Peninsular and Waterloo General: Sir Denis Pack and the War Against Napoleon
Marcus de la Poer Beresford, foreword by Rory Muir
Pen & Sword (2022), hardback
213 pp, 18 maps and 29 colour photos
Sir Denis Pack is perhaps most famous for being the most decorated officer in the Peninsular War apart from the Duke of Wellington himself, but there has only ever been one biography of him published in 1908. A new biography of Sir Denis Pack has therefore been long overdue and this was something I was contemplating tackling in the future, but now have no need to do. Marcus Beresford is ideally placed to take on this role, being not only a renowned historian, but also with direct links to the family and therefore having unique access to family archives.
Pack began his army career, joining the 14th Light Dragoons in 1791, seeing service in Holland in 1794, Quiberon in 1795 and in Ireland in 1796-8, but it was whilst in charge of the 71st Foot that he really came to the fore, serving at the Cape of Good Hope and at Buenos Aires, where he became a prisoner and then escaped in questionable circumstances. He then served in almost all of the peninsular campaigns, much of it with the Portuguese army, commanding the 1st Portuguese Brigade. He eventually gained the rank of Major General in the British army in 1813 and commanded the Highland Brigade in the latter campaign in southern France. He then served as a brigade commander at Waterloo and served in France with the subsequent army of Occupation. Pack unfortunately died suddenly in 1823, so his active career ended with the Napoleonic wars.
Pack’s story flows nicely through the book, sometimes delving deeply into controversial moments in his career with some snippets of insight, but at other times the narrative strangely passes rapidly over other periods of action, the performance of his brigade at Waterloo for example, sweeping past with barely a comment. This leads me into my only reservation with this book, I simply wanted more. I am fully aware that despite his renown, there is strangely little of Pack’s correspondence known to still exist and therefore he can sometimes frustratingly appear as a mere shadow in the description of various parts of his life. What correspondence that does exist has been largely published in 1908, but the modern reader may not have ready access to this material. It is quoted as a source regularly in this text, but merely utilises the shortest snippets possible, if at all. The failure to republish some larger chunks, if not all of this correspondence was in this humble reviewer’s view a mistake, as Pack the person, rather than the military leader, rarely comes through. The book cries out for another hundred pages.
The numerous maps are adequate in indicating the movements of his troops and the colour plate section, including a number of images of Pack I have never seen before is excellent. The bibliography is unfortunately incomplete, a number of works referenced in the voluminous end notes (a pet hate of this reviewer) are not included in it.
This is a very good overview of the military career of Denis Pack and is recommended.