The North American Review/Volume 145/Number 373/Modern Battle Fields


The history of the world's progress in the nineteenth century is a promising and comprehensive theme, and Mr. Knox brings to the difficult task which he undertakes the pen of a ready and popular writer, a mind sufficiently dominated by the historic imagination and personal acquaintance with nearly every field which he describes.

Sir Edward Creasy's "Fifteen Decisive Battles," which book closes with the battle of Waterloo, is naturally followed by that of Mr. Knox,[1] which, taking up the thread of events at Waterloo, concludes with the Fall of Khartoum.

When Napoleon was making kings in the Bonaparte family, Ferdinand VII., of Spain, was deposed to give place to Joseph Bonaparte. The South American States, loyal to their sovereign, bravely defended his rights, and sent the messenger who came to announce the change in government back to his home in Spain to report that they knew no king but Ferdinand. The Spanish Peninsula also refused to acknowledge the French sovereign, and provincial juntas were formed, each claiming entire control in Spain and in the American colonies. The Spanish-American States wisely concluded that the time was ripe for their declaration of independence, and after a long and bloody warfare, in which the country was ravaged and plundered, they succeeded in establishing a confederation of republics by the victory at Ayacucho, Peru, in 1824. Brazil, a Portuguese dependency, received her fleeing king, and, with less difficulty, made herself forever free from the Spanish yoke.

From South America to India is a long step around the globe, but the conquest of Burmah by the English justly deserves mention in the story of the world's progress in this century, and while the battle of Prome, in the first Burmese war, did not at once give the country into the hands of the British, it was the point from which the dynasty of Alompra began to decline.

For fifteen years preceding 1830, the Mohammedans were connected with all warfare of importance on the continent of Europe. In Hellas occurred one of the bravest of these encounters. The Greek Hetairists, a secret society, having for its object the freeing of their country from Turkish rule, had enrolled in its highest rank, limited to sixteen members, Count Capo d'Istria, private secretary to Alexander I. of Russia, and, as was secretly believed, the Czar himself, together with the Crown Prince of Bavaria and Wurtemburg, the Hospodar of Wallachia, and other distinguished personages. For many years this society existed without the knowledge of the Turks, and, in the final event to their great dismay. The barbarity of the ruling power at length aroused the Greeks, and with the aid of the Russian, English, and French allied forces, a battle was fought in the Bay of Navarino, in which the Turkish fleet was destroyed with great loss of life, and the Turks were forced to abandon Greece. To the ambassador's request for an interview, the Sultan made reply: "My positive, absolute, definitive, unchangeable, eternal answer is, that the Sublime Porte does not accept any proposition regarding the Greeks, and will persist in his own will regarding them, even to the last day of judgment." However, the threatened overthrow of the Ottoman Empire by the allies at length brought the haughty ruler to submission.

The attitude of Russia towards the Greeks naturally aroused the hostility of the Porte against that nation, and a series of battles, terminating in the siege of Silistria, brought about the treaty of Adrianople, in favor of the Russians. Following this, the fall of Algiers and capture of Antwerp, in 1832, brings us to the familiar events of the Mexican struggle for Texas and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The fertile region of the Punjaub, inhabited by the Sikhs, is the scene of the decisive battle of Gujerat, by which a valuable track of land, including nearly two hundred thousand square miles, became a part of British India. Of equal interest, and more generally familiar, are the stories of Sebastopol and Lucknow.

Of Chinese warfare, comparatively little has been known by reason of the Celestial Kingdom's long centuries of exclusiveness. Mr. Knox classes the capture of the forts in the Peiao River and Fekin among important events in the history of nations, because by the succeeding treaty of Tien-Tsin the hitherto secluded region was practically opened to the rest of the world. The journal of Mr. Olyphant, Secretary of Lord Elgin, furnishes the data for the interesting account of this achievement. By the treaty of Nankin, in 1843, having been violated by the Chinese, Lord Elgin sought in vain an audience with the Governor of Shanghai, and at length determined to force an entrance to the city. Up the river Peiho, guarded on either side by mud forts, which were entirely unprotected in the rear, but well supplied with cannon on the riverside, sailed the fleet, the first hostile ships ever seen on this "River of the North." The Chinese gunners gave them a loud greeting, and, owing to tbe peculiar Chinese habit of hiding in a bomb-proof when receiving the enemy's fire, the engagement was a long one, but, to the great surprise of the natives, who supposed that fighting must be confined to the fortified portion of the fort, the invaders entered from the rear. The poor Chinamen fled with such haste that they could not be overtaken, and soon not one was to be seen. A wholesome terror of the bright British sabres overwhelmed those who attempted resistance. The forts were all captured, and the following announcement appeared in the Pekin Gazette, concerning Tan, the Imperial Commissioner, to whom the task of driving out the barbarians had been committed: "Whereas, Tan-Tin-Siang, already degraded from the office of Governor-General of Chih-Li, has been found not guilty of cowardice and desertion, but in that his operations were without plan or resource, his offense is not the less without excuse. Let him be banished to the frontier [confines of Siberia], there to redeem his guilt by his exertions."

The author has chosen for the representative battles of our civil war the engagement of the Monitor and Merrimac, battles of Gettysburg and of Five Points, and Lee's surrender. Sedan, Khiva, and Plevna, in the decade of 1870, are followed by the history of the Russian overthrow of the Tekke Turcomans in their fortified town of Geog Tepe, and the end of their barbarous alamans on the defenseless Persians.

Each of the twenty-five battles is so amply illustrated by maps, sketches of fortifications, and battle plans, that the lover of military tactics will find the book an interesting study.

  1. "Decisive Battles Since Waterloo. The Most Important Military Events from 1815 to 1887." By Thomas W. Knox. Illustrated. G. P. Putnam's Sons.