The Other Norfolk Admirals: Myngs, Narbrough and Shovell

By Simon Harris

The careers of the three Norfolk admirals were intimately related. Narbrough and Shovell came from the small North Norfolk hamlet of Cockthorpe and Myngs from nearby Salthouse. In the 1660s, Myngs was the captain, Narbrough the lieutenant and Shovell the lowly cabin boy in the same ship. It is also possible that they were all related at least by marriage. In the majority of the naval wars of the second half of the 17th and the early 18th centuries one or other of them was invariably present.

Cloudesley Shovell

In this work, I have been able to revise and add new material on the unfortunate Cloudesley Shovell. Born to a yeoman farmer, he entered the Navy whilst still a boy and, in 1676, came to national prominence by burning the four ships of the Dey of Tripoli right under his castle walls. This led to conflict with Samuel Pepys over a gold medal that the generous Charles II had awarded Shovell. Later there was another spectacular falling out with James II over the new king’s Catholicism. Following Narbrough’s premature death, Shovell married his widow: effectively the cabin boy marrying the admiral’s widow which is unique in British naval history. Brave to a fault, in the reigns of William and Mary and Anne, Shovell became the leading fighting admiral of the age. In 1707, at the very height of his considerable powers, Shovell and nearly 2,000 men drowned after his ships were wrecked on the rocks of Scilly. According to his grandson, Shovell arrived on the shore alive and was then brutally murdered for the sake of an emerald ring on his finger. Faulty navigation was at the heart of Shovell’s demise; did he keep his appointment with the celebrated scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, to discuss longitude? New theories concerning the causes of the disaster are examined and also the fate of his gold dinner service.

Explorer, navigator, consummate sailor and naval administrator: John Narbrough was all this and more. No biography of Narbrough has been produced for 85 years and much new material has come to light in this time. For example the rediscovery of the ship, the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion from which Narbrough was trying to salvage sunken Spanish silver when he died from a mysterious illness. In addition, the British Library recently raised a large sum of money to buy Narbrough’s journals of his voyage [1669-71] into the Pacific Ocean and up to what is now modern day Chile. He illustrated his journals with paintings of the flora and fauna plus accurate depictions of the harbours that he visited. On his return journey, Narbrough became the first Englishman to sail through the Strait of Magellan from west to east.

An Action of the Barbary Wars

Both Narbrough and Shovell owed so much to Christopher Myngs and yet I do not believe that any biography of him has yet been written. In the 1650s, out in the West Indies, he played very much the part of an Elizabethan buccaneer with repeated attacks on the Spanish Main. After helping himself to treasure that more properly belonged to the state, he was shipped home to England in semi-disgrace. However, in the run-up to the Restoration of the monarchy, the authorities did not think it appropriate to discipline the most popular man in the Navy. Later, at the Four Days’ Battle of 1666, Myngs leading the English van would attempt to fight on despite having his face shattered by a musket ball. Six days later, he died at his home in London and was buried in an East London churchyard which has now become a seedy park. He deserved better.

The Other Norfolk Admirals is available now on our website here.


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Crucible of the Jacobite ’15

By Jonathan Oates

The battle of Sherriffmuir is a battle known to me since 1982, when I read an article about it in a wargaming magazine when I was at school. There was only John Baynes’ book on the topic, which I read, but that was all. I have always been interested in the campaign which surrounds it, which has always received less attention than that of 1745 by both historians and the popular media. It is probably why my undergraduate thesis explored the Fifteen in Newcastle.

Over a decade ago I was considering writing a book on the Fifteen, and even started it, spending much time with the State Papers Scotland at the National Archives, as well as primary published sources from the British Library. And then came Professor Szechi’s unrivallable tome concerning the whole of the campaign and its aftermath, and then a volume by an American scholar about the fates of the prisoners. Over three decades after John Baynes, we had these two brilliant books.

To cut a long story short, I had a book published about that even more obscure battle, though the last one on English soil, Preston, and my thoughts turned to the other battle of the campaign. Despite a recent book by Stuart Reid, I found a publisher quickly enough for a book on Sheriffmuir. My book, unlike Reid’s, would focus squarely on the Scottish campaign and in the struggle between Argyle and Mar for different visions of Scotland.

Fortunately I had my notes from Kew to use, but more work was needed. Szechi’s footnotes and a booklet about the battle, unknown apparently to both Szechi and Reid, provided additional clues for further research. No historian can be island from his fellows. Having a brother resident in Scotland meant that this southern English scholar could again free board and lodgings whilst spending time at the National Library (finding the one known joke made by the Jacobite leader, the Earl of Mar) and National Records of Scotland as well as visiting Dunblane Museum and the battlefield.  Taking a photograph of the major memorial there as soon as we arrived was lucky because after walking to the Gathering Stone and back, we found a car parked right in front of it.

In writing the book, I think I have shown Mar in a better light than he has traditionally been portrayed. This was given additional weight by my attention being brought to a hitherto unused document; however, this was after my visits to Scotland and so I was doubly lucky to be able to call on a Northumbrian Jacobite who was kind enough to pay a visit to the appropriate Edinburgh repository and look it up for me.

