Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Afternoon on the Kahlenberg

All reports agree that, on this day of blistering sunshine, there was a pause in the fighting at noon. It was a pause to recover breath, but the allied commanders were also determined not to weaken their position by pressing too far forward on their left before the right wing had begun to put pressure on the Ottoman defence. Concealed by the folding of the ground, and the thickness of woods, the pace of the Polish advance was difficult to estimate; it certainly appeared somewhat slow. But no one underestimated the importance of these troops, who were expected to come down the Alsbach, a tributary stream descending to the houses at Dornbach and ultimately to Hernals: a line of march which would bring the attack much closer to the main Turkish camp and to the Grand Vezir’s headquarters.

Some historians have blamed the Poles for their sluggishness, but it would be more helpful if evidence were found which explained why they were sluggish. Many Polish detachments were well behind the regiments of the left and centre already on the previous day, and can only have reached the upper ridges late in the evening, hungry and tired; there are no records which show how complete their preparations were during the night of 11th September. Even in the case of the German regiments put at John Sobieski’s disposal, it is known that they were in position on the Galitzinberg—well forward, and on the extreme right—by the time serious fighting began in this area, after midday; but it is not known whether they were already in position in the early hours of morning. Another possibility is that, when the council of war ended on the 11th Sobieski was by no means clear that the attack would begin at dawn, and therefore did not give positive instructions to his officers to make ready for action. The Turkish raids above Nussdorf, in conjunction with Lorraine’s purposeful itch to try and relieve Vienna without delay, altered the whole situation. But it took the King of Poland most of the morning, while fierce fighting continued on his left, to advance his right wing. He was already past his prime as an instinctive war-leader, a slow and very corpulent man who now lacked the energy to dominate a crisis on the battlefield; nor were the discipline and promptness of his aristocratic cavalry generals very marked, in spite of their many other military virtues.

Moreover, although it was a relatively simple matter to occupy the higher ground on both sides of the Alsbach, the descent of large numbers of men into the valley proved more arduous. Even then the greatest difficulty of all remained, to get them out of this narrow avenue of approach and reorganise them as a battle-formation, strong enough to meet a massive Turkish attack; the Turks were bound to try and interrupt and to crush the whole unwieldly manoeuvre. By one o’clock the Polish vanguard had reached Dornbach, where the woods and the slopes die away. They became visible to the forces anxiously waiting far away on their left. Shouts of joy and relief from the Germans saluted them, and dismayed the enemy. The heights on both sides of the Alsbach were in firm and friendly hands. From those on the left, the King himself directed operations, and he was in touch with the Franconian units and their leaders to his left. On the right Hetman Jablonowski commanded the Poles, some German infantry held the Galitzinberg, and a certain amount of support from artillery was assured. Fortunately the scattered Tartar forces still farther south were never a serious nuisance in this quarter. The future depended on the heroism and energy of the Polish centre under General Katski as it emerged from the narrower part of the Alsbach valley.

First of all select troops of volunteer hussars advanced. After a momentary success the Turks pushed them back, and then the conflict swayed uncertainly to and fro. It cannot be stated with any certainty whether the final result was determined by the steady refusal of these Poles on the lower ground to give up the costly struggle, or by the efforts of German foot soldiers coming down from the Galitzinberg, or by the extra forces which Sobieski threw in (aided by reinforcements of Austrian and Bavarian cavalry) from the heights on the left. After a fearful tussle the Turks gave way; their horsemen fled, and took shelter with the Turkish infantry and guns on a defensive position farther back. Sobieski now began to deploy his whole force on more level ground, having swung them slightly round so that they faced south-east. They were arranged in two lines, the intervals in the first being covered by contingents in the second. As before, Habsburg and Bavarian cavalry stood behind them on their immediate left. There were more Polish horsemen and dragoons on the right.

This achievement altered the whole face of the battle. The Polish wing of the army had caught up with the left and centre. It was a strong position, won after a hard-fought day. The great question, now, was whether to stop or to launch a further attack. Undoubtedly Lorraine himself wanted to press forward; and there is probably something in the famous story that when one experienced general, the Saxon commander Goltz, was asked for his opinion, he replied: ‘I am an old man, and I want comfortable quarters in Vienna tonight.’ Waldeck agreed. Sobieski agreed. They must have all based their hopes on signs of disorder and exhaustion in the enemy troops facing them. On one wing, the relieving army was two miles away from the walls of Vienna at their nearest point. On the other, it was a little more than two miles to Kara Mustafa’s headquarters in St Ulrich.

Preparations to mount an overwhelming attack were made along the whole front. At 3.20, in the fiercest heat of the afternoon the action began again on the left. The Turkish position here ran along the Vienna side of the Krottenbach (a stream reaching the Canal near Heiligenstadt) but soon turned to the south-west, where it faced first the centre of the Christian army, and then the Poles. The Turk’s resistance was ineffectual, and they soon began to withdraw rapidly to the left wing of Kara Mustafa’s defence. Some of the Habsburg troops at once made straight towards the nearest siegeworks of the city, others swung to the right. The same thing happened on the central part of the front: the Saxons, and then the troops of the Empire, pushed forward again—and swung to the right. The Poles had meanwhile thrown everything they had into their attack on the main armament of the Turks. For a short while the battle was doubtful; but the thrust of the Bavarian troops (under Degenfeld and Max Emmanuel himself), and then of other troops coming up from the more northerly sectors, weakened the flank of the Turkish position; the Poles finally plunged forward with their cavalry to sweep southwards. Here, other Turkish units made an obstinate stand; they had their backs to the River Wien, and when they finally gave way Kara Mustafa ran a real risk of being cut off by swift cavalry movements in his rear from any possible line of retreat. Meanwhile the bodyguards of the Grand Vezir resisted desperately when the Poles began to enter his great encampment from the west. On its northern side, Janissaries and other household troops were still fighting hard; the Franconians under Waldeck, and on his initiative, seem to have given Sobieski useful support in this final phase of the struggle. The total collapse of the Turks began, and when their soldiers still in the galleries and trenches in front of the Hofburg were instructed to come to the rescue of those in the camp, they fled. Kara Mustafa himself then retreated in perilous and disorderly haste, though he succeeded in taking with him the great Moslem standard, the Flag of the Prophet so vainly displayed on this bitter occasion, and the major part of his stock of money. Many other Turkish leaders and contingents had already left the battlefield several hours before; and so ended one of the most resounding of all Christian victories, and Ottoman defeats. By five-thirty the battle was over. Vienna was saved. The plundering began.

An Irish officer summarised the events of the day in his own terse way: ‘If the victory be not so complete as we promised ourselves it should, it proceeded only from the cowardice of our enemies, whom from morning till night we drove before us, beating them from post to post, without their having the courage to look us in the face, and that through several defiles, which had they any reasonable courage we could never have forced. The combat held longest where the King of Poland was, but that only added to his glory, he having beaten them with the loss of their cannon and their men; they have left us their whole camp in general, with their tents, bag and baggage, and time will tell us more particulars.’

