The Eagle Falters: Napoleon’s Psychological Burdens

By Ed Coss

Our recent From Reason to Revolution title The Sword and the Spirit, edited by Zack White, is based on papers given at the 2019 BCMH ‘War and Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ conference. In one of the keynote papers at the conference, and in the opening chapter of the book, historian Dr Ed Coss outlined the findings of a collaborative psychological analysis of Napoleon Bonaparte. In this blog post, Dr Coss outlines the methodology that the team pursued and gives an outline of the conclusions drawn.

Napoleon Bonaparte is presumed to be, and almost always presented historically as, a stable genius, somehow unfettered by personal quirks and nearly immune to the psychological trauma of nearly two consecutive decades at war. A careful examination of his words, and those who heard and recorded them, by five trained American Army psychologists casts serious doubt on this portrayal. Their independent appraisals were surprisingly aligned. These mental health professionals agreed that Napoleon seemed to exhibit behaviours consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Depression (possibly bi-polar), and maladies possibly related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).    

This exploration began as a series of conversations among mental health clinicians who also happened to be my students in military history. As we examined Napoleon’s behaviors and decisions, particularly in Spain and Russia, the psychologists began to wonder whether or not Napoleon had been impacted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We initially assumed that this was the case. We resolved to put a team together and begin an appraisal.

For this study, it was decided to allow the five trained psychologists to read and independently interpret primary source historical material that I gathered. A decision was made to limit this research to either Napoleon’s words or those of the men who were in the room with him. As the psychologists investigated and appraised the available first-person accounts, consistent behavioral indicators appeared to emerge. Napoleon, as it turned out, met only 3 of 24 standards for PTSD, according to the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Napoleon seems to have had few to none of the dreams, flashbacks, or distress when presented certain stimuli related to the battlefield. Napoleon gave the impression that he was free of almost all relevant symptoms. This surprised the team. Upon reflection, however, what we had overlooked was that his near-total lack of empathy acted to shield Napoleon from the kinds of sadness, regret, and guilt that most soldiers experience. This human failing, this inability, according to Psychology Today, to ‘experience another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own’ and which is ‘crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately’ protected Napoleon’s psyche. Thus, we were wrong in our initial diagnosis.

Any clinical assessment of Napoleon without actually conversing with him and so many years removed from his era has limitations, of course. The American Psychological Association, in fact, explicitly warns mental health professionals that it is unethical to offer public psychological assessments of anyone not in their care (or for any patient). The exception is when analyzing historical figures, and those examinations have guidelines. This ethical challenge needs be acknowledged at the outset, so as to allay concerns that the methods used herein to examine the psychology of the historical figure of Napoleon were questionable, whimsical in nature, or that the psychologists and the author have in any way attempted to bypass mental health or historical standards in the commission of this work.

As the psychologists independently read and assessed the more than 400 historical comments or personal interactions related to Napoleon, the team unanimously concluded that he strongly exhibited behaviours consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, meeting the criteria in seven of nine categories, two more than the DSM-5 requires for identifying someone with this disorder. This conclusion came only after sharing assessments, careful debate, and the recognition of the limits of this study, acknowledging that the team members were never in the room with Napoleon and that the appraisal could never be definitive. Still, the names of his seven qualifying categories capture clearly the kinds of telling behaviours that are part and parcel of this disorder and were, most likely, exhibited nearly every day by Napoleon: Grandiose; Fantasies of unlimited success, love…; Believes he/she is special; Has a sense of entitlement; Interpersonally exploitative; Lack Empathy; Arrogant.

Moreover, the clinicians all believed that Napoleon’s behaviours appeared to align with someone struggling with Major Depression.  Because all these behavioural episodes seem to align with those delineated in the DSM-5 for bipolar-depression or Major Depressive Disorder, it would be fair to speculate that Napoleon may have struggled with one or both of these mental illnesses for much of his adult life. Thus, Napoleon may have experienced a series of unpredictable emotional highs and lows, alternating manic episodes of varying degrees with depressive experiences and self doubt.

