Thursday, 10 August 2017

To war for Missouri

Mathias Buss was born in Pennsylvania in about 1834, destined to be one of the Northern states in the American Civil War. But by 1860, according to the Federal census, he was living in Carthage, Missouri, working as a brick mason. Carthage was a new town, only founded in 1842, but by 1860 it had over 500 residents. Importantly for future events, Carthage is in the deep south of Missouri.

One year after that census Missouri was at war. Missouri’s position in the Civil War was complicated. Unlike say, Georgia, the Missouri State Government actually voted to stay in the Union. But many of the population supported the Confederacy, especially after heavy handed intervention and the massacre of civilians by a Union force under General Nathanial Lyon. The pro-Confederates, including the Governor, withdrew to the south of the state in 1861, where a successful general of the US Mexican war, Sterling Price, was appointed commander of Missourian forces. Meanwhile, the Union started recruiting troops from the north of the state. Thus, Missouri contributed troops to both sides in the Civil War. 

The initial clashes took place between Union troops and Missouri State Guard units, supported increasingly by troops from other states. Mathias is recorded as being at the following;

Cole Camp – June 19th 1861. 350 Missouri State Guard attacked and routed about 500 Union militia in their camp and routed them. The Missouri State Guard were poorly equipped, at least at the beginning. Many reportedly used a white flannel arm band as uniform, whilst one major effect of the battle at Cole Camp was to equip them with another 350 muskets.

Note that there was in fact a battle at Carthage in July 5th 1861, where the Missouri State Guard beat a (smaller) Union force, but Mathias is not recorded as being there. This was the first proper Missourian victory, and gave a great boost to morale, increasing pro-Confederate recruitment. 

Wilson Creek – August 10th 1861, near Springfield Missouri. Twelve thousand Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops, mainly from Arkansas under Price beat 5,400 Union troops under Lyon, including some Union Missouri regiments.

 The Battle of Wilson Creek

Lexington – September 12th to 20th 1861. 15,000 Missouri State Guard under Price defeated 3,500 Union troops garrisoning Lexington.

 The Battle of Lexington

Elk Horn/ Pea ridge – March 7-8th 1862. Near Leetown, Arkansas. Despite their successes the previous year the Missouri forces, still technically independent of the Confederate army, were pushed back into Arkansas. In March the 15,000 pro-Confederate forces, consisting of the Missouri State Guard, Confederate forces mainly from Arkansas and Texas, and an Indian Brigade of Cherokees and Choctaws, counter attacked 12,000 Union troops. Despite some early successes including a massed cavalry charge, the Confederate forces were driven off, ending any chance of a return to Missouri. Missourian forces spent the rest of the war fighting outside their state, and Missouri itself degenerated into civil war.

There was then a pause allowing Price to organise the Missouri State Guard into official units of the Confederate army. By April 1862, Mathias was in the 4th Missouri Regiment of the Confederate army, First Sergeant of F company. The 4th carried the Van Dorn battle flag.

Siege of Corinth  - April to May 1862. This was by far the largest battle Mathias had been involved in. One hundred twenty thousand Union forces attacked the strategically important town of Corinth, Mississippi, on the Mississippi river. The garrison of 65,000 Confederate troops was forced to retreat after a month long siege, but most managed to withdraw safely.

Battle of Iuka - Sept 9th 1862. A mixed force of about 3,000 Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana troops was defeated by 4,500 Union and withdrew south.
On Nov 7th 1862, the 1st and 4th Missouri were combined, presumably due to heavy casualties, with Mathias now  First Lieutenant in Company B. Later he was to become captain of company B.

Mathias ‘s next, and last, battle took place in May next year. The 1st/4th Missourians were now in Mississippi, part of the Confederate forces attempting to hold the Union before the fortress city of Vicksburg. On May 17th they were part of a force of 5,000 troops ordered to hold the bank of the Big Black (!) River, or rather a bayou in front of the river, behind rough defences of logs and cotton bales. Unfortunately, the Union troops out flanked them, charging into an inexperienced brigade from Tennessee and breaking them. The Confederates broke and fled back to the Big Black River, some got back across the bridge there, but many drowned in the river or were captured.

