Monday, March 19, 2018

1770s Prussian Army Uniform Plates

Prussian Hussars circa 1776

Dear Reader,

Over "spring break," I had the distinct pleasure to be able to research for my dissertation in Washington D.C. and New York City. I looked at numerous document collections relating to my dissertation on the cultural views of British and Prussian soldiers, but also took a few moments to photograph this collection.

The official title of this collection in German is: Plan von der Koeniglichen Preussischen Armee worinnen ein Officer und Gemeiner von Jeden Regiment zu Sehen.  Roughly, this means, "plan of the Royal Prussian Army with a officer and private from each regiment pictured." Drawn in 1776, this collection displays an officer and soldier from each regiment of the Prussian Army as it appeared in the 1770s. I had the opportunity to photograph it at the Society of the Cincinnati Library, in the Anderson House Museum.

This image collection is not necessarily a great resource for the Seven Years' War era, some of the regiments post-date that conflict. However, it is a source drawn in Berlin within 15 years of the end of the war. Certainly, for any wargamers interested in the Prussian army in the 2nd half of the eighteenth-century, these images are worth a look.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. 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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Swedish Gå På Tactics During The Great Northern War

Swedish Reenactors 

Dear Reader,

Today we have another excellent guest post focusing on the Karoliner, by historian Mike Glaeser.[1]


"Never have I seen such a combination of uncontrollable dash and perfectly controlled discipline, such soldiers and such subjects are not to be found the wide world over except in Sweden"[2]
- General Magnus Stenbock after the Battle of Gadebusch, 1712

If students of early modern warfare know one thing about the Swedish Karoliner, it is that they preferred aggressive tactics often executed in the face of overwhelming odds. Their successes in the first half of the Great Northern War bewildered their enemies and endeared the Karoliner to many a historian and wargamer since. Known as Gå På, translated as “go on”, the Swedish tactics emphasized speed over firepower and closing with cold steel.[3] At a time when much of Western European warfare devolved into long and grueling sieges, Gå På allowed the Swedes to play an attacking role and quickly move against a numerically superior foe before excessive firepower could be brought to bear. In this way the Swedes were victorious at Narva (outnumbered 3:1), Klissow (2:1), and Fraustadt (2:1), to name a few. What follows is a brief look at the mindset of the Swedish army, their weapons, and how this combination allowed them to execute Gå På with élan.

Swedish Infantry Formation, Alf Aberg, Karoliner, 156.

Voltaire described the Swedes as “well made, robust, agile and capable of enduring the greatest hardships, hunger and poverty. They are born warriors, full of pride and more brave than industrious” .[4] It is from this stock that the army drew its manpower. Military reforms undertaken by King Charles XI in the 1680s and 90s helped create a strong, unified force that could be sustained in times of peace and quickly mustered for war.[5] The men in each provincial regiment came from the same geographic area which fostered an esprit de corps. Continuous training was a high priority and companies would gather once a month while the full regiment assembled annually for drills under the supervision of the king. They were expected to follow orders without question: “Commands will be carried out soberly and silently without any observation on the part of those whose business it is to obey”.[6] While the men honored their king, they also feared God. Each regiment had an attachment of chaplains who preached the Lutheran creed. Ultimately, God alone decided when and where each soldier would die so it was a moot point to fear death. This religious fatalism allowed the Swedes to march and ride undaunted into enemy fire. Rigorous training, strict discipline, and a shared faith provided the foundations for effective Gå På.

Gå På tactics affected the selection and use of certain weapons. The most notable armament difference between Swedish armies and those of Western Europe was the deployment of the pike. Starting with the Spanish Tercios and Swiss mercenaries of the 1500s, the pike became the queen of the battlefield for much of the following century. It was primarily used as a defensive weapon to help protect matchlock musketeers from cavalry attacks. True to form, the Swedish pike held off a charge of the Polish Crown army at Klissow and then shattered them with two volleys of musket fire. However, the “push of pike” was also a devastating offensive maneuver but one that relied on momentum to see the attack through. With the advent of effective bayonets towards the end of the 17th century, as well as the improvements in gun technology, the pike began to fall out of favor.[7] Nevertheless, the Swedes and Russians tended to make use of the pike throughout the Great Northern War.[8] For the Swedes, the pike suited Gå På tactics perfectly as an offensive shock weapon. Up to one third of each battalion was equipped with the 12-18 foot long weapon with the pikemen taking up the center of the formation. With a typical musket and bayonet amounting to ~6.5 feet, the pike enjoyed a distinct reach advantage. Following the one or two volleys from the musketeers, the entire battalion would charge with pikes leveled.

The Swedes put their faith in the effectiveness of cold steel. While Charles respected firepower, the prevailing belief was that the sword could be more accurate and devastating. At Holowczyn in 1708, “…the king himself went from one battalion to another ordering them above all things, instead of firing, to use their pikes, bayonets and their swords”.[9] All infantry, musketeers and pikemen alike, were equipped with a sword that the king himself had a hand in designing. Once the initial volley was delivered, bayonets would be fixed and swords drawn. The musket with fixed bayonet would be tucked under one arm and the sword leveled in the other. The horse and dragoons had a similar blade and it was used to the same effect. It is worth noting that the blade was straight rather than curved, reinforcing the emphasis on stabbing rather than slashing.

Tent of Augustus the Strong, captured in 1702 by Swedish Karoliner

There is a common perception that Charles had no use for the artillery as it was rarely fielded en masse in his armies. Even the head of the artillery, General Carl Cronstedt, had a similar observation: “At the beginning of the war His Majesty had a sort of contempt for the artillery; but later bitter experience taught him how valuable a weapon it could be”.[10] For Charles and the spirit of Gå På, it was a matter of deployment and speed. Many of Sweden’s victories saw them start the battle as the outnumbered attacker which meant a traditional artillery duel was unsustainable. Deploying cannons could be a time-consuming process and in most cases the Swedes had a tactical disadvantage in terms of terrain. To maintain the initiative, the larger pieces simply had to be kept out.

