England Invaded by the Dutch: The Conquest that Never Was! Part I

Unknown 17th Century Dutch Artist, Embarkation of William III, Prince of Orange, at Helvoetsluis, c. 1688-99, oil on canvas, Royal Collection

The Fame of the Intended Invasion from Holland, was spread all over the Nation, & most Men were preparing for the Generall Insurrection which ensu’d, when I was obliged to go to London to settle my accounts, in October 1688, & had not continu’d there above 3 weeks, before the News came of the Dutch Fleet’s being sail’d to the Westward, & seen off the Isle of Wight.

The assault on the supposedly impregnable sovereign territory came out of the blue – the slickest feat of naval planning and execution ever to have been witnessed in Europe.

On 1 November 1688 (new style), Prince William of Orange, elected ruler or Stadholder of the Dutch Republic, and husband of the English King James II’s eldest daughter, Mary Stuart, embarked upon a seaborne invasion of the British Isles. His invasion force consisted of an astounding five hundred ships, an army of more than twenty thousand highly trained professional troops, and a further twenty thousand mariners and support staff. As a naval and military undertaking, the sheer scale, temerity and bold ambition of the venture captured the European imagination for years afterwards. The exact numbers of the invading forces were a matter of dispute and deliberate exaggeration (and have remained so ever since), but there was no uncertainty at all about William of Orange’s intentions – this was a redoubtable force, and it was headed for the English coast.

Rumours of dramatic action against the increasingly absolutist behaviour of James II had been circulating for months. As early as May, John Evelyn recorded anxiously in his diary:

The Hollanders did now al’arme his Majestie with their fleete, so well prepar’d & out before we were in any readinesse, or had any considerable number to have encountered them had there been occasion, to the great reproch of the nation.

Reliable intelligence on Dutch naval and troop movements was unusually hard to come by. Some snippets of information, though, had leaked out. There was talk that troops were on the move on the Dutch borders. There were anxious whispers that France was making preparations to come to the assistance of the Catholic English regime (what Evelyn refers to as ‘the Popery of the King’ was increasingly an issue). Right up to the moment when William’s fleet left the shelter of the Dutch coastline and headed out across open water, northern Europe was awash with unsubstantiated rumour and hearsay, anecdote and false alarm. Once the assault was under way, there was talk of little else.

The joint naval and military operation was on an unprecedented scale. Its meticulous organisation astonished political observers. There had initially been some suggestion that the build-up of troops in the Low Countries was in preparation for a land engagement with the French. It was then rumoured that the Dutch might send these forces to help prevent an imminent French invasion of the Palatinate. But by the time the size of the operation became clear in the middle of October there could be no doubt as to its destination or its purpose. The Dutch, reported the stunned English ambassador at The Hague, intended ‘an absolute conquest’ of England.

‘Never was so great a design executed in so short a time. All things as soon as they were ordered were got to be so quickly ready that we were amazed at the dispatch,’ wrote one of those involved in the secret planning, while the English ambassador at The Hague warned that ‘such a preparation was never heard of in these parts of the world’. Not only the foreign diplomats at The Hague but all Europe was astounded by the unusual speed and efficiency with which the Dutch state – which historians generally like to describe as one of the less well-organised in seventeenth-century Europe – assembled so enormously complicated an expedition.

William, it slowly emerged, had started to build up his army in the first half of 1688, without consulting the Dutch government – the States General. His closest and most trusted favourites, Hans Willem Bentinck and Everard van Weede van Dijkveld, had shuttled clandestinely around Europe for months securing backing from those known to be sympathetic to the Protestant cause, and negotiating supporting troops and financial loans. Between June and October they surreptitiously assembled a massive force of well-trained, well-paid and experienced soldiers drawn from right across Protestant Europe. They also made arrangements for troops from neighbouring territories to move into place to fill the gap left on the European mainland, to defend the Dutch borders against possible French attack once William had switched his best troops to the English campaign.

The uncertainty and swirling rumours seem to have paralysed the English administration. By mid-September the diarist John Evelyn, on a visit to James II’s court in London, ‘found [it] in the uttmost consternation upon report of the Pr: of Oranges landing, which put White-hall into so panic a feare, that I could hardly believe it possible to find such a change’. He also reported ‘the whole Nation disaffected, & in apprehensions’. The King himself was suffering from recurrent nosebleeds (a sign of raised blood pressure, perhaps). Strategically, over a period of months, the combination of extreme secrecy, rumour and false alarm sapped English morale.

The Dutch government was not consulted officially until well into September (and the French ambassador got wind of this through his ‘intelligencers’ – undercover agents – only days later). On 8 October William had let it be known in Holland that his invasion – if it took place – was to be both an intervention on behalf of the Dutch state, to prevent James II from forming an anti-Dutch Catholic alliance with France, and a bid to secure his own and his wife’s dynastic interests. The States General were finally asked for, and gave, their approval, on the understanding that ‘His said Highness has decided to start the said matter upon His Highnesse’s and Her Royal Highnesse’s own names, and to make use of the States’ power only as auxiliary.’

What the Dutch States General could and did provide was additional financing for the campaign (which they would later require to be repaid from the English exchequer of King William III). In spite of the Prince’s personal wealth, there was still a significant shortfall in the ready money needed for so large a naval and military undertaking. The States General placed at William’s disposal 4 million guilders, out of taxation income earmarked for defence of their land borders. A further 2 million guilders was raised in loans from sympathetic financiers (chief among them the Sephardic Jewish banker Francisco Lopes Suasso).

On 1 November, driven onward at speed by a strong easterly wind, a vast Dutch fleet left its sheltered harbour at Hellevoetsluis and sailed out into open waters. At a signal from William of Orange the great gathering of ships organised itself into a prearranged formation, ‘stretching the whole fleet in a line, from Dover to Calais, twenty-five deep’. The Dutch began their mission, ‘colours flying’, the fleet ‘in its greatest splendour’, ‘a vast mass of sail stretching as far as the eye could see, the warships on either flank simultaneously thundering their guns in salute as they passed in full view of Dover Castle on one side and the French garrison at Calais on the other’. As the great flotilla proceeded magnificently on its way, the Dutch regiments stood in full parade formation on the deck, with ‘trumpets and drums playing various tunes to rejoice [their] hearts … for above three hours’.

In his diary for the day, Constantijn Huygens junior, * William of Orange’s Dutch secretary, recorded how, the morning after they set sail: ‘We arrived between Dover and Calais, and at midday, as we passed along the Channel, we could see distinctly the high white cliffs of England, but the coast of France could be seen only faintly.’ Constantijn junior, and the other children of the distinguished statesman, connoisseur, poet and musician Sir Constantijn Huygens, together with their father, will be important witnesses and guides as the present book unfolds.

Poised between England and Holland (like other members of his family he was an outstanding linguist, whose English and French were as fluent as his native Dutch), Constantijn junior was equally at home in the élite circles of either country. Like his father and his younger brother, the scientist Christiaan Huygens, he moved easily between countries, his international experience proving invaluable to his princely employer.

From the very start, the Dutch fleet achieved its key strategic aim, creating an unforgettable spectacle, inducing a feeling of shock and awe in onlookers on either shore. The iconic image of its offensive sortie into the English Channel was commemorated in countless contemporary paintings and engravings, still to be found today, on display or in store, in galleries on both sides of the Narrow Seas. As the seventeenth-century armada made its way along the Channel, crowds gathered on the clifftops of the south of England to watch it pass. It was reported that the procession of ships had taken six hours to clear the ‘straits’.

The departure from Holland and arrival in England of this great fleet had been contrived with exceptional care, down to the very last detail. As the foremost historian of this period of Anglo–Dutch relations puts it, ‘The boldest enterprise ever undertaken by the Republic of the United Netherlands was stage-managed with exquisite artistry.’ The expedition comprised fifty-three warships, of which thirty-two were ‘capital ships’ designed for combat – thirteen with between sixty and sixty-eight guns, seven with between fifty and fifty-six, and twelve with between forty and forty-eight – the rest escort ships. There were ten fireships and about four hundred other vessels to transport troops, supplies and horses. The army was made up of 10,692 regular infantry and 3,660 regular cavalry, plus gunners of the artillery train and five thousand gentleman volunteers – expatriate Englishmen, Huguenots and other sympathisers. On top of this there were 9,142 crew members and a further ten thousand men on board the transport vessels. William’s plan was that this spectacular floating combination of forces and resources should avoid naval engagement at all costs. Like the D-Day landings, this was a huge feat of transportation, rather than a navy seeking a sea battle.

The munitions, equipment and supplies with which the expeditionary force was provided were formidable, and state-of-the-art. According to one eyewitness (who, as usual, may have slightly exaggerated the numbers), the fleet carried a total of seven thousand horses – mounts for the 3,660 cavalry officers, the Prince, his entourage and the officer and gentleman volunteers, and draught horses for the carts carrying provisions and ammunition. Further draught animals were needed to pull the fifty artillery pieces.

Every possible eventuality had been anticipated. Special equipment for the venture had been manufactured covertly in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Intelligencers reported in the months preceding the invasion that the Dutch government had ordered ‘at Utrecht the making of severall thousand of pairs of pistols and carabins’, while Amsterdam ‘has undertaken to furnish 3,000 saddles’, and ‘they are also night and day employed at The Hague in making bombs, cuirasses and stinkpotts’. There were ‘muskets, pikes of all sorts, bandoliers, swords, pistols, saddles, boots, bridles and other necessaries to mount horsemen; pickaxes, wheelbarrows and other instruments to raise ground’, and ‘boats covered with leather to pass over rivers and lakes’. The fleet carried a mobile smithy for shoeing horses and repairing weapons, ten thousand pairs of spare boots, a printing press, and a large quantity of printing paper. Additional vessels were hired at Amsterdam to transport hay, provisions, etc. The wind, Constantijn Huygens recorded in his diary for the day after the fleet set sail, was steadily easterly, and the weather good.

The one decision that had not been taken by William and his advisers in advance was whether the fleet would aim to make landfall in the north of England, in Yorkshire, or in the south-west (in either case avoiding the English army, which was massed in the south-east). Pragmatically, and to perplex English intelligence, it was decided to leave that choice to the prevailing winds. In the event, the wind, which had blown ferociously from the west for almost three weeks previously, battering the Dutch coast and thwarting William’s attempt to launch his attack in mid-October, swung round suddenly (some said providentially) in the final days of October.

