Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

A Hessian

Dear Readers-Happy Halloween!

Did you know, one of the most enduring Halloween legends, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, has its roots in the Kabinettskriege era?

In this tale, a school teacher is chased out of town by the a ghastly apparition of a cavalrymen with no head!
Legend has it, that the headless rider was actually a Hessian soldier! (See my post on Hessians here.) According to myth, this soldier was decapitated by a cannonball, during the American War of Independence, and now roams the countryside of North America!

This legend has been continued by the new TV series, Sleepy Hollow, but that is a tale for another time!

Have a Happy Halloween, and don't let the Hessians get you!

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What's Next?

Dear Reader,

What do you want to hear about next on Kabinettskriege?

A. General information about Wars in the Eighteenth Century
B. Battle Anniversaries: I do detailed posts about battles, as they happen during the year
C. Unit Histories: Have a Kabinettskriege era unit you want info about? Let me know and I'll research them.
D. You Pick- Tell me what you want to hear about in the comments. 

Let me know your choice in the comments below. 

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns 

The Ottomans in the Kabinettskriege Period (الامبراطورية العثمانية التحليل العسكري)

Al-Niẓām Al-Jadīd parade before Selim III
Dear Reader,

In a previous post, I examined the military units of the Ottoman Empire in the Kabinettskriege period. At the beginning of the Kabinettskriege period, the Ottoman empire stretched from Saudi Arabia to the gates of Vienna, and from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. It was the largest empire in Europe, or Africa, during the Kabinettskriege period. At the beginning of the Kabinettskriege era, the Ottoman Empire was the undisputed master of south eastern part of Europe, known as the Balkans. None of the European powers alone could challenge the Ottoman Empire, so in the late part of the 17th century, several of them joined forces- the Austrian Habsburgs, the Poles, and the Russians. This alliance was known as, "the Holy League," though there was little "Holy" in what they set out to do- dismantle the lands of the Ottoman Empire.

Map of the Ottoman Empire in 1683
This conflict became known as "the War of the Holy League." The combined forces of the three Christian nations proved to much for the Ottomans, and they began to lose the war. 1683 was a significant year for the Ottomans- it marked their last attempt at domination in central Europe. The massive battle of Vienna, (German: Schlacht von Kahlenburg) on the 11th and 12th of September, 1683, blunted an Ottoman offensive towards Vienna.

The Germans wrote a song, "Prinz Eugen der elde Ritter," to commemorate this victory. You can listen to a modern rendition of it today, here. Please be aware that the song presents a very biased version of events.

This loss enabled the Holy League to accomplish its goals. Much of the Balkans returned to Habsburg control, the Poles gained significant parts of the Ukraine, and the Russians took the coastal fortress of Azov on the Black Sea. Here, they were led by a young man, known as Peter I of Russia. He would eventually become Peter the Great.

A young Ottoman soldier trains with a Snapchance Musket
The next major war between the Ottomans and the powers of Europe occurred in the 1730s. Austria and Russia joined forces, (as the Poles had gone into a deep decline) and attempted to conquer more of the Ottoman lands.

Here, the Ottomans recovered, and they were able to deal the Austrians several defeats. The battle of Banja Luka, on the 4th of August, 1737, was an Ottoman victory, despite being outnumbered by the Austrian forces. On July 22nd, 1739, the Ottoman army took up ambush positions near Grocka, and decisively defeated the Austrians, decimating the Austrian cavalry with musket fire. When the Austrian infantry came up, the Ottomans fought until nightfall, and the Austrians withdrew. This battle was even more significant, as it prevented the Austrians from lifting the siege of Belgrade, which fell shortly after the battle. This combination of factors forced the Austrians to sign a separate peace.

Despite these successes, the Ottoman Empire was on a downward slide from power for most of the 16th century. Why? There are a variety of factors. Some include inadequate leadership, failure to keep up with European tactical reforms, and a focus on individual bravery, rather than unit cohesion.

