Reviews: Military Books

Blue Berg: Britain Takes the Cape

Anderson, Mark Robert Dunbar. Blue Berg: Britain Takes the Cape. [ South Africa ]: M.R.D. Anderson, 2008. 198 pages ISBN# 9780-620413367. Hardcover R353.40 ($37). Format: hardback with dust-jacket, a portion of which also serves as the frontispiece. Illustrations: 13 portraits, 5 battle-paintings, 4 other scenes, 1 map of the battle (18 pages). Tables: 1 table listing data pertaining to the warships accompanying the British invasion force, 2 tables providing particulars about strengths and command of the British and Batavian land forces (3 pages). No reference notes, bibliography, or index. Available from South Africa: http://www.readersforumbooks.co.za/tradesheets/Blueberg_LOW_.pdf

Blue Berg

Mr. Anderson's examination of the obscure 1806 battle of Blaauwberg, just north of the Cape Town, is not only a voyage to South Africa, via India, and the East and West Indies, with stops in Britain, Holland, France, and Egypt, but a jaunt across wide seas of time and more general military, political, social, and intellectual history as well. The Dutch East India Company, which had founded the little colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, was dissolved in 1795, the year in which Cape Town fell to an earlier British expedition, leaving Holland's revolutionary incarnation, the Batavian Republic, to resume charge of the Cape Colony in 1803. Britain 's second seizure, in 1806, would initiate a long and expanding imperial presence in southern Africa.

The story's voyage to the Cape is a circuitous one. In comparison to those in contemporary Europe, the battle of Blue Mountain was a small action (perhaps some 7,000 combatants all told),[1] and it is not a complicated one, but its consequences were momentous for Britain and southern Africa. Thus, this book casts welcome illumination on an often overlooked period of South African history. As Mr. Anderson makes clear, Britain 's decision to attack the Batavian Republic's South African enclave was the product of broad military and imperial calculations, the latter intimately linked to British interests in India and the East Indies. As Lord Castlereagh, Secretary of State for the War and the Colonies, observed: "the true value of the Cape to Great Britain is its being considered and treated at all times as an outpost subservient to the protection and security of our Indian possessions" (p.96).

The tale is colourfully told, offering rich descriptive textures. The reader acquires a vivid appreciation for the land – its topography, heat, vegetation, the sand which made movement such heavy going along the coast – as well as a compassionate interest in the individuals who populate the story and insight into the military and social cultures that surrounded them. The author's eye for detail creates an engaging visual and sensory tapestry that is particularly noteworthy in his chapters on the landing and on the battle itself, giving the reader a very "present" feel for the decisions, development, and experience of the engagement. 

Mr. Anderson casts a broad net as he sails along, weaving many strands together to shape the context in which the invasion at the Cape and the campaign's single battle were conducted. The opening chapter examines "The Landing" at Losperd's Bay, north of Cape Town, on 6 January, from both the British and Batavian perspectives (18 pages). And a handsome and eye-catching watercolour, by Angus McBride, depicting the landing, serves as a dust-jacket and frontispiece. Ten subsequent chapters then take on a variety of subjects:

-  the "Dutch East India Company at the Cape" explores the Cape's early origin and history as a commercial way-station (10 pages);

- a brief intellectual diversion through "The Enlightenment" (4 pages);

- elements of the Cape's early relations on "The Far Frontier", between colonial administrators, (Dutch) settlers, newer immigrants (French Huguenots, German Protestants), Hottentots (the Khoi), and Xhosa tribes (4 pages);

- some of the political and family influences on Britain 's war and colonial strategy in " Britain and the Pitt Family" (8 pages);

- a look at "The First British Occupation", from 1795 to 1803, a number of whose participants figured in the 1805/6 expedition (14 pages);

- the strategy of France and "Napoleon" toward Britain (6 pages);

- the broad outlines of "British Strategy" over the previous half-century in India, the East and West Indies, the Americas, Australia, and Africa, as well as issues pertaining to slavery, the slave trade, and race relations (18 pages);

- planning and preparations, as well as naval issues, in " Cork to Cape Town" (14 pages);

- the two key military decision-makers are examined in "The Generals": Batavian Lt-Gen. Jan Willem Janssens and British Lt-Gen. Sir David Baird – whose promotion to that rank seems to have come as an afterthought, on 30 October 1805,[2] two months after the expedition's departure for the Cape (10 pages); and

- brief histories of each participating military unit is sketched out in "British and Dutch Regiments" (26 pages).

Finally, the reader arrives, more fully armed, at "The Battle", which picks up with the decisions facing the Batavian commander, as British forces came ashore some 13½  miles due north, across Table Bay (42 pages). "The Capitulation" describes the military and diplomatic maneuvers and dilemmas confronting the belligerents in the period between the battle itself, on 8 January, and the colony's final surrender on 22 January (12 pages). A short "Epilogue" ends the voyage (7 pages), and preceding all is a 4-page "Acknowledgements".

This wide context suits the fact that, from Dutch and British perspectives, the Cape's importance was largely as a way-station for their far-flung commerce with India and the East Indies, a very useful watering and provisioning point, offering good harborage and an awkward base for an enemy wishing to interdict Indian trade. The broad inter-connectedness of things reveals how it is, for instance, we find Javanese artillerymen at the center of the Batavian line of battle at the Cape. Mr. Anderson knits a fascinating web of relationships linking people across wide spaces and through time. We are reminded that the British commander, Baird, had visited the Cape in 1798, on his way to India (where he would more than once encounter Arthur Wellesley, future Duke of Wellington, himself a visitor to the Cape in 1796-7); he commanded an Indian army column sent in 1801 to combine with the British attack on the French forces Bonaparte had left behind at the north end of the African continent, the residue of a French design to threaten Britain's Indian empire. Baird would later command the auxiliary column sent to join Sir John Moore's army in the Iberian Peninsula, in 1808. Other future Peninsular figures we meet in the Cape include Lt-Col. Denis Pack (future commander of an independent Portuguese brigade), wounded while leading the 71st Highlanders ashore; Robert Wilson (future founder of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, and later observer of the Russian army), commanding the detachment of the 20th Dragoons; Brig-Gen. William Carr Beresford (future Portuguese Marshal), who, detached with a force to Saldanha Bay, missed the battle; Brig-Gen. Ronald Ferguson, who would return to command a brigade in Wellington's first Peninsular campaign, to name several.

This wide-ranging voyage has required Mr. Anderson to gather and synthesize a tremendous range of information. The result is a commendable glimpse of a key moment in South African history. In fairness to the reader, however, the study also harbors serious flaws. There is no index. Much more fatally, there is no bibliography and no reference to sources. These are crucial for, as the author himself describes his work on the title page: "An account of the 1806 Battle of Blaauwberg and the participants as well as the causes leading up to this, the second Occupation of the Cape by the British." Lineage of information, indication of how the author comes to know what he presents to be factually true, authoritative or reputable sources provide an important basis for distinguishing "history" from "story-telling", fact from fantasy. Referenced sources help author and reader to understand how we know what we think we know about events that happened in the distant past.

The opening "Acknowledgements" stand in very poorly for a real listing of sources consulted, indicating only a fragment of the sources used, and cannot substitute usefully for the bibliography of a well-referenced investigation. It is as though helmsman Anderson had embarked without dependable charts that could assure his passengers of a knowledgeable journey ahead. Although an enjoyable telling, the historical account to some extent merges with novelistic elements, an impression which is perhaps strengthened by the lack of any references to sources used. Without sources, the reader may be forgiven for wondering, for instance, just how the author knew what various historical figures were thinking or feeling, a frequent contrivance in the narrative. How did the historian know that Baird's horse "loved the feel of cold water around his legs" (p.162)? Such novelistic touches give color, while undermining distinctions between what is offered as fact and what is provided as imaginative texture or simply fiction.

