La Vie de Boucanier pour Moi!

A new video appeared on Historyland two weeks ago. My friend the legendary author René Chartrand joined me to talk about the swashbuckling rogues who went to the Americas from France and carved out an empire. Make sure you follow the links in the video description to buy René’s book

Book Review: The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1) by Timothy J. Orr

  • Author: Timothy Orr
  • Illustrator: Steve Noon
  • Short code: CAM 374
  • Publication Date: 17 Mar 2022

The beginning of Osprey’s new offering on the most famous battle fought on American soil is a crisp, from the shoulder affair and tells the story straight.

Author, Timothy Orr is obviously aware of his audience and as such gives the reader the facts and knowledge they need to understand the first day of the battle rather than how things worked during the war as a whole. 

Mr. Orr is unconcerned with pushing a particular thesis here, nor are any of his sentiments particularly judgemental. Instead the brief but detailed narrative is immediate and restricted to what happened, without a great deal of high level analysis, but with a sprinkling of first hand accounts which allow the chaotic and brutal hours of 1 July 1863 to play out with a human face.

This book sets out to give readers an accessible beginning point to understanding the utter carnage of Gettysburg. Reading through the book I was struck by the appalling casualty figures being cited, seemingly every unit suffering massive casualties with far too many recording a loss of half its strength.

As the author notes, the first days fighting,  which saw a battle of encounter expand out of Robert E Lee’s control into a four mile running fight from ridge to ridge until the confederates had driven the Union forces back beyond Gettysburg, was apocalyptic in terms of losses, and knowing that the fighting would continue for another 2 days, we can easily see how truly ghastly the cost of Lee’s invasion of the north would become.

Noting the stubborn struggle which neither side was really prepared for, Orr shows the reader that warfare had indeed changed. Where once a battle such as this might have been won convincingly by a gifted tactician like Lee, in fact, despite the confederate victory on the first day, their losses were almost as bad as those of their enemy, much as it had been at Chancellorsville. 

Orr gives us also a clear idea that Lee was in this fight as much to seek the decisive and elusive battle he wanted, as he was to ensure his army stayed together and wasn’t parcelled out from Richmond to the Mississippi. Neither senior commander will exercise much control over the battle at this stage. And why Lee thought he could win a napoleonic war winner after Chancellorsville, or why he chose to fight on into the next day is left an open question.

The book is amply illustrated with photographs of interesting uniforms and portraits of participants, many of whose stories will be unfamiliar but form the heart of this book. Detailed maps of a high quality support the text and I cannot praise the original artwork of Steve Noon highly enough. It is not easy to find original ways to portray this battle but Noon has done a splendid job. Definitely a book to seek out if you want an detailed introduction to the battle that doesn’t get too bogged down in theory and critique.

Nepal: The Latest Battlefield of the New Silk Roads.

Current events of the US/China rivalry for emerging markets coincide with the anniversary of the last major Battle of the Anglo Nepalese War.

A curious historical poetry attends the looming conclusion to the current political crisis in Nepal.

Although largley unreported outside of Asia a political divide in the Himalayan nation looks to highlight the struggle for economic influence in this part of the world between China and the United States, and the role of developing country’s in the competition between the two superpowers.

In the last 10 months, the process of ratifying of the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) agreement, a $5M grant for Nepal’s energy infrastructure, agreed to between the USA and Nepal in 2017, has gone from a blink and you’ll miss it business investment deal to a political football that has split the 5 party coalition government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba

Sources inside Nepal say that although work paid for by the grant had already begun, an ideological tussle about wether to accept the money and what that might mean has hijacked a the stability of the government, but also said that these melodramatic schisms are par for the course in Nepalese politics.

The far left parties, have asked what America wants in return for the money; voicing objections on the grounds that ratifying the compact will threaten the sovereignty of Nepal. Protesters, stirred up, we are told, by the various parties have been taking to the streets of Katmandu, where violent clashes with the police have been seen, deepening the issue.

