Neither Up Nor Down: The British Army and the Flanders Campaign 1793-1795
Helion and Company Limited (2020)
Images: 51 black and white illustrations, 32 black and white maps
A most gratifying trend within the recent historiography of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period is the broadening of the scope of the research undertaken by historians on this era. While Waterloo and Trafalgar still hold a special place in the history of the conflict, we are now seeing a wealth of texts on other theatres in particular the campaigns in the Low Countries. Philip Ball’s book, Neither Up Nor Down, is a useful addition to this research. In this text Ball focuses on the Duke of York’s disastrous campaign of 1793-95 against the armies of the levée en masse of Revolutionary France.
Ball provides an in-depth tactical and strategic history of this campaign with the Duke of York’s Anglo-Hanoverian contingent, serving as the central theme in the book. However this is not just a narrow examination solely of the British Army, as Ball does not deal with them in isolation. Indeed he provides details on the decision making and operations of not only York’s opponents within Revolutionary France’s armies but also the strategic thinking of Britain’s allies – the Austrians commanded by the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and the Dutch led by the Prince of Orange. This produces a very comprehensive narrative of the campaign, detailing relations between the various combatants alongside extensive descriptions on both the major and minor actions of the campaign. This range of perspectives allows Ball to include some information on the roles that individual units played in the battles and skirmishes that marked the Duke of York’s operations, while also providing information on the relations between the allied commanders.
Ball begins by outlining the strategic situation and describes the central objective of York’s force – the defence of the Dutch Republic, the United Provinces. Ball then dives into the meat of his text a mixture of tactical operational history with strategic overviews to provide context for the decision-making process of the commanders on the battlefield. What quickly becomes apparent is that despite the reputation of the Coalition commanders in this campaign as being stuck in their ways and ill-prepared for the onslaught of the massed ranks of Lazare Carnot’s Revolutionary levées, Ball, shows that the Austrian soldiery where competent in their tactics. Indeed he highlights that the French were often left struggling to make any head way against the well-organised and disciplined ranks of the Coalition armies. This type of analysis is where Neither Up nor Down really shines as a great piece of military and strategic history.
Although if you are interested in the experience of the Flanders Campaign from the perspective of private soldiers and troopers, this is sadly scant within the text as the focus remains on military manoeuvres and does not provide as much detail on the living and fighting conditions of the men under York’s leadership.
This does not detract from the importance of Philip Ball’s Neither Up nor Down. Ball has successfully provided a great a resource filled with important insights and fresh details that help to shine a light on this period in the French Revolutionary era. These insights are all the more important as so many of the individuals who would become key figures in the Peninsular War (1807-1814) including the Duke of Wellington, would learn the tools of their trade in the Flanders catastrophe. Drawing lessons from the failures of the Allies and success of the French to build the effective fighting units of Wellington’s Peninsular Army.