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The Importance of Waterloo-200 years later

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on June 19, 2015

June 18 was the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo and Europe is abuzz (at least western Europe) with a major reenactment event occurring this weekend (they are even live-streaming it). There is no doubt of the importance of the battle to history, but its importance remains today. It cemented Britain’s position in the world for the next hundred years and laid the foundations for Europe as we now it today. It represented the defeat of the ideals of revolutionary France, much to the relief of monarchists across Europe. Time discussed the importance of the battle, while The Telegraph provided several great stories on the event, including advocating the study of the battle by students. Despite such major subsequent events in military history, as both World Wars, the Cold War, and the current War on Terror, why do we still gravitate to Waterloo?

One reason is because of its importance to the study of warfare. Waterloo ended a long period of conflict between Napoleonic France and the rest of Europe not under his control. His leadership abilities, as well as those of Wellington and Blucher influenced the study of warfare and the thinkers of military history and strategy for years to come (i.e. Napoleonic tactics), which were used in subsequent wars in America, especially the Civil War. Waterloo was such a stunning victory for the Allies over a foe that, until his ill-fated invasion of Russia, had largely been undefeated that understanding how Napoleon was defeated was viewed as essential to future commanders for learning how to overcome odds and achieve victory.

Waterloo’s paving of the way towards our modern understanding of Europe cannot be ignored. It is a perfect example of international cooperation to defeat a common enemy, as Prussian and British forces united to beat the French and save western Europe. As Time pointed out in their article, it played a role in the eventual conceptualization of NATO and the UN, as Wellington’s army consisted of Prussians, British, the Dutch, and other smaller German states, coalesced into a grand alliance. While not the first example of such alliances in warfare, it is one of the more important because of the level of change the outcome of the battle had on European history and geography.

Finally, Waterloo seems to fascinate us because it is one of the last examples in military history of a major pitched battle of forces standing shoulder to shoulder across a field in brightly colored uniforms. Historical wargamers remain enamored with the Napoleonic period, with one man fighting the battle in 6mm (you can view a video of it here). It is one of the last, if not the last, major battle involving flintlock muskets, as technological changes coming by the mid-19th century would render the tactics in the battle obsolete, though leaders still used them, with deadly results (i.e. American Civil War).

As Europe reflects on 100 years since World War I, the next major conflagration to consume the continent, they reflect on the battle that ended an era, while setting in motion the forces that contributed in various ways to that next European war. Waterloo will always have a place in history and continues to provide valuable lessons to succeeding generations. We remember Wellington’s stunning victory, which propelled him to a successful career in British politics, including Prime Minister, as well as a man exiled in defeat, having once come close to being the master of Europe. How different Europe might be were it not for one battle 200 years ago.

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Napoleonic Wars, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Review of Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on May 21, 2015

Gabriele Esposito, Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70: Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay & Argentina (Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2015). Maps, Illustrations, Photographs, Index. 48pp. $17.95.

This book provides a succinct overview of one of the bloodiest conflicts in South American history, a war that devastated the population of Paraguay. Gabriele Esposito did an outstanding job of illustrating the significance of the War of the Triple Alliance to military history in Latin America. Esposito’s text on the various phases and forces of the war was aided by illustrator Giuseppe Rava, who provided the artistic talent to the work. Part of Osprey Publishing’s Men at Arms series, this work represents an important contribution to Latin American history for those interested in a brief overview of this historical event.

Esposito examined all aspects of the conflict, including its background. He noted its unusual origins, as Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano Lopez sought to cement his place as the Napoleon of Latin America and conquer neighboring territory to allow his landlocked nation access to the Atlantic. Having served as commander of the Paraguayan army for the previous twenty years, Lopez’s ambition caused him to lead his nation into a disastrous conflict.

After brief overviews of the major campaigns and battles of the war, the work then turns to the specifics of the opposing forces, including equipment, leadership, and organization. The text was aided by rich drawings, period photographs, and beautiful artwork that demonstrated the overwhelming influence of the French military tradition that was prevalent in the Western Hemisphere armies, as evidenced by the similarities between the uniforms of Paraguay and Triple Alliance (Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina), and those of the Union and Confederate armies. While the war began as the American Civil War was concluding, the descriptions provided of the arms and uniforms used by the belligerents indicate significant contributions from European powers, especially Britain, as well as the United States. Esposito noted that the Argentinian Army used sky blue cloth exported by the US for its trousers, similar to what Union troops used, as well as Uruguay’s use of the 1853 Enfield rifle musket, which was used by both Union and Confederate forces (40, 42).

One thing that is important to note with this conflict is the profound influence of other modern wars that occurred approximately at the same time, including the Crimean War, Austro-Prussian War, and the Civil War, on the War of the Triple Alliance. Esposito stressed the important distinctions of this conflict, being the first modern war in South American military history, utilizing telegraph communications, weaponry, use of railroads, and balloon observation (4). This war was a bloody affair, with the population of Paraguay suffering immensely. Esposito noted that the country lost between 65-70 percent of its population as a result of the war, taking decades to recover (3). Paraguay fought a long and bloody guerrilla war until 1876 and Brazil and Argentina annexed roughly half of the nation’s territory. Not only was Paraguay utterly humiliated, it suffered a demographic shock, as less than 30,00o of the 160,000 Paraguayans left alive after the war were male, with the ratio of females to males averaging 4 to 1, with some particularly devastated areas having a ratio of 20 to 1 (22). The people of Paraguay suffered because its foolhardy dictator, with a Napoleonic complex, led it into a war it was unprepared for, a war that claimed his own life.