Without a bibliography or reference notes, the reader encounters assertions that he must discount as erroneous or doubtful, for they are at odds with established history. For example, Britain did not declare war on France in 1793 (p.50), rather it was the other way around. Napoleon Bonaparte was not crowned emperor of " France ", but of "the French" (pp.54 & 72), and war with Britain was not resumed on his coronation day (p.54), but had recommenced more than a year previously. Holland had not allied itself with France against Britain in 1793 (p.56), but was in alliance with Britain ; Holland did not fall to France until 1795. Other oddities leave the reader wondering what the sexual practices in the harem of Mysore's Tipoo Sultan have to do with the Cape (p.108)? Pitt is described, in 1805, as having "personally appointed [Nelson] Commander-in-Chief" (p.104) – of what? "Commander-in-Chief" was not a Royal Navy rank or appointment, but an appointment to command either a fleet or station, yet the author does not make clear of what naval command Nelson was thereby taking charge. Royal Navy Bomb ketches were ordinarily armed not with a howitzer (p.148), but with a large mortar. References to British "Light Bobs" (pp.23, 158, 170) strain an informal nickname for Britain 's light infantry to the point of appearing almost as though this were a form of official title. Where did the historian's perception of these things come from? Without a bibliography, we are left to guess.

Without source notes, the knowledgeable reader is left charitably to suppose that a number of discrepancies are the product of typographical error. Alternatively, a closer accountability to sources might have avoided inadvertencies. Thus, Britain 's administrators of the first occupation could not have departed in 1804 (p.114), for they had sailed for home in early 1803. Frederick the Great was, of course, a great captain of the eighteenth century, not one from the "fifteenth century" (p.146). The British landing was on the 6th of January, not of February (p.148). The Russians, not the Prussians, had joined the British expedition to Helder in 1799 (p.156). Britain 's 24th Foot, not the 38th, came ashore with the 59th and 83rd on 7 January – the 38th Foot was debarking separately under Beresford at Saldanha Bay (p.161), a 70-mile march to the north. The table of organization for the "Batavian Dutch" (p.199) numbers the French at 224, but the narrative twice describes them with 240 (pp.137, 175).

These things might be considered relatively minor slips, but the absence of evidence for sources, for information used, and which authorities were relied upon, seems to have engendered a considerable number of avoidable errors. Some of these appear to arise out of a jumbling of data.

Egyptian command. Mr. Anderson's brief sketch of Britain's 1801 Egyptian campaign has its original commander, Lt-Gen. Sir Ralph Abercrombie still alive – "by the end of August he had reduced Generals Frian, Balliard and Menou, and had taken Egypt" (p.51) – when, in fact, "Abercrombie had died at Aboukir Bay" (p.51) in late March, five months earlier.

British losses in the West Indies. The author appears to over-state his case describing British losses of "nearly sixty percent of the twenty thousand men" sent against French colony of Sainte Domingue (Haiti) in 1795-8, with the implication that these loses were due to combat with the freed slaves who "had fought with a fanaticism seldom seen, and were fearless of death rather than an exchange for re-enslavement" (p.81). In fact, disease, primarily yellow fever, had swept away most of those lost. Gen. Charles Lord Grey's force of 7,000 had lost some 5,000 to disease in 1794, on the islands of Martinique, Guadaloupe, St. Lucia, and Saint-Domingue, while some 12,000 British soldiers perished throughout the West Indies in that year alone.[3] This same bane of British troops in the West Indies also devastated the French expedition of 35,000 to Sainte Domingue, in 1802-3, though this goes unmentioned in the examination of Leclerc's campaign (p.84). Nevertheless, the author does not appear to be unaware of the powerful factor of disease in the West Indies (p.160), yet seems to have forgotten the import of his own observation that "more French soldiers would die from typhus, yellow fever, bubonic plague, malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery than were ever killed by bullets" (p.137).

Renewal of war. Was the renewal of war between Britain and France declared in 1804 (p.54), or 1803 (p.86)? The latter, of course.

How big a navy? With the assignment of 4 line of battle ships, 2 frigates, 2 sloops, and 1 brig to escort the British expedition to the Cape (pp. 97 & 197), Pitt is described as having committed "ten percent of [Britain's] fleet" to the Cape expedition (p.91); yet, the reader has been told that "by the end of 1804 Britain had 75 ships of the line, 114 frigates, and over two hundred other warships in commission" (p.86), which makes the escort 5% of the Royal Navy's line-of-battle ships, but only 1.7% of her frigates and about 1.5% of her "other" ships, or less than 2.3% of the entire Royal Navy. Clarity is always helpful.

Batavian battle-array. The battle-map shows the main Batavian force at the battle of Blaauwberg as standing, left to right, in the order: burgher cavalry, Waldeck Jägers, Hottentot Light Infantry, Waldeckers, 22nd Regiment, French seamen and naval infantry, 9th Jägers, and Dutch dragoons. The descriptive text, however, differs, describing the Batavian force as standing, from left to right: first, "the main body of the burghers…; then came the Hottentot infantry, French marines and seamen, the Waldeckers (including some jägers), the 22nd Batavian Regiment, 9th Jägers, some dragoons..." (p.157).

The sequencing of units as mapped and then as described is significantly contradictory. So what was the Batavian battle-array? According to what source(s)? Further, with regard to the Waldecker Jägers, whose position in line is mapped, we have been told that they were not present, but detached to protect Algoa Bay (p.129).

British ordnance in the field. While Mr. Anderson describe British ordnance supporting the army as six "field guns" (and 2 howitzers) (p.164),[4] these transmute into "naval guns" (p.168) during the battle. The latter would have had carriages entirely inappropriate for transportation across sandy terrain and would have been vastly more unwieldy.

The failure to handle sources skeptically seems to have ambushed the author into promulgating a remarkable claim for a Wellesley relative who did not, in fact, exist. Guarding British supplies on the beach after the landing were cadets heading out from England to join the Honourable East India Company's army, "under a Lieutenant-Colonel Wellesley of the Bengal Establishment" (p.122), who was "a relation of the Duke of Wellington" (p.161). Baird's despatch reporting the battle, however, indicated that a "Lt. Col. Willet of the Bengal Establishment" was responsible for the cadets.[5] Baird is unlikely to have mistaken the name of Wellesley. It appears that Mr. Anderson may have been led astray by a slip in the pages of one of Baird's early biographers,[6] who inexplicably substituted " Wellesley" for "Willet" in his reproduction of Baird's 12 January despatch. The role of Willet is confirmed by reference to the despatch published in the London Gazette, 28 February 1806.[7] Not a trivial blunder, considering that it involves the name and powerful family of Wellesley. The assertion of the presence of a Wellesley relative on the expedition clearly merited cross-checking, particularly in view of the prominent role that the Wellesleys play in Mr. Anderson's narration of Baird's story.

With so many historical strands from which the author weaves his story, the transparency of sources would have helped assure the author's credibility, or avoidance of error. Perhaps with so much to cover it was inevitable that the author seems to have over-reached himself on some points.

