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Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World, AD 1500-1763: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics

Christer Jørgenson, Michael F. Pavkovic, Rob S. Rice, Frederick C. Schneid, and Chris L. Scott, Thomas Dunne Books, 2005, 256 pages, $29.95.

The title says it all with this entertaining and fact-filled volume. Change in the techniques of warfare dominated the era. Bodies of trained pikemen were increasingly supplanted by arquebusiers, dramatically changing how the common soldier fought. New tactics were adopted by well-drilled units of musket-firing infantry. Cavalry, now armed with light pistols, became far less useful.

Remarkably clear line drawings and diagrams illustrate the changes, often enlightening the reader about aspects where text alone would not be clear. A rich sampling of illustrations also helps the age come alive, and shows the impressive developments in uniforms, fighting equipment, and even cavalry saddles.

The authors emphasize that the placement of forces at the earliest stages of the fighting often determined the outcome of combat more than inspired leadership during a battle. They back up their views with details of specific engagements such as the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim in 1704, and the Prussian victory at Rossbach in 1757.

In all, there are twenty full-color maps that show terrain features as well as maneuvers that brought victory at such fields as Quebec, Edgehill, and Minden.

Just as gunpowder transformed the battlefield, siege warfare changed completely with the advent of cannons and mortars that could wreak damage more accurately and persistently than the medieval trebuchet. To offset heavy siege artillery and assault trenches, the era’s leading military minds devised new ramparts, less imposing but more easily defended.

The final chapter covers developments at sea, where again gunpowder revolutionized the ways of war. The unimposing ships that overcame the Turkish fleet at Lepanto in 1571 look remarkably modest compared to the multidecked, tall-masted sailing ships of the line at the era’s end, and the techniques for fighting as a fleet changed considerably as well.

It’s hard to imagine a better compilation on an eventful period: informative text, insightful pictures, and richly detailed maps.


Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here