Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turner's Pallas Armata

Turner, Sir James. Pallas Armata. Military Essayes of the Ancient Grecian, Roman, and Modern Art of War. Written in the Years 1670 and 1671. 1683. Repr. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Sir James Turner (from the book)

Before proceeding to a review of Turner’s work, it might be useful to describe the activities of the publisher, Greenwood Press. Greenwood Press was a publishing house concentrating primarily on reprinting significant older works in a variety of fields. Military studies were strongly represented among Greenwood’s offerings, and the publisher at one time offered a separate catalog describing over 120 books on military subjects. Among books listed in that catalog were many of interest to scholars of the early modern period, including several titles in the West Point Military Library series (works of Feuquières, Saxe, Lloyd, and Colin). Other significant titles included Frederick Lewis Taylor’s outstanding Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529, G. B. Malleson’s Battlefields of Germany, and S. R. Gardiner’s Thirty Years’ War. Of course, today many of these seminal works are available on the web.

Turner’s book is one of a multitude of military works that appeared in Europe in the second half of the 17th century. The author was a professional soldier whose purpose in writing was to instruct “Young Lords and Gentlemen” in the art of war. His style is informative – even witty – and these properties distinguish the book from many of its “dryasdust” contemporaries.

The work is really two books. The first half is a detailed synthesis of the art of war as it was practiced under the ancient Greeks and Romans; the second an examination of the art of war in Turner’s own time and just previously. Both parts are, as the author intended, instructive. No matter how deep your knowledge of the subject covered, you are likely to find something here that you hadn’t known before. For example, the author provides what I believe to be a unique description of how Swedish brigade formations of the Thirty Years’ War conducted fire fights in battle. On the whole, this is an entertaining work. It is recommended for those interested in tactics, formations, and military housekeeping of the period from the French Religious-Civil Wars through the Thirty Years’ War.

This post was adapted from a review published originally in Gorget & Sash, and is published with the permission of the editors of G&S.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fabian Tactics

Gen. Nathanael Greene (July 27, 1742-June 19, 1786)

Like many American soldiers who rose to improbable greatness, Greene was a native genius. Readings in military history appear to have provided his entire background in military affairs. Perhaps it was his reading of the campaigns of the great Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, who defended Rome against the Carthaginian general Hannibal, that inspired his employment of Fabian tactics against the British in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution.

“Fabian tactics – A type of warfare in which combat is avoided and instead a policy of delay and harassment is directed at the enemy.” - Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson, and Grace P. Hayes. Dictionary of Military Terms: A Guide to the Language of Warfare and Military Institutions. New York: H.W. Wilson Co, 1986.

Greene described his operational-tactical method in a letter to his friend Jeremiah Wadsworth:

“Our army has been frequently beaten and like a Stock Fish grows the better for it. Lord Cornwallis, who is the modern Hannibal, has rambled through [a] great part of the Southern States, and his Tour has [sacrificed] a great number of Men without reaping any solid Advantages from it, except that of distressing the poor Inhabitants.”

“…[T]here are few Generals that [have] run oftener, or more lustily, than I have done. But I have taken care not to run too far; and commonly have run as fast forward as backward, to convince our Enemy that we were like a Crab that could run either way.”

Sometimes, of course, it was necessary to fight, but as Greene noted in a letter to the chevalier de La Luzerne:

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gen. Phil Kearny (June 1, 1815-Sept. 1, 1862)

Kearny, Philip, and William B. Styple (ed.). Letters from the Peninsula: The Civil War Letters of General Philip Kearny. Kearny, N.J.: Belle Grove Pub. Co., 1988.

Phil Kearny was an American soldier who entered the U.S. Army from civilian life as a 2d lieutenant of the 1st Dragoons in 1837. A lawyer by profession, he had inherited fabulous wealth but yearned for nothing more than a soldier’s life and had obtained his commission through the influence of his uncle, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny. In 1839, he was posted as a student to the French cavalry school (Saumur) to study tactics. He subsequently served as an observer with the Chasseurs d’Afrique during the French conquest of Algeria (1840) and in the U.S.-Mexican War (in which he lost his left arm in a cavalry charge at Churubusco). Resigning his commission, he traveled to France and served as a staff officer in the French army during the War of France and Piedmont-Sardinia with Austria (1859), participating heroically in the battles of Magenta and Solferino, for which he was awarded the Legion of Honor.

