Tuesday 2 February 2021

Scharnhorst. The Formative Years 1755-1801

I say this every time, and with absolute objectivity, but Helion have done it again with the latest in their ‘Reason to Revolution’ series. ‘Scharnhorst, The Formative Years 1755-1801’ is an absolute cracker. His efforts helping with the rebuilding of the Prussian army after its defeat in 1806 are well known. Until now, his early life, and especially his time in the service of Schaumburg-Lippe, has been largely unrecorded and was a mystery to me. So too was his time as an industrious and innovative instructor in the Hanoverian artillery school. Equally unknown was his service in the field in command of an artillery battery and then as a staff officer officer serving in the Hanoverian Auxiliary Corps in Flanders and Germany during the War of the First Coalition. I’m not aware of any other books (in English at any rate) that cover this important period of Scharnhorst’s life, and this one does it exceedingly well. The book is heavy on detail, as well as on contemporary correspondence, but it is the latter in particular that makes the telling of the story really stand out. The reader is given a unique insight into Scharnhorst the man and what made him tick so to speak. The excerpts, from his daily letters to his wife Klara are very revealing and engaging. It is obvious that a great deal of effort went into researching this volume, and the end result is a well written and engaging book. It is certainly not a dry and dusty tome, but a lively and stimulating volume. There are some useful maps and an extensive bibliography. Anyone with an interest in Scharnhorst, and in the campaigns in Flanders and Germany between 1793 and 1795 in particular, and that includes me in a big way, really must read this book.

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