Siege of Genoa (1746)

Italy and the naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684

At the same time as Strasbourg was being swallowed up in the north, the French appeared to give a clue to their sinister intentions elsewhere in Europe when they occupied Casale, a fortress in the Montferrat forty miles east of Turin. The Duke of Mantua was one of those hard-up petty potentates who abounded at the time, and after being sounded by the French he willingly parted with his enclave at Casale in return for a bribe.

It was bad enough that Louis got Casale at all, for it supplemented Pinerolo as a base for French operations on the Italian side of the Alps. The way in which the enterprise was carried out was more significant still, because the occupying force and the subsequent reliefs marched straight across Piedmontese territory without the formality of gaining the Duke of Savoy’s leave. In a similarly cavalier fashion the French made a naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684, simply because the republic appeared to be too friendly with Spain. This drastic measure confirmed the impression that Louis regarded north Italy as part of his own domains.

Piedmont and neighbouring states in the War of the Austrian Succession.

War of Austrian Succession

At the beginning of 1745, during the War of Austrian Succession the situation was altogether, in favor of the tenacious Maria Theresa. France, however, had in the meantime found a new ally in Genvoa, irritated by Piedmont and Austria for the threat to their possession of the Finale (Treaty of Aranjuez May 7, 1745). With the help of the Genoese, the two armies of the French-Spanish under Maillebois and Gages, came into Piedmont from the Riviera and defeated the Austro-Piedmontese at Bassignana (September 28), then occupied successively Tortona, Piacenza, Parma, Pavia, Alessandria, Asti and Casale, while Philip of Bourbon finally took Milan in December 19, 1745. In the Netherlands, France were dominant. The valiant Marshal Maurice de Saxe won the Anglo-Dutch at Fontenay (11 May 1745) and occupied Tournai (May 22), Ghent (July 10), Bruges (July 18), Oudenarde (July 21) and finally Ostend (July 23). To threaten England the French organized, in the summer of 1745, the landing of Charles Edward Stuart in Scotland (August 4).

In Germany, the French influence was almost nil, while England, threatened by Stuart, tried to reconcile once again Maria Theresa and Frederick II. The latter, however, due to the stagnation of diplomatic negotiations sort a military solution: won against the Austrians in Bohemia, invaded Saxony, won the battle of Kesselsdorf (December 15), occupied Leipzig and Dresden. So achieved his goal: Maria Teresa gave up Silesia and made peace (Treaty of Dresden, December 25, 1745).

France was supported by Spain, Naples, Genoa, and Austria, had as ally the kingdom of Sardinia, England, the Netherlands. The landing of the Stuart in Scotland caused, in the autumn of 1745, a general uprising of the Scots and caused terrible panic in London. But this uprising was ended with the battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746). The only consequence was the opportunity, given to Maurice of Saxony, to extend the involvement of the Austrian Netherlands, beating an Austrian army in Rocoux in September, and threatening Netherlands. On the other hand, Carlo Emanuele III took up the arms in agreement with Maria Theresa. So he reoccupied Asti on March 8, 1746, expelled the Franco-Hispanic armies from Piedmont and Lombardy, won in battle of Piacenza (June 16), that caused the enemy’s retreat into Genoa. At this time, the King Philip V of Spain died (July 9) and his successor, Ferdinand VI, was inclined towards peace and the withdrawal of his troops from Italy. The Austro-Sardinian pressed the enemy down on the Riviera, and Marshal Botta Adorno, occupied Genoa on September 7, while Carlo Emanuele III blockaded Savona, took Finale and pursued the Franco-Hispanic Army to Varo. Genoa underwent three months of harsh occupation by Austria, but due to a violent popular uprising, adroitly directed by the Genoese government (5-10 December 1746) freed itself.

The revolt in the Portoria district in Genoa against the Austrians in 1746, led by Giovan Battista Perasso (1735-1781) known as Balilla, 19th century print. Italy, 18th-19th century.

The Austrian alliance invaded Provence, with British naval support, but they were pushed back in 1747, while the Austrians failed to regain Genoa, which had rebelled against their control. The Genoese revolt of December 1746, a successful popular rising, prefigured much that was to be associated with the revolutionary warfare of the close of the century. The swiftly changing course of the conflict in Italy indicated the volatile character of war in this period.

Meanwhile, Carlo Emanuele III was able to occupy Savona (18 December). From Vienna, he asked for an expedition against Naples to chase away the Bourbons. But England did not want an absolute Austrian domination in Italy. So, Provence was invaded, the military port of Toulon was occupied and France was forced to halt its operations in the Netherlands. The Austro-Sardinian forces advanced to Antibes, but then retreated (February 1747).

In the last major conflict in Italy prior to the French Revolutionary War, Franco-Spanish forces failed in 1743-4 to break through the alpine defences of the kingdom of Sardinia, the most important possessions of which were Piedmont and Savoy. Politics offered a new approach: by gaining the alliance of Genoa in 1745, the Bourbons were able to circumvent the alpine defences and invade Piedmont from the south. Initial successes, however, were reversed in 1746 and the Austrians and Sardinians won a decisive victory at Piacenza (16 June 1746), ending, for the remainder of the ancien regime a quarter-millennium of French efforts to dominate northern Italy.


Prussian Fortresses in the Swedish and Russian campaigns of the Seven Years War

The fall of fortress Kolberg in 1761 (Seven Years’ War) to Russian troops

Siege of Kolberg 1760

Between 1721 and the opening of the Seven Years War, Swedish military prowess had fallen almost as far as that of France. ‘They were brave once’, said the Russian commander Saltykov, ‘but now their time is past’ (Montalembert, 1777, 11,62). Their military spirit inevitably suffered from the way Count Rosen maladministered the army, and from the bitter arguments among the politicians. Their engineers could still build imposing fortresses, and men like Major Rook and the generals Carlsberg and Virgin could still propose ‘systems’ of interest and originality, but the Swedish means of waging offensive fortress warfare had declined considerably since the days of Charles XII. Arms and equipment were antiquated, and the siege artillery was notably cumbersome by the standards of the second half of the eighteenth century.

Nowhere were the operations of the Seven Years War more repetitious and circumscribed than in Swedish and Prussian Pomerania. Campaigning was mostly confined to Swedish forays from the bridgehead fortress of Stralsund against the line of the Peene and its small strongholds at Demmin, Anklam and Peenemiinde. These works were almost always lost again when the Strelasund froze over with the coming of winter, for the Swedes had to hasten back to Stralsund and the offshore island of Rügen to prevent the Prussians from getting there first by marching across the ice.

There was no chance whatsoever that the Swedes would fulfil their part in the strategy that was sketched out for them by the French staff officer Marc-Rene Montalembert, who urged that ‘the Swedish and Russian armies will accomplish nothing useful for the common cause until they have taken the town of Stettin’ (March 1759, ibid., II, I I). This was a powerful Prussian fortress on the lower Oder, which effectively blocked the way from Swedish Pomerania to the Russians operating on the east side of the Oder. As for the Russians, they claimed that any siege of Stettin would require ‘200,000 men and more artillery than Russia and Sweden can possibly furnish’ (31 August 1759, ibid., II, 62). Perhaps also the Russians perceived that Montalembert deliberately wished them to waste their time and strength in this enormous operation, for by now the French lived in fear of the westward advance of Russia.

The Austrians, however, still looked to the Russians for positive help. Founded by Peter the Great, the Russian engineering corps had been reorganised by Field-Marshal Münnich in the 1730S, and by the time of the Seven Years War it comprised the very respectable total of 1,302 officers and men. Unfortunately, nearly all of these people were inextricably committed to civil engineering and topographical projects, leaving the Russians bereft of technical expertise when they came to attack fortresses.

The chief burden of Russian sieges therefore rested upon the gunners, not the engineers. The Saxon officer Tielke wrote from direct experience that:

the Russians differ from all other nations, in their method of carrying on sieges – instead of first opening trenches to cover themselves from the enemy’s fire, and making batteries with strong parapets for the cannon and mortars, they advance as near as possible up to the town, bring up their artillery without covering it in the least, and after they have cannonaded and bombarded the town about forty-eight hours, they begin to break ground and make regular trenches and batteries. They think that this method inspires the assailants with courage, at the same time as it intimidates the defenders, and may possibly induce these latter to surrender. Both officers and soldiers are on these occasions equally exposed to fire. (Tielke, 1788, II, 133)

Since the Russians conducted their battles and sieges in a nearly identical fashion, the Master-General of the Ordnance, the brilliant and wayward Petr Shuvalov, embarked on a search for a universal general-purpose artillery piece. The result was a curious long-barrelled howitzer called the ‘unicorn’, which fired an explosive shell to a considerable distance but with no great accuracy. In 1758, after the futile cannonade of Küstrin, General Fermor complained that he would rather have more of the conventional siege artillery instead, but Shuvalov was adamant in defence of his ‘unicorns’, claiming that

although their bombs are not especially weighty, they travel with such speed, and along such a flat trajectory that, according to the experiments we have conducted here, they penetrate seven feet into an earthen rampart, and produce a large crater when they burst. (Maslovskii, 1888-93, I, 331-2)

The Russian operations in the Seven Years War fall into two clearly defined phases. The first objective was to reduce the Prussian enclave of East Prussia, which was isolated on the Baltic coast and surrounded by Polish territory on every landward side. The small defending army was beaten in the open field in 1757, and although the Russians fell back to winter quarters, they came on again in January 1758 and occupied the capital of Konigsberg.

The Russians could now embark on the second stage of their war. By taking East Prussia they had opened the way to the River Vistula (Weichsel), which gave them a shield for the conquered lands and a start-line for the advance into Brandenburg. The Prussian heartland was ultimately saved by five strongholds. First of all the works at Kolberg offered the Prussians a base for partisan-type warfare in eastern Pomerania, and denied the Russians the use of the only sizeable harbour on the 150-mile stretch of sandy coast between Danzig and the mouth of the Oder. The lure of Kolberg repeatedly induced the Russians to weaken their army to form siege corps, and they finally reduced the place only in December 1761, after months of blockade and siege. The other four fortresses, the Oder strongholds of Stettin, Kustrin, Breslau and Glogau, managed to defy the Russians for the rest of the war. In 1759 and again in the summer of 1760 the Russians and a powerful corps of Austrians joined forces on the Oder, but the generals could not summon up the energy or the resources to attack the quartet of Prussian fortresses. This was why

they [the Russians] were never able to establish themselves in winter quarters. It never crossed their minds to secure themselves supplies or points d’appui on the Oder, and so they always had to march back to quarters behind the Vistula. These retreats deprived them of the fruits of the campaigns they had just fought, and of all the advantages they had gained. By the same token they experienced considerable delays in opening their next campaigns, and every time they had to re-do everything from the beginning. (Silva, 1778, 41)

Frederick’s field army, the other prop of the Prussian monarchy, was, however, reduced to a parlous state, and without its support the fortress would certainly have fallen in a couple of campaigns. Old Fritz was saved in the nick of time by the death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia on 5 January 1762, which brought in its train the collapse of the anti-Prussian coalition

Mining Attack on a Fortress

The French mining attack on the Mastbastion at Sebastopol between February and April 1855, launched from the third parallel about 190m from the Russian ditch. Todleben’s countermines surround the Mastbastion. (From Zschokke, Handbuch der militärischen Sprengtechnik (1911).

