Book Review: Warrior Saints by Amandeep Singh Madra & Parmjit Singh.

https://www.kashihouse.com/books/warrior-saintsfour-centuries-of-sikh-military-history-vol-1

On the first day of June 1606 the mutilated body of a Punjabi wise man was swept downstream from Lahore. He had been drowned in the River Ravi after being cruelly tortured for his faith on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. The current buffeted the lifeless corpse, carrying it southwest towards the lower branch of the Sutlej and maybe from there onwards to where the waters of the Five Rivers meet at the all defining Indus. 

His name was Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, the builder of the Harimandir Singh (Golden Temple) and their first martyr in their struggle against the Mughals. ‘Sit fully armed,’ Arjan advised his son and heir regarding his throne, shortly before he died. He enjoining him to lead his people in the ways of the previous  Gurus in all respects, except for that now the Sikhs must in addition to seeking spiritual truth, keep their weapons close. 

His son, Hargobind listened well and from his reign was seeded the strong Sikh virtues of spirituality and the warrior arts, forming the first community defence force known as the Akalis, or the Immortals. For as Guru Hargobind demonstrated with the miri and piri swords at his ascension ceremony, he would fight worldly enemies with one hand and spiritual ones with the other. ‘The destroyer of the enemies’ ranks, the brave, heroic Guru, is also a lover of mankind,’ the savant, Bhai Gurdas wrote, for ‘To protect an orchard hedge it with thorny trees.’

And like the prickly plants of Gurdas’ metaphor, the Sikhs became a thorn in the side of the Mughal empire. Stamp as they might even the mighty Aurangzeb could not wipe them out without being impaled by their points. Indeed much as Jehangir had stoked the fires of Sikh resistance by murdering Guru Arjan, the pressure exerted by Aurangzeb when he treacherously murdered the 9th Sikh Guru, and sent his head to his young son, won him a perilous enemy.

The young and dynamic Guru Gobind Das codified the warrior-protector tradition, forming the Khalsa army, where as the authors of Warrior Saints explain ‘even someone born into the lowliest caste could, through the force of their arms and the justice of their cause, become reborn as kashatriya or defender of the people.’

So powerful was this motivation, that the Sikhs soon began to eclipse the Rajputs as the most feared warriors in northern India, the tales of their epic victories becoming legendary throughout Hindustan.

The dual role of pitiless warrior and benign saint was exemplified during the actions of one warrior called Kanhaiya, who offended the elite Akalis by offering water to both Sikh and Mughal wounded, explaining later to the Guru ‘I saw neither Mughals nor Sikhs there. I saw only the Guru’s face in everyone.’

From these beginnings in the 17th century, the Sikh Khalsa Empire was born. Becoming, as time wore on, the last independent state in India to challenge the British East India Company’s supremacy, due to the unifying genius of the great Maharajah, Ranjit Singh, whose death in 1839 would leave the kingdom in such confusion that it would eventually fall prey to the European conquerors.

This book is a joy to read; every page brings something interesting to the eye and enlightening to the mind. The care and passion of the authors in crafting this volume is clear to see and has been infused into every page, bringing four centuries of Sikh Military history to life in a deeply impactful way.

Warrior Saints is the visual history of the core values of the Sikh Warrior Saint Tradition. Presenting a legacy of art and culture for the descendants and adherents of the Gurus today as well as a record for students of history and art alike. Through rare paintings and photographs from a rich variety of sources the authors have collected, in this first volume of the new edition, a stunningly accessible chronicle of the rich legacy of the Sikh Kingdom.

Josh.

Book Review: Allahu Akbar by Manimugdha Sharma

Published:18-10-2019
Format:Hardback
Edition:1st
Extent:330
ISBN:9789386950536
Imprint:Bloomsbury India
Dimensions:234 x 153 mm 
RRP:₹ 599.00
 RRP: £34.99

The rulers of India are no less beguiling today than they were when, as Manimugdha Sharma says, the emperor Akbar was in vogue amongst Dutch republicans trying to create a new state. 

Quite apart from the famed luxury of their courts and the exoticism that so easily transfers to the minds of distant foreigners from dimly imagined mental pictures; the leaders of South Asia often represent something special in the history of the world. The image of enlightened rule.

If we knew them better and compared them with our own past rulers, who would in their right minds not say that Ashoka ranked greater than any handful of English monarchs, not only for his conquests and his rejection of war itself but for his laws? Which are far more in tune with the classical ideal that Western Europeans have tried to harbour and rebuild since the fall of the western Roman Empire, than much of what replaced it.