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Polish Intervention: Thirty Years War

The Ottomans defeated the Poles, who were supporting the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War, at the Battle of Cecora in September–October 1620, but were not able to further intervene efficiently before the Bohemian defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620. File:Defending the Polish banner at Chocim, by Juliusz Kossak, 1892

The attack on Transylvania followed long Habsburg efforts to enlist Polish support. Poland was potentially a more important ally than Spain, and Sigismund III was as devout a Catholic as Philip III. Poland’s military power was to be demonstrated in 1621 when it was to raise an army of 45,000 backed by 40,000 Cossacks. More significantly, Poland bordered on Silesia and Hungary, placing it in a direct position to help, and it had signed a mutual assistance pact in 1613 promising aid against rebellions. As Emperor Ferdinand’s sister, the Polish queen naturally championed intervention, but the king remained undecided. His own ambitions remained firmly fixed on the Baltic and he was disappointed at his in-law’s lack of assistance when Sweden invaded Livonia in 1617–18. (Ferdinand would again fail to help against a second invasion in 1621.) Sigismund also had to consider his nobles who preferred raiding against their traditional targets, the Turks and Muscovites. However, the Russians had made peace in December 1618, widening Sigismund’s options.

Many Polish clergy were receptive to Habsburg arguments that the Protestant Bohemians posed a common threat. Sigismund had instructed his son Wladyslaw to decline a Bohemian invitation to stand in their royal election. As the situation worsened during 1619, Ferdinand held out inducements, including an offer to relinquish the bishopric of Breslau to Poland. Many Polish historians regard the Thirty Years War as a lost opportunity, arguing that Sigismund should have accepted this offer, or grabbed Silesia by playing the role later adopted by Sweden and joining the German Protestants. Sigismund had no such plans. Instead, he sought a way of satisfying the Polish pro-Habsburg lobby without committing himself to a long war that would distract from his primary objective of recovering Sweden. The leaders of the Sejm agreed, because limited intervention provided a way of removing the 30,000 unpaid Cossacks. These troops had been discharged after the recent war with Russia and their raiding across the southern frontier risked provoking a new conflict with the sultan. The Cossacks have entered history as the Lisowczycy, after their original commander, Aleksander Lisowczycy, a Lithuanian veteran who commanded a regiment in the Russian war. The Lisowczycy were the kind of cavalry that ‘God would not want and the Devil was afraid of’. Unlike the traditional Polish cavalry, they wore no body armour, relying on speed and fake retreats to lure opponents into traps. They were happy to be paid, but also fought for booty, deliberately terrorizing civilians into submission.

The Habsburg ambassador intended to recruit the Cossacks to reinforce the imperial army, but they were reluctant to serve too far from home in a land they considered full of impregnable fortresses where plunder would be hard to take. Plans were changed so that 4,000 Lisowczycy joined 3,000 other Cossacks recruited by György Homonnai, an Upper Hungarian magnate who was also a member of the Transylvanian Estates and a personal enemy of Bethlen, who he believed had cheated him in that country’s election of 1613. Having been driven into exile, Homonnai had already fostered two failed rebellions. He now struck across from his estates in Podolia at the end of October 1619. Bethlen had left Rákóczi with only 4,000 men in Transylvania, refusing to believe Homonnai posed a threat. The two armies met near Ztropka (Stropkow in modern Slovakia) on 22 November, where Rákóczi’s men were routed after they mistook the classic feigned retreat for the real thing.

Homonnai’s attack fuelled an already volatile situation in east Central Europe. Despite the grand vizier’s promise, the Ottomans had hesitated to break their truce with the Habsburgs. Nonetheless, they regarded Bethlen as their client and did not want him driven from Transylvania, especially by the Poles who were already interfering in neighbouring Moldavia. Peace had just been concluded with Persia, allowing the sultan to send the Tartars, backed by Ottoman regulars, into Moldavia where they routed a Polish relief force at Cecora in October 1620. Sigismund sent a huge army the following year that entrenched at Chocim (Hotim) on the Dneister and managed to repel almost twice its number of Tartars and Turks. Fresh problems with Sweden forced Sigismund to agree peace later in 1621, restoring the pre-1619 situation, though Poland had to accept the sultan’s candidate as prince of Moldavia. This conflict was separate from the Thirty Years War, but nonetheless proved significant for the Empire in preventing Poland and the Ottomans from intervening.

The threat to Bethlen was already receding before he left his camp outside Vienna. He had arrested most of Homonnai’s supporters after the earlier rebellions. Finding few willing to support him, Homonnai was already in retreat by 2 December. With the wider situation remaining unclear, Bethlen was nonetheless forced to accept the mediation of the Hungarian diet, agreeing an eight-month truce with Ferdinand on 16 January 1620. Bethlen remained a threat to Ferdinand, but the immediate danger had passed.

Sigismund refused to allow the Lisowczycy back into Poland, and redirected them along the mountains into Silesia to join the imperial army. Five detachments totalling 19,000 fighters set out between January and July 1620, though some were intercepted by the Silesian militia. The steady reinforcement enabled Bucquoy to resume the offensive, launching three attacks from Krems in March, April and early June against Thurn’s Bohemians and Austrians entrenched around Langenlois to the north. The Silesians and Moravians returned, bringing the Confederate army up to 25,000 by May when Anhalt arrived to take command. They were joined by 8,000 Hungarian and Transylvanian cavalry sent by Bethlen who, despite Ferdinand’s generous terms, still distrusted the emperor and decided to re-enter the war. Bethlen and Frederick had already sent a joint delegation to Constantinople in March 1620 to seek Ottoman assistance for the revolt. Mehmed Aga reached Prague in July to deliver the sultan’s belated congratulations on Frederick’s coronation. He asked to see where the Defenestration had taken place and enthusiastically promised 60,000 Ottoman auxiliaries for Bohemia. Many in Prague were deeply uncomfortable with courting the Ottomans, yet the leadership was seduced by the fantastical scheme of a grand alliance smashing both Poland and the Habsburgs. Scultetus did a theological somersault to stress common ground between Calvinism and Islam, while Baron Tschernembl argued any means were justified provided they saved the true cause from the papists. Despite misgivings, Frederick wrote to the sultan on 12 July, making Bohemia a tributary state of the Ottoman empire in return for assistance. A delegation of a hundred Bohemians, Hungarians and Transylvanians set out for Constantinople with 70,000 fl. in bribes to seal the deal. Meanwhile, Frederick promised 300,000 fl. to Bethlen, even pawning his jewels to raise the first instalment.

With support growing, and having easily repulsed another attack by Homonnai in August 1620, Bethlen seized control of the diet at Neusohl in Upper Hungary. This had convened in May at Ferdinand’s request to broker peace among all Hungarians. Bethlen’s supporters declared the abolition of the clerical Estate and the confiscation of the property of all who opposed them. Ferdinand ordered the diet to disband on 13 August. Twelve days later, Bethlen’s supporters elected him king of Hungary. Throughout, the solidly Catholic Croatian diet (Sabor) rejected the Hungarians’ overtures and aligned itself with its Inner Austrian neighbours, still loyal to the Habsburgs.

Siege of La Rochelle

The Protestant Reformation, especially the radical version preached by Frenchman John Calvin (ne Jean Cauvin), who set himself up in Geneva, spread to France soon after it began. Calvinism was particularly appealing to the French middle class and nobles. As the nobles were often the chief source of opposition to the Crown, French kings naturally took alarm. In the 1550s the government of Henri II persecuted adherents of the new faith, who came to be called Huguenots, and burned a number of them at the stake. Despite this persecution, Calvinism continued to make inroads, especially in southwestern France.