With morale and discipline established and the appropriate weaponry in place, the Gå På tactic was ready to be unleashed. A provincial infantry regiment consisted of about 1200 Swedes. This was broken down into two battalions and these served as the primary tactical unit. During battle, a battalion would line up four ranks deep with pikes in the center, musketeers on either side, and grenadiers on the flanks. The order to advance would be given by the sound of drums and there are examples of Swedes marching in total silence. At about 40 paces from the enemy, the two front ranks would kneel and the two rear ranks would give fire. The advance would then continue through the cover of the blackpowder smoke to about 20 paces where the two front ranks would fire.[11] General Stenbock’s Instructions stressed holding fire until the foe was within bayonet range.The order was then given to charge and if the enemy unit was not already wavering from being shot at point-blank range, they were now assaulted with sword, bayonet, and pike. At Fraustadt in 1706, some battalions attacked the Saxon lines without firing a single volley. More often than not, the first volley or charge was enough to break a unit and the momentum then carried the Swedes through enemy lines. At the first battle of Narva, the rapidity of the assault allowed the Swedes to close on their opponents with minor casualties and despite being outnumbered three to one, the majority of fighting was over within three hours. The Gå På tactic was devastating against low discipline/ ill-trained units but occasionally proved more problematic against a disciplined foe, especially one that was entrenched like the Russians at Poltava.

Reconstructed Karoliner (Svenska Armeemuseum)

The Swedish cavalry tended to make up around fifty percent of the fighting force. The cavalry was divided between the horse and dragoons although they acted and fought the same way.[12] The tactical unit was the squadron of about 250 men. Deployed on the flanks, the Swedish cavalry tended to move quicker than their enemy counterparts and would charge home at the gallop rather than the trot. The squadron would advance “knee behind knee” with the cornet at the front and each man slightly behind the next to form an arrow. This wedge shape helped punch holes through infantry and cavalry alike. While the horse had pistols and the dragoons their carbines, doctrine decreed that guns should not be fired (unless the attack wasn’t slowed as a result) and the unit should charge home with cold steel.[13] At Klissow in 1702, the Saxon horse surprised the Swedes with a quick deployment through swampy terrain. However, any impetus was lost when the Saxons slowed down and began to caracole .[14] The Swedish cavalry recovered, formed up, and charged with swords. They managed to break the Saxons before turning in on the flank. Here then is a clear example of cold steel having a greater effect than black powder.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. 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,

Mike Glaeser

[1] Michael Glaeser is an early modern historian specializing in the Great Northern War and the reign of Charles XII of Sweden. He is published in The Great Northern War Compendium and taught history at the University of New Hampshire. He is also an avid reenactor and wargamer. He completed his graduate work at the University of Sheffield, England.
[2]Robert Nisbet Bain, Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire, 243.
[3]The “a” has a ring diacritic which gives it a similar pronunciation as “o”. Gå På is therefore pronounced as “go-po”
[4]Voltaire, The History of Charles XII of Sweden, 31.
[5]This was known as the indelningsverk, or allotment system
[6]Charles XI quoted by Alf Aberg, Sweden’s Age of Greatness 1632-1718, 272.
[7]Despite being outdated, Maurice de Saxe still supported use of the pike later in the century.
[8]The Danes, having seen the effectiveness of the pike earlier in the conflict, fielded them when they re-entered the war in 1710.
[9]Robert Frost, The Northern Wars 1558-1721, 274.
[10]Aberg, 284.
[11]David Chandler suggests 40-20 paces whereas Einar Lynth and Lars-Eric Hoglund suggest 70-30.
[12]Dragoons were cheaper to raise and equip but they behaved like cavalry on the battlefield. Their carbines tended to be employed more during foraging missions.
[13]Stenbock, Instructions, Waxjo 1710.
[14]The caracole (Spanish for snail) was a tactic that saw cavalry advance on the enemy at a trot, fire their pistols, and then retreat to the rear to reload while the next rank repeated the same steps.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Reenactors and Wargamers: Representing Fear and Flight on Eighteenth-Century Battlefields

These men are not fleeing, nor is there concrete proof they are afraid
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to examine a vital part of battlefield experience in the eighteenth century: fear and flight. Soldiers ran from eighteenth-century battles. Fear and intimidation, rather than powder or cold steel, were the greatest threats to the battle-plans of eighteenth-century commanders. Despite this, eighteenth-century reenactors rarely portray troops fleeing from the field of battle. At most events, reenactors maintain their geometric formations during the heat of battle, until one side calmly marches away from the battle. This is so ingrained in reenactor imagination that doing anything else provokes shock. I fled from a reenacted battle outside Fredonia, Wisconsin in 2014, and the chief officer looked up with surprise and asked, "what are you doing?" Over my shoulder, I replied, "I'm running away, it was a thing."