With the outbreak of Civil War, Kearny returned to the United States and his native state, New Jersey. His initial command was the 1st New Jersey Brigade, which he trained to a high level but never led in battle. During the Peninsula campaign, he commanded the 3d Division, III Army Corps (Heintzelman) and participated in the battles of Williamsburg (May 4-5, 1862), Seven Pines (May 31-June 1), and several of the Seven Days’ battles (June 25-July 1). He had the utmost contempt for army commander General McClellan and several of his compeers and was outspoken in his views. Nonetheless, he was promoted brigadier general, U.S.V. (May 17, 1862) and major general, U.S.V. (July 4). He led his division at Second Manassas (August 29-30) and at Chantilly (Sept. 1), where he was KIA when he rode into the Confederate ranks during a tremendous thunderstorm and refused a summons to surrender. He was mourned by many high-ranking officers of both armies, including Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Kearny’s life and character are much-illumined by the book shown at the head of this sketch. The late (and much-missed) Brian C. Pohanka wrote the foreword, which in measured and sympathetic terms perfectly captures the essence and allure of Kearny’s dashing, volatile personality. Editor and compiler Styple’s Introduction provides a concise biography of Kearny, whose life was flamboyant and at times even Flashman-esque. The bulk of the book contains Kearny’s wartime letters to his wife, Agnes, and his friend and political ally, Cortlandt Parker. In terms of back matter, there is a brief but wholly adequate bibliography. Unfortunately, there is no index, which would have added much to the book’s value as a resource.

Below is a list of other books that might be consulted for information about Kearny and the 1st New Jersey Brigade, “Kearny’s Own.”

Baquet, Camille. History of the First Brigade, New Jersey Volunteers, From 1861 to 1865. Trenton, N.J.: MacCrellish & Quigley, state printers, 1910.

De Peyster, John Watts. Personal and Military History of Philip Kearny, Major General United States Volunteers. New York: Palmer, 1870.

Gottfried, Bradley M. Kearny's Own: The History of the First New Jersey Brigade in the Civil War. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Kearny, Thomas. General Philip Kearny: Battle Soldier of Five Wars. New York: Putnam, 1937.

Werstein, Irving. Kearny the Magnificent: The Story of General Philip Kearny, 1815-1862. New York: The John Day Co., 1962.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Texas Rangers

Moore, Stephen L. Savage Frontier: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas. Vol. 4: 1842-1845. Univ. of North Texas Press, 2010.

Before reading author Moore’s latest (and last) volume in his four-volume history of the Texas Rangers during the Republic of Texas era, I knew relatively little of the history of this fabled force of frontier fighters. I’m pleased to report I’ve been educated. As indicated by the citation, the present volume details events during 1842-1845, including two Mexican invasions of Texas (the Vasquez and Wall incursions, both in 1842) and the fierce fighting that resulted from them. Texan ripostes, including the Somervell and Mier expeditions, were ignominious failures. The bitterness of the conflict, including Mexican atrocities and maltreatment of prisoners, was such that the Rangers subsequently sought revenge and killed Mexican soldiers and civilians with such ruthlessness that American soldiers with whom they served in the U.S.-Mexican War were appalled. (It is only just to point out here that many Tejanos served in the ranks of the Rangers.)

Besides major conflicts, the book includes accounts of everyday peacekeeping on the frontier, chiefly the numerous fights against hostile Indians. It is worth noting that friendly Indians sometimes served in companies alongside the Rangers. Among the famous Rangers profiled are the legendary Capt. Jack Hays and Capt. Samuel Hamilton Walker, who helped design the famous Walker Colt, an early revolver that was adopted by the Rangers and the U.S. dragoons. (This was Clint Eastwood’s pistol in The Outlaw Josey Wales.) All in all, this book is a rewarding read. For war gamers, it will certainly provide inspiration for skirmish scenarios readily adaptable to rules sets like TooFatLardies’ Sharp Practice.