And that was it for Mathias, the last battle he is recorded as fighting in. He certainly survived, but possibly he was one of the 1,700 taken prisoner. The 1st/4th Missourians fought on without him. They fought in the Atlanta Campaign, were part of Hood's operations in Tennessee, and became part of the forces defending Mobile. Only a remnant surrendered in May, 1865. 

But Mathias survived. In the 1870 census he is living with a young wife, Lucy, a Virginia girl 10 years his junior, and with two young children, Elizabeth (2) and James (1). Working again as a brick mason. And life went on. In 1881 he gave away his daughter to be married, to a Charles Jones in Bates, Missouri. And in 1900 he passed away, and was buried in the Confederate cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri, a long way from where he was born, but in the state he had lived most of his life, and had fought for.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Denmark to the rescue?

With England in chaos in the English Civil War, and militarily weak even before that, it might have been thought that this would be a tempting target for foreign powers, either for invasion, or at least to determine the result. Yet this did not happen, at least on a significant scale. The obvious candidates historically would have been France and Spain, not least because Charles’s wife, Henrietta Maria, was a French princess. But both these countries were heavily involved in the Thirty Years War and internal revolts, and in no state for foreign adventures. Of course, this didn’t stop Parliament raising scares of invasion from Spain, France…. and Denmark.

Why Denmark?

Denmark was considerably larger at this time, being in a union with Norway, and was a significant military power. Crucially, it had withdrawn from the Thirty Years War in 1629 and so had uncommitted troops. Beyond this, there were personal links to the Royalist camp, not least of which was that Charles’s mother, Anne, had been the sister of the Danish king, Christian IV. Several prominent Royalists had even served with the Danish army, including Sir Jacob Astley, who commanded the Royalist infantry during the war.
Denmark was therefore an obvious place to ask for support, and Charles didn’t waste time, even in the Bishop’s wars against Scotland. And yet no troops arrived, even when he offered to mortgage Orkney and the Shetlands to Denmark. He tried again in 1642 to get troops for use against Parliament, even reportedly offering to add Newcastle to the mortgage deal, and again no troops were forthcoming.

Christian IV, wounded at the Battle of Colberer in the Torstensson War
Why no Danish troops?

Even a small Danish contingent would have been useful to Charles, especially at the start of the war when trained and experienced English infantry were in very short supply. Beyond this they would have been Protestant, avoiding some of the negative publicity arising from the Catholic Irish troops that he did get. So why did they not appear?
One reason was probably because Charles had offered a military expedition to support Christian back at the time of Denmark’s involvement in the Thirty Years war, and had not send any, so this hardly encouraged trust and fellow feeling. It has to be said that this was a bit of a pattern with Charles. And secondly, Parliament had made its own contacts with Denmark, that to an extent counter balanced Royalist influence. But the main reason was probably Sweden. Sweden was the major power in northern Europe at this time, and a bitter rival of Denmark. Christian could therefore hardly spare significant troop numbers for foreign adventures. And he was right, in 1643 Sweden launched a blitzkrieg, occupying much Danish territory and capturing a large part of the Danish fleet, the Torstensson War.
If the reported mortgage deal is real, it does raise some questions of what would have happened if it had been taken up. What exactly would the Danes have got in Newcastle, and how could they have enforced ownership if Charles had defaulted, as on past experience he probably would have done. Conversely, if the Danes had decided to keep the Orkneys, what then? Even worse, imagine that Denmark had passed on the mortgage to Sweden as war reparations, recovering the islands from the powerful Swedish fleet would not have been easy.

What Denmark did do

This is not to say that Denmark was no help to Charles at all. There were frequent complaints from Parliament of Danish arms shipments, at least one of which they managed to confiscate. Denmark also controlled the entrance to the Baltic, and to the major trading centre at Hamburg, via a fortress at Gluckstadt. In August 1643 Christian ordered all ships belonging to Parliamentary held ports found in Denmark, Norway or Gluckstadt to be seized and all imports from London to be banned.
So Denmark did have some influence on the English Civil War, but not as much as Charles originally hoped.


