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Saturday, September 21, 2013

“With Musket, Canon And Sword: Battle Tactics Of Napoleon And His Enemies”, by Brent Nosworthy

516 pages, Da Capo Press, ISBN-13: 978-1885119278

With Musket, Canon And Sword: Battle Tactics Of Napoleon And His Enemies was the first of Brent Nosworthy’s books I ever read and I was hooked from the first chapter. Like his earlier work on linear warfare, this book is a gold mine of information that is easy to dig out the facts; unlike most of the books I’ve read on tactics this book is anything but dry, as Mr. Nosworthy tells you not only what the troops did, but why they did it. He also very good about distinguishing between fact and opinion and, whenever possible, he uses contemporary sources to back up the opinions given. This is the first study I’ve ever read that goes into the details as to why the British battle tactics were able to defeat the French (hint: he does not, like so many works, say that it was the superiority of British firepower and professionalism of the troops). Mr. Nosworthy gives us a detailed look at both the technical and psychological differences between the two battle tactics and shows why the results were what they were.

The tactics of the Napoleonic Wars have been poorly understood, but Nosworthy gives excellent detailed examples from the era showing how each of the combat arms dealt with each of the combat arms of their opponents. He shows the importance of morale and how 18th Century doctrine evolved into Napoleonic tactics. Skirmishers preceded attacking infantrymen, and columns were generally used not so much for attack as they were for maneuver toward the enemy where the men would then deploy into line. The French used lines more than has been generally thought. This system worked against everyone but the British, whose superior skirmishers kept the French columns in the dark until British infantry fired a volley and charged just as the French were attempting to deploy.

Nosworthy’s book goes a long way toward re-evaluating how we should understand Napoleonic Warfare, and as such is bound to ruffle a few feathers as far as popular established views are concerned. His writing is clear, subtle, and to the point, and there is seldom a paragraph that does not contain some interesting fact.

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