Tag Archive | logistics

Page from mid18C English manual on logistics

For those interested, I offer a semi-random page from a mid-18C work that provides lots of interesting tidbits of info.

Contemporary Logistics

Contemporary Logistics

Source: Impartial hand, A System of Camp-discipline Military Honours, Garrison-duty, and Other Regulations for the Land Forces. Collected by a Gentleman of the Army. … To Which Is Added, General Kane’s Campaigns of King William and the Duke of Marlborough, ...

Seriously, enough with the fiscal-military state

I kid (sort of). We have another entry in the European fascination with the intersection between war and money. I suppose it helps that there are groups like Contractor State Group to fund such ventures.

Harding, Richard, Solbes Ferri, Sergio, and Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, eds. The Contractor State and Its Implications, 1659-1815 International Congress, CSG-Contractor State Group, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 16th-18th November 2011. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2012.
Having trouble finding a table of contents over here in the USA, but it looks like there’s one chapter on Louis XV’s provisioning.

An MA in Marlburian logistics?!?

A new reader inquired as to whether it would be a good idea for a new graduate student to write their thesis analyzing the D. of M.’s role in logistics (presumably during the WSS).

That’s a tough one.

I have difficulty answering the question for several reasons. Most flippantly, I don’t teach grad students, so what the hell do I know? And I won’t base my recommendation on peering into my non-existent crystal ball to predict who would hire such a degree-holder. (The reason for the degree obviously looms large in the discussion.)

But thinking a bit longer on the question, I do have more substantive concerns. Perhaps commenters can resolve these, extend them, or add their own.

I’d start with the premise that there actually does need to be serious work done on the role of logistics in the Spanish Succession. But yet I hesitate recommending it for an MA student. Why?

  1. As we’ve discussed before, logistics is a difficult subject. It requires rifling through thousands of fragmentary administrative records, often poorly organized and catalogued, and trying to recreate their meaning. It doesn’t help that early modern bookkeeping practices could be quite shoddy, and somewhat arcane. All this helps explain why there is relatively little historiography on early modern logistics before the better organization of the mid-18C, and what there is, is largely impressionistic and anecdotal, financial rather than operational, and often based off prescriptive manuals, edicts and the stray contract. It’s a lot easier to analyze operations and grand strategy from campaign accounts and correspondence, or harvest quotes for a tactically-themed thesis.
  2. I think this particular logistical subject would be much more challenging to research than, say, J.S. Wheeler’s works on English logistics during the English Civil Wars or D.W. Jones’ War and Economy in the Age of William and Marlborough, because of its coalition aspects. I’d think it difficult for the average MA student to acquire the languages necessary to tackle the task. Assuming only two years or so to complete the degree, someone wishing to study Marlborough’s logistics would absolutely have to have a reading knowledge of English, Dutch and French. Highly recommended would also be Spanish if you wanted to look at the civilians or local authorities in the Spanish Netherlands, and German if you’re looking at the German contingents and the Imperials in the later campaigns. The language requirements would also be compounded by a wider variety of archives you’d need to consult in various countries.
  3. Reading Dutch in particular is an absolute necessity for the topic, as we’ve also discussed in the past. First, the Dutch and their field deputies and subcontractors were largely in charge of the minutiae of the Allied army logistics. If you want to read the sources on “Marlborough’s” logistics, you need to look in the Dutch archives. Second, the best historical research on the question has been written by Dutch scholars such as Olaf van Nimwegen, in Dutch.
  4. This last point raises a question that I don’t know the answer to. How exactly does an English-speaking grad student write an MA thesis on a topic whose pre-existing literature is unfamiliar to most English-speakers (because it’s in Dutch) – knowledge of the decade-old Dutch historiography that in and of itself would significantly alter the English understanding if it was translated into English – yet after the student has ‘changed the field’ by ‘translating’ the literature’s ideas to an English audience, he/she still has to contribute something new? How do you balance repeating Olaf’s argumentation in detail (necessary because you can’t assume your audience is already familiar with his claims and evidence) with adding your own, especially if your argument assumes a detailed knowledge of his argument (which you can’t really assume)? In short, how do you avoid making your original contribution simply a minor aftershock to the much larger earthquake resulting from translating the existing Dutch scholarship into English? (Scholarship that will, since it’s a book, undoubtedly be much more in-depth than your MA thesis.)I’m sure students do it all the time, probably when studying other oft-ignored countries. But this case seems more challenging because even though nobody reads Dutch, your work is directly affecting a much larger English historiography that everybody does know (or thinks they know). This means you will have to outline a variety of assumptions about Marlburian logistics held by many English scholars, then detail what Olaf and a few other scholars say about the subject and how it confronts the English school, and then, finally, what you say about both the English and Dutch historiography. That seems a rather large project, at least for a MA thesis. Hopefully your contribution doesn’t get lost in all that. For my diss, I didn’t have to worry about another scholar stealing my thunder (though I had a scare in the French Archives de Guerre), nor that I would have to introduce Vauban and his historiography to the English-speaking world. Just about every military historian had heard of Vauban whether they read French or not, and there was enough written in English (all saying the same things) so I didn’t have to translate recent historiography. It also helped that the French literature hadn’t departed that much from the English-language lit. (I should add that there was a certain amount of convergent evolution with some of my claims and some of the work published by Michèle Virol. Whose early book I fortunately discovered while touring the Maison Vauban.)