Here is another reason:
Ottoman Weapons of the 18th Century
See these muskets? The majority of the infantry long firearms are snapchance muskets. (I explain muskets in this post.) These muskets are not as reliable as the flintlock muskets employed by the Europeans. In addition, none of these muskets seem to have a bayonet lug. Without a way to attach a bayonet, Ottoman infantry would have been more vulnerable to European cavalry attacks, even if the soldiers were proficient in the use of the sword.

With inferior firearms, and inadequate reforms, the Ottoman Empire was unable to maintain its cutting edge, which had enabled conquests for most of the early portion of its existence.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

History and Historical Suffering

A Village burned by Napalm in Vietnam
Dear Reader,

The past is serious business. For the majority of human existence, suffering has dominated human experience. People have done awful things to each other throughout history. This has happened, more often then not, during time of war.

There are times when being a historian is all fun and games. This past weekend, I had the chance to go the 18th century market fair at Locust Grove, and meet with professor Daniel Krebs. (I reviewed Dr. Krebs book here.) However, as much as I might try to make it fun, the past remains a dark and dangerous place, full of suffering and death. We make hobbies out of the lives of the dead.

However much we might try to present it as fun, or enjoyable in wargames, or reenactments, it remains a serious business. That is one of the reasons why I respect serious wargamers and reenactors, such as Dean West, and Doug Roush, who are committed to portraying the past accurately to the public, and encourage that the public learn the wider context of the events, not just the micro-history of the unit they study.

On the right, you can see a soldier being forced to "run the gauntlet"-a task which often killed the victim. 
As a historian, especially as military historian, I am faced with human suffering every time I open a book. Baroness von Riedesel, one of the diarists of the American War of Independence, recorded the death of General Fraser after the Battle of Bemis Heights. Her account is as follows:

"Toward three o'clock in the afternoon, instead of my dinner guests arriving as expected, poor General Fraser, who was to have been one of them, was brought to me on a stretcher, mortally wounded. The table, which had already been set for dinner, was removed, and a bed for the General was put in its place. The noise of the firing grew constantly louder. The thought that perhaps my husband would also be brought home wounded was terrifying, and worried me incessantly. The General said to the doctor, "Don't conceal anything from me! Must I die?" The bullet had gone through his abdomen... and through {his intestines.} I often heard him exclaim, between moans, "Oh fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! Poor Mrs. Fraser."

The people of the past lived just as we do. They had hopes, dreams, loves, and friendships. And they died. Often in horrible pain, long before they would have died of natural causes.

There are times when I cannot read source material, because the pain contained in it is too great.

Bodies from the gas attack in Syria, on August 21st
My way of looking at the world was forever changed by the gas attacks this summer in Syria. This attack sent me into a depression. It changed the way I view humanity, God, and the world we live in.

In my mind, there are three ways of dealing with suffering you see around you in the present, but does not directly you:

1. You can choose to feel sympathy, but do nothing, and return to your way of life.

2. You can choose to believe that God is working through the suffering, and will give final justice.

3. You can resolve to take action, and work to address the suffering around you, which you can directly influence. (e.g. I cannot end the war in Syria. I can give the homeless man on my street $5.)

I cannot speak for the my readers, but I plan to take the third course of action. God helps those who help themselves, and help each other.

"We think to much, and feel to little.
More than machinery, we need humanity.
More than cleverness, we need kindness."

"-The Great Dictator"

Some thinking music:

Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Alex Burns 

If you liked this post, let me know in the comments below! Feel free to follow the blog. Its free, and lets me know that you enjoy what I'm doing-basically the only reason I write this thing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Report: 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove

Changing of the "Town Guard" at Locust Grove
Dear Reader,

This weekend, in Louisville, Kentucky, the Locust Grove plantation hosted the 7th annual 18th Century Market Fair. Locust Grove is a mansion, the retirement home of Revolutionary War era hero George Rogers Clark. In this event, vendors set up tents in front of the mansion, and military camps are set up in the valleys on each side of the mansion.

It was especially nice, as I got to see the friends I made earlier this year at Koh-Koh-Mah in the Regiment von Riedesel.