During 1562-1598 France experienced a series of costly religious wars during which the Huguenots established a number of fortified cities, including La Rochelle on the southwestern Atlantic coast. The wars were settled when the Huguenot champion, Henri de Navarre, became king of France as Henri IV. Because the great majority of Frenchmen were still Catholic and because Henri IV wished to secure the Catholic stronghold of Paris, he converted to Catholicism (“Paris is well worth a mass,” he is supposed to have said). To mollify his former coreligionists, he issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 that granted religious toleration and full civil rights to the Huguenots. The edict also allowed them to fortify some 100 towns where the Huguenot faith was in the majority.

Unfortunately for France, Henri IV’s reign was brief; he was stabbed to death in Paris by a religious fanatic in 1610. His son, Louis XIII (r. 1610-1643), was then only nine years old. Louis grew up to be weak and indecisive, but he had a capable chief minister in Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu, who was the virtual ruler of France during 1624-1642. This born administrator made raison d’etat (reason of state) the dominant consideration in all his policies. Although he was a sincere Catholic, Richelieu never let religion get in the way of strengthening the state.

To Richelieu, the Huguenot-fortified towns formed a state within a state and were thus unacceptable. Alarmed by Richelieu’s stance, the Huguenots rebelled under the leadership of the dukes de Rohan and Soubise. Richelieu responded by declaring the suppression of the rebellion his first priority in 1625. Protestant, rich, and looking toward England, La Rochelle relished its independence. The city itself lay at the end of a channel. Off it were two islands: the closest, Ile de Re, and the more distant Ile d’Oleron. La Rochelle was the strongest of the Huguenot fortresses and the center of resistance to royal rule.

In 1626 La Rochelle had been forced to accept a royal commissioner, to agree not to arm its ships, and to accord full rights to Catholics. In March 1627 France formed an alliance with Spain that solidified its position. Six months later Richelieu’s forces initiated a siege of the city and exchanged artillery fire with its Huguenot defenders. Because La Rochelle was a port it could receive aid by sea, and in June 1627 King Charles I of England sent 120 ships and 6,000 soldiers there under his favorite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

The English fleet arrived at Ile de Re on July 10. If the people of La Rochelle welcomed the troops, Buckingham was to place them under command of the Duc de Soubise, who arrived with him. If not, the men would return to England. Soubise went to La Rochelle to negotiate with its leaders, but they feared the consequences of welcoming English troops. Buckingham therefore ordered his men ashore to secure Fort St. Martin on Ile de Re, which was controlled by the royalists, as a base for future operations. His men, most of whom had been pressed, were poorly trained, and many refused to go ashore. Others bolted on the first gunfire with the royal garrison on the island. Buckingham was thus unable to take the fort; instead, he resorted to a blockade.

Richelieu was certain that if Buckingham took Fort St. Martin, his siege operation would fail. Richelieu therefore sent French ships to supply the fort, called up feudal levies, and sent about 20,000 men toward La Rochelle. The brother of the king, Gaston d’Orleans, had nominal command, but field command was held by the Duc d’Angouleme. As it worked out, Richelieu actually retained direction of affairs.

In August, Angouleme closed off the city from the land side, and the city fathers voted to call on Buckingham for arms and assistance. The royal garrison on the Ile de Re continued to hold out, although on October 1 its commander, Jean de St. Bonnet de Toiras, sent word that his men were almost out of food and that without relief he would have to surrender on the evening of October 8. Therefore, on the night of October 7 Richelieu sent a relief force of 47 vessels under an adventurer named Beaulieu-Persac. That night a battle took place off Ile de Re between the French and English warships. Although he was eventually forced to surrender, Beaulieu-Persac succeeded in distracting the English long enough for his 29 supply ships to beach themselves on the island.

A few days later King Louis XIII arrived in the vicinity of La Rochelle. Richelieu then personally led 9,000 reinforcements to the Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron from northern French mainland ports. Running short of supplies himself, in desperation Buckingham and 2,000 men launched a last attempt to storm Fort St. Martin on November 5. The English took the outer works but were then driven back and shortly thereafter came under heavy attack from the French relief force. On November 8 Buckingham sailed away with the half of his force that remained.

With Ile de Re secure, Richelieu could concentrate on La Rochelle. In November the French constructed a powerful siege line more than seven miles long with 11 forts and 18 redoubts. The French lacked the means to blockade the city completely from the sea, but after reading how Alexander the Great had built a great causeway to end the siege of Tyre, Richelieu ordered construction of a great stone dike at the end of the bay to close La Rochelle off from the sea. Jean de Thirot, architect to the king, and Clement Metezeau, the king’s master builder, had charge of construction.

Work began in October and for all practical purposes was complete by January 1628, with the jetty and 56 ships chained together and armed to form a floating wall. In addition, Richelieu assembled 36 galleys and pinnaces in the roadstead to attack any expedition launched from La Rochelle to destroy the dike.

In March an English ship made it to La Rochelle with supplies and promised assistance from Charles I. The people of La Rochelle took heart and elected Jean Guiton as mayor. He infused new life in the defense. Moreover, in early May an English fleet under Lord Denbigh arrived. The English ships briefly bombarded the dike but without effect. Then, learning that a Spanish fleet was at sea, Denbigh sailed away on May 18. On September 28 a larger English fleet under Count Lindsey appeared off the dike, transporting 11 regiments and food for many months, but the troops were disaffected, and it departed without landing either men or supplies.

With this final disappointment and virtually no hope of resupply, on October 29 the La Rochelle garrison finally surrendered. During the siege, largely as the consequence of famine and disease, the population of the city went from 27,000 to only 5,000 people. Richelieu entered the city in triumph, and French troops immediately began the destruction of La Rochelle’s walls and fortifications. Richelieu then amended the Edict of Nantes in the Peace of Alais, which formally ended the siege. The Huguenots lost the right to maintain fortified towns and military formations independent of the Crown. They did, however, retain full religious and civil rights until 1685, when King Louis XIV, much to the detriment of his kingdom, annulled the Edict of Nantes altogether.

One reason the siege had taken so long was that France did not have much of a navy. Richelieu may be regarded as the father of the French Navy, for he ordered construction of a force of 38 warships for the Atlantic and 10 for the Mediterranean.

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
O’Connell, D. P. Richelieu. New York: World Publishing, 1968.
Sutherland, N. M. The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980.
Wood, James B. The Army of the King: Warfare, Soldiers, and Society during the Wars of Religion in France, 1562-1676. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

French Napoleonic Artillery in Action

 General Dampierre (who was saved from the guillotine by being mortally wounded in 1793) said that the French soldier depended implicitly on the superiority of his artillery and that there was a noticeable lessening of his courage if he saw that artillery receive a check or draw back. Throughout the wars of the Republic the excellent French artillery made up for many deficiencies in the other arms. The new horse artillery made its first effective appearance of the Battle of Jemappes on 6th November 1792, when several batteries went into action. Although many of the men could as yet hardly ride, the batteries did so well that every general wanted them.

