Facing up to the Face of Battle

By now most of you have already heard of the death last week of John Keegan (1934-2012). A prolific author whose interests ranged widely through time and space, he spent the last decades of his life writing about modern military history, as well as current conflicts in the Daily Telegraph. An instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, best-selling author and newspaper columnist, he wrote broad surveys of military history, including The Mask of Command (1987), A History of Warfare (1994), and Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America (1997).

For academic military historians, however, his career was defined by his earliest work, The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme (1976). Simply put, chapter 1 – “Old, Unhappy, Far-off Things” – is required reading for anyone with any interest in the history of war, while the successive chapters illustrate his attempt to recover what the experience of battle was really like. Whether you’re a pacifist, military professional or gunhead, his call for a more realistic view of the face of battle from the fighting soldier’s perspective resonates, and this chapter deserves frequent rereading. On his passing, allow me to honor his work by providing my personal assessment of his influence over the field, one that diverges slightly from the encomia elsewhere.

In reading various online commentary prompted by his death, one facet of the discussion has struck me as not-quite-correct: the claim that his Face of Battle revolutionized the way military historians have written military history. In an abstract sense FoB certainly merits all the praise it has received and more; he’s undoubtedly among the best known of military historians, both inside and outside the field. Both my wife and I were assigned to read the book in different courses while still undergrads at Carleton College in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and these weren’t even military history courses. Given the insights on offer, FoB should have revolutionized the field. But what strikes me is how few early modernists have actually imitated FoB, whether in word or deed. To exaggerate slightly, FoB is the one military history book non-military historians will mention more frequently than military historians actually apply, if only because that’s the only military history book known outside the field. Undoubtedly the work itself is cited as frequently any other part of the military historiography canon, if not more. But citation is not the same thing as influence, and its influence has largely been confined to popularizing the metaphor of the face of battle. I’ll spell out my thinking and we can discuss how wrong I am in the comments.

Keegan’s Conceptual Framework

First, I’d argue that military historians have paid surprisingly little attention to his framework, particularly his argument that the rhetorical ways in which historians have described battle fundamentally oversimplify the reality of combat. Keegan even provides a useful phrase to sum up the idea: the “rhetoric of battle history.” I’ve always found this an incredibly important and useful idea (even if my own work hasn’t focused much on it), yet if measured solely by the use of the expression, few have noticed. A regular Google search of “rhetoric of battle history” turns up a paltry 67 hits, with this blog leading as the first two results. Removing the quotation marks and switching the order of the search string doesn’t improve the results – in fact, you’ll find more results relating to the rhetoric of battle speeches/battlefield orations than Keegan’s felicitous phrase. Switching to Google Books halves the number of results, with my Vauban under Siege one of only three military history books to use the phrase. Even my own use is not exactly what Keegan had in mind. I have (until recently) been more interested in siege than battle, adapting his concept as the “rhetoric of siege history” because I argue in VuS that early modern sieges are described in a similar rhetorical vein that hides their more complicated underlying reality, i.e. the early modern (read Vaubanian) siege as scientific and ritualized, just as battle is described (à la Keegan) as ordered and its participants as unitary. And even this re-purposing is rare: a search of the 1300 articles/book chapters on early modern warfare in my PDF collection (thank you automatic document feeders, OCR, and Acrobat global search!) similarly returns only two works that use the phrase: FoB and VuS. If these search results are robust, and they may not be, it seems that I have been (almost uniquely) influenced by the rhetorical nature of battle descriptions, or at least the only one to find the phrase a useful shorthand. Nor does this disinterest appear to be limited to print: from all the various military history panels I’ve attended, I can’t remember the term ever being part of the discussion. I’d argue that this phrase encapsulates the analytical heart and soul of FoB, yet it has left almost no visible traces. [Let me know in the comments if there is a more useful search term, or even some other aspect of FoB that has received more attention.]

