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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

The Peninsular War: Wellington’s Battlefields Revisited

Fletcher, Ian. The Peninsular War: Wellington’s Battlefields Revisited. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2011. 122 pages. ISBN# 9781848845299. $40.


In 1994, Ian Fletcher wrote the book Fields of Fire: Battlefields of the Peninsular War, which was a visual tour of the Peninsular War.  It contained many black and white photographs, plus 40 color ones.  Almost two decades later, Mr. Fletcher has come out with another pictorial guide to the war.  Although similar to his first guide, The Peninsular War has over 120 color photographs and covers many more battlefields and other historic sites.

The Peninsular War is organized chronologically and aptly starts with a photo from the French position at Roliça and proceeds to Vimeiro.  It follows with many striking winter photographs of the route Sir John Moore’s army took through northern Spain to their embarkation point at Coruna. From there he covers all the major battles and many of the minor actions -- from Talavera through the invasion of France in 1814.  For most of the battlefields, the author does a great job providing images of key terrain and with each image describes what the viewer is seeing and from whose perspective (i.e. the British or French position).

Ian Fletcher proves the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  No matter how well written a history or a memoir is there is nothing like a photograph when describing terrain.  Ian Fletcher’s superb photography often makes it much easier to understand what is written in the histories.  This is particularly true with the part of the book that covers the Light Division’s defense of the Agueda and Coa Rivers in 1810. These pictures easily show why it was near impossible for the French to force the bridges.  The images of the area around Salamanca illustrate the dry, barren plains of central Spain, where so much of the war was fought over, explains why it was so hard for an army to operate for an extended period in the area.  The most eye-opening pictures for me, however, were the ones of the rugged mountains where the battles of the Pyrenees were fought during the summer of 1813. Words are not enough to describe the imposing heights and the steepness of the battlefields where herculean efforts were made by both armies to assault and defend key terrain.

My only complaint with The Peninsular War is that in order to do the photographs justice, the publisher should have made it a coffee table book! This book is a must for those who follow the Peninsular War.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2012


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