Marshal Saint-Cyr gives in his Mémoires an incident at the siege of Kehl in January 1797 which showed the tremendous pride in their arm possessed by men of the horse artillery. One of the siege batteries had been especially allotted to a company of horse artillery. But although the battery came under very heavy enfilade fire the men would not construct any earthworks to protect themselves from it. Their reply to instructions to do so was that they were horse artillery who fought in the open, and not behind entrenchments; and that if they were permitted to do so they would demolish the defences which had been erected against frontal fire. They had their way, and each morning by 9 o’clock their guns had been smashed and half their men killed or wounded.

The superiority of the French artillery was not due to its equipment, but to its tactical handling and to the efficiency and esprit de corps of its officers and men. That superiority was very marked, for instance, in the Jena-Auerstädt campaign of 1806. The Prussian army had a greater ratio of artillery to infantry than the French; but in the artillery, as in the other arms, the Prussian officers were still following the teachings of Frederick the Great. In their time these had been revolutionary, but that student of the art of war, Napoleon, had absorbed the lessons and had superimposed his own system of a massive artillery reserve, in order to achieve artillery superiority at the decisive point.

To take another example, the Russian artillery was excellent as regards its equipment, but it was poorly commanded. Sir Robert Wilson writes: ‘The Russian artillery is of the most powerful description. No other army moves with so many guns and with no other army is there a better state of equipment, or more gallantly served. The piece is well formed, and the carriage solid, without being heavy. The harness and the rope-tackling is of the best quality for service, and all the appurtenances of the gun complete and well arranged. The draught horses are small, but of great muscular strength, strongly loined, and with high blood. Four draw the light field pieces, and eight the twelve pounders; the latter have sometimes indeed ten horses.’ The extra horses were required for the dreadful Polish roads, before the frost stabilised the bottomless mud and after the thaw some months later. ‘The drivers,’ says Wilson, ‘are stout men: like all other drivers, they require superintendence in times of danger, to prevent their escape with the horses, but on various occasions they have also shown great courage and fidelity; and they have the essential merit of carefully providing subsistence for their horses. Neither gun, tumbril, nor cart belonging to the artillery is ever seen without forage of some kind, and generally collected by the prudence and diligence of the drivers.’ But the junior officers in the artillery were poor, and on active service an officer of cavalry or infantry was frequently appointed to the command of batteries.

‘The horse artillery’, says Wilson, ‘is no less well appointed, and the mounted detachments that accompany the guns ride excellent powerful horses.… The Cossaque artillery, worked by Cossaques, which is a late institution, consisted of 24 pieces, extremely light, and the carriages were fashioned with a care and nicety which did great credit to Russian workmanship.’

Earlier in this chapter there is mention of the division of artillery which Chef d’Escadrom Boulart was directed to raise for attachment to the Imperial Guard. This division went into action at Jena, and Boulart recounts his experiences as follows: ‘The Guard marched to Jena. It was a long day and we only arrived there as night was falling; but it was necessary to cross the town, including a street where a fire was raging both to right and left of the crossing. To pass this obstacle took much time and demanded many precautions; guns and wagons had to be sent over one by one, after unloading the forage, which as usual they were carrying. I was lucky that there was no unfortunate incident. I had been ordered, as soon as I had passed through Jena, to go into camp on a high plateau, which dominated the town and the valley of the Saale, where the Guard had taken up a position. But my leading vehicles had hardly entered the steep and sunken road which led to the plateau, when they were brought to a halt because the road was too narrow. My anxiety was great because I knew we would be fighting the next day and my horses, worn out from their long march, were in great need of food and rest. There was no time to lose. At the foot of the height, I parked as well as I could all my vehicles which had not yet entered the sunken road; then, equipping my gunners with all the pick-axes that I had, I got them to hew at the rock to widen the road. It was difficult and heavy work and progress was slow. I was striving desperately to quicken the pace, and was everywhere— animating, pressing, and encouraging my men. I was worn out with fatigue and anxiety; I felt that the Guard could not fight without me, or at least that I would be dishonoured if my artillery did not appear in time to take part in the action. At last, at daybreak, at the very moment when the Guard left their fires to stand to arms, my last vehicles arrived on the plateau and I began to breathe in the happy relief that I had achieved my aim. The first musket shots were soon heard and a little later the action became general. The din gradually moved further away, but the Guard took no part; it remained in order of battle during the whole action, only changing position to move forward as the leading lines gained ground, and containing its impatience whilst awaiting an order to move into the attack. In fact an order arrived at midday, but it only concerned my artillery. The Emperor sent instructions that it was to move forward immediately and that I was to ride ahead and get his orders. In an instant my batteries were on the way, and whilst they advanced at a trot, I galloped off to report their arrival to His Majesty. I found him just finishing an address to a large body of cavalry. This cavalry had just returned from the brilliant charges which had decided the victory, and the Emperor was expressing his satisfaction. It was a stirring moment. I approached to take his orders. “Well done!” he said to me, “I do not need your artillery; return to my Guard.”’

Shortly after the Battle of Jena, the artillery of the Guard arrived, and Boulart, with his artillery division, was transferred on attachment to Oudinot’s special infantry division, composed of grenadier and light infantry battalions.

But Boulart had made his mark and before the 1809 campaign he was posted to the Horse Artillery of the Guard as a Chef d’Escadron. He was soon promoted to Chef de Bataillon in a new regiment of Foot Artillery of the Guard, discarding rather reluctantly the blue dolman and pelisse of the Guard’s Horse Artillery.

When the French army entered Vienna in 1809, Boulart was commanding two batteries of the Foot Artillery of the Guard, equipped with a total of twelve pieces of ordnance. The Emperor inspected these two batteries at one of the daily parades at Schoenbrünn. As usual, he went into great detail, but found everything in order. One of the gunners, however, told the Emperor that one of the 12-pr. guns was ‘mad’—that is, its fire was a little uncertain.

At daybreak on 22nd May Boulart, who had his two batteries on the north side of the island of Lobau and close to the river, was ordered to send one of his batteries forward with the Chasseurs of the Guard. Leaving one battery close to the bridge, Boulart followed the chasseurs with the other towards Essling. He brought his battery into action but was soon overwhelmed by the Austrian fire, his battery commander losing an arm and he himself being slightly wounded. The position was untenable, and he moved the battery closer to the chasseurs, establishing it in a tile factory by the village of Gross-Aspern. But he had to contend with the fire of at least twelve pieces against his six. Short of ammunition, he sent back for more, but all the ground to his rear was swept by the heavy enemy fire. Finally, when half his men and a third of his horses were out of action, lack of ammunition forced him to cease fire and give way to a fresh battery.

Marshal Masséna was now 300 to 400 yards in rear with the Chasseur Division of the Guard, and Boulart reported to him and remained with him until the end of the action. Masséna told him that the Austrians had cut the bridge over the Danube and thus their communications. That night the army withdrew to the island of Lobau.

