It’s not very often that a new book is released specifically about Wellington’s cavalry, so to find two come along almost at the same time is a rare treat. And even better, these are not simply regurgitations of relatively well-known cavalry campaigning with a few newly-unearthed facts added – both books are far more important than that.
Gallantry and Discipline: The 12th Light Dragoons At War With Wellington by Andrew Bamford
Bamford’s monograph is unusual in that unlike most regimental histories it concentrates on a relatively short period, from 1791 to 1815, and is based largely on the volume of paperwork left by its colonel during this period, Sir James Steuart. Although this might appear a weakness, it is, in fact, its great strength, providing a consistent and well-documented viewpoint of the 12th’s internal workings through a period of great change within the British army as a whole.
Sourced from written orders and Steuart’s letters, the first half of the book concentrates on regimental procedures and how they worked in practice. Surprising as it may seem, this type of information is well-nigh impossible to find elsewhere at this level of detail, and in digging it up Bamford has shed new light on how other British cavalry regiments of the time must have worked.
The second half covers the 12th’s deployment to the Peninsula in 1811 and their campaigning until 1814 and thereafter at Waterloo. I confess this section held less interest for me than the preceding nitty-gritty, though I understand I’ll probably be in a minority because there’s far more detail here than is found in most general Peninsula histories. And enough new information to satisfy most cavalry action buffs, I’d have thought.
The author’s style encourages quick reading – a major compliment from a self-confessed non-fiction hater. Well, I don’t hate it all, just the drearily-written tomes I frequently come up against, and this ain’t one! My only gripe is the font used in my hardback copy could have been a bit larger. Blame the publisher for trying to keep the page count down.
All in all an excellent addition for any Napoleonic library. 5 Stars.
Boots and Saddles! Horses and Riders of Wellington’s Army by Paul L Dawson
This companion volume to the author’s Au Galop! Horses and Riders of Napoleon’s Army follows the same format as its predecessor, concentrating on the way British cavalry of the period operated in terms of recruitment and training of both men and horses. As such, it is now far easier to compare and contrast the military equestrian systems of France and Britain than has hitherto been possible.
Major differences in horse procurement methods, the lack of centrally mandated training systems for horse and rider, widely variable abilities of regimental officers and a seeming haphazard feeding regime all contributed the British cavalry’s performance (or lack of it) in the field. This book also discusses cavalry shoeing and veterinary care, saddlery and the levels of equine attrition on campaign.
Dawson’s intention – to show reasons for the differences in approach and effects of each country’s systems – means you ideally need both volumes, but comparisons are often noted in the text of Boots and Saddles! so it’s not absolutely necessary. What is important is to understand what went on behind the scenes: what made it practically possible for two sets of horsemen to meet on the battlefields of Portugal and Spain, and this book provides answers.
Boots and Saddles! is one for the specialist, but essential reading if you have a deep interest in British cavalry of the period. You won’t find this level of detail, all in one place, anywhere else, and even those who are well-read will find a lot of source material that’s new. 5 Stars