When I started planning out the Horse & Musket series, Crucible of War (Volume III) was originally part of Sport of Kings (Volume II). The more research I did, the more I saw key differences between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. The mass introduction of iron ramrods, cadence marching, light infantry, and canister were just a few innovations that explain the more rapid pace and bloodier battles of the Seven Years’ War, although overall tactics were about the same. Yet, as soon as the Seven Years’ War ended a wave of rebellions occurred, stretching from Corsica to Louisiana, and most importantly to the revolutions in America, France, and Haiti. The Seven Years’ War was an orphan of sorts, stuck between two volumes.
Dawn of an Era (Volume I) was also nearly split due to changes in weapons, as pikes and matchlocks gave way to bayonets and flintlocks. Yet, the tactics of the War of the Spanish Succession, while different, were not quite so radical. Several armies used pikes until 1709 at the latest. More importantly, there was continuity in the qualities of the armies. The French army of the War of the Grand Alliance was generally the same one at Blenheim. This was not true comparing the War of the Austrian Succession to the Seven Years’ War. The armies of Britain, Austria, and France each had dramatically different experiences in the two conflicts, born out by leadership and military reforms (or in France’s case a lack of reform) carried out after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Fortunately, the Seven Years’ War is not lacking in terms of battles and theaters of war. North America and India were fought over before, but with more intensity and violence this time around. The battles in Europe were on a scale and a level of violence that belies the attempt to call them “lace wars.” The number of battles I discarded from the final edition (Fort Oswego, Prague, Snowshoes, Bergen, Wandiwash, Korbach, Burkersdorf) are so many that the war will be well-represented in the upcoming annuals.
A young George Washington rallies the broken troops at the Battle of Monongahela.
The Seven Years’ War has been called the first world war. It was not, but the scale of the fighting in the colonies was unprecedented. The Seven Years’ War has been called decisive in the rise of Britain and the decline of France. Yet, within twenty years Britain lost the thirteen colonies and the nation was diplomatically isolated. While no doubt a great British victory, it was not the prelude to the British Empire of popular imagination. Nor was French decline assured, as evidenced by France’s military prowess in the decades after, although it was certainly decisive in the decline of the Bourbon Dynasty. As for Russia and Austria, neither saw their position change dramatically in the aftermath, although long-term the defeat in the Seven Years’ War was to Austria’s detriment.
The war was decisive, however, for Prussia. The kingdom survived near destruction and got to keep Silesia. There were ups and downs in the years ahead, but the path of Prussian dominance over Germany took shape after 1763. It also influenced future German generals, who would replicate Frederick II’s mastery of tactics and operations, but also his strategic errors.
"Frederick II of Prussia", 1757, Antoine Pesne.
The Seven Years’ War is most associated with that brilliant and mercurial king in Prussia. He was not alone though in talent. Victor François de Broglie, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Robert Clive, Eyre Coote, Leopold von Daun, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, James Wolfe, and Hans Joachim von Zieten are just a few of the talented commanders of the war. None were on the same level as Frederick II, but each won some impressive victories and a few are still celebrated figures in art and culture, not to mention studied by military historians. They also demonstrate the importance of leadership. Most French victories in the war were won by Broglie and Montcalm, France’s two best commanders. Daun was the only commander to beat Frederick II twice, and he nearly crushed him at Torgau (only to suffer a debilitating foot injury that would effectively end his career). The man who saved the day for Frederick was Zieten. The Seven Years’ War, as much as any, illustrates the importance of having skilled commanders.
This cast of characters was the last of an era. All of them were kings or nobles, as were nearly all European military commanders for centuries before. Within a few decades it would change, as revolution swept the world and the middle and even lower classes, as well as minor nobles, became the leading commanders of societies that rejected the old social ranks. The revolutions of previous eras, such as the Dutch and English, were as much religious as political and merely gave way to oligarchies with monarchial pretensions. The Seven Years’ War was the last bloody bow of Europe’s aristocracy on the eve of cataclysm.
“There was never anything so gallant, so spruce, so brilliant, and so well disposed as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, hautboys, drums, and cannon made music such as Hell itself had never heard. The cannons first of all laid flat about six thousand men on each side; the muskets swept away from this best of worlds nine or ten thousand ruffians who infested its surface. The bayonet was also a sufficient reason for the death of several thousands. The whole might amount to thirty thousand souls. Candide, who trembled like a philosopher, hid himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery.” – from Candide (1759) by Voltaire (François Marie Arouet)