Keegan’s Approach to Battle History

A more difficult yet more robust method would be to count the cases where Keegan’s idea was used, even if not his exact phrasing. To the extent that we can quickly survey the arguments made in the historiography, I find a similar disinterest, or at best a passingly-superficial interest. As usual, I’ll focus on early modern warfare since that’s what I know best, but it is worth noting that Ancient military history seems to have been the most influenced by Keegan’s idea, witness Victor Davis Hanson’s various works on hoplite warfare in Archaic/Classical Greece, and even more explicitly in J. E. Lendon’s “The Rhetoric of Combat: Greek Military Theory and Roman Culture in Julius Caesar’s Battle Descriptions.” The Ancient historiography’s interest in rhetoric is to be expected, given the linguistic requirements needed to learn dead and archaic languages that evolved over centuries, the paucity of Ancient sources, and Ancient historians’ corresponding need to closely analyze every textual fragment they can find. It also helps that practically all their sources are digitized, providing a uniquely searchable corpus. I haven’t been able to keep up with all the medieval military history that’s been published over the past 37 years (beyond being aware of various works published on Hastings and Agincourt), so I’m not sure how Keegan’s analysis of Agincourt 1415 has held up – let me know. Certainly medievalists have spent decades arguing over the relative importance of battle and siege across the Middle Ages, but this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the face of battle. I can note that, at least, Cliff Rogers’ “Tactics and the face of battle” chapter in European Warfare, 1350-1750 (2010) explicitly references Keegan’s work. However, his usage here appears to be representative of the dominant way in which historians have adopted Keegan’s FoB: as a general metaphor for describing the tactical combat experience. There are a couple of pages that discuss the morale of the average soldier (Cliff’s Soldier’s Lives through History: The Middle Ages undoubtedly discusses this more), but again, the focus in on understanding the tactics: the ‘face of battle tactics’ might be a more appropriate phrase. Keegan’s more specific insight about how narrative descriptions shape our understanding of the battle experience is much less remarked upon.

Moving to the early modern period, the obvious question is: which works adopt Keegan’s rhetoric of battle history? It’s always difficult to trace influence when there is no explicit acknowledgment of Keegan’s influence, but I would suggest that the answer is ‘surprisingly few.’ Closest would be the broad works of Yuval Harari: his Renaissance Military Memoirs: War, History and Identity, 1450-1600 (2004) as well as his The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450-2000 (2008). Both of these focus on interpreting what the combat experience meant to contemporaries through their memoirs – exactly the kind of discussion prompted by the rhetoric of battle history. Other than that, I can’t think of any other works that directly adopt Keegan’s insight about rhetoric shaping early modern views of battle.

We can broaden the question a bit: which recent works focus on the experience of field battle, regardless of whether or not their narrative/analysis discusses the rhetorical descriptions of battle? The answer seems to be ‘More, but not that many more.’ Despite a lapse of more than 35 years since FoB‘s initial publication, you can count the number of book-length works that focus on the early modern battle experience on a single hand (feel free to correct me in the comments). First is John Lynn, The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94 (1996, orig. 1984) – predating Keegan’s work, as it was based off of a dissertation completed in 1973. More directly attributable to Keegan is Rory Muir’s Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon (1998), published fifteen years after FoB. A decade after that came Matthew Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (2008.) All excellent books in their own way, but to my knowledge the only books to try to analyze the tactical experience of field battle in the early modern-ish period. Their respective prefaces seem to confirm the impression that little has been written on the subject in their own fields beyond their own efforts. This in spite of the wild popularity of field battles among the reading public. Christopher Duffy’s The Military Experience in the Age of Reason (1988) and Charles Carlton’s Going to the Wars: The Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638-1651 (1994) also include sections that discuss the experience of combat, against based off of the various memoirs and accounts left for posterity. We could even stretch it a bit further to include works that compare battlefield application with prescriptive theory, e.g. J.A. Houlding and David Lawrence. Even doing so, and given the frequency with which FoB is cited and the influence attributed to it, I expected more than one or two books every decade.