Friday, July 20, 2012

1st Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, 1861 (2)

Col. Ambrose E. Burnside was the regiment’s first commander. However, when the Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, commanding, was organized just prior to the Battle of Bull Run, Burnside was given command of the 2d Brigade, 2d Division. Burnside’s brigade consisted of four infantry regiments and one artillery battery, as follows.

2d NH (Col Gilman Marston; Lt Col Frank S Fiske)
1st RI (Maj Joseph P Balch)
2d RI (Col John S Slocum; Lt Col Frank Wheaton)
71st NYSM (Col Henry P Martin)
2d RI Bty (Capt William H Reynolds)

At the Battle of Bull Run, Burnside’s Brigade led the flanking column that opened the action on Matthews’ Hill (the subject of A. R. Waud’s sketch, above). Rhode Island’s Governor Sprague accompanied the regiment as a volunteer and participated in the combat.


Uniform: See Military Collector & Historian, 7 (1955), 49-50.

Smith, George B. “Formation and Service of the First Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, April 17th‑Aug. 2nd, 1861.” Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, No. 58 (July 1926), 14‑29.

Woodbury, Augustus. A Narrative of the Campaign of the First Rhode Island Regiment, in the Spring and Summer of 1861. Providence: Sidney S. Rider, 1862.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

1st Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, 1861

On Monday, April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 militia to suppress the rebellion. Among the many units responding to the president’s call were those that made up the 1st Rhode Island Regement.

This regiment is interesting in many respects. With peculiar thoroughness, the state government had integrated a fine battery of rifled artillery, the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, into the regiment. The regiment also had a detachment of “carbineers” to act as skirmishers, and two men were designated as “aeronauts” to conduct aerial surveillance of Confederate positions. But for accidental damage to their balloons, they might actually have done so.

Uniform. The uniform of the 1st Rhode Island, which it shared with the 2d Rhode Island, was unique to those two regiments. The famous Civil War artist A. R. Waud made a sketch of the uniform, reproduced above. Waud’s own notation on the back of the original gives the following description: “This uniform is dark blue shirt, belted around waist, black felt hat and grey pants; the blanket is scarlet with black bar near edge….” To Waud’s description it is only necessary to add that the blouse is the famous “Burnside” or “Rhode Island blouse,” and to note that many of the men wore the kepi or forage cap with a white havelock. Augustus Woodbury, the regimental historian felt that the uniform “formed a good combination of the national colors.” The figures in the drawing represent, from left to right: Enlisted Man, Full Dress with blanket; Fatigue; Officer (Captain); Full Marching Order; and Enlisted Man with Burnside carbine.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Drayton's Brigade: Organization

Above: Excerpt from OR, 14:644 outlining the initial organization of the brigades of generals Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans and Thomas F. Drayton, when ordered north from the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida by Gen. John C. Pemberton to reinforce the Army of Northern Virginia.

Of interest is the assignment of the 3d S.C. (Laurens or James) Bn. to Drayton's Brigade from its inception, although as we noted earlier, it disappears from the subsequent official record. At this time, the brigade's organization was as follows:

50th Ga. (Col. William R. Manning)
51st Ga. (Col. William Marion Slaughter)
15th S.C. (Col. William Davie DeSaussure)
3d S.C. (Laurens or James) Bn. (7 cos., A-G)(Lt. Col. George S. James)
Phillips’ (Ga.) Legion Inf. Bn. (9 cos.)(Lt. Col. Robert Thomas Cook)

The brigade numbered approximately 2,600 men at this time. Colonel Slaughter was MWIA at Chancellorsville, Colonel DeSaussure was KIA at Gettysburg, and Colonel James was MWIA at South Mountain. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The 3d S.C. Inf. Bn. (2)

Table of Contents of Sam B. Davis’ history of the 3d S.C. Inf. Bn.