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of reenactors running away?
These guys aren't even running away, that is how hard it is.
Was it, though? Did troops frequently experience fear and flight on eighteenth-century battlefields? Once again, I stand on the shoulders of giants as I write this post. Christopher Duffy, Ilya Berkovich, Matthew Spring, David Blackmore, and many other historians have addressed this topic. Particularly, the essays by Andreas Bähr, Ilya Berkovich, and Marian Füssel in the edited volume Battlefield Emotions, 1500-1800 are worth a read.[1] What do primary sources tell us regarding fear on the battlefield? Did soldiers often speak about their fear? Did they admit to fleeing in the face of the enemy? How should reenactors and wargamers represent these emotions and actions?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, very few soldiers emphasized fleeing in the face of the enemy, particularly during combat. Garrett Watts, a North Carolina Militiamen, stands out as admitting that he was one of the first to flee at the Battle of Camden:
I can state on oath that I believe my gun was the first gun fired not withstanding the orders: for we were close to the (enemy) army, who appeared to maneuver in contempt of us, and I fired without thinking except that I might prevent the man opposite from killing me. The discharge and loud roar soon became general from one end of the lines to the other. Amongst other things, I confess I was amongst the first that fled. The cause of that I cannot tell, except that everyone I saw was about to do the same. It was instantaneous. There was no effect....encouragement to fight... I threw away my gun, and reflecting, I might be punished for being found without arms. I picked up a drum, which gave forth such sounds when touched by the twigs I cast it away...[2]
Carl Roechling's depiction of the Saxon flight in the Battle of Hohenfriedberg
Veterans and military theorists often asserted that everyone in combat felt the effects of fear. French military author Comte Lancelot Turpin de Crissé attempted to describe the nature of fear on the battlefield:
The general must understand his soldiers and go further: the best countenance does not always contain the strongest heart. The coward often feigns courage, but in the moment of combat the veil falls, and the quiet man proves himself a hero. It is not that healthy fear at this moment is reprehensible, men must be allowed a natural shudder in the face of uncertain destruction. The coward gives himself up to his fear, the false hero tried in vain to conceal fear, the hothead, who sees nothing, cannot feel them, and the true soldier represses fear: a good general uses them all to advantage.[3] 
If all soldiers felt fear, how did some of these men processes this experience? It seems that soldiers often felt great fear at the start of a battle, particularly if they were under an artillery bombardment. Once infantrymen began to shoot, or cavalry troops were engaged in combat, was often temporarily replaced by a sense of excitement or detachment. Once the battle developed, fear returned, and men on both sides began to melt away, until a crisis developed, which led to a mass break. Troops on the fleeing side would stream back in the direction that had initially marched from, often will little order.  

How do our sources describe this model of fear and flight in combat? Veterans such as Ulrich Bräker asserted that the greatest moments of fear were before the battle: 
"the powerful shots from Imperial batteries slammed through our regiment, which stood in the middle line. Up to this point, I had hoped to avoid a battle. Now though, I saw no prospect of flight behind me, or to the right or left... my courage had completely vanished, and I would like to have crawled into the earth. I saw a similar fear, noticeable by a sort of deathly paleness, on all faces, even those who had previously bragged of their courage.[4]
Artillery bombardment, particularly when soldiers had no means of replying, was especially terrifying, as Bräker seems to indicate above. Troops frequently attempted to dodge out of the way of artillery fire, and generals who did not make an effort to shelter their waiting troops from artillery faced criticism.[5] 
Prussian soldiers flee 
 Bräker also noted that some soldiers began to drink their small stores of alcohol in order to deal with the stress of the artillery bombardment. Sometimes, soldiers would turn to other substances, or engage in bluster, in order to deal with the stress of combat. Ernst von Barsewisch, a young officer in the Regiment of Meyerinck, or IR 26, recalled of the Battle of Hochkirch,
I had the priviledge that early in the engagement a musket ball penetrated the peak of my hat near my head, and just a moment afterwards, a second ball hit the rear brim of the hat, knocking it from my head. I turned to the Von Hertzbergs [brothers, who were officers in IR 26] and said, "Gentlemen, should I put this hat on, if the Imperials want it? "Yes, indeed," they said, "that hat does you honor." The older von Hertzberg took his snuff tobacco tin in his hand and said, "Gentlemen, take a pinch of courage!" I stepped up to him, took a pinch, and said, "yes, here, we need courage." Von Unruh followed and the younger von Hertzberg brother took the final pinch. At this moment, the older von Hertzberg raised his pinch to his nose, and a musket ball slammed into his forehead. I was at his side, and he cried out, "Lord Jesus!" and turning, fell dead to the ground.[6] 

Revolutionary Troops engaged in combat
  Once the shooting began soldiers often experienced an odd sense of calm, or great excitement, but fear is not often recorded. Soldiers sometimes indicated that they had no fear of death, even in the heat of combat. Sgt. Roger Lamb recalled at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse:
I observed several bodies of Americans drawn up within the distance of a few yards. Whoever has been in an engagement well knows that, in such moments all fears of death are over. Seeing one of the guards among the slain, where I stood, I stopped and replenished my own pouch with the cartridges that remained in his; during the time I was thus employed, several shots were fired at me; but not one took effect. [7]
Urlich Bräker noted that his thoughts were, "in a state of excitement and heat" and that, "our native Prussians and Brandenburgers sprang upon the enemy like furies."[8] This description matches well with Lamb's account, above. Again, we see that during combat, if events were still in the balance, soldiers recalled that the activities of combat itself, not fear, dominated their minds. Once the battle was joined, then, soldiers appear to have felt slightly less fear, which would return at a crisis point in the battle.

