|The 40th of Foot Light Company at Cliveden- Photo by Suzanne Shaw|
The picture above depicts the 40th regiment of Foot light company, a "progressive" reenacting unit depicting British soldiers in the American War of Independence. It is rather humorous to me that the term "progressives," used so pejoratively in historiographical debates, is used to describe a particular type of, "hardcore," or "serious" reenactor. The picture shows them doing controversial things in reenacting circles: giving fire while lying down, not arrayed in closed ranks, etc. While many individuals have known that the British army did not fight in the way it was depicted so often in Hollywood films, this knowledge has become more widespread with the publication of Matthew H. Spring's book, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only. The guys in the 40th Regiment have obviously done their reading.
This text, in every sense of the word, is a work of revisionist history. Spring, "with the deftness and surety of a bayonet stroke," in the words of a particularly effusive reviewer, has killed the notion that the British army fought in rigid lines during the American Revolution. Despite this fact, few wargamers, reenactors, or historians have updated their information to reflect this incredible work of scholarship.
Part of this failure is ignorance- not everyone has read, or been convinced, by this book. However, part of this failure is "tradition," the sort of tradition which got the Catholic Church into trouble in the 1500s. Many reenactors, wargamers and historians have simply not updated their way of thinking about the British army because they been thinking the same way for 30 years. This sort of behavior reflects a lack of respect for history, and in my opinion, is inexcusable. A third part of this failure to update comes from lack of finances- not everyone can afford to make the changes required when new research is done on uniforms in reenacting, or purchase a new rulebook in wargaming. However, those who cannot afford change, but are aware of new ideas, are in a much better position to serve history well.
To return to the beginning- ideas about the past are constantly changing. Dr. Christopher Duffy rewrote his groundbreaking work on the Prussian army in the 1990s, because new evidence had come to light, evidence which led him to different conclusions. That is one of the great things about history- it is in a constant state of motion, and it requires thorough, ongoing research and reading to have an adequate understanding of the past.
So- whether you are a reenactor or a wargamer, a historian or an undergraduate student, a "progressive" or a "mainstreamer": my admonition is the same. I echo Augustine in saying: take up and read.
And in the interest of helping you with that goal, I am going to list the books which have been most instructive for me in becoming a journeyman student of Kabinettskriege era warfare.
Military Experience in the Age of Reason by Christopher Duffy
Redcoats by Richard Holmes
With Zeal and With Bayonets Only by Matthew H. Spring
Russia's Military Way to the West by Christopher Duffy
The Battle that Shook Europe by Peter Englund
A Revolutionary People at War by Charles Royster
Fire and Stone by Christopher Duffy
War under Heaven by Gregory Evans Dowd
The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758 by Hugh Boscawen
I highly recommend them to you.
Thanks for Reading!