To Conquer and to Keep, Suchet and the War for Eastern Spain 1809-14
Volume II 1811-1814
Helion Books (From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 No.108) (2023)
Images: 14 b/w illustrations, 18 colour illustrations, 16 colour maps, 4 tables
Having reviewed the first volume, I was very much looking forward to reviewing this second volume, having found it an excellent depiction of the war in Eastern Spain up until 1811; however, the second volume, although very good, has unfortunately dipped a little against the standard of excellence. My reasons for this verdict will become evident as I discuss each chapter.
The book is split into six large chapters (averaging about 45 pages each) covering: 1. The Invasion of Valencia; 2: Sagunto: The Battle for the Spanish Levante; 3: Valencia: The Ulm of Spain; 4: Consolidation, Counterinsurgency and counterattack; 5: The British expeditionary Force; and 6: Evacuation from Spain; followed by ten appendices listing a number of Orders of Battle, a bibliography and index.
This is very much a second volume, with no lead in or reappraisal of prior events and fully requires the reader to have read the previous volume before launching directly into this one; a brief resume would have been a welcome introduction. I also suspect that this volume may have been more rushed in passing through the editing process, as it is unfortunately littered with silly grammatical errors that should have been identified before going to print, something the previous volume was far less prone to.
There is also some suspicion that this volume was under pressure for overall size as the occasional helpful overviews so excellently provided in the previous volume seem far less evident here. The second chapter on the manoeuvres prior to the Battle of Sagunto and the subsequent movements during the action are at times tortuous and it certainly would have helped to make all of this a bit clearer. The single map of this action timed at 9.00 am also fails to clearly show the movements and a second or even a third map would have helped the reader greatly, something the first volume cannot be criticised for, where there is a profusion of maps.
The following chapters on the advance to Valencia and the counterinsurgency war are excellent, with the author seemingly regaining his easy flow as are the final chapters on the British involvement and the final evacuation of Spain’s East coast.
Here however, I must again bring up a few small issues. It is without doubt true that the great majority of the British officers commanding on the East coast were far from Britain’s finest, but there is a clear tendency from the author (who generally avoids needless stereotyping) to predicate every discussion of the British forces involved with a mention of the total inability of their commanders. The assumption may be largely correct, but it can appear to affect the author’s even-handedness. It is also clear that the British involvement is almost entirely based on Oman, Nick Lipscombe’s excellent book on the subject and Murray’s trial records, indicating little if any original research from the British angle. This is perhaps understandable to an extent, as the book is very much about Suchet, but no use was made for example of a mass of correspondence from Sir William Clinton available on the Waterloo Association website. https://www.waterlooassociation.org.uk/2021/09/17/operations-on-the-east-coast-of-spain-1812-13/
I must make it clear however after a little nit-picking, that overall, this is a very good volume (just not as well done as Volume 1), from which I learnt a huge amount about the events on the East coast of Spain 1811-14 and is still highly recommended by the reviewer as the best history of this campaign yet available.