You may read it in the ruins of this place…

By Richard Israel

In my first book for Helion Cannon Played from the Great Fort’ Sieges in the Severn Valley during the English Civil War 1642-1646, I have examined the towns of Bristol, Gloucester, Worcester, Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury. All of these towns had medieval walls, albeit in a variety of conditions.

However, the focus of this short article is Taunton in Somerset.  Unlike any of our case studies, it began the war with no earthworks surrounding it.[1] Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper noted that any defences were “but pales and hedges and no line about the town”.[2] The town does have a stone castle, of which construction was commenced around 1107 AD by William Gifford[3] near the bank of the River Tone.

Taunton experienced three sieges during the Civil War. The first siege began September 1644 and was a Royalist plan to retake the town from Parliament. After two failed attempts to storm the town, the Royalists tried to blockade the town with a perimeter of one to two miles (1.60-3.21 kilometres), and established garrisons at Chideock, Cokum, Wellington and Wycraft houses. They were unsuccessful.[4] The siege ended on 15 December 1644.[5]  

On 11 April 1645, Goring under directions from Prince Rupert sent the artillery and foot of Sir Joseph Wagstaff towards Taunton; whilst the horse went east to watch for any Parliamentary reinforcements approaching.[6]

Having around 4,200 foot and 2,000 horse, the Royalists began to increase their attacks. However, the town defences had been improved–illustrating how quickly preparations were made. The first defensive line consisted of two forts; whilst a second line inside the town was of fortified houses, barricades and entrenchments. The Royalists attack had three approach lines, which were covered by artillery. A night assault at 07:00 p.m. on 8 May 1645, captured the two forts.[7]

Inside the defenders’ line, houses were on fire. On 9 May 1645, the town was attacked at 11:00 a.m. By 06:00 p.m., the castle, church and Muyden’s Fort were still held by the besieged; although 20 houses were burnt by grenades and mortar fire. The town did not have enough fodder for horses and people were starving.[8]

A relief force, containing some 6,000 men, under the command of Weldon approached the town and drove off the Royalists.[9] After 94-days, the siege had left 150 garrison soldiers dead, another 200 hundred wounded, two-thirds of the houses destroyed and people starving. Bed cords were used as matches for musketeers, and to keep the horses alive, thatch from the roofs had been taken down to feed them.[10]

The third siege was a brief affair. By July, Fairfax was able to manoeuvre the New Model Army into Somerset, and face the Royalists under the command of Goring at the Battle of Langport on 10 July 1645.[11]

Evidence of the Civil War can be seen in the archaeological record in the form of defensive ditches, with one on Canon Street measuring 1.5m in depth and 5m in width. A siegework with banks of earth 3m in height near the north-east side of the castle has also been examined.[12] Further research, including the role of the castle in the war, is necessary.

“You may read it in the ruins of this place…her heaps of rubbish, her consumed houses, a multitude of which are raked in their own ashes. Here a poor forsaken chimney, and there a little fragment of a wall that have escaped to tell what barbarous and monstrous wretches there have been”.[13]

The words of the Minister of Taunton, George Newton in 1646 illustrates that the town of Taunton was a microcosm of the Civil War. The evidence of despair, destruction–the effects of siege warfare is clearly seen in the historical and archaeological records.  

Preliminary research for my second book for Helion, involving an examination of the castles during the Civil War is underway. Like ‘Cannon Played from the Great Fort’ Sieges in the Severn Valley during the English Civil War 1642-1646 it will involve an examination of the geology, topography, cartographic, historical and archaeological evidence available.

A copy of ‘Cannon Played from the Great Fort’ Sieges in the Severn Valley during the English Civil War 1642-1646 can be purchased here.

Bibliography

Gathercole, Clare, Somerset Extensive Urban Survey – Taunton Archaeological Assessment (Taunton: Somerset County Council, 2002).

Morris, Robert, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645 (Bristol: Stuart Press, 1995).

Prior, Stuart, A few well–positioned castles: The Norman Art of War (Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2006)

Underdown, David Somerset in the Civil War and Interregnum (Newton Abbot: David & Charles (Holdings Ltd, 1973).

Turton, Alan, Civil War in Wessex (Salisbury: Wessex Books, 2015).