The English Civil War: Conflict and Contexts, 1640-49, edited by John Adamson.
The Impact of the English Civil War on the Economy of London, 1642-50, by Ben Coates

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Kent Trained Bands in the Civil War

The trained bands were, basically, the militia. Although “trained” seems to have sometimes been a slight exaggeration, they were organised and equipped and so an important resource in the lead up to Civil War, especially as there was no significant “national army” at the time. By far the most important were those of London, which had a significant effect on the course of the war. The trained bands in Kent were much smaller, but they did have the advantage that, unlike those of some counties, they could be deployed outside their county.

William Waller

The situation in Kent

Kent was a deeply divided county in the Civil War. Although nominally under Parliamentary control, there were risings in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks in 1643 (see an earlier blog), Canterbury in 1647 and a major uprising in 1648, culminating in the Battle of Maidstone. The Trained Bands however remained firmly in Parliamentary control, even in 1648, and formed part of the Southern Association under Sir William Waller (who was born in Knowle House in Sevenoaks in Kent).

The Bands were organised into “lathes” or areas, a system unique to Kent and possibly dating to the time when Kent was an independent kingdom1, which might also explain the naming system, as even a cursory glance at a map shows that these are not the most significant places in Kent, and nor were they in the 1640s. Anyway, there were five in total, basically dividing the county north to south. Working from west to east;
Sutton at Hone – adjoining London, including Blackheath, Bromley, Dartford and Westerham
Aylesford – from Chatham and Rochester in the north  to Tonbridge in the south, with the county town, Maidstone.
Scraye – a more rural area, though including Ashford and Faversham. Parts of the Lathe seem to have been strongly Baptist, with in 1670 800 people attending a meeting at Egerton.
St Augustines – Canterbury, and the north Kent ports of Dover, Deal and Sandwich
Shepway – the south Kent ports of Folkestone, Hythe and Romney.

Each area was supposed to supply militia, as well as “auxiliaries” “volunteers” and “Horse”, ie, cavalry.  Note, most of what appears below is from the excellent BCW Project site at
In 1638 the Kent Trained bands were recorded as having, in total, 4,667 men, with 2,910 muskets and 1,757 corsets (ie. armour for the pikemen) as well as 293 horse. Unfortunately, their equipment was severely criticised just the next year, as many of the muskets didn’t work and the pikes were rotten!

Active history

In 1639 each of the Lathes contributed to a force to be sent north for the ill fated Bishops War in Scotland, 998 men in total. They went by sea, assembling at Gravesend and traveling on naval vessels supplemented with colliers to Harwich where they picked up men from the Essex Trained Bands and sail for Scotland where they were all combined into Sir Thomas Morton’s Regiment of Foot. Perhaps fortunately given the state of their equipment, they were not tested in battle, just occupying the islands of Incholm and Inchkeith, but the regiment did lose 100 men to smallpox.
In 1640 each of the Lathes contributed to a force to be sent north for another “Bishops War” in Scotland, 700 men in total. 