Prussian Cuirassier pursuing fleeing French at Rossbach
Crisis points could begin in a relatively isolated way, and travel like lightning across an army.  The Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf in 1757, Russian officers observed that once the Prussians, "saw their comrades were running away, they believed it was high time for them to do the same. What an agreeable and entrancing spectacle it was!"[9] Another Russian at the same battle recalled a shout that a local victory had been achieved and that this restored life to troops who had been retreating: "Wherever this shout came from, it produced some undoubtedly good effects. The Second Grenadier Regiment found new stores of courage and went out to attack the enemy once again."[10]

In the later stages of the battle, fear seemed to affect more and more soldiers. Feldprediger [chaplain] Karl Daniel Küster, discussed the phenomenon of "freezing" and fear with the Prussian army in the Seven Years' War.
I have often spoken with both high and low ranking officers, as well as the brave enlisted men, regarding this so-called, "cannon-fever." They are all in one accord that only boastful liars have never felt horror in battle at the prospect of death. They also commented, and I have also noted, that this sense (of cannon-fever) spreads during the early, middle, and last stages of a battle. During the early stages, the strong men support the weak, and a general flight only cccurs when this disabling fear affects the morale of the majority of the army, and both the strong and weak flee together.[11]

Xavier della Gatta's depiction of the Battle of Germantown
Of course, this model does not fit all situations. Some soldiers, even at the opening and middle stages of the battle, felt fear, and wisely took steps to escape the danger they found themselves in. The 2nd Battalion of Light Infantry retreated precipitously from the American forces during the beginning of Battle of Germantown. Martin Hunter recalled, "This was the first time we had ever retreated from the Americans, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could prevail upon our men to obey orders."[12] Bill Sartain of Butler's Brigade of North Carolina Militia, recalled at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse: "the British were so close that there was no chance for him to escape... [so] he lay there flat on the ground, pretending to be dead, in which he acted his part so well that the enemy did not think worth while even to give him a push with the bayonet..."[13] 

Having discussed fear on the battlefield, let us turn to the experience of flight. Sometimes, fear confronted men after the danger of combat had passed. Karl Daniel Küster, the chaplain encountered earlier, noted that at Hochkirch,
"the so-called cannon-fever or battle-shiver came over me in all of its power. But God graciously granted that this happened later, on the other side of the village of Kitlitz when the danger was almost over. I stood alone, near the regiment, and quickly, a dizzying fear overtook me, fright with trembling limbs, such that I could have been knocked over by a weak child."[14]
 When troops were already moving towards the rear, the appearance of cavalry could produce mass-panic. At Kunersdorf, Johann Jacob Dominicus, a Prussian veteran of IR9, recalled fleeing pell-mell, not during the battle, but when a party of Cossacks appeared during the retreat. In the course of this scene, he recalled, "everyone ran for himself."[15]  Soldiers sometimes recalled hunger and exhaustion as the most pressing thought during flight. Joseph Plumb Martin recalled after the, "rout" at Germantown, "I had now to travel the rest of the day, after marching all day and night before and fighting all morning. I had eaten nothing since noon the preceding day, nor did I eat a morsel till forenoon the next day, and I needed rest as much as victuals."[16] Clearly, being defeated was exhausting work.  Sampson Staniforth gives us a further window into this disappointment. After retreating from the Battle of Rocoux:
Night came on, but, the French still pressing upon us, we retreated all night, till we came near Maestricht. It rained very hard, being the 30th of September, and was exceedingly cold. Toward morning, being out of the reach of the French, we had orders to halt. We had no tents, and it continued raining: however, being well tired, I lay down on the wet ground, put my knapsack under my head, and soon fell fast asleep. In the morning we had orders to march and join the grand army... [we] did so without delay.[17]
Reenactors engaged in a mock fire-fight

 So: How might reenactors and wargamers do a better job representing fear and flight on eighteenth-century battlefields? Let us begin with reenactors. If you are an 18th-century reenactor, and you are standing stationary with no orders while under an artillery bombardment, display a considerable amount of agitation, rather than just standing there. If you are representing an infantryman, and you are being shot at, (safely) feel free to load and fire as fast as you can, until someone in authority convinces you to stop. If your unit has been under fire for a significant amount of time or flanked by enemy soldiers, (safely, with your musket unloaded) run away from the battleline. Go on. Do it. You know you want to.  With any luck, this will create a general spontaneous rout to the rear, disrupting whatever farbery the event organizers and officers had planned.

If, of course, your NCO is a buff, terrifying man, capable of outrunning you, just do whatever he says. In my view, eighteenth-century reenacting is currently at the place envisioned by eighteenth-century officers: that is to say, troops on the battlefield rarely do anything but what officers command. By sometimes (safely) firing spontaneously and if the situation warrants it, (especially if you are losing the battle, or a non-regular) fleeing from combat, you may cause your officers a bit of a headache, but you will be portraying a more realistic past to the public.

It seems these Austrians might be wise to flee from this wargame battle.

Now, on to wargamers. Many rulesets, such as Age of Reason, and Final Argument of Kings,  do an excellent job portraying morale breakdown. I would encourage all gamers to test for morale the first time troops are hit by artillery, particularly if they are otherwise unengaged. I would also suggest that the longer troops remain stationary under this artillery bombardment, the more difficult the test should become. Many rulesets also have tests for seeing friendly troops fleeing the field. This is an excellent rule, one which accurately reflects the realities of battlefield combat. Many of these tests are quite easy to pass, and should be before combat is joined, but once troops are in heavy combat, once one regiment begins to flee, there should be strong incentives for others to do the same. I would also like to suggest that each player, once per round, test for spontaneous good or bad news sweeping the ranks like lightning. Both of these results should be exceedingly rare (double ones or double sixes, perhaps?), but should carry a significant penalty or bonus, perhaps increasing or lowering the morale grade of troops by a quarter or a third.

How else might reenactors or wargames represent fear and flight?