Responding to the favourable wind, the invasion fleet proceeded in the direction of the English coast, headed towards Harwich, as if to make landfall in Yorkshire. Having sailed just past Harwich, however, William of Orange, commander-in-chief in person of this mighty flotilla, gave new orders for it to proceed instead south-westwards, to take full advantage of the ever-strengthening easterly wind. The English war fleet, trapped in the Thames estuary by the same wind, watched William’s armada go by twice, helpless to follow and engage until it was too late.

The vast Dutch fleet sailed past the Hampshire coast at speed, barely managing to avoid being swept past Torbay, the last port capable of receiving it. It arrived there on 3 November, English style. Since the Northern Provinces, along with the rest of Continental Europe (but not England), used the ‘new’ Gregorian calendar, this corresponded to 13 November (new style) – the day before William of Orange’s birthday. Many in his entourage urged him to take advantage of that propitious day to launch his invasion of England. To the Dutch the choice of date would have had enormous ‘good luck’ significance.

To the English, whose support had to be won by every propaganda means possible, the coincidence of dates would have been entirely lost. For as far as they were concerned, on what the Dutch considered to be William’s birthday, the anniversary was still ten days away. Prince William and his fleet lay to off the English coast for two more days, and then landed. On 5 November 1688 (according to the English calendar) William began disembarking his troops on the coast of Devon.

Thus it was (once again, ‘providentially’) that the landing took place on the anniversary of another great triumph of English Protestantism over the hostile forces of Catholicism – the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The convenient match with the familiar date meant that Catholic threats were opportunely on people’s minds. Those who had witnessed the Spanish Armada approaching a hundred years earlier, in 1588, had continued to talk about its fearful appearance for the rest of their lives. Now, a century after that failed attempt at conquering Britain from the sea, a Dutch fleet somewhere around four times the size of the Armada successfully made landfall on English soil, bent on conquest. The frigate Den Briel, carrying William, flew the colours of the Prince and Princess of Orange. Its banner was emblazoned with the motto – announcing the Prince’s justification for his offensive action – ‘For Liberty and the Protestant Religion’. Beneath these words was the motto of the house of Orange, ‘Je maintiendrai’ – ‘I will persevere’.


England Invaded by the Dutch: The Conquest that Never Was! Part II

Landing of William III at Torbay, 5 November 1688. English School. BHC0326

Constantijn Huygens described their arrival in his diary:

The village where we landed is called Braxton. It is very rundown, with few and poorly constructed houses, built of that inferior stone which this entire coast and the land adjacent to it are made of, and covered in slate. Nearby is a high mountain, and the houses huddle beneath it in short rows, as if stuck to it.

At Braxton he had his first experience of roughing it English-style:

I ran into Willem Meester in front of an inn which was named the Crowned Rose Tavern. He wanted me to join him for a glass of cider, we entered and discovered the entrance hall crowded with a rabble of soldiers, drinking and raging. Coincidentally, I saw My lord Coote in this place, who had been given a room upstairs, and I entreated him to give me a place to put a mattress on the ground, which he gladly did, and we agreed to have dinner together in the evening. We had an exceptionally leathery fricassée of mutton that evening.

Prince William confided to Huygens that he preferred any kind of lodging, however humble, to spending another night at sea.

Unloading troops and supplies began on the evening of 5 November. Local fishermen proposed a suitable landing point for the horses, where the beach fell away steeply so that they would not have too far to swim ashore, and they were unloaded without incident the following day. The landing was completed late on the seventh. Prince William, his Scottish-born chaplain Gilbert Burnet, his private secretary Constantijn Huygens junior, and his most intimate and influential favourite, Hans Willem Bentinck, ‘sitting on very bad horses’ (provided by the locals) watched the swift and efficient disembarkation with satisfaction from a high cliff at nearby Brixham.

Burnet and the Prince agreed (though not entirely seriously) that the easy arrival was probably proof of predestination, and certainly the work of Providence.

Huygens’s first impression of the reception the Dutch were to receive was favourable, in spite of the obvious local poverty (he was clearly relieved):

Wednesday 17 December: The land between consisted of grand and high mountains and deep valleys, everything separated by many hedges and walls, the roads curiously poor, all of stone and strewed with loose bricks, on top of which layers of sludgy filth.

Alongside the roads the people had gathered, as on the previous day, women, men, and children alike, all shouting: ‘God bless you’ and waving to us a hundred good wishes. They gave the Prince and his entourage apples, and an old lady was waiting with a bottle of mead and wanted to pour his Highness a glass. In a little square, five women were standing, greeting him, each of whom had a pipe of tobacco in her mouth, like the large crowds we have seen, all smoking without any shame, even the very young, thirteen and fourteen year olds.

This promising start was, however, not to be sustained. Torrential rain hampered the subsequent march to nearby Paignton, and it was freezing cold. En route from Paignton to Exeter, carts and cannon frequently stuck in the mud. William waited for twelve days at Exeter for the weather to improve, and in the hope that the English gentry would begin to flock to support him.

Meanwhile, some two hundred miles away in the capital, news and rumours of the landing were trickling through in dribs and drabs to anxious Londoners: ‘confusd news of Dutch Landing near Portsmouth: Forces marchd that way early this morning … Dutch seen off the Isle of Wight … Dutch sayd to be landed at Poole … news of yesterdays and this days riots of Rabble’. Unconfirmed stories of military engagements, casualties, naval assaults and civil disturbance proliferated.

The diarist John Evelyn and the wealthy financier Sir Stephen Fox were somewhat better informed about William of Orange’s movements. Evelyn wrote in his diary on 1 November:

Dined with Lord Preston, with other company, at Sir Stephen Fox’s. Continual alarms of the Prince of Orange, but no certainty. Reports of his great losses of horse in the storm, but without any assurance.

On 2 November (old style) these ‘alarms’ were made concrete. Some of William’s horses had indeed been lost in a first, abortive attempt to launch the fleet in late October, but now the armada was well under way. Eyewitnesses had watched it leave Brill on its way to Hellevoetsluis, seen off publicly by William’s wife, James II’s eldest daughter, the Princess of Orange. News of the landing at Torbay reached London three days later, and immediately provoked fears of a breakdown in civil order:

5th [November]. I went to London; heard the news of the Prince having landed at Torbay, coming with a fleet of near 700 sail, passing through the Channel with so favourable a wind, that our navy could not intercept, or molest them. This put the King and Court into great consternation … These are the beginnings of sorrow, unless God in His mercy prevent it by some happy reconciliation of all dissensions among us.

By the beginning of December the Prince of Orange was believed to have reached Oxford and to be on his way to London against little opposition, but there were contrary rumours of a French force coming to James’s assistance from Dunkirk (this news was contradicted later that day), and of Scottish troops marching south: ‘Great confusion of reports, noe certainty. Disturbance at Cambridge, St Edmondsbury and other places.’ On 15 December, the Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society in London, Robert Hooke (one of those chronicling events as they unfolded in his private diary), reported ‘confusion all’ and succumbed to a depression.

Lingering, in Devon, Prince William and his right-hand man Hans Willem Bentinck were privately disappointed at the absence of support from the English gentry and nobility at disembarkation. The Prince’s English advisers were quick to reassure him that this was simply a matter of everyone hanging back, in order not to be seen to be the first to abandon James II. In the absence of troops gathering to William’s side, and cheering hordes of English men and women welcoming the Prince who would deliver them from servitude and tyranny, it was decided to choreograph William’s arrival with heavy symbolic components, in a bid to proclaim the impeccable moral foundation for the invasion and his good intentions, to be broadcast as widely and as quickly as possible. A hastily written eyewitness account was rushed into print and distributed throughout the area.

The customarily sober and understated William entered Exeter in triumphal procession: ‘Armed cap a pee. A plume of white feathers on his head. All in bright armour, and forty two footmen running by him.’ Fifty gentlemen and as many pages attended him and supported his banner, which bore the inscription ‘God and the Protestant religion’. William rode on a ‘milk white palfrey’ and was preceded by two hundred gentlemen in armour, English and Scottish for the most part, mounted on heavy Flemish horses. For further dramatic effect, these knights were accompanied by ‘two hundred blacks brought from the [sugar] plantations of the Netherlands in America [Surinam]’, all dressed in white, turbaned and befeathered. No clearer symbolism could have been used to represent William as God’s appointed champion, as described in the Book of Revelation: ‘I saw and behold, a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.’ The white-clad ‘blacks’ reinforced the millennial theme – William was a global ruler, whose dominion extended to the limits of the known world.

From Exeter, Bentinck wrote to the commander of the Prince’s fleet, Admiral Herbert, still expressing concern at their lukewarm reception by the local gentry. The arrival of the Prince’s army would, he said, have looked less like an act of military aggression – less like an invasion, indeed – if the local landowners had only ridden out to welcome them:

I doubt not that the Good God will bless the cause, the people appear everywhere here extremely well disposed, it is only the gentlemen and the clergy who are somewhat more cautious, and do not espouse our cause. I am surprised at the latter, it seems to me that fear of the gibbet has more effect on their minds than zeal for religion.

In fact, the gentry were busy hedging their bets, trying to ascertain whether William’s bold adventure would succeed. They were preoccupied, too, with covering their backs – politically and financially. As early as 11 November, Sir Stephen Fox, anticipating his imminent dismissal from his office at the Exchequer, hastily approached the Royal Surveyor, Sir Christopher Wren, for written confirmation that building works he had carried out on his Whitehall lodgings (which belonged to the Crown) ten years earlier had cost him £1,000. Wren obliged with the certification of expenditure, and on 17 November issued a royal warrant guaranteeing Fox the right to remain in his Whitehall property until the money had been refunded to him.

Fox’s attempts to put his finances in order were part of a growing recognition at Whitehall Palace that the royal administration there was in the process of collapse. Support began to ebb away from the King’s party, and officials started discreetly to leave their posts. King James’s own first attempt at flight on 11 December contributed strongly to the confusion, since while attempting to remove himself and his family to safety abroad, he took steps to disrupt affairs of state, allowing him time (he hoped) to get French backing and to return. Before he left, he called for the most recent batch of Parliamentary writs and burned them. As he was being rowed across the Thames from Whitehall Palace to Vauxhall en route for the Kentish coast, he dropped the Great Seal, which he had retrieved from Lord Chancellor Jeffreys two days earlier, into the river. ‘He believed – correctly as it turned out – that there could be no lawful parliament held without his writs of summons under the Great Seal. His going thus created a hiatus in government, or interregnum, which was to be exploited by his enemies.’