The French right attack gallery in the above plan, 0.8m high, has been driven through a clay layer beneath hard chalk at a depth of about 6m but has been broken by heavily overcharged Russian blows.

The attack of a fortress by mining is recorded in the ninth century BC. A tunnel was driven beneath the walls and the soil replaced by timber props, which were then destroyed by burning, causing the walls to collapse. Mining was usually resorted to when artillery had failed and was a slower, but ultimately more certain, method of reducing a fortress. In the first century AD the Roman writer Vitruvius described methods of attacking fortress walls. At ground level covered protection, such as a ‘testudo’, or tortoise, was used against projectiles thrown from above to enable the walls to be attacked with hand tools or a battering ram. Where mining was employed he described the burnt-prop method to bring down walls and also the use of a tunnel to emerge inside the fortress or walled town, from which attacking soldiers issued to surprise the garrison. This technique was used by the Romans to end their nine-year siege of Veii in 396 BC. Sometimes the knowledge that the walls of a fortress were undermined was sufficient for the garrison to capitulate, as at Marqab in 1285 when the Knights of St John surrendered after being shown the extent to which Egyptian miners had tunnelled beneath their great tower. Defences against mining incorporated into fortresses included ready-dug countermines and a deep and wide water-filled ditch. A breach in the walls was so often decisive in breaking a siege that in medieval times it became a convention that the garrison of a castle or fortress might surrender with honour once their walls were breached, whereas if they continued to resist quarter would not be shown and the castle could be sacked.

In fifteenth-century Italy there occurred the only major technological change in military mining from antiquity until 1914, when gunpowder replaced the burning of props to bring down walls. This greatly increased the power and potential of mining, as walls would now not just collapse, but be hurled into the air along with the defenders. Gunpowder also enabled miners to engage in warfare beneath the ground, attacking their opponents’ tunnels by exploding charges, called camouflets, to collapse them, which did not break the surface of the ground. The increased danger to the user entailed by gunpowder saw the rise of regulations to cover mining and, during the seventeenth century, highly sophisticated and standardized forms of fortifications and the means of assault were developed. The French emerged as the masters of siege craft, with the engineer Vauban the dominant figure. The usual method of approach by the besieger was to dig a trench, known as the first parallel, 600 to 700m from the fortification. This was at a distance far enough away for the trench not to be enfiladed (i.e. fired along the length of) by the defenders and earthworks were then thrown up in front for siege artillery to begin firing. Under cover of these guns engineers began to dig approach trenches, known as saps (hence the term ‘Sapper’ for a military engineer), towards the fortress. These were in a zigzag pattern to reduce the effect of enfilade fire. At about 300m from the fortress, a second parallel was dug and new artillery emplacements prepared. From this range the guns could begin to batter a breach in the walls. The defenders might attempt sorties to spike the attackers’ guns. If the artillery assault was not successful, the besiegers continued sapping forwards, by now under small-arms fire, to within a few metres of the walls, or a ditch or moat surrounding the fortress, and constructed a third parallel. If the artillery was still unable to smash gaps in the walls, mining would begin.

A well-designed fortress incorporated a system of tunnels surrounding its walls designed to detect the mines of the attackers, known as countermines (the term ‘mine’ being used for both the explosive charge and the tunnel from which it was laid). Camouflets would be used to destroy the attackers’ mines, but the defenders were restricted in the size of charge that they could use, for fear of destroying their own defences. The distance at which a charge was likely to damage an opponent’s tunnel was known as the ‘radius of rupture’. Mines that were powerful enough to break the surface of the ground to form a crater were known as ‘common mines’. The distance of a mine from the surface, used to calculate whether it would break surface, was the line of least resistance (LLR). To prevent the blast of a mine being directed down the tunnel in which it was laid, the tunnel would be extensively backfilled in a process called ‘tamping’. In the late seventeenth century formulae for the sizes of charges were developed by Vauban and Mesgrigny, followed by Belidor, who carried out trials in 1725. His calculations were not accepted in France, but were taken up by Prussia and used at the Siege of Schweidnitz in 1762, where the Prussians blew mines of up to 2,500kg. The Russians gained much experience during the Russo-Turkish War in 1828 and at Brailov fired two mines of 4,000kg, although with only partial success, as the huge quantity of debris thrown up buried the junction box, preventing the next set of mines from being blown and also ultimately hampering the Russian advance. It was thus not just size that mattered: mines also had to be coordinated with the attack. The Russians used this experience during the most significant mining of the nineteenth century, in the Crimean War during the Siege of Sebastopol. Against a Franco-British attack the Russian chief engineer, General Todleben, organized a system of countermines and some twenty mines were blown, varying in size from 550kg to 2,000kg. Mines were driven through a layer of clay beneath hard chalk. Todleben discovered a second layer at about 15m depth, which he used for a deep level system of countermines. He laid a charge of 4,000kg, which was discovered after the fall of Sebastopol; at that depth it would not have been great enough to break the surface.

Protracted siege warfare and mining did not, however, play a major part in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, during which the French fortresses were forced to surrender through containment or powerful bombardment. After 1870, the opinion of most artillery and engineer officers in the great military powers was that long-range, large-calibre artillery, especially mortars and howitzers with plunging fire, would always defeat fortresses that previously could be breached only by mining.

By the 1880s it seemed that fortresses had become obsolete, along with the ancient means of assaulting them. There were, however, opposing trends. The Russo-Turkish War had involved a five-month siege of Pleva in 1877, conducted by Todleben. During the American Civil War mining was used against field works rather than a fortress at the siege of Petersburg. A 511ft gallery was driven by the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, which was both commanded by and composed mainly of coal miners. The unit laid a charge of 3,600kg at 6m depth beneath a Confederate earthwork known as Elliott’s Salient, which was blown on 30 July 1864. The mine killed 250 to 350 Confederate soldiers, but in the resulting Battle of the Crater the Union attack was badly coordinated and many of the attackers were trapped in the crater by a counterattack.

Siege of Fredrikshald

In October 1718 Swedish king Charles XII invaded southern Norway with 35,000 troops, determined to reduce the lynchpin of the enemy’s frontier defences at Fredrikshald to rubble through a regular siege, led by a hired professional French artillery officer, Colonel Maigret. The Swedes, commanded in person by the king, stormed and captured the outer fort of Gyldenlove on 27 November. Three days later the Swedes, facing only 1400 enemy troops holding the fortress of Fredriksten, dug a parallel trench to the fortress, followed by an approach trench (to a second parallel), and seemed to be on the verge of a great – and relatively easy – victory. Once the siege artillery had the fortress within range it could be forced through bombardment to capitulate, as Colonel Maigret had assured the king. But on 30 November Charles XII was killed in the most mysterious of circumstances in the forward trenches, saving the Norwegians from what would have been a humiliating defeat and eventual occupation by their neighbours.

Galleys had been used in the Mediterranean Sea during the 16th century but a lesser-known fact u’as that both Russia and Sweden used them during the Great Northern War. Here teams of horses and men are pulling one such galley across greased logs from the North Sea coast overland to the dark waters of the Iddejjord, near Fredrikshald, in 1718.

Plan of the siege of Fredrikshald (Halden) and its fortress Fredriksten in 1718. The engraved plan by Johann Baptist Homann shows the military intervention of King Charles XII of Sweden during the Great Northern War in 1718. The siege ended unsuccessfully because the king was killed by headshots and the siege was therefore discontinued. With decorative title banner and an impressive naval battle.

The Great Northern War had been going on for 16 long years when Sweden’s formidable warrior king, Charles XII, laid plans to invade Norway in 1716. This country was only a stepping stone in his grandiose plans to invade Britain, dethrone George I and crown James Stuart, before moving on to deal with Denmark and Russia.

Charles’ plan in 1716 was for a blitzkrieg-style attack on Norway with only a small army of 7700 men, in three columns. The Swedes hoped that by treating the Norwegians with silk gloves they would welcome their ‘liberators’. The Swedes knew that their small invasion army faced a Norwegian army twice their size. But it consisted of poorly equipped, badly trained peasant recruits. As the aggressors the Swedes held the initiative, which ensured that the Norwegian army was strung out along the long frontier not knowing where or when the Swedes would strike. Norway was similar to Canada, built like a natural fortress, especially in winter with frozen lakes, rivers, marshes, wooded hills and endless forests sparsely sprinkled with small peasant settlements. It was not an easy country for an invader to stage a European-style campaign.

The Norwegians could also rely on the support of the Danish Navy. Danish and Norwegian vessels led by Norway’s ‘Nelson’, Admiral Peter Tordenskjold, disrupted Swedish coastal communications and prevented vital supplies reaching the invading army. Sweden’s naval weakness was a major problem for the plans Charles had laid. The Norwegians had also built a formidable line of six major fortifications along the main river barrier in eastern Norway, called the Glomma Line. To add further defences to this Glomma Line the Norwegian commander, General Lützow, constructed field fortifications at the two main hill passes blocking the entrance to Christiania. These field forts were held by 1500 cavalry and 5600 infantry.

When Charles, who had crossed the frontier in early March, reached this line his attack against one of these forts failed and he was forced to retreat south. He then turned north but was surprised by the speed with which his enemy erected a barrier of logs and felled trees that his troops could not force. Like the Canadians, the Norwegians were adept at throwing up defensive lines. But Charles marched his men across frozen ice on the Oslo fjord to outflank his enemy, and by 21 March he was outside the empty Norwegian capital.