Britain's losses in Flanders, 1794. While British casualties in the Netherlands campaign of 1794 were high, owing particularly to an especially brutal winter retreat for which they were logistically unprepared, losses were not on the order of 19,000 men. Mr. Anderson asserts that "only six thousand of the 25,000 men that had started the campaign made it back to England " (p.65). It is possible that he has mis-associated some data from the great chronicler of the British army, Sir John Fortescue, who observed that while roughly 25,000 infantry and cavalry opened the 1794 campaign,[8] by late January, a dispirited general would write to the Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, to say that: "The army has now no more than six thousand fighting men…."[9] That is not to say that these were all that were left of the British army in the Netherlands. If Mr. Anderson connected these two numbers without further analysis, they have misled him. Fortescue points out that when the British army finally sailed home in March 1795, "[t]he number embarked was nearly fifteen thousand, some proportion of  the sick having been recovered; so that the losses after the retreat from the Leck [River] must have amounted to about six thousand man, of which not a tithe were killed or wounded in action."[10] Moreover, of the returnees, about 12,000 were infantry, representing the remains of some 30 battalions, while the whole of the cavalry remained behind until the end of 1795.[11] Furthermore, absent from these tallies are those wounded and sick returned to Britain during the campaign, and any fortress garrisons withdrawn separately from the main army, as well as the calculus of reinforcements and veteran battalions withdrawn for other theatres of war. In the end, the losses, though heavy, were not at the catastrophic level that Mr. Anderson's comparison of numbers seems to suggest.

Scale of death in the Napoleonic Wars. While on the subject of deaths, the author claims that "the scale of Napoleon's carnage was appalling and had resulted in the deaths of millions of people, approximately the same proportion of the population of Europe that would die during the First World War" (p.87). Such an assertion seems likely to be open to reasonable debate, though informed discussion is difficult without sources. In contradiction, though, one recent study observed that when evaluating losses out of total population: "Using a high estimate for the death rate for World War I and a low one for that of the Napoleonic Wars, proportionately about three times as many people died in the later war as in the earlier one…." But only by "[u]sing a low estimate for deaths in World War I and a high one for deaths in the Napoleonic Wars," does one produce a calculation that could suggest "that the death rates for the two wars are about equal."[12] The implicit personal responsibility of the Emperor of the French for all those deaths might be equally debatable.

Baird's command in 1801. Baird is (incorrectly) described as being "second-in-command to General Abercrombie" for the Egyptian expedition of 1801 (p.111). Baird would have made an odd choice if only because he was commanding a widely separate column sailing from India , and would have been in no position to assist Abercrombie as a second-in-command. In the end, Baird arrived at Gizah, on 31 July 1801, long after Abercrombie had died. More to the point, Maj.-Gen. Hutchison, Abercrombie's former aide-de-camp in Flanders, had specifically been requested, and was appointed, as 2nd in command[13] -- Baird (major general, 18 June 1798) was two years junior to Hutchinson (major-general, 3 May 1796) to Baird.[14]

Baird's command in 1803. On his return from India to England in late 1803, "Baird was placed in command of the eastern district of England, the most likely area where Napoleon would attack" (p.111). In fact, Baird was assigned to the Eastern District, and not in charge, but under the command of Lt-Gen. Henry Craig, to whom seven other major-generals senior to Baird were also assigned (Manners, Loftus, Sir Eyre Coote, Lord Fitzroy, G. Beckwith, Hon. G.I. Ludlow, and the Earl of Cavan).[15] Moreover, it was not the Eastern District, comprised of "Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, and Huntingdonshires", but the Southern District, with Kent and Surrey, that was far a far more likely target of invasion, and that district was under the direct supervision of General David Dundas, supported by 2 lieutenant-generals, 10 major-generals, and 2 brigadier-generals.[16]

With regard to the particular topic of the book, the Blaauwberg campaign, lack of sourcing similarly hobbles the resulting historical analysis.

Manpower availability. As Britain considered what resources she had available to attempt an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope, Mr. Anderson claims that, in 1804, the British "had to keep the greater part of their army spread around the world" (p.87). This is simply erroneous. In 1804, 90,000 of her 137,000-strong army were in the United Kingdom , supported by a further 90,000 militia.[17] Thus, only 47,000 troops were outside the kingdom that year while 180,000 regulars and militia were at home. Further, in mid-1805, Gen. Baird's instructions specifically estimated that after detaching his expeditionary force, 180,000 rank and file (a category that does not include sergeants and officers, so the total force is roughly 1/8th greater) would remain at home, of which 110,000 were regulars, and this would permit a force of as large as 40,000 to be held ready for any other operation thought worthy.[18] Facts seem to have been traded for drama.

French naval threat to the expedition. Mr. Anderson's evaluation of the start of the expedition's voyage from Britain makes much to-do about a supposedly near-disastrous naval encounter with French Captain Zacharie Allemand and his small squadron.[19] Allemand slipped out of Rochefort in mid-July to make a diversionary raid and, six weeks later, by missing Popham's convoy by "a matter of hours", had "come very close to inflicting on the British a serious naval defeat" (p.91). Anderson argues that, "the possibility of encountering Allemand's five-ship battle group …was a chance the British felt had to be taken" (p.98), and Allemand having "missed [Baird] by less than a day's sail", the author concludes and that either Admiral Villeneuve (jockeying in the early stages of what would be the Trafalgar campaign) or Allemand "would have ravaged the British expedition to the Cape" (p.104).

This reviewer sought in vain, however, for any hint that Allemand's squadron was of particular concern to the planners of the Cape expedition,[20] or that he nearly caught Popham's convoy.[21] One history notes that having sailed just before receiving orders to rendezvous with Villeneuve for the events that would lead up to Trafalgar, Allemand's squadron consequently "wandered aimlessly about in the Bay of Biscay, out of touch with his colleagues, and performing no useful service."[22] No mention of having just missed the Cape-bound expedition. While Allemand's squadron had captured the Ranger, 16 guns, and the Calcutta, 54 guns, on the 17th and 25th of July, respectively,[23] nothing in the documentation suggests that Allemand would have taken on Popham's four escorting line-of-battle ships with his own five (admittedly much heavier) line-of-battle ships, since his primary objective was to rendezvous with Villeneuve, not engage independently in major actions. Without knowledge of Mr. Anderson's sources, it appears that this aspect of the drama may be over-played.

There are elements of Mr. Anderson's study that touch on British military practice or history that appear to be at odds with established facts or actual usage. This reviewer is not familiar with military sources for Dutch or Batavian practices. Again, the reader would have profited from being made aware of the book's sources of information.

·  Regimental titles. The British regimental tiles given are anachronistic. The 24th Foot carried the title of "2nd Warwickshire", from 1786, but did not become the "South Wales Borderers" (p.120) until 1881. The author links the title "Highland Light Infantry" to the 71st Foot from as early as the late 1770s (p.107, also see p.123), but the 71st Foot was not styled (nor specifically trained) as "Light Infantry" until Royal authority was granted on 20 March 1809, and was not titled as the "Highland Light Infantry Regiment" until April 1810.[24] Indeed, the author's mention of the 71st's light company (p.161) gives the clue that it was still a regiment of the line, for light battalions had no "light company" – they were all light. It isn't clear that the 72nd Foot retained its appellation of "Seaforth" (p.124) after the reductions following 1783 and its renumbering from the 78th Highland, though it would regain it by 1881. The 83rd Foot did not acquire the title of "Royal Ulster Rifles" (p.122) until 1881, and was never the "Irish Rifles" (p.161) – indeed, they had no rifles at all during the wars of 1793-1815. The 93rd Foot did not receive the title of the "Sutherland" (p.125) until 1861. Meanwhile, the 59th Foot actually had a regimental title overlooked in the chapter on units (p.121): the "2nd Nottingham" Regiment, from 1782.

On the other hand, the title of "Jamaica Light Dragoons" associated with the 20th Light Dragoon (p.119) had been extinguished by the time of the Cape expedition. The dragoon regiment bearing the number "20" was at least its fourth incarnation, having been formed, disbanded, and formed again multiple times. While it had, indeed, been formed as the "Jamaica Light Dragoons" in 1792 (the 20th Light Dragoons having last been disbanded in 1783), where it served until 1802, that title was not retained upon its transfer from the Jamaican to the English Establishment with the Peace of Amiens, when it became simply the "20th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons".[25]

·  British light infantry. Not until 1803, with the commencement of specialized training under Sir John Moore, did Britain begin to reinstitute entire regiments of "light infantry". None were present with the expedition to the Cape. Yet, a light company had been an integral element of line battalions for some time. Mr. Anderson seems not to have understood this chronology when describing the light companies' operation under Major Graham - these companies were emphatically not "a new part of the British forces" (p.170), nor "newly-constituted" (p.23).

