Saturday, June 27, 2015

Books Reviews: 19th Century Warfare

A brief review of four five military history titles focused on 19th century conflicts.

Ever since I got my Samsung Tablet and moved from the USA to Turkey, I have started doing most of my book buying on Amazon Kindle. Over the last 10 months I read 5 big military history books. Four were Helion books, and one was from another publisher.

The Helion books have a lot in common. They all covered a European 19th century war. Three were written by Quintin Barry. They also had a very similar writing style. This was to the point, but a bit dry. But you do not get these books for their prose. Instead you get them in order to have a meticulous military history of a specific war.

 The Road to Koniggratz is the most expansive covering not just the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, but also briefly looking over the Second Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864.It also focuses on the politics of Moltke’s rise to power in the General Staff. The book’s coverage of the Austro-Prussian War is meticulous covering both the Bohemian and Rhine fronts. Full Orders of Battle are provided.

War in the East is essentially the main English source for the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-1878. Together with the Osprey title it was my main reference work for my Black Powder lists. It is a military history and does not go to much in detail on the diplomatic events of the war (this is common with all Helion books reviewed). But the coverage of the military campaigns is meticulous. Full Orders of Battle are provided. One small issue is that it does not cover the naval aspects of the war, though those were not a major part of the war.

The Franco-Prussian War Volume 1 is a meticulous military history of the Franco-Prussian War from start to Sedan, the “Imperial Phase”. Like the two previous books by Quintin Barry the details on the military campaign are extensive and expansive. Full Orders of Battle are provided. The political and diplomatic background is only slightly touched.

Bismarck’s First War by Michael Embree is a thorough and detailed military history of the Second Schleswig-Holstein War. Like the previous Helion titles it does not spend too much time on the diplomatic and political history, though he does provide more coverage then Barry does in his own books. The military history is meticulous and covers all aspects of the war, including naval operations. Indeed one thing that surprised me was the amount of essentially commando operations lunched by the Danes. For the wargamer Embree’s history is perfect as it provides forces and ideas for battles at all levels of command, from skirmish to grand tactical. Full Orders of Battle are provided and detailed data on causalities and armament.  

All four Helion titles are illustrated. They also have excellent bibliographies and endnotes. Some of the bibliographies are annotated with useful commentary on the works. All of them kept a remarkable neutrality and even-handiness.  My only issue, and this may be Kindle version issue, was that the maps of the battles were not always the most detailed or explanatory. 

Sear’s To the Gates of  Richmond, is a classic in U.S. Civil War Military History.   It is a excellent study of the Peninsular campaign, and also devotes some attention to the politics of both the CSA and USA high commands. What differentiates Sear’s from the Helion authors reviewed is prose, as his writing is pretty good from a literature point of view. Maps are adequate but could be better. Full Orders of Battle are provided. I do not think the Kindle version was illustrated.

All in all five books are a must have for a war-gamer. The campaigns are meticulously rendered to the reader. Exhaustive Order of Battle information is provided. Multiple scenario ideas are provided in the pages of the five books. The only issue was that the maps were not always the best but this can be easily resolved by the enterprising war-gamer(some of the battles are covered in excellent rules systems like Altar of Freedom, Big Bloody Battles, Fire and Fury, 1859,1866 whose maps are more than adequate) . Coupled with a good diplomatic or political history of the war these books can give you a great reference for these conflicts. Highly Recommended. 

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