    The logistical case is further complicated because I know that an editor from Brill has been working on a translation of Olaf’s book for several years. Which makes me wonder the extent to which we should avoid a topic if it’s already been written about, but in a language we can’t read, or in a language our intended audience can’t? Even if the MA student does know Dutch, what happens if such a translation were to come out before or right after they finish their degree, or, even worse, as the MA student works on his/her PhD dissertation? I should also add that John Stapleton’s work on the Anglo-Dutch war effort in the Nine Years War will also have much to say about the theater’s logistics, so that too must be taken into account. And Aaron Graham’s on the financial side of the English equation…

    You don’t want to find yourself in the awkward position of waiting for works to be published before you know the extent to which you need to incorporate them into your own framework. Nor do you want to see your smaller contribution swallowed up or made irrelevant or obsolete by just–published scholarship. Which is why you want to network as early as possible. But it’s hard when there’s almost no published English-language historiography on your subject.

    On the other hand I don’t know if it’s a good idea to choose a topic defensively, fearing “the scoop.” And it may not be particularly relevant for an MA degree in any case.

So, as usual, my pessimism and “can’t-do” attitude paralyzes me. It seems you need to take into consideration numerous variables, both macro and micro:

  • marketability of the degree (depending on why you’re pursuing the degree)
  • program and advisor availability
  • historiographic interest among other academics
  • historiographic sophistication of the topic (i.e. it needs to be something that more than a few other historians care about)
  • source availability
  • language skills
  • time/resources to acquire the languages and pillage the (archival) resources…

Personally, I could see a more-focused MA on a particular campaign, maybe even a particular theater of operations or a specific subset of logistics (Olaf’s book focused on bread), although this doesn’t resolve several of the above concerns, and it necessarily limits the impact of the final product. A serious, balanced look at the 1704 march to the Danube would be an obvious start and have the largest impact, but frankly I don’t know whether there are more sources on the topic beyond what Olaf has already uncovered, and you’d really need to delve into the German/Austrian side of the equation as well if you’re doing 1704. That’s a pretty full plate (and consequent risk) for an MA student, especially if it requires learning Dutch as a prerequisite.

But that might be better than what too often happens – just look at English sources and write as if Marlborough controlled every aspect of his army’s supply.

Solutions to these problems? Suggestions for an aspiring grad student?