With delays and deadlock in Katmandu the United States issued a carefully worded but undoubtedly pointed ultimatum to the effect that if the agreement wasn’t ratified by the 28th of February, the grant could be withdrawn and ties with Nepal re-evaluated, a move readily condemned by Beijing. 

Katmandu 2020, photograph by Shadow Ayush

By some accident, this date has an echo in Nepalese history. Over 200 years ago, in early 1816, the country, which was ruled by the Gorkha monarchs of the Shah dynasty and their powerful ministers, faced another crisis. During the Anglo Nepalese war, having survived two years of conflict already, the Gurkhas opposed the might of the East India Company alone. At this time neither the independent states of India, such as the Marathas and the Sikh Khalsa, nor the exterior nations on the periphery of British influence, Burma (Myanmar), Bhutan, or even the mighty Empire of the Qin (China) could be convinced to join the Nepal to resist the British. 

Without allies, and facing the march of over 35,000 men and over 80 guns from all fronts, their only hope lay in a miraculous military victory or ratifying a treaty that at first glance seemed quite generous, but all in the Gurkha ruling class, feared the loss of Nepali sovereignty if they tamely accepted. 

Amar Singh Tapa. Wikipedia.

Negotiations had been droning on for much of 1815 regarding a treaty which would remove much of Nepal’s recently acquired territory, and settle land grants and pensions on those who accepted. The Nepalese government was especially split over the question of wether land in the fertile Terai region should be retained in lieu of promised British pensions.

The so called Living Lion of Nepal, Amar Singh Tapa, her greatest hero, was staunch on the matter of rejecting the treaty if the British would not assent. The delay in signing the Nepalese copy as the factions argued meant that Governer General Hastings was obliged to render their arguments moot, and ordered that the matter be resolved with force.

His field commander, Major General David Ochterlony marched in hopes of peace however, and rather than drag out an already protracted war, he was ready to entertain lenient terms which were at odds with Hasting’s wish for an unconditional surrender from the Nepal Durbar. 

In late February 1816, after entering Nepalese territory, Ochterlony was assured that the treaty had been ratified and would be handed over at Makwanpur (Makwanpurgadhi). Unsure as to the veracity of the information, the British general continued his advance and halted at that place on the 27th, in view of the fort and the valley, where the Karara river bisected the pastures and forest below the undulating ridges. 

Elephants in the rear of the British force attacking the ridge and fort of Jytock. J.B. Fraser. British Library

As it happened no further diplomatic overtures followed the arrival of the British and on the next day, the 28th of February, a bitter battle took place as the Gurkha forces attempted to drive the British back in the difficult terrain. Despite the bravery and skill of the outnumbered Nepalese, led by courageous Subas like Krishna Bahadur Rana, the British were able to force them to retreat. Militarily speaking nothing now could stop the invaders reaching Katmandu, and with news of other reverses coming in, the Nepal Durbar conceded defeat on 5 March 1816.

America’s choice of the date by which Nepal must ratify the MCC therefore is eerily evocative, being the anniversary of the Battle of Makwanpur. It superficially chimes in rhyme with past events (which we must doubt Washington is at all aware of) and cannot fail to have great significance for those who oppose the compact. Speaking to the India based news agency WION, one of the anti MCC protestors marching in the streets of Katmandu some weeks ago, declared that the MCC was nothing more than the beginnings of a new East India Company coming to loot the country.

Nepal is proud of having avoided direct annexation and retaining almost complete sovereignty during the British period, where the country was treated as a valued, albeit dependent, ally. Unlike places such as Delhi, or Seringapatam there was to be no looting of Katmandu. Of course the issue today it is not so simple as an enemy army at the gates, indeed a wider game is being played here quite apart from the squabbling in the capital.

As a developing nation in a critical part of the world, Nepal is not short of interest parties and America is not alone in applying pressure. China has made little secret of the fact that it feels the MCC is a poorly disguised arm of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and thus a direct strategic challenge to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), of which Nepal is a member.