Boulart writes that, ‘On the 26th, as soon as the bridge was rebuilt, the Guard and my artillery crossed to the right bank, and moved to the village of Ebersdorf where Imperial Headquarters was. I had hardly been there an hour when the Emperor sent for me. I was taken into his office where he was standing by a table on which maps were spread out. “Have you brought back all your artillery?” he asked me. “Yes, Sire.” “Have you any ammunition left?” “Some grape shot but no round shot.” “And why have you not spat that out at the enemy’s face?” “Sire, because I was not within range, and the position of my battery was subordinated to that of the troops to which I was attached. Marshal Masséna, who was there, could see that I was not able to do more.” “How many men and horses have you lost?” “Sire (I gave him the figures).” “And your mad piece, did it fire well?” What a memory to recall such a minor detail! Nothing escaped him. “Yes, Sire, its fire has been better for I gave it my personal attention.” “And your other pieces, are they in good condition?” “Sire, there is one of which the vent is greatly widened and which has need of a vent lining.” “And why, Sir, has this lining not already been fitted?” He added in a high and angry tone, “In what regiment have you served?” This outburst, absolutely undeserved, disconcerted me a little. “Sire, I arrived on the Isle of Lobau where I had no resources with which to carry out this repair. There is only the arsenal at Vienna that might be able to do it, and already I have made arrangements to send the piece there.” “Yes; expedite its departure; tomorrow I will inspect your artillery and you will show me the repaired piece.” “Sire, your orders will be carried out.” I knew the thing impossible, but it was no good saying so. The Emperor knew nothing of impossibilities.

‘I was very worried when I left him, but I set about taking action immediately. I sent Captain Lefrancais to Vienna with the piece, telling him to expedite the repair if he could find at the arsenal a machine to install vent linings. But Captain Lefrancais would not be able to return in time for the Emperor’s inspection; and it was necessary, therefore, to procure a gun to replace temporarily the missing one. It seemed to me that it should suffice if the Emperor could see that my batteries were complete and ready to move. I hurried to see General Songis, to tell him of my trouble and seek his help. “I would willingly do so,” he said, “but in fact there are only Austrian 12-pr. guns in the general park, though these are of the same calibre as ours. If you wish I will put one at your disposal.” For lack of anything better I accepted; but the thought of the inspection the next day depressed me. The Emperor would of course notice the absence of my piece; and what would he say if he was still in his present bad humour? At least I would not fare any better, and at the worst I should get another “broadside”.

‘The next day at 11 am I went to His Majesty’s apartments; where I spent a long enough time in the antechamber with the Russian Colonel Czernischeff, a young and handsome man, beautifully turned out. At last I was summoned. He was not the same man as on the previous day; he had received excellent news of the Army of Italy and his face was cheerful and contented. I noticed this at once and was reassured. “Well, Commandant, your 12-pr., has it returned?” “Not yet, Sire. I am informed that I shall receive it during the day. Whilst waiting I have replaced it by a piece lent me by General Songis.” “Have you replenished your ammunition?” “Yes, Sire, I can now go into action.’ “Good. I will not inspect you.” And this was all said in a kindly tone with considerable charm.’

This account by Boulart tells us more about the personality of that remarkable man the Emperor Napoleon than do many books that have been written about him.

At the Battle of Wagram, which followed shortly after this incident, the French artillery fired 96,000 rounds. The day after the battle Boulart visited the ground which the Guard artillery had ploughed up with its projectiles and he did not find that the damage done was proportionate to the ammunition expended. Other parts of the field reinforced this impression. And yet never had such a mass of artillery been assembled, producing such a brisk, continuous and frightening noise; for those who heard the uproar from afar believed that the two armies were destroying themselves.

After Wagram, Boulart was promoted Major in the Guard, which gave him the rank of Colonel in the Line and the tide of ‘Colonel-Major’.

Japanese Invasions of Korea and Gunpowder Weapons

Korean and Chinese soldiers assault the Japanese-built fortress at Ulsan.

The Siege of Pyongyang probably saw the largest use of artillery in the 16th century, as the Chinese had amassed an arsenal of 200 pieces of various types of artillery, including rocket arrows, breech-loading cannon and several large caliber "Great General" cannons (Although Song Yingchang's letter claimed that the Great Generals did not reach Pyongyang in time as they had intended). Both armies used state of the art firearms and cannons.

Although guns were widely available in the struggle for supremacy in China during the mid-fourteenth century, they became a cornerstone of the Ming army only after the Ming conquest of China. Before the end of the fourteenth century, almost 10 percent of the army’s 1.2–1.8 million soldiers were armed with guns. The capital’s arsenals produced 3,000 cannon and 3,000 handguns annually from 1380 to 1488. These weapons were widely deployed and initially gave Ming armies an advantage over neighboring states that were not so armed. European advances in gun technology were quickly adopted in China, and the cannon it brought into the field owed as much to the West as did the Japanese army’s muskets.
Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea brought about a direct clash between three different gun-armed forces, the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. Japanese forces were armed with muskets and trained in volley fire; Chinese forces relied upon cannon; and Korean forces used cannon on armored warships to interdict Japanese maritime supply lines. On the strategic level, the Japanese were completely defeated, achieving none of their political or military goals at a tremendous loss of life. Tactically, the results were more mixed. Chinese armies succeeded when they brought their cannon up to the battlefield, and lost when they did not. The Korean navy defeated the Japanese navy using cannon to oppose their boarding tactics, but was ineffective when poorly commanded. Overall, the conflict demonstrated that guns, whether muskets or cannon, were now critical in East Asian warfare.

After the first Japanese campaign (1592–3) was driven back to the southern tip of Korea, the Ming attempted to improve the Korean army by training its soldiers to use firearms. The course of the war surprised all sides, revealing deep-seated weaknesses within everyone’s armed forces. By campaigning outside of Japan, Hideyoshi subjected the Japanese army to new military problems that it struggled to overcome. The Korean and Chinese forces suffered similar difficulties in dealing with new modes of warfare. For example, the Ming army, which possessed several different kinds of troops based upon their regional origins, had to bring southern Chinese troops, who had previously fought against ‘‘Japanese’’ pirates, to the battlefield in order to engage the Japanese in close combat. Northern Chinese troops, who emphasized cavalry and had no experience of the Japanese, were generally regarded as ineffective.

It is impossible to draw conclusions about which mode of warfare was superior without taking into account the specific conditions and commanders of a given battle. Japanese superiority in close combat, and in medium-range missile firing through their use of muskets, was negated when Chinese cannon were present on the battlefield. At the same time, the test of combat could be rendered moot by larger strategic issues. Japanese attempts to hold and control Korean territory, combined with a desire to avoid large-scale battles with the Chinese and their cannons, induced them to disperse their troops and focus on ambushes and placing small garrisons in key locations. These tactics then exposed them to even greater risk, as Korean partisans were able to ambush small Japanese units, or harass their supply lines.

Hideyoshi’s invasions, like the construction of the Great Wall, demonstrated once again the close connection between siege warfare, naval warfare, and guns. While troops in the field could maneuver to take advantage of their own strengths and avoid those of their opponents, sometimes to the extent of refusing battle entirely, siege and naval warfare quite often did not allow that possibility. Strong points had to be taken if territory was to be controlled, certain sailing routes had to be used at certain times if ships were to reach their destination. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Japanese war effort was the Japanese navy, a rather surprising circumstance given the competence of Japanese sea lords earlier in the sixteenth century.


An 18th century engraving, depicting the explosion of one of Giambelli’s “hellburners” on the Duke of Parma’s pontoon bridge at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.

