Napoleon Series Archive 2009

Maida debate

This is an excerpt for that Maida affair ...

The tactical edifice created by Oman and Fortescue began to crumble in the early 1980s. James Arnold stimulated a debate in an enthusiasts' journal called Empires, Eagles, and Lions when he published "The Battle of Maida and Secondary Source History." Soon readers worldwide entered the debate and some provided new sources to challenge the conventional wisdom.
"Among those following the discussion was David Chandler. At a Napoleonic symposium Doctor Chandler sought ought this writer and politely demanded my proofs. A photocopy of Lieutenant Griois's letter combined with additional British accounts won the day. Chandler kindly tolerated the ardent zeal of a young historian and interceded to help find a publisher. The result was the original version of this essay which appeared in 1982 in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. Six years later, Chandler presented his own case to the XIIIth International Colloquy on Military History in a paper entitled "Column Versus Line: Oman Versus Modern Historians - The case of Maida 1806".

Meanwhile, another Sandhurst historian, Paddy Griffith, had also read my critique of Oman while developing his own ideas. Griffith concurred about French tactical flexibility while arguing persuasively that the British did not simply stand in line and fire volleys to win out, but rather swept the field by firing and then conducting a bayonet charge.

By 1998 a new paradigm seemed to have set in with the publication of two books devoted to Napoleonic battle tactics. Both claimed that the French fought in line at Maida and both fully explored French tactical variety.” The 2002 publication of The Battle of Maida 1806: Fifteen Minutes of Glory, appeared to have brought the issue of column versus line to a satisfactory conclusion:

"The contemporary sources are...the best evidence and their conclusion is clear: General Compère's brigade formed into line to attack Kempt's Light Battalion." The decisive action at Maida took place in less than fifteen minutes. It had taken 72 years to rectify a great historian's error about what transpired during those minutes.

Surely from time to time enthusiasts and academic historians share the frustration about why the world is not listening to them. They diligently research something, often for an excessive amount of time, labor mightily to share their insights with their peers, and then groan in despair when their effort fails to produce the anticipated éclat. As the old saying goes, 'History never repeats itself, but historians seldom differ.'

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Help needed on French deployment at Madia 1806
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Maida debate
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British line
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Historical Memoir relating to the Battle of Maida
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