In the Civil War Kent was officially on the Parliamentarian side, with placemen in most of the important positions in the county and the Kent Trained Bands forming part of the Southern Association under Sir William Waller.
Aylesford Lathe  – the Trained Band was initially under Colonel Sir Francis Barnham (the MP for Maidstone) and later Colonel Mark Dixwell, and took part in the Siege Arundel in 1643/4. The Volunteers under Colonel George Newman are recorded at the Second Battle of Newbury in 1643. The Horse may have work blue as they are recorded in 1599 being issued with “cassocks” of this colour.
St Augustine Lathe – under Colonel Sir George Sondes at the start of the war, though he was a Royalist and was later imprisoned and lost much of his estate. He flourished after the restoration and was made Earl of Faversham. His Colonel of Horse, Sir Richard Hardress was initially on the Parliamentarian side and was at the Siege of Arundel, but later he joined the Royalist uprising in 1648. In contrast, the Volunteers were used to put down an uprising in Canterbury in 1647 (their home patch) and one company of the auxiliaries was in garrison in Canterbury in 1648.
Scraye Lathe – under the elderly Sir Edward Hales at the start of the war, the trained band took part in the Siege of Arundel, as did the volunteers under Colonel William Herbert and the Horse. Hale’s grandson was a Royalist and raised a regiment of Horse for the 1648 uprising.
Shepway Lathe – under Colonel Sir Humphrey Hales. The Horse at least were at the siege of Arundel.
Sutton at Hone Lathe – under Sir Francis Walsingham in 1639 and later under Colonel Thomas Blunt. The Volunteers under Colonel Sir William Brooke were at the Relief of Gloucester and later the First Battle of Newbury, in 1643, as well as the Siege of Arundel in 1644. The Horse were initially under Sir John Rivers, though he joined the Royalist uprising at Tonbridge in 1643 (see earlier blog).

1 See

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kent - The Coming of the White Horse

After the Roman legions left England the Romano-British were left to their own devices, which would have been fine except for one thing, there were plenty of others willing to take their place, Picts in the north and Saxons on the East. “Saxons” incidentally didn't come from “Saxony”, the word was used much as European settlers described the diverse Native American tribes as “Indians”. In fact “Saxons” covers many different Germanic tribes. There was also no “Britain” as such, or even “England”, as authority broke down. What does seem clear is that the leader opposing the Saxons was called Vortigern.

Vortigern is a bit of a shadowy figure, not least because most of the sources we have now were written  by Saxon writers, and even then many years after the event. Whether is was some sort of overlord of the Britons, or just a local ruler in the south east, he at least controlled the richest region in England, and thus the most tempting target. His response was to hire mercenaries. In 449 he invited a a group of Jutes, from Jutland in Denmark, to serve under his command, giving in return the Isle of Thanet for their use (under his sovereignty of course). The tribal leader, Hengist, agreed. And it worked, Hengist and his brother Horsa, beating off raiders whilst their families built up  a settlement on Thanet (basically the eastern tip of Kent around Margate, which was actually  an island at the time). In fact, it worked so well that Vortigern offered to marry their sister Rowena, cementing ties between the two groups.

Hengist was a bit more ambitious than that. He had seen at close hand how rich, and vulnerable, Vortigern's state was and he hatched a plan. This plan, according to legend, consisted of agreeing to the wedding and when the British party arrived, including of course all the important people in the state, he would butcher then and decapitate the establishment. The plan failed, Vortigern and his brother Catigern, managing to escape with their lives. The stage was now set for a short and bitter civil war, Vortigern raised an army and returned, burning with vengeance.

The Forces

Details are vague and contradictory, but a good summary of current ideas is at

The British

The Romano British saw themselves as the inheritors of Roman civilisation, defending themselves against barbarians. In the north there were well established legionary settlements, including possibly the descendants of Samaritan heavy cavalry, and firm alliances with local tribes, Unfortunately, in the south there was neither, and defence rested on local levies. Some of the old Roman coastal forts were still strong, but society was not especially martial.

Vortigern probably had a bodyguard of about 150-300 men, the Bucellarii or Teulu, looking similar to Roman light cavalry with mail shirts, swords and javelins. These would have been good troops. But the bulk of his force would have been local levies, organised and armed as a cut-price version of the Legions, in units of 100 with a shield, spear and javelin, but lacking the training or iron discipline of the Romans.

The Saxons

The Saxons were a different force entirely, more akin to pirates, or doubtless adventurers in their own minds. Most in this case came from Hengist's homeland of Jutland, though not necessarily all, as he was already known throughput the Germanic world.

Like the British, the core of the army was a body guard of several hundred men, the “comitatus” or “gesith”, and these were probably the first to arrive. But as words spread of Hengist's successes men swarmed across to join him in Kent.

