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Osprey Publishing examines the Forts of the Frontier

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 26, 2015

Originally posted at Frontier Battles

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast, 1600-1763. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2010. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch, and Swedish colonies. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Many of you may be familiar with Osprey Publishing, which produces hundreds of titles related to military history on a variety of subjects. Those interested in the forts of the British colonies and New France will enjoy two titles that Osprey released a few years ago. Forts were important to the history of the colonial frontier, as some of the pivotal battles of the wars that occurred in North America between Britain and France were fought for control over fortifications (ex. Forts Duquesne, Carillon, and the fortress of Louisbourg). Therefore, understanding them and how they were constructed is important to understanding the broader competition for empire in North America.

In 2010, Osprey released The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast 1600–1763 by Rene Chartrand. The book is a wonderful introduction to the various levels of fortifications and change over time of them across France’s far-flung colonial empire in North America. Several would be fought over during the series of wars between France and Britain (King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War).

The book is beautifully illustrated, as is customary for Osprey products, with several plates devoted to different forts in New France. The book follows a chronological and geographical flow, examining the forts of each region of New France (Gulf Coast, Plains, and Great Lakes region) from the earliest period of French colonial activity to the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when France was expelled and the territory transferred to British control.

The garrison sizes were discussed, as most forts in the regions were smaller affairs, served by only a couple dozen troops. In addition to establishing French claim over the area, the forts served as centers of trade and establishments of relations with Native Americans. Many of the early forts were established specifically to facilitate trade with Native American groups, especially those in the Great Lakes area (the Pays d’en Haut). Most forts were simple wooden construction and relatively small, but some grew into very large stone fortifications by the eighteenth century.

The forts covered allowed France to maintain its authority over such a vast swath of North America and make its claims over areas. They also served as scenes for the struggle for empire between Britain and France, and with Native Americans in North America. One fort that I was delighted to see included was Fort de Chartres in southern Illinois. I have visited this restored post several times, as it is only a couple hours from my hometown. The book discussed to two distinct fortifications at the site, first wooden, later replaced by stone, both under constant threat from the Mississippi River.

Like the French, the English (later British), Dutch, and Swedes established forts in their colonies to serve as places to claim territory, establish trade with Native Americans, and protect their imperial frontier from French and Native incursion. In The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch and Swedish colonies (2011), Chartrand examined the history of fortifications built by the English, Dutch, and Swedes during the 17th century and the conquest of the latter by the English. Later, these sites became the backbone of British control over its North American colonies and the front line of defense when war with France raged. Like the French, these forts also started as smaller, simple wood-constructed stockades, with some growing into larger wooden fortifications, or taking on stone facades.

This book provides a wonderful general introduction to early colonial history along the American coast and traces the history inland, as Britain begins to establish inland forts. Several forts are illustrated in beautiful color plates that attempt to show readers what they may have looked like in their day. One fort that is featured is Fort William Henry, site of a major siege during the French and Indian War that was later novelized and dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and its film adaptations.

Rene Chartrand was an excellent choice to write these works, as his background is fitting for writing such works for a broad audience seeking a general informative overview. He served as curator for over three decades for Canada’s National Historic Sites before venturing into freelance writing. This allows him to write the works for the casual reader that is seeking knowledge on the broad subject as opposed to a deep academic analysis.

Both books provide wonderful information about the subjects they cover, including detailed maps, chronological tables of key events, as well as glossaries of terms related to the subjects, allowing readers who do not have the background to better appreciate the subject covered. Though geared towards general readers and non-academic audiences, these two books are great for those seeking to get an introduction to the forts of colonial America and some basic factual information surrounding them. They serve as a springboard for diving into other literature on the subjects of fortifications, New France, British America, relations with Native Americans, colonial military history, and a bit of engineering.

Well-researched and illustrated, these two books are worth having on your shelf if remotely interested in colonial era fortifications. While they focus on the sites of empire, Osprey also suggests other related titles that deal with the troops of the various imperial powers fighting for control of North America. At less than $15, these books are a great deal to begin building a library on colonial history and can be enjoyed by readers both young and old, though I would say a good minimum age for these works would be around 12-14 given the subject matter and terms used.

If a fan of Osprey books, or just a casual interested person looking for something different, certainly give these two works a try.

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

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 »

They shoot horses, don’t they?

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on April 2, 2013

They shoot horses, don’t they?

By Dan Wilson

There is a battle scene in the movie “Braveheart” in which a mounted English soldier is charging Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, sword in hand, with the clear intent of delivering a killing blow to Wallace when we see Wallace duck, swing his broadsword parallel to the ground, unhorsing his antagonist who is quickly killed by Wallace.