I have also been able to shed additional light on the rank and file of the British Army by a trawl through three decades of pension records at the National Archives. As with the document mentioned above, no one had previously used these. Amongst other conclusions, one is not that Scots made up about a quarter of the troops fighting against the Jacobites; a far greater proportion than their composition of Britain’s population. I also found that there was at least one woman warrior in both armies; the anonymous Jacobite heroine being killed.

Describing a battle is difficult for both participant and historian. Evidence naturally conflicts, raising the question of which to give greater weight to. Evidence from both letters, memoirs and newspapers have been used to provide the fullest account, which has not been the case with previous histories, providing as they have done on either a limited number of published sources or retailing a more concise version.

This is a great story worth retelling in a focused and detailed way on the core of the campaign; around Perth and Stirling in the autumn and winter of 1715-1716. It pits a small British army against a far larger force which fought in an unconventional way. This is the kind of struggle that the British army would face again and again during the next two centuries, but in 1715, the relatively primitive technology did not automatically give the smaller but better equipped force an overwhelming advantage.

Pre-order Crucible of the Jacobite ’15 here.

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What Did You Do in the Great War, Grandfather?

By Charles Barrington

The book primarily covers the First World, but also describes the years leading up to the war and the period between the wars.

My motivation was the fact that my grandfather was involved in this seismic period of history, but I knew nothing about his actual role and experiences when I knew him as a child.

I started with a single sheet of foolscap from the Army Records Office in Glasgow, from which I was able to trace his career back in time, and forward into the period after the war until he retired. I used the records in the Royal Artillery Museum Library (Firepower), now sadly closed to the public, and they led me to his unit war diaries in the National Archives, where I found his war diary for the entire period from July 1915 up to the Armistice.

I had never really understood the different phases of the First World War, and the book has taught me a huge amount about the BEF campaign in 1914, the stalemate before and after the Somme, the huge German assault in March 1918 (Operation Michael), and the pursuit to the Armistice line later that year.

The book seeks to understand why we find it so hard to comprehend the First World War, given the enormous changes in society since then. It also challenges the common view that the war was ‘futile’, and looks more deeply at the effect it had on those who survived, rather than the usual point of view, which is only to consider those who did not.

One of the key features is the use of unique family photographs from before and after the war. They bring the story to life.

Perhaps the chapter on the way society was changing before the war offers a new insight into the frame of mind of those who went to fight. It was not the glorious sun-drenched summer we all remember from the newsreels – there were real changes afoot, the implications of which did not become clear until well after the war had ended.

The newspaper article describing the wedding of my grandparents in 1913 is a brilliant illustration of the fashions of the time – a prize insight for students of design.

I now plan to research the lives of Allenby and Smith-Dorrien, both of whom deserve updated biographies. I am also writing a book of children’s stories!

I want the book to be read by non-historians (especially children) to show that ‘history’ is all about people and the role they play in the wider world.

I have never been a soldier, but both my grandfathers, my father, and my godfather all served in the two world wars. The book is partly to help me understand their world and what they lived through: unimaginable to us in the sheltered and politically correct world we now live in.

What Did You Do in the Great War, Grandfather? is now available on our website here.

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Jack and Hopit: A Cavalryman and his war horse in the Great War

By Serena Merton

Jack and Hopit tells the story of Second Lieutenant John Forrester Colvin and his charger Hopit who arrived in France in November 1914 and returned home together in April 1919. Their relationship began in 1912 when Jack was still a schoolboy and his father bought the horse at Tattersalls for the grand sum of £162.15.00 but the true rapport began when the Remount Department bought Hopit for £70 and he and Jack entrained for France and joined the 9th Lancers at the beginning of December 1914. Hopit survived the war unscathed whilst Jack was gassed three times; family history tells of his being the only trench survivor of one attack, and hospitalised once with a gunshot wound.

A snapshot of life in the trenches and beyond the front line for the cavalrymen and their mounts; their day-to-day lives of endurance, discomfort, mundanity and great bravery as well as the behind-the-lines entertainment that they put on for themselves. The regiment arranged football matches, polo, gymkhanas, marathon races, pheasant shooting, harrier and greyhound coursing. They designed and built a point-to-point course which had to be abandoned thanks to the mud but when billeted in drier spots race meetings were held. Culture was not forgotten either with a concert troupe and a regimental orchestra.

Jack on Hopit in Cologne in 1919.

I knew my grandfather well but I knew nothing about the horse Hopit until researching Jack’s award of the Military Cross in 1918 after the battle of Rosiéres, I discovered Hopit’s impressive grave which set me off on a voyage of research and discovery into the life of one World War One officer and his war horse. Jack, and his father Forrester, left a great number of photograph albums but few letters and no diaries. It took five to six years of part-time research and I did the bulk of it in the Imperial War Museum, the 9th/12th Lancers’ Museum in Derby and online as well as writing countless letters and emails to recipients in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Researching Hopit and his sire Popoff involved contact with bloodstock agents, a bloodstock journalist, a helpful Irish historian cousin, members of the local Historical Society in Sussex, Tattersalls, Weatherbys, the Irish Golden Pages, the grandsons of Tipperary farmers and horse breeders, the granddaughter of the man who sold him at auction in 1912, Sussex hunts and point-to-points. I interviewed elderly relations for their memories of Jack enquiring if he ever spoke of his experiences in the war – he did not. His daughter, my mother, is still alive at 95 but the ingrained silence of “not talking about the war” is still there after all these years.