Who, likewise, could arguably say with any credibility that Akbar the Great could not stand alongside any of the greatest contemporary kings and queens of Europe and not seem a little taller for his enlightened ideals of inclusion and, what Sharma calls the ‘physical and moral courage’ that makes great men beloved.

Though undoubtedly an inspiration to many in the past, since its independence India has rightly been a talisman to those who hold the promise of democracy near and dear to their hearts.

Rightly might citizens of the world’s largest republic revere the history of their march to liberty as a proud emblem to cherish. Therefore it is hardly surprising that the author feels a deep concern as he observes the course his nation is taking, and it should be no less concerning to the world either. 

‘we are a medieval people,’ he writes at the end, ‘creating conditions in the country akin to those that prevailed in Akbar’s lifetime, always using past hurt to justify present hate, and therefore needing a medieval monarch to show us the way.’

As he told me over a long and interesting Skype call, it is never good when the rule of a 16th century emperor seems necessary or preferable than a democratically elected official, but if one were to wish for such an autocrat you would want Akbar. When I finished reading this book, I could not help but agree with this assessment. 

On further contemplation I realised it is as important for the British to understand the Great Mughal as it is for the Indians.

In the British drive to establish themselves as rulers of India the legacy of the Mughals was a principle tool. Sharma points us to the importance of this element of baton passing by highlighting the importance of tiger hunts in Mughal court society.

In establishing himself as the perfect incarnation of universal kingship, the young emperor entertained his court with lavish hunts. The British would copy these and thus lend themselves to an image of shadow puppetry that is today a cypher for British rule in India.

It might be said that the British used Akbar and his dynasty as something as a template on which they could more easily assimilate themselves into the role as India’s overlords, they even took up some of his crusades, such as trying to abolish sati.

Nevertheless as the author told me, the idea of intolerance between Hindus and Muslims in India was encouraged to some degree by the British, who fostered the idea of the Mughals being foreign tyrants replaced by the enlighten rule of the Europeans.

Akbar by contrast strove to separate religion from society’s primary consciousness, and remove it as a source of division. Today it is this legacy of the British that is still causing the trouble and the lessons of Akbar are hard to learn from as a result.

There aren’t many writers that can make the past more present than Manimugdha Sharma can. The author has a hawk eyed knack of seeing across history, finding the similarities to the present and threading them together in a comprehensible narrative.

In saying that, one could say that this isn’t so much a biography of Akbar, but an investigation of the echo chamber of history. Sharma looks at the world and hears the echoes of distant resonance.

Allahu Akbar is a graceful read, with each paragraph revealing some detail of interest. Softly humorous and finely detailed, with sometimes wry, always sharp observations on the interplay of historical and modern issues.

One discovers in reading about the life of an extraordinary monarch that India’s politics have not changed very much. Sharma observes that candidates still attempt to vilify and deify through visual media, in the Mughal courts this was done through art and literature, whereas today it is done with much less subtlety and often exaggerated incompetence by keyboard warriors.

The results are nevertheless the same and the motives little removed from when Akbar was alive; to make governments and leaders seem untainted and untarnished as opposed to their opponents.

As a controversial figure in modern India, Akbar suffers from the stigma of being a Muslim emperor in a country with a Hindu majority and his indelible place in his country’s history, especially the interpretation of it, seems at times tenuous. 

Akbar’s early reign was a dark time, filled with brutal battles, political murders and betrayals. Akbar, sought to establish himself as a king in both name and practice, and he projected this aura very effectively, not only once he regained his throne but as he was doing so, and the author does not shy away from his subject’s more unvarnished or inglorious exploits.

Fascinating elements are to be found at practically every turn, from the typical accounts of intrigue and conflict to personal things as well. Quite apart from the flowing prose of his chroniclers and his fine accomplishments, Akbar, can be seen as a coarse man, a soldier and a sportsman as much as diplomat or a courier. His language was the language of military camps and peasants and he wore coarse clothing and enjoyed it. 

He mixed this with the piety of his father, which was devout, but not extremist, and he showed regret at the death of his enemies and when he could not show mercy as a beneficent, almost paternal, overlord.

Above all the great strength of the emperor was his attempt to create a unified and inclusive state that sought to draw the best out of the religions and philosophies of the world.

He was as some have said, a man of reason before the age of reason, and the people who have the will to effect change and not only that but apply such ideals are worthy of notice.

This is why Akbar is important, not only to India, but to the world, which is increasingly becoming a more insular place and in desperate need of uniting figures to admire. 

Despite her poor understanding of who Akbar really was it is telling that when Elizabeth I, herself a persecutor of catholics like many of her dynasty, wrote to Akbar that it was his humanity that had spread even to her distant shore. Note she did not speak of the conquests and might of this descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan, but his humanity. 

