It would likely come as no surprise to hear that life as an early nineteenth century European soldier was tough. Soldiering is an inherently challenging profession, and the European powers such as France and Britain had no shortage of clashes. Aside from each other, there was another enemy facing the soldiers in opposing armies, and a truly unstoppable one at that. Weather often proved more lethal to the foot soldier than the guns of the enemy, affecting nearly every aspect of a soldier’s daily life.
The purpose of this research was to explore the link between weather, warfare, and the experiences of the individual soldier during some of the period’s most notable campaigns, and work the findings into the much larger discussion surrounding climate change. Famous campaigns such as the 1812 French invasion of Russia, Waterloo, and the First-Anglo Afghan War have all been points of interest for countless scholars, yet published research tends to focus heavily on the famous commanders (looking at you, Napoleon) and the grand strategies they pursued. Weather is addressed in a similar manner, with a broad focus on the overall impact it has on the outcome of a campaign. Far less attention is paid to the lowly common soldier, especially how weather affected these men and changed the fate of entire conflicts. While the study of commanding generals is no doubt important, battles are physically fought and won by the common soldier, and weather is a paramount factor in their ability to do so.
This research seeks to demonstrate that because individual soldiers form the basic building blocks of an army, the entire foundation of a military campaign can be weakened or utterly destroyed by the weather in which the soldiers fight. Using the personal journals and memoirs of various nineteenth century soldiers, one can see how the weather had devastating impacts on the men physically and psychologically, both in actual combat and during their daily routines on the march.
So how does this fit into our discussion on Tambora and climate change? Tambora caused a great deal of unusual and severe weather, similar to what was found in the campaigns included in the research. Seasonal extremes, sudden violent storms, and particularly bitter winters found in the case studies are synonymous with the effects of a changing climate. Whether it is a massive natural disaster like Tambora, or man made factors, climate change increases the risk of extreme weather patterns becoming increasingly common. Military planners must take this into account while addressing the impact of weather on the soldier, devising new solutions to what are historic problems. The personal accounts of 19th century soldiers and their experiences with the weather demonstrate the true power that Mother Nature holds over the outcome of war.
If this interests you and you would like to explore the details of the specific soldiers and campaigns, the full research paper can be found here: