Secret Weapons of the Napoleonic Wars

Secret Weapons of the Napoleonic Wars

Craig, Jr., Hardin

The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Volume 35, Number 3 (1948)


It might not be amiss t o ask: what is a secret weapon? During the recent war we had all sorts of answers, usually in the form of Nazi threats. A transatlantic rocket would indeed have been a secret weapon, but we were sometimes told that Hitler’s secret weapon was hunger, applied to enslaved peoples, and that ours was America’s know-how in back-yard mechanics. But a secret weapon should be at least reasonably secret, and something of a surprise to the enemy when it is used, and it should be a weapon.

For the period under discussion, I should like to begin with a few borderIine cases. In 1795, an official regulation made lemon juice a regular part of the diet of his Majesty’s sailors. It was about time, incidentally, since the virtues of the citrus fruits in combating scurvy had been known, to some at least, since the days of Elizabeth. Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination, first convincingly demonstrated in 1796, was soon put into the regulations as something constantly to be recommended by military surgeons, although no one was to be vaccinated against his will. No doubt the British armed forces benefited from these measures, and earlier than the men of other countries, but no effort was made to keep the discoveries from becoming common property, and they can hardly be called secret weapons.

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