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"Was Sackville a coward?" Topic

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20 Aug 2016 1:48 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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18th Century

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Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 2:48 a.m. PST

His behaviour at Minden seems odd & it is oft put down to cowardice.
His overall record doesn't, IMO, support the idea of cowardice.
Incompetence? A desire not to take orders from foreigners? Did he know something we didn't?

Your opinion?

Duc de Brouilly06 Mar 2016 3:27 a.m. PST

Certainly not a coward, just didn't have the dash of a Granby, which was what was required at that moment in the battle. Made a scapegoat by Ferdinand of Brunswick because the battle hadn't gone to plan. And certainly came out of it the worse because of the antipathy King George had for Sackville. Read the excellent book by Piers Mackesy: The Coward of Minden.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 5:38 a.m. PST

I think he may have been overly cautious, uncertain of what was going on in the battle…

…or just a bit of a buffoon!

vtsaogames06 Mar 2016 5:47 a.m. PST

Looking at his record as Germain during the AWI, I'd say incompetent.

He gave Burgoyne the green light and then said Howe could go take Philadelphia, which pulled the rug from under Burgoyne.

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 5:52 a.m. PST

Given that he was ordered 6 times to charge & refused, could he have had a legitimate reason? For instance, the cavalry of the time generally would be roughly handled by infantry: which is what the British & Hanoverian infantry did to the French cavalry at the same time as Sackville ignored orders to charge. Could he have decided charging French infantry would benefit no-one?

altfritz06 Mar 2016 6:24 a.m. PST

Well, he was ordered to charge the retreating French army not infantry standing firm. And aren't generals supposed to follow orders? Probably being an ass, thinking perhaps he deserved the post of command rather than Ferdinand. Or he deliberately wanted the French army intact.

Didn't he later become Minister of War or something like that during the Revolution? IIRC, he was in charge. I wonder how it might have went if he had been properly cashiered.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 6:31 a.m. PST

How can any of us know? The point was that he disobeyed repeated orders, for no valid reason. By doing so, he opened himself up to the accusation of cowardice, which, of course, had much more sting than an accusation of mere insubordination.

Supercilius Maximus06 Mar 2016 7:03 a.m. PST

I would second the suggestion to read Piers Mackesy's book. And for anyone thinking Sackville/Germain was incompetent, he put together the largest European military force to travel to another continent before the Boer War, and the shipping needed to carry and sustain it.

Neither his general demeanor, nor his (reputedly aggressive) homosexuality, won him many friends; however, he was not the only British minister or soldier to look at a map of North America and think: "Yeah, we can do this what's the problem?"

Yesthatphil06 Mar 2016 7:34 a.m. PST

Difficult. Mackesy was my early mentor. His father was the Mackesy who refused to attack at Narvik, so he had a natural sympathy for commanders who didn't do the obvious thing.

'The Coward of Minden' is a key read, nonetheless.


Winston Smith06 Mar 2016 7:54 a.m. PST

Supermax. As I recall, you also think Charles Lee got a bum rap. grin
It's a period when it's easy to find unlikeable figures to blame things on.

Quite a few American generals and politicians had the same issue with strategic maps.
Logistics: A+
Strategic competence: C-
Social graces: Well, the King liked him. Probably because Dad didn't.
Cowardice: not proven

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 8:21 a.m. PST

If he refused orders for other more sinister reasons then cowirdace. Thats worse, When we are in treason territory.

Thats either lined up against the wall or a short drop and sudden stop

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 9:18 a.m. PST

Generals disobeying orders, even repeatedly isn't all that rare in history right up to ten years ago.

Was he a coward? Probably not.

Was he insubordinate? Probably yes.

Was he miffed at the command structure of the army? Most likely.

vtsaogames06 Mar 2016 10:10 a.m. PST

Didn't he later become Minister of War or something like that during the Revolution?

After becoming Lord Germain (one title wasn't enough) he was Secretary of State and the strategist who fathered the Saratoga debacle. Note my post above.

Perhaps it wasn't cowardice, perhaps it was a snit. In any case it undermines the good he did in assembling and supplying such a force.

Rubber Suit Theatre06 Mar 2016 11:17 a.m. PST

Cardigan was condemned because he *did* charge when ordered. There's no pleasing you people. ;)

Mute Bystander06 Mar 2016 12:21 p.m. PST

Never been in command of a key unit under fire so I really don't know his motivation.

crogge1757 Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2016 12:33 p.m. PST


Haven't you asked that question a view month ago, already?
TMP link
Can hardly find anything worth changing with my reply then, except for the one or other typo.

vtsaogames06 Mar 2016 12:38 p.m. PST

Of course, Cardigan charged the wrong guns. Perhaps if he'd had some recon patrols out…

artaxerxes06 Mar 2016 11:55 p.m. PST

I agree with reading Macksey. Very good book. You also need to understand the interior economy of the 18th Century officer corps. There were circumstances in which what we see as insubordination, even mutinous behaviour, was sanctioned informally when certain circumstances prevailed and were satisfied, at least in the eyes of the aggrieved parties. The cultural norms of the 18th Century, it shouldn't need saying (but, I find, often does) were *very* different from our own. Because we don't and can't inhabit them it takes an extra imaginative effort to see the world as they saw it, especially since many of the guiding principles were subliminal.

Supercilius Maximus07 Mar 2016 5:27 a.m. PST

@ artxerxes very well put.

@ winston Up to a point, yes I do as regards Monmouth: I'd say he took the fall for Washington being too far back to provide proper support, given that the aim was to "pin" the British rearguard and overwhelm it before the British centre could return and join up with it. It's worth noting that only La Fayette of the senior French officers did not think Lee was hard done by. I also think GW blundered by giving Lee command of the Advance Guard in the first place, having only just returned from captivity and being unfamiliar with any of the brigade/battalion commanders.

Most people are complex and a mix of good and bad, not the one-dimensional characters history likes to present to us. That said, if Lee were alive today he'd probably be on a sex offenders' register, or something very close to it. Sackville/Germain? I don't know; he doesn't appear to have been popular with those around him, but it is difficult at 200+ years' distance to know if that was down to his sexuality, or if he was just unpleasant.

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2016 7:30 a.m. PST

The issue of cowardice also ignores the fact a man can be a coward one day & a hero the next.

'The Red Badge of Courage', fiction I know, shows this very well. It is not inconceivable that Sackville was in a state of funk at Minden but could be courageous on other days.

seneffe10 Mar 2016 5:17 p.m. PST

Artax and Super are spot on. Certainly not a coward- he led the 28th Foot into the very thick of the firefight at Fontenoy and was quite badly wounded.

The problem at Minden was- to paraphrase and simplify Piers Mackesy (nice chap- met him once) a combination of-

- awkward positioning of the cavalry in the first place (Ferdinand's orders but Sackville did little to question/help)
- slightly unclear orders from Ferdinand during the battle- which again S did little to help clarify/resolve
- a slow response by Sackville when the orders did become clear.

Overall, a commander and subordinate who didn't know each other, didn't try to get to know or like each other, had different top reporting chains, and ended up on the big day presuming in that passive/aggressive 'foldy arms' way that the other person simply MUST understand what they are thinking, and don't see the need to demean themselves by explaining in person.

There are several examples of this behaviour in leadership of the French armies of the WAS and SYW of course.

Tricorne197111 Mar 2016 12:35 a.m. PST

The Coward of Minden is a must read for anyone desiring to understand how an 18thC battle was actually fought. The papers of Sackville and the trial transcript are also useful. There is a very entertaining chapter in O'Shaughnessy's recent book The Men Who Lost America regarding Sackville, "The Achilles of the American War".

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