Wroughton, John, An Unhappy Civil War: The Experiences of Ordinary People in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, 1642-1646 (Bath: The Lansdown Press, 1999).


[1] Robert Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645 (Bristol: Stuart Press, 1995), pp.5-6.

[2] David Underdown, Somerset in the Civil War and Interregnum (Newton Abbot: David & Charles (Holdings Ltd, 1973), p.80.

[3] Stuart Prior, A few well–positioned castles: The Norman Art of War (Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2006), p.71.

[4] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, p.6.

[5] Alan Turton, Civil War in Wessex (Salisbury: Wessex Books, 2015), p.22.

[6] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, p.7.

[7] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, p.7.

[8] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, pp.7-8.

[9] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, p.8.

[10] John Wroughton, An Unhappy Civil War: The Experiences of Ordinary People in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, 1642-1646 (Bath: The Lansdown Press, 1999), p.227.

[11] Morris, The Sieges of Taunton 1644-1645, p.11.

[12] Clare Gathercole, Somerset Extensive Urban Survey – Taunton Archaeological Assessment (Taunton: Somerset County Council, 2002), p.28.

[13] Wroughton, An Unhappy Civil War, p.195.

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801

By Charles White

Chuck White talks about the writing of his recent book, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801, for our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series.

If you are a student of German military prowess, then you need to read my book. Although much ink has been spilled on the subject of German military history over the past three centuries, with campaign and battle studies, memoirs, biographies, uniform plates and guides, orders of battle, wargames, and much more, far too much time and energy has been sadly devoted to the 12 years of the Nazi period. No other period of German history has been dissected more. For many, it would seem, Germany has only twelve years of history, from 1933 to 1945. Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is an attempt to rectify this sorry state of affairs. 

The origins of my book began during my junior year at West Point (1972-73). During the spring semester I took my first elective (we were given only six), which was a history course entitled, ‘War and Society’, taught by the academy’s first visiting professor – Jay Luvaas, a leading American scholar of military history. The research paper topic I drew literally from a hat was ‘The Impact of the Napoleonic Wars on Prussia’. All of the topics were overly broad for a 25-page paper, which gave us cadets some latitude in narrowing our focus on a subject to our liking, with the parameters of our topic. After conducting my preliminary research (and encouraged by Professor Luvaas), I settled on Gerhard von Scharnhorst (1755-1813), the great reformer of the Prussian military establishment following her catastrophic defeat at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.

The title of my paper, ‘Scharnhorst: Father of the Modern Army’, reflected my belief that the modernization program Scharnhorst implemented, though vastly unfinished by his own admission, over time became the model of large professional organizations – first in Prussia, then in Germany, and later (in varying degrees) in every major army in the world. Realizing the severe constraints under which he labored, Scharnhorst wrote to his favorite student and close personal associate, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), on 27 November 1807, advising him:

Who would not risk everything to plant the seed of a new tree, who would not gladly die if he could hope that the fruit would ripen with new strength and vitality! But only one thing can make that possible. We must kindle a sense of independence in the nation; we must enable the nation to understand itself and take up its own affairs; only then will the nation acquire self-respect and compel the respect of others. To work toward that goal is all we can do. To destroy the old forms, remove the ties of prejudice, guide and nurture our revival without inhibiting its free growth – our work cannot go further than that.

Scharnhorst and his associates clearly understood how to proceed in a potentially hostile environment. They planted a new tree, which over time produced the fruits of victory some 50 years later during the Wars of German Unification (1864-71).

After graduating from West Point, I continued my research and study into German military prowess, wondering why the German army continued to captivate so many American soldiers, despite the fact that it was the American army that had defeated the German army in two world wars. Interestingly, whenever I had opportunity to speak with German senior officers (I was stationed in Germany in the 1970s) about their military prowess, they would politely smile and refer me to Scharnhorst and the German notion of Bildung. Interestingly, Scharnhorst regarded the process of Bildung as central to the professional growth of the military leader. A fruit of Germany’s classical age, Bildung was the perfectibility of the individual’s character and intellect through the process of education and training. For Scharnhorst, Bildung was the mental fitness that empowered the military leader. It enabled him to assimilate knowledge from a variety of sources and then to synthesize and fashion that data into an appropriate response to the challenge at hand. It was a recurrent process rather than mere training to accomplish a certain skill.

