Reviews: Memoirs



Hamilton's Campaigns with Moore and Wellington during the Peninsular War

By Anthony Hamilton Published by Spellmount

Hamilton, Anthony. Hamilton's Campaigns with Moore and Wellington during the Peninsular War. Staplehurst: Spellmount, 1998. 163 pages. ISBN# 1-86227-017-1. £19.95. Hardcover.

For those who collect military memoirs, the publication of a rare set of memoirs is looked forward to with anticipation. What new light can this individual shed on the events he witnessed? How did he live in the field? What was it like to stand in the firing line at Corunna, Fuentes d'Orno, and Salamanca? What made his unit unique? What was life like in the field for a soldier? What did he think of his leaders? Only one who was there could answer all of these questions and, depending on how good of a storyteller he is, his story will become an instant classic or will soon be forgotten.

Unfortunately for Napoleonic scholars, this memoir will fall in the latter category. The reader initially will have great hopes when he picks up this book because Anthony Hamilton was a sergeant in the 43rd Light Infantry, part of the famous British Light Division. During his time with the regiment, he participated in most of the major battles and sieges of the Peninsular War. He was there at Vimiero, Corunna, and Oporto; he was wounded at Talavera and the siege of Badajoz and eventually was captured during the battles of the Pyrenees in 1813. Yet, his story is a disappointment. He rarely provides any information about his actions during any of these events nor does he write about life as a soldier in his famous regiment. Instead he has written a history of the battles and events that the British army fought in during the war, whether he was present or not! For example his description of the battles of Rolica and Albuera, at which he was not present, were as long and detailed as the descriptions of Vimiero and Fuentes d'Orno, at which he was. Unfortunately he provides overviews of each battle and not from his perspective but from that of a general officer. He describes events that he could not have witnessed or have known about as an enlisted soldier. It would have far better if he told his story and not the British Army's!

His story had to be interesting, yet he left so much out. For example he participated in the retreat to Corunna and the battles of Oporto and Talavera. He describes all three in detail and states he fought in them, but he never explains how he managed to be at all three. His regiment was evacuated from Corunna and did not return to the Peninsula until shortly before Talavera, not arriving at the battlefield until the night after the battle was fought. The only explanation could be was that he could not have been evacuated from Corunna with the rest of the British Army and must have made his way to Lisbon, where he was assigned to the 1st Battalion of Detachments. Yet there is no mention of how he evaded the French Army after the battle or how he escaped through the mountains to the safety of Portugal. He was there at Fuentes d'Orno, when the Light Division made its famous retreat across the plains, surrounded by hordes of French cavalry. . . yet he only devotes one paragraph to this epic retreat under immense pressure and does not mention how his regiment fared! Sergeant Hamilton was also part of the "forlorn hope" at the siege of Badajoz and this could have been a book in itself... yet once again he writes only a few lines! These stories would have been far more interesting than his run-of-the-mill, general descriptions of battles.

This book has little merit and is only for the avid collector of British memoirs. Those who are interested in reading memoirs as they are supposed to be written should read Captain Johnny Kincaid's Adventures in the Rifle Brigade or Moyle Sherer's Recollections of the Peninsula both published by Spellmount.

 

Reviewed by Robert Burnham, FINS

 

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