The team was also surprised that Napoleon’s two instances of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the result of two accidents involving horses, have not been considered by scholar’s assessing Napoleon’s decision making and conduct. This is especially true of Napoleon’s coup of 18 Brumaire, which saw Napoleon overthrow the Directory, but only barely and after serious missteps; the coup occurred just ten days after Napoleon’s first TBI incident. The APA’s guidelines state that in addition to ‘neurocognitive deficits, there may be associated neurophysiological, emotional, and behavioural complications.’

Altogether, these mental health disorders impacted Napoleon every day of his adult life. It would seem that these individual and collective debilitations likely inhibited Napoleon to a greater degree than has been surmised. This is a matter of no small import to readers examining Napoleon’s behaviours on the 200th anniversary of his death. It is hoped that the chapter will give the reader pause and cause him/her to reconsider Napoleon’s mental health and its impact on his words and actions.

Dr Ed Coss is emeritus professor of military history, United States Army Command and General Staff College. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Army’s Civilian Educator of the Year in 2010. Coss is a Member of the British Commission for Military History and the Society of Military History. He is also a Trustee of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary War Graves Charity. He is the author of All for the King’s Shilling: The British Soldier under Wellington, 1808–1814 (2010) and contributing author to The Context of Military Environments: An Agenda for Basic Research on Social and Organizational Factors Relevant to Small Units (2014); European Armies of the French Revolution, 1789–1802 (2015); and Technology, Violence, and War (2019).

For a Parliament Freely Chosen

By Andrew Abram

The story of the discovery on 23 August 1659 of the fugitive Sir George Booth by the innkeeper of the Red Lion in Newport Pagnell, dressed as ‘Mrs Dorothy’, and his arrest and confinement in the Tower of London ‘close prisoner for high treason, in levying war against the Parliament and Commonwealth’, might be found in the pages of a historical novel. However, three weeks earlier Booth had led an armed revolt in Cheshire. Having been let into Chester on 2 August by the city authorities – the military garrison seeking safety in the castle – he mustered an estimated 3,000 horse and foot, ‘well mounted and armed, with drums beating, colours flying and trumpets sounding’ on Rowton Heath. Booth delivered his manifesto or Declaration, which roused his men and appealed for others to join the cause.

Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey (1622-84) leader of the armed rebellion in Cheshire (National Portrait Gallery)

My first book published by Helion in 2020, More Like Lions than Men, was a study of the Parliamentarian forces in Cheshire commanded by Sir William Brereton. Knowing about the military and political events of 1659, I noticed that other than a trickle of journal articles on the rising’s causes – mainly produced to mark its 300th anniversary – no comprehensive study existed. Also, more general narratives made little headway into the wider objectives of its leaders and participants. Such works have been chiefly reconstructed from the biased accounts of the victors, whereas a body of manuscript and printed sources remained untapped by many writers.

The main aims then, were to challenge notions that the rising was (a) a local event, poorly led, organised, and executed by Booth and his supporters; and (b) a failed attempt at restoring the Stuart monarchy. I was interested to understand, from the perspective of historical sources, the motivations its leaders (mainly Presbyterians, some who had fought for Parliament during the civil wars, and former royalists), and how they articulated these in a broad sense. In his manifesto Booth made no mention of the exiled Charles II, focusing instead on the untrustworthy Rump Parliament in governing the country through army interference. In calling for a free parliament, Booth asserted that without this freedom there could be no settled basis for religion, liberty and property.

Booth’s rank and file (it has been argued) came from his friends and pressed tenantry. However, though extensive evidence for their recruitment, arming and organization is wanting, many were officers of proven ability – including Myddelton, Colonel Henry Brooke and the Welsh royalist Sir John Owen – who had experience of leading troops in civil wars. Some of the lower ranks were also military veterans, although others were new to the rigour of war. Booth – a leading member of a Presbyterian gentry family that dominated Cheshire politics in the early-modern period – had been a colonel in Sir William Brereton’s Parliamentarian army and described by Sir John Meldrum in 1644 as ‘a young gentleman of great expectation’. But his increasing opposition to Brereton lessened his effectiveness, and he resigned his commission the following year.