Chuck White with General der Panzertruppe Hasso von Manteuffel in June 1977 at his home in Bavaria. Chuck spent the day with him, discussing his experiences as a tank leader. At that time Chuck was a First Lieutenant with the 2d Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Bad Kissingen, Germany.

Scharnhorst and Bildung became the central theme of my studies at Duke University, from 1980-86. My Masters’ Thesis focused on Scharnhorst’s efforts to establish a professional military educational program in Prussia. I then spent two wonderful years in Berlin on a Fulbright Fellowship, during which time I researched the holdings of the Prussian Archives, which housed Scharnhorst’s Papers (Nachlaβ Scharnhorst) and other primary and secondary sources. Returning to Duke, I wrote my dissertation on Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-05. Both studies covered Scharnhorst’s endeavors to inculcate Bildung into the Prussian army. Three years later I published my first book, The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 (1989). That study focused primarily on Scharnhorst’s pivotal role as the intellectual father and educator of the Prussian army, whose amazing recovery following its catastrophic defeat in 1806 remains one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Following the publication of The Enlightened Soldier, I embarked on the research and writing of this book. So much is known about Scharnhorst and his activities in Prussian service. So little is known or has been written about his formative years in Hanover, where he carefully crafted and endeavored to implement the modernization program he later realized in part in Prussia. This point is significant. When Scharnhorst arrived in Berlin in 1801, he already had his master plan in mind and continually looked for ways to bring the Prussian army and its leadership in step with the transformation of war shaped by the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

This study of Scharnhorst presents unpublished discoveries about his youth, his education, and his extensive time in Hanoverian service. Scholarship in the field of German history during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries has increased dramatically over the past 30 years; the most significant for this study was the publication of Scharnhorst’s Papers [Nachlaβ Scharnhorst] in eight massive volumes, with over 3,000 documents. These papers formed the foundation upon which I built my story of this enlightened soldier. I used primarily the first two volumes that deal with his long career in Hanover. Selected documents from other volumes are also included.

With the Internet came access to so many key sources that I might not otherwise have been able to obtain and research. Nearly all the rare books and journals I had studied in Germany in the early 1980s are now available on the worldwide web, especially the irreplaceable journals of the University of Bielefeld digital collection. Through the Internet I was also able to connect with other scholars who led me to addition resources and websites.

Returning to my introductory remarks, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is the starting point for those seeking to understand German military prowess. In was in Hanover that Scharnhorst developed the ideals and institutions that made the Prussian and later German armies the model upon which nearly every other major and minor power in the world fashioned its military establishment.

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801 can be ordered from the Helion website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/scharnhorst-the-formative-years-1755-1801.php

The Rescue They Called a Raid

‘NOW HE HAS RUINED ME!’[1]

By David Snape

It was with these words Rhodes that the arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes reflected on the consequences of the failure of Dr Leander Starr Jameson’s attempt to overthrow the Government of the South African Republic in 1896. Towards the end of the 19th  Century the desire of European Governments to exploit the African Continent had never been stronger, nor the competition to do so fiercer. Cecil Rhodes was  described as the ‘Colossus’ because of this desire and few believed the claim that Jameson’s incursion into President Paul Kruger’s  South African Republic was a ‘Rescue and not a Raid’; hence the title of the book which was derived from a less than memorable poem by the then Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin.

I have always been fascinated with the events surrounding the Boer War and there are many who think that the Jameson Raid was its precursor. Jameson, with Rhodes’ backing, attempted, but failed, to overthrow the Government of Paul Kruger with only 500 men. The political fallout of his  failure  almost caused Salisbury’s Unionist Government to fall. Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, had to fight for his political life and Jameson and his officers together with many of the most influential men in Johannesburg were tried and imprisoned. Britain’s international reputation was sullied and she became a laughingstock in the capitals of Europe.

The origins of the book derived from a dissertation which I submitted for a MA degree at the University of Wolverhampton in 2015. I had recently retired from a career in Education and the spare time which my retirement gave me allowed me to make a serious study of Military History. I used the records of the two Select Committees into the Raid which both the Cape and the British Governments were forced to hold in order to determine responsibility. Both of them pointed the finger at Rhodes but it was Jameson and his officers who were imprisoned.

