The 19th Century

Warfare on land

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte
French general Napoleon Bonaparte

The battles of the Great French War (1792-1815), which was the period of almost constant warfare that included the Napoleonic wars, were infantry battles. When the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, the French army consisted of 69,000 men, while the Allied forces consisted of a British army of 67,000 and a Prussian army of 48,000.

Things began to change in the Crimean War (1853-1856) against Russia. British and French forces landed in the Crimea, but found difficulty in trying to capture the Russian town of Sevastopol:

  • Troops on both sides used trenches to hold up an enemy attack.
  • The Crimean War is famous for the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava (1854). It showed that the days of cavalry were numbered.
  • The invention of the telegraph meant that the Crimean War was also the first war to be reported in the newspapers. This made the public very aware of the war’s successes and failures.
  • Some historians suggest that the British commanders in the First World War were to blame for the slaughter of soldiers in the First World War, because the experience of the Crimea should have taught them that warfare was changing.

The invention of the Gatling machine gun in 1861 changed battles in favour of the defence – attackers on foot could be killed faster than they could charge. It was used in the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Warfare at sea

The strength of the Royal Navy meant that it was difficult for Britain to be invaded. This was a major factor in Britain's world power:

  • The navy played a major part in the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte by blockading the enemy ports.
  • In 1805, Nelson prevented a French invasion by winning the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • The navy patrolled the British Empire. When Sultan Khalid of Zanzibar tried to break free from the British in 1896, British ships bombarded the town. The war was over in 38 minutes. It was the shortest war in history.

The place of peace

After the wars with Napoleon, the nations of Europe developed the Congress System – a series of regular meetings to resolve problems and put down rebellions.

In 1859, a Swiss businessman called Henri Dunant witnessed the battle of Solferino. He was so horrified that he helped to set up the Red Cross (1863) and organised an international conference that agreed the first Geneva Convention (1864).