Armies on the move

The first sign of amateurish book about Early Modern warfare is its focus on battles instead of more important aspects of campaigns. (Second sign is an opinion about non-existence of consistent, fast and mobile strategy in that period).

A lot was written to challenge notions of primitive campaigns in last two decades. Here is a perfect example (footnotes omitted) from an excellent book War in England 1642-1649 by Barbara Donagan (hardcover 2008, paperback and kindle 2010):

A soldier’s life, it was said, was `to march up and down in England’. A detailed log of one soldier’s progress from November 1643 to December 1644 shows him for more than half of that period in constant, often daily movement, frequently criss-crossing the same area, a routine only interspersed by limited winter cessations and by some eleven weeks in a garrison town.

The log of Prince Rupert’s marches, from September 1642 to his departure from England in July 1646, demonstrates a similar mobility. The first month, beginning on 5 September, saw twelve transfers of place, including at least two night marches. Then followed a pause of two weeks, but from 10 October to the end of the month he was on the move every day but three. The pattern was sustained for another three and a half years, broken only by seasonal declines in winter and stationary interludes such as the period at Bristol, or by particularly intensive episodes such as the `York march’ before Marston Moor, when Rupert’s army covered nearly 50 modern miles in three days.

A week in May 1644 gives the flavour:
`16. Thursday, to Petten, near Wem.
18. Satterday, to Whitchurch.
20. Munday, to Draiton.
21. Tuesday, to Betlye in Staffordshire.
22. Wednesday, to Sandbach, in Cheshire.
23. Thursday, to Knotsford.’

Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conventional military wisdom was expressed by a parliamentarian in Feb. 1645: `[N]ow, the spring is coming on … we shall go into the fields’. The `Iter Carolinum’ reveals a less frenetic but similar pattern for the king himself when he was away from Oxford, and provides more evidence of the symbiotic relation between combatants and civilians. Daily movements were usually in the 5 to 12 mile range, but marches of 28, 30, and 32 miles were by no means uncommon. Sometimes, for weeks on end, he moved almost nightly. On occasion he `lay in the field all night in his coach’, at other times his lodgings ranged from the earl of Huntingdon’s house at Ashby de la Zouch to the `mean Quarter’ of Mr Philips of Bow in Devon, and he took his meals in equally diverse locations, from the house of the earl of Cork at Stalbridge to `a little Lodge’ and a yeoman’s house.


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Filed under 17th century, England, Strategy

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