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The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars

ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
I asked AY for this book, as it relates to a holiday Mr GRB and I are planning this year, following Wellington’s path from Torres Vedras into France (in a motorhome, not walking or on horseback). It’s a very nice ‘coffee table’ book, full of pictures, which I hadn’t expected. Originally published as ‘Martial Achievements of Great Britain and Her Allies From 1799 to 1815’, this is a reprint by Pen & Sword, and they have made great efforts to produce a lovely book – quality paper, decent hardback and jacket, and good colour to the prints.

There is a lovely opening letter from the book’s publishers to The Duke in 1814, thanking him for ‘raising the British Soldier in the scale of humanity’ and for his exploits in the field, his virtue and forbearance in victory, and ‘sublime example of clemency and bravery’. I love the language, and the sentiments expressed.

After an Introduction, the book has a chapter and a detailed watercolour illustration for each battle of Wellington’s career, from the storming of Seringatapam and defence of the Breach at St Jean d’Acre in 1799, through the Landing in Egypt 1801, Storming of Montevideo 1807, Battles of Vimiera, Corunna, Salamanca, Talavera, Busaco, Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca ( and others along the way). It includes articles about the deaths of Generals Abercrombie, Moore and Moreau, which I found most interesting and moving. It continues with the French retreat, the exile to Elba, the return, and battles from St Sebastian, through Leipzig to Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Each chapter is interesting and informative. Some contain extracts from letters written at the time, battle reports or despatches. Each chapter ends with lists of the officers who acquitted themselves well, and lists of officers killed, wounded severely and wounded slightly. The attrition rate was horrific at some of these battles, certainly comparable with the carnage in 1914-18. Some chapters include a ‘Return of Ordnance taken’, which I found interesting. For example after Talavera this lists four 8-pounders, four 6 pounders, one 4 pounder, one 6 inch howitzer, two tumbrils, complete in ammunition, taken by Brigadier-General A Campbell’s brigade, plus one 6 inch howitzer left by the enemy and found in the woods, one standard taken by the 29th Regiment, one standard destroyed by them, and three standards taken by the King’s German Legion. This attention to detail seems to me to bring alive the men who fought and what was important to them after survival!

There is a very moving description of the Burning of Moscow, by one Lebaume, a French soldier who appears to have lost faith in the cause.

The pictures contain a lot of detail – the longer you look at them, the more you see, meaning you could return to this lovely book time after time! I loved the picture of Bonaparte fleeing from Russia in Disguise. The artist must have had a particularly good imagination, and done a huge amount of research, to produce such excellent pictorial representations of events which he couldn’t have seen.

I really enjoyed this book, and it will certainly travel with us in the Summer when we make our trip.

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