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More things Tom didn’t know: The 18th and 19th century European military edition

In the 18th century, one reason for a distinction between enlisted and officers was that it made it easier to assimilate foreigners into the enlisted ranks, which was done in great numbers.

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— In the 18th century, one reason for a distinction between enlisted and officers was that it made it easier to assimilate foreigners into the enlisted ranks, which was done in great numbers.

— One reason soldiers were signed up for life (or for 25 years, which amounted to pretty much the same thing) in the 18th century was the fear of rulers that discharged veterans would make natural leaders of peasant revolts.

— During the particularly cold winter of 1794-1795, a French cavalry detachment rode out on the ice near the island of Texel, Holland, and captured the immobilized Dutch fleet. It is, supposedly, the only time in history that a navy has surrendered to a cavalry force.

— Of the 57,000 soldiers from the Kingdom of Italy who fought for Napoleon in Spain and Russia, only 16,000 survived.

— In the early 19th century, artillery, then driven by the Industrial Revolution to becoming less expensive, more mobile and more accurate, and so more important, was looked down on by the officer-gentlemen of cavalry and infantry as a sadly middle-class pursuit for grubby technicians. It was the most democratic of branches, with enlisted going to school together with officers in both France and Austria. In Britain, it was separate from the army.

— Wellington was much more impressed by his infantry than his cavalry, which had a reputation for charging off wildly.

Can any of you recommend books on how the Industrial Revolution forced militaries to change? I am especially interested in leading edge, from the late 18th century to the fall of Napoleon.

Thinking about military structure . . . .

Guilherme Paula/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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