What we are spared from seeing by the careful editing is the amputation of the foreleg of the charging horse which allowed horse and rider to be brought to the ground. The scene allows the viewer to interpret the event without the graphic image of the amputation, this, in a movie in which the viewer is treated to dozens of images of human decapitation and loss of body parts.

As a kid growing up the in the fifties and sixties I had a steady diet of cowboy movies and there is one staple of most of those movies—a group of menacing Indians on horseback circling a fortification, group of settlers, a wagon train or dismounted cavalry, and we see many of the Indians falling neatly from their horses as they are picked off by their besiegers. The horses of course, run off, riderless.

This is the image that perhaps most, if not all people, have of mounted warfare. But at some point, logic must intervene. In actual battle, it was the horse more often than the rider, that got shot, not only because of their much larger mass, hence providing a much larger target, but the kind of marksmanship required to hit the much smaller rider would be beyond the skill level of the average soldier.

But, that doesn’t make for good cinema and moreover, viewers would avoid any movie that showed carnage to animals.

I would argue that squeamishness has distorted our view of history as well, especially the history of mounted warfare. I would venture a guess that I could ask any number of historians how many soldiers were killed in the American Civil War and they would all provide the answer of 650,00 to 700,000 but if I would to ask how many horses and mules were killed they would probably draw a blank (1 million or so.)  Or try WWI (about 8 million).

Horses are treated as collateral damage. Even the death of a horse is regarded in dismissive terminology. “He had his horse shot out from under him”  is the common phrase. Napoleon for example, during the course of his military career had numerous “horses shot out from under him.” The very term implies that someone aimed too low and oops, the horse got killed even though that horse acted as a shield and took the bullet, arrow, or projectile instead of its rider.

In reality, horses make for a better target, and unhorsing the rider is just as effective in removing the  threat as killing the rider. Warriors made no distinction between horse and rider in combat. War is brutal and animals suffered from that same brutality.

At the Battle of Agincourt (1415) the English defeated a much larger French force consisting largely of mounted knights. The English longbowmen unleashed volleys of arrows at the knights, who were armored. But their horses were not.

“As always the horses suffered most from the arrows, becoming unmanageable, bolting, while those that did reach English lines were impaled on the six-foot stakes that were at a horse’s breast-high.”[1]

Historians agree that at Agincourt the panicking and injured horses threw their armored riders who, virtually helpless on the ground, were then easy prey for English troops armed with maces and axes. Some accounts describe the horses looking like pincushions from the arrows.

Some historians have raised questions about historical accounts of mounted warfare. J. Edward Chamberlin studied the tactics of ancient war chariots.

“The standard account has it that battle engagement involved chariot charges. But a big question mark  is in order here. As historians who know about horses have pointed out, the clashes that would have been an inevitable—and indeed intentional—part of any chariot (or cavalry) charge would have been devastating for the horses. So why would any serious warrior, unless absolutely required, indulge in them? Horses were too valuable to but put at such risk, and given the number of horses used to pull chariots, the losses would have been catastrophic.”[2]

Chamberlin posits that chariots were most likely used to transport warriors quickly to needed trouble spots to fight as a mobile strike force from a stationary position rather than the images left us in bas relief of an archer firing arrows at an enemy from a moving chariot.

“For the soldier riding “shotgun” with the driver able to fire an arrow or throw a javelin with any accuracy during a charge, the chariots would have to be going at one of two speeds: a full gallop or a slow cantor…Going flat out at a full gallop, a chariot could not turn quickly and avoid a collision. And at a slow canter, it would become an easy target.”[3]

Horses could also sustain more damage and give their riders a greater chance of escaping harm.

Ann Hyland cites numerous graphic examples of horses’ sufferings in medieval warfare among those the Bayeaux Tapestry, the artistic depiction of the Battle of Hastings (1066).

The tapestry “shows three horses being violently overturned. One has an empty saddle as his rider pitches off, another no saddle at all, and the rider of the third has been thrown forward on to his horse’s neck obviously injured, while an Englishman wields a lance against him and at the same time jerks the horses girth loose. Yet another horse, still upright, has his skull cloven by an axe. In the border below two riderless horses gallop away from the conflict. Grouped together, this scene shows more of violence and its costs than the rest of the tapestry, indicates that horse losses were heavy, and illustrates the type of wounds suffered by the animals..”[4]

She describes this engagement from the Crusades.