Thus far, I have read Sam B. Davis’ unit history of the 3d S.C. Inf. Bn. through the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. To that point, the battalion had participated in three battles in the space of 21 days and had been reduced in strength from about 300 men to a remnant of perhaps 30 or so who retreated from Antietam. At South Mountain it had been practically annihilated in the fierce combat at Fox’s Gap – an epic fight that has been more or less obscure in the history books until revealed and explained by Mr. Davis and the small band of historians who together researched and analyzed the story of the Fox’s Gap fighting over many years and unselfishly shared their efforts and particular expertise among themselves.

The Table of Contents shown above will indicate the participation of the battalion in the Civil War and the scope of Mr. Davis’ work.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 3d S.C. (Laurens or James) Battalion

Davis, Sam B. A History of the 3rd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Battalion (James Battalion): 1861-1865. Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Pub., 2009.

We have previously mentioned this infantry battalion as a unit belonging to Drayton’s Brigade during the Virginia and Maryland campaign of August-September 1862. And, we have mentioned that its presence with Drayton during that campaign is largely missing from the official record and subsequent histories. This inexplicable and mysterious lacuna has been filled most admirably by the unit history cited above.

The battalion was organized in the Laurens District of its home state beginning in late November 1862. Eventually, it consisted of seven companies (A-G), of which five were from the Laurens District and one each from Columbia and Fairfield. Originally assigned to defensive duty on the southeast South Carolina coast, it saw no real combat action until after it joined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Second Manassas campaign.

During the course of the war, 897 men served in the battalion, but it appears that it never numbered more than 400 men for duty in the field. It was also known as “the James Battalion” after Lt. Col. George Strother James, who was its commanding officer from Feb. 2, 1862, until his death at South Mountain on Sept. 14, 1862. A veteran of the Mexican War (Palmetto Rgt.) and pre-Civil War service as an officer in the U.S. Army, James was famous in his time as the man who had fired the signal gun for the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), March 7-8, 1862

Shea, William L., and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

This superb book describes the intense fighting at the Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), Arkansas, in March 1862, that turned back an attempted Confederate invasion of Missouri from northwestern Arkansas. It was, until recently, the only comprehensive, scholarly modern history of the battle. Well-researched, competent, and complemented by 18 attractive, useful maps, it remains a classic of the genre.

Additional information on the Battle of Pea Ridge may be found in a tour guide to three major western battles located on the old Wire [Telegraph] Road that traversed the Ozark Plateau between Springfield, Missouri, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Hess, Earl J., and Christopher Lawrence Brest. Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

The Table of Contents of this book is listed below:
Part One - Wilson's Creek Introduction; One. Lyon's Attack and the Southern Response; Two. Sigel's Attack and the Southern Response; Three. Bloody Hill Part Two - Pea Ridge Introduction; Four. Leetown, March 7, 1862; Five. Elkhorn Tavern, March 7, 1862; Six. Victory and Defeat, March 8, 1862; Seven. Pea Ridge Campaign Driving Tour Part Three - Prairie Grove Introduction; Eight. The Battle for the Wooded Ridge; Nine. Prairie Grove Campaign Driving Tour Part Four - The Wire Road Introduction; Ten. Driving Tour from Springfield to Fort Smith Orders of Battle.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Scottish Archer of the Maison du roi

Above: Scottish Archer, reign of King Henri III (lithograph by Noirmont - NYPL)

According to various chronologies of the Maison du roi, this company of the Garde du corps (royal bodyguard) was created in 1440 or 1445. It was the 1st or Scottish Company and originally was composed of 100 men-at-arms and 100 archers. Three French companies, numbered 2d through 4th, were created subsequently. The company generally had a Scottish or Franco-Scottish captain, at least until 1559, when as we have seen, Montgomery accidentally mortally wounded the king. Apparently, he was the last of the Scots captains. The personnel were originally entirely Scots, but gradually French noblemen came to predominate, and by 1612 approximately two-thirds of the troopers were French.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Montgomery: Huguenot Leader

Montgomery, Gabriel de Lorges, comte de, and seigneur de Ducey (1530-1574).

