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PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 8:15 am 

Joined: Wed May 23, 2001 12:05 am
Posts: 148
Location: USA

Would like to your thoughts about something that crossed my mind the other day...

My basic question is whether or not we can begin to understand what went through the mind of a Napoleonic Soldier or Officer.

The question first crossed my mind as I watched 'Battlefield Detective' on the History Channel the other night. They were trying to explain why French losses at Agincourt were so out of proportion to English losses. While the cliched explanation of archer vs knight would explain to a certain extent, they were looking for a further explanation. A 'Crowd Psychology' expert (hey, don't ask me what in the heck that is!) was brought in and he proceeded to make some interesting statements about how Mob Behaviour (as drawn from Rock Concerts among other things) leads to closely packed groups of people moving in certain directions, often against their will. The gist of his statements were to say that the French at Agincourt were packed in such a small space that they moved inexorably into a smaller and smaller area by a sort of herd mentality where they were slaughtered by arrows and trampling.

While this seemed plausible to me, I began to wonder if we can actually use 21st Century explanations for past behaviour. Does it make sense to explain the actions of an illiterate peasant based on our understanding of human behaviour. For example (yes, Mike C, it does always come down to skirmishers), we sometimes assume that some faceless Lieutenant would move his skirmisher company to the perfect spot to cut off the retreat of a formed unit because that's what a highly trained company commander of WWII+ would do. But isn't this Napoleonic officer raised as a low level functionary in a society where to do anything other than what he is told will result in social demotion or worse?

Not wanting to get caught up in specific examples, what does anyone think about this? Some pieces of the human experience are clearly the same from century to century...greed, self-preservation, etc. But what does anyone think about our understanding of these men...when they marched for 'Glory' or 'Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity', can we today, with our 99.9% different frame of reference even begin to understand what that meant? Would a soldier of today have the same feelings when given a Silver Star as the grognard had when given the Legion of Honneur? Did the effective NCO or Corps Commander of 1815 have the same leadership traits as an NCO or General today?

I apologize in advance for the fluffy topic and I'm sorry if it belongs in the Off Topic Tavern. (but things are a bit slow at work today!) I hope to hear the thoughts of some of learned Tavern regulars...

<font color="orange">Peon Eric Voogd
Battaillon Nationale Militie No. 5
1e Brigade
2e Nederlandsche Divisie
I Corps
Anglo-Allied Army</font id="orange">


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 8:40 am 
As former security agent of the <i>Montreal Jazz Festival</i>, I can tell you that crowds of the 21th century behave just as they did in modern and medieval times.

In the course of the Festival, we use to have this "bigger event" where ~20 000 people would gather in front of the main stage trying to (at first) fight their way to the front and then, fighting their way back (because they could hardly breath)!!

My understanding of it was that even in the 21th century, packed crowds don't behave like humans, they behave like cattle... and I am serious!

As for your Napoleonic Lieutenant leading skirmishers to cut off the retreat of a formed unit, I still think the same, in the sense that he didn't move in an armor car but with the technology available at the time. If I am not mistaking, skirmishers were trained to behave independantly from the higher commanders. That is partly why leaders from other countries than France in the late 18th century were reluctant to use skirmishers; aristocratic leaders wouldn't want some individuals to decide by themselves what to do on th battlefield.

I doubt that a skirmisher from the armies of Frederick the Great (if it existed) would have been able behave efficiently during the Seven Years' War...!?

Just my two cents' worth, though!

[url=""]Lt Pierre-Yves Guinard[/url],
6e Division, II Corp

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