“In an encounter with a Frank his horse was hit beside the throat-latch and its head skewed to one side, the lance coming out of the lower end of the neck (near the withers) and piercing Kamil al-Mashtub’s thigh. Both horse and rider survived; the horse was again injured severely in a later engagement by a lance thrust into the frontal bone (of the forehead) which forced it inward. Even when healed, the hole was big enough for man’s fist…Other horses suffered mortal wounds. One had its heart pierced in combat at Hims, and while arterial blood was pumping out still carried Usamah out of danger before collapsing and dying.”[5]

She describes another mount in the same action “even with its entrails spilling out, and strapped up by a surcingle to stop it treading on them, it stayed on its feet through the battle.”[6]

The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (1854) is illustrative. With the invention of gunpowder cavalry tactics had to adapt, often timing a head-on charge while infantry troops were reloading. But these attacks became more infrequent as the firepower increased. The ill-fated charge of the brigade on an artillery emplacement at Balaclava shows the effect projectiles have on mounted horses.

Thanks to Tennyson’s poem the common belief is that the majority of “The 600” were wiped out, but that was true of the horses, not the riders. Out of 673 men, 113 were killed and about 180 were wounded. However, 460 horses were killed outright or had to be dispatched due to wounds. About one-sixth of the men were lost compared to two-thirds of the horses.

So were horses targeted? We know that it was common knowledge that horse-drawn artillery were always a target, especially the horses, because disabling one horse was enough to disable the team.

But as to battle tactics the historical record is scant.

Robert Watt’s treatise on the Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s campaign against the Apache Indians from 1879 to 1881 reveals horses became the targets as the Apaches, fighting on foot learned that by killing or disabling the cavalry’s horses they could achieve a tactical advantage. Horses were harder to replace than the men.

“The Apaches wrought the most extensive damage by deliberately targeting the regiment’s horses and mules in ambushes. They also led the Ninth Cavalry on long, grueling pursuits across difficult terrain that eventually wore down or killed the unit’s mounts.[7]

Watt writes, “By June 1880, the Apaches had effectively dismounted the Ninth Cavalry.”[8]

Watt was able to utilize the army’s records of animal losses to show the devastating effects of the Apache tactics.

“Approximately 271 of the 395 horses lost by the Ninth Cavalry from 1879 to 1880 can be directly or indirectly credited to hostile Apache action…Indeed, of the 42 horses lost in August 1881, 33 were shot dead by Apaches.”[9]

As a result, the campaign against the Apaches was a failure.

“The regiment faced opponents whose principals of war struck consistently at its weakest point: the ability to supply its companies with sufficient horses and mules and to keep those animals alive in the field.”[10]

Admittedly the historical record on animal casualties is meager and more research needs to be conducted. However, we should not think of horses as bystanders who sometimes get killed by chance. The outcome of battles was measured in human casualties. Although horses were participants and their casualties mattered as to the outcome as well, they are not included in that calculus. They were targeted more often than we care to think because they were instruments of war and those instruments had to be destroyed.

 


[1]    Desmond Seward, “The Hundred Years War”, 1978. P. 166.

[2]    J. Edward Chamberlin, “How the Horse Has Shaped Civilization..” 2006. Pp 151-152.

[3]    Chamberlin, P. 152.

[4]    Ann Hyland, “Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades.” 1996. P. 97.

[5]    Hyland, P. 165.

[6]    Hyland, P. 165

[7]    Robert N. Watt, “Horses worn to mere shadows”, The Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s Campaign Against the Apaches in New Mexico Territory, 1879-1881. The New Mexico Historical Review, Spring 2011. P. 197.

[8]    Watt, p. 201.

[9]    Watt, p. 205.

[10]  Watt., p. 218

Posted in Conflict, Medieval Military History, Other military history, World Military History (1500-1700), World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Book Review of Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach

Posted by William Young on March 1, 2013

International History

Donald Stoker, Kenneth J. Hagan, and Michael T. McMaster, editors. Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach. Cass Military Studies series. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-36734-9. Notes. Tables. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 244. $145.00 (hardcover).

Strategy in the American War of IndependenceThe international aspect of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) has traditionally been downplayed by American historians.  Important exceptions would be Samuel Flagg Bemis’ The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (1957)  and Jonathan R. Dull’s A Diplomatic History of the Revolution (1985).  In Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach, an international group of experts contribute essays that show the global and multilateral angles of the conflict from a strategic perspective.  The authors demonstrate that the American struggle for independence “was inescapably enmeshed in the military and diplomatic affairs of the rest of the world” (p.xvii).  The American War of Independence was a very complex global conflict.

Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)American strategy was…

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Posted in American Military History, Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1648-1792), World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

 
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