Si será ambicioso el proyecto en que se embarcó el historiador militar neozelandés Tony Jacques. Ocupando 1,400 páginas, se hizo un diccionario de batallas y asedios (Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century, Volumes 1–3, Greenwood press, 2006) En el prefacio comenta algunos de los problemas encontrados al acometer la recopilación de tan monumental obra, como por ejemplo definir qué es una batalla y cómo nombrarla. Algunos fragmentos:
Some military historians have developed alternative terminology in an attempt to categorise the scale of actions. Such writers have introduced seemingly graduated descriptions such as encounter, skirmish, fight, ambush, raid, action, engagement and combat to expand the vocabulary of actions regarded as less-than-full-scale battles. (An example of a history which uses such distinctions would be the classic 128-volume American Civil War official record, The War of the Rebellion, published between 1880 and 1901.) However, the present project eschews such labels, and the simple words ‘‘battle’’ or ‘‘siege’’ are used throughout, regardless of scale, although the text sometimes particularises certain events. It is essential to remember that from the point of view of the man with a rifle or the man with a spear, no battle is less than another, and the individual risk of brutal death or injury is just as great whenever he looks his enemy in the eye. Historians and armchair generals may later debate whether it was a skirmish, an ambush or a battle, but to the companions and family of the fallen, it makes little difference.
Standing in contrast to confrontations which involved very large numbers of men, but little or no fighting, are small actions where opposing forces effectively agreed to resolve issues by a clash of champions. Typical of these are the socalled Battle of the Thirty (1351), when the English and French garrisons of neighbouring castles in Brittany sent 30 men from either side to fight to the death; the Battle of North Inch (1396), when champions from two Scottish clans fought to the death in a judicial battle in the presence of the King himself to resolve a longrunning feud; the tournament at Arcos de Valdevez (1140), when Portuguese and Galician knights fought to settle an invasion by royal rivals; or the semi-legendary Battle of the Champions (547 bc), when 300 men from either side reportedly fought to the death in a failed attempt to resolve a war between Sparta and Argos.
The challenge of determining what to include is well illustrated by the American Civil War, one of history’s most widely studied and documented conflicts. The US Federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission reported that out of 10,500 armed conflicts in the war, they had chosen 384 as ‘‘principal battles,’’ which they then classified according to historic significance.
Although Civil War enthusiasts challenge the Federal government selection, the present publication has adhered explicitly to the Commission’s determination, and has included just those
384 battles (although some which took place between Indian forces and government troops during the period have been reclassified as being part of various Indian campaigns rather than as specific Civil War battles). In another example, the Military History Bureau of China’s Ministry of National Defence has published a 100-volume History of the Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1945, which claimed that the Chinese fought 23 campaigns, 1,117 major battles, 38,531 engagements and, in the course of the war, lost an extraordinarily precise 3,327,916 military casualties and 5,787,352 civilian casualties. In this case, however, the relevant government authority failed to provide its own categorisation of the principal battles, and the selection of battles for inclusion here is once again subjective.
Having decided what battles to include, it is by no means self-evident what name to give to each
battle. While the great majority of battles are named for their geographic location, even that is
subject to considerable variation. Even so famous a battle as Waterloo (1815) is known by some French historians as Mont St Jean. Similarly, the French battle of Guise (1914) is known by the Germans as St Quentin; the allied Battle of the Java Sea (1942) is the Japanese Battle of Surubaya; the American Battle of Buenavista (1847) is the Mexican La Angostura; the German Battle of Korsun (1944) is the Russian Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket; the British Battle of Jutland (1916) is the German Battle of the Skaggerak; the British Battle of Omdurman (1898) is the Sudanese Karala; and one of the most famous battlefields of the American Civil War (1861 and 1862) is called either Manassas or Bull Run, depending on which side is describing the event. Some distinctions arise simply from legitimate differences in the focus of the opposing armies, such as where they were headquartered, or from opposing nations using their own names for the same location, such as German Diedenhofen and French Thionville (1639), or the city of Oradea in modern Romania, also known as German Grosswardein and Hungarian Nagyvarad (1660).
A good example of the confusion which can arise from different national names is the Battle of Ebelsberg (1809), which is located just southeast of Linz. This action is sometimes referred to as Ebersberg, which has led to it being mistakenly located in a number of sources at Ebersberg, which is about 100 miles west near Munich. A similar challenge arises from the use of modern names for locations. Broadly, the rule has been to use the name which applied at the time (in some cases, with the modern name in parentheses). Thus, for place names in India, for example, Bombay and Madras have been used throughout, not Mumbai and Chennai. And a battle as famous as Stalingrad (1942–1943) could hardly appear under its modern name Volgagrad. This distinction is especially difficult with the revised spellings in China. In general, this project uses the modern Pinyin Romanisation of Chinese names throughout—thus, Zhijiang (not Chihchiang), and Tianjin (not Tientsin), with cross-references where necessary. There are, however, a handful of exceptions, including Chiang Kai-Shek (not Jiang Jieshi) and Hong Kong (not Xianggang).