But maybe the French specialize in such issues – we all know about their long-standing preference for ‘war and society’ studies. In the first chapter of FoB Keegan speculated that 20C England’s love of military history and the French apathy towards it stemmed from their differing experiences: Britain won most of its recent wars and France lost most of its recent conflicts, often to the British. Another explanation is provided by Muir: in his preface he notes that the number of detailed battle accounts written by English participants during the revolutionary/Napoleonic (and, I should add, early modern) period far outweigh those written by their French neighbors. Yet, perhaps ironically, French scholars have been almost as interested in the battlefield experience as the English world, although they rarely seem to cite or mention Keegan. (As an aside, it looks like Keegan’s FoB was first translated into French as L’Anatomie de la bataille in 1993.) Most notable here is the doyen of the ‘new military history’ in France, André Corvisier. He first expressed interest in the topic in a 1977 article on battlefield morale at Malplaquet, and twenty years later expanded this to a book on the same battle, La bataille de Malplaquet 1709: L’effondrement de la France évité (1997). Other French scholars have discussed battle in their work and published case studies, particularly Jean-Pierre Bois and Hervé Drévillon’s Batailles. But to my knowledge only a single French author has closely followed the specific question which motivated Keegan, and expanded Corvisier’s vision to the Spanish Succession war as a whole: Dorothée Malfoy-Noël, L’épreuve de la Bataille (1700-1714) (2007). Not a very impressive list, but not too bad given the source advantages enjoyed by English military historians.

Journal articles/book chapters would be the next place to look, and we would expect their numbers to be far greater than books. This is far too much for me to go through now (other than my earlier search for the term “rhetoric of battle history”), but I don’t recall being overwhelmed by analyses of how early moderns talked or described battle (but let me know what I’m missing!). A notable example that actually addresses Keegan’s “rhetoric of battle history” is Michael Wolfe’s “Writing the City under Attack: Siege Warfare as Vicarious Experience during the French Wars of Religion” in Cities under Siege (1999), where he argues that (civilian) accounts of sieges were used to create and reinforce a self-identity among the inhabitants. This is the only early modern article/chapter I can find that uses a rhetorical analysis of combat narratives.

The  most interesting test of my theory would also be the most time-consuming: to reproduce Keegan’s rhetorical analysis of battle narratives on battle narratives published post-FoB (found on pages 30ff, esp. 36 on, ‘The Battle Piece’). I haven’t done this, although I might for my battle book. I would not, in any case, be surprised if recent battle narratives are found to be similar to the rhetorical techniques Keegan criticized. If this were to be the case, it would be so in spite of the fact that Keegan’s general warning is well-known to military historians, particularly to the extent that it reinforces the Clausewitzian idea of friction. One useful recognition of this idea comes from Paddy Griffith’s The Art of War of Revolutionary France (1998):

In conclusion, I would argue that FoB has been wildly successful in providing a metaphor for labeling the topic of battle studies. So widespread has this become that Kimberly Kagan explicitly challenged the very metaphor in her own The Eye of Command (2006). Therein she argues that the ‘face of battle’ may be important if you want to know how soldiers experienced battle, but if you want to know why a battle was won, you need to focus instead on the ‘eye of command.’ This well-crafted shift in metaphor is a telling example of where the focus of battlefield studies continues to reside. I would argue that the ‘eye of command’ describes the recent military historiography on battle far better than Keegan’s ‘face of battle.’

In practice Keegan’s influence has been limited to a renewal of military historiographical interest in battlefield tactics. Think of all the debates EMEMHians have had about battle over the past thirty years: the drillground vs. the actual battlefield, the relative strength of infantry vs. cavalry, the roles of pike vs. shot (and the various commanders that represent their evolution, whether its Maurice of Nassau or Gustavus Adolphus or Frederick the Great…), the methods of firing (platoon fire and all that), the incorporation of light unit tactics and personnel, artillery reforms, unit articulation and C3 (i.e. command, control, and communication), not to mention the debates over specific decisions made by commanders on various fields of battle. Compared to all this, vanishingly little attention has been paid to the personal experience of the soldier, and even less emphasis on the ways in which narrative descriptions of battle shape our understanding of the event.

In the next post I’ll posit some explanations for why this is the case. Feel free to comment.


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23 responses to “Facing up to the Face of Battle”

  1. Campmaster says :

    I would argue that the experience of the soldier is not at all separate from command decisions. After all, even commander-oriented military narratives often emphasize this or that general’s ability(or lack thereof) to motivate their soldiers. In fact perceptive commanders should be able to assess the morale and preparedness of their soldiers and tailor their proceedings accordingly. I recently read that Gonzalo de Cordoba advised: “Never bring your warriors to battle unless you are sure of their hearts and know they are fearless and orderly; never test them if you do not see that they expect to win’. That’s an example of a notable Early Modern commander who certainly took the soldier’s mood intro account, more could probably be found.In medieval times, when relations of authority were more personal and less mechanistic-bureaucratic, the morale of a commander’s subordinates was probably an even more important factor in keeping an army together and conducting a successful campaign.