Chester Castle (Thomas Tennant, Tour of Wales, 1778)

Even though the government response was rapid and proportional, Booth’s greatest problem was the disastrous failure of intelligence gathering and poor tactical awareness by himself and his senior commanders. Apparently oblivious to the arrival of Lambert’s veteran brigade in Nantwich on 15 August, after a forced march from London of nine days, through ‘very unseasonable’ weather, they were also stunned by the landing of 6,000 troops from Ireland at Beaumaris commanded by Colonel Jerome Sankey. Though Booth had an estimated 5,000 men under arms, his forces were split between Chester (where most of the horse was), and Warrington (where the bulk of the foot remained), some two day’s march away. Such unpreparedness is surprising, given that news of Lambert’s movements had reached Cheshire a week before. Likewise, Booth knew by 7 August that his position was increasingly isolated because much of the promised assistance from other parts of the country had failed to materialize. Exactly what he was trying to accomplish is hard to know, but a rift had already occurred with his subordinates over the rebellion’s strategic aims.

Reality soon kicked in. Following the first contact with Lambert’s scouts in the fields around Tarporley on 17 August, Booth sought negotiation. He told the major-general that he was ‘surprised to see him at the head of an army against him, who had only declared for a free parliament, offering to confer on an accommodation’. Nevertheless, Lambert was resolute, he was ordered to force the rebels into submission, and bloodshed could only be prevented by the laying down of their arms. Most probably, the declaration for the King by Myddelton at Wrexham a few days earlier had added fuel to the fire. The cry of Booth’s men was ‘Have at all’, and the Parliament’s ‘God with us’.

The seventeenth-century topography of Winnington Bridge is somewhat masked by alterations to the River Weaver, the industrial facilities of nearby Northwich, and modern housing developments. It is possible, nonetheless, to identify the main features of the battlefield from contemporary accounts and (where viable) field walking.

Broken and enclosed terrain around Hartford Green, 1.5 miles southwest of Winnington Bridge, where Lambert’s soldiers cleared bodies of rebel musketeers prior to the main battle (author’s photograph)

The fight was swift and one-sided. Booth fled with some cavalry to Chester (via Lancashire). Liverpool and Chester were seized the following day, but Sir George had gone. Of Winnington Bridge, Lambert reported, the rebels ‘were quickly beat, and put to a total rout, throwing down arms and colours, and we had the pursuit of them a great way in lanes and enclosures. Their foot are all broke and disbursed. If it had been a champion country, few of them had escaped to carry home news’. A royalist correspondent would report, ‘Sir George Booth … is poorly come off, and all his glorious pretext of a free parliament and the subjects’ liberty, which in his forehead he carried, is all ended under a wench’s petticoat, which makes many conclude him to be either a fool, knave or coward’.

The north bank of the Weaver, over which the rebels were driven by Colonel John Hewson’s regiment of foot, seconded by Lambert’s and Colonel Swallow’s horse (author’s photograph)

You can buy For a Parliament Freely Chosen: The Rebellion of Sir George Booth, 1659 here.

The Story of Surgeon Henry Milburne Part II

By John Marsden

The city of Astorga, with its magnificent cathedral, convents, monasteries and other fine buildings, both civic and private, offered the perfect sanctuary to the Army of the Left, whose erstwhile commander in chief, General Blake, had been recently replaced by the Marqués de la Romana. The new commander in chief had been coordinating his movements with Sir John Moore since the 15th November, as both men sought to evade the converging French armies by reaching Astorga in the foothills of the Galician mountains where the British commander thought he might be able to make a stand, having by then secured his escape route to Corunna. La Romana was to the north of Moore’s two columns as the allies retreated, the British general having asked him to destroy the bridge over the Esla at Mansilla de las Mulas before continuing on his westerly retirement. Unfortunately, the marqués’s exhausted and poorly equipped men were surprised by Soult when he made a dash for Mansilla, scattering the demoralised Spaniards and capturing the bridge intact. Those soldiers of La Romana who were able to regroup then set their faces towards Astorga. 