The Catholic–Protestant schism let loose antagonisms that shook kingdoms on the Continent as well. For several decades, Italy had been the area of Europe in which the air was almost perpetually tinged with gunpowder smoke. In the second half of the sixteenth century the violence moved north, to France and the Dutch Republic. It would soon spread to Germany, the wars there growing increasingly fierce. The core issues—nuances about the best way to achieve everlasting life through Jesus Christ—hardly seemed to justify mass slaughter, yet they led to an unimagined brutality.

Gunpowder added a horrific dimension to the wars of this period. Both handheld firearms and artillery were achieving a new efficiency, inflicting battlefields with storms of deadly missiles. “Firepower” became the military watchword of the day. Fueled by the lethal capabilities of gunpowder, violence raged across northern and central Europe until the middle of the seventeenth century, killing both soldiers and inhabitants by the tens of thousands.

Maurice of Nassau was 17 years old when he took power in Holland in 1584, assuming the title stadtholder. His father, William the Silent, had just been assassinated by agents of Philip II, the Hapsburg monarch of Spain. With the Dutch Republics struggling to win independence from Philip’s empire, Maurice took a keen interest in military affairs. Commanders across the continent were searching for ways to make gunpowder the centerpiece of battle, not just an adjunct to it. Maurice and his cousins set up arrays of toy soldiers to explore new ways of using gunpowder weaponry. With the same fresh insight that had touched Joan of Arc during the 1420s, Maurice started a process of military realignment that would bring powder-based warfare to a new level of sophistication. The toy soldiers were a telling emblem—the fighting man was on his way to becoming a cog in the terrible engine of firepower.

Individual firearms had been around for a century, but no one had found a way to make them truly effective on the battlefield. Maurice saw that musket-wielding soldiers, extended in a line, could unleash a wall of fire to fend off and disrupt enemy forces. What he needed was a system to coordinate that fire. A student of the classics, he found the answer in the military thought of the Romans, the last power to rule Europe with an infantry-based army.

His goal was concentration and coordination of firepower. The secret for achieving it was drill, a means of making every soldier move in lockstep with his fellows. The formation that Maurice devised was a line of infantrymen ten deep. Those in the front row fired, then turned and countermarched to the rear, where they could reload in relative safety. Those in the next row stepped forward and fired in turn. A murderous ballet ensued, groups of men moving in unison and in close coordination with other units. Maurice broke down the process of loading a firearm into forty-two small gestures, each with a name. His troops practiced the movements over and over until they could be performed without thinking under the stress of battle.

Combined with a system of rigid discipline, drill melded the mass of warriors into a single unit. “No one reasons, everyone executes,” is how the Prussian monarch Frederick the Great would describe it in the eighteenth century. Drill not only turned individual soldiers into an effective means of delivering violence with gunpowder, it also trained them to stand up to the harrowing return fire of the enemy. It gave soldiers the ability to perform a complicated choreography in the mouth of hell. The goal was efficient repetition and massed fire, not heroics. Discipline replaced initiative in war, a transformation that would be paralleled by the coming encroachment of factory production on the methods of the traditional craftsman.

A year after Maurice rose to the head of Holland, gunpowder trumpeted its role in the coming cataclysm in yet another way. Spanish Hapsburg troops under the Duke of Parma were besieging the Dutch port of Antwerp. An itinerant Italian military engineer named Federigo Giambelli had offered his services to the Spanish and been rebuffed. Like the enterprising engineer Urban at Constantinople, Giambelli gained revenge by peddling his skills to the Dutch.
Giambelli turned a sailing vessel, ironically named the Hope, into a new weapon: the first floating time bomb. He packed its hull with almost four tons of gunpowder and surrounded the explosive with bricks, scraps of metal, even tombstones. This debris would turn into deadly missiles when the powder went off. A clockwork device controlled the fuse. The ship was known as an “infernal machine,” a term that straddled two worldviews: the medieval, now fading, of demonic influences; and the modern, of a mechanical, clockwork universe.

The Dutch set the Hope adrift on the tide. The vessel approached a densely manned pontoon bridge by which the Spanish were blocking access to the city. The bomb exploded on schedule, blowing a gap in the bridge and strewing wreckage for a mile in all directions. It was, to that time, the most lethal blast of a single weapon in history. Hundreds of men were killed instantly. The “Hell-burner of Antwerp,” as it was called, the first major bombing in Europe, was a chilling portent of gunpowder’s increasingly destructive potential.

The wars over religion, property, and empire reached their culmination in the Thirty Years War, a conflict in which France, Sweden, and the Dutch Republics battled against Spain, Austria, and Bavaria over Hapsburg supremacy in the Germanic lands. Marked by convoluted alliances and motivations, it was a “war for all reasons.”

During this period of perpetual ferment, the man with the clearest vision of gunpowder’s deadly future was Gustavus Adolphus, the king of Sweden. Gustavus ruled a rustic kingdom barely touched by the sweeping changes of the Renaissance. Yet the young king had a vision and energy that would, for a time, make Sweden a power to be reckoned with. An affable man with golden hair and myopic blue eyes, Gustavus insisted on sharing the hardships of his troops on campaign, even helping dig earthworks when needed. He was a fighting king, a consummate man of action. Napoleon judged him among the half-dozen greatest commanders in history.

Gustavus took the system sketched out by Maurice and brought it to fruition. He drilled his men incessantly and enforced iron discipline. He was determined to maximize their firepower. To that end, he issued lighter muskets and introduced paper cartridges, containers of premeasured powder that allowed soldiers to load faster. Faster loading meant more frequent volleys of fire.

Gustavus, an expert gunner himself, introduced his most far-reaching changes in the realm of artillery. Until he took power in 1611, the big guns had been used primarily for siege work, for war at sea, and for the static defense of forts. The battlefield role envisioned by Edward III at Crécy had continued to elude commanders. The great guns, concentrated under the supervision of contracted gunners rather than soldiers, remained ponderous and largely immobile during the fighting.

Gustavus integrated the guns more skillfully into his forces, creating the first effective field artillery. He assigned a handful of smaller, much lighter pieces to accompany infantry and cavalry regiments. If cartridges could ease loading for musketeers they could do the same for artillerymen—Gustavus ordered gunners to use prefilled bags of powder with balls already attached. Because of these changes artillery fire could be employed in the middle of a battle. The great guns, designed to smash stone walls but directed now against human flesh, added to warfare a new dimension of horror.

By 1632, the war had already been raging up and down Germany for fourteen years. Gustavus found himself in command of a massive anti-Hapsburg coalition. He maneuvered a force of some 20,000 men into position to attack an army of similar size led by Albrecht Wallenstein, the mercenary commander of the imperialist force, outside the village of Lützen, fifteen miles west of Leipzig. Gustavus planned to attack at dawn, but the dank November morning brought a thick fog that stalled operations and gave Wallenstein time to recall a large detachment of cavalry.

The battle that ensued in many ways typified the war as a whole. It was a story of firepower gone mad. The Swedes pushed forward into withering musket and artillery fire to capture imperial cannon, which they turned against the enemy at close range. But by doing so they lost touch with their own cavalry, allowing the imperialists to regain momentum. The thick mist descended again, mixing with the gunpowder smoke to blind the fighters and turn the field into a snarl of confusion. The effects of drill, rapid musket fire, and effective field artillery combined to inflict enormous casualties on both sides.

