Reviews: Reference Books

Wellington’s Officers: a Biographical Dictionary of the Field Officers and Staff Officers of the British Army 1793 – 1815

Reid, Stuart.  Wellington’s Officers: a Biographical Dictionary of the Field Officers and Staff Officers of the British Army 1793 – 1815. Leigh-on-Sea, UK: Partizan Press, 2008.  316 pages.  ISBN-13#: 9781858185729  £25

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Over 15,000 officers served in the British Army during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  Among them were almost 300 general officers.  Yet other than the handful of general officers who rose to prominence during the Peninsular War and thirty or forty officers who left behind memoirs, letters, and diaries, very few are known outside of the historian who specializes in the British Army.  Stuart Reid, in his ground breaking Wellington’s Officers, goes a long way in rectifying this problem.

Wellington’s Officers is the first in a three volume study on the field grade and staff officers who served in the British Army from 1793 – 1815.  This volume covers officers whose family names began with the letters A – G.  The title of the book is a bit of a misnomer.  It leads the buyer to believe that only those officers who served with Wellington are covered in it.  The reader will be pleasantly surprised when he opens the book and discovers that it includes all officers in the army, not just those who served in with Wellington.

Mr. Reid used several sources for this study.  In 1809/1810, a questionnaire was sent to all lieutenant colonels, colonels, and general officers requesting information on their service.  This in itself would be a goldmine, however Mr Reid also found a register that was compiled containing the commission histories of every field grade officer (major and above).  In addition to this, he melded the information in those two sources with the seven-volume Royal Military Calendar, which was published in 1820, and contained short biographies on every officer, in the rank of major and above.  Where possible, Mr. Reid fleshes out the lives of the officers by incorporating a variety of other sources such as Dalton’s Waterloo Roll Call, the Dictionary of National Biography, John Hall’s Biographical Dictionary of Officers Killed and Wounded, and Gentleman’s Magazine.

Wellington’s Officers has almost 1400 short biographies.  A typical entry is:

Dennis, James

Commissions: ensign 49th Foot 2 September 1796; lieutenant 12 April 1797; captain 49th Foot 6 August 1803; major (brevet) 22 November 1812; lieutenant colonel (brevet) 27 May 1825; major 3rd Foot 25 April 18128; lieutenant colonel 3rd Foot 4 June 1833; colonel (brevet) 28 June 1838; major general (India) 30 October 1844

Notes: Served Copenhagen 1801, then North America; wounded at Queenstown Heights; Fort George; Stoney Creek – wounded twice – and contused when horse shot from under him at Hoople’s Creek.  Royal Military Calendar

Just skimming through the different biographies can be quite entertaining and may cause the reader to expand his research.  For example, I found the following gems: 

Lieutenant General Ralph Darling, who was the one time governor of Mauritius and New South Wales. His father was a sergeant who eventually was commissioned as the adjutant in the 45th Foot.  General Darling enlisted in the 4th Foot in 1786 and was commissioned seven years later in the 45th Foot.  He may be the only general officer from the period to have begun his military career as a private!

Sir George Elder, 95th Foot, who commanded the 3rd Cacadores at the storming of Badajoz in 1812.  He would go on to become a major general, but would die “in mysterious circumstances” in Madras, India in 1837.

There were eleven officers with the family name of Dalrymple who made the rank of major, five of whom became general officers.  Interestingly, only three served in the Peninsular War, and two of them were recalled after the Cintra Convention, never to serve there again.

One may ask since Lionel Challis’s Peninsula Roll Call is on-line why should I spend my money on this book? Although the “Peninsula Roll Call” has similar biographies on 9500 British officers, it only covers those officers who served in the Peninsula War from 1808 - 1815.  Wellington’s Officers has information on all field grade and staff officers who served in the British Army from 1793 – 1815, regardless of whether they served in the Peninsula.  It includes officers who fought in the War of 1812, those who served in India, and a myriad of other places that the British Army was stationed.

 Wellington’s Officers is a must for anyone who is interested in the British Army of the Napoleonic Era.  Mr. Reid should be commended for his efforts of rescuing so many officers from obscurity.  Without him, the lives of these dedicated soldiers, with countless years of service to their country, would remain forgotten by all but a few.

Mr. Reid has told me that he hopes to have Volume II published in July 2009.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2009


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