As mentioned above, the sick and wounded of La Romana’s army had already begun to trickle into Astorga before Milburne arrived, and his first task was to assess the condition of the casualties whilst at the same time making an inventory of the various buildings and medical supplies available, all of which he would need as he began to organise a system of hospitals. In his narrative of the campaign, written after his escape to England, he described how the frostbitten and wounded of the Spanish Army of the Left were crowded together with the rest of the men, without any attempt to separate them from those with contagious conditions, such as the strain of typhus which was sweeping through their ranks. Most of the casualties he discovered lying on the bare floors of the buildings in which they had sought shelter, or under the arches of open piazzas in and around the centre of the city. Some were still lying in the carts which had been used to convey them to Astorga.

Milburne soon came to recognise the lack of surgical care available to those in need of it, readily discernible by the number of unattended and undressed wounds he encountered. His first priority was to attend to these casualties of the fighting, but his main concern was directed towards the isolation of the sick in an effort to contain the outbreak of typhus previously referred to. He sought out Lieutenant General Fraser, commander of the British troops already at Astorga, and impressed upon him the need to take action designed to avoid the contagion taking hold amongst Moore’s troops, who were expected within the city at any moment. He suggested to the general that the Spanish sick be moved and concentrated in marked buildings; any accommodation thus cleared was to be disinfected and made ready for occupation by those of the wounded who were free from disease. In response Fraser wrote to the Junta de Astorga, requesting them to grant special powers to Milburne for removing the sick to places outside the city walls. They responded by investing full authority in him, assigning the city’s comptroller, Don Josef Orm and a local surgeon, Sr. Tardio, to the task of assisting the British surgeon in his work to examine and classify all of the sick and wounded. Once this had been completed the patients were assigned to the appropriate buildings.

To add to Milburne’s work, on 29 December the French prisoners taken by the British during the recent fighting at Benavente began to arrive at Astorga, many of them wounded and requiring the attention of the British surgeon and his Spanish assistants. On the following day Sir John Moore arrived at the city, only to leave on the 31st with the reserve of his army and its rear–guard of cavalry, all en-route to Villafranca del Bierzo. Moore had by then abandoned his plan to stop the French on the frontier of Galicia. La Romana also entered the city on the 30th.

When the British marched away Milburne placed his services, his stock of medicines and his surgical instruments at the disposal of the Spanish, but the French arrived at the gates of Astorga before he was able to organise the care of those left behind. Desperate to avoid capture, the surgeon was forced to make his own escape towards Villafranca, taking as much of his stock with him as he could cram into the saddlebags of a pair of mules procured for him by the Junta de Astorga.

Milburne caught up with Moore’s rear–guard at Manzanal and continued with it to Bembibre, where he was lightly wounded as the French cavalry skirmished with its British counterpart. Soon, as the weather worsened and his animals fell sick, he was forced to abandon his medical equipment and follow in the wake of the army as it entered the mountains of Galicia. As he did so he was to witness many scenes of suffering and despair along the road to Corunna, as the severe conditions took their toll of British soldiers, Spanish muleteers and various camp followers, including the wives and children of British troops.

Finally, on 10 or 11 January, the army arrived at Corunna, but the naval transports required to convey it to England were not yet anchored in the harbour, instead, they were still at Vigo and had to be sent for. This meant that Moore was forced to prepare a defensive perimeter outside the town to protect the embarkation points to be used when the fleet arrived. Inside the town the British Artillery and Engineers began to improve its batteries and fortifications with the willing assistance of Spanish troops and civilians. Looking on, the surgeon was full of praise for the efforts of the Spaniards, at one point witnessing two young women armed with sabres and dressed as soldiers, helping with the work.

