The Battle of Oriskany, August 6th 1777.

As part of his master plan for capturing the Hudson Valley General Burgoyne detached General Barry St Leger to invade the Mohawk Valley to divert American resources. To secure this natural avenue, St Leger’s expedition aimed to capture Fort Stanwix (Renamed Schuyler by the Americans) which guarded the portage road between Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. He was joined by Sir John Johnson and his step Uncle Joseph Brant with 1,000 Iroquois and his own regiment of loyalists (Royal New York). Thinking it a ruin guarded by 60 men, when in fact it was newly rebuilt and had a Garrison of 550 men, Brant’s force advanced through Wood Creek as an advance guard to cut the fort off. Moving fast despite obstacles, terrain and enemy troops they managed a pace of 10 miles a day but arrived just too late to stop a supply column getting inside the Fort on August 2nd. Three days later on the 5th as St Leger was busy carving a supply road through the forest, building earthworks and having his sharpshooters start picking off stray colonials when he heard that a relief force, which had left Fort Dayton on the 4th would be upon him the next day. Continue reading “The Battle of Oriskany, August 6th 1777.”

Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812.

Last week an email popped into my inbox, and I’m really excited to share it with you. I really loved playing strategy games when I was a kid, anyone out there remember Sharpe’s Attack? It was pretty much Stratego (another sweet game), but it was awesome! Another great one I remember was called Lionheart, made by the makers of the classic game risk. For myself I still love these types of games, so when the folks at Hand 2 Hand Entertainment showed me their new War of 1812 game I was only to pleased to give them a place in Historyland. As yet I’ve not played the game, hopefully I will be able to review it for you guys in the future when prototype models are available. For now they’d appreciate your time and support. Here is what they have to say: Continue reading “Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812.”

10 Myths about the Battle of Culloden.

Culloden by Morier.

Here are ten common misconceptions about the last major battle fought on British soil.

1. The highlanders were all swordsmen.
The basic facts are that from 750 dead bodies directly found on Culloden battlefield only 190 broadswords could be discovered as opposed to 2,320 muskets. It was indeed commonly accepted that a fully armed highlander should carry, dirk, pistol, musket, targe and sword, and both the Prince’s quartermasters and those supplying the government highland regiments sought to make this a reality. Indeed Charles sailed from France with 1,500 Muskets and 1,800 swords a parity of arms that suggests an attempt to regulate the troops under his command. All of this goes to say that the highland army probably had more muskets than swords, and that doesn’t even begin to factor in the French and lowland Scottish regiments equipped as conventional infantry in the second line.

2. Bayonets won the battle: This aspect of the British victory is commonly touted as the decisive factor but it just isn’t the case. A witness reported that the men of Barrell’s and Munro’s regiments killed one or two men each with their bayonets. But some quick mathematics quickly makes this seem very dubious. Barrell’s numbered just over 300 men, supposing the estimate is correct that means this regiment alone accounted for 3-600 enemy casualties with just their bayonets. This doesn’t tally. Nor does the historical record. Cumberland instructed his infantry to stab into the body of the man opposing the soldier to his right. This proved effective at first but in fact while it blunted the Jacobite charge it neither stopped it nor repelled it. The Clans cut clean through the centre of Barrell’s and was stopped by the concentrated firepower of the second line.

3. No Prisoners: Cumberland’s orders of the day were to give no Quarter to the pretenders troops. In subsequent centuries the image of British soldiers mercilessly skewering wounded highlanders as they advanced is one that has stuck. Though bear in mind all pursuits tend to be quite merciless. However it’s not quite accurate that prisoners were not taken on the field or on the road to Inverness. 154 “Rebel” prisoners and 222 French were recorded as being taken into custody, Cumberland writing on the 17th put the number 24hours later at 600. Indeed the cellars and jails of the town were soon full of Jacobite prisoners, some of whom were wounded, which rather more precludes the idea that all the wounded were instantly massacred. Nevertheless their fate was the fate of rebels and thus the mercy was hollow.

4. The Cowardly Prince.
Another rip roaring wheeze (And one I got fed as a kid) is the one where Bonnie Prince Charlie ran away before the battle ended. Although he would abandon his men at Ruthven, at Culloden he had to be restrained from throwing himself into the fray. The brutal speed with which his cause was lost on the Moor makes it seem like Charlie scarpered early, but recall that realistic estimates of the fighting, discounting the artillery bombardment when the Prince was still on the field, put the duration at somewhere just over 25 minutes. When the Clans were repelled, Charles was rallying broken troops of the second line, it was a downright necessity to get Charles off the field to escape the closing British Dragoons. O’Sullivan told captain Shea of the Prince’s escort, “Yu see all is going to pot. Yu can be of no great succour, so before a general deroute wch will soon be, Seize upon the Prince & take him off…” thus was Charlie removed from the field.

