Wednesday, 1 July 2015

1864: The book

I recently wrote a blog entry about the Danish TV/film series 1864. Since then I have had a chance to read the book upon which the series is supposedly based. I use the term 'supposedly' because the book and the TV/film series tell the story of the Second Schleswig War in somewhat different ways.

1864: THE FORGOTTEN WAR THAT SHAPED MODERN EUROPE was written by Tom Buk-Swienty, translated into English by Annette Buk-Swienty, and published in English by Profile Books in April 2015 (ISBN 978 1 781 25276 5). (It was originally published in Denmark in 2008 by Gyldendal, entitled 1864: SLAGTEBÆNK DYBBØL [which can be translated as ‘The Dybbøl Slaughterhouse’]) When writing this book the author relied heavily on the diaries and letters of participants in the war, and he has made great use of quotations to put the events of the war into context.

The main body of the book is divided into three main parts, each of which contains a number of chapters. There are also a number of other sections:
  • Dramatis personae
  • A note to the reader
  • Preface
  • Introduction: The veteran
  • Part One: The Day Before
    • 1. Sunday, 17 April 1864
    • 2. The chosen one
    • 3. The battle plan
    • 4. The butcher’s block
    • 5. The ironclad warship
    • 6. The war correspondent
    • 7. The ailing general
    • 8. The Red Cross delegate
    • 9. On the front
    • 10. The last letter
    • 11. The changing of the guards
    • 12. The doomed
  • Part Two: The Road to Dybbøl
    • 13. Les jeux sont faits
    • 14. The Baltic powder keg
    • 15. The Iron Chancellor
    • 16. The king is dead
    • 17. Thyra’s Fortress
    • 18. The first days
    • 19. The funeral procession
    • 20. Sankelmark
    • 21. The scapegoat
  • Part Three: The Siege
    • 22. Bloodshed
    • 23. The bombardment
    • 24. Seven long days
    • 25. Night
    • 26. 18 April 1864
    • 27. The left flank
    • 28. Counter-attack
    • 29. Burning bridges
    • 30. The dead
    • 31. The dying
    • 32. The prisoners
    • 33. Berlin
    • 34. The ghost ship
  • Epilogue: The groundswell after the storm
  • Chronology of the war
  • Acknowledgements
  • A note on quotation
  • Sources
  • Index
In some ways I wish that I had read this book before watching the TV/film series as it might have made some of the events and personalities featured easier to understand, but in other ways I am glad that I did not, as I suspect that I would have found certain aspects of the TV/film series even less satisfying than I did.

One quote from the book summed up the Danish situation at the outbreak of the war extremely well:
Thus, on the brink of war, Denmark had at its helm a bipolar prime minister, a king who was unpopular because of his German background, a war minister (Carl Christian Lundbye) in the early stages of another serious mental illness, and, in command of the army, an ageing and hypochondriacal general, Christian de Meza. Though de Meza would come to prove his mettle as commander-in-chief, it was all in all a rather sad gallery of leaders that led Denmark to war in 1864.


  1. Hm, the book certainly sounds more interesting than the tv show!

  2. Edwin King,

    I found the book very informative and it had some excellent battle maps. I would certainly recommend buying a copy of the book rather than a DVD of the film/TV series.

    All the best,


  3. The list of characters is a bit reminiscent of the personal briefings for some COW games.

  4. Nigel Drury,

    I must admit that I had been struck by a similar thought myself.

    Perhaps it may form the basis for a game at COW2016?

    All the best,