Reviews: Biographical Books


Wellington’s Peninsular War Generals & Their Battles, a Biographical and Historical Dictionary

Heathcote, T. A. Wellington’s Peninsular War Generals & Their Battles, a Biographical and Historical Dictionary. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2010. 197 p. Maps. ISBN# 978848840614. Hardcover. £19.99

Wellington’s Peninsular War Generals & Their Battles is the fourth and latest book on naval and military biographies from noted historian and author Dr. Tony Heathcote. Heathcote has established a reputation with his earlier works on the British military in India and with his biographical reference titles, The British Field Marshals, The Admirals of the Fleet and Nelson’s Trafalgar Captains. The book has a nice foreword by Gordon Corrigan, author of Wellington: A Military Life. It is divided into an “Introduction”, “The Biographies” (in alphabetical order), “The Battles”, “Army Seniority List”, a bibliography and an index. 

This work helps to bridge the gap in our knowledge of Wellington’s campaigns in the Peninsula by presenting the top senior commanders, in one place, who served under Wellington. Prior to this we had to look for information on Wellington’s generals in such works as Osprey Publishing’s 1978 “Men-At-Arms” title, Wellington’s Generals (a scant 40 pages)  by Michael Barthorp, in John William Cole’s, Memoirs of British Generals Distinguished During the Peninsular War (1856), by searching through the Dictionary of National Biography (a work of over 100 volumes not exactly found in everyone’s home), or in short chapters on his generals within larger works on Wellington’s army. 

The book is not comprehensive as it only provides information on 41 of the over 100 generals and department heads who served under Wellington in 1808-1814. However the author has chosen the most prominent men who permanently commanded corps, staff departments or divisions along with some of those who temporarily commanded divisions.

This book presents these men showing where they came from, their careers including promotions, along with the added bonus of details on their personal lives and post-war careers. From this you will get a sense of who they were and what they accomplished during the Napoleonic Wars. Wellington had a genius for war and now you will get an opportunity to read about the generals whom he relied upon to carry out his orders and wishes.

The chapter on battles includes a short synopsis of 35 battles in which five or more of Wellington’s generals fought and records which generals fought in them. The battles also covers those outside of the Peninsula starting in 1793.  

The “Army Seniority List” records the promotions of the men from the rank of major to general officer and lists them in their army seniority. This helps to understand why certain generals commanded over others and places into context the explanation on promotion and seniority already expanded upon in the author’s introduction.

There is little to quibble about the men chosen for the book, although I do query the choice of Andrew Barnard, only ever a substantive lieutenant colonel and brevet colonel during the war, over say the likes of Major Generals Henry Fane or William Lumley. Still author’s choice. There are the usual typo gremlins at work, for instance 31 July 1811 and not 1812 is the correct date when Wellington was promoted local general in Spain and Portugal. Robert Craufurd was promoted a Major General in the army on 4 June 1811 and not to local rank there. But these do not detract from the usefulness of the book.            

Also it must be pointed out that although a list of illustrations appears on page xii, no such illustrations are included in the book, having been left out at printing. But again, this does not affect the enjoyment of the book.

The author notes that this book is “intended to be consulted as a reference book rather than read as a continuous narrative…” So have it open beside you as you read the larger histories of the Peninsular War. It is hoped that when this book is well received that the author and publisher will produce similar books on the remainder of Wellington’s Peninsular generals. Recommended.

 

Reviewed by Ron McGuigan

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2010

 

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