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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Telling the time...

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Re: Telling the time...

Postby unclearthur » February 21st, 2013, 10:51 pm

I fancied a period watch at one time :? but in good condition they were soooo dear I'd have been scared to use it. So instead of an expensive ornament I bought a 1914 Waltham hunter and wear it regularly.

Same can't be said of the couple of swords I've got, though ;)
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » December 30th, 2016, 3:58 pm

I thought I would bump this thread to share some useful points on this topic offered by our fellow enthusiasts at Napoleon Series Discussion Forum, relating to my question posted here all of, nigh on, three years ago. Speaking of time...

The fact that I am still pondering the question speaks volumes about the pace of my research.

http://www.napoleon-series.org/cgi-bin/ ... ;id=177529
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Digby » December 30th, 2016, 5:49 pm

A great post.
I have always been interest in "time" in the Napoleonic Wars.
I have always had some basic questions.
Were pocket watches common place
I imagine that only officers could afford them.
Would every officer have had one.
When did staff officers etc start writing down the time eg in the Seven Years war or earlier?
Would the average officer in battle have had the time or inclination to look at his watch when major events occurred.
Eg "O God, the French are attacking, I must look at my watch and remember the time"
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby grumpy » January 3rd, 2017, 7:29 pm

Fascinating, but I wonder if the problems are exaggerated in modern minds? We have [and indeed the commanders and many officers fighting Colonial wars had] access to portable and accurate time-pieces. This clearly matters when a simultaneous or time-delayed action or sequence is planned and executed [the mines of the Messines offensive for example].

In the horse and musket era, battles were fought on much smaller battlefields, and precise timing mattered less than reacting to one's allies or foes perceived movements and intentions.

Commanders would typically order manoevres "at first light" or "when the fog clears" I think. No chance to synchronise watches, which only the very rich owned, and then not reliable under active service conditions.

Where time is "of the essence" and usually not available is in post-action analysis. Often the only practical course is to get the sequence right, and even then, accounts differ.

History, we are told, is written by the victor.
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Digby » January 3rd, 2017, 11:06 pm

Gee, I can't even remember what time I went to the supermarket yesterday! (or did I even go!)

But yes, first light or when the fog clears, or noon sounds good.

We need to study some written orders to see what they said at the time. I have plenty and will report back.
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » January 4th, 2017, 1:36 am

The question arose not from reported problems encountered during a historic campaign arising from a lack of precise timekeeping, but rather in trying to account for wildly divergent timings for a single event, ranging from 2.00 in the afternoon on one day, through 10.00 the following morning to 1.00 that afternoon.
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby charnock » January 4th, 2017, 3:48 pm

A question on a slightly different aspect of time in this period...

I have been perusing naval logbooks, and am aware that naval vessels measured their day from noon to noon. Thus events that happened at 11:00 AM would have been noted as happening on (say) Monday the 12th, while those two hours later at 1:00 PM would have been logged as happening on the next day, Tuesday the 13th. This is a bit disconcerting but once you are used to it, it's easy to translate the ship days into regular calendar days.

Howeve, I have noticed that in later logs (post Trafalgar) the days seem to begin and end at the usual hour of midnight, at least as suggested by the nature of the activities happening at the beginning and end of the day (night-time stuff involving lights, versus the day-time activities that would have happened under the noon to noon scheme).

Lavery in his book "Jack Aubrey Commands" notes that the Admiralty changed the way of dividing up days to midnight to midnight in 1805. Does anyone know when in 1805 this happened, and how ships (and specifically logbook writers) dealt with the changeover? Was there a day that had only 12 hours, to bring the naval and common calendars into line?
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