During the Napoleonic Wars, it was common British practice to group the light companies of the battalions forming a brigade into an ad hoc "battalion of light infantry" under the command of a field officer. The author displays a solid grasp of the practice when describing the British landing, noting the presence of the "battalion of light infantry made up from the light companies of the 71st, 72nd, and 93rd Highlanders" (p.25), the three regiments constituting Ferguson's brigade. Did he lose track of practice or did his sources specify which companies were formed under Major Graham for the battle on 8 January? Uniting light companies from different brigades was not a typical practice, and implies either that Graham controlled all of the two brigades' skirmishers, or that he was employing some companies selected for light service to cover just the advance of the 1st Brigade, leaving the 2nd Brigade without a screen of skirmishers (it is true, however, that no skirmishers in front of the Highland Brigade are discussed). One wishes that a source had been offered for the activities of Graham's light companies, for Mr. Anderson indicates were gathered under Graham from both brigades.

·  Brigade numbering and seniority. Most unfortunately, the author has reversed the numbering of the British brigades on the Cape expedition (battle-map & pp.165, 170): in fact William Carr Beresford, as the senior brigadier-general (based on his seniority as colonel), commanded the 1st Brigade, and Ronald Ferguson, his junior, commanded the 2nd (or Highland) Brigade. The contemporary records make this explicitly clear.[26] Curiously, Mr. Anderson gets the numbering right in a late reference to the 1st Brigade as composed of the 24th, 59th, and 83rd Regiments (p.176) and in his table of organization (p.198).

In Beresford's absence, Lt-Col. Joseph Baird, as senior regimental officer, would have assumed command of the brigade, as a matter of normal procedure, though this would not have changed the relative seniority of the brigades, which rested upon the relative status of the encumbent commanding officers (Beresford and Ferguson).[27]

·  Post of honor. Customary posts of honor may be thought arcane, but the author has misunderstood their place in the British army of 200 years ago. He writes that Baird "had already decided that the Scots would have the honour of the charge – traditionally a Scottish general's wont – especially so as amongst them was his old command, the senior regiment present, the 71st Highlanders, and as such it took the centre position in the Highland Brigade" (p.167); some pages later, he repeats: "The 71st, having claimed their right as senior regiment present to be placed in the centre of the Highland Brigade…" (p.173).

In fact, historical precedence not only in England and Scotland both, but throughout Europe, favored the right flank as the "first post of honor", it was a custom whose roots stretched back at least two millennia to Classical Greece, if not to the Trojan Wars of Homer's Iliad. In the European tradition, the "second post of honor" was on the left flank, with least honorable post being that in the center.[28] These honors were distributed by seniority: seniority of unit within the brigade and seniority of commander for higher commands. In the British army at this time, regimental seniority was reflected in the regiment's numerical sequence, thus making the 71st Foot senior to the 72nd Foot.

The physical distribution of the most senior regiment to the right, and the next senior to the left flank does, indeed, play out in the mapped and described battle-array of the 1st Brigade. The 2nd Brigade, however, does not reflect this pattern, nor the inverted pattern that often obtained for the left-most brigade (with the senior regiment on the far left). This is not to say that the 2nd Brigade was not arranged as the author describes (this reviewer could locate no definitive statement of the 2nd Brigade's battle-array), but if so, it was not for the reason that any British officer thought the center to be a post of honor. Nor can Scottish custom be cited, for even at Prestonpans (1745) and at Culloden, the last great battle of a Highland army (1746), the Clans disputed as to which had claim to the post of honor upon the right of their line of battle.[29]

The uncertainty about the Highland Brigade's battle-array is only deepened by differences between the earlier version of the battle-map, accompanying an article in on Blaauwberg in The South African Military History Society's Military History Journal, and that published here.[30] There, the Highland Brigade's battalions were depicted in numerical order, from left to right, as 71st – 72nd – 93rd. Mr. Anderson offers no evidence for why it is changed here. More is the pity a bibliography and notes are absent.

Relatedly, Mr. Anderson asserts: "As was usual with a Scottish general, the Highlanders would be in the van" (p.163). Evidence of such an historical dynamic would be welcome. Although no mention of a "van", or advance guard, appears in the contemporary sources that this reviewer could locate, it is more likely that the army was simply marched with its brigades in customary array, with the junior 2nd Brigade of Highlanders on the left of the 1st Brigade, stations determined by the seniority of their encumbent brigade commanders. It is nevertheless true that Scottish regiments had often doubled informally as "light" troops, and to the extent that a general lacking a considerable body of light infantry felt he required one, Highland troops were not uncommonly employed as a van, regardless of the commanding general's national background. Accordingly, if the commanding general placed a highland battalion in advance it was because of the frequent use of such battalions as light infantry, not due to the nationality of the general, or because of some notion that such units focused on the charge.

·  Rank and command. Mr. Anderson is not the first to be caught out by arcane details of rank and procedure. The assumption of command of the 71st Foot by Robert Campbell, after Lt-Col. Pack was wounded, was not by virtue of his brevet (and, thus, army) rank of colonel, as the narrative seems to imply (p.124), but in consequence of his junior regimental rank of lieutenant-colonel, to which he had been promoted on 25 September 1803. Pack had been promoted on 6 December 1800, and was thus almost three years his senior.[31]

He appears also to misunderstand the succession of Baird's younger brother, Joseph, to brigade command. As the lieutenant-colonel commanding the 83rd, his accession to command of the 1st Brigade would not have come merely (or nepotistically) as the result of Gen. Baird's desire, but presumably in consequence of being the senior regimental officer in the brigade. Nor would his assumption of command have garnered him the rank of "brigadier-general" – Gen. Baird would have possessed no such powers of appointment (p.159) – though  Lt-Col. Baird could have been described as a "brigadier" insofar as he was the acting commander of the brigade in Beresford's absence.

Rifled firearms. Rifles, as opposed to the smoothbore muskets most soldiers carried, are clearly an item of interest to Mr. Anderson, but it isn't clear that he fully grasped their place in British employment. In 1800, he notes, "the Baker rifle was selected after extensive trials as the rifle for light infantry…" (p.119). Well, not quite for "light infantry": the trials were for a weapon expressly "for the use of the Rifle Corps", a particularly select and, at the time, experimental body of light infantry.[32] Hence, it is not surprising that "[f]ew of these rifles, if any, made their way to the Cape in 1806," (p.111) since no rifle-armed company from the 5/60th or 95th Foot (both expressly units of riflemen), nor from any other rifle-armed unit on the British Establishment, accompanied the expedition. Rifles were far from being a standard weapon in the period – expensive, requiring extra training with aimed fire, hampered by a lower rate of fire when advantage was taken of its rifling – nor was it a weapon that achieved its principal impact through individual aim relevant to the systems of volley-fire used by infantry of the line.