General Plumer’s staff in Cologne in 1919. Jack on the left when serving as ADC to the Army Commander.

This was my first attempt at research and writing and I had the great good fortune to be published by Helion & Company. Having finished my education with A Levels, research and time spent in libraries was unknown to me but I found the entire process thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.

Hopit’s grave in West Sussex.

Jack and Hopit is now available here.

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Paperboys’ American Adventure

By Peter Dennis

The ‘Battle for Britain’ series is about to come to an end with ‘The Jacobite ‘45’ and ‘Castle Assault’ in spring ’18. I wanted to make a start on an American series of Paper soldier subjects that I’ve had in mind for some time, to appeal to an existing American Paper figure market, but also to break out into a non-wargaming market through the wonderful visitor centres at US battlefield parks. So far they seem to be much more open to the Paperboys than the English Heritage, and most other UK venue shops, which have given the British subjects a rather cold shoulder.

The Rebels are coming.

‘American Civil War’- my first serious military history crush at the age of about 10 – and ‘American Revolutionary War’ are just out. Both have great rules sets by Andy Callan, and follow the format of the British books, with a full range of troop types, or as many as I could fit in, in the case of the Revolutionary war, which was extremely diverse and must have exhausted the tailors of the continent with the huge variety of uniforms and headgear worn by the American troops.

Terrain items, buildings, trees, and particularly various types of fencing, very characteristic of the battlefields of both wars, feature as you would expect. There is a basic introduction to the armies of the period and the tactics and weapons used, to make the books suitable for readers who might have little prior knowledge of the conflicts. I suppose as an ex-teacher, the urge to draw people into a study which has fascinated me for a lifetime is irresistible.

I posted all my American Civil War paperboys to the US where Andrew Frantz, an early adopter of the Paperboys, will be doing some demonstration games at wargame shows in the East. It turns out the best way to post them en masse is just to tumble them into a strong cardboard box and shake it until they find their level, then throw some more in to fill it up. They arrived safe and sound and ready to be sorted into their brigades.

Should the new American series prove to be a success, various other exciting subjects spring to mind to expand the list, from the French Indian Wars to the Alamo campaign, so let’s see what happens.

Spring ’18 will see the publication of Florian Richter’s book of profile models of the Trafalgar fleets. This is a natural spin-off of the ‘Armada’ book which stimulated lots of ideas from readers, with Napoleonic heading the list. Andy Callan will be putting a simple set of fleet rules on the site as a free download. There are dozens of rules sets for this period available, but none, we think, can cope with the large fleets which will be easy to make with Florian’s book.

The British are coming.

The Paperboys will march on into a new series called ‘Paperboys on Campaign’ which is, frankly, a catch-all title to allow me to indulge myself in my favourite periods, starting with Marlborough’s wars against the Sun King’s magnificent army, part of the War of Spanish Succession. That will be ready for publication in autumn ’18. This series will concentrate on the figures, with no educational content as such, and Andy can’t see any point in doing rules for popular subjects which have many sets in publication already, so you can expect to see over 40 pages of soldiers raring to be freed from their sheets and to get into action.

I have just designed the first 3D artillery models for this period which will be offered alongside the simpler ‘from the front’ artillery that we have seen in earlier books. I propose to do 3D artillery for all the previous books that need it and offer the sheets as a free download on this site, when I get the time to do it.

Louis XIV ‘s artillery in three dimensions.

Where the Paperboys will be campaigning after that is still to be decided. The Peninsular War will be an early subject, and the image of thousands of Zulus racing to outflank a square of sweating redcoats keeps springing into my mind. The ancient world can’t be neglected either or those glittering masses of Landsknechts… I’ll go and have a lie down, I think.

Both books are available to purchase on our website now.

Battle in America Wargame – The American Civil War is available here.
Battle in America Wargame – The American Revolutionary War is available here.

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London’s Civil War

David Flintham’s first book for Helion CIVIL WAR LONDON. A MILITARY HISTORY OF LONDON UNDER CHARLES I AND OLIVER CROMWELL  has just been published

The author talks about why he thinks the cities Civil War history is often overlooked.

Any decent London bookshop will have shelves devoted to the history of the capital.  But taking anything more than a cursory glance at the titles on display will reveal a glaring omission: the virtual absence of anything about London during the 1640s and 50s, the period of the ‘English’ Civil Wars and Interregnum.  Whilst there is plenty on Tudor London and Shakespeare’s London, and books about the Great Plague, the Great Fire and the London of Samuel Pepys appear with an almost staggering regularity, those about the London of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell are rare, so much so that it is probably possible to count the titles published on this subject over the past 30 years on the fingers of two hands.

Yet there was scarcely an event during the English Civil Wars where London did not feature. London was the hub of the Parliamentarian war effort and it was not for nothing that Thomas Hobbs wrote “But for the city the Parliament never could have made the war, nor the Rump ever have murdered the King”.  Whilst London did not witness as much actual fighting as in other parts of the Three Kingdoms, four battles (Brentford, and Turnham Green in 1642, and Bow Bridge, and Surbiton in 1648) did take place in what we now know as Greater London.  It was from London that Parliament’s army to relieve Gloucester was dispatched, and in 1649, it was to the capital that Cromwell returned from Ireland in triumph.  And Turnham Green in November 1642, a standoff between the Parliamentarian and Royalist armies could easily have become the largest battle of the entire conflict.