    However, I admit that in general I tend towards the “top-down” approach, best expressed by Napoleon’s old dictum about the man being what mattered in war and so forth. While of course, it is not entirely the commander who wins/loses a war, and inquiring on the experience of battle should certainly improve our understanding of war vastly, I would say that leadership(not merely military but also political/bureaucratic/etc) has the greater potential to be the decisive element. Just some thoughts.

  2. Gene Hughson says :

    I tend to be skeptical of approaches that look for the reason for a particular historical outcome. I’d argue that instead of Keegan or Kagan, Keegan + Kagan is the appropriate approach. Napoleon (Italy in 1796) and Massena (Genoa) worked wonders with commands that were little better than bands of castaways. The credit for the transformation of the Army of Italy from an impending mutiny to a legendary force has to be laid at Napoleon’s door. Yet when his army lost faith in him at Waterloo, even he could not salvage it.

    • Stephen Trinder says :

      I dispute Nap’s army lost faith in him after Waterloo as the corps under Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy who fought on but I think I agree with your main argument. There are many reasons including lucky ones deciding a historical situation especially those as fluid as a battle. Albuera is a good example or even ?Cowpens.

      • Björn Thegeby says :

        Grouchy wasn’t even there as his corps was chasing the Prussians (in the wrong direction). Napoleon claimed to his troops that the dustclouds coming down the road from Wavre were Grouchy’s corps arriving. When it turned out to be Bulow, much of the spirit must have gone out of the French and by then they were both exhausted and committed too far forward to hold the right flank for long. Groughy came into his own in the post battle pursuit, when he managed to slow down the Anglo/Dutch/Prussian advance. (Sorry for being picky, but I live a mile from the battlefield.)

      • Stephen Trinder says :

        I’m refering to what happened AFTER Waterloo. Of course Grouchy wasn’t there !!!!!!!!!!

      • Gene Hughson says :

        The fact that Grouchy’s corps wasn’t there for the battle makes my point though. Not being there to experience the disappointments of seeing the Prussians pile on and the Guard retreat, they weren’t subject to the same morale pressures as the bulk of the army.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        re: Cowpens, IMHO that wasn’t luck, but an excellent example of command skill deciding the battle. Morgan worked with, rather than against, the qualities of his militia and used Tarleton’s arrogance against him as well. Morgan may not have known what Cannae was, but he pulled off a victory that was comparable.

      • Stephen Trinder says :

        Morgan was about to be over run by Tarleton, his line was cracking up so he retreated to another position to fight from cover

      • Gene Hughson says :

        “…so he retreated to another position…” doesn’t really sound like luck. That sounds like a response to a change in the tactical situation. Considering that it furthered his original plan (sucking in an over-confident Tarleton), it sounds even less like “luck”.

      • John Grenier says :

        Not sure if this enters at the right point in the blog log…sorry if it is out of the line. I suggest that we probably shouldn’t compare Cowpens to Cannae. To compare them on any level–strategic, operational, tactical, from a FoB perspective–is IMHO to make an overdrawn historical parallel. I feathe recipes like that pass for history is because books like FoB (sorry, can’t underline or use italics with this machine) have led too many historians to prefer the inch deep but mile wide approach. I always have issues with case studies that offer data points. And, not to speak badly of the dead, and Keegan was a fine historian and public intellectual, but that thing he wrote on the wars of North America was garbage. It Stuck me as a bunch of case studies that completly misued nuance and the whole contingency, continuity, and change over time and space thing. JK loves the case study: His comment that Kosovo and Allied Force proved that air power could end genocide or ethnic cleansing was so wrong, and frankly dangerous. At the time he wrote that comment, I was serving in the USAF and we had an extended discussion along the lines of “if it were only so easy”. My point is that one of Keegan’s legacies is that it’s ok to cherry pick some case studies and make broad interpretative statements based on them. That is my mind is not good history. As we know, the Devil is always in the details, and details are important, even if they prove too difficult for the readership of the editorial page.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        Since I made the original comparison, I suppose I should defend it. Cannae is a fair analog for Cowpens on both the tactical and operational levels. Tactically the share use of terrain, use of differing troop capabilities, using the opponents’ over-confidence against him, and the tactic of double envelopment. Operationally, both feature the destruction of an entire independent command.