His apparent presumption that rifles were widely issued to Britain 's "light infantry" (p.170) is misplaced. The 5th battalion, 60th Foot and the 95th Foot were the only rifle-armed British units on the British Establishment (and much of the personnel in the 5/60th was German). A number of foreign regiments contained rifle-armed companies or sharpshooter elements at this time, such as the Hanoverian battalions of the Kings German Legion (the line battalions had sharpshooters, and a growing percentage of each of its light battalions possessed rifles), while specialized rifle-companies were also found with the de Rolls', the Bourbon, and the 1st Ceylon Regiments. Earlier, the British had retained the services of a host of foreign rifle-armed corps, such as The York Rangers, and Waldstein's, Löwenstein's, and Hompesch's Chasseurs (many of whom were subsequently drafted into the 5/60th, or provided rifle-armed elements to the 60th's other battalions in the New World); later on, a number of British line regiments would informally employ rifles in their light companies, including the 1/23rd Foot (at Martinique and Guadeloupe, in 1810), the 1/14th, 1/59th, 169th and 1/78th Foot boasted an additional "rifle company" (at Java, in 1811), and there were additional rifle-armed foreign corps, such as the Royal West India Rangers, Royal York Rangers, and three companies of the Brunswick Oëls Jägers.[33]

Britain clearly recognized the utility of riflemen. In fact, Baird had specifically requested the inclusion of 600 "Rifle Troops" in his force to "act against the Hottentots, which, in Lt. General Dundas's opinion, are as good light Troops as any in the World."[34] Ironically, for all the discussion of British rifles, it appears that they were all on the Batavian side, among the Waldecker Jägers (p.129), the French naval infantry (p.137), and one-third of the Batavian Jägers (pp.130, 171), as long-barrelled rifles were certainly found in the hands of many of the burgher cavalry (pp.133, 155, 169, 186-7) and possibly among the Hottentot light infantry (the description of the landing leaves a possible implication of this). Oddly, for all these rifles, no evidence is offered in the description of the battle that the Batavian forces actually employed rifle-armed troops as skirmishers to cover their own main line of battle at Blaauwberg.

Storming vs. capitulation. A relevant, if barbaric, custom of war seems to have eluded Mr. Anderson with respect to the consequences that befell a city or fortress which compelled its attackers to storm its defenses: sack. When Seringapatam was stormed in 1799, Baird (among others) permitted it to be plundered by the troops and their followers (p.111), which Anderson ascribes to possible motives of "revenge", apparently unaware that such a tradition was the sanction deemed necessary to dissuade fortresses from resisting once breaches in their protective walls had been made practicable for assault. Into this, Anderson weaves a repeated, contrasting motif involving Arthur Wellesley, who had also been present at Seringapatam, noting that "Wellesley took drastic steps to restrain the orgy of depravity and destruction, even resorted to flogging and hanging, but it was many hours before the men were brought under control" (p.111, also pp.162, 164). Since Wellesley's actions are what Anderson presumes to be the normal humane course of action, Wellesley's motives remain unanalyzed. These events and choices at Seringapatam, however, become a false contrast to Baird's seeming magnanimity at Cape Town after its capitulation (on terms, without requiring assault), for "there was to be no massive slaughter this time, like there had been at Seringapatam" (p.189). In fact, Cape Town's willingness to capitulate would normally have been expected to have spared it the horrors of being sacked and plundered under contemporary customs of war.

While the story of the battle itself is vividly told, it is marred by some oddities that reference to sources might have clarified.

A fine eye for range. How do we know that the artillery's "gunners were clearly aiming to hit their enemy at chest height" (p.168)? The Royal Artillery were firing at a range of about 800 yards, from an elevated position, over ground that the author has rightly indicated was hardly conducive to grazing fire (the balls would sink or be slowed by the sand). The claim that the gunners were specifically (let alone capable of) aiming to hit the enemy soldiers at chest height seems a little unlikely for 6-pounders under these circumstances, beyond the limits of direct fire range.

An Olympian feat. The narrative of the Highland Brigade's charge is exciting, but if one pauses to think about it, some unlikelihoods emerge. After forming line and commencing their advance as ordered to attack the Batavian line, the Highland Brigade is described as having "broken into a steady trot…although they were still at least four hundred yards" away (p.171). This is a remarkable event in view of the remaining distance to contact, given that each heavily kitted man – the Rev. Martyn apparently noted the Highlanders' "knapsacks strewn amongst" the fallen, after the battle (p.178) – was moving is soft sand. Next, after descriptions of Batavian artillery fire and the resulting casualties, comes the statement that the "Highlanders had charged almost a quarter mile into the mouths of the cannons with great élan, all the time braving a hail of angry fire" (p.172), when they "stopped in line and delivered a crashing volley from 250 yards out, well out of range of their smooth-bore muskets…." (p.172). Although 50 yards was regarded as the limit of accuracy for many smoothbore muskets, 250 yards was well within distances at which Napoleonic fire was historically delivered (though not with necessarily great physical effect), for massed volleys did not rely on the accuracy of individual aimed fire, which required shorter ranges to be effective.

After the Highlanders delivered fire, an "order to charge again came out of the billowing smoke", to cross the "now open ground with only a few hundred yards to go. The Scottish regiments tore across the blasted hot earth…." (p.173). But in spite of the subsequent description of the 71st Foot capturing Batavian artillery in the center and the disintegration of the Batavian right, the British seem not to have yet contacted the main Batavian line of battle, for we then read of Janssens' wounding while the Scots were still at some distance:

"The Scots had come to an abrupt halt at a distance of fifty yards and had fired a withering volley. As the billowing mass of powder smoke came rolling out towards the Dutch, the Scots fixed bayonets and came rushing through the smoke …. in a furious pell-mell bayonet charge…" (p.174).

By Anderson's own measure, the Highlanders, in full kit, soft sand, and South African summer heat, after 4 months cooped up on board naval transports, trotted or ran, roughly 650 yards (well over one-third of a mile!) to contact, halting to fire at least two stationary volleys along the way. A remarkable achievement of breath, endurance, and discipline! One pines for reference to his sources for this accomplishment.

British colors. As Ferguson's Highland Brigade advanced to engage the Batavian line, Janssens is described as seeing clearly his opponents' "massive red silk colours flapping in the centre" – yet there could not have been such colors in the British force. While the King's color was essentially the Union flag (red and white overlapping crosses on a field of blue), British regimental colors were usually the same color as the regimental facings (71st: buff; 72nd and 93rd: yellow). Moreover, even had a regiment with red facings been present, its regimental color would have been white with a red St. George's Cross.[35] Thus, there could have been no red colors to be seen.

Batavian artillery: numbers. The tables of organisation do not list artillery equipment, making the presentation of data on the battle-map the most readily accessible and most easily reviewed source of information not only about the belligerents' troop-dispositions, but particularly about the Batavian artillery.[36] The map indicates 6 Batavian guns: 2 on the left flank, 2 in the center, and 2 on the right flank. This depiction agrees well with the later narrative of the artillery's positioning:

"The horse-drawn artillery came through the lines with their six precious six-pounder bronze guns. Two of these were sent onto the Klein Berg and unlimbered there to provide flanking fire and protection in the case of an attack on this flank, and two more were placed on his right flank, commanded by Lieutenant Pelegrini, supported by some able and gallant French artillery officers. He massed the rest of his little force of cannons ahead of the infantry…" (pp.157-8).

We read, here, of just 6 guns enumerated, which is consistent with the visual and printed information on the battle-map. Baird, however, reported 23 Batavian guns at the battle![37]

It turns out, according to Anderson, there were 16 field guns present at the battle, though he offers no source for this figure.[38] The first mention of the quantity comes only in the discussion of the 5th Regiment Horse Artillery. "The Dutch had a total of sixteen guns at the battle, of which only a few were regular field pieces" (p.138). This is odd placement of this information, since the 160 horse artillerymen do not appear to have crewed any of the other 10 guns beyond its six 6-pounders, and discussion of those six guns' distribution tends to obscure recollection of the passing mention of 16 guns present. Furthermore, as the section implies that the 5th Artillery Battalion served in the garrison batteries at the Cape, and not in the field, one concludes that the only other gunners in the field, the 54 men of the Java Foot Artillery, must have served these remaining 10 field pieces (which is confirmed on p.173), supported by the 104 (unarmed) Mozambican slaves. Yet the entry for the Javanese offers no discussion of the numbers or type of ordnance they worked, impairing the reader's grasp of just how many Batavian field guns were actively present. Not least, the drama of the horse gunners fighting to the death around their two 6-pounders in the center (p.173), before the 71st captured them (though sharing the honors and prize money with their comrades of the 72nd and 93rd), overshadows the presence of the other ten guns, of which no further mention is made.