On the 14 January the fleet of British warships and transports arrived, allowing the evacuation of the army to commence. On the following day the French began their attack upon Corunna, and during the next few days the surgeon was to become a close observer of the fighting, often placing himself in the British front line. In the early morning of the 17th, the last of the British units still on the battlefield began their withdrawal and most of them were aboard ship before daybreak, the French being somewhat hesitant to follow up after the mauling they had received during the fighting. They had failed achieved the victory they were expecting. With a small rear-guard under the command of Beresford manning the port defences along with a number of their Spanish allies, the French, once they had stirred themselves and attempted to approach the harbour, were halted by the spirited exertions of the mainly Spanish defenders, thus allowing the men of Beresford’s force to embark without molestation, Rear Admiral de Courcy eventually announcing that: ‘… the army has been embarked to the last man’.

Retaining his status as a private citizen attached to the Spanish Army, Milburne was forced to apply for passage to England aboard a ship of the Royal Navy, and in doing so offered his surgical expertise to Dr. Shepter, Inspector of Hospitals, who provided him with a letter of introduction to Staff Surgeon Taggart, the man responsible for the sick and wounded aboard the hospital ship, Alfred, along with his Assistant Surgeon Roe. The Alfred set sail for Plymouth in the early hours of 19 January 1809 and arrived there late on the following day, taking advantage of some apparently highly favourable winds.

In his letter to Castlereagh, which he included in his publication, A Narrative of Circumstances Attending the Retreat of the British Army Under the Command of the Late Lieut. Gen. Sir John Moore, from which much of the information comprising this article was taken, Milburne included a return of the sick and wounded aboard the Alfred as she sailed for home. She was just one of many ships bearing casualties to England, and his detailed list of the sick and injured is included below. It will provide the reader with some idea of the general condition of the army after its gruelling winter retreat across northern Spain, and it may be worth reflecting upon how the Spanish troops, whose experiences were said to have been somewhat worse than those of the British, had suffered during the campaign:

List of Casualties aboard the Alfred

Cases of dysentery:     68

Cases of fever:            56

Wounded:                   36

Trifling complaints:    20

Convalescents:            77

————————————

Total:                            257

 

Little is known of Milburne after his return to England, but in her book, British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon (2013) Graciela Iglesias Rogers makes an interesting note, stating that he was with Whittingham’s division in Mallorca (1810) and Menorca (1811) and eventually attained the rank of Inspector of the Spanish Royal Hospitals in the Balearics. One of the issues Milburne became involved with during his time with Whittingham related to two of the Royal Navy’s ships, HMS Invincible and the famous HMS Temeraire which, on arriving at the islands in August 1811, were required by the authorities to go into quarantine at Mahon in Menorca as a precaution against the possibility of their crews spreading yellow fever amongst the local population. Milburne visited the sick aboard the ships and declared their ailments to be non-contagious, a view he later set forth in an article published in the Diario de Palma, as stated by Rogers in her book. This instigated a public row fought out in the press between Milburne and a local Spanish doctor, who used the Semanario de Menorca to voice his opposition to the British surgeon’s pronouncements. One of the accusations made against him was that he was placing the interests of his compatriots above those of the island’s population, when insisting that the sick from the ships be transferred to hospitals ashore. To which Milburne replied that he was acting ‘not as the friend of a particular society, but of the entire human race’.  Things settled down when the Royal Navy, perhaps realising the delicacy of the situation, afforded partial compliance with the demands of the islands’ governors by leaving. On inspection of the logs belonging to Invincible and Temeraire for the months of August and September 1811, it is possible to find several references to the sick amongst their crew, as well as the recordings of the death of several sailors, the majority belonging to HMS Temeraire

Whether Milburne ever returned to England after the war or decided to live out his days in Mediterranean climes is as yet unknown, but it is difficult to imagine that someone with such a zest for life did not find a suitable outlet for his energies during the ensuing peace. Perhaps he lies buried in a Balearic cemetery just waiting to be discovered – or to be left in peace, far from controversy’s reach.