Once news arrived of the Lion of the North’s approach the population fled westwards. Christiania’s garrison of 3000 regulars had plentiful supplies and was under the command of a tough German officer in Danish service, Colonel Jörgen von Klenow. The Swedish invasion began to run into difficulties with the Norwegian fortifications. Charles occupied Christiania on 22 March, but the town was built with its streets perpendicular to the fortresses’ guns so that the guns could shoot straight down the street and onto any Swede foolish enough to venture out. The Swedes tore up paving stones, houses and anything else they could find to erect breastworks or dig trenches to protect themselves. Assaults on other forts were beaten back with heavy losses. Charles did not give up hope but his officers were pessimistic and a defeatism that had marred the Swedish army’s morale since the catastrophic defeat at Poltava in 1709 now surfaced. The officers feared they would be cut off and starved into submission due to their long supply lines. Charles marched south and took the town of Fredrikshald (present-day Halden) in July. However, he could not take its fortress, Fredriksten, or the city’s inner defence wall, which was held by an armed force of the town’s inhabitants.

When Charles invaded Norway again in 1718 his approach was very different. If the Norwegians would not greet the Swedes as liberators then they would be bludgeoned into submission and crushed by sheer military might. Bearing in mind his experiences in 1716, he was determined to take Fredriksten first. It was Norway’s most formidable fortress and it straddled Sweden’s supply routes and the lines of communication all the way back to Sweden.

The first step in this plan was to get a galley flotilla into the Iddefjord in order to reduce Sponviken fort and then bombard Halden from the fjord as well from the land side. The flotilla would avoid having to run the gauntlet of Fredrikstad’s fortress batteries and the deadly attentions of Tordenskjold’s fleet hovering off the coast. Charles ordered 800 troops and 1000 horses to haul his galleys and gunboats across the peninsula between the North Sea and Iddefjord.

Fredriksten, meaning Frederick’s rock, was built on top of a massive granite mountain above the city of Fredrikshald on the Norwegian side of Iddefjord, which connected in the west with the waters of Svinesund. On three sides this eagle’s nest was protected by water, cliffs or deep valleys and it was only to the south-east that it was open to attack. Even on that side the approaches were protected by marshes and three forts.

This time Charles was taking no chances. He created a huge, well-supplied army of 40,000 troops accompanied by a well-equipped siege train led by a professional fortification officer with a wide experience of sieges. The French colonel of fortification, Philippe Maigret, had been trained by Vauban and now prepared to conduct a siege in this northern wilderness according to his illustrious teacher’s masterly system. Fredriksten would be completely encircled and cut off from the outside world. Parallel trenches would be dug to surround the fortress in concentric circles. Approches would be dug to close in on the fort and in such a way that they avoided its artillery. Then heavy siege mortars and guns would be used to make a breach in the walls. Meanwhile, Maigret told the Swedes, the garrison would become demoralized by their isolation, the absence of news and the growing lack of supplies. Once this had been done the Swedes could storm the fortress.

Swedish preparations had been so painstaking that the invasion of Norway only began in late October. Charles arrived ahead of schedule with 900 cavalry forcing the Norwegians to sink their transport flotilla on Iddefjord. Nevertheless it was only by 20 November that the siege artillery was in place. In total Charles had 35,000 men in southern Norway while Colonel Landsberg, the Norwegian commandant of Fredriksten, admitted that the fortress was totally cut off by the siege, and that he had only 1400 troops. Charles could not resist taking risks and personally commanded a daring attack on 27 November, which stormed and then took the outlying Gyldenl0ve fort.

The Swedes were now engaged in the tedious and unusual task of digging trenches to approach Fredriksten. Hard and unpleasant work in the rocky soil around the fortress, the troops dug in the face of Norwegian fire from the main fort and the two remaining outer works. On 30 November the first parallel was completed and a sap had been dug. Charles wanted Maigret to begin digging the second line as soon as possible. Earlier Maigret had assured the impatient king that the fortress would fall within eight days and even Fredriksten’s commander, Colonel Landsberg, admitted that Fredriksten could not hold out longer than a week.

As the soil was thin the Swedes had to reinforce their trenches with 600 fascines and 3000 bags every day. Once the second parallel had been dug and reinforced with breastworks Maigret’s siege artillery of 18 heavy pieces (six 16-kg [36-lb] howitzers and six 34-kg [75-lb] mortars) would bombard the walls and make a breach. Landsberg knew that the walls had not been properly embedded in the rock and that they would fall apart at the first Swedish barrage.

Fortunately for the Norwegians Charles, always in the front line, was in the sap during the evening of 30 November when, supposedly, a stray bullet hit him in the head and killed him instantly. The Swedish officers in command immediately ordered a retreat and all dreams of empire vanished. Today it is thought that the bullet was probably fired by a hired assassin, paid by the king’s ruthless and ambitious brother-in-law, Prince Frederick of Hesse, who later became King Frederick I of Sweden.


Danish admiral, was born Peder Wessel, tenth child of a Bergen alderman, and as a young boy ran away to sea. After several voyages to the West Indies he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Danish Navy and within a year was commanding the 4-gun sloop Ormen, in which he operated successfully off the Swedish coast. Within a year he was promoted to command a 20-gun frigate, in which his fine seamanship and audacity were given full play. With the Great Northern War in full swing, he found no lack of action among the fjords of Sweden in operations against Swedish frigates and troop transports, and his fame as a brave and skillful commander began to spread. With the return of Charles XII to Sweden in 1715, Wessel did great execution among the Swedish shipping off the coast of Pomerania, and in the following year was ennobled by Frederick IV of Denmark under the title of Tordenskjold (Thundershield). He raised the siege by Charles XII of Fredrikshald in Norway by destroying the Swedish fleet of transports and supply ships, and was promoted captain. In 1717 he commanded a squadron with the task of bringing to action and destroying the Swedish Gothenburg squadron, but disloyalty on the part of some of his officers prevented his achieving a decisive victory. Nevertheless, he was able to return to Denmark in 1718 with the news of the death of Charles XII, and was made a rear admiral by Frederick IV in the general rejoicing. His final claim to fame was the capture of the Swedish fortress of Marstrand and the final elimination of the Gothenburg squadron, partly by destruction and partly by capture. For this he was advanced to vice admiral. Shortly after the end of the Great Northern War he was killed in a duel. He is regarded in Denmark as a great naval hero, and. after Charles XII perhaps, the most heroic figure of the Great Northern War.

Victory at Vicksburg

Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Flag Ship, Mississippi Squadron. Photo-types by Gutekunst of water color paintings by A.C. Stewart, an Engineer in the U.S. Navy during the War of the Rebellion, compliments of the William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company to Colonel W.B. Remey, USMC, Judge Advocate General, circa 1880s.

The fall of Vicksburg ensured the fall of Port Hudson and the opening of the Mississippi River, which I am happy to say can be traversed from its source to its mouth without apparent impediment, the first time during the war.

—David Dixon Porter

Farther up the Mississippi River, Grant’s troops continued to besiege the rebel stronghold at Vicksburg, supported by Porter’s ironclads and gunboats. “From early June, 1863, Vicksburg was besieged day and night,” Lieutenant Colonel George Currie wrote. “Our army was thoroughly and effectively investing the city, the right resting on the river above, thence in a crescent encircling it reaching the Mississippi again, below the city. Our Navy patrolled the river above, the peninsula opposite was in our possession, completely cutting off every avenue of supply and communication to the rebel garrison so hemmed in.” Currie observed, “I see some northern newspapers are afraid that Grant will get in a tight place, but if they knew the man or the situation, their fears on that score would vanish.” The colonel had confidence in “that quiet, unassuming man who is coolly walking along the line, with that cigar always in his mouth, and seeing everything that has been done or is to be done. . . . In him every soldier of this army has full confidence, and think ‘the taking of Vicksburg has settled down to a mere question of time.’”

In addition to time, the lack of food and provisions was a factor. As Sherman wrote to his wife on June 11, “The truth is we must trust to starvation.” The siege progressed, but the rebels seemed determined to hold out.

Porter, however, remained optimistic about the eventual fall of Vicksburg. His fleet kept bombarding the city, and he mounted a 10-inch gun on a scow to fire on the upper battery. Daniel Kemp remembered it well: “After we came down the river, we found the scow on which had been mounted a 10-inch Dahlgren gun in readiness for us to take down to some point near Vicksburg.” Porter assigned Ramsay, the Choctaw’s commanding officer, to manage the three heavy guns placed on scows. “We first went down two or three hundred feet below our mortar boats,” Kemp recalled, “which were used in throwing shells into Vicksburg, and remained there two days. Then we thought we would try to get a little closer, under cover of night, nearly opposite the Cincinnati’s wreck. There we laid under cover of darkness, within a few hundred yards of Vicksburg, for several days.” Protected by the bend of the river, they kept up a constant fire at a battery on the Vicksburg side of the ravine that separated the two armies. “We did good execution, for we struck their breastworks a number of times, and it was said we dismounted one of their guns. Our shells struck among their tents many times, causing great commotion among the occupants.” The rebels gave back, too, their pickets firing at Union pickets across the narrow river. They were getting their location, Kemp recalled, and one day sent over a shell “which burst directly over us, and you ought to have seen our officer in charge dive for the bank. The Rebels generally know about where to shoot, and waste no ammunition.”

In the meantime, the Lafayette continued its monotonous vigil. The boredom was broken only by the arrival of contrabands, which had become an almost daily event by June 1863. On June 22 Lyons noted that they picked up two small contrabands, “one of them being driven to Texas. He was sent back to get provisions and carry a letter. Instead of returning where he was sent he came down opposite the gunboats, tied his saddle to a tree and let the mule go at large. Then making the ‘Contraband Signal’—he was brought on board—letter and all.” Lyons added, “He is apparently fourteen years old and very cute.” The following day ten contrabands arrived, three of them females, and were assigned to the barge. “The women are dressed in their former mistresses cast-off clothing of gay colors.” The next day seven more former slaves boarded the gunboat, including three women and three children. Lyons explained that “fiddleing and dancing is the order of exercise on the Barge among the Free Africans of American or European descent.” Local whites occasionally attempted to reclaim their runaway slaves. One of them known as “Old Ferris (a rebel) came on board of our Ship after his negroes—Capt. Walke told him that he was a prisoner, and could not go on shore anymore. Afterward, he let him go but kept his negroes.”

By June 22, the Lafayette’s sick list had grown to forty-two, among them clerk Lyons. “Capt. Walke came on deck from his breakfast and ‘disrated’ me without giving any reason or making any complaint about anything. I was taken sick, with bilious colic, and completely prostrated.” According to Lyons, Walke replaced the clerk with a nonrated “white contraband” named Benjamin Holmes. That afternoon the doctor gave Lyons an emetic.