The challenge of modern alternatives also applies to many Indian and Arabic place names (as well as personal names), which creates equal difficulties of transliteration into the English alphabet. The estimable Encyclopedia of Islam has been used as a reference in the latter cases. Thus, as referred to below, the famous battle in 636 is given here as Qadisiyya, with Kadasiya, Kadesiah and Cadesia provided as alternatives. The transliteration of Aztec and other Mesoamerican names is another such challenge (for example, the personal name Motecuhzoma, not Montezuma or Moctezuma).
Sometimes, the choice of name for a battle reflects other events. A classic case is the action at the confluence of the Rosillo and Salado Creeks, southeast of San Antonio, Texas, in 1813. At the time it was known as the Battle of the Salado, but is today usually called the Battle of Rosillo, in order to distinguish it from another battle fought at the Salado in 1842.
However, some geographic name choices are much more deliberate. A good example of the purely political naming of a battle is the great German victory in East Prussia at Tannenberg (1914). According to military historian Basil Liddell Hart, General Erich Ludendorf originally designated his triumph as Frogenau, which is where the battle took place. But his aide, Colonel Max Hoffman, reportedly suggested it should be called Tannenberg to erase the defeat of the
Teutonic knights nearby in 1410. Although Tannenberg was some miles to the southeast, this is the name by which the battle came to be known by both sides—a telling instance of how history is written by the victors.
Apart from geography, battles are also named for many other reasons. Some are named for
one of the key participants, such as Lochrey’s Defeat (1781) in Pennsylvania, named for the unfortunate Colonel Archibald Lochrey; or Dudley’s Defeat (1813) in Ohio, named for the rashly impetuous Colonel William Dudley; or Monson’s Retreat (1804), named for the equally rash Colonel William Monson in northwest India. Meanwhile, Whitman Massacre (1847) in Washington commemorates the illfated missionary Dr Marcus Whitman.
Similarly, both a battle and geography can be named for one of the participants, such as the Can˜o´n de Ugalde in West Texas, named for the battle in the Sabinal River Canyon in 1790, between Apache and the Mexican commander General Juan de Ugalde.
An example of how this form of name evolves is provided by the clash on an unnamed island in
the dry Arikee River in eastern Colorado in 1848. During this action, an American scouting detachment under Major George Forsyth was attacked by a large war party led by the Cheyenne Chief Roman Nose. One of 23 American casualties was Lieutenant Fredrick Beecher, and Roman Nose was also killed. The army called it the Battle of Beecher Island, while the Indians call it the Battle Where Roman Nose Was Killed.
What to call a war?
The final issue to be considered is what name to use for the wars to which battles are assigned.
While the names of wars usually seem to be selfevident, this is very often not the case. Some distinctions are simply reflections of national involvement, such as the Swabian War (1499), which the Germans call the Swiss War; the Vietnam War (1963–1972), which the Vietnamese
call the American War or the anti-American War; the French-Mexican War (1861–1867), which the Mexicans call the War of the Intervention; or the brutal conflict of 1857–1858, which the British call the Indian Mutiny (or the Sepoy Rebellion), and which some Indian historians call the First Indian War of Independence. Similarly, the war on the American central plains in 1874–1875, which the Army called the Red River War, is known by the Indians as the War to Save the Buffalo, while the Creek Indian War (1813–1814) is known by the Creek themselves as the Red Stick War. Indeed, some historians do not credit the latter as a separate war at all, but regard it simply as part of the War of 1812.
In some cases, European names have been given to non-European wars. For example, the Japanese refer to the Boshin War (1868–1869) and the Seinan War (1877), which are respectively nominated here as the War of the Meiji Restoration and the Satsuma Rebellion.
Descriptors such as rebellion, mutiny and uprising are widely employed in this book, even though one side’s rebellion is often the other side’s war of liberation. Similarly, words such as rebel and insurgent have been used in some instances.
The broad objective throughout, however, is to conform to common usage, not to express any political or partisan opinion. Indeed, some wars have been renamed in modern times, specifically in the interests of political sensitivity. Take for instance the series of campaigns fought between the British and the Xhosa people of South Africa between 1779 and 1877, often referred to as the Kaffir Wars. As that term is now regarded as pejorative, they are now sometimes called the Frontier Wars, the Cape Frontier Wars or the Anglo-Xhosa Wars.
In other cases, the choice of war name used in this project must sometimes necessarily be little
more than arbitrary. For example, the American phase of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–
1697) is referred to as King William’s War, and the American phase of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) has been given its alternate name, Queen Anne’s War. However, the War of Netherlands’ Independence (1566–1648) is not given its common alternative name, the Eighty Years War, and the name Seven Years War is given only to the great European conflict of 1756–1763, not its alternate use for the Second Seminole War (1835–1842). Nor are either
the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667) or the War between Poland and the Teutonic Order (1454–
1566) given their common alternative name, the Thirteen Years War. Similarly, the description
Wars of the Three Kingdoms is used for the brutal struggle in China in the third century ad, not as the modern alternative for what was once called the English civil wars, now more widely known as the British civil wars.
For some wars, the selection of a ‘‘correct’’ name is made difficult simply by the abundance of choice. The 1973 Arab-Israeli War, for example, is widely also known as the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, the October War and the War of Atonement. And the book Our Incredible Civil War (Burke Davis, 1960) records no fewer than 35 different names for the American Civil War, including the War of the Rebellion, the War of Secession, the War between the States, the Confederate War and many others.