James was right in thinking that his decision to flee would cause a constitutional crisis. Until he did so, William’s mission appeared to be one of ‘restauration’ – to restore English government to stability by any means necessary. With the throne apparently vacant, and government suspended, the Prince of Orange could for the first time openly express a willingness to fill the political vacuum by taking political control for himself and his wife, ‘to prevent the effusion of blood’. ‘Affaires being now altered by the King’s retirement’, William wrote to the Earl of Danby, James’s supporters like the Earl should disband their forces, return to their homes and ‘stand for to be chosen parliament men in their counties.’ His satisfaction turned out to be premature, however. In London, peers largely loyal to James had already set up a provisional government or Convention, which sat for the first time on 12 December, and continued to govern the country uninterruptedly, and without William’s interference, until James II fled for good just before Christmas.

On 12 December, as the Dutch army made its way towards London, reports began to reach them that James II had fled to France. Gilbert Burnet, Prince William’s Scottish chaplain, told Huygens ‘at table’, that a ‘Convocation’ or ‘free Parliament’ had been set up at Westminster to govern the country. On 14 December they reached Henley. As they marched from Henley towards Windsor, the weather was fine, and Huygens – an accomplished amateur artist, some of whose exquisite watercolour landscapes survive – marvelled at the beauty of the countryside:

Because the weather was so beautiful, we marched from Henley to Windsor. My Master was riding along with me, and we went off course, too much to the left, and headed toward the river, to the extent that we made a detour of an entire mile, yet alongside that same river we saw the world’s most beautiful views. That of Henley, when one reaches a certain height, is magnificently beautiful.

We rode through a large hamlet, named Maidenhead, where my Master stayed behind because his horse had some pebbles in his horse shoes and consequently had gone lame. I continued on my own, and closer to Windsor came on an empty road. For a long stretch, I had to wade through water, which came up to the horse’s belly. I could find no one to ask directions because all the people had gone to the street where his Highness was scheduled to make his procession.

On 18 December the Prince of Orange and his army entered London in another carefully organised ‘triumph’, to be welcomed, this time, by cheering crowds of Londoners. In spite of miserable weather, people in coaches and on horseback, as well as on foot, lined the streets. Huygens reports with evident relief that many of them wore orange ribbons, while others had stuck oranges on sticks and waved them in the air. One of those who has left us his own on-the-spot account of these events records:

The universall joy and acclamation at his entrance was like that at the Restauration [of 1660] in all things, except in debaucheries, of which there was as little appearance as has been known upon such occasion and such a publick concourse. An orange woman without Ludgate gave diverse baskets full of oranges to the Prince’s officers and soldiers as they marched by, to testifie her affection towards them. Divers ordinary women in Fleet Street shooke his soldiers by the hand, as they came by, and cryed, welcome, welcome. God blesse you, you come to redeeme our religion, lawes, liberties, and lives. God reward you. etc.

William’s London entrance was designed to ensure that his arrival would be remembered as a liberation rather than a conquest. Crowds could be fickle – the same people had also lined the streets for King James, who had returned to the capital, after a first attempt at joining his wife and baby son in France had been thwarted, two days earlier. The Prince had therefore taken precautions to ensure that there was no unseemly opposition to his arrival. He had sent a senior troop commander on ahead of the main army, with units of the trusted Dutch Blue Guards, to take up positions protecting Whitehall, St James’s Park and St James’s Palace, in advance of his coming into residence. One of his key instructions was to replace the guard protecting James II with a contingent of élite Dutch troops, and to move him out of London, ostensibly for his own safety.

Three battalions of Dutch infantry and supporting cavalry entered London at about ten o’clock on the night on 17 December. ‘Having secured the posts at St James Palace, they marched on Whitehall in battle formation, their matches lit for action.’ As King James was going to bed around eleven o’clock, he was informed of their presence in St James’s Park. Thinking there was some mistake (’he could not believe it, because he had heard nothing of it from the Prince’), he sent for the Dutch commander, Lord Solms.

Then Count Solmes pressed the adding of some new [Dutch] Troopes of the Prince’s, just then come to town, to the Guards at Whitehall. The King was unwilling of that. But Count Solmes said it was very necessary.

Having vainly ‘argued the matter with him for some time’, James ordered Lord Craven (long-time devoted servant of James’s aunt, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and now in his eighties), commander of the Coldstream Guards protecting the King at Whitehall, to withdraw his men. Craven protested that he would ‘be rather cut in pieces, than resign his post to the Prince’s [Dutch] guards’. James, however, insisted, ‘to prevent the possibility of a disturbance from guards belonging to several masters’. The King retired to bed, a prisoner in his own palace, only to be woken during the night and escorted out of London to Rochester.

The Coldstream Guards marched reluctantly out of London to St Albans. Solms ordered all English army regiments in and around London to move out to towns and billets scattered throughout Sussex and the home counties, thereby ensuring that the troops were thoroughly dispersed. The Life Guards were packed off to St Albans and Chelmsford. ‘The English souldiers sent out of towne to distant quarters,’ John Evelyn recorded – they were ‘not well pleased’.

So the Prince and his highly disciplined Dutch army marched into London down Knightsbridge, confident that they would meet no resistance, along a two-mile route lined with Dutch Blue Guards. In the absence of any actual military drama to mark this final act in the well-orchestrated invasion, it was an entrance as carefully staged, in a long military tradition of ‘glorious entries’ into conquered cities, as that first entry into Exeter a few weeks earlier. William again wore white, with a white cloak thrown over his shoulder to protect him from the heavy rain. There was some consternation when the Prince, who disliked crowds, did not actually remain at the head of the cavalcade the full length of the official route to Whitehall, but instead cut across St James’s Park and gained access to his new residence at St James’s Palace from its ornamental garden.


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Redux

13 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force in flight Darwin.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) played an important role in the Allied war effort. At the beginning of the conflict, the RAAF was a small, ill-equipped, but well-trained force of 3,489 personnel and 146 mostly obsolete aircraft. These included Anson bombers, flying boats, and the Australian Wirraway, essentially a training aircraft that proved totally inadequate as a fighter. When the war began in September 1939, one squadron was en route to Great Britain to secure new aircraft. The Australian government released this squadron to serve with the Royal Air Force (RAF), which it did for the remainder of the war under the auspices of RAF Coastal Command. In this role, the Australian squadron was responsible for sinking six submarines. Other squadrons served under the RAF in the Middle East and in the Italian Campaigns. Although there were 17 formal RAAF squadrons during the war, Australian pilots served in more than 200 individual Commonwealth squadrons.

To facilitate air training, representatives of the Commonwealth established the Empire Air Training Scheme. This brought potential pilots to Australia for initial training and then sent them to Canada for final flight school and dispatch to Great Britain to serve in the RAF. The RAAF established several flight schools in Australia for a program that eventually trained some 37,000 pilots.

The initial deployment of RAAF assets was to support the war in Europe. Thorough training took time, and it was not until the Battle of Britain was over that Australia’s first, and justifiably famous No. 452 (Spitfire) Squadron was formed in April 1941. The squadron soon produced a number of outstanding aces and was commanded by the famous Wg-Cdr “Paddy” Finucane, D. S. O., D. F. c. and two Bars, who welded the unit into a highly efficient fighting team. Such was their success that for the four months from August to November 1941, No. 452 became and remained the top scoring squadron of British Fighter Command.

Before this, however, members of No. 10 Squadron had gone to England to take delivery of their Sunderland aircraft, which were to be used for Australian coastal defence. But when war became a certainty, the aircraft and crews were at once placed at the disposal of the R. A. F. As such, No. 10 became the first Commonwealth squadron to go into action in World War II. In the extended see-saw battle against U-boats in the Atlantic, No. 10 scored many noteworthy successes and was later joined by No. 461, a second R. A. A. F. Sunderland squadron formed for similar duties. Perhaps the most startling event concerned a No. 461 Squadron Sunderland piloted by Flt-Lt C. B. Walker which encountered eight German Ju 88 fighters over the Bay of Biscay on 2nd June 1943. In a series of furious attacks lasting 45 minutes, the Ju 88s almost shot the lumbering Sunderland to pieces but they paid dearly for their determination to finish off the crippled machine – three were positively destroyed, a fourth probably destroyed and a fifth badly damaged. The Sunderland, too riddled with bullet holes to carry out a normal landing, crash landed and was destroyed on the beach at Marazion, Cornwall. Today pieces of this machine can be seen on display in the Australian War Memorial.

By far the greatest Australian contribution to the air war however, lay in the formation of bomber and attack squadrons consisting of Nos. 455, 458, 460, 462, 463, 464,·466 and 467 Squadrons, all of which took part in the strategic bombing offensive aimed at crippling the vital industries of Germany and the occupied countries under her control. The first Australian units experimented with the development of night bombing techniques later used so effectively by Bomber Command. With many of these units the mortality rate of crews was something horrifying, but nevertheless two machines recorded over 100 missions – Lancasters “G for George” and “S for Sugar”, both of which were preserved after the war, the former in Canberra, the latter in England.

Although such types as the Hampden, Ventura, Wellington and Halifax were widely used by R. A. A. F. squadrons, there can be little doubt that the famous Lancaster was the outstanding night bomber type of World War II. Lancasters had wings holed by falling bombs, lost elevators and tail assemblies through flak damage, suffered in-flight fires and loss of engines, and yet somehow still managed to limp back home. There is even one account of a No. 460 Squadron Lancaster flown by Flt-Sgt Christensen which was accidentally looped over the Ruhr Valley whilst carrying a full bomb load. It recovered a scant 1,500 feet from the ground, having plunged over 15,000 feet and bending its mainspar several feet in the process.

From 1942 onwards further R. A. A. F. fighter squadrons joined No. 452; No. 456 flying Defiant and Beaufighter night-fighters, and after the debacle at Singapore, No. 453 Squadron, now more happily equipped with Spitfires. Changes in equipment were made according to the availability of aircraft and two squadrons – Nos. 456 and 464 – were issued with the versatile all-wooden Mosquito in either fighter or fighter-bomber versions. It was in a Mosquito that the Australian daredevil Sqn-Ldr C. Scherf destroyed fifteen aircraft in the air and a further nine on the ground in the period of sixteen weeks; an eloquent testimony to the speed and striking power of this outstanding aircraft.