London’s importance has been emphasised by countless historians, with some going as far to say that by fleeing his capital in January 1642, King Charles I lost the war several months before the fighting actually started.  But most studies focus on London as the political and economic powerhouse – overlooking the fact that militarily, London was just as important.  At the outbreak of the fighting, Parliament was able to call upon the Capital’s ‘citizen soldiers’ – well trained and equipped soldiery.  These Trained Bands, formed the core of several of Parliament’s armies during the early years of the war, although their commitment was not always assured.  In addition to its militia and other volunteers, London was also able to defend herself through the construction of the largest system of urban fortification constructed anywhere in the country – and here London’s citizens played a direct role in the defence of the capital through the construction of a 18-km circuit of earthwork fortifications, the famous ‘Lines of Communication’.

London’s arms trades supplied the Parliamentarian war effort, and the Tower of London, safely in Parliament’s hands since January 1942, the country’s principal arsenal.  The capital was a place of execution (public executions took place in at least five different locations in central London), it treated the war’s wounded, and was the place of burial for many of the wars’ chief protagonists.  Armed soldiers were a common sight on London’s streets and the political direction of what has sometimes been referred to as ‘The English Revolution’ was steered by several armed coups within the capital.

Whilst London was controlled by Parliament, London was never 100% behind the Parliamentarian war-effort: amongst its population were both neutrals and Royalists (although the extent of a perceived Royalist ‘fifth-column’ is a matter for debate).  Indeed, a sufficnet number of Royalists fled London in 1642 and 1643 to form a largely ‘London’ Royalist regiment in Oxford, command by Marmaduke Rawdon, himself a former Colonel in the London Trained Bands.  Other Royalists could be found in London’s military hospitals and prisons (and, for some, ultimately at the capital’s many places of execution).

When David Underdown spoke of Revel, Riot and Rebellion in his 1987 work, he could have easily been describing the London of the 1640s and 1650s, as the capital experienced all of this and more.  And despite the ravages of time, and of the Great Fire and the Blitz, there is still much of the London known to Charles I and Oliver Cromwell to be seen today.  For instance, a three-mile stroll through Westminster takes in where Charles was executed, where the body of Cromwell was hung, the place of burial of a number of leading Parliamentarians, the birthplace of both Charles II and James II and the only remains of London’s Civil War fortifications.  Delve deeper and even more of London of the mid-17th century reveals itself.

All that is needed is a good guide…

Civil War London: A Military History of London under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell by David Flintham published by Helion and Company (September 2017)

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Gladsmuir and Prestonpans 1745: What’s in a name?

Arran Johnston’s book – On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be! – launches in September 2017 as Number 6 in the ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series and tells the story of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, so why Gladsmuir in the title and not Prestonpans? The author explains all:

The battle, which took place on the morning of 21 September 1745 between the rival dynasties of Hanover and Stuart, is one of Scotland’s most famous and best documented.

It is possible, as the book demonstrates, to build a detailed picture of precisely how events unfolded, but ever since the battle was fought, it has been known by a variety of names – the Battle of Tranent, Tranent Muir, Seton, Preston, Prestonpans and Gladsmuir – so what’s in a name?

The main battlefield area occupies a space between the villages of Preston, Seton and Tranent. Seton lay just behind the Jacobite lines when they formed up for their final charge, but the settlement was fairly minor in 1745 and would later disappear entirely. Besides, the Jacobites did not hang around its vicinity for very long, so it is easy to understand why the Battle of Seton failed to catch on popularly.

Tranent was a larger settlement, on high ground overlooking the battlefield. The Jacobites occupied several positions around the village the day before the battle, and the first shots of the battle were fired from here. It was not unreasonable therefore that the local poet-farmer Adam Skirving gave the town’s name to the battle in one of his ballads. The poem has proven a less enduring hit than his other work on the engagement, Hey Johnnie Cope!

The village closest to the government lines was that of Preston – a worthy old medieval market settlement. Chief amongst the inhabitants was the brother of the exiled Earl of Mar, whose grand house and gardens at Preston formed the western edge of the main battlefield. To the south was his neighbour Colonel Gardiner, who fell in the battle and was duly lionised after his death. Gardiner’s house at Bankton was used as a hospital for the wounded and has since become an iconic location. Preston has a strong claim therefore for lending the battle its name (and this was widely recognised at the time), but Preston’s importance was waning by 1745 in contrast to the growing coastal settlement to its north, Prestonpans. In time, the latter would totally subsume old Preston; however, there were already two famous Battles of Preston (1648 and 1715), and although they were fought in Lancashire, they both loomed dark in the Scottish – especially the Jacobite – consciousness.