A week later, Porter received word from General Dennis, commanding the post at Young’s Point, that black troops at Goodrich’s Landing, Louisiana, had been attacked, and “the rebels were getting the upper hand of them.” Two African American regiments, the 1st Arkansas and 10th Louisiana, garrisoned Goodrich’s Landing, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, at the time. They guarded a military supply depot and surrounding government-run plantations on which freedmen had been put to work growing cotton and other crops. They had also erected two forts on an old Indian mound. Porter had already dispatched a gunboat, but he quickly sent another and directed Brigadier General Alfred Ellet to proceed there with the Marine Brigade and remain “until everything was quiet.”

Ellet went immediately to Goodrich’s Landing with his entire command, arriving at 2:00 in the morning. The side-wheel steamer John Raine approached the scene first, just as the rebels were setting fire to the government plantations. When Ellet arrived a few hours later, he “could plainly see the evidence of the enemy’s operation in burning mansions, cotton gins, and negro quarters as far as the eye could reach.” As Ellet later learned, the previous day, Colonel William H. Parson’s rebels had attacked two black companies that had retreated into the smaller of the two forts. The rebels surrounded the fort and captured the soldiers “after a spirited resistance and considerable loss to the enemy,” Ellet wrote. Sources claim that on June 29, Brigadier General James Tappan’s brigade demanded that the black soldiers surrender. The regiment’s three white officers agreed to this demand, provided they would be treated as prisoners of war, but the rebels would not guarantee the same treatment for the black soldiers. The rebels then took 116 men prisoner. Rather than seize the larger fort as well, the Confederate marauders plundered and burned cotton gins, plantations, and slave quarters. They also engaged Parson’s mounted infantry near Lake Providence the following day.

Assuming that the Raine was an ordinary, unarmed transport, the rebels opened fire with fieldpieces, and the Raine’s captain ordered his two 12-pounder brass guns to pour shrapnel into the enemy ranks. The rebels fled, and many of the African Americans they had captured broke free as well. The Raine then sent a landing party ashore; it gathered up twenty-three stands of small arms and rescued hundreds of captured blacks.

About this time, alerted by the sound of gunfire, Lieutenant John Vincent Johnston brought his wooden gunboat Romeo up the river. When he observed rebels setting fire to plantations, he ordered the ship’s gunners to shell them. Chased along the riverbank by the gunfire, the rebel marauders set fire to everything as they went along, resulting in almost total destruction of houses and property along the riverfront.

In the predawn hours, Ellet’s brigade arrived and disembarked. At daylight, eager to get going, Ellet sent his men off without breakfast to search for the enemy. When they reached the federal outposts, Ellet allowed the hungry infantrymen to rest and munch on blackberries while he sent the cavalry ahead to “push” the retreating rebels. His horsemen overtook the rebels, engaged them, and held them in check until Ellet came up with his main body. Because the rebels had crossed the bayou and burned the bridge behind them, Ellet’s men could not pursue them, so they returned to the river. The brigade suffered only three casualties—two black soldiers slightly wounded, and Captain W. H. Wright of Company D mortally wounded. Although the Confederates had nearly twice as many troops, Ellet observed that “they were evidently not inclined to make a standing fight, their main object being to secure the negroes stolen from the plantations along the river, some hundreds of whom they had captured.”

During this engagement at Goodrich’s Landing, the ram Lafayette had remained on station near the mouth of the Red River. But plantations in that vicinity were not immune to rebel raids. “On the 29th of June, the rebels made a raid upon Colonel Acklen’s and the neighboring plantation,” Walke recalled. “At about three o’clock in the morning, twenty five or thirty of their cavalry rode in haste and captured two of our sick men in a temporary hospital near the bank of the river where the gunboat ‘Pittsburg’ was anchored.” The rebel cavalry also succeeded “in carrying off a negro patient.”

More than a week prior to this incident, Walke had informed Porter that the Lafayette needed to be “docked as soon as possible.” Unless he heard from Porter or could get up the river soon, Walke explained, he would have to send the Pittsburg up to Vicksburg and make his way down to New Orleans to dock and repair his vessel. “I am very sorry to hear of your mishap. You can come up here whenever you like,” Porter replied on June 29, 1863. The admiral assured Walke that he was trying to get provisions and coal to him and would send the Switzerland down with a barge as soon as he could get one filled. Porter urged Walke, “Hold on for a few days til Switzerland arrives if you can.” He also explained, “We will have Vicksburg on the 5th of July certain, the rebels being determined to hold out until then.”

Grant had been pressing the siege of Vicksburg for weeks, and on June 20 he ordered a general bombardment. At 4:00 a.m. all the federal shore batteries, Porter’s gunboats, mortars, and armed scows had opened fire on Vicksburg. “There was no response whatever, the batteries were all deserted,” the admiral reported to Welles. “The only demonstration made by the rebels from the water front was a brisk fire of heavy guns from the upper batteries on two 12 pounder rifled howitzers that were planted on the Louisiana side by General Ellet’s Marine Brigade.”

Grant had informed Porter that he expected the Confederates under Joe Johnston to attack within forty-eight hours. He had ordered Sherman to meet the rebels and advised Porter to keep a gunboat at Milliken’s Bend in case the enemy attacked there as well. On June 23 Porter ordered his gunboats and the Switzerland to move up to the canal if the enemy attempted to cross over and “push in amongst the boats and destroy them and all in them.”

Three days later, Porter sent Welles a report: “I was in hopes ere this to have announced the fall of Vicksburg, but the rebels hold out persistently, and will no doubt do so while there is a thing left to eat.” The rebels were hoping for relief from Johnston—“a vain hope,” in Porter’s opinion, “for even if he succeeded in getting the better of General Sherman (one of the best soldiers in our Army), his forces would be so cut up that he could take no advantage of any victory he might gain.” Sherman, the admiral explained, had only to fall back on federal entrenchments at Vicksburg. The gunboats and a few men at Young’s Point have held the enemy in check, Porter assured Welles, and “although they annoy the transports a little, the gunboats are so vigilant and give them so little rest that they have done no damage worth mentioning.” He had landed ten heavy naval guns from the gunboats in the rear of Vicksburg, some manned by sailors, “and they have kept up a heavy fire for days, doing great execution.” Deserters had reported that the rebels had just six days of provisions left but would “not yield until that is gone.” Porter also updated Welles on operations against Port Hudson, saying that Banks had been repulsed twice “but will likely succeed in his next attempt.”

As June drew to a close, federal authorities off Vicksburg expected the rebels to evacuate the city and defensive works any day by boat. On June 29 Shirk had written to Woodworth, informing him that they had recently intercepted a letter from Confederate general A. J. Smith to his wife. “He says everything looks like taking a trip North. All seem to think that Saturday or Sunday will tell of the fall of Vicksburg.”

To keep pressure on the rebels, Porter’s gunboats and mortars kept up their bombardment on the enemy stronghold. The constant firing had, however, taken a toll on the mortars. “I am as busy as I can be keeping the mortar boats in repair,” William A. Minard, serving on the Black Hawk, explained in a letter to a friend. Vicksburg “isn’t taken yet. I don’t know when it will be either. The damn Rebs are in it and may hold it for six weeks to come. It can’t be taken by storm. The only way is to just set right down and stare them out.” Minard remained optimistic, however. “Vicksburg is played out. We are bound to have it.”

Only a few days later, on July 3, 1863, white flags appeared on part of the rebel works, and Major General James Bowen, a Confederate division commander, and Colonel Montgomery, aide-de-camp to General Pemberton, came to Union lines to propose an armistice and arrange terms of surrender. Grant wired Porter: “The enemy have asked armistice to arrange terms of capitulation. Will you please cease firing until notified or hear our batteries open? I shall fire a national salute into the city at daylight if they do not surrender.”

Grant refused Pemberton’s proposal to arrange terms of surrender through appointed commissioners, telling him, “The effusion of blood you propose stopping by this source can be ended at anytime you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the garrison.” He assured the general that his men would be treated as prisoners of war. Grant told Bowen to inform Pemberton that he would meet with him that day at 3:00, which he did. The two men met on a hillside by a stunted oak tree. “Pemberton and I had served in the same division during a part of the Mexican war. I knew him very well, therefore, and greeted him as an old acquaintance,” Grant recalled. However, Grant again refused to accept any terms of surrender other than those he had proposed. Anxious negotiations followed, and the general wired Porter, “I have given the rebels a few hours to consider the proposition of surrendering; all to be paroled here, the officers to take only side arms.”

Grant’s new terms stated that, upon their acceptance, he would send in one federal division as a guard, and once rolls were made and paroles were signed, the Confederate officers and men would be allowed to march out, the officers taking their sidearms with them. Pemberton accepted these terms, and on July 4, “at the appointed time, the garrison of Vicksburg marched out of their works, and formed line in front, stacked arms, and marched back in good order. Our whole army present witnessed this scene without cheering,” Grant wrote. At 5:30 a.m. on July 4, Grant wired Porter that the enemy had accepted his terms and would surrender the city, works, and garrison at 10 a.m. That morning, as promised, Grant rode into Vicksburg with the troops “and went to the river,” he stated later, “to exchange congratulations with the navy upon our joint victory.”

In his letter of congratulations to Porter, Sherman wrote, “I can appreciate the intense satisfaction you must feel at lying before the very monster that has defied us with such deep and malignant hate and seeing your once disunited fleet again a unit; and, better still, the chain that made an enclosed sea of a link in the great river broken forever.”

Fourth of July proved to be a memorable day for Walke and the men of the Lafayette as well. “I have received a letter from the admiral for me to proceed to Vicksburg. The ram Switzerland will be sent to your assistance in keeping the blockade at Red River, and the Sachem will remain with you until she arrives,” Walke wrote to William Hoel. The ram must have gotten under way for Vicksburg that same day, for off Grand Gulf, Lieutenant Commander E. K. Owen of the Louisville wrote, “The Lafayette is in sight, coming up.”

