What’s so special about the field of battle?
Just got back from a very interesting conference at West Point where we were discussing a new e-textbook for the Western military art under construction. I’ll post more details as the project becomes more concrete.
In the meantime, a comment in a previous post on how to decide whether the 1709 battle of Malplaquet was a ‘victory’ for the Allies or not made me revisit the issue. In my future battle book I’m thinking I might look at the different ideas of how contemporaries measured battlefield victory. In this context, I’ve always wondered about the possession-of-the-battlefield criteria for victory. I can see a variety of explanations for it, but I don’t feel particularly satisfied by any of them.
- Maybe it goes back to the olden days when you’d erect a victory trophy (hoplons and helmets…) on the spot. (Does any of the war memorialization literature discuss this?)
- In some cases the specific battlefield might be an operationally/strategically important location (as in a relief battle), whose possession would be of continued importance. But most of the time the selection of battlefields seems to be as much a matter of where both armies could find the space to array their respective forces, and where their dispositions were even enough to encourage both sides to fight, vs. one side having a clear advantage and therefore the other side refusing to engage.
- Perhaps occupying the battlefield in good order is an indication that the army is still “in being” (still “keeping the field”) and therefore ready to continue the fight, vs. being dispersed and unable to continue operations?
- Maybe possession of the wounded left on the battlefield was important, for POW or ransom purposes?
Thoughts? Has somebody written on this already?