Hay is for horses, and other early modern wisdom

That old ‘hey is for horses’ line is pretty old: Jonathan Swift used it in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation from 1738. More generally, the number of equine metaphors are indicative of how important horses have been to human (excluding sub-Saharan African and pre-contact American) history: rein in, saddle up, hoof it, jockeying for position, champing at the bit are just a few of the English sayings that remind us of our special relationship. [Note: I tried to limit this post to just three equestrian puns, but horsing around is too much fun.]

The combination of a logistical thread promised much earlier in the year and previous discussion of cavalry leads logically to a separate post on fodder, which only makes sense since, as mentioned in the inaugural logistics post, fodder was likely the third-most important foodstuff for the men (after their own food and drink), and probably the first for the horses (water could be first, but I’ve read somewhere that green forage tended to have a fair amount of water content). The whole topic leaves me with all sorts of questions, so this is just a first attempt to delve into the details of how horse supply worked. Gavin or somebody could probably point me to better discussions already in print. I should probably have looked at a few of the secondary sources on the topic, but that’s why this is a blog post and not an article manuscript. So what follows is a somewhat rambling first attempt to get my head around the subject. You can lead a horse to water…

I’ll preface this post by admitting my ignorance here, for my knowledge of the details of early modern logistics is far less than it should be, although I think that is largely a function of the lack of literature on the subject. In addition to previous comments I’ve made on the difficulty of studying logistics, understanding fodder is particularly difficult for us today because it deals with horses, beasts which most moderns are unfamiliar with, as well as with agriculture, the details of which most moderns are equally unfamiliar with – Erik might refer to an agricultural knowledge economy or some such. Then too, it requires us to look outside of military history (narrowly defined) to the history of agriculture, rural society, and transportation. So I’m admittedly stretching here when talking about the details. Don’t take it from the horse’s mouth: let me know where I screw up. [I’m going to ignore more exotic beasts of burden like oxen, mules, donkeys, burros and their ilk…] Read More…

Mapping Conventions in Early Modern Europe

Having posted a few versions of maps I’ve attempted over the years, I should mention a few issues relating to early modern cartography. I’m far from an expert in the matter, so if you’re interested in the subject there’s a whole field of historical cartography out there – the journal Imago Mundi is the place to go to hear what the experts have to say.

As if early moderns weren’t confused enough keeping track of the multitude of ways they used names and dates, and even how they counted  men, they also had to deal with how to represent 3D space on a scaled-down 2D plane (i.e. paper): maps, in other words. The early modern period saw significant developments, from the late medieval development of maritime navigation charts to European explorers mapping the world, to the increasing precision of maps by the Cassini family in the mid-18C. Read More…

Olaf van Nimwegen on Dutch logistics

Edwin reminded me that Olaf van Nimwegen’s book on Allied logistics in the Low Countries during the War of the Spanish Succession has a lengthy English summary. So I’ve taken the liberty of posting it here, so that non-Dutch readers can see what they’re missing, and maybe it’ll encourage Olaf to get the book translated into English. The transcription is a quick-‘n-dirty OCR, so there may be a few formatting errors.

Olaf van Nimwegen, De subsistentie van het leger: Logistiek en strategie van het Geallieerde en met name het Staatse leger tijdens de Spaanse Successieoorlog in de Nederlanden en het Heilige Roomse Rijk (1701-1712), (Amsterdam: De Bataafsche Leeuw, 1995), 339-344. Read More…

Read between the lines!

For years I’ve been frustrated with the blatant Anglo-centric tone of almost all of the writing on the Duke of Marlborough, England’s “Greatest General.” I don’t think I need to mention that this writing is all in English, often written by former military professionals, and never looks at Dutch sources yet manages to savage them without mercy as ‘obstructionist’ allies.