It is no surprise therefore that the Jacobite soldiers who had fought and won the engagement were open to using an alternative title. Fortunately for the propagandists, just to the east of Tranent was a broad heath known as Gladsmuir. A medieval prophecy by Thomas the Rhymer foretold of a great victory to be won at a place of this name. A popular version in 1615 summarised the prophecy as ‘on Gladsmuir shall the battle be’. Surely now that had been fulfilled, and the two or three miles separating the battlefield from the real Gladsmuir were a trifling detail, but the people who actually lived around the battlefield were not impressed with the Jacobites’ choice. A fiery petition was sent to the Scots Magazine, which criticised its use of the name ‘Gladsmuir’. It could only signify, its signatories exclaimed, malice or stupidity. To mistake some of the most fertile fields in Lothian for barren moorland was ‘downright transubstantiation’! The cause of the concern was that the local communities were being ‘deprived of that honour and fame which of right pertains to them’. To the petitioners, said to be from all of the villages which surrounded the battlefield, it did not matter which title was used as long as it was that of one of the settlements – thus, it came to pass that (to paraphrase Lord Elcho, who had charged across the field with the Jacobites) the Prince and his men called it the ‘Battle of Gladsmuir’, but everyone else says ‘Prestonpans’.

Arran P. Johnston

 On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be! will be formally launched on the anniversary of the battle – Thursday, 21 September – at Cockenzie House & Gardens, 22 Edinburgh Road, Cockenzie, East Lothian, EH32 0HY. Doors open at 7.30pm, entry is free and refreshments will be provided.

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New and forthcoming releases: ‘From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815’

It was only seven months ago that I composed the first post for this blog, announcing the imminent release of the first ‘From Reason to Revolution’ title. Now, the first four titles are in print and books number five and six are at the printers’ and will be available imminently; by the end of the year, as further titles continue to release, the total of books in print will have risen to eleven.

The selection of titles making up the first year’s releases should give a pretty good idea of what to expect for the series looking on into 2018 and beyond. We have heavyweight monograph studies of battles and campaigns, on land – Prestonpans 1745 – at sea – the blockade of Brest 1793-1815 – and amphibious – the West Indies 1794. We also have first-person eyewitness accounts, including material translated from Russian and French as well as English-language classics, all of it accompanied by notes and commentary to place the historical material in context.

Falling somewhere between these two categories are Neil Cogswell’s two volumes based on the papers of Horace St Paul. St Paul recorded his personal impressions of service with the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War, but he was also conscious that he was writing history and sought to add other material as well, to which Neil as editor has added yet more. The first of these titles, Lobositz to Leuthen, has received much praise since its release as the first title in the series, and the second volume, Olmütz to Torgau will complete the year’s releases as book number eleven when it comes out in November.

Lastly, the year’s releases include two significant works of uniformology. One is a reproduction of a primary source – the Spanish Estado Militar of 1800 – not previously seen in print; the other is the product of years of research into the uniforms and organisation of the French Army of the Orient in Egypt and reproduces colour plates from the extensive collection of the author, Yves Martin.

Looking ahead to 2018, all these themes within the series continue to be developed. Three different campaign studies will address three different campaigns in the Low Countries – those of 1745, 1793-’95, and 1799 – emphasising that this was still very much the ‘Cock-pit of Europe’ for much of the long-eighteenth century. Our delayed study of the uniforms of the Dutch army of this era is also now slated for 2018 release, along with similar volumes dealing with the armed forces of the Elector Frederick August II of Saxony, a ruler who found himself unenviably caught between the power of Austria and Prussia and whose lands were turned into battlefields nearly as frequently as those of the Dutch. We shall also be breaking new ground, however, with the first titles to deal with the American Revolutionary War due for release, along with our first biography in the shape of a study of the life and times of Sir George Murray, Wellington’s de-facto chief-of-staff for much of the Peninsular War.

Already we are looking on into 2019 and beyond when it comes to scheduling new titles, having received so many fascinating proposals of which would-be readers will be able to learn more in due course either via this blog or via the series Facebook page. Do please also use the latter to give feedback on titles that you have enjoyed, to suggest new topics, or simply as a means of contacting others with an interest in the warfare of the eighteenth century. Notwithstanding the variety of topics already slated for coverage, there are still many gaps to be filled and anyone interested in contributing to the series themselves is most welcome to contact me at to discuss their ideas.

Lastly, plans are currently being made for the first series conference. This will take place in the spring of 2018, with the papers subsequently being published as part of the series. Again, watch this space and the Facebook page for further details.

Andrew Bamford, Series & Commissioning Editor

*Summer Savings, limited time only* Save 35% on any title in the From Reason to Revolution Series 1721-1815 when you buy direct from Helion before midnight on Friday 18 August. Offer applies to pre-orders. No money will be taken until the day the book is published!

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Drawing Maps for the Victorio Campaign of 1879-1881

By Dr R.N. Watt – The University of Birmingham

Maps and diagrams can speak a thousand words. Good maps can make a huge contribution to transmitting a historic narrative effectively. Conversely, poor maps, or no maps at all, will cripple any attempt to deliver a coherent account of the Victorio Campaign.

One of my frustrations with existing literature is that maps of the Apache Wars are usually not very clear and/or incorrect. Places can be named in the text but not marked on the relevant map. I did not want this to be an issue with my history of the Victorio Campaign.

However, drawing one’s own maps is a daunting task. I had not attempted anything like this before, but my purchasing power did not extend to the realm of the professional cartographer.

What I hope to show you here is how I drew the map for a single episode of the Victorio campaign where the Apaches attacked a specific area of New Mexico between 10 and 13 October 1879.

The first step is to determine the overall extent of a master map which would cover the entire campaign. To do this effectively, one needs to have finished writing the narrative. The next step was to purchase the relevant professional maps in a standard scale which would show sufficient detail to give a good idea of the physical geography of the area.