        Strategically, I agree that it is not. Cornwallis’ options were more limited afterwards, but he was hardly in the same position as the Roman Republic post-Cannae.

  3. Stephen Trinder says :

    Victor Hanson’s book on the destructive impetus of the stamping Greek phalanx always brought home to me much better than Keegan exactly what warfare is all about

  4. Björn Thegeby says :

    If I have one gripe with Keegan, whom I otherwise admire, it is that he is too focused on the set-piece battle. As a soldier experience, battles are very rare events, and most professionals, even on active service, never see one. A veteran of the second Peninsular Campaign might have a week of battle, max, between 1809 and 1814, and would be considered a special case. Sieges could add another month, or two at most. In some ways WWI, is an outlier in that it was permanent mutual siege warfare, continuously within reach of guns.

    • jostwald says :

      Yep. Awhile back I inquired why WWI’s combats were called “battles” instead of “siege(s).” I think it says something about how field battles are seen as the default form of war, despite much evidence to the contrary, and even despite frequent acknowledgment by historians, who then go on to focus all their attention on the few battles after telling us how rare they were.
      At some point I’ll put up a post about small war.

  5. Gavin Robinson says :

    I’d completely forgotten that FoB said anything about the rhetoric of battle narratives! If I’ve failed to notice it then maybe lots of other people have too, but I can’t explain why.

    On tactics and the experience of battle, maybe FoB just isn’t as good as many people outside military history seem to think. In the theory thread we discussed historians clinging to very old theories and not keeping up with the field that they came from. The other side of that is people in other disciplines citing very old history without knowing that it’s been superseded or having the experience to criticize it themselves. For example, there are fairly recent works of literary criticism that still cite Lawrence Stone as an authority on early-modern England. If FoB is the one military history book that everyone else knows then it’ll get recommended even if it has flaws. Those of use with training and experience in military history are better placed to recognise its limitations and know what else has been published since. When I was writing my MA dissertation in 1996, I was heavily influenced by FoB and discussed it a lot in my introduction, but even then I was already starting to criticize it and move on from it. Keegan’s approach depended very heavily on psychologizing people in the past and was dangerously close to dodgy stuff like empathy, idealism and ‘mental worlds’. I’ve also criticized his appeals to common sense. A lot of his points were speculation about what ‘would have’ happened – still useful as hypotheses but we need to rigorously test them and/or admit that there’s no way of knowing. The chapters on Agincourt and the Somme are now out of date because of more recent work.

    FoB is still a very important book that everyone should read, but it has to be read critically.

    • jostwald says :

      Re: citing old, outdated historiography. What you title your book makes a big difference as far as citation/dissemination/longevity is concerned, particularly for non-specialists. Sometimes a straightforward title is more useful than our academic preference for [Short but slightly-cryptic metaphor or contemporary quote]:[Long descriptive title with person, period, place indicated], though I’d like to think my Vauban under Siege is a good mix. Say a scholar in 2012 wants to know the basics of early modern warfare c. 1700 – where to turn? David Chandler’s Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough will always be the go-to book for anyone outside of EMEMH because its title is a perfect ad for its content, and even if it wasn’t a general guide, the title portrays itself that way. Until somebody writes a similarly-titled book with updated info, the old, oft-cited survey will perpetuate its mistakes because most people will stick with a basic keyword search or look at what works other non-specialists have cited. Non-specialists usually don’t know where to go to find corrections even if they cared about the debates within the field (which they probably don’t). And usually recent corrections will only be part of a larger book, which is almost impossible to locate unless you take the time to delve into the lit. Hence the continued need for recent guides to a field, and annotated bibliographies (like, say, Oxford Bibliographies online). Or you could search in Google Books, but even then you need to know the terminology in the debate to find all the relevant points being made.
      This is also true of military historians dealing with other periods, esp. modern military historians dealing with the pre-modern world – how often does Oman’s medieval work continue to get cited and used by people who don’t know any better?