Crown forces battle line on Saturday Afternoon
I was lucky enough to be in attendance both days, and surprisingly, the Crown forces won the battle both of the days. Sunday's battle was reminiscent of the Battle of Eutaw Springs: the rebel forces sacked the Crown camp, but the Crown forces returned to win the battle.

During the sack of the camp, an elderly but still hale German nurse was seen beating the rebel soldiers about the head and shoulders with a large wooden spoon. The German regiment sent up several cheers for this display of bravery.

Camp Life at Locust Grove

Finally, here is a link to a video of the battle:

It was a wonderful time, and I would encourage anyone able to travel to the Louisville area to go next year.

Thanks for reading,

Alexander Burns

(All photos shamelessly stolen from my friend David.)

If you liked this post, let me know in the comments below! Feel free to follow the blog. Its free, and lets me know that you enjoy what I'm doing-basically the only reason I write this thing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: A Generous and Merciful Enemy

Cover Art
Dear Readers,

Until the advent of the "New Military History," most historians focused on the campaigns, battles, and great leaders of history. In the past fifty years, military historians have begun to examine previously unexplored aspects of military history, including prisoners of war.  Historian Daniel Krebs has recently covered the role of prisoners of war for the western German auxiliary soldiers during the American War of Independence. This book, an expansion of his dissertation, is entitled:  A Generous and Merciful Enemy: Life for German Prisoners of War during the American Revolution. 

Confused who exactly these German soldiers in the American Revolution were? Click here for an explanation! 

In his book, Krebs discusses all portions of life for the German prisoners of war. He gives excellent coverage to all portions of prisoner experience. His writing style is easy to read and engaging, a spectacular feat for a non-native English writer. Krebs divides the book into three sections: German soldiers in British Service, Into Captivity, and Prisoners of War.

In practical terms, the first section discusses recruitment and social composition of the subsidy soldiers. The second section explains the rituals of surrender and the difference between capture and surrender. Finally, the third section discusses the experiences of the various groups of German prisoners in the American War of Independence, and their eventual return to their native states. 

Krebs indicates that his overall goal is to write- Geschichte aus den Perspektive des gemeiner Soldat, or, history from the from the bottom up. Krebs amply succeeds in this goal, through a use primary source accounts, extensive German secondary literature, and statistical data.

This is not a book covering the military actions of the western German soldiers in the Revolution. For coverage of the campaigns of the "Hessians," the best work is still Rodney Atwoods' The Hessians. However, Krebs provides historians and historical hobbyists with an essential reference work for understanding the life of the western Germans who traveled to fight in the American Revolution.

For any serious student of the western German auxiliaries, or even of the American Revolution as a whole, this book is a must read. You can buy it here.

Thanks for reading,

Alexander Burns

If you liked this post, let me know in the comments below! Feel free to follow the blog. Its free, and lets me know that you enjoy what I'm doing-basically the only reason I write this thing. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shameless Promotion: 12 Years a Slave

Promotional Poster
Dear Readers,

I think you know me well enough to realize that I don't usually use this blog to promote products. I don't advertise. But I think that you should all make an effort to go see the upcoming film 12 Years a Slave. I will justify this in a few points.

1. This is a film based on the reading of a primary source document. As opposed to other historical drama's, which are set in history, but based on fiction (such as Last of the Mohicans) 12 Years a Slave is based on the historical account of Solomon Northup. This is one of the best sources we have for antebellum slavery, and is often quoted in scholarly publications.

2. American Slavery was truly awful. When I first entered college, I had no idea how terrible American Slavery was, and I don't think I will ever fully comprehend it. These people lived, breathed, and had wants and desires just like us, and they were enslaved. Hessian soldiers saw the hypocrisy of the colonists who wanted to be free from Britain, but not address the issue of slavery. Americans should be confronted with this aspect of our heritage. 

3. Many modern American's think that slavery was some kind of joke. I recall speaking to one of my acquaintances growing up, trying to convince me that it would be cool to own a slave. I could not quite buy it, even at a young age. All that most people remember about the Civil War is that General Lee was good at fighting. 600,000 Americans died to free these enslaved  African Americans.  