The only concrete discussion of the type and quantity of the Batavian field ordnance is a brief reference, as Janssens prepares to march out from Cape Town:

"He had sixteen field artillery pieces, but only six of them were the six-pounder brass mobile cannons that he so desperately needed on the battlefield, guns that were capable of tearing great holes in the ranks of oncoming troops. The rest were small saluting cannons, down to a tiny one-pounder." (p.146)

Another reference to the rest of the Batavian artillery, other than the six 6-pounders (which are specifically mentioned), occurs in relation to the cacophony of battle-sound, including "the lighter bang of the small one- to three-pounder Dutch cannons" (p.171). This seems to be one of only two specific references to the actual calibers of the other field pieces – and it is curious to note that no 3-pounders were to be found in the inventory reported in the return of ordnance later captured in Cape Town's batteries and environs (though 4- and 1-pounder brass guns are listed).[39] The final reference to these other calibres comes two pages later, noting the "two six-pounders and the other small one-pounder and three-pounder cannons […] were being ably and bravely handled by the Javanese Foot Artillery and Horse Artillery in front of the Batavian line." (p.173)

Frankly, Mr. Anderson appears to undersell the other field ordnance, never even bothering to distinguish the numbers of each caliber present (perhaps due to lack of evidence in the sources?). Yet 3-pounders were considered by contemporaries to be entirely serviceable pieces. One of the British Peninsular army's five Anglo-German artillery brigades at Talavera (1809), for instance, was composed of 3-pounders, and two Portuguese 3-pounder brigades had participated in the Oporto campaign just two months earlier. In the "soft and yielding sands" (p.180) that characterized the battlefield terrain at the Cape, light ordnance, capable of easily traversing such ground, would be at advantage, and a 3-pounder ball was just as lethal as a 6-pounder shot. And while possibly of shorter direct range, it was capable of a high rate of fire. The 3-pounder had served many nations as an auxiliary battalion gun for the latter half of the eighteenth century. And a 1-pounder was an even lighter field piece and would certainly have out-ranged a musket (or rifle), while proving as murderous as a 3- or 6-pounder ball within its own range, on a terrain incapable of supporting an effective grazing fire (though lighter shot may possibly have ricocheted rather better on loose sand than heavier shot).

The fact that 16% of Janssens' troops were serving 16 light field guns – possibly as many as 23, if Baird's observations are taken at face value – of various calibres (12 of which were massed in the center), certainly goes far to justify how and where the British suffered such casualties in a battle where most of their opponent's force withdrew or broke before contact. This is no small collection of ordnance for an engagement of this size, though the author seems to pass the lighter guns off as inconsequential. Again, one laments the lack of bibliography and sources in order to understand whether the historian was unaware of these discrepancies, or found new information to support his judgments.

Casualties. The impression of battle casualties, in this narrative, is fearsome. At the landing, we read of the smoke-veiled beach, the thunder of artillery, popping of rifle-fire and the ripple of musketry, but in the end, the Batavian forces lost only 2 dead, 3 wounded, and 3 missing (p.25); British combat casualties, amounting to just 1 killed and 3 wounded, all  from the 71st, aren't even mentioned. In addition, the 93rd lost 36 men drowned (p.24).[40] (Many sources report the drowning of 35, and seem to have overlooked the drummer listed by the official return as lost along with the 93rd's rank and file, and Mr. Anderson helps correct this past miscount.)

A number of narrative devices add to the impression of carnage at the main battle. For example, the visual image of bodies "cartwheeling" from the effects of Batavian artillery fire gets repeated play, with "bodies and limbs cartwheeling through the air" (p.168), bodies and parts "sent cartwheeling or knocked flat by the canister and roundshot" (p.172), and "blood pumping out of cartwheeling bodies" (pp.173). "Cartwheeling" is a dramatic but unrealistic image for the effect of round-shot on a human body, not one generally supported by the period's eye-witness accounts of battle. Moreover, the drama is ironic in view of Anderson's thrifty enumeration of Batavian artillery, the ample numbers of which justify the significant space he gives his descriptions of artillery's physical impacts (see discussion of "Batavian artillery: numbers" above). With every "Dutch cannon shot great holes were torn in the Scottish ranks" (p.172), the "spray of hot lead hissing into the Highlander ranks" resulted in "great swathes" (p.172) cut through British ranks by Batavian canister-fire, and as the Highlanders neared, he tells of "swathes of humanity being torn out as the grapeshot scythed into their ranks" (p.173).

Although the Batavian's suffered greater casualties at Blaauwberg, less drama appears associated with their losses, perhaps implying that most of their casualties were suffered not from enemy fire, but during the short period of contact, when the Highland Brigade charged home. But for all the descriptive, cartwheeling drama and swathes of death, out of just over 2,000 men of the Highland Brigade, and 500 of the 24th, engaged, British casualties were around 200, roughly 8% of the total. The 59th and 83rd Foot suffered no casualties at all. While contributing to the vividness of his telling, the reader may be faintly surprised to discover the actual casualty totals for each side (337 Batavians), wondering how so few had fallen!

As for the British totals, Mr. Anderson gives 185 wounded and just 11 killed. More contemporary sources vary somewhat, but the Acting Deputy Adjutant General's official return listed 189 wounded and just 15 killed.[41] Though very close, one can't help wonder what Mr. Anderson's sources were.

In spite of how far afield this voyage to Blaauwberg travels, Mr. Anderson leaves some interesting stones unturned.

Manpower. Government instructions to Baird indicated that the Cape was believed to be "defended by not more than 1500 Regular Troops, not of the best description; and that the Militia and Inhabitants look with anxiety for the Arrival of a British Force"; this was augmented in a second set of instructions to an estimate of 1,500-2,000, though a further 1,000-1,200 troops were thought possibly to have arrived on two French line-of-battle ships which had slipped out from Rochefort in May.[42] By late July, Baird had received more current information from a British officer, aboard a Danish ship that had called at Cape Town, indicating 2,000 European troops present, with 800 Hottentots, and roughly 200 artillery and cavalrymen which, adding the 1,500 troops estimated to have slipped from Rochefort, brought the expected defenders to 4,500. [43] Later still, RN Captain Woodruff's estimate from late July arrived, indicating "1500 Regulars, or thereabouts, and 1500 Hottentots, free blacks, and Burghers of every description", [44] but the message arrived in Britain after Baird's departure.[45]

Baird's battle-despatch, dated four days after the engagement, estimated British forces at the battle to be about 4,000 (probably referring to just rank and file, as was common), which seems consistent with Mr. Anderson's calculations (about two-thirds of 7,111, p.198). Meanwhile, Baird, an experienced field commander with a clear view of the enemy arrayed below him (as the author himself points out, p.166), as he crested the Blue Mountain, estimated the enemy's force at 5,000 men[46] (an estimate that had the benefit of a victor's subsequent control of the battlefield as well as the result of any interviews with prisoners taken). Mr. Anderson's research, on the other hand, yielded less than half this number of Batavian troops present: 1,941 (p.199)[47] – if one excludes the 104 unarmed slaves. Surely information in a key source document, the eyewitness report of the British commander, would be worth exploring. Noting that among the enemy forces, "the greater proportion of which was Cavalry", Baird seemed to perceive more mounted enemy present than Mr. Anderson believes were present: 138 Dutch light dragoons and 224 burghers of the Stellenbosch and Swellendam Commandos, amounting to less than one-fifth of the Batavian total (p.199). Could more burghers have responded than those for whom the author accounts? Unfortunately, it is unclear what sources Mr. Anderson worked with.

