Book Review: Bismarck's First War: The Campaign of Schleswig and Jutland, 1864


by Michael Embree

Solihull, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia, Pa.: Casemate, 2007. Pp. xvi, 472. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $59.95 paper. ISBN: 190603303X

A rare work in English on the Danish-German war of 1864, which, although short (272 days), had important consequences

Bismarck’s First War covers what at a glance would seem to be a minor conflict, exploring the subject on several levels, and demonstrating its long-term historical importance.  Superficially a step toward the unification of Germany, the war also demonstrated the effectiveness of the recent sweeping reforms of the Prussian Army.  It also gave the world it first look at Bismarck’s prodigious political and diplomatic skills. British independent scholar Embree, who has also written on other aspects of the wars of German unification, places the war into its highly complex historical, diplomatic, and political niche, discussing, for example, how Bismarck managed to avert the possibility of a wider war, with Swedish or French or other intervention.  Unlike some accounts, he notes how Danish ultra-nationalists bore considerable responsibility for the coming of war by rejecting compromises and alienating international opinion.  Embree gives us a very detailed account of the war, with a number of good battle pieces, often down to platoon level.  There are useful profiles of the competing military institutions – Austrian, Prussian, and Danish -- and the leaders on both sides, which is of particular value in the case of the Danes.  A series of appendices provide unusual detail on the armies, individual battles, and more.

Bismarck’s First War is an excellent look at the nature of warfare in Europe at mid-century, the rise of Prussia, and the foundations of twentieth century Europe.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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