When the Vicksburg campaign ended, Admiral Porter summarized the navy’s role in the long struggle to open the Mississippi River. “When I took command of this squadron, this river was virtually closed against our steamers from Helena to Vicksburg,” Porter wrote. All that he had to do, the admiral told Welles, was to impress upon the officers and men of the squadron the importance of opening communication with New Orleans, and “every one, with few exceptions, have embarked in the enterprise with a zeal that is highly creditable to them, and with a determination that the river should be opened if their aid could effect it.” Admitting that opening the Mississippi took longer than originally expected, Porter first praised Captain Pennock, the fleet captain and commandant at Cairo, for keeping the squadron supplied and for managing the Tennessee and Cumberland Squadrons, which had able officers in Lieutenant Commanders Phelps and Fitch. Porter then went on to commend Captain Walke; Commander Woodworth; Lieutenant Commanders Breese, Greer, Shirk, Owen, Wilson, Walker, Bache, Murphy, Selfridge, Prichett, and Ramsay; and Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Hoel for their “active and energetic attention to all his orders and ready cooperation with the army corps commanders.” After mentioning specific actions involving the gunboats and the light drafts, Porter also praised the mortar boat commander, gunner Eugene Mack, “who for thirty days stood at his post, the firing continuing night and day,” and Ensign Miller, who took charge when Mack fell ill. “We know that nothing conduced more to the end of the siege than the mortar firing, which demoralized the rebels, killed and wounded a number of persons, killed the cattle, destroyed property of all kinds, and set the city on fire.” The admiral also lauded the work of Selfridge, who had commanded the naval battery on the right wing of Sherman’s corps, firing 1,000 shells into the enemy’s works, and he praised Walker, who had relieved him a few days before the surrender. In addition, Porter commended Acting Master Charles B. Dahlgren, who had managed the two 9-inch guns, and Acting Master J. Frank Reed of the Benton, who had charge of the four gun batteries at Fort Benton.

Thanking the army for the capture of Vicksburg, Porter wrote, “This has been no small undertaking; the late investment and capture of Vicksburg will be characterized as one of the greatest military achievements ever known.” He gave due credit to General Grant for his role in planning and carrying out the operation. “The work was hard, the fighting severe, but the blows struck were constant. In forty-five days after our army was landed, a rebel army of 60,000 men had been captured, killed, and wounded, or scattered to their homes, perfectly demoralized, while our loss has been only about 5,000 killed, wounded, and prisoners, and the temporary loss of one gunboat.”

Concluding his report to Welles, Porter summed up the main achievement of the Vicksburg campaign thusly: “The fall of Vicksburg ensured the fall of Port Hudson and the opening of the Mississippi River, which I am happy to say can be traversed from its source to its mouth without apparent impediment, the first time during the war.”

Meaux Falls 1422 Part I

Detail of a miniature of the siege of Meaux and the death of the mayor of the town, at the beginning of chapter 77 of ‘John the Good’ book, with the signature of Richard duke of Gloucester, future Richard III, ‘Richard Gloucestre’.

Henry V marched out of Calais almost as soon as he landed, early in June 1421. His first step was to send a relief force to the beleaguered Exeter at Paris. He took his main army, even smaller in consequence, down to Montreuil, twenty-five miles south, to confer with the Duke of Burgundy. Here the king agreed to dispatch the bulk of his troops to Chartres to relieve the besieged Burgundians, while he himself went on to Paris with a handful of men. Duke Philip rode with him as far as Abbeville and en route they had a day’s boar-hunting by way of relaxation. One may be sure that it was suggested by the duke – nothing so frivolous would normally have occurred to Henry on campaign.

He entered Paris late in the evening on 4 July. He found the Duke of Exeter in control, more or less, though presumably very glad to see him. For not only had the capital been menaced by foes outside the walls but there had been considerable unrest within.

Much of the unrest had centred around l’Isle Adam. Chastellain (who almost certainly met the marshal) tells us that, after secret instructions from Henry before his departure from Paris the previous December, Exeter had him suddenly arrested and sent under strong guard to the Bastille – now the English headquarters. According to Chastellain, ‘when the rumour ran through the city that l’lsle Adam had been seized a large mob of common people took up hatchets and hammers [à hacques et à macques], planning to rescue him and remove him by force from English hands, but found themselves facing six score of English archers, all with bows strung, shooting at them . . . And so he was put in the Bastille and held in prison so long as the king his enemy lived who, had it not been for fear and favour of the Duke of Burgundy his master, would have had his head off.’

Henry’s appearance had a calming effect on the Parisians, since we hear of no more disturbances of this sort. He found time to visit his parents-in-law, Charles VI and Queen Isabeau, at the Hôtel de Saint-Pol and to hear Mass at Nôtre Dame. However, he left his French capital after spending only four days there.

The king then went to his old headquarters at Mantes. Here he conferred once more with the Duke of Burgundy before setting off to relieve Chartres. However, as he approached the city he was told that the dauphin had already abandoned the siege and was hastily retreating southwards into Touraine, on the unconvincing pretexts that he was running short of food, that the weather was bad, and that his men were deserting. The true reason was of course that he had heard of his supplanter’s return and was not going to risk a battle. King Henry thereupon marched on Dreux instead, some fifty miles west of Paris. This was the only substantial stronghold left to the dauphinists on this side of the capital, on the border between Normandy and the lie de France. It was invested on 18 July, the direction of the siege being entrusted to the Duke of Gloucester and the King of Scots. Despite a gallant defence by both its garrison and its townsmen, Dreux surrendered on 20 August, and at the news a whole string of lesser dauphinist strongpoints north and west of Chartres also opened their gates to the English.

The king then struck down towards the Loire, hoping to bring the enemy to battle but, says the First Life, ‘against him came no man, nor no enemy abode his coming’. He heard that the dauphin was assembling a big army near Beaugency on the north bank of the Loire. Accordingly, on about 8 September he stormed Beaugency (though its citadel held out), and then sent the Earl of Suffolk across the river with a small detachment to see if he could locate the enemy army or provoke it into action by inflicting as much damage as possible. However, the dauphin was not to be drawn. Henry then marched along the north bank of the Loire to Orleans nearby, burning its suburbs in which his men found much-needed provisions. He set up his camp outside but his army, by now probably numbering less than 3,000 men, was too small to besiege so large a city with any prospect of success. After resting his men for three days, he swung north-east towards Joigny.

What Jean Juvénal calls ‘a marvellous pestilence of stomach flux’ had broken out among the troops. Henry provided as many carts as he could for those who could not walk. Nevertheless, ‘Dead soldiers were found along the roads . . . and others [still alive] in the woods around Orleans by country folk who had gone there to hide and keep out of the way, and who killed many of them.’

In addition, so one gathers from the Croniques de Normandie, Henry had lost not only many men during his march from sickness but others who collapsed from hunger, besides having to abandon a great number of horses, carts and pack-mules through lack of fodder. He nonetheless kept on undaunted. One has to respect such a leader.

On 18 September he captured Nemours and on 22 September Villneuve-le-Roy on the River Yonne, which had been preventing supplies from Dijon reaching Paris. He also took another dauphinist stronghold, Rougemont, which he stormed with a speed that astounded its dazed defenders. Infuriated by the loss of a single English soldier durings its taking, he had it burnt and its entire garrison drowned in batches in the Yonne, including some who escaped but whom he caught later; sixty men in all. Jean Chartier observes of Henry that he was a very hard and cruel dispenser of justice. According to the king’s lights this was ‘justice’ – as defenders of a fortress taken by storm such men had no right to their lives in the military code of the period.

Describing the siege of Rougemont, Chastellain, who must have met many veterans who had fought against Henry or at his side, gives some idea of what it would have been like to face him. ‘The English king had them attacked most fiercely, assaulted lethally from every side, did not give them rest or respite, scarcely let them draw breath, harried them to death. If I do not describe the [castle’s] fortifications, which were the best possible, it is because they could not save them.’ Colonel Burne thinks the secret of Henry’s success as a soldier was ‘a double foundation of discipline and fervour’ – discipline unusual in field armies of the period, coupled with his ability to communicate a savage self-righteousness. (Something not seen in English troops until Cromwell’s New Model Army.) Burne also considers that his meticulous preparations before taking the field contributed a good deal; in advance of his last campaign, one in northern France which he did not live to fight, he arranged for the citizens of Amiens to provide food for his troops, even fixing the prices. Above all, he was undoubtedly a born leader of men, instilling in his men his own ferocious dynamism and dogged determination. It is unlikely that his heath was good, though we do not have precise details; more than one important meeting had to be postponed because he was unwell (such as the crucial encounter with Queen Isabeau in June 1419’. We know from Walsingham that the illness which killed him was of long standing. Yet he let nothing deter him. If a singularly gloomy man, as he showed at moments of triumph, he can at least never be accused of pessimism in battle. According to the Monk of St Denis he maintained extraordinary equanimity during both setbacks and triumphs. He used to tell troops who had been defeated, ‘You know, the fortunes of war tend to vary. If you want to make certain of winning, always keep your courage exactly the same regardless of what happens.’

The monk also tells us that Henry imposed the strictest discipline. As during the Agincourt campaign, he prohibited ‘the vile prostitutes’ under ferocious penalties from plying their trade in the English camp as they did in the French. On this topic the king remarked sententiously that ‘the pleasure of Venus all too often weakened and softened victorious Mars’. Admittedly, contrary to a popular misconception, venereal disease certainly existed during the fifteenth century. Yet the prohibition, together with restrictions on drinking when possible, may well have contributed to the high rate of desertion from his armies. (As Bacon observes, ‘I know not but martial men are given to love. I think it is but as they are given to wine, for perils commonly asked to be paid in pleasures.’) In a letter home one of Henry’s men longs to go ‘out of this unlusty soldier’s life into the life of England’.

Having cleared the Yonne valley the king marched north-west on as broad a front as his tiny army could manage, presumably to mop up any more pockets of resistance, besides inflicting as much devastation as possible. He divided it into three columns, the one to the east crossing the Seine at Pont-sur-Seine, the second to the west crossing at Nogent and the third continuing along the Yonne.

The men suffered considerable hardship. The three columns of weary English troops rejoined each other at Meaux, having successfully concealed that this was Henry’s real objective. Jean Juvénal tells us that its inhabitants had been so unwise as to send envoys to the king at Paris, complaining that he was waging total war on them and setting all the country round Meaux on fire. ‘To which he replied it was on purpose and that he would lay siege to them and take them, and as for the fires which they said he had started in the countryside, that was merely the custom of war, and war without fire was like sausages [andouilles] without mustard.’

The town of Meaux was the biggest dauphinist stronghold near the capital. On a bend of the Marne, it was divided by the river into two sections, the old town, and the market, which was protected on three sides by the river and on the fourth by a canal.