If that proves anything it proves that even in times of uncertainty, we don’t have to fear the foreign and the other.

Josh.

Book Review: No Earthly Pole by Ernest Coleman.

  • Published: 15 Sept 2020.
  • Format: Hardback.
  • 342 Pages.
  • 50 images.
  • ISBN: 9781398102118

Absorbing, humorous and written with a soft, almost confidential, way, the story of a Navy Officer’s quest to increase the knowledge about the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew is essential lockdown reading.

Right now all of us are in need of strong voices, that talk confidently of mental and physical fortitude, which guide us in how we can achieve our goals. Ernest Coleman’s book which details his four remarkable expeditions to uncover the truth behind some of the Franklin expedition’s biggest myths can help us get into that necessary expeditionary mindset and at the same time brigs and authentic light to this historical maritime disaster.

In tackling much debated explanations such as death by lead poisoning and cannibalism, Coleman is frank and straightforward rather than scholarly in his approach. This imbues the reader with a confidence in his common sense and capability (and rigorous testing of the written evidence) to present and interpret his findings.

Half travelogue, half history, half exploration log, No Earthly Pole is replete with its own sense of adventure and struggle. Before the book is half over Coleman half kills himself clinging on to a ATV trailer and becomes his own worst enemy during an isolated march across King William Island, where he ended up existing on hot chocolate and fisherman’s friends for ten days while he awaited rescue. 

Getting followed by a film crew intent on making him sing at every possibility was another singular achievement. But that aside, there is also the endless cycle of expedition, followed by lecture tours, followed by fundraising, which is the tempo of this book. It is a realistic facet of all such memoirs of expeditions; that those who undertake them are necessarily locked into this pattern in order to forward their projects, the latter two being often more challenging than the actual expedition.

Not every expedition was a blinding success, and none could be considered outright failures, but most importantly, none were finished up without benefit. And that is an important queue for us to follow. The truth of all expeditions of a historical and archaeological nature is that very often a great deal of work goes into saying, ‘well, we know it’s not here at least.’

But Coleman’s hardships are borne with a true spirit of enterprise, for as Shackleton said, a man must shift his objectives, as soon as the last one disappears. It is how we move on. Yet sometimes peril and isolation can seem overwhelming. In one particularly striking moment, which can be used to exemplify the highs, lows, dangers and humour of this book, the author, alone and exhausted heard his own voice lulling him to lie down and drift into restful oblivion.

He fought this siren song off by debating the merits of, what was at the time a hot button issue for the Church of England; the acceptance of female ministers. Through rigorous debate he kept himself from harm, and his demons were put to flight, but he ended up deciding that he was against co-educational bible college curriculums. When, afterwards, he told a churchman of his inner struggle and how he overcame it, Coleman was told that to the mind of his correspondent, God seemed to have accepted that change was the best way, to which Coleman replied; ‘and who do you think I was talking to?’

Josh.

Seven questions with Aztec Empire’s Paul Guinan.

Malinche was no traitor! Moctezuma was a cynic! The Spanish couldn’t have won alone! These are just three of the storylines that you’ll encounter in the epic graphic novel, Aztec Empire.

Historyland fired off seven questions to one of the creative team, Paul Guinan, and this is what they fired back. Highlighting some of the process that goes into visual storytelling and the key elements of this larger than life adventure.

Q1: Out of such a huge story that is mostly written down, what goes into choosing the best most narratively communicable scenes, the scenes that transform words into pictures?

Many of the cues are provided by dramatic moments that were recorded as history by both sides—those are obviously key scenes. For some other scenes that aren’t as well documented, I have to extrapolate more, based on researching each culture and consulting multiple sources. I also look for ways to show scenes and historical facts from a different perspective than other visual narratives have done. For example, our story opens in Tenochtitlan with the Aztec military leaders, which is a visually splendid scene, instead of starting with the Spanish perspective. 

On a more humanistic level, even though the Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures are so different, the people we’re depicting share some aspects of a universal human experience. There are emotional dynamics that we can still relate to 500 years later. Those can be key character moments that help bring the story alive.

Q2: Currently you have 5 episodes on the website, what do you think the end extent of the series will be?

It is planned as a 50-episode story, each episode being 10 pages—so around 500 pages, plus endnotes. It’s an epic story! We’re posting it free online to get the story out there and build an audience. Eventually it’ll be published in print. And there will absolutely be a Spanish edition!

Q3: In terms of scholarship the story can be interpreted in a few ways, obviously you are going with an relatively original and up to date interpretation to tell the story. Can you give us an example of how your interpretation will differ from one of the better known parts of the story?