The United States has been similarly blunt in condemning the so called Chinese misinformation campaign which is cited as being at the heart of the anti MCC movement. Equally the Chinese Foreign Ministry recently branded the American ultimatum an insult and a threat to Nepalese sovereignty, and neither side can be condemned for thinking the other is not stirring the pot. Indeed it seems painfully obvious that a great deal of stirring is going on.

Nepal’s majority congress party is the main proponent of the pact, and the communists and socialists oppose them. But despite them being the larger in the coalition, Nepal, historically has remained sceptical of the United States and pliant to China. If China is spreading misinformation it has a ready ear in the communist party which is naturally ready to believe the intentions of the Americans are by inclination negative. 

The International Convention Centre. Meeting place of the Nepalese Parliament.

It certainly cannot be denied that the grant would see unavoidable foreign interest grow in Nepal, likely through the hydroelectric industry, but the US assures Nepal, the grant has nothing to do with the Indo-Pacific strategy and is a decision for the Nepalese alone, this despite having representatives previously blurt out that it is essentially an arm of the IPS.

For those who oppose the pact, this tallies with what China has been warning about. But is China the only side that is spreading misinformation here?

Accusations from northern Nepal of encroachment by the Chinese across the passable border points seem to hint at something unsettling and at the same time absurd. These accusations, spread through an apparently leaked Nepalese Government report are denied by Beijing, and indeed the Nepalese government itself has not confirmed lodging a complaint. Pro China voices in Katmandu are pointing the finger at the BBC for printing the story to spreading false rumours to stir up anti Chinese sentiment. 

Essentially, two can play the misinformation game, as the reported protests against encroachment show, people on the ground are always eager to listen to authoritative voices. And the fate of the MCC will perhaps be a telling indicator as to who is winning the economic race in Asia.

As of the 21st the compact has been tabled in the Nepalese Parliament, and headway has apparently been made by the pro MCC Prime Minister, in the political deadlock but much still seems uncertain, if not painfully fragile.

Sir David Ochterloy. (c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

For Nepal in 1816, the Gurkhas were fortunate that David Ochterlony was the man they were dealing with directly, he being a rare breed of British officer and EIC administrator who had no wish to prolong a war for profit and thus was not inclined to be heavy handed in treaty demands. His men were sick, and his pay-chest light, and he wanted the war to end. 

Nepal was never annexed, Katmandu never looted, and British interference thereafter was much more limited than say it was in Punjab. Nepal’s sovereignty remained intact throughout the British period and despite the obvious blow in the cession of territory in the short term, the Himalayan kingdom’s close relationship with the British during the height of their power in South Asia could be said to have remained mostly beneficial until the 20th century.

It cannot be said that this was any more obvious to the Gurkha elite in 1816, arguing over wether to fight to the last or sign the treaty, than the outcome of the MCC crisis of the 21st century is to the current government. What is highlighted here is not just the weakness and factionalism within the Nepalese parliament, but an example of the greater competitive economic struggle between China and the United States for control of what is essentially supply of the building blocks of day to day life. Access to housing, energy, commerce and communication. This high stakes contest is being played out in developing countries across the east, unseen for the most part, and the nations themselves are the playing pieces.

We might hope that if the MCC passes by the anniversary of Makwanpur it will benefit the people of Nepal. But the question is can Nepal indeed keep its head afloat and benefit from being amongst the many developing nations currently being tugged too and fro in the scramble for what Peter Frankopan has called the new silk roads.

The Ottoman Wahhabi War

The destabilisation of the Ottoman Empire through internal issues, Russian expansionism in the Caucuses and Balkans not to mention direct French intervention in Egypt and Syria between 1798-1801 created opportunities for ambitious leaders like Muhammad Ali Pasha and Saud Al Kabeer (the great) to carve out nations from the flesh of the empire.