In addition, Meaux possessed unusually formidable defenders. Its captain was Guichard de Chissay, a brave and resourceful commander, who had excellent lieutenants in Louis de Gast and in the Bastard of Vaurus and his cousin Denis de Vaurus. The garrison was composed of a ferocious mixture of brigands and deserters, some of them English and even Irish, who knew they could expect no mercy if they fell into the king’s hands. The most desperate of them all was the Bastard of Vaurus, little better than a brigand chief, who had a well-deserved reputation for cruelty. Outside the town there was an elm-tree called the ‘Tree of Vaurus’ on which he hanged his victims, eighty of whose corpses were dangling from it in 1421; on one occasion he had had a pregnant girl tied there for the night – when she gave birth to a child, wolves came and ate both mother and infant.

By 6 October Henry had invested Meaux. Although he knew that the siege must be a long one, as usual he ignored the medieval convention of going into winter-quarters. Meaux was too valuable a prize. Not only would its capture remove a threat to Paris and please the Burgundians, but the many lesser dauphinist strongpoints which depended on it would be frightened into surrendering. He was undeterred by the small size of his army which by now numbered no more than 2,500 men. At least he had two fine captains with him, in the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Warwick.

Remorselessly the king set about the reduction of Meaux. He divided his army into four, positioned east, west, north and south of the town. Warwick commanded the division to the south on the far side of the Marne, Henry building a pontoon bridge over the river. The king’s headquarters were about a mile from the town walls, at the abbey of St Faro. He had huts and dug-outs constructed to protect his troops against winter weather, and trenches to guard them against sorties by the garrison. Guns, siege engines, munitions and food were shipped upstream from Paris. He concentrated his artillery fire on carefully selected sections of the walls and gates.

For months the siege seemed to make no progress whatever. The abominable weather hampered the English severely. It rained steadily throughout December so that the Marne burst its banks, to sweep away the pontoon bridge and cut off Warwick against whom the garrison made sorties by boat. The river also flooded the besiegers’ huts and dug-outs, deprived their horses of forage and rendered the ground unfit for mining. Dysentery and other sicknesses afflicted the miserably cold and damp English. Food supplies broke down. There were many desertions and it has been estimated that by Christmas Henry’s army had dwindled by twenty per cent.

The king maintained discipline in his own imaginative way. When dauphinists ambushed and cut to pieces an English foraging party, one man escaped by running away. On being informed, Henry had a deep pit dug and ordered the deserter to be buried alive in it.

The writer known as ‘pseudo-Elmham’ preserves a rumour, possibly contemporary, that the king’s army never suffered so much harm during any of his sieges as in this one. Besides the epidemics and other hardships, the defenders fought unpleasantly well. Henry’s redoubtable uncle, Sir John Cornwall, had to be sent home in a state of shock, swearing that he would never again fight Christians, after his promising seventeen-year-old son had been killed by a cannonball taking his head clean off his shoulders. The king himself fell ill and a physician was summoned but he soon recovered. (We have no details of his malady.) Some captains advised him to abandon the siege. He was undoubtedly worried; in December he contemplated hiring German or Portuguese mercenaries. Yet nothing could shake his determination. By sheer strength of personality he prevented a collapse in morale, forcing his troops to hold on till the weather improved and the epidemics subsided. Inside Meaux they began to run short of food.

It was not only those engaged at Meaux, besiegers or besieged, who were suffering. The Bourgeois of Paris records:

The King of England spent Christmas and the Epiphany at the seige of Meaux; his men pillaged the entire Brie and, however hard they tried, no one was able to sow crops . . . most of those working the land ceased to do so, abandoned their wives and children and fled in despair, saying to each other, ‘What can we do? Let everything go to the Devil! It doesn’t matter what becomes of us. It serves one better to do evil rather than good, it’s better to act like Saracens instead of Christians, so let’s do all the harm we can. They can only catch and kill us! Because of misgovernment by traitors we’ve had to leave our wives and families and flee to the woods like hunted beasts.’

The Bourgeois laments that in Paris ‘God knows how much the poor suffered from cold and hunger!’ He tells how everywhere in the capital one heard people crying, ‘Alas! Alas! Most gentle living God, when are you going to put an end for us to this cruel misery, to this wretched existence, to this damnable war?’

Yet Henry’s heart is said to have been filled with great gladness and, according to Waurin, ‘throughout the kingdom [of England] there was perfect joy displayed, more than had been seen there for a long time.’ News had come of the birth of a son to Queen Catherine at Windsor in December. Now there was an heir in blood to the dual monarchy of England and France. No doubt in his pride as a father, and in his delusion that the hand of God was always benevolently evident in his destiny, it never occurred to him that the future Henry VI, bred from the diseased Valois stock, might be anything other than a great king. It would be another hundred years before a tale became current how he had foretold: ‘Henry born at Monmouth shall small time reign and get much, and Henry born at Windsor shall long reign and lose all, but as God wills so be it.’

Nevertheless the defenders of Meaux were holding their own, if only from desperation. One day early in 1422 some of them brought a donkey up onto the walls, beating it savagely until it brayed, and shouted down at the English that here was their king. They would live to regret it. Nothing could ever shake Henry’s determination, no display of confidence by the garrison, no amount of casualties or desertions, no bad weather, illness or shortage of food – not even the salt fish of the Lenten fast when it came. Although he lodged a mile from Meaux, either at the abbey of St Faro or at the castle of Ruthile, he was far too dedicated a soldier not to spend much of his time in the front line with his men in their waterlogged trenches and dug-outs, superintending the bombardment.

Meaux Falls 1422 Part II

He was employing more cannon than ever before – bombards, culverins and serpentines – more guns of all shapes and sizes arrived every day. Some may be seen at the Musée Militaire in the Invalides at Paris. He also had ribaudequins which were battle carts mounting several small cannon side by side, fired simultaneously and intended for close-quarters fighting. It was not easy to transport the bigger guns, some of which were enormous; most came by boat from Rouen and were then brought up by ox-carts to the siege-lines to be mounted in specially constructed wooden firing frames. The rough tubes which formed their barrels were rarely, if ever, straight, so that accuracy was impossible. Gunpowder was crudely mixed and unreliable. Considerable skill was needed to load; gunners filled the firing chambers three-fifths full of powder, leaving a fifth as an air pocket and a final fifth for the elm-wood tampon on which the gunstone rested, with a ratio of one part powder to nine parts stone. Barrels had to be swabbed out meticulously after each discharge. It was difficult to calculate trajectories with such weapons. Even so, at short range a barrage of gunstones could do terrible damage, battering down ramparts and smashing through house walls and roofs inside a city, as well as demoralizing a beleaguered garrison. When such bombardments continued ceaselessly by day and by night, regardless of expense, as they did during all Henry V’s sieges, the effect was horrific. The king’s passion for artillery had never flagged since his first use of it against the Welsh at Aberystwyth.

As the siege dragged on, the garrison began to feel that they would have more hope of surviving if the defence was conducted by an unusually experienced and skilful commander. They sent to a famous dauphinist captain, Guy de Nesle, Sieur d’Offrémont, who agreed to come and take over. Early on 9 March, accompanied by an escort of 100 men-at-arms, he made his way in the darkness with great daring through the sleeping English lines to a pre-arranged spot below the ramparts. Here the garrison let down ladders to a plank over the moat. The man in front of Guy on the ladder dropped a box of salt herrings he was carrying which fell onto Guy, knocking him off the ladder into the moat; he clutched at two lances held down to him but, no doubt in full plate armour, was too heavy to pull out. His frenzied splashing aroused the English sentries and he was taken prisoner.

Guy’s failure dismayed the garrison of Meaux so much that they withdrew from the town the same day to the market which they thought would be easier to defend. They broke down the connecting bridge over the canal and took the remaining food with them; it would last longer if there were no non-combatants to feed. Henry rode in immediately and before evening his guns were firing from the town into the market. He then used a portable drawbridge, mounted on a siege tower on wheels, to straddle the gap made by the defenders in the bridge joining the town to the market. Next he bombarded the fortified mill-towers so that the Earl of Worcester’s men-at-arms could charge over the drawbridge and storm the towers. The assault was successful, though Warwick’s cousin, the Earl of Worcester, lost his life when a stone was dropped on his head from the battlements. Now the English had a foothold on the market island, while the garrison was no longer able to grind its corn into flour.

All this time Henry’s attitude to paperwork remained as Napoleonic as ever. A stream of edicts, ordinances and letters, including answers to petitions from England, went out from his headquarters beside Meaux during the siege, possibly the most gruelling experience of his life. Even during the worst months he was constantly sending orders and instructions dealing with a truly immense range of affairs. The supply of munitions naturally ranked high among these. On 18 March 1422 he wrote to his officials: ‘We will and charge you that, in all the haste ye may, ye send unto our cofferer to Rouen all the gunstones that been at our towns of Caen and Harfleur, with all the saltpetre, coal and brimstone that is at Harfleur.’ An order for iron is in the same letter, an order which occurs frequently in his correspondence. A special official, the King’s Clerk of Ordnance, was attached to his headquarters, having responsibility for communications with the artillery depot at Caen and the royal arsenal at Rouen; the Norman administration had been given military duties by Henry, the civilian vicomtes being charged with supplying garrisons with cannon. The king insisted on efficiency – his letters always end with a variant of ‘faileth not in no wise’.

He was obsessed by the problem of supplies. Buying arrows was just one aspect. He purchased 150,000 arrows in England in 1418, a figure which had risen to nearly half a million by 1421; in addition the arsenal at Rouen seems to have manufactured them and in 1420 his commissioners were instructed to press-gang fletchers (arrow makers) to work there without pay. Then there was the question of finding enough remounts, which he appears to have contemplated solving with a huge royal stud. (In April 1421 a commission was issued to a John Longe to travel through England looking for ‘destriers, coursers and other horses suitable for the king’s stud’ and purchasing their use. Weapons, transport, food, finance, military discipline, law and order, diplomacy, affairs in England, all received his meticulous attention.

Meanwhile at Meaux, English cannon had been mounted on a small island in the Marne, protected by earthworks and shelters of heavy timber, from where they battered the adjoining market relentlessly at close range. Warwick contrived to erect a ‘sow’ (a mobile leather shelter on wheels) on the tiny strip of land between its walls and the water, using it to capture an outwork where he mounted a forward battery. Hungerford used wooden bridges to bring guns nearer the wall at another side. Landing on the island, sappers started a mine. At Easter, Henry allowed a truce, launching a general assault shortly afterwards. It was beaten back. But the defenders were beginning to despair. What finally broke their spirit was the sight of a floating siege tower, higher than the market’s walls, carried on two barges and designed for men to attack the rampart tops from the Marne side over a drawbridge. (It was never used, though the king, nothing if not a professional, had it tested after the place had fallen.) At the end of April the garrison in the market sent envoys to negotiate a surrender.