The website of the Archives of the Department of the Manche today profiled Montgomery as “Manchois” of the month. Access at: http://archives.manche.fr/manchois-du-mois-details.asp?card=7272568

The French aristocrat was most famous for the accidental mortal wounding of King Henri II in the famous tournament held in 1559 in the Marais at the site known today as the Place des Vosges. He was also one of the more daring of the Huguenot war leaders until his capture and execution.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cent-Suisse Bodyguard

Cent-Suisse in the reign of King Francis I. These guardsmen wear a good example of the mi-parti uniform. As you look at the illustration, the left side is mi-parti yellow and white and the right side a reddish-orange color. The plumes and cap would continue these colors. A large number of plumes would signify a veteran of long service. The shaft of the halberd was violet, as was the scabbard of the longsword. The music of the Cent-Suisse consisted of four drummers and two fifers. Musicians wore white (NYPL).
 Another view of a Cent-Suisse guardsman. The mi-parti uniform is not otherwise identified or attributed to a royal livery (NYPL).

The elite corps of the Swiss in the French army was the Company of the Cent-Suisse (Hundred Swiss) of the Garde du Roi. Instituted by Charles VIII in 1496, these men served as a bodyguard to the king and protected his residence. When the king was on the march or in the field, he was preceded by the Cent-Suisse carrying halberds. In wartime, the Cent-Suisse wore a light corselet. Their dress was in the colors of the king’s livery. A custom instituted under Charles VIII was to provide each man with plumes and two uniforms in the king’s colors each year. The plumes were never discarded, being quite valuable, and veterans were colorfully festooned with the accumulation of years of service. Under Henri II, the livery was black and white.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tidball Trail (3)

This photo of the Middle Bridge over Antietam Creek was taken by Alexander Gardner on Sept. 22, 1862, five days after the Battle of Antietam. The view is to the west. The road in the center is the Boonsboro Turnpike (today, SR 34). To the left (south) is the Newcomer Barn. The house on the right-hand side of the road is the Newcomer Farmhouse. Sharpsburg itself is just over the horizon in the center, which was crowned by Confederate batteries along its length. It is remarkable how barren the landscape appears.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Antietam: Clipp-Roulette Farm Lane (2)

Above: The top of the observation tower on the Sunken Road-Bloody Lane viewed from the same place as the previous photo, on the Clipp-Roulette farm lane. The view is to the southeast. From this (and the previous photo), you can get a sense of how the Federal advance was actually masked by the high ground parallel to the Sunken Road. The Federals were under artillery fire, and as they topped the ridge line, were brought under heavy musketry fire by the defenders.
Above: View northwest from the observation tower on the Bloody Lane. The farm lane from which the previous two photos were taken is marked by the line of trees in the middle ground. The buildings of the Mumma Farm, burned during the battle, are in the distance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Antietam: Clipp-Roulette Farm Lane

The approach to Bloody Lane from the north on the axis of advance of Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball’s 1st Bde., 3d Div. (French), II Corps (Sumner). “Now boys, we are going, and we’ll stay with them all day if they want us to!” – General Kimball. What ensued was “systematic killing,” according to Sgt. Thomas Galwey of the 8th Ohio Inf.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tidball Trail (2)

Above: The Newcomer Farmhouse. The trailhead is to the right of the house in this view. There is parking to the left.

Above: The Newcomer Barn, across the Boonsboro Pike (Rte. 34) from the farmhouse. 

