From Kinsale to Dixie

Celtic Warfare 1595-1763, by J. Michael Hill.

Actually, the title is inaccurate: The book is about Irish and Scottish Gaelic Warfare in that period, neglecting, for example, the Cornish contribution in the British Civil Wars. Even Ireland is ignored after 1603, although the Irish regiments that fought with Montrose in Scotland during 1644-45 are mentioned. The subsequent chapters are all about Scottish Highlanders, fighting with Montrose, then with Dundee in 1689, and the 1715 and 1745 uprisings.

The author has a traditional, simplistic, view of the Highland Armies–that they were a mass of men all armed with musket, broadsword, and target. In fact, Stuart Reid has argued, based on actual period counts of weapons (See Highlanders – Myth and Reality and Highland Clansman that only the warrior élite, forming the front rank of the army was so well equipped. Behind them was a much large mass of men pulled from civilian life, with fewer and inferior weapons.

Something that puzzled me was an attempt to trace this style of war forward, into the American South’s strategy of war in 1861-1865, arguing that the South was “Celtic” in heritage, as opposed to the “Anglo-Saxon” North. This may come as news to those of you familiar with the large Irish Catholic communities in Rust Belt cities :-)>, but it is apparently in wide circulation. Michael Newton debunks this in Born Frothing.

The author does make some interesting generalizations. Successful Celtic Gaelic warfare was characterized by

  1. Defensive strategy–let the enemy come to you.
  2. Offensive Tactics–Charge him and hit him hard when he does
  3. Leadership from the front.

Kinsale (1601), where Hugh O’Neill broke the first two rules with disastrous consequences, seems to be why the Irish are included in this study. In this respect the Kinsale campaign and the Jacobite invasions of England in 1715 and 1745 are similar.

The connection with the American Civil War seemed unnecessary and dubious, and made me quite uneasy. My father was born in Greenville, South Carolina, so I have some knowledge of the Old South. A few seconds with Google confirmed my worst fears.

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