19th Century

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The Seven Days, 1862

The American Civil War might easily have ended in 1862. In the event, it dragged on for three more years, claiming the lives of 600,000 men, more than all of America’s other wars combined. A strong case can be made that this outcome was the work of two very different men – George B McClellan and Robert E Lee. To what extent do individuals change the course of history?

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War Reporters: William Howard Russell

Seema Syeda on battlefield scoops throughout the ages. William Howard Russell was one of the most prolific and revolutionary journalists of his time. Best known for his reporting on the Crimean War, he narrated the events of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, and Tennyson wrote his celebrated poem of the same name – now […]

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Grant and the Overland Campaign

Grant’s conduct of the Overland Campaign has sometimes been criticised as bludgeoning – lacking in tactical finesse, restricted to frontal attacks, callous about casualties. But is this assessment fair? Neil Faulkner weighs up the debate.

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The Military History Behind the Vagrancy Act

The 1824 Vagrancy Act – which criminalises rough sleeping – has become the subject of public debate after Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK’s Labour Party, committed to repeal it in the event of a Labour government. A parliamentary debate on the Act, organised by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, is due to take place in March. With the recent rise in homelessness across the […]

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The Siege of Ladysmith: a video tour

The siege of Ladysmith during the Anglo-Boer war is the stuff of legends. The Boers had surrounded General Sir George White and his troops since the start of November 1899, but they had been generally inactive and unwilling to launch a frontal assault on the town. That changed on 6 January 1900, when the biggest engagement […]

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Battle Royal – Louis, Prince Imperial

Patrick Boniface on the deaths in combat of regal warriors. The savagery of the Zulu Wars showed no respect for class or privilege, and the naked remains of a young French prince were testimony to the ferocity of the fighting. The death in June 1879 of Louis, Prince Imperial also marked the end of any […]

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The Matabele Wars

We know the story. Goaded into a hopeless war by an expanding colonial empire, thousands of warriors rise against their oppressors – and inadvertently spawn a legend. There is a twist: this action takes place in present-day Zimbabwe. While we are very familiar with the struggle for South Africa and the desperate encounters at Isandhlwana, Rorke’s Drift, and Ulundi during the Zulu War of 1879, this was only the beginning of a generation of brutal conflict across the ‘dark continent’.

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Jane Austen: a wartime writer?

War and violence are the last things one would associate with that 19th-century doyenne of English literature, Jane Austen. Ambles in the countryside, flirtatious glances, frocks with lace and frills, and the relentless pursuit of wealthy bachelors are the more likely images conjured by her name.

Yet conventional interpretations of the novelist’s work lack reference to a crucial context – that of war. For most of Jane Austen’s life, Britain was involved in conflicts of varying existential significance across the globe.

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Chakdara: the other Rorke’s Drift?

The epic defence of Chakdara is intriguing. It lasted a week (26 July-2 August 1897), involved 240 men defending an isolated post against up to 8,000 tribal warriors, and had a big impact on the British public back home at the time. But no VCs were awarded, and the action is almost totally forgotten today. Why?

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American naval power: Abraham Lincoln and the Union Navy

Patrick Boniface analyses the expansion and transformation of the US Navy during the American Civil War. ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I shall spend the first four sharpening the axe.’ So said Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s greatest presidents, and he might well have been speaking about the creation of the […]

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