On 10 May Meaux surrendered after a resistance of seven months. It had only fallen because of Henry’s brilliant siegecraft and sheer technical expertise, as a siege it was a genuine masterpiece, as has often been claimed. After the city had finally surrendered he observed the conventions of medieval warfare in leaving its defenders their lives – though nothing else – save for twelve who were specifically excluded from mercy by the articles of surrender. The Bastard of Vaurus and his cousin had their right hands stricken off, were dragged on hurdles through what was left of the streets of Meaux, then beheaded and hanged from their own infamous tree; the bastard’s head was displayed on a lance stuck in the ground beside it, his body at the foot, and his banner thrown over it – the ultimate heraldic symbol of derision. A trumpeter called Orace, ‘one that blew and sounded an horn during the siege’, was taken to Paris for an agonizing public execution in punishment for some unrecorded insult to the king. Louis de Gast was also taken to Paris for execution. Their heads were stuck on lances and put on show at Les Halles.

Almost at once Henry sent 100 particularly valuable prisoners to the Louvre, roped in fours, for shipment to Normandy and thence to England to await ransoming. A few days later he sent another 150. According to the Bourgeois of Paris, probably a spectator, these were chained in twos by the legs, and ‘piled up like pigs’; they were given only a little black bread and water.18 We learn from Jean Juvénal that they were incarcerated in prisons all over Paris, including the Châtelet – a place of ill omen and terrible memory for Armagnacs. There was no organization for feeding such large numbers of prisoners and, according to Jean Juvénal, many died of starvation – some tearing flesh from their comrades’ bodies with their teeth before their own death. Presumably they were not worth much money. The Bishop of Meaux received somewhat better treatment before being taken away to await ransom in England, where he was to die. In all, as many as 800 of those who had surrendered were shipped over the Channel; it is likely that the majority never returned to France, ending their days in semi-slavery as indentured servants. In addition, ‘All the bourgeois and anyone else in the market was forced to hand over any valuable goods they possessed,’ says Jean Juvénal. ‘Those who disobeyed were treated very savagely, and everything contributed to King Henry’s profit. There was more than this. After the bourgeois had lost all they had, several of them were made to buy back their own houses. Through such confiscation the king extorted and amassed large sums of money.’ Bullion, jewels and every conceivable sort of valuable – including an entire legal library – was stored for the time being in special depots at Meaux, together with armour, weapons and other munitions, to await the pleasure of a monarch who had made plunder a fine art.

One prisoner who was very lucky indeed to escape with his life was Dom Philippe de Gamaches, Abbot of St Faro, the nearby monastery which had been Henry’s headquarters throughout the siege. Dom Philippe, a former monk of St Denis, together with three other monks from that abbey, had put on armour and taken up swords to fight the English. The chronicler monk of St Denis – who presumably knew them – tells us that the Bishop of Beauvais had given them all permission ‘to fight for the country’ [‘pugnareque pro patria’]. The bishop was none other than Jean Juvénal des Ursins. Fortunately for Philippe, his brother was dauphinist captain of Compiègne; he purchased the abbot’s life by handing the town over to the English – Henry had intended to drown him.

Baugé was avenged. Moreover a whole string of dauphinist fortresses surrendered in consequence, including Grépy-en-Valois and Offremont – the castle of the Guy de Nesle who had fallen into the moat at Meaux. Henry rode through the countryside receiving the surrender of each stronghold in person, mopping up any local resistance.

Then he celebrated by going to Paris to meet his queen. Monstrelet says that he and his brothers greeted Catherine ‘as though she had been an angel from heaven’. The son and heir who was the cause of so much congratulation had been left behind in England. The reunion took place at the great castle of Bois-de-Vincennes just outside Paris.

Today Vincennes may seem gloomy, a soulless barrack of a place. It has unhappy memories; the Due d’Enghien was shot in the moat in 1804 as was Mata Hari in 1917, it was General Gamelin’s headquarters in June 1940 after which foreign troops occupied it again for four years. Yet Henry’s fondness for Vincennes is understandable. Originally a hunting lodge, being in the woods it was ideally situated for the king’s favourite relaxation – if ever he had time. Catherine’s grandfather, the great King Charles V, had completed the donjon during the 1370s and it was here that Henry lived; his bedroom may still be seen. There were three mighty gatehouses and six tall towers, all linked by curtain walls, and providing enviable accommodation for his high ranking-officers. A hunting scene in the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry shows the fortress-palace in the background, much as it must have looked at this time, and one can see why the Monk of St Denis calls it ‘the most delectable of all the castles of the king of France’. Moreover Vincennes was only three miles from Paris – close enough to overawe the capital if need be, and sufficiently far away to avoid any danger from the mob or dauphinist plots.

At the Louvre, says The First English Life, echoing Monstrelet’s chronicle, ‘on the proper day of Pentecost the King of England and his queen sat together at their table in the open hall at dinner, marvellously glorious, and pompously crowned with rich and precious diadems; dukes also, prelates of the church and other great estates of England and of France, were sat every man in his degree in the same hall where the king and queen kept their estate. The feast was marvellously rich and abundant in sumptuous delicate meats and drinks.’ Unfortunately the splendid effect was somewhat tarnished by no food or drink being offered to the crowds of spectators, as had always been the custom in former days under the Valois monarchs.

The Brut of England records with relish, ‘But as for the King of France he held none other estate nor rule but was almost left alone.’ Charles VI stayed forlornly at the Hôtel de St-Pol, deserted by his nobles since, so Monstrelet informs us, ‘he was managed as the King of England pleased . . . which caused much sorrow in the hearts of all loyal Frenchmen.’ Chastellain comments indignantly that Henry, this ‘tyrant king’, despite promising to honour his father-in-law of France as long as he lived, had made ‘a figurehead [un ydole] of him, a cipher who could do nothing’. Chastellain too says that the spectacle brought tears into the eyes of the Parisians.

Henry spent two days in early June at the Hôtel de Nesle, where he watched a cycle of mystery plays about the martyrdom of his patron, St George. These were staged by Parisians who hoped to ingratiate themselves with the heir and regent of France, their future sovereign. Shortly afterwards he and Catherine, taking with them King Charles and Queen Isabeau, left the capital for Senlis.

A week later a Parisian armourer, who had once been an armourer to Charles VI, together with his wife and their neighbour, a baker, were caught plotting to let the dauphinists into Paris. A strong force of the enemy were standing by in readiness near Compiègne. The civil authority beheaded the armourer and the baker, and drowned the woman.

Atrax in 198 BC

At Atrax in 198 BC, Quinctius Flamininus threw up a siege embankment to carry rams up to the wall, and although his troops entered the town through the resulting breach they were repulsed by the Macedonian garrison. The siege tower that Flamininus then deployed almost fell over when one of its wheels sank in the rutted embankment, and the Romans finally gave up (Livy 32.18.3). Their failure can probably be attributed to inexperience in mechanized siege warfare: first, their siege embankment was obviously insufficiently compacted to bear the weight of heavy machinery; and second, they seem rarely to have used a siege tower before.

PHILIP V. Philip V of Macedon reigned more than a century after Alexander the Great. His family were the Antigonids, who had risen to power some 80 years before. Mercurial by nature, capable of military brilliance as well as acts of colossal stupidity, Philip was a brave and charismatic general who spent his entire reign fighting enemies to the north, south, east and west. The war with Rome was to prove his nemesis.

TITUS QUINCTIUS FLAMININUS. Flamininus was a fine example of the politician who let nothing get in his way. Serving as various types of magistrate during the war with Hannibal, he succeeded in becoming consul – one of the two most senior magistrates in the Republic – at the tender age of 30. Unusually for the time, he could write and speak Greek, but his love of all things Hellenic did not stop him spearheading a successful invasion of Macedon.

Northern Greece


Under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, Macedon rose to a position of pre-eminence never equalled by any Greek city state before or after. By the late third century BC, the kingdom had seen better days. That said, although it was much reduced in size, it remained the dominant military power in Greece and continued to exert huge influence over the region. Naturally, this made it unpopular. Macedon ruled the central region of Thessaly, and through three well-situated fortresses (Chalcis, Demetrias and the Acrocorinth, the so-called `Fetters of Greece’) exerted military control over the area around Athens, as well as on the Peloponnese peninsula. Macedon also ruled part of the coastline of Asia Minor, as well as some of the islands in the Aegean Sea.

The rest of Greece remained divided into city states, small powers ruled by their own citizens. It’s important to stress here that there was almost no sense of `Greekness’ at this time. People identified themselves by the place they lived in, and were often at odds with those from other towns or city states. Powers such as Athens and Sparta, which had ruled supreme centuries before, were but shadows of their former selves. Thebes no longer existed, having been crushed by Alexander, and Corinth lay under Macedonian control. Aetolia, in west-central Greece, was one of the stronger city states, and a bitter enemy of Macedon. Other powers included Argos, Elis and Messenia on the Peloponnese, tiny Acarnania in southwest Greece, and Boeotia, the latter two both being allied to Macedon.

Carthage, Macedon and the Seleucid Empire – had all been beaten by Rome in war. In a mere 50 years, the Republic had morphed from a regional power with few territories into one that utterly dominated the Mediterranean world. This seismic change set Rome on the road to becoming an empire, a self-fulfilling path from which there was no turning back.

The Republic’s war with Carthage lasted for 17 bitter years, from 218 BC to 201 BC. It was a conflict initiated by the Carthaginian military genius Hannibal Barca. Invading Italy by crossing the Alps in winter, he inflicted crushing defeats on the Romans at the Trebbia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae. Yet Hannibal never succeeded in forcing his enemies to surrender. Obdurate and resilient, Rome recruited new legions to replace those that had been annihilated, and fought on. It was a long, drawn-out war that spanned four fronts: mainland Italy, Sicily, Spain and, lastly, Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.

Old grudges die hard

One might think that the Romans would have had enough of war once victory over Hannibal and Carthage had been secured. Far from it. Less than two years after the decisive Battle of Zama, the Republic opened hostilities with King Philip V of Macedon. his wasn’t a conflict that had come from nowhere, however: the Romans and Philip had history with one another.