5. The field was not suitable for Highlanders.
This myth mostly comes from Lord George Murray, Jacobite Lt. General who said the field inordinately favoured the British cavalry and artillery and was ill suited to Highlanders due to its open plain flatness. However it’s hard to see why. Firstly the Clans had fought and won on much flatter ground at Prestonpans. Secondly the British cavalry were actually unable to charge until the Jacobites had broken due to the uneven and boggy state of the Moor. Likewise the government artillery were unable to be as effective as usual because the ground was too soft to make the roundshot ricochet. What made Culloden Moore unsuitable was the blatant and unimaginative Jacobite plan, mixed with the boggy state of the field.

6. Most Jacobite Casualties occurred during the Government artillery bombardment.
The contribution of the Royal Artillery in provoking the highland charge cannot be underestimated, but their killing effectiveness as been grossly overestimated. Because the ground was so wet the cannonballs wouldn’t bounce like they were supposed to. Although they did cause casualties they didn’t start becoming deadly until the Clans charged and they switched to canister shot. Although authors like Prebble estimated 30 minutes of unanswered cannon fire inflicting hundreds of casualties, modern authors like Reid put the bombardment at 9-15 minutes and further calculates 90-150 casualties.

7. The Jacobites were all Highlanders.
Only half of the Jacobite Army was made up of clan regiments. The other half was composed of lowlanders such as Lord Ogilvie’s Regiment and Lord Kilmarnock’s Footguards and the French regular troops of the Royal Ecossais, Irish Picquets and Fitzjames’ Horse. There were even remnants of English units integrated in the army, plus deserters from the regular British army who would face no mercy if caught in arms against their former masters.

8. The MacDonalds didn’t charge.
It’s legendary that the three MacDonald Regiments on the left flank failed to engage the enemy with much vigour and indeed never closed with the British. While it’s true that they did not strike a blow it isn’t true that they didn’t charge. The story goes that they were in a snit about Lord George allocating the right flank to the Atholl battalions and refused to obey orders. However in reality they stubbornly refused to redeploy when the Jacobite line was moved closer to the longitude of the Culwhiniac enclosure, thus accounting for the strange skewed nature of the Jacobite line. When the main charge went in, the clan Donald also charged but they had further to run and encountered knee deep bogs that impeded their impetuous and thus when met with the steady platoon volleys of the Royals and Pulteney’s regiments were checked and forced to withdraw by the movement of the enemy cavalry.

9. Cumberland’s army was English.
Just as the Jacobite Army was not all highlanders, Cumberland’s army was not all British. Indeed King George’s army had never been all English. The Duke commanded an army British in makeup and indeed in organisation. 4 of the Government regiments were notionally Scottish to begin with and it has long been a theory that there were more Scots fighting against Charlie than with him. We should also beware of thinking only lowlanders supported King George, 3 independent militia companies of Campbell’s were under the command of Colin Campbell of Ballimore who also commanded his own regular highland company of the 64th Highlanders, amongst these troops were officers drawn from the regular 43rd Highlanders (The Black Watch).

10. The war was over after Culloden.
The Jacobite cause had been dealt a devastating blow at Culloden. The scale of the defeat was great on many levels. Yet an estimated 1-2,000 men had not even been present on the field, arms, money and munitions was to arrive in Scotland from France soon after. The Frasers main force had not actually arrived, and enough of the army had escaped to gather 4,000 or so men at Ruthven on the 17th, all of whom felt it was possible to continue the fight. While it seems impossible that the effects of Culloden could have been reversed, French assistance though unrealistic was never off the table, the fight in military terms was by no means over either and given Cumberland’s harsh actions in pacifying the highlands it isn’t out of the question to think that the butcher might have driven more men to Charlie’s standard if he had stayed to fight on.

Gregory Fremont Barnes, The Jacobite Rebllion 1745-1746.
Murray Pittock. Great Battles: Culloden.