4. Some individuals are claiming that Obamacare is the next worst thing to happen since American Slavery. This cannot be believed by anyone who has read anything historical, and those people need to watch this movie. 

Anyway, enough with the promo. Here is a link to the trailer.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns 

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Popular" History: The reenactor, the wargamer, and the professional historian

A picture of the Regiment von Reidesel, taken shamelessly from their Facebook page

Dear Reader,

I have been thinking a lot about the role of the historian lately. It is my heart's desire to be a traditional professional historian/college professor. Specifically, my field of interest, (as you might have guessed, reading this blog) is military history of the Kabinettskriege period. (Unsure of what Kabiettskriege means? click here for an explanation.)

In the first post of this blog, I claimed that the warfare of the Kabinettskriege era should not be the exclusive domain of hobbyists and enthusiasts. This is my opinion, not because there is anything wrong with the hobbies associated with warfare, but because the past is a different country, and it requires research from professional historians to understand the past, and make that understanding available to the public.

The more I read, and the more I travel to historical events, the more apparent it is that there is a rift between professional historians, and historical impressionists, such as reenactors and wargamers. (For an interesting post about this, see the blog of historian Paul Lockhart.)

I mean, come on, who doesn't want to play with these guys?

Historians' complaints about Reenactors/Wargamers:

There are three common complaints I hear from historians about those in the historical hobby community.

The first complaint is that they are doing more harm then good by repeating historical myths to the public. This complaint is a legitimate concern. Despite an excellent monograph stating to the contrary, people still claim that "Baron" von Steuben was not a member of the nobility. While he wasn't a "baron" in the tradition sense (the German word is Freiherr), he was a member of the Prussian aristocracy, a sort of noble middle manager. History is incredibly complex, and the subtleties are often lost in wargaming and reenacting.

The second complaint is that reenactors (and wargamers) often claim to be historians, when they don't have the training or the intelligence to actually be historians. One definition of an historian, from the Princeton online dictionary is: "A person who is an authority about history, and studies and writes about it." In my experience, reenactors and wargamers usually meet two of the requirements: they study the past and are regarded by the general population as authorities on history.

Finally, and most worryingly in my opinion, reenactors and wargamers seemingly glorify war and violence. This is especially concerning when examining more modern reenactors, such as World War 2 reenactors. However, with that being said, the reenactors and wargamers I know realize that the past was awful. Dying on an eighteenth century battlefield would have been one of the most horrific things imaginable. With this in mind, what is the right response? Ban reenactments? wargames? non-accurate historical films?

Dr. Christopher Duffy lecturing at a wargame convention

A change in tactics is the answer:

I view myself as a professional historian: someone who makes the acquiring and distribution of historical knowledge into a career. Most reenactors or wargamers might say that they are historians, but they would never claim to be making a career out of being an historian. (Unless of course, they were also professional historians.)

I think that professional historians are looking at reenactors and wargamers entirely the wrong way. As opposed to viewing them as an annoyance, or as the perverters of the past, we should attempt to come alongside reenactors and other historical hobbyists. They are an incredible opportunity-they are fun, interesting, and their activities are exciting-everything we lack as historians.

The reenactment and wargaming community has a wide base: much wider than the readership of historical monographs. Reenactors and wargamers give professional historians a chance to reach the general public. If they are telling the public about non-factual events, it is our responsibility to get the right information into the hands of these historical enthusiasts.

Historical hobbyists are NOT our enemies-and they have the potential to become our allies. Dr. Christopher Duffy has been taking this approach for a long time, by coming to the Seven Years' War convention in South Bend, Indiana. If more historians followed his example, perhaps there would not be such a disconnect between professional historians and historical hobbyists.

The fact of the matter is, history is not interesting to most people. Declining numbers in history departments around the country tell us this. We can only appeal to the mind through writing. Reenactors are historians of the senses, the give us the sight, smell sound and touch of history. When combined with historical writing, this can help the general public to better understand the past. It also allows us to sell more books- never a bad thing.