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. 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] Erika Kuijpers and Cornelis van der Haven, Battlefield Emotions 1500-1800: Practices, Experience and Imagination.
[2] Garrett Watts, Revolutionary Pension Roll, in Vol. xiv, Sen. Doc. 514, 23rd Cong., 1st sess., 1833-34.
[3] Turpin de Crissé, Essai sur l'art de la guerre, Vol 1, 391.
[4] Ulrich Bräker, Der Arme Mann, 147.
[5] Christopher Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 218-219.
[6] Ernst von Barsewisch, Meine Kriegs-Erlebnisse, 75.
[7] Roger Lamb, Journal,  362.
[8] Ulrich Bräker, Der Arme Mann, 150.
[9] Andrei Bolotov, Zhizn, Vol 1, 539.
[10] Weymarn, "Ueber den ersten Feldzug," Neue Nordische Miscellaneen, 200-1.
[11] Karl Daniel Küster, Bruchstück seines Campagnelebens, 62.
[12] Martin Hunter, Journal of General Martin Hunter, 34.
[13] Eli Caruthers, Interesting Revolutionary Incidents, Vol 2 (Second Series), 161.
[14] Karl Daniel Küster, Bruchstück seines Campagnelebens, 60.
[15] Johann Jacob Dominicus, Tagebuch, 60.
[16] Joseph Plumb Martin, Private Yankee Doodle, 73-74.
[17] Thomas Jackson, Early Lives of the Methodist Preachers, Vol 4, 137.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Primary Source: Hessian Description of the Battle of Long Island

Hessian Flanquers 

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to continue examining primary sources related to the Hessians in the American War of Independence. This source is from an anonymous Hessian soldier, likely a staff officer, who accompanied the Hessian troops to Long Island in 1776. I have taken excerpts of this account, which address the Hessian role in the Battle of Long Island, on August 27th, 1776. This source, like the previous one, comes from the large microfilm collection, Hessian Documents of the American Revolution. 

August 22nd...

...the signal for landing was given, and as not a single one of the enemy appeared, it was safely carried out without firing a shot. As soon as the boats had landed their men, they returned to the big ships and fetched away the others, who were thus landed in four journeys. Our Commander-in-Chief, General Howe, immediately led the first English troops which were landed inland in the direction of Gravesend, which he found to be quite deserted by the inhabitants, meeting none of the enemy. The other battalions, as soon as they had formed up, followed, and remained before the said village till towards midday. General Clinton, with a part of the English troops, including their Grenadiers, struck off to the left of the landing-place, occupied the heights of a wooded range of hills running down the whole length of the islands in the middle, and thus covered our left flank in the position assigned to it. General Howe made Gravesend his headquarters and retained the English Guards for its protection. General Cornwallis with the Scotch Highlanders and their light infantry, together with Colonel Donop and his Brigade of Hessian Jaegers and Grenadiers marched three English miles further on to a village named Flatbush at the foot of the above-named hills and occupied the avenue there. Another English corps, I do not know under whose orders, marched somewhat further forward, occupied the road to the ferry through the mountains and thereby covered our left flank. All this took place in the greatest stillness and without hearing a shot. But the next day the little war began; their riflemen and militia, (I have not seen anything yet of the regulars) began to harass our outposts without ceasing day and night; their mode of action is like the Pandours, they shoot from an unusual distance, for which reason our few wounded are only slightly so. For all that, the Hessian Jaegers, who have turned out right well, gave a good account of themselves; it was reckoned that they had caused a loss of 50 men, partly killed and partly wounded, to the enemy, and they had only one man killed a few slightly wounded. This harassing continued till the 26th.

August 26th...

We were much vexed that we could do nothing in retaliation for all these insults from such a despicable people, till at last the whole army, with the exemption of Colonel v. Lossberg, who commanded General Stirn's above-mentioned Brigade consisting of the four Regiments, which had remained on Staten Island, had been brought over here during the days spent here. Then on the evening of the 26th General Cornwallis marched with all the English Grenadiers and Light Infantry to the right and made the attack next day on the right had side: the Scotch Highlanders who were with us, marched to the left to General Clinton's and commenced the attack even before day-break. Towards six o'clock on the morning of

August 27th

the Hessian Grenadiers received orders to set out and advance upon Flatbush; Linsing took up its position on the right hand side of the village, Slock the left-hand side, and Minnigerode in the village street, in order to attack from that position. But as the attacks from the right and left-wings were already very furious and the Hessian Jaegers together with the Grenadiers, skirmishers, and scouts covered the battalions,  they [the battalions] had nothing to do, but found everything forsaken. Had the rebels wished to fight as honest soldiers, they would have given us a great deal of trouble, for now we discovered their position and retrenchments, which we could not reconnoiter before, because everything had been concealed in the wood. The Minnigerode Battalion came across a battery protected by three double barriers of felled trees, which would have cost a frightful amount of bloodshed to have taken, but which was deserted, so they had nothing further to do than clear away the barriers in order to bring the guns through. We then gained the heights behind the wood without any difficulty. The rebels, being an irregular horde, were now like a scattered herd of cattle, singly and in troops, but with no closed battalions; we now began to attack them in the rear and drove them towards our regiments in camp, who consequently took more of them prisoners than we did. Their whole loss is computed to amount to 2,500 men, including as prisoner, Lord Sterling, one of their most distinguished Generals. The loss on our side was 250 men, including one Hessian killed and 30 wounded, most slightly so. If they trophies take I know nothing further than that one was a flag, red in colour and bearing the device "Liberty"; this was captured by the Rall Regiment in camp, two guns and one howitzer all taken by English. The rebels, computed to number 14,000 men on the island on this day, withdrew after battle into a very finely fortified camp on the northern coast of the island opposite New York, and we pitched ours on the aforementioned heights in front of the wood.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. 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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How Often did Regular Troops Fight as "Skirmishers" in the Mid-Eighteenth Century?