In 1811 the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II ordered Muhammad Ali Pasha (the supposed Wāli in Egypt) to redouble efforts to pacify Arabia, where in 1802 the House of Saud had gone on a conquering spree under the expansionist, Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Al Kabeer) Emir of Diriyah netting the holy city of Mecca as a prize.

Though ostensibly on the job since 1807, Ali had other things on his mind than fighting in Arabia, (such as massacring Mamelukes to secure his power-base) but he was content to let Istanbul believe the fiction of Egyptian fealty. He dispatched his son Tusun Pasha with 10,000 men, but Saud Al Kebeer defeated him at Al-Safra in 1812.

Despite stubborn Saudi resistance, Tusun Pasha was reinforced with another 10,000 men & was able to recapture Al Medina and Mecca. The Saudi Emir then died in 1814. Tusun was also ailing and agreed to a treaty with Abdullah bin Saud in which Hijaz was surrendered & vassalage offered.

Neither Ali nor the Sultan ratified the treaty with the House of Saud. In 1816 Tusun Pasha died and with mutual distrust rampant, the war resumed with Ali’s other son, Ibrahim Pasha taking command & driving the Saudi Emir and his fanatical “Wahhabis” (more properly Salafis) into the desert of Nejd.

Ibrahim Pasha was leading a reinvigorated Egyptian army, newly reformed and reorganised against the Emirate’s Wahhabi die-hards. The “Wahhabi’s” being adherents of Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, a Sunni scholar who wanted to reform what he saw as Islam’s decedent devotion to saints and rituals. His puritanical followers dealt harshly with their “unclean” Co-religionists as a result and the objection to the veneration of Muslim saints extended to banning the name of the Ottoman sultans in Friday prayers. The Saud Emirs of Diriyah were the greatest champions of Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings.

Therefore, nothing short of totally subjugation would be tolerated by Istanbul & Cairo, after Wahhabi, massacres, desecrations of orthodox holy sights and direct insults to the Sultan.
In 1818 Ibrahim brought his forces, now swollen to 30,000 men to the gates of Diriyah, having marched across the desert and ruthlessly massacring the male population of Dhurma to sap the heart of the rebels. However, the great fortress held out for six months with huge loss of life on both sides.

Outnumbered & starving, the Wahhabi defenders surrendered Diriyah on 9 Sept. Abdullah bin Saud was taken to Cairo & protected for a time, but despite promises to spare the the city, Diriyah was sacked, & the emir himself was reluctantly sent to Istanbul & beheaded in 1819.

The fall of the Diriyah Emirate also known as the 1st Saudi State, brought an end to the period of Sunni Islamist “Wahhabi” expansionism though did not wipe it out & neither the faltering power of the Sultan nor the rising power of Egypt managed to assert dominance over Arabia, and the Saudi state would rise again.

Book Review: The Armies of Sir Ralph Hopton by Laurence Spring.

General – Pages : 220 | Images : 25 b/w illustrations, 9 b/w maps, 8 pages colour plates, numerous tables

Paperback – Date of Publication : December 2020 | Size : 248mm x 180mm | ISBN : 9781913336516 | Helion Book Code : HEL1277

One (or perhaps we should say three) of the the most important armies that ever took the field for King Charles between 1642 and 1646 was that which included they famed regiments of Cornish infantry.

Renowned as both disciplined and fierce, the dogged westerners won fame in several important battles, and some go so far as to say that as the Cornish armies under Sir Ralph Hopton declined, so too did Royal fortunes dwindle. Perhaps only the little army commanded by Montrose in the north has as great a reputation as Hopton’s flinty West Country regiments.

Laurence Spring has gone a long way to creating the ultimate reference for the armies of Ralph Hopton, and indeed a very useful book to own about 17th century soldiering in Britain generally. Perhaps geared towards serious students than general readers, the book is not entangled in jargon, presenting a clearly thought out and carefully constructed presentation of the makeup of the western royalist forces.