Checking the maps online, I decided to purchase the 1:250,000 scale maps. This was complicated by the fact that this overall map would need to cover both sides of the US-Mexico border between Eastern Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico and Eastern Arizona, Western New Mexico and Western Texas in the USA. Thus, I had to purchase the maps from the US and Mexico Geological Survey. The creation of a Master map of the Victorio Campaign would allow me to create a single scale grid system which would allow me to zoom in on specific episodes of the campaign where no matter the grid size on each individual map, the scale would be the same.

Diagram 1

Taking one of the 1:250,000 scale maps and using a ruler and a calculator, I determined that the map showing Las Cruces and the surrounding area of New Mexico (Diagram One) could be divided into a four by seven square grid where each individual grid measured approximately 27.5 km. Thus the map in Diagram One covers an area of 110 km by 192.5km. I checked these measurements with all the maps I had purchased and confirmed that they also fit this pattern. The maps were laminated and I carefully drew the grid pattern with a fine permanent marker pen.

Diagram 2

This allowed me to construct a simple blank grid pattern diagram which would cover the whole campaign area (Diagram Two). Each individual map I had purchased was given a code letter (A through to V missing out ‘I’ as I also numbered each individual grid square and ‘I1’, ‘I2’ could be read as all numerals). This resulted in a pattern of 27 vertical squares by 21 horizontal squares which covered an overall map area of 742km by 577.5km.

The map from Diagram One corresponds to the area marked H1 to H28 on Diagram Two. Knowing what specific maps were required for the book allowed me to plot them on this grid system so that I could determine the number of 27.5km by 27.5km grid squares which would be required for each map.

Diagram 3

Where the map for 10-13 October 1879 was concerned, this involved quite a small area on the master grid plan. At first glance, this would involve four grid squares from the map shown in Diagram One. (See Diagram Three). However, closer examination of the map shown in Diagram One suggested that my original grid system did not quite fit the required area so I re-drew the 27.5km by 27.5km grids to fit the required area of the map. (See red outline on Diagram Four).

Diagram 4

My final involvement was to hand draw in pencil all the geographic features. Once satisfied, I then finalised these using very fine point felt pens.

I then added the details of the locations of ranches and the movement of the Apaches and their enemies on the map.

Again this was done in pencil and finalised with coloured felt tip pens to produce Diagram Five.

Diagram 5


I then typed up a map key in Word, printed it off and added this to Diagram Five. I scanned the finished copy into my computer and submitted this to Helion.

While, I was pleased with Diagram Five, the final version, produced by George Anderson from this diagram for Helion, is outstanding. (See Diagram Six).

Diagram 6

One final thought: I purchased the maps from the USA and Mexico Geological Surveys in 2009-10.

It did not occur to me that buying maps from both sides of the border might cause some interest in those waging the War on Drugs etc. in the USA and Mexico.

I never received any indication that Homeland Security may have had a brief interest in one Dr RN Watt. They will have quickly realised my interest was accounting historic warfare and not plotting contemporary villainy…

‘I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail’. The Victorio Campaign 1879 by Robert Watt is available to preorder here


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Victorio’s Last Victory: The Goodsight Mountains Fight, 7 September, 1880

By Dr R.N. Watt – The University of Birmingham

This starts with a map I found in the National Archives, Washington D.C., in June 2014. It concerned what I had thought to be a minor skirmish between a detachment led by Captain Leopold O. Parker, Fourth Cavalry and a small raiding party of Apaches. This map (pictured left) was accompanied by several reports of which I had not previously been aware.


Summary of Events 6-8 September, 1880

On the evening of 6 September, 1880, Captain Hale in command of his company of Sixteenth Infantrymen, escorting a group of surveyors/engineers for the AT & SF Railroad, found the remains of a stagecoach two miles from their camp. They also discovered the driver and one passenger killed. Hale immediately sent a courier westwards to Fort Cummings who arrived around 11pm that night. It was assumed that the perpetrators were Apaches from Victorio’s following.

Colonel George P. Buell immediately ordered Major Noyes to take his company and 10 Apache scouts south to the Florida Mountains to intercept the Apaches (should they have gone in that direction). At the same time, Buell ordered Captain Parker to take his company eastwards to the scene of the attack and to take up the trail of the assumed Apache raiders. Both companies departed Fort Cummings between midnight and 12.30am on 7 September, 1880.

Parker reached Hale’s camp during the hours of darkness. He waited until first light before proceeding to the site of the ambush where they found the body of an additional passenger. Apache scouts confirmed that the perpetrators were Apaches. His scouts also determined that the raiders had come up from the south and had also departed southwards.

At 8am Parker sent his scouts in pursuit – they having estimated that they were pursuing 10 to 15 Apaches – and followed with his company. However, he reported that his scouts appeared to be reluctant to pursue the trail and several times overtook them and questioned them as to the number of Apaches they were pursuing. Parker does not mention this in his report, but the implication being that he was concerned that this reluctance to pursue the trail might reflect a stronger force of Apaches being present. However, the scouts reiterated their estimate.