Hessian Flanquers in North America
Dear Reader,

When thinking about skirmishers, those alive to a sense of the past often locate their development in the Napoleonic era, with the French tirailleurs, and their quick emulation by all of the states of Europe. In fact, it appears that a form of skirmisher, often called "flanquers", "flanqueur," or sometimes "Blänkerer" by French and German speakers, or Flankers, by the English speakers, developed during the eighteenth century. This is often controversial, as many military history enthusiasts believe that eighteenth-century soldiers were not trustworthy enough to fight in this fashion and that they would desert if fighting in this style. It is important to note: when using the term, "skirmishers" in this post, I am not referring to dedicated light infantry or ranger units, but the use of integrated skirmishers by regiments of infantry and cavalry. While these soldiers were not universally employed, it is possible to locate them before the French Revolution.

Very few historians have discussed this phenomenon previously. Notably, Jonathan Abel discusses it in his excellent book, Guibert: Father of Napoleon's Grand Army.  I published an article on the subject in the Spring 2014 issue Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. [1] Other authors have discussed light infantry troops in the eighteenth century in some detail, such as Brent Nosworhty, Matthew Spring, Christopher Duffy, and Hugh Boscawen. Most of these authors focus on dedicated light infantry, such as the light infantry battalions of the American War of Independence, Jägers or Frei-Infanterie in the service of Frederick the Great, or French Chasseurs such as the Chasseurs de Fischer.

We will not be focusing on dedicated light infantry, which is a separate topic

We need to carefully interrogate the usage of the term "flankers" as at times, this term is used to refer to bodies of cavalry or infantry drawn off to guard the flanks of a marching army, not necessarily integrated skirmishers. In his Principles of Military Movement, David Dundas mentions the idea of "skirmishing with the flankers" as a part of the normal process of engaging "for a small Corps."[2] Discussing European innovations, he indicates, "[European Armies] form separate corps, but still preserve the greatest order. Their skirmishers and dispersed men are loose, detached, and numerous... but a firm reserve always remains to rally upon."[3] Considering that Dundas wrote his book in 1788, we cannot attribute his observations to the French Revolutionary era, but rather the 1780s and earlier.

 We may be able to see the first inklings of the use of skirmishers in Europe during the mid-eighteenth century. A Hungarian officer reported that at the Battle of Mollwitz, "Our infantry had advanced a platoon of men in front of each battalion, to attack the enemy first, and be supported by us, yet this was not observed, and robbed us of the only means of striking such as well-trained enemy."[4] There are other examples of such detached platoons, but it is not clear if these men were operating in loose order.[5]

Cavalry, in particular units like Hussars, took on an important role in the eighteenth-century skirmishing. These units could fight alongside other cavalry in the line of battle, but would often detach small numbers of men (again, usually called Flanquer or Blänkerer), to skirmish. At the Battle of Rocoux during the War of Austrian Succession, Sampson Staniforth recalled that, "the Queen of Hungary's light-horse and theirs skirmished between us [and the French.]"[6]

A Member of Luckner's Hussars

In a letter describing the battle of Bergen, fought on April 13th, 1759, Ferdinand of Brunswick described the early stages of the action. Ferdinand states that, "I ordered our Grenadiers and Jägers to amuse the enemy by detached platoons, so that our columns would have time to arrive."[7] In describing the opening of the Battle of Minden, he reported, "infantry platoons drove in the enemy pickets."[8] The French also used this tactic: " Mr. [Duc] de Broglie pushed forward infantry platoons in front of his first line and drove the grand picquets of the enemy."[9] Brent Nosworthy describes the French practice of using skirmishers briefly in Anatomy of Victory.[10] By pointing to French skirmishers in the 1720s and 1730s, Nosworthy does an excellent job of showing that skirmishers never fell into disuse, they were simply less common.[11]

A French Officer Takes Aim 

The idea that the French employed skirmishers in the Seven Years' War is confirmed by a letter from  Victor-Francois, Duc de Broglie. In this letter, Broglie confirms that in the winter of 1759-1760 French infantry regiments trained 50 men per battalion to operate as skirmishers.[12] The 1764 Ordonnance du Roi, which was likely written by de Broglie, the French Infantry are instructed to use skirmishers:
"Nothing should prevent you, when on the advance or retreat, from detaching a half-section, and scattering these volonteers in front of the battlion, to make a feu de billebaude, and then retreat through the intervals behind the battalion when the enemy is very close."[13]
In addition to this adoption after the war, there is evidence to suggest that the French may have begun using integrated line skirmishers, particularly towards the end of the Seven Years' War, in small encounters. At the attempt on Lippstadt, on July 1st, 1759, the Comte de Melfort described his use of skirmishers in a small confrontation with Hanoverian troops.

The Comte de Melfort's map of Lippstadt

Melfort also drew a map of the action, shown in above. In the battle, the French used skirmishers in an attempt to clear the way for an attack. In his letter, Melfort uses the term, Tirailleurs: the traditional French term for skirmishers which we commonly associate with the French Revolutionary Wars. A French dictionary from 1752 defines a "Tirailleur" as, "one who skirmishes."[14] Melfort's choice of this term, and the forces present at the battle possibly indicates that he is referring to line infantry skirmishers, not Chasseurs or Volontaires Thus, according to the letter and map of the Comte de Melfort, both the French and the Hanoverians used skirmishers in this conflict.[15] It seems that in the case of the western front of the Seven Years' War, skirmishers were at the very least employed by the French, and that the Hessians encountered and emulated this practice in the American War of Independence.