The 45′. Christopher Duffy.
Jacobites. Jacqueline Riding.
Culloden. John Prebble.
Culloden. Stuart Reid.
Culloden. Peter Harrington.
Like Hungry Wolves. Stuart Reid.
The Highland Jacobite Army. Stuart Reid.
Highland Clansman. Stuart Reid.
British Redcoat (1). Stuart Reid.
No Quarter Given. Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s army.
The Making of the British Army. Allan Mallinson.

Book Review: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain by Ian Mortimer.


Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Bodley Head (6 April 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847923046

Appearance and handling.

Visually there’s allot to like about this book. In hardback it has a nice quirky cover. Quality pages and lots of study aids in the back. 2 eight page colour image sections are rich in detail, and although there is some of the dreaded embossed gold lettering on the cover at least it is high up on the jacket. Top tip, if you want to avoid oils from your fingers rubbing this off, take the dust jacket off (which is admittedly somewhat fragile) before you read it.

The Review.

Somewhere in the Bodleian Library in 1687 a Chinese academic works studiously away, cataloging documents. He can converse in Latin and in his spare time is assisting his sponsor, Friar Philippe Couplet, in the preparation of the works of Confucius. After meeting the King he is also painted by Lely and his portrait now forms part of the Royal Collection. Shen Fuzong, popularly known as the Christian convert, was no itinerate who stumbled off a ship and into a painter’s studio with nothing but a rosary and a dream, he was a scholar and he is not only the first Chinese person to be painted but also the first recorded of his countrymen to visit Britain and meet a head of state.

When we consider the popular Euro-American conception that China is as different to most western countries as night and day, and therefore almost like visiting a different world, you might agree that the past would be equally hard to navigate. The experience of a modern person swimming through some cosmic portal and landing in Restoration Britain would perhaps not be so far removed from the experience of a Chinese Mandarin in the same century doing going by ship. The world is alien to you, people don’t even speak the same (version of the) language, and without a good guide you’re likely to end up tired, frightened, hungry and miserable trying to find a place to spend the night. Enter Professor Mortimer.

That knowing looking cove in the wide brimmed felt hat on the back cover is the man in question. Trust an less well versed time traveller, when he tells you; Mortimer’s the man to ask about time travel, not just where to go and what to see, but how to get around, how much to spend on souvenirs and the like, and how to stay out of trouble. Top tip, be careful about the link-boys, but I’ll let the Proff fill you in about them.

Taking as a premise the idea that the concept of time travel is possible unlocks many doors. Passageways of the imagination. Many people think that imagination and history don’t mix except in historical fiction, a conception that is just a stones-throw away from saying that history never happened as a reality and that it’s just words on a page. But to deploy an favourite observation of mine, drawn from the author of this book, yesterday is literally the past. It’s as much history as something that happened thousands of years ago. Relatively speaking the only difference between an event that took place last week, and one that happened in antiquity is that we can theoretically still ask someone about the experience they had last week.

Strip imagination away from the history, or accept that the words on the page speak about something untouchable and arbitrary is to deny the concept of continuation. That is why Ian Mortimer’s Books are so brilliant. Not because they bring the past back to life, but because they prove that there was once life in the past. This is one of the great lessons of the Time Traveller series, but there’s more. The past is a foreign country, we’ve been through that, but it is a foreign country within the limits of our own physical universe. We indeed are always living in the past from a physical point of view, we’ve been drinking the same recycled water and looking up at the same sun and moon for centuries.

What this means, as is demonstrated in the book, is that though the past is always foreign, it is also human. Well might the modern intellectual scoff at the cruelty and barbarism, the racist mindsets, the bigotry and the narrow mindedness of the past. We are far more enlightened now, the contemporary reader might say, but everything, even the most unpalatable facets of human thought was modern once. Who indeed is to say we will not be judged by generations to come for something we consider quite normal? For we most certainly will be the objects of their curiosity. What will make us relatable is our humanity. Flashes of similarity, love, grief, pain, happiness and compassion are evident everywhere in this book. It is what inspires them that is strange.

How queer, we might think, that the common 17th century islander has no appreciation of the beauty of unsterilised nature, as we stare at the same view through the screens of our digital age devices. Tools we will proudly declare we could not live without, and are driven to distraction when they run out of battery or fail us.

Some people nowadays say that China is as different from the west as night is to day. But step back a moment and you realise that the fabric separating the two is as thin as a sheet of tracing paper. It’s the same with the past.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain maintains the high standard of the series, with Mortimer’s usual verve and humour. An eye opening tour that thoughtfully opens up, not a world lost, but a world gone by.