Recent research and scholarship has changed our whole understanding of this story. As just a few examples: In our series, Moctezuma does not think Cortes is a prophesized return of the divine Quetzalcoatl, and the Aztecs don’t think the Spaniards are gods. Malinche (aka Marina), who was Cortes’ main translator, does not “betray her people.” The Spanish didn’t win out because of superior technology, but because of local alliances. There’s a lot of mythology to be deconstructed.

Q4: In researching these characters, was there anything about them that surprised you or that you realised you had taken for granted?

Yes, I found characters who have been completely ignored by history. Hugh Thomas wrote the “gold standard” book on this historical event in the 1990s, Conquest, and yet he doesn’t mention Moctezuma’s Council of Four. One of the Council was married to Moctezuma’s daughter! Thomas’ tome is extensive and authoritative, but it still took the prevailing Spanish-centric perspective. He gives detailed information about Cortes’ captains, but nothing about Moctezuma’s closest advisory group. In Aztec Empire, by contrast, we meet them in the very first scene.

Q5: Have you encountered any negativity so far resulting from long held stereotypes of ‘Noble Savages’ and ‘Black Legends?’

As you might expect, there have been a couple of hot takes about this series on social media, from people who didn’t understand the level of research that’s going into this project. Negativity has been blessedly rare, though. Anyone who takes a close look at the work, including my bibliography and extensive illustrated endnotes, will see I’m trying to be as fair-minded and inclusive as possible.

Q6: Is this novel being illustrated digitally or traditionally? And how did you decide which medium to use. 

I draw tiny “thumbnail” sketches of each page to structure the plot, done with a good old-fashioned #2 pencil on plain paper. I then do layouts, also in pencil, which I turn over to my co-artist David Hahn. He does most of his penciling traditionally, but does some of the architectural drawing using digital tools. He inks most of the pages physically or “on the boards.” After that, art corrections, lettering, and coloring are done digitally. We enjoy old-school techniques, but we use digital tools for expediency. 

Q7: If you could choose a moment of your novel to see in the flesh which would it be. Actually, I’ll be kind and ask for your top three moments to see in the flesh and we’ll wrap up the questioning. 

The three most significant events in this story have an epic tableau involving thousands of people, any of which I’d pay to see in person:

1- The first meeting of Moctezuma and Cortés in the kaleidoscopic city of Tenochtitlan. A massive procession on each side, all resplendent in their finest outfits. Tens of thousands of spectators surrounded the spectacle, most in decorative boats, since the Aztec capital was an island city.

2- The Spaniards’ frantic escape from Tenochtitlan, known by the Spanish as the “Sad Night” and by the locals as the “Night of Victory.” When the Aztecs finally rose up against the invaders, Cortés and his men tried to flee with as much gold as they could carry. Around a thousand Spaniards fought their way out of the city in the rainy night, under constant attack. Many of them were killed, and nearly all the gold was lost. 

3- The Battle of Otumba: The final chance for the Aztecs to defeat the Spaniards. Tens of thousands participated in this battle, which turned the tide for the Spaniards. After this success, they were free to lay siege to the Aztec capital. The end had begun.

Aztec Empire’s first five episodes is now available to read over at: https://www.bigredhair.com/books/aztec-empire/episode-one/ Read the full review here: https://adventuresinhistoryland.com/2020/03/21/book-review-aztec-empire-by-by-paul-guinan-and-illustrated-by-david-hahn/

See you next time for another Adventure in Historyland, Josh.

Book Review: Aztec Empire by by Paul Guinan and illustrated by David Hahn.

History and illustration go hand in hand, they are indispensable to each other. Among the ancient kingdoms of Central America, the tradition of visual storytelling was strong. The murals and carvings, annotated by speech markings and writing, form some of the most important aspects of Mesoamerican archeology and muralist art is central to Mexican culture to this day. This offers a pleasingly symbiotic dynamic to the decision to tell this epic Mexican saga in a graphic way.

Aztec Empire is a graphic novel of grand proportions. Unlike other treatments of the Conquest of Mexico it does not create a fictitious character. Instead the creators have chosen the difficult task of popularising the actual story. 

Actually, Mayan, ‘Incan’ and ‘Aztec’ subject’s have always been popular amongst cartoonists due to the beguiling blend of real and lost history, allowing artists and storytellers to create worlds and cultures and that few people have imagined but also draw on historical and archaeological evidence. None however have told the story like Aztec Empire.

In itself the Conquest of Mexico serves as a perfect vehicle for storytelling. Especially since it has been refined and simplified down to a well oiled narrative package, full of drama, romance and legend over the last 500 years.