      In short, we need a bibliographical search which ranks items based on their use by other *specialists* over time. A way to index arguments about specific ideas as they appear in other (larger) works would also be a big help, as I discovered with my search for recent discussion of the ‘rhetoric of battle history’ idea.

      I also don’t think it’s an accident that Chandler’s particular phrase (Art of war/warfare) is repeated in various other works as well, e.g. Rothenberg, Griffith, Chaliand, not to mention Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Jomini, Delbruck… (or at least their English translators). It just screams “If you can read only one book on the subject, this is that book!” Same thing with “A Military History of [War].” Similarly, Cliff Roger’s edited Military Revolution Debate will continue to be the go-to book for the MilRev, if only because of the title.

      A separate but related issue is how titles change as they go from country to country. Richard Holmes’ recent biography of Marlborough is subtitled “Britain’s Greatest General” in the US version, but “Fragile Genius” in the UK version. Keegan’s Face of Battle is L’Anatomie de la Bataille in French – makes me wonder how they would title K. Kagan’s Eye of Command if they translated it; presumably they’d have to lose the clash of metaphors inherent in the English titles. In general, I wonder if metaphors get made more concrete when you translate book titles from one language to another, since metaphors (like sayings) are often culture-specific. When I was a foreign exchange student in France back in high school, I remember being struck by the fact that “Nightmare on Elm Street” was called “Les griffes de la nuit” (“The Claws of Night”) – why didn’t they just call it Nightmare on Elm Street? (IMDB has an interesting list of movie titles in different countries).

      • Gavin Robinson says :

        That’s a good point. Even I would probably start with Chandler because I haven’t kept up with WSS historiography since I was an undergraduate. My view of Blitzkrieg is stuck in 1996, and I only know the stirrup controversy up to 2003 (although I hope that one’s finished!)

  6. Björn Thegeby says :

    Speaking of Marlborough biographies, Channel 4 in the UK yesterday, showed a programme on the relationship between Marlborough and his biographer Winston Churchill, presented by David Starkey. Lots of conjecture, not much facts unless you count Whig history as fact. I would not go out of my way to see it, but at least the subject could have been quite interesting if approached a bit more critically.

  7. John Grenier says :

    Don’t know how to re: to Gene under his re: to my re: of his re:. Anyway, our understandings of what tactics and operations mean are clearly different. Not a big fan of comparing terrain…the terrain of the backcountry of the Carolinas was similar to Italy? Hmmmm. Of course they used differing troop caps…I assume you are speaking to DM getting two shots from the militia, etc. Why not, if we’re talking about the militia, make a better comparison with Kings Mtn, where the militia surrounded the other side and devastated them…indeed, it was a kessel and za annihilation var komplete! I’m surprised JK didn’t think of that… It just seems a little sketchy to me. I would not feel comfortable trying to make those comparisons in print, or trying to leave a class for of undergrads with them. Again, to each his own. Many ways to skin the history cat…

    • Gene Hughson says :

      Both Hannibal and Morgan used terrain to limit their opponents ability to maneuver and to appear trapped. While different in details, the principle was the same. Both baited an over-confident opponent into attacking. As to the troop capabilities, both Morgan and Hannibal disposed the more reliable and less reliable infantry to as to maximize their utility. Both completed the envelopment using cavalry. I’d be fascinated to hear your reasons for why these similarities are not sufficient to make them comparable.

      Also, by all means, please lay out your understanding of tactics and operations and we can hash out whether it’s a misunderstanding or mis-communication on either your part or mine.

  8. John Grenier says :

    Why would the British not be confident? If I had to put my money down in Jan 81, it certainly would have been on the British and BT’s Legion. BT had proven that he understood how to mix shock infantry tactics with light cav tactics to win on the battlefield. Looking at the American Army’s performance in the South to the point, I would have, as a British commander, encouraged my subordinates to chase it down and try to force it into battle. As far as Morgan masterfully using terrain to “force” the British into battle, I don’t think so. He picked a pretty decent defensive position, but the British could have disengaged if they did not rightly believe that they would win. This was not some kind of desperate gamble on the British part, a gamble they had to take to save their army from destruction. Their thinking at the operational and tactical level was sound, and Cowpens had nowhere near the impact that Cannae did.

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