By around 11am, Parker’s command was starting to ascend a very gentle ridge between higher hills. When he stopped to consult with his scouts again, he received a volley from his left and centre at a range of between 45-50 yards, immediately followed by a volley from his front and right from a large number of concealed Apache warriors. Two Apache scouts and one soldier were instantly killed and another three soldiers were wounded. Lt. James Lockett, in his first action, was even closer to the Apaches and had his horse wounded and received between three and four bullet holes through his coat but was miraculously not hit by hostile fire.

Confusion reigned and the surviving Apache scouts retreated (or in Parker’s words ‘disappeared’ along with their interpreter and mule packer) and took no further part in the battle. Parker rallied his company after a retreat of about 150 yards. After organising horse holders he had about 30 troops available and deployed them in a skirmish line. Each man was 10 yards apart so the skirmish line was approximately 300 yards wide. The line advanced and, as they came within easy range, the Apaches opened up a heavy fire.

Parker noted that the Apaches were still flanking him on both sides which indicated a force considerably larger than the 10 to 15 Apaches whose trail they were following. Parker fell back and re-aligned his skirmish line to the right in order to attack the slightly higher ground but again found the Apaches to be flanking him on both sides and in no mood to vacate their positions.

Moreover, he and one of his sergeants realised that some of the Apache warriors were using adjacent arroyos in an effort to not only surround his skirmish line but to threaten his horse-holders that had been sent to the rear with the company’s horses. Parker withdrew and regrouped again, making a final advance with his skirmish line. Finding that the Apaches were still willing to hold their positions to his front and simultaneously making efforts to surround the skirmish line, Parker withdrew to his horses and withdrew to a ridge a mile-and-a-half distant.

Parker then withdrew towards Hale’s company having sent in a courier to ask for their help. Realising the strength of the enemy, he decided that Hales 25 men might be vulnerable to an attack and withdrew about eight miles until he joined them.

As one can see from the summary of the overall operation below and the appended reports, Buell – on receipt of the news of Parker’s ambush – organised a battalion of Ninth Cavalry and a battalion of Fifteenth Infantrymen (the latter loaded in wagons), from the large garrison at Fort Cummings to go to the rescue.

This map was drawn by the author and is based upon the 1:250,000 US Geological Survey Map. Each grid square measures approx. 27.5km by 27.5km. The original was drawn on A3 paper so it is recommended that the reader use the zoom to enlarge the picture to a more readable magnification.

Parker was subsequently criticised for not keeping in contact with the Apaches and I would agree with Dudley and Buell that his retreat of eight miles was excessively cautious. Equally, Buell’s statement that had Parker remained in contact with the Apaches until the arrival of the reinforcements from Fort Cummings would have led to the destruction of the Apaches is ludicrous. Faced with such opposition, the Apaches would have simply scattered. Parkers’ decision to withdraw from the fight was correct.

The mere fact that the Apaches were holding their line and then going on the offensive round both of his flanks suggests that they had weighed the odds and found that both their numbers and the terrain were heavily in their favour. If this is the case, and Parker’s surviving scouts later estimated that they had been attacked by Victorio’s main following, which could mean that Parker, with just over 40 troopers, was facing as many as 80 to 100 experienced Apache warriors.

This engagement constitutes Victorio’s last military success against the US army before being trapped and killed at Tres Castillos by Mexican state troops on the 14/15 October, 1880.

  Date Event
1. 6 Sept. A Stagecoach is ambushed and the occupants killed 16 miles east of Fort Cummings. The wreckage is discovered by a detachment of 16th Infantrymen escorting a railroad survey team. Their commander, Capt. Hale, sends a courier to Fort Cummings who arrives there at 10pm.
2. 6/7 Sept. At midnight Capt. Parker, with Co. A., 4th Cavalry and 10 Apache scouts proceeds from Fort Cummings to the site of the ambush. He is ordered to pursue the hostile Apaches from that point.
3. 6/7 Sept. At 12.30am Major Noyes departs Fort Cummings with Co. H., 4th Cavalry and 10 Apache Scouts for the Florida Mts. in an attempt to intercept the Apache raiders, should they make for that point. He is also ordered to contact Lt.’s Maney and Goodwin who are currently scouting in this area with their Apache scouts and put them in pursuit of the Apaches. He arrives at the Little Floridas at dawn and works his way down the Floridas but find insufficient water and returns to the Little Floridas.
4. 7 Sept. Parker’s detachment reaches the site of the ambush. At 8am he pursues the trail southwards, probably along the eastern side of the Goodsight Mts. until, at approximately 11am, he is ambushed at the southern end of these Mountains. He loses three men killed and three wounded in the ambush. Parker sends a courier to Capt. Hale requesting that he telegraph for reinforcements from Fort Cummings. Unable to shift the Apaches from their positions on the ridge Parker pulls back approximately 8 miles to regroup.
5. 7 Sept. This request is received at about 1.30pm and Lt. Col. Dudley mounts up a large battalion of the Ninth Cavalry and sets out at about 2.15pm. Col. Buell also mounts some Fifteenth Infantrymen in wagons and sets off with them on the road at 2.45pm.
6. 7 Sept. Capt. Hale marches to the aid of Parker and arrives just before the Ninth Cavalry arrive from Fort Cummings.
7. 7 Sept. On the approach of reinforcements the Apaches scatter and re-congregate at a nearby camp in a canyon running down out of the Goodsight Mountains.
8. 7 Sept. Col. Dudley takes command and pursues the Apaches to a point two miles beyond their camp before darkness makes if impossible to follow the trail.
9. 7 Sept. Seeing that they are still being pursued, the Apaches poison the water at their camp using horse entrails and then retreat into Mexico. They are earlier spotted by Dudley, from the southern escarpment of the Goodsight Mountains, 15 miles distant making for Mexico.
10. 7/8 Sept. Major Noyes, finding no signs of Apaches in or around the Florida Mts., is met by a courier from Buell and ordered to march to the Goodsight Mountains. By dawn on the 8 September he was approximately 10 miles from these mountains.
11 8 Sept. Buell and Dudley return to Cummings via Hale’s railroad surveying camp. They are joined by Major Noyes who, on reaching the Goodsight Mountains, had spotted their dust and followed them. Buell and Dudley had both concluded that to pursue the Apaches further would be futile given their lack of supplies sufficient to sustain a prolonged pursuit of Victorio. It would also involve a premature entry into the Republic of Mexico.