Speaking as someone with only basic knowledge of how the civil wars in England, Scotland and Ireland were conducted, I found this book extremely enlightening. It is packed with detail drawn from allot of contemporary or near contemporary sources.

Those old stalwarts, the muster rolls and other administrative minutiae are consulted to form a picture of the type of men who served the King in the West Country. Everything from recruitment to weaponry, rates of pay and life on campaign is gone into with the same investigative thoroughness.

The author is not content either to find a convenient bottom line to present the reader for the sake of a neat paragraph, but presents a whole range of anomalies and contributing factors to each section. In the 17th century, exceptions tended to prove the rule, and this is especially obvious when he looks at how the royalist regiments were raised, trained and equipped.

The recruitment and commissioning of men and officers shows us how the struggled insinuated itself at all levels of society, and how seriously (and not so seriously) some gentry and nobility took their service. Readers more seasoned to military history will find it as no surprise that there was a degree of mixing in terms of the rank and file, and for instance, not every Cornish Regiment was made up of Cornishmen.

As noted above, although this is an invaluable insight into the workings of the royalist armies of Cornwall and Devon due to its deep level of research, but it’s also a good general work on ‘soldiering’ in the period, which we come to see somewhat less as a profession as in many cases a group of men who have mastered the use of arms for a fixed period. As such even those who are pursuing a wider impression civil wars, rather than just people specifically studying the western royalist forces, will find its many observations and findings of interest.

Happy Reading!


Book Review: The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814 by David Wilson.

(Vols 1 & 2)

Amongst aficionados and buffs of military history, not least the majority of academics, the shores of the Baltic are a backwater of the Napoleonic Wars. The scene of moderately interesting special operations (Evacuation of the Romana Divison), a place of backstory for Wellington and Nelson (Operations against Copenhagen) and the scene of highly abbreviated campaigns over territorial possessions that were surprisingly influential in the tangled web of Napoleonic politics, (Russo-Swedish and Dano-Swedish Wars and the founding of the house of Bernadotte).

As a result very little time is given to the military forces of the Norse kingdoms of Denmark-Norway and Sweden (and Finland), dismissed as Bernadotte’s toy soldiers in the latter case and a nonentity of militias in the former. But the makeup and administration of the Danish army of the Napoleonic Wars will carry the reader beyond the field of discarded Clogs that is conjured whenever the Battle of Køge (1807) is mentioned. 

Much as surveys of the minutiae and material culture of military history may be dismissed as mere rivet counting, David A. Wilson highlights the importance for military historians to be aware of the intricacies of the military machines at work in his excellent 3 volume series of books on the organisation, uniforms and equipment of the Danish land forces of the period.

In an age of reform, Revolution and innovation, there is much to observe in the armies of what we might term the lesser powers, and a look at the organisation of their armies, the challenges they faced and the ambitions of their leaders can greatly inform the popular narrative of this war. 

Far from a pathetic rabble of militias, Wilson points the reader directly to a few home truths about the Danish army in a succinct and direct historical overview before digging into a breathtakingly detailed summary of uniforms and trappings that all writers of fiction, war-gamers and serious military historians wanting some basis in English for the war in the Baltic. 

In 1802 the Danish army was looking to the future and trying to create a strong military deterrent to a host of enemies. Indeed few countries can have been as luckless as Denmark between 1802 and 1814. That being said they had taken steps to secure their position after the upheaval of the 1790’s. Entering the league of armed neutrality and introducing sweeping reforms had taken hold of their armed forces and created a national army of conscripts, well equipped and well trained according to military thinkers like Von Huth, and led by capable generals like Carl of Hessen. 

The importance of a slew of German military thinkers on the kingdoms of Europe cannot be understated in the development of warfare at the end of the 18th century. Wilhelm Heinrich Von Huth, Who was an artillery commander under Frederick the Great, made reforms that braced Denmark’s armed forces for the trials to come and indeed were the bedrock of their effectiveness up to 1850. His innovative use of all available European improvements created a singular Danish model for the kingdom, which though unlikely to sweep away the other systems was more than suitable for the aggressive tactical doctrines that came to typify the kingdom.

