The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

Feeding Wellington’s Army in the Peninsula. The Journal of Assistant Commissary General Tupper Carey Volume 1

Feeding Wellington’s Army in the Peninsula. The Journal of Assistant Commissary General Tupper Carey Volume 1

    Feeding Wellington’s Army in the Peninsula.

    The Journal of Assistant Commissary General Tupper Carey Volume 1

Glover, Gareth (ed.)

Pen and Sword (2023), hardback

ISBN 9781399041416

257 pages

Although there has been a steady stream of new Napoleonic memoirs or letter collections making it into print in recent years – in no small part down to the indefatigable work of the editor of the volume being reviewed here – few have given the impression that they will join the ranks of the ‘classic’ memoirs that have been in print for decades. This, however, is one of the exceptions. Not only is the original author Tupper Carey distinguished from the herd due to the nature of his duties as a commissary, but he is distinguished too by the literary merits of his work and his ability to make informed comment not only on the nature of his own work but on the wider war as well. Nor, notwithstanding the fact that the account was not written until the 1830s when the first histories of the war were beginning to appear, does Carey seem to have relied to any great extent on these to refresh or ‘correct’ his memory and thus the account is as clear and honest a recollection as can be expected at two decades’ remove from the events being described.

Much of the content is the travelogue commentary on the life and peoples of the Iberian Peninsula that forms the bread and butter of most memoirs, such content in this case being punctuated by Carey’s scathing comments on the ills and iniquities – as he saw them – of the Catholic Church. However, Carey’s role as a commissary gives him a unique perspective on the events of the war, both with respect to his own duties and regarding the army’s battles. In the former case, the sheer drudgery of the role is made clear, with the need to balance the immediate requirement of feeding the men and animals of the army in the field with the requirement to keep up to date the reams of paperwork required to document the process and settle the army’s accounts. Insofar as combat is concerned, Carey was of course not directly involved and so the army’s battles are viewed from one remove. At Talavera, this gives us a frank account of the panic in the army’s rear area after the first French attacks, leading to a flight in which Carey himself was caught up, while at Salamanca a position to the rear gives him a far better grasp of the action as a whole.

As well as a detailed introduction, Gareth Glover as editor has added explanatory footnotes to the text to identify people and confirm details: some of these identifications may seem a little obvious to aficionados of the period, but it should be recognised – as Mr Glover clearly does – that memoirs like this are the perfect ‘gateway drug’ to get a newcomer hooked on the period and that a certain amount of signposting is therefore necessary. Indeed, with that in mind it would have been nice to have had a select bibliography or notes on further reading – useful, too, even for those familiar with the period but less so with the logistical aspects – and if there is still scope to add this to the forthcoming second volume that continues the story past the spring of 1813 then that option should be commended to the publishers. With respect to the present volume, the publishers certainly merit praise for the decision to include an index – so often these days a sacrifice to rising production costs – and for issuing the book in hardcover format: it is unfortunate, however, that having gone to that expense both the cover and dust jacket have the title misspelled!

For all that Mr Glover has made Carey’s account accessible to all, there is at the same time no doubt that there are useful details for the serious scholar of the Peninsular army as well, which will make the volume an important reference as well as a rollicking read. Carey’s account of the initial trials and tribulations of Le Marchant’s heavy cavalry brigade upon arrival in the Peninsula – Carey being for a time commissary to one of its component regiments – directly tie into, and support, the present reviewer’s work on strategic consumption of horses and men and the idea of a learning process in which newly-arrived units acclimatised to service in an unfamiliar theatre of war. Other scholars will doubtless find similar gems to support their own work, be that on the cultural, administrative, or operational aspects of the campaigns. The term ‘instant classic’ is perhaps over-used, but in this instance, there is a good case for applying it, and the reviewer has no doubt that this work will rapidly find its place as one of the go-to Peninsular memoirs both for scholars and enthusiasts. The second volume is eagerly awaited.

Andrew Bamford

May 2023