Book Review: Caveat emptor

•July 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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From Corunna to Waterloo: With the Hussars 1808 to 1815 by John Mollo

 

Ever been conned and realised you have only yourself to blame? Welcome to the club.

When this book came out I was quite excited because John Mollo is an excellent writer and I’d enjoyed his earlier hussar treatise, The Prince’s Dolls. Warning bells rang, however, when I read that its dedication was to the same individual. But it’s not so unusual, frankly, and try as I might I couldn’t find indications anywhere to refute the assertion this was anything other than a new book about British Napoleonic Hussars. Assumptions, assumptions.

Because it’s not. It’s an unabridged re-print of The Princes Dolls. Identical text, illustrations and maps. Not even the ghost of a subtitle to advise the reader it was ‘Previously Published as…’ Now I realise a number of out-of-print period histories have been re-published under different titles, but these are generally hard to find individual diaries and I’m always very careful buying those. But this is a book first issued only in 1997.

So why would Pen & Sword, who published the original, bring out this new version under almost the same title as the also very good From Corunna to Waterloo by Gareth Glover, the story of two officers of the 15th Hussars?

I suspect it’s the 2015 Anniversary thing. Ergo, money. Not really on, though, is it?

Eh? The review? Oh – well if you’ve never read Prince’s Dolls I recommend the book wholeheartedly. 5 stars. More, probably.

But if you’ve already got the original you’ll just be wasting your money, as I did.

As for P&S, I’m almost so angry I could throw the phone down… ;)

Book Review: Bitter Glory – a French Cavalry tale

•June 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

Cavalry stories set in this period don’t appear very often, and I tend not to read them anyway. It would be too easy to inadvertently transpose a scene to one of mine. That’s my excuse, anyway.

But when I happened on this new Kindle book my resolve weakened. I bought it, mainly because (a) its main character is a French chasseur and (b) it’s set in 1800, five years earlier than my start point. Less of a danger, then. Plus it’s VERY cheap, an ideal read for a skinflint like me.

But was it any good?

bitter glory

 

Bitter Glory by David Swatton

Antoine Chauvelle, a captain in the 21st Chasseurs a Cheval, returns to duty after recovering from a battlefield wound to find an old friend has been killed in a pointless duel with a sadistic hussar well-known for picking fights. But while still unsure how best to take his revenge he is caught up in the French Army of the Reserve’s march through Switzerland – First Consul Bonaparte has determined on crossing the Alps to launch a surprise attack on Austrians who have besieged Andre Massena’s army in the coastal city of Genoa.

Chauvelle is an aristocrat, not well liked by many of his less affluent Republican superiors. It is only when his latent abilities are recognised by the future Marshal Lannes that his career takes a turn for the better. Or maybe not.

Swatton’s character, thankfully, has his faults. Chauvelle can be arrogant at times, he suffers fear and disgust on the battlefield like any normal soldier, and also picks up a couple of minor wounds. The author has written his story more from a campaign point of view than that of the characters, something increasingly common in fiction of this period and, I suppose, useful if the reader is in unfamiliar territory. And though once again it’s an ‘officer-plus-enlisted-man-sidekick’ plot I can’t really see how this device can be avoided in military fiction: in real life one could not operate without the other.

The book trundles along at a pretty good lick, though the second quarter was slowed for me by the author’s  determination to include chunks of the backstory of several secondary characters. Then it picks up again and continues in this vein, which meant I read the second half twice as quickly as the first. Cavalry actions are difficult to write since they happen so fast and are over so quickly when compared to infantry fights, but I think Swatton manages to strike the right balance.

Grumbles are minor. A tighter edit would benefit the pace generally and my inner pedant ground its teeth at some of the punctuation, mostly in slower passages where it was more noticeable. I shall leave purists to decide on the cover picture.

The author has left a couple of plot threads untied, so I suspect a sequel is planned, which I’ll definitely read. All in all a decent addition to the genre, though since it’s a cavalry story I am slightly biased :)

 

Waterloo – a battle that lasted two years.

•June 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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With the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo only 4 days away, here’s an article concentrating on the experience of one ordinary cavalryman who survived it.

If anyone’s wondering why I’ve picked up on a piece featuring a ‘heavy’ regiment, the 1st (Kings) Regiment of Dragoon Guards’ most recent renaming was to that of 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards.

To the uninitiated, that’s The Welsh Cavalry! :)

Waterloo: Two Years in a Day

It’s that time of year again!

•May 11, 2014 • 4 Comments

Re-enactment season is with us again. Except we could do without the too-realistic downpours and gales.

Click on the link for a look at the Napoleonic Association’s April Ickworth House meet, courtesy of Kevin Wolf at Deviouswolf Photography.

There’s a great cavalry section around 2 minutes in,  even if they did struggle sabreing turnips :)

Napoleonic Association – Ickworth House April 2014

 

All images in this post are copyright of Deviouswolf Photography and reposted with permission.