Sorry, this one got a bit long. More on the actual Kabinettskriege period to come.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

If you liked this post, let me know in the comments below! Feel free to follow the blog. Its free, and lets me know that you enjoy what I'm doing-basically the only reason I write this thing. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Special Report: Feast of the Hunters' Moon

Dear Reader,

Yesterday I had the singular good fortune of participating in the 46th Annual Feast of the Hunter's Moon. I marched with unit of Brunswicks (Regiment von Reidesel/Zastrow) I met at Koh-Koh-Mah, (See that post here)

Sadly, I was unable to take any pictures, as I had my hands full with a British land pattern musket. I was able to find one video of us marching by! You can see myself and the other Brunswickers at 00:35 to 00:42 of the following link.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Soldatenhandel oder Subsidientruppen?

Contemporary drawing of a Hessian by a British newspaper

Dear Reader,

In American society today, we tend to have a negative view of mercenaries. Many Americans who support the American military distrust or dislike the idea of mercenary soldiers. The United Nations Mercenary Convention prohibits the use of mercenaries, and has been signed by thirty two countries. Why do we have such a negative opinion about this line of work?

As you might have guessed, the answer can be found in the eighteenth century. Throughout the eighteenth century, western German states such as Hesse-Kassel and Brunswick rented out their armed forces. In the American Revolution, roughly 1/3rd of the total forces employed by the British were regiments of these German soldiers. Horace Walpole referred to these soldiers as Great Britain's Triarii: her last line of defense. In America, these soldiers have become known as, "Hessians," despite the fact that they came from six different German states, not just Hesse-Kassel.

Understandably, the Americans took a much less favorable view of German, "mercenary" involvement in their fight for independence. According to the American newspapers, the Germans were hideous monsters who fought for pay, and wanted to despoil the riches of Americans.  According to Hessian Lt. Jakob Piel, captured Germans attracted much attention from local Americans. Piel made a note of this in his diary:

  •               "There was no gentlemen in the entire region who did not come riding to see the Hessians, about whom he had heard so many stories. But, in most faces, one could see that they regretted the effort. They had come to see strange animals, and to their disgust, we looked like human beings. It seemed comical, but it is true, that they had formed such an idea of Hessians, but in the beginning they would not believe our words, that we were really Hessians." 

Piel makes it clear that public opinion in America was firmly against the Hessians. Nineteenth century authors described this rental arrangement of soldiers in terms of a Soldatenhandel, or, "a trade in soldiers." According to nineteenth century German historians, the Hessian soldiers were sold into a form of slavery, and suffered greatly from this abuse.

Bennington by Don Troiani

 However, this is not true, strictly speaking. The western German states were connected to Britain via dynastic ties, as well as a recent alliance in the Seven Years' War. Most of the German soldiers who served in America despised the American rebels. They saw the relative prosperity of the average American, and claimed that poor Americans lived better than the nobles in Germany. These soldiers were subsidized allies. Modern German scholars like to use the word, Subsidientruppen. This is a false cognate for subsidy, the word actually means, "support troops." These soldiers fought as the allies of Great Britain, not as mercenaries, or slave soldiers.

Many of these soldiers had more sympathy for Native Americans than the British or Americans, showing a precursor to Karl May in the German imagination. Most of all, the Germans condemned African slavery. Some wrote with ideas about racial equality far ahead of their time. An example of this is Captain Andreas Wiederholdt, who claimed that, "if the blacks were taught...many would exceed whites in intelligence."

The Germans who served in the American War of Independence were far from the simple, greedy villains which have been portrayed in American popular culture. They were not mercenaries in a traditional sense, they were allies of the British, as a result of dynastic connections and a monetary subsidy. These soldiers impacted the American view of mercenaries, and even up to the time of the Civil War, calling someone a "Hessian" meant that they were only concerned about financial gain. These soldiers provide historians with an interesting view of Colonial America, which in many ways, is more progressive than that of revolutionary-era Americans.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

Some modern day "Hessians" (actually from Brunswick) prepare for battle. How can you not love these guys?
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