Apart from following the fortunes of a wide cast of characters, whose lives are to be found in records rather than the imagination; (spread over three years of some of the most important complicated political and military events in the 16th century,) a clear, exciting & nuanced story has to be delivered.

The difficultly lies in the attachment people have to the accepted story, (those legends I mentioned earlier,) and the empty spaces, and unexplained events that are to be found in the records that even rigorous scholarship fails to agree on.

The popular conception of the Conquest of Mexico is one of greedy and bloodthirsty Spaniards emerging from the murk of the old world, bursting onto the glittering wonders of the new world to conquer the tragic but ‘barbaric’ Aztecs who thought they were gods, until their civilisation was destroyed and Spanish rule established.

Aztec Empire attempts to tell the story that has been extracted from these levels of myth, propaganda, hearsay and folklore over the last hundred years. Utilising a commendable level of scholarly discipline, the creators are ever eager to tell the tale of their journey and share sources. This version challenges long held beliefs and prejudices. In so doing the creators are bringing a new face to this epic tale that has not been popularly seen before. 

Episode one moves quickly in order to get the reader into the story. As such a great deal of cultural ‘backstory’ is referenced and it has the feel of a prologue. Indeed I get the sense that this term might be used for the bulk of the episodes now available.

Though some might be disspointed that interesting characters like the Spanish castaways and their lives amidst the Mayan people of the Yucatan had to be quickly summed up, we must recall what this story is actually about. In that sense the buildup handles the speed well, and the scenes have been equally well chosen, delivering texture, easily believable history, and good exciting atmosphere.

Nothing enthrals like a battle, and the early fight against the Mayans of Tabasco in episodes 2 and 3 offers the creators an excellent opportunity to flex their storytelling muscles. The action is handled well, the images and text communicate easily to the imagination. This is helped by the impressive detail the team has gone to, in selecting heroic, absurd, significant and brutal scenes to portray, drawing the reader in and demonstrating that when the series locks a specific episode to a central theme it delivers.

There is no doubt that the series begins on a fairly tough note. A battle followed by the repercussions for the women of the defeated side. Because despite the winning artistic style this is essentially a pretty grim story.

From what has been hitherto released you have a grand chunk given over to a gritty battle and another episode which at its end involves a HBO style exploitation scene.

Then there is a smooth transitional episode which eases you into the patreon pay wall. The free portion ends on 21 June 1519 with Cortez sailing up to the island of San Juan de Ulua and Mexica emissaries preparing to investigate the appearance of the foreigners. More than enough of a buildup to wet the appetite for the rest of the story.

Unquestionably Aztec Empire is a rigorously researched project, undertaken by talented artists and writers, who care deeply about the subject. It has a strong and compelling sense of story, time, and character. Much more than that cannot be said at this stage, the work is ongoing and the progress can be followed on the website. What is obvious from the episodes that have so far been posted is that this graphic novel is packed with promise. If it continues at this level, Aztec Empire is sure to become a classic.

Read the first five episodes here for free: https://www.bigredhair.com/books/aztec-empire/about/

With thanks to David Bowles for pointing out some glaring grammatical errors.

Josh.

Book Review: Japanese Armies 1868-1877 by Gabriele Esposito.

  • Author: Gabriele Esposito
  • Illustrator: Giuseppe Rava
  • Short code: MAA 530
  • Publication Date: 19 Mar 2020
  • https://ospreypublishing.com/japanese-armies-1868-1877

Gabriele Esposito takes a brief look into the armies of the Boshin War and Satsuma Rebellion in Osprey’s latest Men-at-Arms title.

The author is nothing if not flexible in his subjects, Esposito has covered topics as varied as roman legions, South American proto-Armies and now he has moved to japan.

The necessary overview of the years following the Perry expedition is fairly by the numbers and too simplistic regarding a massively complicated political situation to be terribly diverting.

That being said, except for making the faux pas of acknowledging bushido on a number of occasions as the ancient martial code of Japan before Inazo Nitobe invented the concept, he is only guilty only of being a tad derivative.

Nevertheless we must remember that the book is small and strictly military and the subject is ten times more vast, especially to an author who is inexperienced in the field of late Edo period Japanese history.

That is probably the main letdown of this book; it tries to cover the armies of two wars. This is often possible with MaA titles but with this one it’s difficult.

For instance, it is quite possible to do a small Osprey book about the Boer Wars (as has been done) because by and large it’s easy to keep track of the basic organisation and look of the armies.

But the Boshin war alone you are dealing with at least five main military groups (not counting the armies of lesser domains and ronin groups) with attendant ‘regular/disciplined corps,’ old fashioned feudal militias, rebels, and police units, artillery, some cavalry and naval forces.