I vented about this lazy tendency in my 2000 article on Ramillies, but I keep finding more and more examples of it. What’s even worse, the same over-the-top praise of Marlborough being a master tactician, master operational mind, master strategist, master logistician, master diplomat, master politician (okay, maybe not the last one so much) keeps getting repeated everywhere despite a number of important correctives – many of which are quite old, such as the works of Douglas Coombs and A.J. Veenendaal, Sr.

I feel, appropriately enough, like that little Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dyke, except the dyke is awfully leaky and I don’t have enough fingers.


Hans Brinker, Madurodam (Wikipedia)

(This frustration only gets reinforced when John Stapleton and I start talking, since he was also at Ohio State working on a similar topic – the Dutch in the 9YW – and finding the same thing at the same time I was).

Read More…

War, Warfare, Military and Early Modern Europe

New title just released:

Parrott, David. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

This is a major new approach to the military revolution and the relationship between warfare and the power of the state in early modern Europe. Whereas previous accounts have emphasised the growth of state-run armies during this period, David Parrott argues instead that the delegation of military responsibility to sophisticated and extensive networks of private enterprise reached unprecedented levels. This included not only the hiring of troops but their equipping, the supply of food and munitions, and the financing of their operations. The book reveals the extraordinary prevalence and capability of private networks of commanders, suppliers, merchants and financiers who managed the conduct of war on land and at sea, challenging the traditional assumption that reliance on mercenaries and the private sector results in corrupt and inefficient military force. In so doing, the book provides essential historical context to contemporary debates about the role of the private sector in warfare.


Apropos our discussion about logistics, this book will hopefully provide an overarching framework for something early modern military historians have been exploring in their own areas for the past several decades. The broad claim isn’t particularly new (among others, Parrott illustrated it in his earlier Richelieu’s Army) but hopefully he’ll have a detailed argument that integrates more than just France in the mid-17C.

Early modern historians tend to see the late 17C-18C as the period when the central state began to take over (Lynn’s “Army Styles” has been the most recent broad framework). But even then, as we’ve already discussed, combatants still relied on lots of private financiers and companies for credit (secured by future tax receipts), which was then paid to other private contractors and their subcontractors to provide bread and (during winter quarters) fodder for the troops and horses, as well as transport. Even the regiments themselves were ‘owned’ by their colonels and the companies by their captains, which was yet another way the central state could rely on others’ wealth to raise, clothe and feed its troops. The same was true for the navy. Although fleets were increasingly composed of ships dedicated to military service, many of them were still constructed in private shipyards, and in some cases were even lent out to privateers when naval costs became too high, not to mention the permeable boundary between naval service on board a Royal Navy vessel and aboard a merchantman. The war on enemy trade was furthered by recruiting private privateers (full-time as well as opportunistic vessels issued letters of marque). Heck, the same was true for diplomacy, as we can find diplomats constantly begging their political masters back home to reimburse them for their expenditures incurred in the line of duty. It really is amazing how much effort was put into fighting these early modern wars, and how successful governments were in getting other people to put up their money towards the venture.

Zotero group bibliography

I just recreated the Logistics bib from a previous post in Zotero and created a group library. I didn’t mess around with the tags – most of the titles were drawn from Google Books, so they have have an eclectic mix of keywords in them.

You should be able to see it by clicking https://www.zotero.org/groups/skulking_in_holes_and_corners/items/ (there is also a permanent link in the right-hand margin). If you use Zotero yourself, you should be able to sync those entries with your own Zotero library. And add your own if you’d like.

Some of the entries include the Google Book links, which means older works will be full-view, and you don’t need to search Google Book’s metadata to find it.

I’ll try to transfer other citations I’ve put on the blog up as well.

Logistics at last

Earlier I’d promised some space to discuss logistics, so this spot right here looks good. I’ll provide a cursory overview of early modern logistics to start off the discussion.

The old saying goes: “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.” I’m not a professional military man, but if the sources I’ve looked at are any indication, this saying certainly reflects the reality in the early modern period. Read More…