Rating Period Military Books.

By Col. Vincent J-R Kehoe

Each re-enactor organization, Regiment, or unit relies on certain 18th-century military books and materials to base the recreation of their particular group on. Deciding which ones will most serve their purposes is often a dilemma because of the somewhat varied content of each as well as the availability of them to the general public.

Due to a number of firms that have reprinted these often rare books, they can be found at very reasonable prices. Some booksellers carry a stock of these on a mail order basis, and others can be had directly from the printers or publishers. Are reprints as good as originals? If one is an antiquarian book collector, of course not. But, if the re-enactor simply wants the information contained in the works, the reprints are far less expensive, plus generally readily available.

What are the most useful editions for re-enactors who wish the knowledge of how to form, administrate, equip, dress and arm a new unit based on the 1775-1783 era? The "most useful" to re-enactors may not be the ones that 18th-century scholars may consider to be best. That is, some modern historians have a habit of making somewhat modern comparisons in style, content, material and such -- in a literary or even ethical sense -- of a certain 18th-century writer's content, or the organization of it, without regard to its value to re-enactors. The best example of this are the works of Captain Thomas Simes.

Simes has been accused by some modern writers of plagiarizing others' works, bad organization of his book contents, and of having published a variety of redundant works. Yet, today, even if he did utilize material from others (without credit as he is accused of), those particular books are either very rare or not to be found -- yet Simes' works ARE! The very reason for this is that Simes was not only the most prolific writer of British military books of his day (l760's to 1780's), but also his subscription lists and book sales outstripped any other author of the time! For example, his 1772 printing of The Military Guide..., the second of his editions on military subjects (his first was The Military Medley of 1767), not only had a subscriber list of over 330 Officers (including many prominent British military names), but among the subscribers were some 20 instructors and students of the Lochée Military Academy, and 1,250 copies were ordered for John Millan, the book seller in Charing Cross!

Today, original copies of Simes' works run from $350.00 to $1,250.00, but there is an excellent reprint of The Military Medley offered by Kings Arms Press, with period leather binding, for only $75.00!

Of all Simes' books, the one printed in 1777 titled A Military Course... is the most useful for re-enactors, and excerpts from this are available today in the writer's, An Officers' Guide for Re-created British Regiments of Foot, Part 2.

Simes' particular contribution to our knowledge of the 18th-century British Army is a significant one, as his books are in general written for the young, inexperienced British Officer of his time -- a category that re-enactors can readily place themselves in for level of needed learning.

Another author that provides excellent information for re-enactors is Capt. Bennett Cuthbertson who wrote Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry. Instead of approaching the military science from the point of the neophyte, he was formerly an Adjutant in the 5th Foot, and astutely addressed his pursuits of the military art from his experiences in this vital position. There is a 1768 edition (unfortunately the clothing Warrant changed that year before the book was published) and a better, updated 1779 one. Both these authors provide a basis for any group to re-construct and re-create a British Regiment of Foot as a hobby, and demonstrate first-hand knowledge of how to provide for ANY unit.

There are, of course, many other books that were significant and interesting for soldiers of that period, but those on overall grand tactics are generally quite beyond the needs and capacities of the re-enactment units of today, while the others that proposed a drastic set of theorems to revise the British Army are also extant, but of little real value to re-enactors.

Some of which have been reprinted, are Timothy Pickering's Plan of Discipline for a Militia, in which he explains in Laymen's terms many of the movements and maneuvers employed by the British Army, but on the intelligence and interest level of the untrained Provincial militiaman. The Manual Exercise of 1764 is worth having a separate copy of for teaching recruits their movements in the field, and exercise of the muskets. A good Military Dictionary is helpful, and the reprint of Capt. George Smith's 1779 one will cover most questions for re-enactors. Lewis Lochée, the Master of the Military Academy for training young Officers, wrote a number of books (as well as employed Simes' editions), and his Castrametation is worth having, although it does not really service for small units. Gen. Humphrey Bland's famous Treatise of Military Discipline that was first printed in 1727 and lasted through nine editions -- the latter two revised by William Faucitt (or Fawcett) to update his principles -- is significant in a historical sense, but unless one is re-creating a unit of the Seven Years War era, somewhat outmoded in style, but has good background content. The Discipline for the Norfolk Militia also falls into the latter category, and then there are the later books such as Tacticks by Col. William Dalrymple in 1781, Maj. Gen. Friedrich von Saldern's Elements of Tactics of 1787 (English translation, that is), and A Treatise on the Duty of Infantry Officers, by Thomas Reide, that went through a number of editions from 1796 to 1799, that will also be found to be helpful in a comparative sense, with often better explanations for the re-enactor of the terms, "as practiced by the Army." Most of the latter books have not been reprinted as of today, but with the re-enactors entering the period of the Napoleonic Wars, there is no doubt that some enterprising publishers will re-issue them.