The “Saxons” were “men with seaxes”, a type of large knife, and this seems to have been a signature weapon, though most had a spear and a circular shield with an iron boss. The wealthy or important had mail shirts, and often a broadsword. And all were professional warriors, more than a match, man to man, for most of the British they would face in southern England.

The Conquest

Again, what happens next is disputed (well, this is the “Dark” ages). But a rough approximation is that, after several skirmishes, the two sides met in 455 at a ford on the river Medway, at Aylesford. The river Medway divides Kent east/ west, with presumably the Saxons arriving from the east, from their base in Thanet, and Vortigern arriving from his territories to the west. Details are unclear, but it seems to have been hard fought, with Horsa and Catigern both falling, and the Saxons being driven back towards Thanet. More skirmishes followed, with a huge battle at Crayford in 457 which according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was a Saxon victory, although by 466 Vortigern's son Vortimer had almost driven  Hengist into the sea, with a climatic battle at Ebbsfleet (“Wippedesfleote”) near Ramsgate. Here Vortimer was killed, and in the resulting power vacuum the Saxons stormed back, finally establishing complete control.  Hengist, and his son Oisc, invited more settlers from back home and established them to the west of the Medway, keeping the East for his own tribe.

The “country” Hengist set up became known as Kent, using his family banner of a prancing white horse on a red background (“Hengist” being “stallion” in Old German). It remained as an independent state, more or less, for over 300  years until it was finally annexed by Mercia in 785.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Forest Warfare in 1840s North America - Part 2

British troops against Quebecois rebels at the Battle of Saint Eustach, 1837. The British regiments in Canada in 1842 had already considerable experiance, but not necessarily in forest warfare.

In the 1842 volume of the United Service Magazine of London (available as a free Google ebook) Sir J.E. Alexander of the 14th Regiment of Foot gave his thoughts of the special requirements of fighting in North America, in an article entitled "On Bush Fighting"


Movement through woodland made parade ground drill impossible, but some degree of cohesion still had to be kept, a difficult balance as these two passages show...

"In advancing through a wood in extended order great attention must be paid to preserving the line as correctly as possible: if skirmishers advance too far, or carelessly fall back too much, the consequences may be fatal to themselves or to their comrades; also distances between the files should be kept as correctly as possible".

"When the soldier advances, he should not go straight forward, but should move at an angle toward some tree or other cover, to the right or left of what he has just quitted. The reason for this is obvious: if an advance is made straightforward toward the enemy, the latter has no occasion to alter his aim, whereas obliquing toward him obliges him to take a "flying," or a difficult shot. In retreating, the same mode must be practised,—look behind for the next shelter, fire, and, concealed by the smoke, oblique to the selected cover".


" Before taking one's company into the bush, it is requisite that the men can well riddle a target at 100, 150, and 200 yards' distance—both a fixed target, man's size, and a moveable one, passed along a rope, between two posts."

To motivate the men during target practice Alexander recommends a bounty of a shilling per bulls eye.
In the field each man should carry a "powderhorn to contain 100 charges, and 100 bullets in their patches, disposed in a long and narrow waist-pouch, with 120 caps, will not encumber the soldier, and, if well managed, will serve for a good day's fighting."

Although the rifle was a superior weapon, it was "advisable to impress soldiers armed with smooth barrels with the belief that there is no superiority in the rifle, if they keep moving, as they ought to do, in the bush". And indeed, the new percussion musket "used in platoon firing, always with the front rank kneeling, leaves little to be desired in the way of an efficient weapon".

In forests, "the first rule for bush-fighting is (after careful loading), that the soldier should fire to the right of the tree; thus the smallest portion of the person is exposed".

This was the age of gunpowder, where the smoke from a discharge might be easily seen by an enemy - nonetheless that might well be an advantage..,

" When an Indian, pursued, throws himself into a ravine, he does not cross it at once, but, covering himself with the bank, he fires at his exposed pursuers, and then, concealed by the smoke, moves to the right, left, or rear, as he deems best".