Though he was the champion of a cool-headed, almost mechanical approach to military strategy, Gustavus could not keep himself from personally leading a detachment of cavalry to reinforce a weak spot in his line. He was hit by a bullet. His horse carried him away from his escorts into the wild melee. An imperialist cavalryman shot him in the back. He fell. Another enemy soldier fired a lead ball through his head. Looters stripped him to his shirt. His horse careered riderless through the chaos.

The Swedish forces “won” the battle of Lützen, driving Wallenstein’s army from the field. Yet the awful carnage and the loss of their leader made the victory less than sweet. Wallenstein, broken by the battle, tried to sell out the Hapsburgs and was assassinated. Lacking a conclusion, the war continued for another sixteen years. Finally, Gustavus’s daughter Queen Christina joined Louis XIV of France as coguarantor of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which was to bring order, if not peace, to the European continent until the French Revolution.

Gunpowder had, for the moment, turned military conflict into savagery. The ethos of the hunt had invaded warfare. Equipped with firearms, soldiers had turned predatory, chasing down beaten foes, killing prisoners, ravaging the countryside. Modern estimates put Germany’s losses during the Thirty Years War at almost 8 million persons, more than a third of its population. The conflict had imposed on an entire generation a level of atrocity and degradation that horrified thoughtful observers. Gunpowder, which philosophers had once imagined would protect Europe from a slide back to barbarism, threatened to plunge the continent into a new dark age.

British Infantry Firepower

 An incident in the rebellion of 1745, by David Morier

British participation in the War of the Austrian Succession was interrupted by the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, with French support, landed in Scotland and raised a Scottish army to attempt to recover the Crown for his father. The eyewitness descriptions of combat that survive from that domestic affair allow a far more detailed analysis of how the British infantry fought than has so far been possible. From the beginning it was recognised that the threat posed by Highland forces was quite different from that of conventional European forces. Their tactics had been described by Lieutenant General Hugh Mackay who had been beaten by them at Killiekrankie.

Their way of fighting is to divide themselves by clans, the chief or principal man being at their heads, with some distance to distinguish betwixt them. They come on slowly till they be within distance of firing, which, because they keep no rank or file, doth ordinarily little harm. When their fire is over, they throw away their firelocks, and everyone drawing a long broad sword, with his targe (such as have them) on his left hand, they fall a running toward the enemy.

Lieutenant General Henry Hawley wrote a similar account of the Highlander’s tactics, adding that they normally formed four deep, with their best men in the front rank, but that by the time they reached their enemy they were twelve or fourteen deep. The Duke of Cumberland added further detail when he gave his orders on how the Highlanders were to be fought. His orders explained that the object of the Highlanders firing ‘at a distance’ was to draw their enemy’s fire, adding that after firing they lay down to avoid that return fire. This enabled them to charge home with swords against unloaded muskets.

Mackay’s attempts to overcome the Highland tactics ended in defeat. Hawley’s response was to advise firing by ranks, the fire directed at the centre of the attacking body of Highlanders, starting with the rear rank, but not firing until the range was ‘ten or twelve paces’. He deemed it necessary to wait until the range was so short because the speed of the advance would prevent reloading. Cumberland’s orders were more comprehensive as he allowed for the enemy advancing slowly as well as for the Highland charge. First he specified that a battalion must be in eighteen platoons. If the advance was slow he ordered that firing should be by half firings, that is three platoons at a time, in the case of a rapid advance the fire of the whole battalion was to be reserved until the range was ten or twelve yards. He makes no mention of firing by ranks, so it would seem the whole battalion was to fire together.

The first infantry to meet the Jacobite army were those of the scratch force of Lieutenant General Sir John Cope at Prestonpans on 21 September 1745. A considerable amount is known concerning events at Prestonpans because there was a subsequent inquiry into the defeat of Cope’s little army, although the main interest of the inquiry was the conduct of the senior officers, not the tactics employed. What is clear is that there was no attempt to fight the Jacobite army in anything other than a completely conventional way. The infantry was described as completely formed and having been divided into platoons and firings. When the Jacobites attacked first the dragoons broke and then the infantry gave what was described as ragged fire and also broke and ran.

At the battle of Falkirk, 17 January 1746, the British army was led by Lieutenant General Hawley and, following the defeat of his cavalry, most of his infantry turned and ran in the face of the Highland charge and a raging storm with rain and sleet. However, some detail is available of how the infantry battalions that did stand fought the Jacobites. In particular the description by a sergeant in Barrell’s regiment described how the front rank knelt while the centre and rear rank fired continually. This is confirmed by a private in Barrell’s who referred to the battalion keeping a reserve, that is the front rank. A description of the Royal Scots that appeared in a Dublin newspaper described them firing on attacking Highlanders, the rear rank first, then the centre rank and the front rank when the enemy were within a few paces. This was sufficient to repel the attack. There is a suggestion that while the front rank was held as a reserve, the centre and rear ranks fired by platoon rather than whole ranks, but on the whole those battalions that stood appear to have adhered to Hawley’s advice.

Prior to the battle of Culloden the Duke of Cumberland assembled his army at Aberdeen. There the infantry were carefully trained for the forthcoming confrontation with the Jacobite army and the Highland charge in particular. On 2 April 1746 Cumberland ordered: ‘The Royal North British Fuzileers to be out in the Park tomorrow at 11 o’clock there to practice the motions of alternate firings by platoons from ye right and left to ye centre reserving the fire of ye front rank & Grenadiers.’ These were followed by the Royal Scots, Price’s, Barrell’s and ‘Every Regiment to take their turns afterwards.’ This method of firing was a departure from the normal practice of firing by platoons organised into firings. In some ways this was similar to what Bland advised for dealing with cavalry, with the front rank reserved, but alternate firing was something that he advised against. He described the way the Dutch conducted alternate firing when advancing and although he thought it could be very effective against a stationary enemy he considered it to be vulnerable to a sudden counter-attack while the platoons were reloading. He emphasised that it was necessary for a battalion firing in this manner to advance slowly, ‘to give the Men Time to load their Arms before they approach too near the Enemy’. This would seem to make it unsuitable as a method of dealing with the fast-advancing Highlanders. However, the suggestion that a battalion could be left vulnerable while men reloaded also indicates that the whole fire of a battalion could be delivered very quickly in this manner, something that would be desirable against Highlanders closing quickly. Should that fire not stop an attack then the fire of the reserved grenadiers and front rank could be delivered at a range of only a few yards. This intention of delivering the maximum available fire in a short time at close range is borne out by a passage in a contemporary history of the rebellion that described the infantry at Culloden as firing ‘according to Orders, viz. the 2d and 3d Rank, as they were within 30 Yards, and the 1st, just as they were at the Muzzles of their Guns’.