Read the Story of Surgeon Henry Milburne Part I here.

Napoleon’s Stolen Army: How the Royal Navy Rescued a Spanish Army in the Baltic is available to buy here.

The Story of Surgeon Henry Milburne Part I

By John Marsden

It was whilst researching the story of the Marqués de la Romana´s Denmark expedition that I came across the interesting but little–known story of army surgeon, Henry Milburne, who, due to a particular set of circumstances, came to be in the Spanish city of Astorga in December 1808 when the British, Spanish, and French armies descended upon it.

Once La Romana’s force had been returned to Spain in the autumn of 1808, it was thrust into the battles then raging in the north–east of the country as Napoleon’s grand counter offensive gathered speed. Marching towards the oncoming French divisions was the British expeditionary force led by Sir John Moore, hoping to be able to block the enemy advance alongside their Spanish allies. Unfortunately, such a prospect began to fade from their vision before they had an opportunity to come to grips with their adversary, as they learned that the Spanish armies in their front had simply melted away as the various French army corps overran them. Reluctant to throw in the towel at such an early stage of his Spanish adventure, Moore decided to launch a strike at the lengthening lines of French communications, but, once warned by La Romana of Napoleon’s plan to entrap him, the British commander in chief was forced to join the general withdrawal of the Spanish armies.

As he retreated across northern Spain, Moore realised that he was going to require unfettered access to the royal highway leading to Corunna, so he asked La Romana to keep his army away from it, expecting him to remain to the north of his British allies as they each retreated towards Galicia. Pressed closely by the French, the Spaniards failed to comply with Moore’s somewhat haughty request as the worsening winter conditions forced them to make for the little walled city of Astorga, which lay directly in the path of Moore’s army. It was there during the last few days of 1808 that the two armies met. By chance, Henry Milburne, who had earlier relinquished his commission as an army surgeon, was at Astorga as the British and Spanish approached, and we may now examine the story of this somewhat enigmatic character which, like the story of La Romana’s Denmark expedition itself, is little known; both examples highlighting the possibility of the existence of other hidden tales lying forgotten or as yet undiscovered amongst the archives of the Peninsular War. 

It would seem that Henry Milburne began his medical career as a humble assistant surgeon, whilst serving with the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot, and there is an entry recording his commission in Colonel William Johnstone’s List of commissioned officers who served in the medical services of the British army: ‘2407 Henry Milburne, A. S. (Assistant Surgeon) 52F [52nd regt. of foot] 4th Aug. 1804 [date of commission]’. The 52nd raised a second battalion in that year, which might explain their need for a new assistant surgeon at the time. Intriguingly, there is also an entry for Milburne in Drew’s Roll, a list of army officers who served with the British army medical corps during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it reads: ‘2407 Henry Milburne. A.S. 52F 4 Aug. 1804. Res[igned] before 14 Mar. 1805. H. M. [Hospital Mate] previous to being commissioned’. Despite his apparent resignation, it would seem that at some time between 1804 and 1808, Milburne may have transferred to the York Rangers, as Johnstone’s List contains a further entry for him as follows: ‘3869 Henry Milburne. A.S. Royal York Rangers. 28th July 1808. Superseded 1808’, indicating that he was commissioned in the York Rangers on 28 July 1808. (Note, the entry number, 3869, seems to be a mis-type for the intended 2869).

