Saturday, April 16, 2016

Question for any Historians Reading This

I am currently working on the sequel to Salamander, my second novel, and would like some relevant historical information. The novel is a fantasy, the world it is set in has technology somewhere between our fourteenth and 18th century (no firearms) plus weak magic. Political institutions a bit like seventeenth or eighteenth century England--a monarchy with real power but not absolute, feudalism on the way out but not entirely vanished.

The capital of the kingdom of Esland has been taken in a surprise attack by an army from a neighboring state. A good deal of looting, burning and killing, as usual under such circumstances. A defending force is still holding out in the citadel.

Two weeks after the attack, what does the situation look like? Are the attackers sending looting parties into the countryside for food or simply offering to buy it, thus giving farmers an incentive to come to them? Is there a curfew in the city? Has city life for the survivors more or less returned to normal? Have invaders recruited locals to patrol the streets, as a step towards longer run control over the city? Are the city gates open and guarded, open and not guarded, open during the day and closed at night (relevant because I have a character planning to enter the city)?

The invaders anticipate an army or armies eventually being assembled to try to retake the capital, but there is not yet one close enough to be an immediate threat.

Anyone know of good historical sources, preferably primary, that describe this sort of situation? I would rather steal from history than make it up out of whole cloth.


Antisthenes said...

You are spoiled for choice. A lot depends on the characters of the leaders and aims of both sides. To me you are somewhere between Genghis Khan and Napoleon. Both took what they wanted without observing the niceties of paying for it. However their administration skills were excellent so they would certainly organise the situation to control the conquered areas efficiently. In Genghis Khan's case if their was anything left to administer that is. In contrast Wellington who opposed Napoleon did not allow his troops free range and paid for his supplies.The only certainty would be that if the area you conquered you wanted to keep you would set about putting in place an efficient administration. In any event there was always a lot of destruction and chaos. Even Wellington could not keep his soldiers in check all of the time despite his harsh punishment for malefactors.

Tim Worstall said...

I was going to make the same point. In the Peninsular Campaign Wellington was adamant about paying for everything, Napoleon's troops much less so.

Recently read an old book, Charles Oman: Wellington's Army 1809 - 1814. Free on Kindle at least it was. He makes much if this insistence on paying for everything.

Could in fact be an interesting sub plot, the struggle to convert the army's behaviour. Those who know their history of this period would pick up on the underlying connection I'm sure.

Alan Light said...

The blog won't take my whole comment at once, so publishing it in sections. Part 1:

I am thinking of the British campaign in South Carolina during the Revolution. In short, they tried both tactics - some officers would take great pains to pay for everything, and found favor with the locals - even the respect of their enemies - while others would burn every home or church they came to (especially the homes of Scots-Irish settlers and their Presbyterian churches), while taking everything of value that they could carry. The looters ended up becoming more prevalent, but this also assured the eventual loss of a territory that had been pretty evenly divided - or even favoring the British cause - before the British troops came. (In fact, most of the worst "British" troops were actually tories from New York and New Jersey, and their atrocities finally attracted the attention of the "over-mountain men" from Tennessee who generally did not take part in the war, but did put together one expedition that destroyed Ferguson's command at Kings Mountain - which was remarkable for several reasons: one, Ferguson himself was quite respected by the patriots, it was his compatriot Banastre Tarlton who was most hated; two, Ferguson was the only person actually from Britain at that battle; three, the defending British forces had the advantages of greater numbers, the commanding heights, AND defensive positions, and were STILL utterly defeated while inflicting few losses on the attacking forces.)

The campaign in South Carolina devolved into a guerrilla campaign, with the British forces holding every major town but unable to control the countryside - and ultimately facing great difficulty feeding themselves and their horses. They had overwhelming numbers and far more money and materiel, but they had to send parties into the countryside to secure food, hay, and wood for their fires - and the patriots were able to overwhelm these work parties piece by piece, what was called "defeat in detail". In many cases, lacking food for both their horses and themselves, the British forces resorted to eating some of their horses, which of course reduced their military capacity. Eventually they realized they could not hold the state, and moved north to rejoin the British forces under Cornwallis, while being harassed by patriots all the way. They eventually joined Cornwallis at Yorktown, where the combined forced were defeated.

One curious little skirmish, little known outside the area, occurred at the Walkup House south of what is now Waxhaw, NC. A description is here:
It was the *other* Battle of the Waxhaws (Buford's Defeat) that was the chief cause for the revenge at Kings Mountain, but it was a hundred little skirmishes like this one that caused the British forces to depart.

Alan Light said...

