Armies of The Potato War
While I initially saw Soldier Kings: The Potato War as a scenario book for our Soldier Kings game centered on the 1778 War of the Bavarian Succession, the so-called Potato War, it sort of expanded to include the 1768 Russo-Ottoman War as well. And some additions for the Seven Years’ War, the theme of its parent game, Soldier Kings.
The key to most of that expanding is an additional map included with The Potato War, covering the frontier region between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, the Black Sea Steppe from the Danube to the Volga. Today a settled region of industry and agriculture, at least when not riven by war, in 1768 these were wild lands with vast sparsely-inhabited regions and semi-nomadic tribes claiming much of the rest.
These warlike peoples fielded large forces, since they often mobilized every adult man and sometimes a few women as well. And so The Potato War includes new army and leader pieces for these peoples, plus a few others as well. Let’s take a look at them.
Scenarios from the War of the Bavarian Succession take place during what the French called “the American War,” the Franco-British worldwide conflict that included a civil war in Britain’s American colonies.
The American Revolution is only a sideshow in the Potato War – the thirteen colonies are represented by just three provinces on the Soldier Kings map. But it does form a valuable distraction for the French as they balance their rivalry with England against their desire to maintain a balance of power in Europe. We will most definitely return to this topic with a separate game in the Soldier Kings family.
In The Potato War, though, the Americans are not all that powerful, but they do have a very good leader in the legendary George Washington.
The so-called American War included a great deal of fighting and intrigue on the Indian subcontinent, and the Potato War scenarios cover that as well for the same reasons noted above. Soldier Kings heavily abstracts campaigning in India, which is okay since we have a whole game, Indian Empires, devoted to the topic.
But bringing a new period to the Soldier Kings game requires some new leaders: Madhav Rao, of the Mahratta Confederacy, Haidar Ali of Mysore, Charles Joseph de Bussy, commander of French land forces in India, and Pierre André de Suffren, his naval counterpart. There are no additional fleets or armies for this theater; Soldier Kings has plenty of each.
Joseph II became Holy Roman Emperor and co-ruler of the Habsburg lands (alongside his mother Maria Theresa) in 1765. Almost immediately he set upon a series of reforms known as enlightened absolutism, to streamline the state and increase its power. Not least among his ambitious goals, Joseph II wished to harness the latent economic potential of his domains to expand and improve his armed forces.
By the time of the Potato War, his efforts had begun to bear fruit. With broad-based conscription and greatly increased funding, the Austrian army grew enormously in size and also boasted improved training and a better officer corps. These are not the same Austrians as those of the Seven Years’ War, and The Potato War includes some improved Austrian armies as well as the appropriate leaders for the period.
Down in the lower right corner of the new extension map, we have provinces of the Persian Empire. Persia had flirted with great power status under the rule of Nadir Shah, but after Nadir’s assassination in 1747 things began to fall apart. Civil war divided the empire, the Afghans seized many of Nadir’s eastern conquest and by 1750 his Afsharid dynasty had been confined to its home province of Khorasan in northeastern Persia.
By the time of the Russo-Ottoman War, Karim Khan had established firm rule of the remaining part of Persia under his Zand dynasty. Karim, commander of the Persian army under Nadir’s successor Adil Khan, defeated other rivals but never had himself crowned as shah, preferring the title “Advocate of the People.” An aggressive and successful military commander, he restored much of the Persian position in the Caucasus and would take Basra from the Ottomans in 1775. He had inherited much of Nadir’s war machine, and backed it with a more competent administrative state. At the time of the Russo-Ottoman War, the Persians sought to restore their influence over Georgia and repel Russian advances into the region.
The fall of Nadir Shah in Persia also allowed Erekle II, one of Nadir’s loyal feudal clients, to establish an independent kingdom in Georgia. Erekle (sometimes known by the Hellenized form, Heraclius) would live to see his kingdom fall under Russian domination starting in 1783. But for a brief moment, independent Georgia existed between its three powerful neighbors.
The Georgian military establishment, such as it was, was feudal in nature, a holdover of Nadir Shah’s system. Like Nadir’s army, it was built around musket-armed infantry carrying exceptionally heavy Persian-style long-barreled weapons, with light cavalry to fend off the masses of marauding horsemen fielded by many of their enemies.
In 1618, the Buddhist Mongolian people known as the Oirat migrated from the Kazakh steppe to the lands along the southern Volga River, just north of the Caspian Sea. The Russian Empire claimed the region, but had no effective enforcement in place, and the emigrants ejected the local inhabitant, a Tartar people known as the Nogai Horde.
Exactly who started calling them Kalmyks is unclear, but they adopted the name for their polity while continuing to refer to themselves by their tribe or clan identification. The Khanate had established its independence by 1630, and in 1640 adopted a constitution known as “The Great Code of the Nomads.”
By the 1720’s, the Russians had begun to assert more and more influence over the Kalmyk Khan and his government. The Kalmyks provided well-regarded light cavalry for Russian campaigns, but even so the tsars encroached on Kalmyk rights, settling Russian and German farmers on what had been Kalmyk pasture lands. The Kalmyks fought alongside the Russians in the Russo-Ottoman War, and their last khan, Ubashi, decided to return to Central Asia.Over 200,000 Kalmyks started east, and Empress Catherine ordered her troops and allied Muslim tribesmen to attack and exterminate them.
The survivors were forcibly settled on farmlands by the Qing government of China, while the Russians abolished the khanate. Some Kalmyks remained on the steppe, following their nomadic lifestyle, while others gained a reprieve by convincing the Russians that they were actually Cossacks who had converted to Buddhism.
The Nogai Horde
A Muslim Mongolian people, part of the group known as Kipchaks, the Nogai came to the Black Sea Steppe along with the Great Horde in the 13th Century. They reached the height of their power in the 1500s as allies of the Crimean Tartars, when a combined Tartar-Nogai force burned Moscow.
Their numbers and power dwindled, and when the Kalmyks threw them off their lands along the Volga the Nogai Horde split, with some traipsing across the lands immediately north of Crimea and others heading south into the Kuban Peninsula immediately to the east of Crimea. They continued to trade raids with the Kalmyks through the first half of the 1700’s, usually suffering the worst of the exchange.
During the Russo-Ottoman War they answered the call of the Crimean Khan and fought alongside the Turks, but once again suffered badly and when the Sultan and Khan proved unable to protect their lands they withdrew from the alliance and sought Russian protection. Facing religious and ethnic persecution, many emigrated to the Ottoman Empire over the following century, but a small Nogai autonomous region remains as part of the Russian Republic of Dagestan.
And that’s the first part of our look at the new Potato Armies. Next time we’ll talk about Cossacks.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.