Meanwhile, with regard to casualties, Baird implicitly acknowledged uncertainty of the enemy's loss, but observed that the Batavian tally was "reputed to exceed 700 Men in killed and wounded",[48] which is double Mr. Anderson's tabulation of Batavian losses (337 men).

Did Baird simply, conveniently, and self-servingly inflate Batavian forces and losses? If so, surely his report could not have hoped to escape correction and censure from others present and aware of the "real" facts. Yet, no such criticism merged from the sources or other histories this reviewer checked.

Baird's despatch also described the waiting Batavian army as "drawn up in two Lines"[49] – not a disposition painted by Mr. Anderson, whose map and narrative indicate a Batavian disposition in one single "thin line" (p.157), with "the troops spread out over the plain in a long two-deep rank" (p.157). Nowhere is a supporting line, or use of supports, or even of reserves, described. Nor is Baird's description even acknowledged. Could the author have misunderstood Baird's reference to "two lines" as meaning "two ranks"? Superficially similar to the modern mind, "rank" and "line" had significantly distinctive meanings to military men of the age.

Perhaps this doubling of the Batavian strength was the product of an erroneous perception of the enemy's battle lines? Surely so experienced an officer as Baird would not have mistaken the enemy's frontage, though he might have erred with regard to its depth – except that Baird had the distinct advantage of height, and so should not have been easily deceived by whether or not his opponent had one or two lines of battle in relatively open ground.

On the other hand, Mr. Anderson's reference to the Batavian forces forming "two-deep" (p.157) offers a possible partial explanation for Baird's over-estimate. Most European armies normally formed three ranks deep, principally in order to provide enough solidity to resist cavalry when formed in square, as well as to obtain a robust line able to replace losses from the third rank. Formation in two ranks, while not normal, was a standard option for troops unthreatened by hostile cavalry and needing to extend their frontage. Mr. Anderson seems to allude to this last aspect (p.153) as Janssens pondered the confirmed lack of British cavalry. At half a mile distance, Baird may not have been able to detect that the Batavians had formed in two ranks, and assuming three ranks, 1,400 Batavian infantry would have appeared to be 2,100, which, along with 362 mounted men and another 318 gunners and slaves, might have approached the appearance of 3,000 men. But this still falls well short of Baird's estimate of 5,000. One wishes that sources had been offered to clarify whether the author had uncovered specific information about Batavian strengths, as well as shed more light on the Batavian formation in a two-rank line.

British artillery: immobility. Anderson notes that "five hundred sailors" provided "the manpower to pull the six 6-pounder field guns and two howitzers into battle, as well as two hundred artillerymen to man the guns and limbers…" (p.161). The immediate and obvious reason for this is a complete lack of draught-animals to do the job. Animal transport was expensive, the animals more expensive, and mortality high, leading to every British expedition's historical and customarily desperate shortage of horses to commence a new campaign after landing. Yet, it is curious to note that there were no artillery drivers from the Brigade of Gunners and Drivers (the Corps of Royal Artillery Drives, from 1 January 1806) mentioned in the embarkation return for 27 August 1805 (or mentioned elsewhere in correspondence), though vital artillery artificers (16 "Mechanics") were included.[50] Does this suggest that there was not much expectation of a sustained campaign or anticipated need for its mobility?

Batavian artillery: mobility. Baird's despatch noted that all 23 of the Batavian artillery pieces were "yoked to Horses."[51] Not oxen or mules, or slaves or other laborers, but horses. And not some, but apparently all of the ordnance was moved by draught-animals with much greater capability for maneuver than oxen or mules. Anderson notes  that "with as many as 530 horses" for his artillery, Janssens "had a clear superiority" with regard to mobility of ordnance, for Janssens also "doubted whether the British could have brought many horses" (p.146). With all of his field artillery horsed (and the six 6-pounders, the longest ranged artillery being, in fact, "horse artillery" – p.137), it would seem that Janssens could expect a decided advantage not only in quantity of artillery, but mobility. Was an opportunity missed to make more of this factor?

Timing of the Cape expedition. There is an interesting air of opportunism to the timing of the decision to send an expedition. It is evident from the instructions issued to Baird that Government took advantage of a convoy sailing to India to bolster the expedition with 16 armed East Indiamen and the 2,000 troops they carried (including the 59th Foot and East India Company cadets), all of which would sail onwards to India after the attack on the Cape.[52] A shopkeeper's calculation of the economy of force? If the India convoy, with troops, had not been available, might the Government have put off a Cape expedition and employed the little force elsewhere?

The book's format also harbors some unfortunate choices. An English-language publication has, quite naturally, an English-reading audience in view. Consequently, quotations in foreign languages merit translation for the English-speaking reader. While this reviewer reads French, his Dutch and Afrikaans is virtually nil – most other English-speaking readers are likely also to be similarly non-conversant in Dutch or Afrikaans (pp.33, 149, 151), rendering such quotations ineffective by virtue of their incomprehensibility. A parenthetical or footnoted translation of non-English phrases or sentences would have been helpful for non-South African readers.

Little experiences of déjà-vu also lurk in the story's structure. The reader frequently meets the same fact or vignette in different chapters, without necessarily greater amplification or new insight from a different angle. Instead, it almost seems as if the many wide-ranging chapters had been independently written and so, at times, independently reference the same incidents or persons without much correlation.

The book offers only a single map: that of the battle. A map of the Cape, encompassing Cape Town, Saldanha Bay, and Hottentots Kloof, would have been very helpful for orienting the reader to territory that will be unfamiliar to most. The battle-map itself is welcome, but it is plagued by several problems. The lack of scale is regrettable, though probably inevitable in view of the map's three-dimensionality. Other difficulties with regard to units have been already discussed above, but one more aspect remains: the name of the battle's eponymous elevation draws attention to the work's title and the fundamental challenge of juggling original and translated names. The map indicates "Blue Berg Hill" – which is, of course, redundant, since "berg" means hill or, more accurately, "mountain". In Afrikaans, the (modern) name is "Blaauwberg", in Dutch it is "Blauweberg", and contemporary English documents use variations, while offering the translation as both "Blue Mountain" or Blue Hills" (either in the singular or plural). The title, and reference through the book, fails, however, either to honor the original name of the topographical feature or to completely translate it into English, leaving us with an unsatisfactory hybrid.[53] And that might be emblematic of the work as a whole: neither story nor history, but an uncomfortable melding of the two, with little to distinguish where the one becomes the other.

Thus, while it is a generally interesting and enjoyable study, as a work of history, Blue Berg must be acknowledged as deeply flawed by its failure to make accessible to the reader the sources used to develop this account of the battle of Blaauwberg. Without knowledge of those sources (both as bibliography and through reference notes), the reader is left with nothing by which he may separate fact from fiction, no way to determine what is reasonable or reliable, and is left without tools with which to evaluate conflicting information. By the end of the book, it is impossible to know how we know what we think we know about the events described. Mr. Anderson has clearly labored hard to synthesize and make sense of a tremendous range of information, and he has produced an otherwise thoughtful result. It is to be hoped that he arms himself and his readers with better charts for his next voyage.

Notes:

[1] The battle does not even appear in Digby Smith’s exhaustive The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book: Actions and Losses in Personnel, Colours, Standards and Artillery, 1792-1815 (1998).

[2] Capt. W.H. Wilkin, The Life of Sir David Baird (1912), p.175.

[3] John Fortescue, A History of the British Army (1906), vol.4, pt.1, p.385.

[4] An accurate description supported by Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899) vol.5, p.271: “2 Howitzers and 6 Light Field Pieces” – the latter being 6-pounders.

[5] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in ibid., p.274.

