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Kings College London War Studies Evening,
Wednesday 20 March

On 20th March 2019 20 Bowyers including our Master had a supper evening with our war studies scholar from King College London, Gavin Lewis, at the Tappit Hen in St Swithin’s Lane. Also present was Saskia Rogerson, our point of contact in the fundraising branch at Kings College. Gavin gave us a superb explanation of the experience of combat and military tactics during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) comparing them to the Napoleonic wars some 50 or so years previously. He explained that the loss of life was on an enormous scale citing that in the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 there were some 55,000 casualties which proportionately can be compared to the battle of Liepzig in 1813 when there were 130,000 casualties. Furthermore, because of the engineering background of most of the American generals, this was the first major conflict where trenches (heralding what was to be done in the First World War) were constructed on a huge scale. Gavin suggested that this new type of warfare depersonalised the experience of battle. Illustrating his talk with contemporaneous pictures of the various battles that he has studied, he explained that the sound of battle was so furious, that seeing the battle scene was described as like “seeing the elephant” even if most of it was then obscured in smoke and explosions. This is another reason, Gavin suggests, why there are few pictures of the conflict. Soldiers went into this war believing in the power of their individuality, until they were very soon overcome by the brutal war machine. They were 'living night and day in the valley of the shadow of death'. Gavin concluded his talk by showing a black and white film clip of the Southern survivors of the Civil War, almost at the end of their lives, howling the Rebel Yell, as they had done when they went into battle. It was a powerful and moving presentation, and one that we all greatly enjoyed.

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