Above: Photo taken from the bend in the trail at the crest of the steep hill on which Tidball’s Battery, consisting of six 3-in. Ordnance RML, went into battery. The right-most section was probably in battery at this location. Tidball’s field of fire to the west is shown. Confederate guns crowned Cemetery Hill, the location of the National Cemetery and the Town Cemetery, neither of which were in existence on the day of battle. The turnpike bisected the hill. The farmroad running through a deep ravine northward toward Bloody Lane is indicated.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tidball Trail

On Sat., May 12, we hiked the new Tidball Trail at Antietam National Battlefield, near Sharpsburg, Md. The handout for the trail (above – front and back) explains the significance of the site. The trailhead is at the beautifully restored Newcomer Farmhouse, which is just west of the modern bridge erected on the site of the Middle Bridge that existed at the time of the battle. This trail is an important resource for anyone seeking to gain an understanding of the fighting in the much-neglected and heretofore somewhat inaccessible Middle Bridge sector of the battlefield. I’ll be posting photos of the vistas available in future.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Drayton's Brigade - Composition

Above: Statement of the composition of Drayton’s Brigade in the order of battle of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Second Manassas Campaign. Source: US War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Ser. I, Vol. XII, Part 2, Ser. No. 16. Operations in Northern Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, March 17-September 2, 1862.  Washington, DC: USGPO, 1885.

Drayton’s Brigade had an ephemeral existence. It participated in the bookend Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns before being broken-up in November 1862. Its brief existence as a formation attached to the Army of Northern Virginia and the extraordinary casualties it incurred at South Mountain (Fox’s Gap), including the loss of many officers, resulted in a relatively sparse documentary record. This is indicated by statements of the brigade’s composition in the official records and in many, if not most, secondary works until recently. As illustrated above, the brigade appears to have consisted of four units – two regiments and one infantry battalion from Georgia and one regiment from South Carolina. This is how it is represented in the most detailed histories of the 19th century (e.g., Ezra A. Carman’s ms. History of the Antietam campaign, recently published) and the best recent works on the Second Manassas campaign and the Maryland campaign (e.g., Hennessy’s and Sears’, inter alia). In fact, the brigade consisted of five units, as shown below.

50th Ga.
51st Ga.
15th S.C.
3d S.C. Bn.
Phillips (Ga.) Legion Inf. Bn.

The (usually) missing unit is the 3d S.C. Inf. Bn., aka the James or Laurens Battalion. The fact of this unit’s attachment to the brigade I believe was uncovered by the research of local, unheralded historians studying the South Mountain battle and indeed the story of the 3d S.C. Bn. itself.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brig. Gen. Thomas Fenwick Drayton

Much of my time lately has been taken up with research and analysis for a series of scenarios. The focus has been on various units and formations involved in the Second Manassas-Antietam campaign of 1862. As usual, my concerns have been strengths, casualties, characterization of leaders, and indices of combat effectiveness. I've returned to these questions time and again over the years. One of the formations that has intrigued me over time has been the brigade General Drayton, which, under the apparently feckless leadership of its commander (depicted above, with his brother, whom he faced in battle at Port Royal) was virtually destroyed in its sojourn of less than a month with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Fenwick Drayton (1808-1891) was a classmate of Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis at West Point, and the two were friends. A South Carolinian, he had led Confederate land forces in the unsuccessful defense of Port Royal Sound (Nov. 7, 1861). His brother, Capt. Percival Drayton, commanded a gunboat in the attacking Union squadron. At the end of July 1862, Drayton’s Brigade, together with that of “Shanks” Evans, moved north from the Department of South Carolina and Georgia to reinforce Lee’s army in Virginia. In the Army of Northern Virginia, Drayton led his brigade at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Antietam. The brigade found little employment in the Second Manassas campaign but was nearly wrecked at South Mountain. How much of this was Drayton’s fault is debatable. At Antietam, the remnants of the brigade resisted Burnside’s advance briefly before breaking for the rear. Documentation of Drayton’s command performance is scarce. It seems he was considered “inefficient” by superiors. In addition, he was criticized in press reports that originated among stringers in his brigade. Following the Antietam campaign, he was relieved, his brigade was broken-up, and he was shunted off to administrative duties and minor commands in backwater districts. In truth, he was probably better suited to desk work than field command.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Gallant Pelham

Above: Marker at the site of Pelham's mortal wounding near Kelly's Ford, Va.