Whatever the early details may show, it was during his army service that Milburne developed an interest in the diseases typically contracted by soldiers in the course of their service, as well as the gunshot wounds they suffered when confronting an enemy on the battlefield. Perhaps it was his interest in the former subject that caused him to seek service with a regiment designated to serve in the tropics, such as the York Rangers. However, there is the faint possibility that there were two people with the name of Henry Milburne serving as an army medic in the early 19th century, one with the 52nd, the other with the York Rangers. If indeed they refer to the same person, then the record suggests there was a gap of over three years in his time as an army medic, between leaving the 52nd and joining the York Rangers, unless, that is, he spent some or most of that time with the York Rangers as a hospital mate, as suggested in Drew’s roll.

Britain’s first expeditionary force to the Iberian Peninsula disembarked in Portugal during August 1808, and it would seem that, whilst at home in England or in Africa with the York Rangers, Milburne became a supporter of the Spanish cause, and felt that the possibility of gaining some field experience in the Iberian Peninsula might allow him the opportunity for acquiring some first-hand knowledge of the subjects mentioned above.

The 1/52nd and the 2/52nd were two of the units making up Wellington’s force in 1808, so if Milburne was an assistant surgeon with the regiment he should have gone to Portugal with it; obviously he did not, as our story will show. This fact may confirm that he had left the 52nd by then – to join the York Rangers perhaps? Whatever the case, eager for adventure, he applied for a position with the Peninsular Army. His application was refused but, determined to serve in Spain and Portugal, he decided to appeal to the Spanish authorities via the offices of Don JoséMaría Queipo de Llano, Conde de Toreno, who, in his position as a Deputy in the semi-autonomous parliament of Asturias, had made his way to London in the wake of the Spanish uprising against the French, hoping to obtain help for his beleaguered country from the British Government. Queipo de Llano was either unable or unwilling to help the aspiring medic, so Milburne turned to the British ambassador to Spain, (either John Hookham Frere or Charles Stuart, both of whom held the post that year) asking him to make an approach to other members of the Asturian delegation in London on his behalf. The ambassador took up Milburne’s case and communicated with Don Juan Ruiz de Apodaca and Don Adrian Jacome. As a result, Milburne’s request was made known to Don Juan de Arejula, then Surgeon to the Army of Andalucia, who seems to have acceded to it, as Milburne was eventually to be provided with passage to Spain aboard one of the Royal Navy’s ships.

Before leaving for Spain in his status as a private citizen, Milburne was provided with some letters of introduction, absolute necessities having given up his army commission. Such documents may have helped him to meet with Sir William Gordon Duff, MP for Worcester and partner in the counting house of his uncle, James Duff, consul at Cadiz. Duff had recently donated the sum of £1,000 in aid of the ‘Spanish Patriots’ and happened to be searching for a surgeon willing to serve with a regiment being raised in Cadiz by his business partner, the Malaga-born ‘Colonel’ Juan Murphy, who, said Duff, had ‘raised, clothed, armed and equipped a legion of 2,000 men at his own private expense’, which went by the name of the Regimiento de Infanteria Voluntarios de España.

On 28 November 1808, Milburne sailed for Spain aboard the sloop HMS Primrose, disembarking at Corunna on 10 December whence he set off for Madrid after obtaining a passport to travel from Galicia, and having the luck to fall in along the way with an officer belonging to the 15th Light Dragoons, Captain Thackwell. On arriving at Astorga on 27 December he heard that Murphy and his entire regiment had been captured by the French at El Escorial, thus depriving him of an important contact and indicating to him that it would be unsafe to continue towards Madrid whilst Sir John Moore’s army was beating a precipitate retreat towards Astorga, with the French in close pursuit.

It did not take the surgeon long to become aware of the large number of Spanish troops then present in Astorga. These were men belonging to Spain’s Army of the Left, which had recently suffered some heavy defeats at the hands of the French, and had fallen back along the roads of northern Spain in appalling weather with the soon to be dismissed General Blake at their head. Many of them were suffering from a form of typhus, and a large number of soldiers bore festering wounds inflicted during the recent fighting in the region of Biscay. This, combined with a lack of rations and their state of near nakedness – many of them unshod – meant that a significant number were in urgent need of medical attention. Milburne felt his chance had come and immediately made an offer of his medical services to the Spanish Army, which was accepted without hesitation.