A large national army, well equipped and trained with intelligent, well educated, if not brilliant officers emerged where they could, as an unusually aggressive and capable army. Hordes of skirmishers advanced before the infantry battalions who moved in lines rather than columns, light artillery rushing forwards, impelled by the doctrine to get into action and aim well, as there was no shame in losing a gun that had been well served. Trotting behind came equally waspish squadrons of horse, who showed considerable dash and elan when called to drive off inumberble Cossack and irregular columns after Leipzig.

As a military force, in 1813, the Danish division impressed even the iron marshal Davout during the siege of Hamburg, the infantry and cavalry showing great potential, displaying a marked mastery of light infantry warfare and all arms cooperation with startlingly aggressive cavalry, as the Russians, Swedish and Prussians found out as the French allied forces retreated from Northern Germany in the winter of 1813. Some might have heard of the defeat at Copenhagen and Køge, but few will have heard of the Battles of Boden and Sehested where Prince Hessen’s men proved why Davout had bend moved to declare that ‘I march as happily with them as I would with any French veterans.’

These books bring home the fact that Europe was in the throes of another military revolution even before the Napoleonic Wars broke out, and it is fascinating to see how Denmark prepared for the tumult ahead, creating a progressive and modern army that made them, (or should have made them) an attractive ally for the enemies of Napoleon. I am sure these books will be the start of many people’s investigations into the Norse and Baltic theatres of the Napoleonic Wars.

Content wise books are startlingly through, covering organisation, equipment, tactics, rations, recruitment, colours, horse tack, service, weapons and a multitude of uniform details and variations for infantry, technical branches, artillery, staff and cavalry and their various evolutions between 1802-1814. Each is illustrated by the author, who works under the name Jackdaw, and offers incredibly detailed and indeed charming uniform plates that will be a great boon to modellers and reenactors.

Volume 1 gives a general introduction and then focuses on the staff and infantry. Volume 2 progresses to the Cavalry and Artillery and Volume 3 will cover the forces in Norway and the militia. These are large format softcovers, almost A5 in size and will probably be very handy for direct visual reference when painting the Perry Miniatures range.

The weaknesses of the series remain in the lack of foot or end notes, relying for reference on a through bibliography. There are a few tactical diagrams but the majority of the images are those created by the author and among the interesting appendixes can be found a list of images that can be looked up. A lack of index is perhaps also a little frustrating but as the books are well structured navigating them for reference isn’t a problem.

Works like this in English are to be applauded not just for the thoroughness, as for many the Baltic theatre of the war remains illusive due to the language barrier,  I eagerly look forward to the Norwegian and militia volume.

Thanks for reading!


Book Review: The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet by Jeremy R. Moss

  • Köelher Books
  • 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-64663-149-0

If you’ve ever read about pirates, you might have heard of Stede Bonnet especially if I’m your reading you’ve seen something about Blackbeard. But if you’ve only heard of him then you might well be puzzled. This was what author, Jeremy Moss found when he began his search to find out the truth about the ‘Gentleman Pirate.’

Though rather obscure today, Bonnet was better known than some in the 18th century, indeed he was known in his day as one of the more infamous pirates of the Atlantic and Caribbean. But is this deserved?

Amongst student of maritime crime, Bonnet is known as a bit of a joke, and Moss’ critical eye for detail makes him perfectly suited to act as his biographer. Bonnet was a wealthy gentleman who seemingly had a midlife crisis and joined the 18th century equivalent of a biker gang, only he bought all the bikes and hired all the riders to form his gang. 

“the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this”

Though it is true that he learned a great deal from being the prisoner of Blackbeard, and associations with others like Charles Vane, by the time of his capture he had learned how to act like a pirate, cruising and capturing passing craft casually from a secluded inlet, and puffing and blowing about taking revenge on ships from Carolina, and threatening to shoot any of his crew dead who refused to fight. As Moss brings us through the story of his unusual life, one even begins to wonder who was conning who when it came to Blackbeard. 