Finding the Battlesite

The map I recently unearthed in the archives (see below) gives a very clear indication of the broad location of the engagement and pinpointed it at the southern end of the Goodsight Mountains. This was already clear from the reports of which I was aware. Nevertheless, the specific details given of the hills immediately surrounding the site suggested to me that there should be a good chance of spotting the exact location on the modern maps.

I consulted with my local contacts Daniel D. Aranda and Eric Fuller, and the latter was confident that he could pinpoint the locations using this map and large scale topo maps. We (myself, Dan Aranda, Eric and Kathy Fuller) set out on 9 July, 2014, in an effort to locate the site.

Arriving at the broad location, it looked promising and we split up to look over the site. The description had mentioned bushes, soapweeds and small breastworks. At first, while I could see plenty of small bushes and soapweeds, I could not see any breastworks and no sign of spent cartridges – though the absence of the latter isn’t necessarily surprising. I eventually realised we were in the wrong spot when I crested the low ridge and found myself looking down the Goodsight escarpment to the plain some way below. While this afforded an excellent view of the Potrillo and Florida Mountains, it also demonstrated that I had clearly gone too far south.

Photo 1

Dan and I spent about an hour casting back down and along the low ridge. Dan found signs of what looked like metal detecting but the immediate area still did not look right to me. I sat down with the map and once again tried to match up the surrounding hills. looking back north from where I was sitting I saw a very low hogback coming down from what I think is the small hill to the left and below the crossed sabres on the map.

If I am correct then we had actually driven through the ambush site and parked just beyond the centre-right (from the Apache point of view) of the ambush position. Having arrived there, travelling in the broad line of march taken by the army, and not noticing the spot, shows what a good potential ambush position this might constitute.

Photo 2

I climbed to the top of this hill and looked at the map again and could fit all the hills marked to the west, south and east of the crossed sabres. However, the hill to the left and north was present but appears to be bigger than marked on the map. That was the only anomaly between the map and my looking around the site.

Moreover, while we could not see any constructed breastworks, there were along the top of this hill a number of natural low outcroppings which would have provided perfect cover for prone Apache marksmen. (See Photos One and Two above).

Photo 3

Photo Three (left) is taken from the same high ground but overlooks the area where I think Parker withdrew after he was first attacked (Red solid arrow marking rally point).

The Blue arrow outlines his suspected line of retreat.

The Green Line shows one of the flanking arroyos where the Apaches started to infiltrate around Parker’s right flank when he subsequently moved forward with his skirmish line.

Photo Four (below) is taken from almost the top of the ridge on the edge of the Goodsight escarpment, looking north down to the Apache positions. The cloud shadow actually marks where I think the Apache positions were (pure accident on my part as I took this picture about an hour before I spotted what I thought to be the ambush site).

The Red arrow marks the hill with the natural breastworks.

Photo 4

The Yellow line marks the low hogback which I think the Apaches also used for cover. This also extends into a low arroyo which the Apaches could use to work their way around Parker’s left flank.

The Green arrow marks Parkers’s probable line-of-march into the ambush.

Photo 5


Photo Five (left) is taken from lower down the ridge looking north. One can see how the hill drifts down into a quite innocuous hogback which the Apache warriors could have used for cover.

Photo Six (below) is broadly looking south and gives Parker’s view of the ambush site as he approached from the north. The terrain does not look dangerous and the crest of the hill beyond the Apache positions is just visible.

Photo 6

The Red arrow marks the hill with the natural breastworks and the blue line marks the broad location of the Apaches hidden behind the hogback: but note that the lie of the land from where this photo was taken actually hides the hogback from view until one moves into very close proximity. It should be recalled that we travelled through this position without spotting its potential.

Reconstruction of Parker Fight, 7 September, 1880.


Key Description.
A Point where Parker’s detachment was probably ambushed
B Apache Positions
C Arroyo to Parker’s left
D Arroyo to Parker’s right
E Rallying point after the ambush
F Spot where Parker probably stationed his horse holders.
G Parker’s first advance
H Parker’s second advance
I Parker’s third advance
J Possible location of Apache Camp
K Direction of water ‘rock tanks’ at the bottom of Goodsight Mountains escarpment


‘I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail’. The Victorio Campaign 1879 by Robert Watt is available to preorder here


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