Warhorse Simulations home page WARHORSE

ACTS | Empire | Epic of the Peloponnesian War | Free Stuff | Friends

Other historical book reviews and research papers are also available on our site.

Kurt Kuhlmann


HST 351


Review:                  Comte Maurice de Saxe, Reveries or Memoires on the Art of War, 1941 [1757].

Maurice de Saxe's book was written in thirteen days, according to the author's foreword, and it bears the marks of being written from start to finish without a clear idea of where it is going.  A single thesis is therefore difficult to find in this rambling, disorganized work.  Several themes of early eighteenth-century warfare stand out, however.  First, Saxe is very concerned about disease, and has thought a great deal about practical measures to curb its ravages.  For instance, he advocates replacing fancy, non-functional uniforms with one designed with the soldiers' comfort and health in mind.  Second, he is openly disdainful of musket fire as it was currently practiced in Europe.  He regarded it as ineffective, and from his own experience persuasively argued that a bayonet charge was far more effective than any musket volley, even at close range (20 paces).  His remedy for this problem was to discard volley fire altogether and allow the soldiers to aim and fire at will.  He advocates the use of light troops as skirmishers [were these in use at the time, or is this his own invention?], but I believe that the British became very successful practitioners of volley fire during the Napoleonic wars.  Other visionary concepts contained in this short book include army divisions operating independently (he regards any army larger than about 34,000 as useless emcumbrance), a "principle of action" for the whole army (p. 38) suggestive of the modern concept of doctrine, and cadenced marching, which astonishly was not in use although drums and music were used for military signaling (Saxe observed soldiers unconsciously marching in time with the drum calling them to the colors).

Probably the two overall themes that make this such a refreshing book to read are Saxe's open mind and his attention to the human dimension of war.  As the above examples indicate, Saxe was not at all bound to military conventions or traditions.  He openly scoffs at procedures which are carried out simply because of tradtion, without regard to common sense or practical usefulness.  Despite his love for the Romans, he is does not slavishly advocate reforming everything to the classical model.  Rather, he scrutinizes every aspect of war to see if what is being done makes sense, and if not, what could be done to improve it.  He also focuses strongly on the human spirit as central to war.  For instance, he regards entrenchments as very dangerous to the army occupying them--as soon as the enemy first enters the entrenchments, the whole line will crumble.  Troops in entrenchments will also be unwilling to leave them, allowing the enemy to maneuver freely in front of them.  Many of the measures he advocates are intended to strengthen the army's spirit, which he regards as the crucial element of war.  An army which believes that it can win will win, regardless of the relative sizes of the opposing armies.

In sum, Saxe's book provides very useful insights in eighteenth century warfare by an experienced soldier with a critical eye.  Saxe also understood well the human aspect of war, and many of these insights still hold true today.  Before closing, I have to note the atrocious edition I used--avoid it like the plague.  It was full of wretched illustrations which had no value to the text whatsoever (pictures of soldiers in various period uniforms).  More damning, the soundness of the whole translation is put in doubt by the fact that a quote used in the editor's introduction says the exact opposite of the passage in the text.

Copyright © 1998 Warhorse Simulations