‘Rhodes must fall’ has been on many people’s lips in recent years, but the Jameson Raid had the effect of bringing him to his political knees. There is no doubt that he believed in the British Empire and its ‘civilising’ qualities. In this belief, he was not very different from the many  missionaries and explorers who went to Africa to bring ‘the advantages‘ of Europe’s culture and laws. Rhodes also had his eye on the main chance of increasing his fortune and that of his shareholders in the British South African Company which, with the Government’s permission, controlled huge swathes of Africa. It is perhaps less known that many of the Chiefs of African tribes in Rhodes’ sphere of influence sent emissaries to meet Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle  to complain at their treatment, and they were well received.

The involvement of Americans, such as John Hays Hammond, in the  promised uprising in  Johannesburg had repercussions in the United States and the efforts made to improve their  conditions in prison and Hammonds rehabilitation back into American Society is less well known. All  this at a time when Anglo-American relations over British Colonies were strained.

The overwhelming mystery about the Raid is how much did Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, know about it and to what extent was he involved. On hearing about Jameson’s impetuosity, whilst Chamberlain was dressing for the New Year’s Eve Servant’s Ball at his Highgrove home, one of his first thoughts was to resign. He quickly changed his mind and fought to save his career even appearing as a witness at the Inquiry which he had set up and was a member of. The Inquiry’s conclusions were the subject of furious debate in the House of Commons which exposed that the procedure for examining the Raid was flawed. and its conclusions were inconclusive.

This is the first full length book I have written and I have learned much about the process of writing through the support of the folks at Helion. My previous experience apart from academic  dissertations has been producing articles for variousMilitary Societies such as The Victorian Military Society, The Indian Military Society, and the Western Front Association. The VMS  was kind enough to award me the Howard Browne Medal in 2019 for a paper on Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms.

I am currently researching the Shangani Patrol and the massacre of Major Allan Wilson’s men during the Matabele War of 1893. This  was another of Rhodes’ and Jameson’s schemes to gain more land for the Empire and improve the share price of the British South Africa Company. Like the Jameson Raid, it is hard to know which motive, wealth or Empire, was their strongest. I hope this book will be published towards the end of 2021.


[1] E.A. Walker W.P. Schreiner: A South African (London: OUP, 1969), p. 91.

Wellington at Bay: A Game and a Book

By Garry Wills

My passion is to bring the smaller or lesser known actions to life using quality archived based research and I was planning this game at Salute 2020 in support of the publication by Helion of my new book, Wellington at Bay. The book describes the Battle of Villamuriel on 25 October 1812. This battle, while small, was the largest engagement of Wellington’s retreat from Burgos. This battle involved twice as many men as the better-known Battle of Villadrigo/Venta del Pozo two days before. The action is also notable because it featured a rematch between Maucune’s 5e Division of the Armée de Portugal and the 5th Division of the Anglo-Portuguese army, just three months after the latter broke the former at Salamanca. The battle involved approximately 11,500 men.

The book is the first full length account of the action and improves significantly on previous accounts in the campaign histories by Oman, Napier, and Divall. The aim has been to pull together archival sources from all four nations involved – British, French, Spanish and Portuguese – to build a coherent and balanced account of interest equally to historians and wargamers. All other accounts of this action are either brief or partial or both. The brief accounts are necessarily so because they form part of a larger campaign study. For example, Napier’s and Oman’s accounts are only three pages long. These accounts are necessarily incomplete and include the odd mistake, for example Oman incorrectly identified the Spanish infantry at Villamuriel as from Losada’s division. The partial accounts include the memoirs, diaries and letters of 27 participants which form a great part of this work. The challenge of this research was to weave together these accounts into a credible and balanced narrative. Thus, Béchaud is often referred to but is rarely given in full and this account provides translations of his key passages. The work is a detailed study of one day’s action in the 1812 campaign, with a view to extracting an improved understanding of how the armies fought in 1812.

