Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curious Comparisons

I can think offhand of just two veterans of the US Civil War who wrote at any length on the Thirty Years’ War: Theodore Ayrault Dodge and John Watts de Peyster. Both served in the Federal Army of the Potomac, Dodge in the infantry and De Peyster in the artillery.

Only Dodge’s writings, as exemplified by his magnum opus, Great Captains, have enduring value, and I’ll probably return to that work in a future post. But De Peyster’s rambling, shambling, and at times plainly strange forays into the rich history of the Thirty Years’ War have at the least a certain antiquarian interest for the modern reader, chiefly as illustrative of the blind Nativism that characterized large segments of the officer corps of the US Army and polite society in the northeast for the greater part of the 19th century and continued in a residual sense well into the mid-20th century.

This Nativism, composed in large part of anti-Catholicism and anti-foreign (mainly anti-Irish) convictions, saw history as a morality play in which the heritors of the Protestant Revolution had supplanted the decadent, reactionary Catholic powers of Europe. Quite naturally, in the eyes of De Peyster and others, the Thirty Years’ War marked an enormous step forward in that process.

To return to the subject line, De Peyster in one of his rambles provided a comparison of some Thirty Years’ War generals to generals of the Civil War. For the life of me, I can’t fathom his thinking in this exercise, but then that’s the nature of facile historical comparisons. You either buy them or you don’t (for example, the carefully-cultivated Obama-Lincoln parallel: Both are politicians from Illinois—therefore Obama is “like” Lincoln).

The following is from De Peyster’s article “The Thirty Years’ War: With Special Reference to the Military Operations and Influence of the Swedes” in The United Service (Dec., 1884):

... [T]he Archduke Leopold, in some respects, resembled Hood; Gallas, in others, McClellan; Piccolomini, a Lee, in his comprehension of the strength of positions; Koenigsmarck, a “Stonewall” Jackson in enterprise; Pappenheim, exactly a Sheridan; Wrangel Junior, might recall Sherman, able, erratic, and ever looking to the end; Condé was a butterfly general, who took the field in summer, had the support of the best in the French service, and rested on his laurels in winter, a Grant in pertinacity; Torstensson, and in a far less degree Turenne, was a Thomas. In this comparison there is no intention to introduce the question of morals, since, with the exception of Gustavus, Horn, and Torstensson, morals were an unknown quantity.

(That last sentence is a stunner: De Peyster states that morals haven’t entered into his calculus and then stakes out the moral high ground for three Swedes, including the king, Gustavus Adolphus.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

La Florida: Fighting Vessels (1) – the Patache

Paul Hoffman’s superb study of the Spanish defense of the Caribbean in our period (see below) introduced me to a type of fighting vessel that I had never imagined would be present in the war theater, much less an important factor operationally and tactically. This was the boat called the patache de remos (oared patache), or just plain patache.

Hoffman’s brief but well executed glossary defines the patache as:

“A two-masted open boat often fitted with oars or sweeps, varying in number from ten to eighteen to a side, with a total of from twenty to thirty-six. Ranging in size from 60 to 200 toneladas burden, they were very swift under sail or oar and were used as tenders for larger ships. The name seems to be derived from an Arabic adjective meaning `rapid, active’.”

Hoffman speculates that the French use of the patache, which was Spanish or at least Moorish in origin, was possibly in imitation of the Spanish or the “inspiration” of pirates in the Indies “becalmed within sight of a prize.” Nonetheless, beginning in 1549, piratical depredations by pataches, often operating in tandem with larger sailing vessels, were noted.

It seems that some of the pataches were transported to the Antilles in pieces and there assembled and fitted-out for service with corsair flotillas. In response, the Spanish employed their own pataches and larger galleys.

Source: Hoffman, Paul E. The Spanish Crown and the Defense of the Caribbean, 1555-1585: Precdent, Patrimonialism, and Royal Parsimony. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980.

Rod Langton makes miniatures in 1:1200 scale in his Renaissance Galleys line that appear to be suitable representations of pataches. These are his Bergantine, Fusta, and Galiot models, described as unarmed scout with 9 oars/side, unarmed scout/pirate with 15 oars/side, and lightly armed scout/pirate with 17 oars/side, respectively.

Monday, January 12, 2009

La Florida: Abbreviations

The number of abbreviations connected with LF posts is mounting. Here is a draft list, which I'll update from time to time.

EPP = Economic Power Potential
FHQ = Florida Historical Quarterly (professional journal)
GOD = The Game Organizer and Director
LF = La Florida (game system)
MPP = Military Power Potential
TPC = The Perfect Captain (web source for gaming systems)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

La Florida: Indian Weapons

Several sources were consulted on weapons employed by the Indians of LF. A useful, well-illustrated general source is:

Taylor, Colin F. Native American Weapons. Norman: Univ. of Okla. Press, 2001.

General sources have very little to say about LF, though, and it was necessary to consult specialized sources. Among these, the following was outstanding, and not just for weapons, as the title indicates:

Purdy, Barbara A. “Weapons, Strategies, and Tactics of the Europeans and the Indians in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Florida.” FHQ, 55 (Jan., 1977), 254-76. [I use FHQ as an abbreviation for the Florida Historical Quarterly.]

From Purdy and other sources, it appears that Indian weapons included: bows, spears, clubs, and short swords.

The bows typically were large, resembling longbows, and powerful. They had a range of 200 yards, and the Indians were said to commonly discharge six or seven cane arrows in the time it took a European to reload his arquebus. The bows were so stout that they could also be used as clubs.

Clubs used by the Indians were of various types. Those with stone heads appear to have been used like maces to stun an enemy at the least and to crush skulls and bones at worst. Others, like the macaña had “blades” made of pebbles or small stones that could not be splintered. “It will kill the best armored man,” wrote a Spaniard, “and anyone who hesitates and is struck with the macaña will surely be killed.” Pick-axe type clubs were described by De Soto.

It seems that thrusting-type spears were rarely mentioned in the literature of LF, and references to spears were mainly to dart-like throwing spears.