All of whom differed from the other in some way or another in size, organisation, equipment and uniform, if they wore one. By the time of the Satsuma Rebellion, a measure of simplification had entered the picture, but not enough to simplify the matter.

As a result this title probably should have been made into two titles, Japanese Armies of the 19th century (1) The Boshin War, etc.

The sections dealing with the armies are interesting for the brief but often useful surveys of various armies, as all MaA’s are, while at the same time being slightly irritating because of the necessary brevity.

Usually one would go to the bibliography to see if these gaps could be filled in yourself. Here we can see that the author has offered a ‘select’ list.

The list, select as it is, can be observed as numbering quite enough material to write this entire book from, and speaking from experience I must cautiously ponder if the author has suggested all the pertinent and necessary books one needs to understand the socio-political-military events at hand.

It does nevertheless include a handful of works that are necessary to study early modern Japanese armies, and which due to their scarcity command crippling prices for hobbyists and non-scholarly writers is another attraction of this book, being an affordable reference to people looking for a window into the military side of these wars.

Men-at-Arms titles have traditionally been focused on brief surveys of the conflicts at hand, followed by hefty plate commentary. In the early days half of the book could be taken up by the description of the artwork. Today about 4 pages at the end comprise this element.

This book tries to balance two fairly broad and lengthier sections of background history and then further tries to summarise the organisation of some of the main factions. In former times larger books, from the Warrior and Elite series’ would be the ones that focused on organisation, leaving Men-at-Arms to focus on uniforms and weapons of a specific war.

In terms of the plates there is little to be complained about, Giuseppe Rava has painted some highly skilful pictures, filled with his usual eye for moment, atmosphere and action, with a good splash of his trademark weapon towards the viewer dynamism. 

Interestingly at least 90% of the images reproduced here come from ‘public domain/Wikipedia.’ These easily viewable pictures are of course fascinating, but they are equally intriguing because I wasn’t aware that publishers like Osprey encouraged authors to utilise Wikipedia as an image source.

The commentary fills in a few of the gaps left in the main text, but I don’t doubt that many will raise eyebrows at the picture of a Rebel Satsuma samurai in full armour when despite some paintings at the time, armour had more or less become uncommon on the battlefield.

Not only that but I suspect that the subject is wearing a form of 12th century Ō-yoroi harness, common during the Gempei War, at a time when the armour of the Sengoko Jidai (the last period in which battle armour was widely worn for combat) would have been considered heirlooms.

Another thought that crossed my mind was that although the commentary tells us a little information about the forces of Aidzu, there is no representation of them, nor of Tosa. It also could have been a missed opportunity to depict officers of Tosa and Chōsū wearing the distinctive Shaguma headdress rather than giving it to a member of the Shinsengumi only.

This period was a formative time for the Japanese army. It was indeed it’s birth, a look at the roster of general officers from the Boshin War to the First World War will reveal a great number of them with connections to the southern clans who’s modernised armies formed the bedrock of the imperial faction. 

As a reference book, this will be a handy and engaging one to have, but with the knowledge that it is necessarily limited in it’s level of detail and may not have a great deal to offer for a reader that is already well versed in the early military history of Japan.

Book Review: Fort William Henry by Ian Castle.

  • Author: Ian Castle
  • Illustrator: Graham Turner
  • Short code: CAM 260
  • Publication Date: 20 Nov 2013
  • Number of Pages: 96
  • https://ospreypublishing.com/fort-william-henry-1755-57

Ian Castle sets out to show how the Fennimore Cooper version of the siege of Fort William Henry strayed from the truth and has altered how we perceive the siege today.

He is much more prone to examining excesses of wilderness warfare as massacres, and is more anglocentric, unlike Chartrande who tries to find a balance and is much more cautious about what the Anglo American’s called a massacre.

At the end of 1755 Fort Beauséjour, in the east, had fallen to Moncton, but Braddock was dead on the Monongahela and the acting British commander in chief had stalled at Oswego.

Johnson had held on at Lake George, building Fort William Henry as a bulwark. Castle describes this often overlooked campaign well and presents the French commander, Dieskau, as unlucky rather than inept.

As usual the European dependence on their native allies becomes very obvious, and certainly the French felt they could not fight without them. Once more the French brought a massive array of tribes with them, some quite unknown to the British, so well respected were the French at this point of the war.

British by comparison had no true tribal support after Lake George when even the Mohawks, who took heavy casualties there, shied away from support and Rangers had to be resorted to for scouting and raiding.

With both sides eyeing up the vital Lake George corridor as a means to strike into each other’s territory, the French landed the first blow, destroying Oswego and placing the British squarely on the defensive.

