1870: Some Reading for Wargamers
There is a lot of material available in English regarding the Franco-Prussian War, and the period seems to be gaining in popularity. We have excellent wargames rules for the conflict, including Bruce Wiegle's 1870 and (the fast-play version) 1871, Dave Waxtel's They Died for Glory, and an Age of Eagles module as part of the Age of Valor series, among others. But reading wargames rules - no matter how well researched - does not give us the same insight into a period as reading books written soon after the event, by those with an eye toward understanding what has happened from a contemporary perspective.
There are three (well, four, really) books I encountered recently which are full of the sort of detail and contemporary analysis which make them perfect reading for those of us who want a more detailed idea of how the conflicts of 1870 were fought, and how military thinking of the day responded. The first two were written by Lieutenant-Colonel G.F.R. Henderson, a British military historian and educator who served during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He is best known for his book Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (also still available and well worth reading). His books on the Franco-Prussian War include The Battle of Spicheren and The Battle of Wörth. Both are paperbacks published by Helion & Co., in 2009 and 2013. The longer volume - Spicheren - is less than 300 pages, and the shorter only slightly more than 100. Both books feature many maps, illustrations of the first-person perspective of the battlefield from key points, and lots of prints of the action in black-and-white. They describe the battles at the level of the actions of individual units - battalions and brigades, usually, but oftentimes, for the Prussians especially, at the level of individual companies. Both books provide information regarding orders of battle, the training and condition of troops, and information about the knowledge and background of the commanders.
Henderson's interest was in the training of young officers in the British army, at a time when breech-loading weapons and improved artillery were having a major impact on the battlefield. He reports at a very detailed, practical level (he tells you the ranges at which troops opened fire, for example), because he sees that detail as important for teaching the future British officers how to lead in such a battle. His analysis of the French and Prussians during these battles is sometimes surprising, but always well-grounded in the thinking current at the time. (It is interesting to note that the Prussian take-away from the Franco-Prussian War, as reported by Henderson, sounds suspiciously like the tactics used by the German storm-troopers in WWI, earlier than some of us might have expected.) These books are great, whether you are looking for insights into how battle was managed and fought during the period, or whether you are specifically interested in the battles themselves, to create scenarios or for other purposes.
The third volume is Cavalry in the Franco-Prussian War, a compilation of two separate works, published by Leonaur in their Regiments & Campaigns Series in 2010. The first, by Colonel Jean Jacques Théophile Bonie (he was eventually promoted to General) is titled Actions of French Cavalry 1870. Bonie was a French cavalry officer during the conflict, and was involved in the fighting. He published his book shortly after the war, in an effort to clarify some of what was being reported about it. The second book in this volume is Cavalry at Vionville & Mars-la-Tour, written by Major Otto August Johannes Kähler. He was an officer in the German military, and the book was published in the 1890s, with benefit of some hindsight. (Fans of the period will remember Mars-la-Tour as the battle in which von Bredow made his famous "Death Ride.") It is a more typical piece of military history, but still with a contemporary perspective. Both books (especially Kähler's) feature good maps. Bonie's book is about 90 pages in length, and Kähler's around 60.
Afficianados of the Franco-Prussian War may well have read these books already. For wargamers who tend to restrict their reading to wargaming magazines, blogs, and rules, and who have not run across these books, I recommend them highly. Unlike some military history, they are not painfully dry, nor do they summarize away the details which wargamers alone sometimes seem to value. All three of the volumes are reasonably priced, and available on Amazon in the US, UK, and Europe. (Bonie's work is also freely available online in French, and both Bonie and Kähler's books from academic subscription archives in English.)