When the war drew to a close in Europe the R. A. A. F. had three fighter squadrons; Nos. 451, 453 and 456; five bomber squadrons, Nos. 460, 462, 464, 466 and 467 as well as three Coastal Command squadrons; Nos. 10,455 and 461. In varying degrees and according to their opportunities all these squadrons distinguished themselves with the sturdy British-built machines with which they were equipped.

The entry of Japan into World War II in December 1941 led to a redeployment of Australian squadrons to the Pacific. Japanese military advances and Japan’s air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942 increased pressure for better air defense over Australia. Beginning in 1942, U. S. air units were dispatched to Australia to bolster the RAAF. On 17 April 1942, all RAAF squadrons in the Pacific were placed under the auspices of Allied Air Forces Headquarters, part of U. S. General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwestern Pacific Theater command.

The RAAF participated in almost every major campaign of the Pacific Theater. Four RAAF squadrons, two with Hudson bombers and two flying obsolete Brewster Buffalo fighters, fought in the 1941-1942 Malaya Campaign. Later, elements of these squadrons were withdrawn to the Netherlands Indies and finally back to Australia. Two other RAAF squadrons fought in the Netherlands Indies before being relocated to Australia. RAAF units distinguished themselves in the defense of Milne Bay in September 1942. Early deficiencies in aircraft were overcome with the addition of P-40 Kittyhawk and Spitfire fighters. The RAAF played an important role in supporting ground operations and in attacking Japanese shipping, including during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. It also assisted in long-range minelaying operations throughout the war. The RAAF also provided wireless units to its troops who participated in the invasion of the Philippines. By the end of the war, the RAAF numbered 131,662 personnel and 3,187 aircraft.

References: Firkins, P. Strike and Return. Perth, Australia: Westward Publishing, 1985. Gillison, D. Royal Australian Air Force, 1939-1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962.

Early Cold War Air Intelligence

For a decade after the end of World War II, the issue of Soviet strengths and intentions had been the top item on every Western political agenda, but the available information came almost exclusively from a combination of refugee interviews and oblique photography taken by aircraft flying along the Soviet periphery. While these flights eventually demonstrated that there had not been any threatening buildup of airstrips in locations that would bring the United States within range of a surprise first strike, there remained a significant problem that could only be overcome by flying directly over potential targets deep inside the Soviet Union. At the time, the nuclear deterrent consisted of free-fall atomic weapons that were to be dropped by U.S. Strategic Air Command and British Bomber Command aircraft. However, the effectiveness of the deterrent was entirely dependent on the weapons being delivered to their targets accurately, and the bombardiers’ aiming systems required radar ground-mapping of every site. This procedure demanded advance reconnaissance of each target, which in turn necessitated a vertical radar survey that could only be undertaken by long incursions into hostile air space. Thus, during the Cold War there were a variety of reasons for the many reconnaissance flights flown into Eastern Bloc airspace. There was the need to locate Warsaw Pact radar stations and air defense systems, then a requirement to map the Soviet Union and survey potential targets, and finally the long-term commitment to monitoring hostile communications channels as an early-warning precaution against a surprise first strike.

During the uneasy postwar period, American and British aircraft routinely penetrated the Soviet Bloc, and Red Air Force Tupolev-95 Bears constantly tested the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air defenses. These risky provocations continued throughout the Cold War and between 1950 and 1970, 252 American aircrew were shot down by Soviet fighters. But as reliance on technical intelligence sources grew, and on signals in particular, the use of airborne platforms to intercept telemetry and other communications increased, especially in those parts of the world where safe land sites were unavailable. Although the National Security Agency established eavesdropping facilities in friendly countries such as Turkey, Japan, and Germany and developed relationships with the British and Norwegians, the U.S. Air Force was often required to fill the gaps when, for instance, the sites at Kagnew, Eritrea, and the three in Iran had to be evacuated because of changes in the local regime. In the absence of convenient ground sites in strategic locations, aircraft were deployed to intercept the target traffic.

The issue of Soviet strategic bombers and missiles was equally crucial, and until the U-2 began regular overflights of Red Air Force bases, the science of judging the Kremlin’s military capability became almost as arcane as the art of predicting the Politburo’s decisions. Soviet secrecy and the repressive nature of the regime effectively prevented use of the “Mark I Eyeball” to study production figures, accumulate published statistics, monitor factory output, watch airbases, or photograph naval installations. Indeed, in the absence of even Soviet roadmaps, the postwar intelligence analysts were obliged to rely on ancient prerevolutionary maps of Russia and aerial photographs taken by the Luftwaffe. Yet the need to find the submarines, aircraft, nuclear facilities, railway lines, test sites and training areas became increasingly important, and it was not until the U-2 imagery became available that analysts could grasp the scale of Nikita Khrushchev’s breathtakingly ambitious bluff, which culminated in the Cuban missile crisis. In November 1959, he had boasted that a single factory had produced 250 hydrogen warheads over the previous 12 months. It had seemed incredible that any responsible leader would blatantly lie about such an important issue yet the frequent claim that a “missile gap” had left the United States vulnerable to a more powerful potential enemy had a significant influence on American domestic politics, especially during the presidential campaign won by John F. Kennedy.

The mystery of the Kremlin’s true strength would eventually be solved by the U-2 and then by the deployment of satellites, but Khrushchev’s ingenious remedy to the relative weakness of his atomic arsenal was simply to move his short-range weapons closer to their target, and the result was the Cuban missile crisis, the catalyst for which was the discovery by U.S. air intelligence of his scheme. Although the resulting naval blockade of Cuba was enforced by warships, the whole confrontation was essentially about aircraft, with Soviet missiles detected by American aircraft. Indeed, the only fatality of the entire incident was a U.S. Air Force pilot, Major Rudolph Anderson, whose U-2 spy plane was shot down by a Soviet SA-2.


Many of the other conflicts fought during the Cold War, often proxy battles in which the adversaries were equipped by the superpowers, served to update intelligence analysts on the relative potency of air power. Following the invasion of South Korea, Soviet aircraft and pilots skillfully outmaneuvered and outgunned their U.S. counterparts until new equipment and tactics could be deployed in the skies over the peninsula. Initially, the MiG-15, powered with a reverse-engineered Rolls-Royce jet engine, proved invincible, at least until the F-86 Sabre evened the balance. This was to be the last time American fighter jocks would ever engage the Soviets in sustained aerial dogfights, leaving future confrontations to surrogates, apart from some suspected incidents over North Vietnam. In that war, overwhelming and permanent air superiority proved no substitute for political support at home and Vietnamese tactics in an environment that favored the insurgents and limited the effectiveness of comprehensive air cover.

Most future tests of relative equipment, personnel, and avionics would occur in simulated environments over secret airbases in the western United States or in real conditions, with Israelis pitted against Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Iraqi aircrews. For decades, the Middle East provided a highly realistic scenario for American manufacturers to bench test new jets and electronic countermeasures against Eastern Bloc interceptors and ground defenses. Captured Warsaw Pact military equipment, ranging from an entire Egyptian radar station to a defecting Iraqi MiG Fishbed, ended up in American laboratories, so all their most secret components could be examined and the appropriate countermeasures devised. While politicians picked over the consequences of 1967’s Six Day War and the participants on both sides reexamined the strategic lessons, the air intelligence analysts were assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces, confident that the outcome of the next clash again would be decided in the air.


The Military Significance of the Turkish War

The Long Turkish War saw the largest mobilization of troops in the Empire and Habsburg lands since 1568 and was the opportunity for many soldiers to gain experience of major operations prior to 1618. The list of Rudolf’s officers reads like a roll-call of the senior generals of the first half of the Thirty Years War. Wallenstein began his career as an ensign in the imperial infantry in 1604 and was wounded in the left hand during the final stages of the conflict. Both Schlick and Rudolf von Tieffenbach made early reputations against the Turks, while Trauttmannsdorff, the monarchy’s greatest diplomat, performed his only military service in this war. Charles de Nevers, the man at the centre of the Mantuan War of 1628–31, reputedly saved Wallenstein’s life at the siege of Kassa where he was himself serving as one of the many French Catholic volunteers. A significant number of the Italians who later rose to prominence also participated, including Count Collalto who became president of the Imperial War Council, Rodolfo de Colloredo who became a field marshal, and Ernesto Montecuccoli who subsequently commanded in Alsace. Some Italians were drawn to the Austrian forces by established patterns of serving the emperor; others arrived with the men sent to reinforce the Imperialists by Spain and the papacy, including Marradas and Dampierre, as well as Tilly from the Netherlands. Franz von Mercy, the Bavarian commander in the later stages of the Thirty Years War, also began his career against the Turks. The same was true for many of those who were later to oppose the emperor, including all three principal commanders of the Bohemian rebels: counts Thurn, Hohenlohe and Mansfeld.

The presence of these figures has largely been overlooked by military historians who concentrate on warfare in western Europe and underestimate the impact of the Turkish campaigns on subsequent developments. The western focus is embedded in the concept of a ‘military revolution’ that has become the accepted way of viewing early modern warfare. The proponents of this approach variously stress Spain, the Dutch and Sweden as the progenitors of new ways of fighting during the sixteenth century that relied on gunpowder weaponry wielded by large, disciplined units. Innovations in tactics and strategy allegedly made warfare more decisive, as well as increasing its scale and impact on state and society. Developments are fitted into a sequence with one power replacing another as the most efficient war-maker. Initial Spanish predominance is shaken first by the Dutch who are regarded as developing a more flexible military system that Sweden later improved upon and finally France perfected during the later seventeenth century. Scant attention has been paid to the imperial forces during the Thirty Years War, because they are perceived to have clung to an increasingly obsolete Spanish system that is associated with the pedantic positional warfare of the Dutch Revolt. In fact, Spanish ways of fighting often proved successful and were in constant evolution. Methods that were developed from the 1570s to deal with the Dutch were also effective against the Turks who likewise frequently evaded battle and sheltered behind fortifications. However, the Hungarian theatre encouraged its own practices that influenced how armies fought later in Germany, so it is more appropriate to see imperial ways of war as an amalgam of different experiences and ideas.