The resultant descent by the Marquis de Montcalm on Fort William Henry became the most celebrated and infamous event in the French and Indian War.

A six day siege ended with the surrender of the fort and the negligent abandonment of the British prisoners to the anger of Montcalm’s irritated warriors.

In this most controversial moment of the campaign, the author shows us that this was hardly the massacre of lore, even though for a brief period on the last day a sudden explosion of violence broke out and could not be immediately stopped resulting in the murder of many helpless soldiers and civilians.

Full spread artwork is offered by Graham Turner, who creates three especially good pieces. The French line at Lake George and the image of the massacre are particularly good.

The book is detailed and effectively brings the subject to the reader in an accessible way. Although too focused on explaining the rights, wrongs and massacres of the event and reliant on mostly English sources, the author brings a heartening dose of sober observation to a still fraught subject.

Explaining as he does the operation which brought Montcalm ever higher in the estimation of later historians and once more proved the superiority of the French and Canadian, Allied military synthesis.

Josh.

Reveal: My Book About the Maratha War.

One of the reasons Historyland has had much less article content and has fallen dramatically back onto book reviews is because I’ve had no time to research or write blog content.

For the last year I’ve been occupied in a the completion of fond and long held dream; writing my own book. Last week I finally revealed the proposed cover art. There is still work to be done to get it ready for you but I’m very pleased with it.

‘Bullocks, Grain and Good Madeira,’ will be published by Helion and Co during the second half of 2020 , at the moment it is tentatively slated for November.

In the early part of the 19th century British Army’s in India operated on three main resources, Bullocks, Grain and large quantities of alcohol, often Madeira for Staff. The book tells the story of the 2nd Maratha War and the campaign against the Jat kingdom of Bharatpur.

Driven by first hand accounts, the book will present the Maratha army as it was, not a walkover but a formidably organised and equipped foe, equal but no longer as effective to the Native infantry of the East India Company.

A great motive for starting was the common perception that the armies opposing the EIC were poor things in comparison to European armies. In writing the book, I discovered great swathes of information, regarding the war in it’s entirety and it’s aftermath, that have not been made widely available.

A host of personal stories came to light as well, some familiar and others less so, but all offering the opportunity to see this conflict as an example of Indian warfare at it’s toughest.

As it stands of this moment, BGGM (AKA Project Begum as I codename it) will be available by the end of 2020. It will be illustrated by the wonderful brush of Christa Hook, an artist whose work I have loved since I first saw it in the Osprey Campaign book about Corunna.

I hope you like the cover, and I hope you’ll buy the book when it comes out. There will be more on this in the future, plus perhaps some content on how I went about writing it.

See you soon for another Adventure in Historyland, Josh.

Book Review: Montcalm’s Crushing Blow by René Chartrand.

British plans to break New France in 1755 by seizing the Ohio, securing Lake George and capturing Cape Breton Island ended unevenly.

The total defeat of General Braddock’s Ohio column was offset by the success of militia forces on the eastern seaboard in Acadia, while a stalemate along the Hudson valley balanced the scale.

To French minds delay meant defeat for the Anglo-Americans and so they could take heart from the start of the war. Their job was now to hang on to Canada until French forces in Europe could defeat the allied coalition.

Believing that attack was the best defence French planners in Canada began preparing strikes against the British frontier.

René Chartrand shines a spotlight on a neglected precourser to Montcalm’s capture of Fort William Henry in 1757, which allowed French forces to shift towards Crown Point and Ticonderoga.

The basis of which, for a moment, seemed to look set to create the platform upon which the French could climb to victory. 

The target was Oswego, a strong but isolated British fort on Lake Ontario and a ripe target for the sort of large scale raid the French excelled at, only this time the French field commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, would do it on a much larger scale. 

As the war became official an early influx of money and troops had come in from France, enhancing the military capacity of Canada. This allowed the French to bolster their defences and as a result, mount large scale operations into enemy territory.

In 1756 Montcalm took 3,000 men and artillery down the St Lawrence and across Lake Ontario to begin the process of pushing back the British Frontier.

Chartrand uses this campaign as an example of the largest and most dramatic instance of the Franco/Indian/Canadian raiding system.

A synthesis at its most extreme of the wilderness petit guerre mixed with European conventional scientific warfare. 

Within the confines of this book, which is a Raid title and so is constrained by space and theme the campaign and the clash of personality between Governor Vaudreuill and the Marquis de Montcalm is explained, as is the situation after the fall of Oswego.

Despite an initially gallant defence by the British, this proved an entirely successful operation and a convincing victory was gained.