Part 2:

Two things that stand out in reading accounts from this period: one was how important sickness was in deciding battles. Frequently armies of this period lost twice as many men to disease as to the enemy, a result of concentrations of men in small areas without proper sanitation. The other was the likelihood of greater than normal confusion in any battle occasioned by soldiers knowing their opponents personally but not always keeping straight which side they were on, or for other reasons that may not be obvious today. One officer, Huger, serving under Francis Marion, fell off his horse in a battle and was helped back into the saddle by a British sergeant who thought they were on the same side. This was because the uniforms of the time were so complex, with officers and enlisted men frequently having entirely different uniforms, and each state militia and sometimes individual units (on both sides) having their own uniforms, that it was difficult to keep them all straight. At the Battle of Hanging Rock in South Carolina, the British had a number of encampments at a little distance from each other because they simply could not support the whole number in one spot - and some of these loyalists were at one of these encampments when a number of patriots rode up - and all the men knew each other, and the loyalists presumed their neighbors were there to join them - but upon drawing close the patriots attacked, killed most of the defenders, took their horses and supplies, and were gone before the other British forces in the area were able to respond.

Speaking of uniforms: Huger benefited by having a uniform that appeared to one sergeant to be a British uniform - but more broadly, the sergeant may have been confused because this one American soldier had a uniform at all - most did not. From paintings and such we have this idea of soldiers lined up in uniform, but that was not always the case - and I recall reading one account by an American officer visiting the American troops outside Charleston, SC, I think 1782 or 1783, who observed that most of the American troops were wearing only loincloths - which anyone who has spent a summer in that area will quite understand. This was while they were in camp, not in the field, but the heat has also played a role in quite a few battles. After the battle of Eutaw Springs, it was reported that the American troops immediately all jumped in the nearest stream to cool off.

Speaking of Eutaw Springs - there was another circumstance which contributed to the American victory there. Shortly before this, Marion had marched about 100 miles (quite a distance in that time) to attack a small British force in North Carolina. There, they found the British crossing a river. The cavalry crossed first, and Marion's men had set up an ambush on the road leading up from the landing. As the British cavalry marched up this road, having no idea that the Americans were anywhere around, Marion's men fired three volleys - which was all the ammunition they had - and then hightailed it for home. They killed few men, but most of the horses - and never had to fight the larger body of infantry at all, because that infantry could not cross the river quickly enough to be brought to bear. (We forget these days how difficult it was to cross a river at that time, if there was no bridge or ford. Few people could swim, even if the river was calm.) That British force later marched south and contributed most of the British cavalry at Eutaw Springs, but because of the damage Marion had done there were few horses left - which was one major reason for the British loss there.

Alan Light said...

Part 3:

Of course, these battles certainly had firearms, but ammunition was so scarce that in many cases archers would have been just as effective if not more so. They are notable for using tactics suitable to militia rather than standing armies, but they were also the sorts of campaigns that can only take place in a rural, sparsely populated country. The availability of horses was almost as important as the availability of men, and the numbers of militia swelled or ebbed as men were able to come together for a time and then return to their duties at home. Also notable was that militia were not expected (by wiser officers, at least) to act like regular soldiers - at Eutaw Springs, for instance, the militia were used as auxiliaries - and it was remarked that they put in a much stronger performance than usual, firing 17 volleys before departing. The hand-to-hand fighting was mostly done by soldiers of the line. Nevertheless, the militia could do quite considerable damage, especially in the guerilla portions of the campaign, and there were some occasions when locals who just happened to be out and about acted as militia. I recall one account where a British party was on one side of a river, and two or three Americans happened to come along the other side - and the Americans fired a few shots, killing several of the British soldiers, and then simply left, confident that the British could not cross the river in time to pursue them.

OK - don't know if that can assist you or not, but there's some real history that might give you some ideas.

David Friedman said...

Thanks to all. Most historical examples will turn out to be irrelevant to my particular case, but still interesting, and there may be useful bits of information.

Part of the problem for me at the moment is that I'm not sure what the invaders think they are doing. The invasion was set off by a third polity, the Dorayan league, for its own purposes. The plan was for them to take the capital, kill the king and his heir, and withdraw, thus setting off a civil war. But there are complications, a plot against the Dorayan ruler by the subordinate organizing the invasion, that suggest that may not have been the story the invaders were told, and even if it was, it may not be what they actually planned to do, once they took the capital with Dorayan assistance.

And what they are doing in the city may well depend on whether they are hoping to conquer the whole kingdom, seize land, get paid Danegeld for going home, or whatever.

bruce said...

The Englishmen came in a body and shot so fast and so all together that no one could stand at the walls; then they came with axes and chopped through the gate and raped and burned the city. Then they raped the nunnery. Then they went to the next town. Froissart's first book, over and over.

Unknown said...