This book highlights very well the difference between the wannabe apprentice pirate captain Bonnet and ‘real’ pirates, who acted according to codes and traditions and considered themselves a loose brotherhood, hence they felt entitled to act in certain ways depending on who had done what in disregard of the rules. We see this when Moss looks into his motivations in turning criminal. Jacobite sympathies (a popular affectation by certain captains) mixed with, mid life crisis & literal dementia is an original hypothesis, and one that is actually borne out by the available sources. 

When I read the book, I loved how the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this, and it will really enable a serious student to do some proper digging. *doffs cocked hat*.

Stede actually got off to a good start but he wasn’t a typical pirate as he literally owned his ship & the crew had bounties, but he revealed he was no sailor and then got hammered by a Spanish Man O’ War.

The hero, for all his faults is treated kindly, for instance Bonnet is thought by the author to have likely remained faithful to his wife. I suspect the author is trying to make Bonnet out to be less than the figure of fun that he is commonly ascribed. And it’s true Bonnet isn’t implicated with women in the record.

Apart from a few small things, mostly cosmetic to do with naval terminology and weaponry, which gave me no pause to doubt the overall narrative, there were no speed bumps. A highly detailed coverage of the trial of the pirates takes up part two of the book, offering day by day narrative of the proceedings, yielding many interesting points for studious readers, and some are also amusing, such as Chief Justice Alein becoming irritated when he could get no straight answer as to wether or not Bonnet was, as he called it ‘commander in chief’ of the pirate ship. 

This wonderful moment of anecdote shows us not only the singularity of the semi-diplomatic nature of pirate crews, but we can also see the novelty of it at the time, as the confused Chief Justice becomes increasingly irate at the mention of the power of the pirate quartermaster exceeding that of Bonnet.

Excellent appendixes round out the book, which is in sum highly readable and supremely informative. I look forward eagerly to Moss’ future work.

Book Review: British Light Infantryman by Robbie MacNiven.

Author: Robbie MacNiven. Illustrator: Stephen Walsh Short code: ELI 237 Publication Date: 18 Feb 2021

They were known as bloodhounds. Because the relentless way the British Light Infantry would attack and pursue their patriot foes bred a chilling similarity to a pack of hunting dogs in full chase. 

With their sleek and cut down uniforms, garish feathers and distinctive bugle-horns blaring behind them as they went into battle, these were probably the most feared infantry in the British Army Serving in North America during the Revolution.

As author Robbie MacNiven shows us in this book, this was a reputation that the light infantry battalions consciously adopted and cultivated. They bred an elite culture within their ranks and at every opportunity encouraged an aura of capability, toughness and mercilessness that is reminiscent of special forces today. 

Even in defeat they were dangerous and Patriot commanders learned to be weary of them on the battlefield. Their fighting spirit was such that they became mutinous at the mention of making peace with the rebels. Their officers, no less spoiling for a fight than the men, would write home of how fighting the Americans was much like fox hunting. 

A steely eyed breed of short, stocky, active and dangerous men was born within these light companies. Men adept in the art of movement and concealment, of ambush and encirclement. They asked for no quarter and gave none, and they pursued their enemy relentlessly until they stopped kicking. 

The author reveals this elite force with great descriptive skill and academic verve. Not only in battle but on campaign and in camp, giving good descriptions, visual and textual of the dress and training of the units. Also including information on loyalist forces and some little known areas of light infantry history as well. One of the most interesting is the rarely explored subject of the 1776 ‘contract rifle’ which was issued to five men in every light company.

The reader will be able to begin to get an image in their mind as to the esprit de Corps of the light infantry battalions, some of their terminology and traditions, and a sense of warfare in North America in general too.