Maj. John Pelham's name was practically synonymous with the battalion of the Stuart Horse Artillery, Cavalry Division, Army of Northern Virginia, where he had won a reputation for fighting his guns well to the front, often in the very face of the enemy.

In reporting his death in the cavalry combat at Kelly's Ford (March 17, 1863), Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart stated, “The noble, the chivalric, the gallant Pelham is no more….His loss to the country is irreparable.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

French Dragoons, mid- to late 17th Century: Beginnings-1660

A French dragoon, 1650-1678, from the Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Uniforms, NYPL, otherwise unidentified. Note the “bonnet de grenadier” with the characteristic hanging bag. Generally, the common civilian-style hat was worn, but when the dragoon was “under arms,” on foot or on horse (which I take to mean on active service in the field), the bonnet was worn. Among the dragoons, the hanging bag often extended to the middle of the shoulders. This would provide protection from sword blows in close combat.

The origin of dragoons and, indeed, the derivation of the term itself are obscure. Some French military historians, notably Susane and Père Daniel, have discerned their origin in the mounted infantry employed by Maréchal Brissac in the occupa­tion of Piedmont (1550‑1560), but others, principally Choppin, have correctly expressed disagreement with this view. Brissac's “dragoons” (the term postdates the mid‑16th Century) were most certainly infantry pure and simple who were given horses captured from the enemy to increase their mobility and who were employed chiefly in raids and ambushes. They appear to be dragoons in the context of Turner’s definition, but they were not organized or trained as such, and their existence as quondam dragoons was ephemeral, due entirely to their commander’s adaptive genius. Indeed, mounting infantry to increase mobility was not uncommon during the Italian Wars, and the Venetians, Spanish, and Imperials had all piggy-backed infantry on the crupper behind light cavalry during 1509-1516.

The first true French dragoons emerged at the beginning of French military involvement in the Thirty Years’ War (1635). (However, the ephemeral “Griffons” of the Gardes françaises predated this apparition.)

These units originated in the reorganization of 1635, when, as we have seen, the French cavalry was first organized on a regimental basis. Choppin indicates that at this time the carabins were dispersed, and three of the 12 new regiments formed were dragoons. These included one regiment of mousquetaires à cheval and two regiments of fusiliers à cheval. Choppin states that these units were dragoons in all but name.

Ambert states that there were no dragoons in the French army in the decade following the Siege of La Rochelle, but that in the reorganization of 1635 a 1,200-man unit, the dragoons of Cardinal Richelieu, was formed.

On May 27,1635, just one day after the publication of the royal ordinance reorganizing the cavalry, the Marquis d’Alègre received a commission to raise a regiment of dragoons which was to consist of five 100‑man companies. This regiment was in existence until July 30, 1636.

Thereafter, for about a decade, the history of the French dragoons becomes somewhat murky. One regiment of the fusiliers à cheval was most certainly at Rocroi (1643), but the fusiliers do not appear to have survived the war. A new regiment of dragoons, that of the marquis de la Ferté‑Senneterre, was raised in 1645 and served at the Sieges of Mardyck and Quesnoy (1646) and at the Battle of Lens (1648). It would appear that at the Peace of Westphalia and until l656 this regiment was the only unit of dragoons in the French army. 

In 1656, a second regiment of dragoons, designated the Dragons étrangers du Roi and commanded by a certain Count Oddi, was raised. This unit passed to the Duc de Lauzun in 1658 and performed distinguished service at the Battle of the Dunes (1659). Thus, at the conclusion of the French‑Spanish War in 1659, there were just two dragoon regiments in the French army.

In 1660 the companies of La Ferté‑Senneterre were amalga­mated with those of the Dragons étrangers du Roi, and the designation “étrangers” was dropped by the latter. Then, in 1668, the Dragons du Roi was divided, and two new regiments were created from it. These were Colonel général and Royal dragons, which ranked first and third, respectively, among the famous quatorze vieux (“old fourteen”) of the French dragoon regiments created between 1668 and 1676.