Esposito’s brief study of this war is a wonderful examination of a major conflict that had profound consequences for the development of South America, but has largely faded from the larger historical memory of the world. Through outstanding research and great artwork, the various forces that fought for control over the Platine region of South America appear as a mix of professionally-trained soldiers and untrained militia, thrust into a major conflagration that proved bloodier (in proportion) that the larger American Civil War. Osprey did an outstanding job of providing information on the men who fought in the War of the Triple Alliance and this is a fine contribution to the larger Men at Arms series that will prove useful to those seeking general knowledge on the war, as well as those who may be interested in wargaming the conflict in miniature and want to know how to paint the forces.

If you have a passing interest in Latin American military history, Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance should be on your list of books to read and acquire, as it will provide a great introduction and lead you towards further reading and exploration on this pivotal conflict.

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Other military history, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Remember the Alamo!-even 179 years later

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on March 6, 2015

Today, March 6, marks the 179th anniversary of the ending of the siege at the Alamo in Texas. This event has gone down in American mythology as a stirring sacrifice for liberty against a repressive Mexican government. The battle and site are etched in Texas memory, being regarded as the cradle of Texas liberty, akin to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The siege lasted about two weeks, with a handful of Texans (numbers vary from 185-260) battling the Mexican army, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who commanded 1800 men. The Texans held out against the odds as long as they could, until the Mexican forces finally stormed the mission, at present-day San Antonio, killing the defenders, including William Travis, Davey Crockett, and Jim Bowie, among the well-known defenders.

The Texans had come to settle under provisions of the General Colonization Law, which allowed foreigners to acquire land in Texas and be exempt from taxes for four years, with no requirement to become a Mexican citizen, or Catholic, which was the state religion. Mexico had reasons for attempting to attract settlers to Texas, as the land was sparsely populated and they hoped that settlement would spur economic growth in the area. Immigrants enjoyed a federalist system of government under Mexico’s Constitution of 1824. However, the growing American population eventually alarmed the Mexican government, who began efforts to restrict such immigration and eventually rescinded the law, and Santa Anna’s centralist government and its policies, which angered Texans, used to federalism from previous governments and the United States, chose to revolt and fight for independence.

With the small force at the Alamo engaged, attempts were made by Travis to get reinforcements from Col. James Fannin, but failed, leaving the force to face off against Santa Anna’s army, which was a formidable force. After several days, Santa Anna overwhelmed the garrison and captured the Alamo, with the loss of all Texan soldiers. After the battle, the Texas army faced a brief panic, but soon rallied around the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo” and defeated Santa Anna on April 21 at the Battle of San Jacinto, which forced Mexico to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas.

This event has been commemorated in many ways since its actual occurrence, including a song by Marty Robbins, the series Davey Crockett, which inspired a coonskin cap craze among baby boomer children in the 1950s, and the John Wayne movie The Alamo (1960). These portrayals often jarred with reality, and, recent attempts to dramatize the battle in the movie The Alamo (2004) have garnered great praise. The Alamo has sparked controversy as well, including whether or not all the combatants were killed, and the nature of Texas as a state.

However, one thing is certain. the defenders fought against long odds and went to their graves defending in a cause they believed in. They gave their lives to maintain the way of life they had known and to resist attempts to curtail their freedom. For that, the siege of the Alamo and its fall must be remembered for their influence on the eventual creation of one of our largest states, as well as their impact on the long history of Mexican-American relations. The Alamo remains the largest tourist attraction in Texas and a reminder to succeeding generations to remember what happened there.

Remember the Alamo!

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Conflict, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review of The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618-1850

Posted by William Young on December 17, 2012

International History

Frederick C. Schneid, editor. The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618-1850. History of Warfare series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012. ISBN 978-90-04-22671-5. Notes. Index. Pp. xiv, 224. $144.00 (hardcover).

Frederick C. SchneidDr Frederick C. Schneid, Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at High Point University, presents a collection of essays from the Gunther E. Rothenberg Seminars in Military History held at High Point University in North Carolina.  Schneid is a historian of the Napoleonic Wars and Wars of Italian Independence.  His studies include Soldiers of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy: Army, State and Society, 1800-1815 (1995), Napoleon’s Italian Campaigns, 1805-1815 (2002), and Napoleon’s Conquest of Europe: The War of the Third Coalition (2005), Napoleonic Wars (2012), and The Second War of Italian Unification, 1859-1861 (2012).

This collection of essays explores the common issue of projection and limitations of imperial powers by European states and the United States from the Thirty…

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Posted in 19th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1494-1648), Early Modern European (1648-1792), Napoleonic Wars | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Book Review of A Duel of Nations: Germany, France, and the Diplomacy of the War of 1870-1871

Posted by William Young on October 16, 2012

International History

David Wetzel. A Duel of Nations: Germany, France, and the Diplomacy of the War of 1870-1871. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-299-29134-1. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliographical Essay. Index. Pp. xvi, 310. $26.95.

The German Wars of Unification (1864-1871) have received attention by military historians in the last decade or so.  Moreover, the origins of the conflicts are well served by diplomatic historians.  However, the actual diplomacy that took place during the last of the three conflicts, the Franco-Prussian War (or War of 1870-1871), has been ignored, until now.  In A Duel of Nations, Dr David Wetzel, Visiting Lecturer in History at the University of California at Berkeley, explores the personalities and diplomacy involved in the making of the armistice, preliminary peace treaty, and finally the Treaty of Frankfurt (May 1871). Wetzel is known for his previous diplomatic studies The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History (1985) and A…

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Posted in 19th Century Military History, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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