Here warfare was dominated by who could deploy the most flexible infantry, and as a result this book builds on what other Osprey authors such as Stuart Reid have written about the so called ‘American scramble.’

An open order firing line able to act by company as well as by battalion, a theory which came to dominate practical linear warfare in the 19th century .

The book expands every now and then to observe that the British Army did not just stumble upon the light infantry doctrine at Shorncliffe camp in the early 1800s. A circular pattern emerged from 1755 to 1803 where as needs required light troops would be authorised and disbanded, but always enough residue would remain to ensure that the next time war loomed the light corps would return stronger than the last time. So by the start of Britain’s Napoleonic epic, fully authorised permanent light infantry battalions would be ready as a result.

With excellent accompanying images by Stephen Walsh this title is highly recommended.


Book Review: US Soldier vs British Soldier by Gregg Adams.

  • Author: Gregg Adams
  • Illustrator: Johnny Shumate
  • Short code: CBT 54
  • Publication Date: 18 Feb 2021

A simplistic appreciation and survey of three fairly well known actions during the North American War of 1812 is delivered by Gregg Adams in this latest combat title.

While offering little that is terribly novel about the challenges and minutiae of how opposing Battalions tackled each other in the field during the conflict, it is good to see this overlooked conflict get attention.

The point of this book is to demonstrate how the US Army learned to hold it’s own against the British. It does this in straightforward style. The Americans are beaten in two battles, Queenston Heights and Chrysler’s Farm, then win a victory themselves at Chippewa which apparently demonstrated their ability to fight. Yet in the end I felt no closer to understanding what went into this change than I did to begin with.

It is a trend in histories of the wars between Britain and the US to create an underdog scenario in order for the Americans to rise above their supposedly invincible enemies. While there is no doubt that the US Army was in poor shape in 1812 and only found its feet in 1813, this recipe has been done many times and in the confined space of a this type of book, there might have been an opportunity here to investigate a different angle. 

The battles are described at a fairly high angle level, without delving too deep into tactical or practical doctrine. Methods of fire control, logistics, and systems of arms handling and manoeuvre are only very briefly explained. The Americans lose the first two battles because of poor leadership and what the author calls their amateurish methods, but with little to demonstrate what exactly this looked like. To be honest I was left to imply from the quotes by General Scott that extensive training in roughly established methods paid dividends and that success could have been theoretically achieved at any time previously. Even the section dealing with Scott’s camp of instruction focuses only on the General’s opinion.

As one might expect, in the last year of the war some talented officers came along and got around to doing a proper job. This book is about regular infantry, and so discussing the militia and irregular forces, isn’t something it has time for, and that is good. But every now and then it throws in a little nugget of unsubstantiated information that raises more questions than answers. For instance in the section dealing with Chippewa, the author happily throws in a description of American Regulars taking aimed shots as if this was; A a hugely unusual thing, and; B even practical at all, given each side had roughly the same capabilties in terms of accuracy.

Combat books should realistically be about the dynamics and first hand experiences of combat from a very low level point of view, trying to conjure up a picture of combat from the ranks so the reader can get beyond the staple military history jargon, revealing what terms like ‘forced back’ actually looked like and what it meant.

This book gives some snappy and exciting battle summaries, especially if you like the David and Goliath scenario of British pros eventually being bested by Yankee amateurs, but little of the boots on the ground realities of linear combat in North America. 

thanks for reading!


Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire. Available Now!

A new book, written by Anthony Ruggiero has been published and is now available, please have a look, as I’m sure it will be a great read.

‘The Tudor Dynasty of England, spanning from the late fifteenth century into the early seventeenth century, was filled with colorful monarchs that impacted the country politically, economically, and socially. One of those monarchs was Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary ruled over England from July 1553 to her death in November 1558. Despite its initial promise and success, Mary Tudor’s reign was unsuccessful due to the increased influence of foreign power. Mary’s early life and struggle to the throne reflected her determination to rule, her strong religious conviction to Catholicism, and her reliance on Spain.’

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