This book with typical concise but remarkably detailed analysis widens the appreciation of how French strategy took a sudden and more offensive turn, trying to create a buffer zone within enemy territory that could be defended until victory was gained in Europe and delayed the final British Invasion of Canada by two years.

Josh.

Book Review: Monongahela 1755 by René Chartrand.

In terms of subject chronology this Campaign Book, produced by the MilHist fans at Osprey Publishing back in 2004, begins René Chartrand’s examination of wilderness warfare as practiced by the European powers in the French and Indian War. 

Chartrand, one of the most scholarly and readable Osprey authors, has written a flock of books on this subject, establishing both a sequential series within a series and his firm belief that the Franco Canadians were the masters of warfare in America as it should be fought, all based on archival sources.

The book is insightful and at the same time sticks to an established narrative that is easy to follow, the author is the master of giving a relatable account spiced with the right sources at the right time to briefly support his thesis. 

Chartrand sets the scene with a sharp eyed appraisal of two European powers that dominated eastern North America, who for the last century and a quarter had been involved in official and unofficial political violence with each other, mostly over the resources of the land in question and often because of political events in Europe.

By 1755 an increasingly large and expanding Anglo American population was pressing across the Allegheny’s in search of new opportunities. The Ohio valley was important to France as the quickest conduit to Louisiana territory. Anglo American interference would threaten communications between north and south and even jeapordise native allies.

Chartrand believes the great strength of French colonial administration was its attitude to indigenous tribes. Although by the time of the ‘seven years war’ their mastery of native diplomacy was being challenged, the French (at higher levels) treated the tribes as allies and went to great pains to maintain friendly relations with them. 

The French entertained the greatest network of native alliances and dialogues of any of the European powers. The reason was largely because this allowed their trappers free access to the fur trade which was the life blood of the French overseas empire. 

The tribes, save the bulk of the Iroquois who had a long running feud with Onontio (the French Governor General,) for their part preferred the French system because unlike the agrarian minded Anglo American’s the Franco Canadians did not eat up land like a wildfire. They claimed land like all the other foreigners but didn’t occupy it in the same way.

As an extreme example of both this policy and the importance of the Ohio, Chartrand tells of when the Miami village at Pickawillany, feeling growing British influence in the area raised a Union Jack in 1759, and a Franco Canadian raiding party destroyed it that summer to show the allied tribes that they need not fear British expansion.

Few will be surprised to read how events led to conflict in the Ohio during the late 1740’s, as the French made expeditions to claim the area and then placed quickly constructed forts at key river forks and portages. These became the focus of outrage for the larger and more belligerent States along the eastern seaboard. 

With New England, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania all determined to gain traction west of the Allegheny barrier. The rejection of a notice of eviction to the French in the Ohio was enough for Virginia Governor Dinwiddie to attempt to seize the Forks of the Ohio where the French had built Fort Duquesne.

In all his books Chartrand offers a Francophile standpoint without excluding the English sources. This is why this series of books is so valuable in a field so saturated with English viewpoints, the very name of the conflict, ‘the French and indian war’ is very telling if you choose to look into it.

The book separates the campaign into two sections, George Washington’s engagement at Fort Necessity and the action on the banks of the Monongahela. The book demonstrates just how dominant the French/Canadian/Indian mode of warfare was by this stage.

The engagement at Fort Necessity is seen as nothing short of disastrous for Washington. Almost nothing redeemable can be said about it. The French and Indians surrounded the pitiful fort, subdued the garrison with musketry and got the enemy to agree to capitulate, aknowedging French sovereignty over the Ohio and responsibility for Washington’s reprehensible ambush of a French emissary, which started the shooting war.

The main fight on 9 July 1755 was a typical wilderness ambush and battle in all respects, only on a larger scale than usual, it’s start seemed to show a lack of pre-planning but the response to an initial check saved the day, although the French didn’t have the men (many of their allies had gone home) to pursue, the battle cost the British some 800-1,000 men, their guns and allot of equipment.

Accompanied by good maps, interesting photographs and lively colour plates Chartrand illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the French synthesis of European and Indigenous modes of warfare which allowed them to stave off defeat time and time again. Readers will find it interesting to note just how dependent the French and Canadians (and indeed the British) were on their allies.

Monongahela also introduces a reader to many fascinating figures, both well known and obscure. The commanders in the French Ohio should read as a list of who’s who of frontier officer’s but few are well, if at all, known today. Most interesting is Charles Michel Langlade who Chartrand suggests was a driving force behind the victory. War chiefs like Pontiac might even have been present in the 1755 fight.

This book is a highly interesting and useful survey of early British strategy in the French and Indian War, giving an authentic and sensible appraisal of the forces engaged.

Josh.