Military Technology

The Spanish system developed following the ‘real’ military revolution, in the sense of the largely technologically driven changes in warfare between 1470 and 1520 that saw the widespread adoption of hand-held firearms by both horse and foot, and their combination with new shock tactics by large, disciplined bodies of troops. These developments in turn sprang from changes in metallurgy and gunpowder milling that made firearms truly effective for the first time in Europe. Relatively rapid improvements followed in both handguns and cannon that forced commanders to rethink their use of these weapons. Guns and artillery were deployed on a larger scale in battle and were combined with existing weapons in new offensive and defensive tactics. The pace of technological change slowed from the mid-sixteenth century, by which time all the basic weapons had appeared while further developments were restricted by manufacturing problems. For example, cannon production lagged considerably behind ballistic theory because gun founders were unable to deliver pieces that matched the potential that mathematicians had calculated. It proved difficult boring straight tubes in solid barrels before the mid-seventeenth century. Instead, cannon were cast using an iron rod coated with clay, horse hair and manure as the bore that was covered with a mixture of molten copper, tin, lead and brass in a mould to form the bronze barrel. The core was then removed and a drill used to finish the bore to the required calibre in a method that was both time-consuming and not entirely reliable.

The bewildering variety of heavy guns essentially fell into two types. Cannon proper (Kartaunen) were short-barrelled, thin-walled pieces firing solid round shot of between 24 and 75 pounds each and were used primarily to batter fortifications. Such guns were very heavy and required ten or more horses to shift them. Culverins (Schlangen) were longer-barrelled, thicker tubes that were safer to use, and had greater range and accuracy. Their stronger barrels required more metal, making them generally twice as heavy as cannons firing shots of equivalent weight. They tended to be used for six- or twelve-pound shot, and were often produced in smaller, two to four pounder versions called falconets (Falkone) that could be pulled in battle by two to eight horses. These guns were supplemented for siege work by mortars, short stubby guns that lobbed round shot or primitive shells over walls and obstacles.

The full range of equipment and projectiles already existed by the 1590s, including poison gas shells (used in the Netherlands and which contained various noxious substances intended to asphyxiate or blind their targets). Firebombs, or heated round shot, could be used to create firestorms in towns by igniting the tightly packed flammable buildings. There were also shells with flint and steel detonators, and those that exploded using a fuse ignited by the propellant charge in the barrel. Attacking troops could be mowed down with canister and other antipersonnel rounds that burst on exiting the barrel, turning it into a large shotgun. In short, there was little left to invent by the later sixteenth century, and future developments were largely refinements of what already existed by improving manufacture to make weapons more reliable and less hazardous to use.

The same applied to handguns that also existed in great variety but were increasingly called muskets for foot soldiers and pistols for horsemen. The former were between 125 and 144cm long, weighing 4–10kg and firing a lead ball of 40g around 300 metres, with an effective range of less than half that. The heavier versions required a rest to steady the barrel as the musketeer fired. The lighter version was still called an arquebus and was largely restricted to infantry trained to fight in looser formations, and by cavalry relying on firepower rather than cold steel. Improved manufacture enabled the lighter muskets to withstand a larger charge, and led to the disappearance of both the arquebus and the musket rest from around 1630. Most cavalry, including those trained to attack with lances and swords, carried long-barrelled pistols in holsters either side of their saddles. Pistols were rarely effective beyond 25 metres, but their metal-weighted handles could be used as a club in close combat. The technological advances associated with later centuries were already in existence, including rifled barrels, breach loading and a wide variety of mechanisms to ignite the propellant charge. There were mechanical wheel locks for pistols and the snaphance, or flintlock, for muskets, that used a flint to spark the powder. The flintlock became the principal infantry weapon between 1680 and 1840, because it was more reliable in wet weather and less susceptible to accidental discharge than the matchlock. This relied on pulling a lever to depress a metal claw holding a slow-burning match onto loose powder in a pan that sent flame through the vent to ignite the main charge in the barrel. There was a one in five chance that the flame failed to pass through the vent, providing the origins of the expression ‘flash in the pan’. This was double the chance of a misfire with a flintlock, but both these and wheel locks were still expensive, delicate weapons that often broke. Manufacturing problems restricted flintlocks’ use to hunting, while matchlocks remained cheap, sturdy and easy to use.


Contemporary drill books convey a false impression that an elaborate sequence of hand, arm and body movements was necessary to load and fire. In fact, the carefully itemized movements reflected the prevailing scientific concern to fix and understand human movement, rather than actual practice. The most complicated manoeuvre was the counter-march, intended to provide continuous fire during an advance or retreat. Each rank fired in turn; those who had just discharged their weapons remained stationary to reload while the next line stepped through the gaps between each man to take its turn. By the time the last line had fired, those who had shot first would have reloaded and could move forward. This was modified around 1595 so that men stood in blocks of five, peeling off as a group right or left once they had fired so as to reduce the number of gaps required in the line. Arquebuses and lighter muskets took around a minute to load, requiring fewer ranks to maintain continuous fire than heavier muskets that needed up to three minutes to reload. The Dutch practised the retiring counter-march, enabling them to fire while avoiding contact with an approaching foe. Well-trained, motivated troops could cover up to forty metres a minute with an advancing counter-march and about half that if retiring. The system could also be used while stationary, with each man peeling off to the rear once he had fired and the soldier behind stepping into his place to fire. The Dutch deployed in only ten ranks, accepting lighter firearms as a consequence, and so kept their evolutions relatively simple. The Spanish preferred deeper formations of 15 to 25 ranks, and appear to have let their men fire in their own time, simply grouping those with lighter, quicker-firing weapons nearer the front.

Musketeers carried short swords for personal protection, either a ‘tuck’ for stabbing, or a heavier ‘hanger’ for cutting. Most were of poor quality that bent or blunted, so mêlées were fought largely by inverting the muskets and using the heavy, angled stock as a club. Such weapons were of limited use against opposing cavalry who could close rapidly before musketeers could reload. Already in the late fifteenth century it had become customary to combine ‘shot’, or firearm troops, with pikemen, each armed with a long pole of around five metres tipped with a steel spike. Pikes could be used offensively by soldiers in a compact block advancing with levelled weapons towards the enemy in the manner of an ancient Greek phalanx. When acting defensively, each man in the front rank would stretch back his right leg, plant the pike butt against his foot and bend his left leg forward to hold his weapon at a low angle. The next few ranks held their pikes level at shoulder height so the formation presented a forest of points in the enemy’s face.

Given their defensive role, pikemen initially wore at least a steel helmet, vaguely resembling that of modern American firefighters, and a breastplate. Some wore a full corselet that also included a backplate and additional sheets protecting the thighs. Armour continued in use because the trend towards lighter-calibre muskets reduced their penetrative power and meant that the steel sheets retained their protective value. It was impossible to thicken them, since a man could not be expected to carry more than around eighteen kilos of equipment in battle without becoming prematurely exhausted. For this reason, as well as expense, no more than half of pikemen wore a full corselet around 1600, relying instead on a leather ‘buff’ coat, and increasingly many lacked even a helmet. Musketeers had a helmet at the most, because they needed greater freedom of movement, both to operate their weapons and to act in looser formations. They frequently wore a cloak to protect their powder horns from getting wet. They needed two horns, one for coarse-grain barrel powder for the main charge, the other for finer, priming powder. Both hung on cords over the right shoulder to be carried on the left hip where they were fastened with iron hooks to a waist belt to stop them swinging. Musketeers also carried single round charges in wooden containers hung on cords from a bandolier over their left shoulder, resting on their right hip where a leather bag for the shot was also attached, along with other items needed to clean and repair their matchlock. The bandolier arrangement was known as the ‘twelve apostles’ after the number of charges. It was gradually replaced around 1630 by prepared paper cartridges, each with a ball and powder that were carried in a hip satchel, or ‘cartouche’. Finally, a musketeer had to carry four to six metres of coiled match around his neck and shoulder, or attached to his bandolier while on the march. Since it burned relatively quickly at the rate of ten to fifteen centimetres an hour, only one in ten men would keep it lit on the march to light those of his comrades if the unit came into action. Musketry was a dangerous business, since the burning match could easily ignite the apostles or loose powder that spilled onto the men’s clothes. For this reason soldiers deployed two to four paces apart, only closing files when attacking.

The question of uniforms has attracted considerable attention from military historians, with many crediting the Swedes as being the first to introduce them. However, it is clear that many German units already wore uniform coloured coats prior to 1618, because they were territorial levies issued with clothing in bulk by their prince. Red and blue appear the preferred colours but needed expensive dyes, and white, or rather undyed cloth, was more common. Bodyguards frequently had more lavish costumes, sometimes with decorated armour. The widespread use of short, leather trousers fastened at the knee, as worn by peasants and artisans, would have also contributed to uniformity. The scale and duration of the conflict after 1618 and its associated cost interrupted this earlier trend towards purpose-made uniforms, and led to a more ragged, dull appearance with a mix of greys, browns, greens and other dark colours. However, the practice of paying troops partly in cloth ensured some continued uniformity, at least in the imperial army where most of the infantry wore light ‘pearl’ grey coats by the 1640s.

The optimum combination of pike and shot, both as a numerical ratio and as a form of deployment, remained hotly debated in military treatises. Setting aside the numerous theoretical models, essentially only two formations were used in the field. Those adopting the Dutch-style counter-march needed thinner lines and more shot than pike, deploying a ratio of two to one in a ten-rank line by the 1590s, with the pikemen in the centre, flanked by equal numbers of musketeers. The Spanish and imperial infantry favoured the larger, deeper formations that had been the norm earlier in the sixteenth century. Their pike were grouped as a central block with always twice the number of men in each line as there were ranks deep, because each man needed twice the amount of space in depth as in width to wield his weapon. The effect was to produce a square block that would be flanked by ‘sleeves’ of musketeers. An additional three to five ranks of light arquebusiers generally lined the entire front to maximize firepower. If caught by a cavalry attack, the musketeers could shelter under the pikes that would stretch over their heads. When attacking enemy foot, the arquebusiers would retire round the flanks once they had fired, leaving the pike free to charge. Spanish and imperial commanders sometimes grouped additional blocks of musketeers on the four corners, which can be seen in many battle engravings from the early seventeenth century. This was simply a formation for deploying and advancing, and the additional shot would fan out towards the enemy to fire, falling back to a less exposed side of the square if the formation came under attack.

