Reviews: Reference Books

British Cavalry Carbines & Pistols of the Napoleonic Era

Chisnall, Barry and Geoffrey Davies.  British Cavalry Carbines & Pistols of the Napoleonic Era.  Maine 18 Military, 2013. 218 pages.  ISBN# 97811624078354  

In British Cavalry Carbines & Pistols, the authors, who collaborated on British Non Ordnance Military Carbines 1750-1900, have tackled a similar subject. Although the title states that it only covers British carbines and pistols and even limits the study to the Napoleonic Wars, in reality it much more extensive.  The authors admit in their introduction that they cover the weapons over a 150 year period from 1700 to 1850. Additionally they cover weapons manufactured by the Portuguese government, using locally made parts or a combination of British and Portuguese parts.

British Cavalry Carbines is divided into 12 chapters; each examines a different aspect of the topic.  The first provides an overview of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with a heavy emphasis on the role of the British cavalry.  The second chapter is a brief survey of the structure of the British cavalry and how it evolved from the early days of 18th Century through the Napoleonic Wars.  It also discusses the weapons carried by the cavalry trooper. 

Starting with Chapter 3, the book goes into great detail.  It looks at the weapons used prior to the Napoleonic Wars and how they would evolve into the ones carried by the trooper after 1800.  Ten different carbines are examined and in addition to technical information, data provided on the number produced and which regiments were issued with them. Chapter 4 looks at the Elliot and Royal Forrester Carbines, which many of the light dragoon regiments used.  Chapter 5 covers the Harcourt and 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbines, while Chapter 6 looks at the Paget Carbine, which takes its name from Lord Henry Paget, the 2nd Earl of Uxbridge, who lost his leg at Waterloo.  Chapter 7 is about rifled carbines, which saw limited issue.

Chapter 8 is quite lengthy and covers the 30 different pistols carried by the cavalry.  In Chapters 9 and 10, the authors examine the large variety of weapons used by the British volunteer and yeomanry cavalry during and after the Napoleonic Wars.  In Chapter 11 the authors provide information on the weapons carried by the British Portuguese allies.

Mr. Chisnall and Mr. Davies also took the opportunity to provide some hands on research.  They took six different types of carbines and fired them using both patches and wads to determine the weapons’ effectiveness / accuracy.  Their results were quite interesting.  They close the book with an appendix listing technical specifications for 21 carbines, 4 rifled carbines, and 30 pistols in use by the British cavalry between 1700 and 1815.  These specs include, among others, such things as the pattern (e.g. the Harcourt Heavy Dragoon Carbine), the year it was first issued, the length and caliber of the barrel, type of lock it had, whether it had a steel or wooden ramrod, type of sling bar and slide plate, and then miscellaneous notes on each.  This appendix is a very handy guide for both the collector and historian!

British Cavalry Carbines has a staggering 98 pages of color illustrations, which include over 500 color photographs of 91 different carbines and pistols of the period.  These superb photographs are from a variety of private collections, antique dealers, and museums in Great Britain.  Each color plate of the weapons is on one weapon and will have five to seven different photographs of the weapon.  Generally there will be one of the complete weapon and then close-ups of the lock, the barrel, the stock, and the engraving on it.  Accompanying the photographs on the same page are captions explaining what each image is.  Most modern publishers will place the illustrations in the center of the book. This makes printing the book easier and reduces publishing costs.  Fortunately for the reader of British Cavalry Carbines, the authors followed each chapter with a series of pictures of the weapons discussed in that chapter.  This makes it very easy for the reader to find the image discussed in the text.

British Cavalry Carbines has set an extremely high standard for other publishers.  The text is well written and thoroughly covers all aspects of British cavalry small arms of the Napoleonic Era. The photographs are superb! Once in a great while a book comes along that is so magnificent that it is a must buy for anyone interested in the period.  This is one of those books. 

British Cavalry Carbines can be ordered directly from publisher, by going to their website:  British Carbines.  The cost of the book is £40 for U.K. customers, £44.50 for Europe, £56 for Australia and New Zealand, and £55 for those living in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world.  The price includes shipping.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2014

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