The Light Division in the Peninsular War 1811-1814
Tim Saunders and Rob Yuill
Pen & Sword, 2020
346 pages with over 100 B & W illustrations and maps
(The second volume of the story of the Light Division continues where Volume 1 leaves off)
Following a chapter on the basic history of the Peninsular war as a scene setter, the book takes us through the campaigns under Wellington. The narrative confidently leads the reader through the actions while covering the border between Spain & Portugal in the latter half of 1811. It then deals in depth with the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz and the march to Madrid. The siege of Burgos does not really feature as the Light Division did not participate and the subsequent retreat to Ciudad Rodrigo is only lightly touched on beyond the action at San Munoz. The 1813 campaign is the detailed, particularly the action at San Millan and Battle of Vitoria and then covers the drive into France at the end of the year and into 1814, culminating at the Battle of Toulouse. The general movements of the army are described briefly for context before each action is described in detail, with particular emphasis on the actions of the Light Brigade.
The main battles are dealt with well enough, but the book really comes to life when ably describing the smaller, less well-known actions, where the knowledge of the terrain – having been there as guides – really comes to the fore. This unfortunately has its drawbacks as the narrative of the campaigns of late 1812 and that of 1813 somehow lose their way a little, with the Light Division often only playing a bit part. However, the book certainly springs back into full life during the actions during the advance into France.
A wide variety of personal memoirs have been reproduced including a few which are unpublished to illustrate the action well, but it was again a slight disappointment to this reader, that very few of the presently unpublished accounts by members of the Light Division were not utilised and many of those used are unfortunately poorly referenced or not referenced at all. This volume is also extremely well illustrated, with over a hundred black & white illustrations, of which only a limited number are the ‘standard’ ones. The illustrations used are more a combination of highly effective and evocative images of reenactors to illustrate the various troops involved and several photographs of the sites of the lesser-known actions, which really help to illustrate the terrain. There are also several maps reproduced to help the reader, with a mixture of images from well-known sources for some of the major battles, but also several computer-generated maps which greatly help to illustrate the progress of the smaller actions.
The actions of the division are excellently described and the self-assured expertise of the two ex-military authors shines through, they are also not beyond criticising. In several asides, connected, but not directly relevant to the narrative, are placed in boxes interspersed throughout the book, covering subjects such as Volunteers, The Board of Ordnance Rifle Trials and Column versus line. The same small constructive criticisms I made of the first volume remain. Whilst the military operations and organisation are described extremely well, I had hoped for a fuller and more rounded view of the division, perhaps using regimental, sick and court martial returns to establish the numbers, health, and discipline of the troops at different periods.
However, overall, this is an excellent partner to the original volume, very well presented by experienced military men, with a clear tactical eye and it is extremely well illustrated. It comes highly recommended.