It is unclear whether Prussian line infantry regiments utilized flanquers in the Seven Years' War. Rather, it seems that the Prussian Infantry may have used Heckenfeuer, what Christopher Duffy has called a type of "controlled skirmishing". In this process, two files advanced ahead of the regimental body, formed in two ranks, fired, and then retired to the main body while reloading. This process enabled the battalion to keep up a small but consistent rate of fire, while retaining a reserve of loaded muskets.[16] The reenactors of Infanterie Regiment von Kalnein (IR4) displayed this tactic in a video a few years ago. On March 3rd 1777 (or 1778, the source is unclear), the Prussian Cabinet ordered 10 men per infantry company to be drilled as skirmishers in order to serve in patrols and detachments.[17]

The Prussians may have employed skirmishers, as Frederick II of Prussia gave detailed instructions for that "officer who is... to cover an army or regiment whilst they are deploying... must send out flankers towards the enemy, who, by keeping up a constant firing, will endeavor to disperse them[.]"[18] Based on the context, it is very likely that this instruction is meant specifically for cavalry officers.  Prussian cavalry flanquers were noted both by contemporary authors and subsequent historians.[19] It seems at that times, cavalry flanquers were used to screen attacking infantry.[20]

In the western hemisphere, there is some evidence to suggest that the British used skirmishers to prepare the way for an assault on the Castillo de Immaculate Concepcion in Nicaragua, on July 26th 1762.[21] A soldier of the Reichsarmee recalled that in 1762, "Our flanqueurs engaged the enemy in disorder, and were driven past their positions.[22] Charles Immanuel de Warnery, a Prussian Hussar officer, noted that one of the principal duties of the Prussian Jägers was to, "keep enemy flankers at a distance."[23] In September of 1778, Prussian observers reported encountering enemy "flanqueurs" on their way to a hilltop position.[24] In his Geschichte des Kriegskunst, published in 1800, Johann Gottfried von Hoyer asserted that the German "flanqueur", like the Volontair and the Jäger, had preceded the Tirailleur of the French Revolution.[25] After the Seven Years' War in Europe, another European army, the Hessians, brought flanquers to North America.

The Battle of Long Island in August of 1776 provides one of the clearest examples of the use of skirmishers in the eighteenth century. A number of reports from junior officers describe this practice, as does General Heister, the overall commander of the Hessian troops on Long Island:
"[T]he rest of the infantry perform honorable service, which is evident from the reports of more than a few regiments. The platoons of skirmishers peel out, at all times gives the best service; but the main battalions are always closed up arm in arm, following the skirmishers at a musket shot distance, unless the rough terrain forces them, at some times, to break ranks, which the reports show is happening rather often."[26]
Hessian Flanquers in the New York Campaign

This practice also occurred at the Battle of White Plains, and the Hessians even tried to deploy their skirmishers at the Battle of Trenton. At a later stage of the battle, the Regiment von Knyphausen was desperately attempting to ford a creek and escape from the Americans. 2nd Lt. Sobbe recalled that in order to by time, "Captain von Biesenrodt had thereupon called out, 'skirmishers to the fore.'"[27] It was then Sobbe's responsibility to: "run around the battalion in order to call out the skirmishers required, and to form them up."[28] Junoir officers such as Lieutenants also led these skirmishers forward. Another such officer present at Trenton, Second Lt. Werner von Ferry recalled that after Captain von Biesenrodt's order, he, ""Marched forward with the skirmishers up the hill."[29] He continues:
"The skirmishers were fired on from the woods by the militia, and immediately... Lord Sterling and his brigade,... had marched up on this same hill...because the enemy were pressing... in such great strength [he and the skirmishers] had been forced to retire to the regiment."[30]
In this anecdote, Von Ferry gives a deployment of skirmishers from beginning to end. These troops advanced forward, attempted to screen the regiment, and when the enemy strength became too great, they retired on their main body. Not content to let his junior officers tell the story, Captain von Biesenrodt also described his role in sending skirmishers forward at Trenton. Biesenrodt stated that, "The skirmishers that I sent forward had begun to fire, but very few of the muskets would go off, owing to the heavy snow and rain." A little further on, Biesenrodt indicated, "The enemy had pressed on in such great numbers," that the skirmishers had been forced to retire. [31]

Hessian Flanquers on the Move

In this second testimony, Biesenrodt gives insight into the thinking which led him to deploy skirmishers, and what his goal in doing so had been. As the von Knyphausen regiment was caught between the Americans and a marshy creek, he had been attempting to find a ford, by which the men of the regiment could escape. Thus, in his words, his, "intention had been cover the regiments crossing through the water with the skirmishers, and... to make with them also the rear guard." Sadly, Biesenrodt noted that his had been made, "impossible by the rapid approach of the overpowering enemy." From this testimony, it is apparent that the deployment of skirmishers could not only be used to cover the regiment during an attack, but also to cover a regiment during withdrawal.[32] So, having established that the Hessians did indeed use skirmishers as they might be understood in the Napoleonic era, we need to examine evidence from other armies in the American War of Independence.

In the American War of Independence,  the British used "skirmishers" in specific instances. Many authorities, such as Matthew H. Spring, assert that they did not, and we must grapple with this view. [33] Although the British army adapted to North America in other ways, there is some evidence to suggest that on a local level, the British Army used skirmishers. The 71st Regiment of Foot was issued standing orders which indicated:

If the Battalion is commanded to engage in a woods, thicket or country, one or more Sections will be detached in front of each Company with an Officer at the head of each who are immediately to occupy every Tree, Stump, Log, Bush, Rock, Cleft, Hedge, Wall, or in short, any kind of covering which can afford them tolerable shelter from the enemy...When the Signal for Action is given, the firings are immediately to commence on which Occasion every man shall take the most direct aim possible at the most Favourable Object in his front and without waiting for an Officer’s orders with respect to times continue to load, present, and fire with the utmost alacrity, deliberation and accuracy ‘til the firings are ordered to cease.[34]
 Officers commanding these sections of what we might call skirmishers were ordered to:

Officers commanding Sections to observe the same attention with regard to their particular place of their Sections in front of each Company and that their respective diversions shall not only be judiciously dispersed but that every Soldier shall hug their coverts in the most compleat manner possible for giving annoyance to the enemy and perfect security to themselves— If the troops are ordered to move in any direction they are to spring from tree to tree, Stump, Log, & etc with the utmost Agility & continue to fire, load and spring as they advance upon or retreat from the enemy. If the Point of War is beat, they are to rush upon the enemy with Charged Bayonets.[35]
In describing the Saratoga campaign, General John Burgoyne reported that a British column at Saratoga was preceded by, "scouts and flankers," but this could simply mean troops guarding the flankers of the column. Interestingly, he also states that, "the picquets, which made the advanced guard of that column, were attacked in force, and obliged to give ground, but they soon rallied and were sustained."[36] This language appears to share some similarities with the descriptions above.