[6] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1805, in Theodore Edward Hook, The Life of General, the Right Honourable Sir David Baird, Bart…. (1832), vol.2, p.116.

[7] Furthermore, Dodwell and Miles, Alphabetical List of the Officers of the Bengal Army (1838), pp.268-9, give a listing for Thomas Willet, Lt-Colonel on 13 July 1803; died at Cawnpore, 10 July 1807.

[8] Fortescue, British Campaigns in Flanders, 1690-1794 (1918) [drawn from his multi-volume A History of the British Army], pp.370-1, 401-2.

[9] Ibid., p.399.

[10] Ibid., pp.401-2.

[11] Fortescue, A History of the British Army (1906), vol.4, pt.1, p.407 & 409.

[12] John E. Mueller, The Remnants of War (2004), p.41, and fn.8 on pp.188-9.

[13] Hutchinson’s obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine (Sept. 1832), p.265.

[14] Army List, October 1803.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, for composition and command.

[17] Fortescue, The County Lieutenancies and the Army, 1803-1814 (1909), p.303.

[18] Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899), vol.5, p.223.

[19] The composition of this squadron, about which Mr. Anderson makes much, is never given. According to documents presented in the Naval Records Society, Publications of the Navy Records Society (1902), vol.21, p.285, in June, the entire Rochefort fleet consisted of 1 1st rate, 2 84s, 3 74s, 3 frigates, and 2 brigs; Admiral Marin reported the 17 July departure of the Rocheforte squadron under Captain (appointed chef de division) Allemand, composed of the Majestueux, 118, Magnanime, Suffren, Jemmapes, and Lion, 74s, with the frigates l’Armide, la Gloire, and la Thétis, 44s, but lightened to 18 guns, as well as the brigs Sylphe, 18,and Palinure, 16, to rendezvous with Villeneuve. James, The Naval History of Great Britain … (1859), vol.4, p.287, lists the ships as Majestueux, 120, Ajax, Jemmappes, Lion, Magnanime, and Suffren, 74s, one frigate and one brig-corvette, and makes no mention of a threat by Allemand to the Cape expedition (p.186).

[20] The expedition sailed on 31 August, even though it appears Baird may possibly to have been aware, as of 10 August, of this squadron (understood to be 3 ships-of-the-line) - Baird to Cooke, 10 Aug. 1805, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793  (1899), vol.5, pp.234.

[21] E.g., the exploit is unmentioned in: de Beauchamp’s Biographie moderne, ou Dictionnaire biographique, de tous les hommes morts et vivans qui ont marqué à la fin du 18e siècle et au commencement de celui-ci (1807), vol. P-Z, p.81, which is repeated in Boisjolin, Biographie universelle et portative des contemporains (1826), vol.1, p.81; in James’ Naval History of Great Britain (1826), vol.4, p.393ff, or in Thursfield’s Naval Warfare (1913).

[22] Acton et al, Cambridge Modern History (1906), vol.9, p.227.The introduction of Publications of the Navy Records Society (1902), vol.21, p.xxxvii, describes Allemand’s squadron as 5 sail-of-the-line and 3 frigates which, failing to meet Villeneuve, owing to missed orders relating the revised planning, it occupied itself with commerce raiding. Fortescue, A History of the British Army (1910), v5, p.262. echoes this: “Allemand had vague instructions to make a raid upon Ireland so as to draw off some of the British ships from before Brest, then to slip away, join Gourdon not earlier than the 3rd of August….”

[23] John Leyland, Dispatches and Letters Relating to the Blockade of Brest, 1803-1805 (1902), vol.2, p.334.

[24] Richard Cannon, Historical Record of the 71st Highland Light Infantry (1852), p.76 & 80.

[25] Christopher Chant, The Handbook of British Regiments (1988), p.47; entry for Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie [lieutenant-colonel of the regiment at the time of its transfer], in Leslie Stephen & Sidney Lee, Dictionary of National Biography (1890), vol.21, p.364.

[26] See Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899), vol.5, for Return for 8 Jan. 1806, p.260, General Order for 11 Jan. 1806, p. 266, Baird’s despatch of 12 Jan. 1806, pp.270-2, and Popham to Marsden, 14 Jan. 1806. pp.291-2; Cannon’s  Historical Record of the 71st Regiment Highland Light Infantry (1852), fn on p.58; Wilkin, The Life of Sir David Baird (1912), p.178; Paton, Historical Records of the 24th Regiment (1892), p.88; Baines, History of the Wars of the French Revolution (1818), vol.1, p.532.

[27] Rory Muir, Bob Burnham, Howie Muir, Ron McGuigan, Inside Wellington’s Peninsular Army, 1808-1814 (2007)., pp.87-91.

[28] Rory Muir, Bob Burnham, Howie Muir, Ron McGuigan, Inside Wellington’s Peninsular Army, 1808-1814 (2007), pp.91-100.

[29] E.g., Lang, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Chevalier (1903), pp.154-5.

[30] Willem Steenkamp, “The Battle of Blaauwberg 200 Years Ago”, in the Military History Journal (vol.13, No. 4, 2006).

[31] Philippart, The Royal Military Calendar (1820), vol.3, pp.270 & 378.

[32] Willoughby Verner, History of the Rifle Brigade (1912), vol.1, pp.43 & 44.

[33] Ibid., vol.2, pp.6-9.

[34] Baird’s enclosure to Castlereagh, 21 July 1805, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793  (1899), vol.5, pp.223.

[35] Keith Over, Flags and Standards of the Napoleonic Wars (1976), p.18.

[36] Oddly, while Batavian artillery positions are shown and numbers given, British artillery is omitted from the map.

[37] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899) vol.5, pp.272.

[38] Wilkin, The Life of Sir David Baird (1912), p.177, also states “16”, but is equally lacking any sources for the figure.

[39] General Return of Ordnance in the several Batteries of Cape Town and its dependencies, 12 Jan. 1806, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899) vol.5, pp.276. Major Spicer, R.A., records 113 brass pieces and 343 iron pieces. As this inventory was made prior to Janssens’ surrender and does not appear to reflect pieces captured at the battle, it may not be surprising that none are specified as field guns.

[40] Return for 6 Jan. 1805, in Ibid., pp.259.

[41] Paton, Historical Records of the 24th Regiment (1892), p.89; also reproduced in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899), vol.5, p.260.

[42] In Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899), vol.5, pp.222, 224, & 223.

[43] Baird to Castlereagh, 21 July 1805, in ibid, pp.227.

[44] From Woodruff, at St. Helen’s Roads, 24 July 1805, in ibid., pp.230.

[45] It was forwarded on to Popham: Barrow to Popham, 14 Sept. 1805, ibid., p.240.

[46] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in ibid., pp.271-2.

[47] The source of Anderson’s figures is not cited, but his numbers do correspond broadly to those in Wilkin, The Life of Sir David Baird (1912), p.177: 2000 men. Frustratingly, Wilkin provided no sources either. Further, not only did he fail to explain the discrepancy between his totals and the estimate of enemy strength Baird gave in his dispatch, Wilkin simply dismissed it without further ado (p.179).

[48] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793 (1899) vol.5, pp.273.

[49] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in ibid., pp.271.

[50] Embarkation Return, in ibid., pp.236.

[51] Baird to Castlereagh, 12 Jan. 1806, in ibid., pp.272.

[52] Ibid., pp.222 & 224, 242; also, Castlereagh to Baird, 25 July 1805, in Wilkin, The Life of Sir David Baird (1912), pp.169-74.

[53] Mr. Smuts’ map, as it accompanied an article on the battle in The South African Military History Society’s Military History Journal in 2006 (“The Battle of Blaauwberg 200 Years Ago”, vol.13, No. 4), simply gave it its Afrikaans name, “Blaauwberg”.

 

Reviewed by Howie Muir.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2008

 

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