while the majority of the Reichsarmee is used to fix the enemy in place. In the actual battle, the difficulties in coordinating simultaneous independent assaults because evident, as the Prussians manage to fix enemy columns in place with long-range artillery duels. All in all, Hülsen, Braun, and Kleist performed quite well in the face of superior enemy forces.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. 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

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[1] As a complete aside, Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben (Baron Steuben), likely fought at this battle as a member of Hülsen's staff. Palmer, General von Steuben, 38.
[2] Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, 273.
[3] German General Staff, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Theil 3, Der Siebenjährige Krieg, 1756-1763 Bd. 13, pg. 178.