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
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
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
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
in 1813. However he assumed command of the regiment shortly after
their arrival, when the regimental commander was given command of the
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
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
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
. 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 1809, but left a much more favorable account of those he stayed
with in northern
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