In the orders to the Irish Establishment issued by General Townsend in 1772, light infantrymen are to, "advance a guard and detach flanking parties," when moving through rough terrain. This may simply be instructions for guarding the flanks of a column while on the march, but Townshend also instructs: "the flanking parties to march in front and the files to move at a distance of ten yards from each other, when either of these parties shall discover an enemy, they are not to run into the main body."[37]

An image of the Battle of Brandywine, which may picture skirmishers, drawn by a contemporary

The Continental Army also employed screening bodies of men, with orders to engage the enemy until forced to fall back on the main battle line. Captain Henry Lee reported that at the Battle of Brandywine:
"Three small detachments, commanded by lietenant colonels Parker, Heth, and Simms, of the Virginia line, were, early in the morning, spearately and advantageously posted by the brigadier... and captain Porterfield, with a company of infantry, preceded these parties with orders to deliver his fire as soon as he should meet the van of the enemy, and then to fall back."[38]
Thomas J. McGuire argues that skirmishers are represented in a rare contemporary battle image: A Battery of the Rebels opened on Brandywine Heights.This image, above,  shows groups of Americans firing on British positions in front of the main American battle line. [39]

I think it is clear from the evidence above, that the Hessians, in the American War of Independence, and the French army of the Seven Years' War utilized regular infantrymen as skirmishers in the eighteenth-century. Other European armies fighting in the Seven Years' War, may have adopted skirmishers which operated by detachment from formed bodies of infantry or cavalry. This development is not something only located for the first time in the Napoleonic era, but used throughout most eras of history.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebookor following us on twitter. 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]"Flanquers und Pelotons: Hessian Links between the Seven Years' War and the American War of Independence" Journal of the Seven Years' War Association, Spring 2014: (4-16)
[2] David Dundas, Principles of Military Movement, Appendix page 82.
[3] Ibid, 13.
[4] Anon. Sammlung ungeduckter Nachrichten, Vol. 1, 35.
[5] Ibid, Vol. 4, 568.
[6] Thomas Jackson, Early Lives of the Methodist Preachers, 135-136.
[7] Westphalen, Geschichte Der Feldzüge Des Herzogs Ferdinand  Vol. 3  242.
[8] Ibid, 468.
[9] Ibid, 544.
[10] Brent Nosworthy, Anatomy of Victory, 338-340.
[11] Brent Nosworthy, With Musket, Cannon and Sword, 247.
[12] Jean Lambert Colin, L'Infanterie au XVIIIe siecle, 75-79.
[13] [Broglie], Ordonnance du roi, pour régler l'exercice de l'infanterie . Du 20 mars 1764, 106-107.
[14] Services historiques de l'armée de terre, A1 3518, pièce 40.
[15] Annibale Antonini, Dictionnaire françois, latin & italien, 520.
[16] Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 127.
[17] Pascal Bressonet, Études tactiques sur la campagne de 1806, 371.
[18] Frederick II, Translated by T. Foster, Military Instruction from the Late King of Prussia, 62.
[19] Von Gauid, Journal vom Siebenjährigen Krieg, Vol 7, 220.; Achim Kloppert, Der Schlesische Feldzug von 1762, 404.
[20]Publicationen aus den Preussischen staatsarchiven, Vol 22, 359.
[21]Roberto T. Bada, "Defensas Estratégicas De La Capitanía General De Guatemala Castillos De La Inmaculada Concepción Y De San Carlos," Revista De Temas Nicaragüenses, February 2011, 178.
[22] Anonymous, Beyträge zur neuern Staats-Und Krieges-Geschichte, 335.
[23] Charles Immanuel de Warnery, Remarks on Cavalry, 106.
[24] Comte de Schmettau, Mémoires raisonnés sur la campagne de 1778 en Bohéme, 186-187
[25]Johann Gottfried von Hoyer, Geschichte des Kriegskunst, 941.
[26] StaMarburg 4h.410 nr. 1 507, Heister zu Landgraf, 21 March, 1777. For other accounts of this practice, see: Jakob Piel, Defeat, Disaster and Dedication: The Diaries of the Hessian Officers Jakob Piel and Andreas Wiederhold, 17. Karl Friedrich. Rüffer, The Hesse-Cassel Mirbach Regiment in the American Revolution , 54.; Johann Heinrich Von Bardeleben, The Diary of Lieutenant Von Bardeleben and Other Von Donop Regiment Documents, 56.
[27] "The Affair at Trenton," in Hessian Documents of the American Revolution(Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989), M.L.375, microform.
[28] Ibid.
[29] "The Affair at Trenton," M.L. 444.
[30] Ibid,
[31] Ibid, 456
[32] Ibid, 481.
[33] Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 252.
[34] Order Book, Standing Orders of the 71st Regiment, Huntington Library, NRAS28/19, 8-9.
[35] Ibid.
[36] John Burgoyne, A Brief Examination of the Plan and Conduct.. 33.
[37] Townshend, Orders for the Irish Establishment, July 17th, 1772.
[38] Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, 15.
[39] Thomas McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign, Vol 1. 225.