The game uses 325 15mm figures. The French, British and Portuguese are Old Glory figures from Timecast, the Spanish are Essex and the Brunswickers are from Campaign Game Miniatures, all painted by me. The terrain is the excellent Hexon system from Kallistra and features the Great War trench sections repurposed as the dry Canal de Castilla, which the British and Portuguese infantry used to shelter from the French artillery fire. The buildings are a mixture of Hovels and JR Miniatures, while the road and river sections together with the areas of rough ground are also from Timecast. The trees are from K&M except for the willows which are from Noch, as are the vines. The bridge over the canal is scratch built from three MDF bases and some matchsticks. The game can be played in one of three scenarios which I have designed for Black Powder and General de Brigade; the initial morning attempt on the bridge by the French, which ended when the bridge was destroyed by the allies; the French assault on the fords at Calabazanos and Villamuriel in the early afternoon; and finally Wellington’s counterattack which pushed the French back across the river. The demonstration will be played using Black Powder with one or two rules selected and modified from the Clash of Eagles supplement, together with my own house rules for dealing with skirmishers.

The game and history have several points of interest, not least of which is the very large proportion of his infantry that Général de Division Maucune chose to deploy as skirmishers.

The book is now available from Helion and you will be able to see the game at Salute 2021.

A version of this article first appeared in Wargames Illustrated Bite Size #2

Buy ‘Wellington at Bay. The Battle of Villamuriel, 25 October 1812’ here.

Initial deployment 9.00 a.m.
The French 5e Division arrives.
The British 5th Division guards the bridge.
Spry’s Portuguese Brigade defends the ford at Calabazanos.
Skirmishers engage at Calabazanos.
Linan’s Spanish brigade looks on.
The bridge is destroyed as the French approach.
French cavalry arrive to surprise the 8th Cacadores.
Wellington’s counterattack begins.
The Battlefield today. Wellingtons counterattack was launched from these heights.

Bazaine 1870

A Miscarriage of Justice

By Quintin Barry

My first book, published by Helion in 2007, was a two volume history of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, a subject in which I have always had a profound interest. In volume 2 of that book I was particularly interested to explore the second phase of the war, after the battle of Sedan and the fall of the French Second Empire. That period has been covered much less thoroughly than the campaign that led up to Napoleon III’s surrender at Sedan. As the war began thereafter to spread to the rest of France, there immediately followed the siege of Metz, where the French Army of the Rhine, under Marshal Bazaine, was surrounded by the besieging Prussian army under Prince Frederick Charles.

   I went on to write a number of other books, some on the Franco Prussian war, and some on other subjects, but then came back to the history of the Army of the Rhine and the subsequent trial of its commander. As a lawyer, that trial interested me enormously, and so I began to research the book which has now been published by Helion under the title Bazaine 1870. Working on the book, it was not long before I realised that in my original history I had not done him justice, having in some instances followed the prevalent opinion of a number of other historians; as a result my analysis of him was unpardonably superficial.

   This became very apparent to me when I read Bazaine: Coupable ou Victime? This, written by Generals Edmond Ruby and Jean Regnault, was published in Paris in 1960. It is a hugely impressive demolition of the popularly held view of Bazaine. In now publishing my own account of the course of his career as it progressed towards the events of 1870, I hope that I have made good my previous lapses of judgement. Much of the contemporary literature about Bazaine, and his trial, was ill informed, politically motivated and unremittingly hostile. Some later historians, such as Sir Michael Howard, have produced a more balanced account; but not all, as for instance the American historian Geoffrey Wawro, previously the author of a brilliant history of the Austro Prussian War, who in his history of the war of 1870-1871seems to have swallowed the anti-Bazaine narrative hook line and sinker.

   The only comprehensive account in the English language of the tragic story of François Achille Bazaine was that written by Philip Guedalla in his vivid dual biography of Marshals Bazaine and Petain, published in 1943 under the title The Two Marshals. Guedalla succeeded in bringing to life the career of a man whose motivations remain to this day difficult to discern with any clarity. What was overwhelmingly clear, though, was just how unfairly Bazaine was treated. France needed a scapegoat for her shattering defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and in Bazaine one was found ready to hand. For surrendering Metz he was tried for his life on military charges devised by the first Napoleon, enraged by the surrender by General Dupont at Baylen in 1808 during the Peninsular War. The transcript of the lengthy proceedings, held in the Grand Trianon at Versailles, is of absorbing interest. Looking at Bazaine’s decisions during his command, I have no doubt that his conviction (the death sentence was commuted to one of imprisonment) was monstrously unjust, and I am glad to have had the opportunity of setting the record straight.

‘Bazaine 1870. Scapegoat for a Nation’ is now available to buy here.

https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/bazaine-1870-scapegoat-for-a-nation.php