The large square formation has become known as the tercio after the term used by the Spanish for their infantry regiments, while the thinner, longer Dutch formation is called a battalion. It has become a historical convention to see the latter as inherently superior to the former, not least because of its association with firearms that have appeared to later generations as obviously more advanced than pikes, weapons first used by the ancient Greeks. This distinction is not accurate, nor does it correspond to sixteenth-century military thinking that drew directly on the ancient world for its inspiration. The deeper block formations offered better all-round fighting ability than the thinner Dutch lines, where each unit relied on its neighbours standing firm or its vulnerable flanks would be exposed if the enemy broke through. Though only the first five ranks of the tercio could fire at any one time, the presence of another ten or more behind stiffened the resolve of those in front, or at least made it harder for them to run away. The unit assumed a more imposing presence on the battlefield; something that was a considerable advantage as it bore down on a wavering foe. In an age of black powder, the battlefield soon filled with smoke, making it extremely difficult for commanders to see what was happening. It was easier to lose control of long thin lines, composed of smaller, but more numerous battalions, than a deployment of fewer, larger tercios. These could be positioned en échelon, or diagonally staggered in chequerboard fashion about 200 metres apart. If one became detached or separated, it was generally large enough to fight on alone until rescued.

There was a trend towards increasing the ratio of shot to pike and to stretch formations into thinner lines that became pronounced in the 1630s, as we shall see later. It was partly related to minor technological advances producing the lighter muskets, and possibly also to pressure from soldiers themselves. Recruits generally preferred becoming musketeers rather than pikemen, who often had to stand under fire without personally being able to retaliate. Pikemen had originally received higher pay and were still seen by officers as more honourable than musketeers. Men who rose from the ranks did so ‘from the pike up’ (von der Pike auf), and not from the musket. Pikemen killed using cold steel, like the traditional knight’s lance, whereas musketeers relied on the devilish invention of gunpowder producing thick clouds of acrid smoke, striking their foes from a distance, rather than looking them in the eye. Pikemen also accused their more lightly equipped colleagues of being more prone to plunder, whereas they could not enter houses with their long weapons – something that clearly had a ring of jealousy to it. Certainly, pikemen were more likely to throw away their weapons if their formation broke, thus becoming defenceless, whereas musketeers could flee still fully armed.

The trend towards more shot around 1590 was also due to the deployment of musketeers in smaller, looser formations to open a battle or to delay an enemy while the rest of the army assembled. Parties of 50 or more musketeers would be pushed out in front of the main line, covered by groups of 250 pikemen as a reserve and rallying point. Such methods anticipated those of 200 years later, but generally disappeared around 1630 with the growing emphasis on massed, disciplined firing by ranks developed by the Dutch and copied by the Swedes. Given the inaccuracy of individual shots, commanders emphasized the volume of fire, and later also its rapidity, culminating in the disciplined firing by platoons adopted around 1700.



Cavalry had evolved into five distinct types by 1590 in an attempt to address the different tactical roles of shock, firepower and reconnaissance. Shock tactics exploited the physical and psychological impact of a charge by heavily armed and armoured horsemen riding large horses. Cavalry mounts were around 16 hands high, weighing 500kg and could gallop at over 40kmh, though the weight of the rider meant that most attacks were delivered at considerably less than this. Horses were conditioned by being exercised in fields full of blazing straw and heaps of carrion to get them used to the sights and smells of the battlefield. They were also trained to kick and to manoeuvre in formation at various gaits.

Two types of ‘heavy’ cavalry evolved to use these tactics. Lancers were favoured by the Spanish and French as ‘gensdarmes’ and wore a full helmet that closed with a visor, as well as armour covering the entire torso, upper arms and upper legs. High leather boots protected the lower legs and feet, while leather or steel gauntlets covered the hands and forearms. They carried steel-tipped wooden lances around three metres long, enabling them to strike crouching foot soldiers as well as unseat opposing horsemen. The spread of firearms reduced the number of lancers in western and Central European armies to a small proportion by 1610, but Hungarian and Polish nobles still fought in this manner as ‘hussars’, wearing mail coats or armour made from layered metal sheets. These eastern lancers fastened pennons to their weapons and often wore ‘wings’ of bird feathers fixed to a wooden frame on their backs that created a rushing sound as they charged, adding to their fearsome appearance. Elsewhere, lancers joined the second group of heavy cavalry called cuirassiers, who wore the same armour but relied on long, straight swords for thrusting. These were easier to use in close combat than lances that were largely useless if the initial shock failed to break the opponent.

Both types of cavalrymen also carried a brace of pistols that were used both to shoot at stationary targets and in close combat. Pistols were carried in the saddle holsters with the triggers facing outwards, because their long barrels meant they had to be drawn with the hand turned towards the back. They could be fired only one at a time, as the rider needed a hand free to hold the reins. Ideally, each rider turned his horse to the left and fired with his right arm outstretched at right angles to avoid startling his horse or burning its ears if he fired directly over its head. As most men were right-handed, they had to hold the reins in their left hand and reach over to draw their left-hand side pistol or their sword. The latter was also difficult to extract while mounted, since there was no hand free to hold the scabbard. Firing a carbine was harder still, because this required both hands. Such difficulties persisted till the end of cavalry in the early twentieth century. While later technological developments made firearms easier to use on horseback they did little to resolve the basic problems of fighting while mounted.

Shock tactics were of limited use against disciplined infantry. Experienced commanders became skilled in judging whether opposing foot were likely to run by seeing how steadily they held their pikes. However, a charge could still falter if the infantry remained together, since the horses would not throw themselves on the pikes. Even those horsemen who did break through often found that their mounts simply bolted through the gaps between the enemy ranks, carrying them right through the formation. Swords were often blunt and failed to do much damage, even against the woollen cloaks of the musketeers.

Such problems encouraged the use of firearms instead, based on the caracole, a tactic similar to the counter-march that had been developed earlier by German pistoleers in the 1530s. Successive ranks would trot within range, fire and ride back to reload, sacrificing the psychological impact of shock tactics to the accumulative effect of firepower. The caracole was less tiring on the horses and required less resolve from soldiers than a charge, since the men did not need to close with their opponents. Even men trained to charge home with cold steel would often panic and break off their attack around ten metres from their target, ‘bouncing’ back to their start positions. This explains why contemporary accounts speak of repeated ‘charges’ by the same unit in battle.

The desire to improve mounted firepower led to a third type of ‘medium’ cavalryman called the arquebusier or carabineer, equipped with a light arquebus or carbine with greater range and penetrating power than a pistol. They generally wore less armour, usually no more than a helmet, breastplate, buff coat, boots and gauntlets, and so rode smaller horses and were cheaper to raise. Since they carried two pistols and a sword as well, they could be used for shock tactics and consequently gradually replaced the more expensive cuirassiers and lancers around 1630. Many regiments were composed of a mix of cuirassiers and arquebusiers into the 1620s, with the former deployed in the front ranks if the unit made a charge.

The fourth type of cavalry was a form of mounted infantry, called dragoons, who rode lighter horses or ponies and generally lacked any armour, including the high boots that were difficult to walk in. Dragoons were a mix of pike and shot, using their mounts for rapid movement to stiffen scouting parties, support infantry skirmishers sent forward to secure key positions, or turn an enemy flank. The last type was often employed on similar tasks, but remained mounted to fight. These ‘light’ cavalry were most numerous in Hungarian, Polish and Transylvanian armies and were a major feature of ‘eastern’ warfare that was integrated into the imperial forces. Around a fifth to a quarter of the imperial light cavalry carried lances and were generally called Cossacks or Poles, regardless of their actual origins, while the rest were Croats, distinctive in their red cloaks and fur hats, each armed with a carbine and a pair of pistols. They were grouped in regiments of generally less than five hundred men and attacked rapidly in a zigzag, first firing their right-hand pistol, then their left and finally their carbine again on their right, before racing away to reload.


The regiment was the primary administrative unit for both horse and foot, subdivided into companies, still called ‘banners’ (Fähnlein) in the Empire. This organization derived from the way soldiers were recruited, whereby a prince contracted a colonel to raise a regiment who then subcontracted the task of recruiting individual companies to captains. Influenced by the classical model of the Roman legion, most colonels strove to have regiments of ten companies, but actual numbers varied from four or five up to twenty companies in some foot units. Captains who received commissions direct from their paymaster raised ‘free companies’ unattached to any larger unit. Such companies were recruited to garrison fortresses or were raised by ambitious individuals hoping to rise through the ranks by proving their value as recruiting officers.

The military hierarchy of ranks still used in the twenty-first century was already in place by 1600.13 A colonel was assisted by a lieutenant-colonel who commanded in his absence. A major supervised training and administration and could command part of the regiment if it became detached from the rest of it. These three ‘staff’ officers were supplemented by secretaries, chaplains, doctors and a provost in charge of punishment. The same pattern was repeated in each company, with the captain assisted by one or two lieutenants, together with an ensign (called a cornet in the cavalry) responsible for the flag. There was generally also a company scribe, a barber surgeon and a number of non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Together, these senior ranks were known as the prima plana, or ‘first page’, on account of their names being listed before all the others in the muster register. The overall size of foot companies fell from three to four hundred, to two to three hundred over the sixteenth century, with cavalry companies averaging around half these sizes. The number of officers remained the same throughout, reflecting the growing emphasis on hierarchical order and enabling more complicated manoeuvres to be carried out. Officers and NCOs had ‘staff’ weapons in addition to swords, with the former carrying a partisan, or half-pike, that resembled a broad-bladed spear, while the latter held a halberd, or spear with an axe-head attached. Both these weapons symbolized rank, and had a practical purpose since they could be used for dressing the ranks by grasping the shaft in both hands and pushing it against several men simultaneously. They could also be used to push pikes or muskets up or down, especially to stop overexcited musketeers from firing prematurely.

The officer-to-men ratio remained relatively static after 1590, because of the technical limitations of the available weapons that required them to be used en masse. Around one officer or NCO could supervise about fifteen soldiers, but captains found it hard to command more than three hundred, as the smoke and noise of battle limited their ability to see what was happening and to shout instructions. This was another reason why infantrymen were packed close together in large formations, since it kept them within the sight of their mounted colonel. The flags and drums would be grouped in the centre and used to signal commands to the rest of the unit. Command problems also placed a premium on experienced men and it was reckoned at least a third of the strength had to be veterans to provide cohesion and sufficient old soldiers to teach new recruits the rudiments of drill and how to survive the rigours of campaign. However, personnel policy remained decentralized and in the hands of individual colonels who were reluctant to part with experienced men to assist the formation of new regiments. Regiment size also dictated prestige, as large formations commanded greater respect and resources than smaller ones that were more likely to be disbanded or amalgamated.