 

8000 Horsemen! What’s not to like?

•February 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

The Biggest Cavalry Battle of the Peninsular War!

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The Battle of Ocana: The Army of Spain’s Greatest Triumph by Pierre Juhel

This book has been on my radar for some time. But it’s been several years in the publishing, so to say I was excited when it arrived in the post was understating the case. That it turned out to be something of a curate’s egg may simply be over-expectation on my part.

The problem with battles fought solely between French and Spanish armies is that accounts of them in English are rare. And this one’s a biggie, because Ocana is chiefly memorable for the largest cavalry action, in terms of the total number of combatants, during the entire Peninsular war. Yet one Spanish monograph apart, little has been written about the affair.

I suppose that’s understandable to a degree. Despite it being a great French victory, the war in Iberia was ultimately considered a pretty futile sideshow to cataclysmic events elsewhere in Napoleonic Europe. British historians never really took an interest because Wellington’s small army was not involved and for the Spanish, Ocana was a huge disaster so best swept quietly under the carpet.

What made it all the more interesting for me was the Spanish outnumbered the French, especially in cavalry, so there seemed no good reason why they should have lost. And if they had beaten Marshal Soult, in command at that time, they could have marched on the Spanish capital Madrid, seat of Napoleon’s brother King Joseph. Who knows what might have happened then?

But the French triumphed and gave the book it’s slightly confusing subtitle. The Spanish army was called the Army of the Centre, in case you were wondering, because they did have more than one.

The first two-thirds of the book is given over to a brief introduction of what had gone before, the reasons the Spanish decided to march on Madrid without British help, and the better known ‘personalities’ involved. The author’s description of both armies’ manoeuvres prior to the battle is fairly brief and I would have preferred more background, particularly from the Spanish viewpoint, but hey – maybe there’s no accessible archive material available.

In what I guess is a nod in Osprey’s direction, the book is full (some might say over-full) of very good illustrations and this particular section is a wargamer’s dream. Every regiment that took part is listed, within its Division, and in the majority of cases with its commander. But most importantly, specially commissioned colour illustrations show their uniforms in great detail, along with examples of the standards individual regiments carried.

The last third concentrates on the battle itself. The author provides more detail than I’ve come across before – there are a number of decent maps – and of particular interest are translated despatches from French generals Sebastiani, Soult and Mortier, which I’ve not seen previously, together with Spanish commander General Ariezaga’s report on the outcome and General Zayas’ despatch explaining how the Spanish right wing was routed. This section also includes a number of short inserts, mostly from a French viewpoint, on the use of ambulances at the battle, casualty returns, subsequent recommendations for honours etc, all based on letters and despatches written at the time and the inclusion of which adds interest to the narrative.

Juhel’s patriotism shows. That’s not a problem – British historians are (mostly) the same – but there’s far less information presented on the Spanish army than I would have liked. My other minor gripe is the text itself is in a pretty small font given the book’s large format, which makes it a difficult read in poor light. Anyone who’s struggled with the paperback version of Charles Esdaile’s otherwise excellent ‘The Peninsular War’ will know what I mean!

So it was an okay book – 3.5 to 4 stars. As the battle is so rarely written about, if I were a Grande Armee fanatic I’d probably give it a 5. And it’s likely an essential if you’re either a keen wargamer or interested in period Spanish army strategy but can’t read the language.

It just left me with the feeling I’d missed something, though.

The Battle of Ocana: The Army of Spain’s Greatest Triumph by Pierre O. Juhel

ISBN 9-782352-501510   Publisher: Histoire & Collections      Hardback: 235 x 315mm     Pages: 111

And the infantry think they had it tough…

•January 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

copyright NAM

Own a horse? They’re a lot of work, aren’t they?

I’ve always said Wellington’s infantry had an easy life compared to his cavalry, whatever they might have complained to the contrary. After all, the only thing a footslogger needed to do at the end of a day’s march was cook his dinner and clean his weapon, whereas the poor dragoon had to do that PLUS see to his horse.

And here’s the proof, albeit this was the routine in barracks (and in 1830) where stabling, feed and bedding were on hand rather than at the whim of the commissary officer, if he was even up with the advance, or the individual dragoon’s foraging abilities if not.

Many thanks to Grenadiers a Cheval for the link.

Read it and weep! ;)

Royal North British Dragoon – A Day In The Life

Last of the Light Brigade…?

•January 1, 2014 • 1 Comment
Copyright National Army Museum

Copyright National Army Museum

 

Earl Cardigan wasn’t well-liked, but his horse was obviously well cared for so he couldn’t have been all bad.

To start the New Year off on a note slightly brighter than the sky overhead at the mo, here’s an article about Cardigan’s charger on that fateful day, 25th October 1854. It’s a few years old, but none the worse for that.

What about Ronald?

 
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