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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Memoirs

From Corunna to Waterloo: the Letters and Journals of Two Napoleonic Hussars, 1801-1816

By Gareth Glover

Glover, Gareth. From Corunna to Waterloo: the Letters and Journals of Two Napoleonic Hussars, 1801-1816. London: Greenhill Books, 2007.  287 pages. ISBN-13# 9781853677090

From Corunna to Waterloo Cover

It seems like every year, more and more memoirs and diaries from the Napoleonic Era are surfacing.  These memoirs and diaries generally have never been published previously or if they had, they were published in academic journals many years before and are only available to the most avid collector.  In this latest offering from Greenhill Books we find the letters and journals of Major Edwin Griffith and Captain Frederick Philips, both of the British 15th Hussars.  Griffith was Philips' uncle and their papers can be found in the Flintshire Records Office.

What makes their letters and journals particularly valuable is that they were written daily or shortly after the events occurred, and thus are not flavored with hindsight many years later.   Both officers wrote letters and kept journals, however Griffith was the more prolific writer.   The book covers not only the Corunna and Waterloo Campaigns, but also home duty from 1809 – 1812, and their return with the Hussar Brigade to Spain in 1813 for the final campaigns of the Peninsular War.  

Griffith served as a troop commander during the Corunna Campaign and went out as the senior major when the regiment returned to Spain in 1813.  However he assumed command of the regiment shortly after their arrival, when the regimental commander was given command of the brigade.  Griffith commanded the 15th Hussars throughout most of the 1813 and 1814 Campaigns, when he was replaced by a more senior major in mid-March 814. The reader will find vivid battle accounts, including Sahagun, Benavente, and Vitoria.   Unfortunately Griffith was killed leading the 15th Hussars at Waterloo and his journal ends on the eve of the battle.   His nephew, started as a cornet in the Corunna Campaign, but was not senior enough to go with the regiment when it returned to Spain in 1813.  His letters are full of observations about the places he saw.   He kept a journal for the Waterloo Campaign, but he was not as diligent keeping up with it as his uncle.  After Waterloo it was reduced to short entries.

Although the battle descriptions are fascinating, the most interesting part of the book is the daily account of life on campaign.  Griffith usually lists where the regiment stayed each night and the diligent reader with a good map will have no trouble tracing the route of the regiment through Spain , France , and Belgium .  Since the journal and letters were not meant for public consumption, Griffith did not mince his words when he described the places his stayed, his seniors, his juniors, and other units.   Like most writers of the period, he was not impressed with the people and houses he encountered in Portugal and Spain in 1809, but left a much more favorable account of those he stayed with in northern Spain and France in 1813 and 1814.  Griffith did not particularly like his regimental commander, Colquhoun Grant, and did not appear to be too sad when he was captured.  He was also highly critical of the 18th Hussars and was not particularly upset when they were removed from the brigade. His descriptions of daily life of a commanding officer – at both the troop and regimental level – show how much of their time was consumed with the daily administration of commanding the regiment and keeping it in fighting trim.  

Gareth Glover does his normal superb job of bringing to life the numerous people, places, and events noted in passing in the text.  His short sketches of most of the British officers that are mentioned by Griffiths or Philips help flesh out many of the people they interact with on a daily basis.  Fortunately, these sketches are in the form of footnotes instead of endnotes, which it much easier for the reader to read them without losing his place in the text.

This book is an excellent read and is a must buy for those interested in the British Army or the Peninsular War.


Reviewed by Robert Burnham
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2007