These factors encouraged Spanish and imperial colonels to recruit foot regiments of two to three thousand men, and mounted ones of around a thousand. The latter would be split into two to five squadrons, each of two companies, as tactical units formed into six to ten ranks. These squadrons were interspersed between the battalions in Dutch deployment, or massed on the flanks of the tercios in the Spanish system. Cavalry formed between a fifth and a third of western and Central European field armies, though the total proportion of infantry was higher since additional foot soldiers would garrison fortresses. Large infantry regiments could deploy as a single tercio, but weak ones had to be brigaded together to achieve the right numbers. Dutch-style battalions numbered between four and seven hundred men, so a large regiment might form two.

Artillery lacked formal organization as gunners still regarded themselves a separate guild under St Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Serving the guns was considered a special art with its own tradition and rituals. Catholic gun crew made the sign of the cross before firing and all faiths gave their pieces individual names. German theorists reckoned two to four pieces were required for every thousand soldiers, but usually only the lighter culverins and falconets accompanied the infantry and cavalry in battle. Large guns were expensive to produce and difficult to move, making them both valuable and vulnerable prizes for a victorious enemy.

Battle Tactics

Battle tactics sought the optimum combination of the three main military arms. Battles generally opened with a cannonade at under a thousand paces, while skirmishers went forward to probe and reconnoitre the enemy position. These moves bought time for the rest of the troops to assemble, and could be used simply to delay an enemy while the army made good its escape. The preference for large infantry formations kept deployment relatively varied, since these could be interspersed with artillery and cavalry in different patterns according to the terrain and the commander’s intentions. As Dutch-style firing tactics became more influential, the infantry tended to be massed in the centre in one or more continuous lines with only narrow gaps between each battalion to prevent enemy cavalry striking their vulnerable flanks. Second and subsequent lines were kept between a hundred and three hundred metres behind the first: any closer and they risked shooting their comrades in the back; any further and they would be too far away to assist in a crisis. This linear tactic encouraged commanders to place their cavalry on either side of the infantry lines in the manner that became standard in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Full adoption of linear tactics was inhibited by doubts about the relative merits of firepower over shock, and by the conditions in eastern Europe where the Turks and others employed more flexible enveloping tactics using larger numbers of light troops. Imperial generals operating in Hungary relied on earthworks or wagons and other movable defences to protect their foot.

Generally, each of the three arms fought it out with their counterparts. The artillery sought to silence the enemy guns before its own troops moved forward and obscured the field of fire. The cavalry engaged the opposing horse, trying to drive them from the field and expose the flanks of the enemy foot. Each side hoped it would have sufficient artillery and cavalry left to tip the balance by the time the slower-moving foot soldiers had closed to within musket range, since the combination of two or more arms was generally superior to only one. Infantry could be pinned down by the threat of a cavalry attack, forcing them to remain in defensive formation while the enemy pounded them with artillery and musketry. Firepower could also be used to crack opposing formations, encouraging them to make a premature attack, or lose cohesion and so open them to a charge. Generalship and tactical innovation relied on variations in this standard pattern to achieve the effective combination of the three arms at an earlier stage in the engagement, thereby securing an easier and less costly victory.


James Longstreet and Ambrose Burnside, principal commanders of the Knoxville Campaign.

Knoxville was the major city of eastern Tennessee, the mountainous region for which Lincoln felt such concern as it was the centre of Union sentiment inside the Confederacy. From the beginning of the war, he was anxious to bring it under Federal control, and throughout 1862-63 he urged a succession of Union commanders to move against it. In March 1863 General Ambrose Burnside, who had been so heavily defeated at Fredericksburg the previous December, was transferred to the West. He was ordered to move against Knoxville as quickly as possible, while General William Rosecrans was ordered to operate against Braxton Bragg in what became the Tullahoma campaign. Burnside commanded the Army of the Ohio, Rosecrans the Army of the Cumberland.

Burnside intended to advance from Cincinnati with two corps, the Ninth and the Twenty-third, but lost the Ninth when it was given to Grant for the campaign against Vicksburg. While awaiting the return of the Ninth Corps, Burnside sent a brigade and some cavalry to advance on Knoxville. During June, this force, led by General William Sanders, destroyed railroads around the city, where General Simon Buckner was in command.

In August Burnside began his advance on Knoxville. His direct route ran through the Cumberland Gap, heavily defended by the Confederates. To avoid them Burnside made a flank movement to the south, by forced marches through the broken country. As the Chickamauga campaign began, Buckner was ordered to take most of his troops to join Bragg at Chattanooga and was left with only two brigades, one in the Cumberland Gap, on the northeastern border of the state, and another east of Knoxville. In these circumstances Burnside pressed forward and was able to send a cavalry brigade into Knoxville on September 2. It was unopposed and found the city empty of rebel troops. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the loyal population. Burnside arrived with his army the next day.

He then set about dealing with the Confederates at the Cumberland Gap in order to open up a more direct route to Kentucky. He had two forces in position to confront the new Confederate commander, General John Frazer; though outnumbered, Frazer refused to surrender. Burnside then led a brigade from Knoxville to the gap, making a march of sixty miles in fifty-two hours. On his arrival, Frazer, accepting that he was hopelessly outnumbered, surrendered on September 9. Burnside recruited new units of Tennessee volunteers and set about clearing the roads and gaps leading northward towards Virginia. Meanwhile, Grant, who had now captured Chattanooga, was preparing to fight at Chickamauga, to which Lincoln and Halleck ordered Burnside to detach troops in order to support Rosecrans, who was in difficulty. But, unwilling to surrender Knoxville, Burnside procrastinated; he was having difficulty supplying his troops in the desolate country to the east of Knoxville. During September and early October he was forced to fight two small battles, at Blountsville and Blue Springs, both minor victories, which led to the reestablishment of Union authority in eastern Tennessee.

Braxton Bragg, fearing that Burnside might reinforce the Union troops at Chattanooga, asked Jefferson Davis to order Longstreet to concentrate against him. Longstreet objected, knowing he would be severely outnumbered, since large Union reinforcements were approaching Chattanooga to add to the imbalance. He also objected to the division of force involved, which, he said, would expose both Confederate commanders to defeat. He therefore resumed his preparations to move against Knoxville. The move was to be made by rail, but the journey proved difficult. The trains did not arrive on time, so that the advance had to begin on foot. When the trains did arrive, the locomotives proved underpowered, forcing the troops to dismount on the steeper gradients. They also had to collect wood for the engines. Food ran short. Longstreet’s advance nevertheless cheered Lincoln, who, having previously told Burnside to leave Knoxville, now ordered him to stay and defend the city. Grant prepared to send reinforcements from Chattanooga, but Burnside now convinced him that he could detach sufficient troops to hold Longstreet at a distance. Grant willingly concurred. Next the Confederates attempted to encircle Knoxville with cavalry, but Union resistance thwarted their plan and the cavalry joined Longstreet in the north. Burnside manoeuvred outside the city and successfully reached a vital crossroads. Burnside won a brisk minor victory at this point, Campbell’s Station, which allowed him to withdraw his strength inside Knoxville. On November 17 Longstreet laid siege. His assault on the defences was delayed, and Longstreet took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen his earthworks. Longstreet eventually attacked a week after the siege had begun, at a point he judged weak, Fort Sanders, but which was deceptively strong. The Union had surrounded the earthworks with a network of telegraph wire strung between trees. The Confederate attack launched on November 29, 1863, was effectively checked by the defences and Union covering fire. There were 813 Confederate losses, only 13 Union.

The defeated Longstreet considered his options. He had been ordered to join Bragg, who had just been defeated at Missionary Ridge on November 25. He felt that move impracticable and told Bragg that he would withdraw with the Army of Tennessee to Virginia, but would keep up the siege of Knoxville as long as possible, to prevent Grant and Burnside concentrating against him. Longstreet’s stubbornness had the effect of causing Grant to send Sherman with 25,000 men to raise the siege of Knoxville. Longstreet accordingly abandoned the siege on December 4 and retired northwards to Rogersville, Tennessee, where he prepared to go into winter quarters. Sherman left part of his force at Knoxville and took the rest back to Chattanooga. General John Parke, Burnside’s chief of staff, pursued the retreating Confederates with 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, though he did not press the pace. Longstreet’s route took him through Rutledge and Rogersville, followed by General John Shackelford with 4,000 cavalry and infantry. On December 9, he was near Bean’s Station when Longstreet decided to turn and attack. The Confederates got Shackelford in a pincer movement but the Union troops defended so stoutly that they repelled all Confederate attacks until reinforcements joined in. Shackelford was then forced to withdraw to Blain’s Crossroads. Longstreet followed but declined to attack their entrenchments. Both sides withdrew and left the area to go into winter quarters. Longstreet, who blamed subordinates for his failures in the campaign, asked to be relieved of command but was refused. His troops suffered in a severe winter, and he was unable to return to Virginia until the spring. His reputation and self-confidence were damaged by the campaign, while Burnside’s reputation was restored. The campaign of Knoxville, together with Grant’s victory at Chattanooga, returned eastern Tennessee to Union control for the rest of the war.