I suggest the key is "A defending force is still holding out in the citadel."

I don't recall many sieges where this was the case for very long ?

Trying to control and administer the city might be easy or near impossible if there are arrows and stone throwers and attacking parties from the citadel.

David Friedman said...


The force in the citadel is many times outnumbered by the army holding the city, so I think it will be concentrating on defense, not sorties.

Anonymous said...

In European terms a citidel would be the last redoubt of the defenders if the outer fortifications had been over run. Depending on its size and resources, the city's inhabitants would retreat into it if the outer walls were breached.

As for treatment of city inhabitants, this would depend on whether any were left outside the citadel. Usually fortified cities were put under seige. The attackers would offer easy terms for early capitulation, the attackers' mood becoming less forgiving the longer the seige and the more attacking troops killed/wounded trying to breach the defences.

'Cry Havoc! Let slip the dogs of war.'

Behaviour of attacking troops once a city was entered depended on their commander. So if the city had surrendered quickly or if the commander wanted to get a reputation for decent treatment to pacify the population and encourage other cities to surrender, then the invaders would be restrained and the citizens unmolested (mostly).

Havoc, has a specific meaning in this context, it was the signal/permission for pillage and destruction particularly if there had been a long, bitter seige in part to punish and terrorise and part to let the troops blow off steam, take plunder.

The citadel controlled the city. Its importance to invaders was that even if the city had been entered, it was not considered a victory if the citadel remained in the hands of the defenders. This not least tied up resources as the invaders could not move on leaving defending military forces to their rear. An invader could not claim conquest of a territory if several citadels in cities round the land had not been taken.

The aim of an attacker who got into the city, would be to make sure the citadel did not receive fresh supplies of food and water or reinforcements, so security would be tight around the city.

David Friedman said...

In this particular case the city was taken by a surprise attack, so siege and surrender were not issues. The attack was followed by a good deal of looting, burning, some killing, as seems to have been common. The question is what the situation will be several weeks later.

Most of the city garrison was elsewhere, dealing with a threat intended to draw them away. Some people escaped to the citadel, and it has a garrison which is still holding it. I'm not sure that besieging the citadel requires security around the city, rather than just around the citadel.

Henri said...

The siege that comes to mind for me is that of Vienna in 1683. Although it was fought with firearms, I don't think it matters in terms of giving a historical sample for your situation. The siege lasted several months. The Ottoman Turks had occupied the surrounding suburbs and breached several forward defenses. We are not quite talking about defenders holed up in a citadel here, but close enough for illustration, I would think.

The stories about how the Turks treated the local population is pretty mixed. They could be ruthless and they could be lenient, and it depended a lot on whether a particular town had capitulated or resisted. There were definitely some trading going on as well, though. There were sometimes traders coming in specifically to trade with the Turks. Early on, there was even a small market on the ramparts themselves, where the defenders traded bread for fresh produce from outside the wall.

In terms of ingress and egress to the city, this was happening on a daily (or nightly) basis. We know of many sallies that Starhemberg sent out, and also messengers and agents he received and dispatched. There are also stories of defending civilians leaving the city at night to forage the country-side for food.

Stephen Morris said...

Tudor Britain sounds like an ideal match for this story. Although there were no successful attempts at rebellion (, the wider cultural landscape may be worth investigating.

The basis of a scientific method was beginning to form, whilst supernatural methods of learning still held sway. Crude technological progress improved industrial and agricultural methods, and proto-luddite movements were beginning to form in reaction to land enclosures.

In the world of Politics, the tensions unique to the War of the Roses were receding but were almost immediately replaced with tension between the English Crown & the Roman Church, ending ultimately with the English Reformation. This had some precedence in Europe, but was its own distinct event predicated on personal rather than spiritual motives.

Historical tensions between the English & European thrones were also heightened by this split with the Catholic Church. For good measure, not to be outdone by Foreign Princes, the British, noble & peasant alike, were in almost constant rebellion against the Crown (or at least against its deceptive/incompetent advisors) throughout the period.

There is plenty of blood-letting in retaliation for such rebellion, especially when it was a religious rebellion.

Good source material would be the biographies and bibliographies of cultural figures from the period although I believe most good primary material will be dis/covered via good secondary material. Peter Ackroyd, David Starkey, G.R Elton, Susan Doran are all excellent academics on the topic, while Hilary Mantel & Philippa Gregory write excellent & accurate, period fiction.

A good starting point would be the textbook 'The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England' by A.G.R Smith. This is part of a series relating to Early Modern Britain.

English Statutes from this period are also recommended reading, for their style of language as well as their content; regular anti-witchcraft statutes and the first fire-arms legislation, a law against Body Armour.