In addition to a different form of firing the infantry also received instruction in a new way of using the bayonet. From its introduction the bayonet had been treated in the same manner as the pike and for combat it was held in exactly the same manner as the ‘charge for pike’ position. The soldier turned his body to the right with the musket held horizontally under the chin across the chest. The left hand supported the musket under the chin while the right arm was fully extended and the right hand held the musket butt. Drill for fighting with the bayonet was limited to simply thrusting the musket forward, bringing the right hand to the right shoulder and extending the left arm, all with the musket held horizontally at shoulder level. It would seem improbable that soldiers in hand-to-hand combat only plied their bayonets in this manner and it is possible that this lack of drill, when compared to the extensive instructions for musketry, might be partly responsible for the idea that firepower was more important than the bayonet. However, the amount of instruction required for an activity is not necessarily an indication of its relative importance.

Platoon Firing at Culloden: Front rank and Grenadiers held in reserve; second and third ranks of platoons firing in the sequence indicated from the flanks to the centre.

The drawback with this drill when fighting a Highlander armed with a sword in the right hand and a targe on the left arm was that any thrust with the bayonet was easily caught on the targe and the musket was also easily knocked aside by the targe, leaving the back of the soldier exposed to the sword. The solution to this problem was simple and introduced by the Duke of Cumberland: ‘his Highness took the pains to confer with every Battalion of Foot, on the proper Method of using the Musket and Bayonet to Advantage against the Sword and Target.’ He simply instructed the soldiers to reverse the position so that they faced to the left of their unit with the right hand under their chin and their left hand on the musket butt. The intention was that any thrust with the bayonet would then tend to come at a Highlander’s exposed right side instead of the left that was covered by the targe. Although Cumberland is usually credited with devising this drill, it is described in an article in the Gentleman’s Magazine for January 1746.

Cumberland’s army came face to face with the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart on Culloden Moor on 16 April 1746. What followed was Cumberland’s army simply, efficiently and professionally going about its business, particularly the infantry. The Jacobite army was organised in two lines, the front consisting of the Highland units, with the Lowland units and French regulars in the second line. It was the Highlanders in the front line that attacked, moving forward in three large bodies. The body which moved towards Cumberland’s right flank did not make contact. Three times it advanced, trying to provoke the infantry into firing too soon, but, as Cumberland wrote in a letter to Lord Loudon: ‘On our right tho they came on with great fury, our Men did not take their firelocks from their shoulders tho they advanced three times within less than an hundred yards of us.’ It was also probable that the Jacobites were inhibited by the presence of three squadrons of cavalry on that flank.

On the other side of the battlefield the other two bodies of Highlanders coalesced into one single mass that struck the battalions of Barrell and Monro. Because of the surviving accounts and an accurate list of the strength of Cumberland’s army it is possible to examine in some detail the combat that ensued.

Barrell’s regiment took the brunt of the Highland charge. The strength of Barrell’s that day was 373, all ranks, of whom 325 were carrying muskets in the three-deep platoons. At this time infantry battalions consisted of nine hat companies and one grenadier company. Given the low strength of Barrell’s, it is probable that it was organised into a total of twelve platoons, giving a platoon strength of twenty-seven men. This would mean that the centre and rear ranks of the ten hat platoons contained 180 men and the reserve had 145 men. If they fired as related, the platoons would have commenced firing at thirty yards in what one eyewitness described as a ‘running fire’, followed by the reserve who ‘received them with their fire upon the Points of their Bayonets’. They appear to have only fired once before the Highlanders reached them, a total of 325 rounds.

Monro’s regiment was the largest battalion on the field with a total strength of 491 men and 426 men in the platoons. An account by a corporal in the regiment states: ‘we fired at about 50 yards Distance . . . they still advanced, and were almost upon us before we had loaden again. We immediately gave them another full fire.’ This probably means that the platoons of the centre and rear ranks fired twice, almost certainly tap-loading to get in a second round, followed by the reserve. Thus 236 men fired twice and 190 fired once, a total of 662 rounds. The corporal of Monro’s continued that ‘the Front Rank charged their Bayonets Breast high, and the Centre and Rear Ranks kept a continual Firing . . . most of us having discharged nine Shot each.’ Monro’s suffered a total of eighty-two killed and wounded in the battle, allowing for which the battalion could have fired approximately two thousand rounds at ranges well under fifty metres.
To the right of Monro’s was Cambell’s Royal Scots Fusiliers. Although not subsequently involved in hand-to-hand fighting, part of the Highland charge crossed its front. With 412 men in its platoons, and assuming its reserve did not fire, it is likely that it fired about 220 rounds at the Highlanders, if it only fired once. The initial fire received by the front of the Highland charge was probably in excess of one thousand rounds, many at point-blank range. The corporal of Monro’s wrote that this ‘made hundreds fall’.

It was at this point that Cumberland’s new bayonet drill came into play and numerous letters and accounts speak of its effectiveness. Cumberland himself wrote: ‘our Men fairly beat them & drove them back with their Bayonets & made a great slaughter of them.’ According to another account: ‘the Soldiers mutually defended each other, and pierced the Heart of his Opponent, ramming their fixed Bayonets up to the Socket.’ Another eyewitness claimed: ‘there being scarce one Soldier in Barreyl’s Regiment who did not each kill several Men; and they of Monro’s which ingaged did the same.’

Some Highlanders passed around the left flank of Barrell’s and between Barrell’s and Monro’s, overrunning two artillery pieces in the gap. Pairs of three-pounder cannon had been placed between the battalions in the front line and these undoubtedly added many casualties, the guns next to Barrell’s firing their last shots of grape at only six feet. The Highlanders who passed Barrell’s then came under fire from regiments in the second line. Subsequently these moved forward to support Barrell’s and Monro’s. In particular Edward Wolfe’s regiment marched to the left of Barrell’s and placed itself at right angles to the front line where it commenced firing. The account of an officer of that regiment says that the battalion fired five or six times. The strength of the regiment was 324 in the platoons and if this firing was carried out with the front rank and grenadier platoons reserved it would have fired between nine hundred and one thousand rounds into the Highlanders at close range. Ligonier’s, Bligh’s and Sempill’s regiments also added their weight to this fire with a total of 1,157 muskets in their platoons. There is no indication of how many rounds they fired, but if, like Wolfe’s, they fired five rounds each that would have been another 3,200 rounds.

All in all it would appear that the Highlanders received between six and seven thousand rounds from the battalions of British infantry, many at ranges well under fifty metres. The strength of the Highlanders who attacked the British left-flank battalions was about 2,500. According to the officer of Monro’s left-flank grenadier platoon: ‘we laid about 1,600 dead on the spot.’ The figures for rounds fired would seem to be reasonably robust, as the various sources are consistent. It would also seem that most, if not all, were fired at ranges under fifty metres and that a considerable proportion were fired at much closer ranges. The area where the greatest doubt is to be found is in the numbers of casualties actually inflicted by this fire. However, a return of approximately 1,600 casualties for six or seven thousand rounds is a hit rate of roughly 22–26 per cent, which is in keeping with the 23 per cent suggested for Fontenoy. Even if the casualty figure is high and includes casualties from other parts of the battlefield a figure of one thousand casualties still gives a rate of 14–16 per cent. It would be unwise to place too much reliance on these figures, but they do give an indication of the capability of British musketry to inflict high casualties at the short range that they seem to have preferred to engage at. Every soldier with a musket had twenty-four rounds at Culloden, yet Wolfe’s battalion fired only five or six rounds a man. It would seem most likely that they stopped firing because there was nothing left to fire at.