The battles of Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge had now altered the balance of advantage in Tennessee very much in the Union’s favour. With Rosecrans in strength at Chattanooga, Burnside operating in upper eastern Tennessee, and Grant free to strike in several directions from Tennessee eastward or southward, Lincoln’s long-cherished ambition, to liberate Unionist Tennessee from the Confederacy, could be safely regarded as achieved. Grant, as overall commander in the western theatre, was now at liberty to propose, if he so chose, a broad strategy for the Union’s conduct of the war in the western theatre. In the spring of 1864 he did so choose. Grant did not affect to be a high-level strategic thinker. Nothing in his manner or appearance suggested that he was anything but a commonsense, down-to-earth fighting soldier. Common sense and down-to-earthness are among the most valuable qualities, however, that a strategist can possess and he possessed them in abundance. What is valuable to those who interest themselves in his career is that in his Personal Memoirs he describes with engaging frankness how he formed his way of thinking. Grant also preferred to attack, if possible. He was not a “wait and see,” but a “go and see” general, as his conduct after Chattanooga showed. He then decided to lay plans before Lincoln for the next stage of the campaign in the West. He may have done so because he had at his headquarters a “special commissioner” from Washington, Charles Dana, formerly of the New York Tribune. Dana had been sent partly because a trickle of unflattering reports about Grant continued to reach Washington about his bad habits and Lincoln, who already wanted to promote Grant, sought his own source of information. Grant used Dana as a messenger to take his ideas for the West to Washington. He proposed leaving a reduced Army of the Tennessee to watch Bragg and to take the largest part down the Mississippi to New Orleans and then via the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile, Alabama, whence he would strike at important points in Alabama and Georgia. He had proposed such a scheme before and continued to believe in it. Those in power in Washington, however, did not. Lincoln, Halleck, and Stanton feared that if Grant’s force was moved so far away, the rebels would reawaken the war in eastern Tennessee. Communication with Washington had the result, however, of involving Grant in highlevel strategic discussion. Halleck explained to Grant that the president’s anxieties in the West remained fixed on Tennessee and its Unionists, and that before any move was made elsewhere he wanted the surviving Confederate forces in Tennessee chased down and defeated; he also wanted the Confederate army in southern Georgia pushed far enough away from the Tennessee border to ensure that it could not intervene in the state; only when those things had been achieved would he consider approving wider operations in the West.

Grant’s plan for an operation against Mobile was—surprisingly, given how clearly Grant thought—not a sound one. The Union lacked the troops in the West to mount two large operations at the same time. It could not move on Mobile and yet continue to menace the Confederates in Georgia. To attempt to find the necessary troops would inevitably result in weakening the position around Chattanooga and so encourage Johnston to strike into Tennessee. Chattanooga was that rare thing in strategy, a genuinely critical point. Held by the Union, it allowed the retention of Tennessee and the menacing of Georgia. Should it pass back into Confederate possession, Tennessee would be lost and so would the future dominance of Georgia. Halleck wrote to Grant vetoing the plan, on the grounds that the president would not approve it, a perfectly legitimate thing for Halleck to say, so perfectly did he understand Lincoln’s mind.

Later in January 1864, Grant wrote again to Halleck outlining a plan for the next stage of operations in the East. He proposed abandoning the direct advance upon Richmond for an indirect approach. The navy should embark 60,000 troops of the Army of the Potomac and land them on the coast of North Carolina, whence they could march to sever the Confederate capital’s rail connection with the Lower South and so force Lee to abandon Richmond. Halleck answered Grant as he had done earlier in January: Lincoln would not approve, since the scheme would encourage Lee to move in force against any Union army in the Carolinas; moreover, it would weaken the defences of Washington. He pointed out to Grant that his scheme contained no plan to fight Lee’s army, which should be the proper object of an eastern strategy, and was the president’s favoured aim. The best way to defeat Lee, he insisted, was to fight him in the open field near Washington. He concluded his second letter to Grant, however, by hinting that he would soon have a hand in drafting strategy for the eastern theatre, a closer hint that Grant was about to be appointed to the supreme command.

There had been strong rumours circulating to that effect, of which Grant cannot have been unaware. In February Congress passed an act reviving the rank of lieutenant general. The Confederacy appointed generals in the rank of brigadier, major general, lieutenant general, and by 1864 (full) general. In the Union army, however, major general was the highest rank granted and most Union generals held the rank in the United States volunteers, as Grant had done until his victory at Vicksburg. Then he was made a major general in the regular army. The new rank of lieutenant general was open to regular major generals, so Grant qualified for the promotion. The law allowed the lieutenant general to be appointed general in chief. In early March, Grant, still in Tennessee, received orders to go to Washington, where he arrived on March 8. He stayed first at Willard’s Hotel, where he received an invitation to attend a reception at the White House that evening. On his arrival there was a rise in the noise level. Grant knew almost no one in the capital, but since Vicksburg he was widely known there. The president recognised the signal and approached Grant with the words, “This is General Grant, is it?” After a few words, Grant was drawn away by the crowd, but later that evening Lincoln and Stanton took him into the Blue Room, where he was told that Lincoln would present him with his commission in the morning. The president also said that he would show him beforehand the draft of the short speech he would make. Lincoln may also have already known that Grant was tongue-tied and a hopelessly inept public speaker. He did, however, suggest that Grant should say something to forestall jealousy among other commanders and something to please the Army of the Potomac. It was entirely characteristic of Grant that when the time came he did neither. When nominated for the presidency, in 1868, his speech of acceptance ran to five words. On this occasion, when appointed by Lincoln in the White House room where the cabinet met, the president made a short but elaborate speech. “With this high honour devolves upon you also a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need add that with what I here speak for the nation goes my own hearty personal concurrence.”2 Grant had an answer written on a half sheet of paper but read it so haltingly that his words were not recorded.

The day after his appointment the U.S. War Department announced the termination of Halleck’s position as general in chief but his reappointment in the new office of chief of staff. Thus was inaugurated in the United States what would become the normal arrangement of a modern command system, with Lincoln as supreme commander, Grant as operational commander, and Halleck as principal military administrator. Over the course of the next century the high command structure of all large armies would be adjusted to conform, beginning with the Prussian, where, in 1870-71, Bismarck acted as supreme commander and Moltke the elder as chief of operations. The rationalisation of the Federal or, as Grant called them, the national armed forces was essential, for under him, on his assumption of the generalship in chief, there were seventeen different Union commanders overseeing 533,000 men. The most important was the Army of the Potomac, which still lingered in northern Virginia opposite Lee’s army but was not at that time undertaking active operations. Elsewhere the military situation was determined by the Confederate deployments, which principally included that of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia, on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which ran from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The other large Confederate force in the West was the cavalry corps under Nathan Bedford Forrest, located in eastern Tennessee. Forrest was a potential threat since he might raid as far as Cincinnati but as long as he was detached from either of the big Confederate armies, Lee’s and Johnston’s, he did not really multiply Confederate power.

Grant, as general in chief, could now consider what large operations he might launch. His first act in high command was to return to the West, to confer with Sherman, who, at his behest, had been appointed to succeed him. Grant had already identified Sherman as the most competent of his subordinates, a true battle-winning soldier of indefatigable temperament. He had also secured the advancement of Sheridan, another western general who had won his good opinion, to come east as commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry, replacing Pleasanton, who was competent but lacked the aggressiveness by which Grant set such store.

On his visit to Sherman, Grant outlined his general philosophy for what he intended to be the closing stages of the war. It coincided with and may have been inspired by what was now Lincoln’s fixed conception of strategy, formed by trial and error in three years of frustration. Lincoln in 1861 had known nothing of war, but harsh experience had now taught him some essentials which he held with the force of unshakable conviction. He had abandoned altogether the conventional thought that the capture of the enemy’s capital would bring victory. Instead he now correctly perceived that it was only the destruction of the South’s main army that would defeat the Confederacy and he had enlarged that perception to believe that it would be achieved by attacking the enemy at several points simultaneously.

This is what the French have called a “rich solution” to the problem of the Civil War, open only to the side with greater numbers and several armies, as opposed to the South’s strategy of a “poor power” with weaker numbers and effectively only one or at most one and a half armies. Halleck, an extremely orthodox military thinker, had replied that the proper response to the rebellion was to concentrate the North’s force at decisive points: “To operate on exterior lines against an enemy occupying a central position will fail, as it has always failed, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. It is undermined by every military authority I have ever read.” Lincoln had read almost no military textbooks while Grant had profited from the notoriously patchy West Point syllabus by avoiding most of them also. It was a merit of West Point that its teaching, though dusty to a degree, was practical—mathematics and engineering—which were actually useful, particularly during his efforts to alter the geography of the Mississippi Valley in 1863. A doctrine that Grant might have imbibed but did not was that of the climactic battle, which at a single strike resolved a conflict and ended it. The doctrine has been called Napoleonic, and with reason. Napoleon was the master of the great battle and his name was associated with several which had ended conflicts and altered history. Lee aspired to fight such battles and to end the war with the Union by a single overpowering act, as Napoleon had ended the conflict with Prussia in 1806 by winning the battles of Jena-Auerstedt and had almost ended the war with Russia by fighting at Borodino in 1812. Ultimately Napoleon, however, had been the victim of his own method, Waterloo having been the outstandingly decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Since 1815, moreover, there had been few, if any, decisive battles. Indeed the era of decisive battles was drawing to a close. There would be several during Prussia’s wars of unification in 1866-71, notably the victory of Königgrätz-Sadowa against Austria, and Sedan against France in 1870. At the end of the era, states were learning to deny an enemy the chance of decisive battle by enlarging the size of their armies to a point at which it became difficult, if not impossible, to dispose of them in a single passage of fighting, while at the same time resorting to unorthodox tactics which would involve an opponent in guerrilla warfare or the tactics of protracted warfare should the main field army suffer defeat. France would cheat Prussia of a clear-cut decision in 1870-71 by resorting to a war in the provinces with irregular forces after the defeat of Sedan.

In mid-1863, the Union was approaching the point where it would have to decide by what military means the war was to be concluded: by pursuing the object of the final decisive battle or by some less direct method. Likewise, the Confederacy, which was rapidly losing the power to fight and win large-scale battles, would have to consider whether it should turn to protracted guerrilla tactics if it was to stave off defeat. The instructions Grant gave to Sherman on his visit to the western armies following his appointment as general in chief would soon confront the Confederacy with the necessity of fighting a small-scale, low-level war within its own territory, as opposed to a conventional army-to-army war on its frontier. Grant’s written instructions to Sherman were “to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” Sherman was perfectly willing to carry out such instructions since he had already formed the conclusion that the quickest way to break the Confederacy was to make its ordinary people suffer.

To Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, Grant sent the order, “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant had already decided, with Lincoln’s approval, to make his headquarters with Meade, while leaving him as much freedom of action as possible. That would require nice judgement, not always achieved. Meade would complain frequently in his letters to his wife that any achievement of the Army of the Potomac was credited by the press to Grant, any failure to himself. Still, Grant’s intentions were fair and honest, and the two men would sustain an equable working relationship throughout the rest of the campaign in the East.

Meanwhile, in the West, Sherman was beginning what would become the culminating campaign of the war.