Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I just dug into a book on warfare in the mid-to-late 19th Century (well, technically into the early 20th,) hoping to add more data on my "Age of Rifles" project, but was disappointed.

The book (The Art of War: Waterloo to Mons,) is greatly concerned with geopolitics, strategy, logistics, and operational-level information, but barely kisses the tactical implications of the technological changes that came with the industrial revolution. I had hoped for a little more data on the sharp end, but perhaps Sandhurst instructors aren't paid to be concerned with fiddly details.

Plus, only a certain type of very stuffy English professor can take one of the more colorful eras of warfare, when huge armies of brightly-clad men with large mustaches ran around getting blasted to pieces by 19th Century weapons while using 18th Century tactics to fight wars for 17th Century reasons, and make it as dull as watching paint dry.


New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

If you find a book with that kind of granularity, tell a person, will ya? That would interest me, as well.

Hey, there is some blog fodder for you. MORE book reviews... Ok, ok, I like the bike and brews posts too. Don't listen to me.

Ken said...

It's not European in focus, but permit me to suggest you pester your liberry for a copy of Brent Nosworthy's The Bloody Crucible of Courage. Nosworthy tackles many of the same questions with respect to the American Civil War of Northern Aggression Between the States (did I cover everything?), and provides an overview of European practices toward the end of the book. It's an excellent read, and the bibliography might help you.

Themadlemming said...

I'm currently reading "The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth" by J. Hess. It's a good book, but much like Ken's suggestion it's about the Civil War.

Tam said...

Oh, this has a section ("War Between Amateurs") on the U.S. Civil War.

Also some interesting insights on how, despite every European nation sending observers, nobody paid a lick of attention to what they brought back. Moltke himself insisted he had nothing to learn from "armed rabble chasing each other about the wilderness."

Ken said...

Tam, you need to read that Nosworthy book. Srsly. :-)

WV: drummul. I have no idea, but I'm reading John Macnab, and I'm sure it will turn up presently as a place-name or minor character.

Firing Pin J said...

Der gro├če Schweiger wouldn't learn from anyone.

ZerCool said...

"Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics." (Usually attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley.)

Or Napoleon's try, "An army moves on its stomach." (Although, unlike this guy suggests, Napoleon's mess sergeant probably did NOT create french fries.

And, while Sandhurst might be the British answer to West Point (er ... I guess that'd be the other way 'round, eh? Maybe not, Sandhurst as we know it was post-WWII.), we STILL had to save their bacon more than once. Clearly, speaking the Queen's English and learning to wear a Big Fuzzy Hat Without Smiling While Stupid Colonials Try To Make Me Laugh does not equate to John Wayne High School's "Kickin' Ass And Takin' Names 101".

Anonymous said...

" Clearly, speaking the Queen's English and learning to wear a Big Fuzzy Hat Without Smiling While Stupid Colonials Try To Make Me Laugh does not equate to John Wayne High School's "Kickin' Ass And Takin' Names 101"."

Just recall that the those "stupid Imperials" basically kicked buttocks and took names from Antartica to Zimbabwe for about 300 years.

They must have been doing something right from time to time.

And oh, btw, they weren't a huge continent spanning country, but a rather small cold damp island off of europe with little in the way in internal resources or manpower compared to all the competition.

nbc said...

If I remember my history, we also set fire to the White House once.

Not bad for a bunch of blokes who speak the Queen's English, wear a Big Fuzzy Hat Without Smiling While Stupid Colonials Try To Make one Laugh...


Hunsdon said...


Dude, I'm as close to a jingo as you're likely to find, but . . . read some history. The Brits kicked butt up one side of the world and down the other for a long, long time.

We're protected by Fortress Atlantic and Fortress Pacific, and the Brits are protected by . . . umm, OP/LP Channel?

It's cool and all to love on America, but if you know anything about history at all you can have nothing but admiration for the martial valor of the United Kingdom. (Hey, I'm mixed Celtic-English, but I heavily identify with the Scots side, so I emphasize "Brtain" and "United Kingdom" more than "England" but the English kicked butt all over the place.)

Controlling for tactics and equipment, I doubt if there's ever been a US military force that could stand up to the Brits at their best.

ZerCool said...

I knew I forgot something in my last comment... it was the tag...

@nbc - [seditionary thoughts down the memory hole - Ed.]

Fudgie Ghost said...

Tam: maybe your author was still too much in the forest to be able to see the trees.

After years of reading about Vietnam, and WW2, I have become very interested in WW1--and that time period in general.

Such a pivotal time in regards to war (esp. weapons-modern artillery, rifles, machine guns, etc.) and also politics: The swan song of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the rise of Bolshevik Russia, most of the Arab countries of the middle east, and of course, setting the table for Nazi Germany and the next war. . . among other things. . .

Can you recommend any good books on these subjects? I've read "Guns of August" (actually I heard it. . . during weekly drives to Harrisburg working on a project 14 years ago. . .)

Owen said...


have you laid hands on a copy of "The defense of Duffer's Drift," by Lieutenant Backsight Forethought?


Anonymous said...

"Controlling for tactics and equipment, I doubt if there's ever been a US military force that could stand up to the Brits at their best."

Oh, I wouldn't go _that_ far.

If only because once you control for that there's not much left.

Hey knocking the brits is like knocking the French, their recent performances have been duds, but they had some blockbusters back when.

(Including distracting the living daylights out of the British at the time of the American Revolution, which arguably took enough pressure off the 13 colonies to allow victory conditions to be achieved.)

Anonymous said...

Tam: The seminal work on understanding military leadership and how badly it can be wrong.


Ken said...

Mr. Dixon clearly has not seen me in a wargame. I'm not in the indicated volume anywhere (my personal battle cry, good for nearly any situation from the Teutoberger Wald to the shoulder of Orion: "It sucks to be me, it sucks to be meeeeeee").

Kidding aside, The March of Folly is pretty good in that line too. I'ma have to see if the liberry can hook me up with the Dixon volume.

Myles said...

Queen Victoria's Little Wars by Byron Farwell. Amazon has the first 7 pages or so up so you can preview.
Farwell does a fairly good job of intertwining the stories with the advances in arms technology over the reign of Victoria, especially the consequences of upgraded military tech in India and the Boer War.

Matthew said...

"Mud, Blood and Poppycock" lays to rest some WWI memes quite convincingly.

Europe's own "chasing about the wilderness" in WWI is detailed in WWI: The African Front (forget tactics or logistics, professionals invest in boot manufacturing).

McBride's "A Rifleman went to war" has good "from the trenches" reports on weapons and tactics from a self-described enthusiastic combatant (American who joined the Canucks to get in sooner).

WV: swellin - what my feet did sympathetically after reading about all that marching about the Dark Continent

Matthew said...


I seem to recall "The Washing of the Spears" did a good job of going from micro to macro and back for the Zulu Wars.

I also seem to recall "The Great Pursuit" did a good job with Pershing's Mexican raid.

As soon as this semester is over I'm going to be diving into a bunch of suggested books about the Italo-Ethiopian conflict between the wars. I know a bit about the Marines in the that period on our side of the Atlantic but the Euros in Africa have caught my interest; a lot of tie in with things like the Span. Civil War and the lead up to the big show. Modern doctrine being forged and new weapons tested.

WV: beavers - really? Screw Oregon, go Seawolves.