Reviews: Books


'It all Culminated at Hougoumont': the Letters of Captain John Lucie Blackman, Coldstream Guards 1812 – 15

Glover, Gareth  (Ed.). 'It all Culminated at Hougoumont': the Letters of Captain John Lucie Blackman, Coldstream Guards 1812 – 15. Godmanchester: Ken Trotman, 2009. 144 pages. Paperback.  ISBN# 9781905074945 £20.  [Also available in a Limited Edition (1/4 leather bound) £50.] 

John Blackman was the 16 year son of a director of the Bank of England, when he joined the Coldstream Guards as an ensign in 1810.  He would remain in England until January 1812, when he boarded transports for the Peninsula.  Fortunately for historians, Ensign Blackman had to be one of the most prolific letter writers in Wellington's Army.  'It all Culminated at Hougoumont' consists of over 100 letters written by him and his friend Thomas Maynard, an assistant surgeon in the Coldstream Guards, from 1812 to 1815.  What makes these letters unique is that they are a continuous record of almost three years of on the spot observations of life on board transport ships, in bivouac, and on campaign.

John Blackman came from a privileged life and he went to the Peninsula armed with what he would need to survive on campaign and letters of introduction to many of the most prominent people in the Army.   Unfortunately for him and his father's bank account, what he brought was not what he needed.  His transport ship had not even sailed before he was writing home asking them to send forgotten items or uniforms that he found he could not live without.  Even after reaching Portugal , his letters continued to his parents requesting care packages or explaining to them why he had to buy things at exorbitant prices and why his father should increase his annual allowance.  (Within six months of arriving in Portugal , he had run up a bill of £80 or almost nine months pay, just for items he felt he could not live without.  This was in addition to the £51 -- or six months pay -- he spent on horses!)

Unlike many memoirs and letters of the time, John Blackman wrote not only about his daily life, but about his military duties.  He writes of observing weapons training for his company – which was interesting in that he was watching it, not organizing it or running it.  He wrote often of being the officer of the guard and escorting detachments of sick to the hospitals, jobs he did not particularly like.  Although he wrote often, his letters were also filled with what he was doing on campaign.  He did not sugar coat the hardships he endured and he was quite blunt about dangers he was exposed to.  His parents must have appreciated his descriptions of how his friends were killed or wounded!

Intermixed with John Blackman's letters are ones written by his friend Thomas Maynard.  Assistant Surgeon Maynard often adds details about activities that were left out of Ensign Blackman's letters.  Between the two of them, they provide a vivid picture of life in the Coldstream Guards in the Peninsular War.

Most of the letters cover the campaigns and events of 1812 and 1813.  John Blackman returned to England in early 1814 and missed the debacle at Bayonne, where so many Guards officers were killed.  He participated in the Waterloo Campaign, but his last letter was dated 15 June 1815.  John Blackman was killed in the final hours of the battle of Waterloo, shot in the head while urging his men on.

As usual, Gareth Glover provides a fantastic job editing the letters, including notes on many of the people, places, and events mentioned by the writers.  I highly recommend this book to all who are interested in the Peninsular War or the British Army.

Reviewed by: Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2008

 

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