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"Myths in Napoleonics: The World According To Rory Muir" Topic

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15 Jul 2022 1:22 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Leftblank15 Jul 2022 8:48 a.m. PST

As wargamer and amateur-historian, I believed four myths: that battles decided campaigns, that generals galloped in the front lines, that thousands died and that sleek tactical positioning decided a battle. None of these myths is remotely true, I learned. Statistics and soldier's diaries tell other, true stories.
In particular a book by historian Rory Muir that I had never read before rocked my ideas. What does that mean for the perception of Napoleonic battles, in history and on the tabletop? Are myths still fun?


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2022 9:44 a.m. PST

Hmph. Those are not "myths." Those are generalizations. Sometimes they're right, sometimes not. Same with Muir's. You're talking a quarter-century of warfare over multiple continents, after all. Pick the right battle or campaign, and you can "prove" anything you want.

The only wargaming folk belief I seriously quarrel with is the one that says "generals make things better." The troops are braver with the General attached. They move faster--or at all--because they're within his "command radius" and right down the list. And even that one is probably true of some general somewhere.

d88mm194015 Jul 2022 9:51 a.m. PST

Yep! Patton at the crossroads…

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2022 10:29 a.m. PST

Personally, I think you can find battles that ended a campaign. They are quite common.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2022 11:02 a.m. PST

Waterloo, for example. Yes, fighting went on for a few more weeks, but it was pretty much all decided on June 18.

Au pas de Charge15 Jul 2022 11:02 a.m. PST

Rory Muir's ‘Tactics and Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon‘, published in 1998 and recently cheaply available for my Kindle. Almost 25 years old, but new to me. It's Anglocentric, true, and mostly focusing on the British experience in the Iberian campaign and the Hundred Days. But it fills gaps in the puzzle and unravels myths. Four myths.

Oh la vache!

14Bore15 Jul 2022 2:46 p.m. PST

Finding any history without a bias isn't easy.
I have the book long acquired, should look at it again.

Mike Petro15 Jul 2022 3:14 p.m. PST

"that thousands died", may have to clarify that one as thousands DID die in many battles. Not to mention the true mortality rate of the wounded post-fighting, which I'm convinced was very high in an era with no knowledge of bacterial infections.

But, what do I know?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 7:14 a.m. PST

And the example given from Muir was the winning side in one of Napoleon's most brilliant battles. Look at Eylau, Borodino or Waterloo and then discuss battlefield deaths.

Campaigns, though. Yes, a really brilliant general wants to wage the campaign so it's won without a battle (Ulm) or so the battle is a foregone conclusion (arguably Austerlitz.) Notice how seldom even Napoleon was able to pull it off? It is a consistent problem for wargamers, though. We want to fight the great battles of history, standing in the boots of famous commanders. We also want both sides of the tabletop to have a roughly equal chance of winning, and those famous commanders tried hard to ensure they had every advantage in a climactic battle. It makes for interesting scenario design.

COL Scott ret18 Jul 2022 11:50 p.m. PST

Any Commander worth their salt tries to avoid a fair fight at any cost. even if your armies start out even you attempt to use economy of force to put decisive power where you want it.

Most rules of warfare are merely guidelines for how to think of the plan you hope your Soldiers can execute in the face of the enemy.

4th Cuirassier21 Jul 2022 2:06 a.m. PST

@ Mserafin

Fighting after Waterloo continued where the Prussians were, but not where the Anglo-Allied army was. When you read how differently the two armies conducted themselves in France, it's hard to avoid the inference that the fighting was prolonged by Prussian chevauchée as French forces strove to limit the pillaging, wrecking and punitive looting. The Allies were at war with Napoleon, not with France.

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