Close order work

Alexander devotes several paragraphs to hand to hand combat, and clearly expected this to be a part of any actions in the future. Of course, part of the importance here was psychological...

" Whatever gives the men a real or fancied superiority over an enemy is useful: thus a simple bayonet exercise, teaching the men to parry carte and tierce, and to thrust with the musket and bayonet, and recover themselves easily from a short lunge".


Ambushes and Night Attacks

" Cautiously creeping on the enemy, taking advantage of cover, and rushing on him, and striking with lead or steel, when he is caught at advantage, are the principles of bush-fighting".

Properly executed, a surprise attack could sweep away the enemy - the operative word being "surprise" as Alexander says...

" It has been proposed to make a charge on foot through the enemy's voltigeurs in this way: suddenly close the skirmishers to the centre, advance at the double, dash through the opposite line of skirmishers, wheel by subdivisions to the right and left, and sweep down and put to the rout the enemy's line. It is objected to this mode of attack, that if it is suspected the enemy will pour in a very destructive fire on the advancing company or column, and perhaps fatally shake it".

One option of course was to attack at night, which gave a much greater chance of catching the enemy unawares. Some officers apparently thought night attacks were " un-English and cowardly". Alexander disagrees, citing British experience in Africa and Arabia. In his opinion,

" There is no doubt that a sudden rush of even a few pikemen, broadswordmen, or even bayoneteers, through an enemy's bivouac at night, thrusting at all they met, would produce the greatest confusion, and little injury would result to the assailants; fire in the dark being so very -uncertain, and nearly harmless".

Using the Forest

If possible, Alexander recommends the practice of the Burmese, who "by the dexterous use of cutting tools, as we observed in the late war in Ava, were in the habit of inclosing themselves nightly (in the bush and near their enemy) in good stockades; no nocturnal rush could be made through their encampments; this was also the Roman practice".

In fact, there was much good use to be made of felled timber.

"Artificial intrenchments in wooded countries are easiest made by felling trees; a breastwork or bank of earth, or of stones, must be employed when there are no trees. It is wonderful how little covers a man from fire: a rifleman will lie down behind a stone a foot high, on an exposed slope, and render good service, with safety to himself".

And of course trees not only a good defence, but could be used to delay the enemy (which might be very important in any delaying action against invaders. He recommends a rear guard of men armed with hatchets ("not bill hooks") to fell trees across the path, and delay the enemy as much as possible.

Mounted Riflemen

The British deployment in Canada was remarkably low in cavalry compared to, say, India, and Alexander makes no mention of cavalry as such, but he is in favour of mounted riflemen.

" With regard to Mounted Riflemen, we think they are a most valuable arm on service, especially in Canada or North America; they ought, of course, to have none of the showy trappings of the dragoons, but a serviceable and dark uniform,-say a double-breasted frock".

As for armament, Alexander sees little difference between a fusil or a rifle, as long as it could " throw a ball well, and at a long range", but a bayonet was essential, and also a "good straight sabre" to "enable then to act as dragoons in the charge".

On deployment the ideal was for " two-thirds of them to scour the bush, leaving one-third outside in charge of the horses, at a safe distance from danger." The sabre, of course, would be left with the horses.

 Defence of settlements

When defending a settlement (there is more talk of retreat and defence in the article than perhaps Alexander realised) " a careful officer will immediately reconnoitre all round it, and at some distance from it, and he will not trust to other eyes than his own to gain a knowledge of the localities".

Otherwise he gives this advice on defending a settlement

" Voltigeurs will, of course, when they can, always take advantage of buildings, particularly if they occupy a commanding position, and can be made defensible by the assistance of abbatis, &c., and have a supply of water. The lower story will be barricaded with what materials may be at hand, and loop-holes be contrived in the windows of the upper. Cover for the enemy, if time will permit, ought to be cleared away in front, and above all things a flanking fire ought to be obtained; a porch affords a good one along the front of a building. The church in a village will be of course the citadel, the streets leading to it being blocked up by waggons, trees, fences, &c".