In 215 BC, the year after the Battle of Cannae, the chance interception of a ship off the southern coast of Italy had brought to light a most unwelcome revelation. Documents seized by the Roman navy proved that Philip and Hannibal had come together in secret alliance against the Republic. The Senate immediately sent a fleet to the east, its task to contain the Macedonian King. Events in Illyria soon took on a life of their own, and in 214 BC, war broke out between Rome and Macedon.

The conflict lingered on until 205 BC, a stop-start affair that played out all around the Greek coastline. Macedon fought alone, while the Romans had allies throughout the region. here were sieges, lightning-fast raids and withdrawals, victories and defeats on both sides. When peace was finally negotiated, the Republic’s war with Hannibal was nearing its final act – it suited the Romans to end the conflict with Macedon. Aetolia, Rome’s chief Greek ally, had had enough too. Philip, on the other hand, had reason to be content, having lost none of his territories and gained part of Illyria.

In the five years that followed, Hannibal was defeated by Scipio at Zama, while Philip busied himself campaigning on the coast of Asia Minor, where he had some successes against Rhodes, the Kingdom of Pergamum and others. For every achievement, however, it seemed Philip suffered a setback. He besieged but failed to take the city of Pergamum, and in a naval battle at Chios he lost a large part of his fleet, as well as thousands of sailors and soldiers. he most humiliating incident was the six months in the winter of 201-200 BC that Philip spent barricaded in a bay in western Turkey by a Pergamene and Rhodian fleet. Finally escaping by night, slipping past the ships of his enemies, he made his way back to Macedon.

Whatever other misjudgements Philip had made, he had been astute enough to avoid conflict with the powerful Seleucid Empire, which controlled most of modern-day Turkey and sprawled eastwards into the Middle East, Afghanistan and India. He also entered into a secret agreement with the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III, that allowed both powers to attack settlements belonging to Ptolemaic Egypt.

Rome’s revenge

Philip’s actions in Asia Minor were to have major repercussions. In the autumn of 201 BC, Rhodes and Pergamum both sent embassies to Rome pleading for aid against him. Despite having rebuffed Aetolian emissaries asking for the same help only a few years before, this time the Senate listened – but its first motion for war was rejected by the Centuriate, the people’s assembly.

It is no surprise that the very people who had bled and died in vast numbers during the struggle against Hannibal were reluctant to pick up their swords and shields again so soon, but their resistance was short-lived. Politicians have always been prone to ignoring decisions made by plebiscite, and after six months – and in all likelihood, after some significant back-room politicking – the Centuriate reversed its decision.

It was late in the summer of 200 BC before an army was dispatched to Illyria. he chosen commander was Publius Sulpicius Galba, an experienced politician and leader who had served in various positions during the war with Hannibal, including that of consul. Setting up base near the city of Apollonia by September, Galba sent a legion up one of the several mountain valleys that led to Macedon. After a short siege, the town of Antipatreia was taken and sacked. Prudently deciding to end his year’s campaign before winter arrived, Galba consolidated his position in Apollonia and waited for the spring.

Philip did the same in Macedon, but as soon as the weather began to improve in early 199 BC, he marched his army west from his capital of Pella. It was difficult to know which route Galba would use to invade; history doesn’t record whether Philip had scouts watching every valley, but it would have made sense to do so.

In the event, Galba chose the Apsus Valley. Philip rushed to defend it, but Rome’s legions smashed past his phalanx and into western Macedon. Although the defeat was incomplete – Philip’s army escaped almost entirely – this was a pivotal moment in the war, when the extraordinarily maneuverable Roman maniple proved itself superior to the rigidly structured phalanx.

Galba’s army marched eastward in search of Philip’s host, and a game of cat and mouse ensued through the summer, with each side seeking battle on its own terms. A victory for the Romans at Ottolobus, when Philip almost lost his life recklessly leading his Companion Cavalry against the enemy, was countered by a Macedonian win at Pluinna. Sadly, the locations of both Ottolobus and Pluinna have been lost to history.

The harvest of 199 BC arrived without a conclusive outcome. Galba, far from his base of Apollonia, with his supply lines at risk of being cut by snow or the Macedonians, took the sensible option and retreated to the Illyrian coast.

Titus Quinctius Flamininus

In many ways, the politics of 2,000 years ago were no different to today: the new man always likes to take control. Although it was common in the mid-Republic for a general to be left in command of the war he was prosecuting, Galba found himself supplanted by the current consul, Villius, soon after his return to Apollonia. Villius in turn was replaced only a few months later, in early 198 BC, by the brand-new consul, Titus Quinctius Flamininus thirty years old – a young age to be in command of a large army – he was a formidable figure who took the invasion in his stride. A lover of all things Hellenic, he could speak and write Greek, something unusual for Romans of the time.

Flamininus decided to try a different valley to Galba, that of the River Aous. He found his path blocked by Philip’s phalanx and an impressive series of defences, leading to a 40-day stand-off during which the Romans must have mounted many unsuccessful attacks. A dramatic meeting between Flamininus and Philip took place during this time, across the Aous. The Roman historian Livy records that Flamininus demanded Philip remove his garrisons from all Greek towns and pay reparations to those whose lands he had ravaged: Athens, Pergamum and Rhodes. Unpalatable though these demands were – being issued to a Hellenic king on his own territory by a non-Greek invader – Philip conceded. Unsurprisingly, he balked at Flamininus’ next demand, that he should surrender the towns of Thessaly to their own populations, reversing a legacy of Macedonian control of more than 150 years.

The impasse resumed, but soon after a local guide was found to lead a Roman force up and around the Macedonian positions. Attacked from in front and behind, Philip’s army broke and fled; it was thanks only to the phalanx that a complete slaughter was prevented. Pursued eastward, Philip had to abandon the same Thessaly he had refused to deliver to Flamininus only days before. It was a humiliating moment for the Macedonian King, all the more so as he had to torch his own farmland and towns to deny supplies to the enemy.

Defeat seemed imminent, but redemption was to come from an unexpected quarter. Despite the loss of the strategically important fortress of Gomphi, Philip’s forces proved victorious at another stronghold, Atrax. When the Roman catapults battered a hole in the wall and the legionaries charged in, they were faced by the phalanx in a tightly confined space. he sources are silent on details, but what happened there persuaded Flamininus to retreat from Thessaly.

Fine September weather meant that the year’s campaign did not come to an end at the usual time. Flamininus’s considerable successes saw the Greek city states, many of which had been playing neutral, move towards the Roman camp – or in the case of Aetolia and Achaea, join it outright. Several towns in Boeotia fell to the legions, and the mighty fortress of the Acrocorinth was besieged by a combined force of Romans, Pergamenes and Achaeans. his attack failed, but it signalled the end of Philip’s ability to retain territories outside Macedon. he future looked bleak.

Macedonian phalanx

The Romans had been fighting the Macedonian phalanx for more than a century. Pyrrhus defeated the Romans with it in the early third century, the Carthaginians in Africa in the middle of the century did as well, and Hannibal did the same later. In 197 bc the Romans had won a terrifying victory against Perseus’s father at Cynoscephalae, a battle that vividly illustrated the terrible power of the phalanx’s charge, even on unsuitable ground. In the year 198 bc before Cynoscephalae, the Roman siege of Atrax had failed when a Macedonian phalanx drawn up in a breach in the wall had proved quite impervious to Roman attack. Polybius’s judgment that “when the phalanx has its characteristic virtue and strength nothing can sustain its frontal attack or withstand the charge” will have been no news to Roman commanders. The phalanx’s fatal flaw, Polybius says, is that it requires flat terrain so that it can preserve its close order. Perseus’s father’s unwise decision to fight on broken ground allowed the Romans to defeat him at Cynoscephalae. But Aemilius Paullus consented to fight the Macedonian phalanx on a plain, ideally suited to it, on ground that Perseus had chosen for exactly that reason.

Crisis of conference

In likely recognition of this, Philip agreed to a conference with Flamininus and his allies in November 198 BC. It also suited the wily Flamininus to negotiate, because in Rome, consular elections were around the corner. If he was to be replaced (as he had done to Villius) then a peace treaty with Philip was the best option; if his command was renewed, on the other hand, Flamininus could fight Macedon to a finish.

Three days of heated negotiations without agreement saw Philip request to send an embassy to Rome; he would abide, he said, by the decision of the Senate. Flamininus agreed, knowing full well that once there, Philip would be asked to surrender the three fortresses that protected Macedon to the south – the so-called `Fetters of Greece’, Acrocorinth, Chalcis and Demetrias. And so it proved. Flamininus’ command was renewed, and Philip’s outwitted ambassadors could not agree to the Senate’s demand to evacuate the Fetters. Both parties retired for the winter.

In spring 197 BC, the war resumed. Rather than in mountain valleys, this year the fighting would take place in Thessaly. By May, both armies were marching towards each other on the coast. Taking account of his allies, Flamininus had about 26,000 men; Philip’s troops were of similar strength, including 16,000 phalangists.

Skirmishes and maneuvering saw both parties march westward, separated by a range of hills. As is often the case with battles of vital importance, the fighting began by accident when Flamininus’s scouts clashed with Philip’s advance force in bad weather, atop the hills of Cynoscephalae. Reinforcements were sent by both sides as the skirmish spiralled out of control and, before long, both commanders had deployed their armies.

The phalanx falters

Unhappy with the ground and lacking half of his phalanx (which was out scouting), Philip went to battle reluctantly. At first, things went well, with his phalangists driving the Roman left flank down the hillside towards their own camp. Victory might have seemed possible, but things changed fast when Flamininus led his right flank up towards the second half of Philip’s phalanx, which had arrived late to the battle. Panicked by the Romans’ elephants, these disorganised phalangists broke and ran.

Misfortune then turned into disaster for Philip when a quick-thinking Roman officer broke away from Flamininus’ position with several thousand legionaries and attacked the exposed flank and rear of the remaining half of the phalanx. Unable to defend themselves, the phalangists were slain in large numbers; the rest fled the field.

The defeat did not see Philip removed from his throne by Flamininus. Rome was well aware of the threat posed by the wild peoples to the north of Macedon and the Seleucid Empire to its east. Philip could serve nicely as a buffer, while also paying reparations and sending one of his sons to Rome as a hostage.

Effectively, Cynoscephalae signalled the end of Macedonian and Greek independence. he city states that had allied themselves to the Republic would realise this too late, and just a year later, in 196 BC, the Aetolians lamented how the Romans had unshackled the feet of the Greeks only to put a collar around their necks.