Read the Story of Surgeon Henry Milburne Part II here.

Cold War Berlin An Island City

By Andrew Long

My interest in the Cold War began back in 1986 when I visited West Berlin on, of all things, an orchestra tour. We were playing a series of concerts in the city and on a day off we made the trip through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. We’d already been warned not to muck about as we crossed the border and that was reinforced when a sub-machine gun toting border guard made their way along the aisle of our coach, carefully checking everyone’s passport. Despite having an official guide showing us all the ‘good’ bits, it was clear to all that the East was very different to the West.

Roll on 30 years and having finally escaped from a career in marketing, I began researching the Cold War as a hobby. If my parents’ generation had been influenced by the Second World War, my generation’s collective consciousness had been formed by the Cold War, and I realised that I had some big gaps in my understanding of that key conflict. Some months into my research, I began to notice that one city was being mentioned more than any other, and that city was Berlin. I was obviously aware of the Berlin Wall but didn’t really understand how it came about and how it famously came down in November 1989, only three years after my orchestral tour.

With all roads seemingly leading to Berlin, I figured that building a timeline would be a good place to start. I hasten to add that I’ve no academic training in history, and actually gave the subject up at the age of 14, so I was literally learning on the go. Over time, scholarly articles and reference books showed me the methodology I needed to adopt, my timeline alerted me to many events, organisations, personalities that needed further investigation, and the project snowballed from there. In terms of source material, my own bookshelves are groaning under the weight of hundreds of books on the Cold War, supplemented by more from my local library which kindly purchased many obscure titles for me. Living in the far south west of the United Kingdom, I’m not able to travel up to London very easily, and not being associated with a particular academic institution, you have to get very creative with finding good material. Thankfully you can access some academic journals online and it’s possible to access a lot of fascinating original documents on-line, if you know where to look. Certainly, the Americans are very good at digitising primary source material, an area in which the UK lags far behind.

After a while, various themes began to appear in my research, and I began to consider whether they could be structured into a book. Using some of my old skills, I researched possible publishers and put my thoughts down in the form of a pitch. I had used LinkedIn a lot, a sort of professional social network, in the past and used it to seek out and ‘cyber-stalk’ publishers, editorial directors and commissioning editors in half a dozen or so target organisations.

And that’s how I came to be sitting in my favourite café on a cold and miserable Friday afternoon in November 2019, messaging my target list on LinkedIn. Tom Cooper from Helion, who would become my editor, responded positively and with a lot of his help and advice, my proposal was forwarded to Duncan Rogers, Helion’s owner, and by Christmas I had my first publishing contract.

I am very grateful to Tom, who invested a lot of time introducing me to the strange world of publishing and helping shape and sell my proposal to Duncan. I began with the idea of a single volume covering Berlin’s role in the Cold War, but Tom steered me to Helion’s @War series, which tackle important areas of military history, but in smaller ‘bite-size’ pieces, and my Berlin story went from what would have been a huge, over ambitious and prohibitively expensive project into five smaller and more manageable books.

  • Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1, The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950
  • Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 2, Scar across a city – the Berlin Wall, 1950-1961
  • Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 3, Cold War Battlefield, NATO vs The Warsaw Pact 1945-1990
  • Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 4, The Decline and Fall of the Wall and the Soviet Union, 1985 to 1990
  • Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 5, In the Shadow of the Wall, the East German Police State, 1946-1990

The @War series, and in particular the Europe@War series, which is relevant to my work, is the ideal format for a new author. The dreaded blank sheet of paper is replaced by a well proven and successful formula, which helps structure your thoughts.

Firstly, the series demands academic standard research and quality writing, which is presented in a very accessible format. The A4 page size means that photos, maps, charts and tables can be large for maximum clarity and impact. Helion encourage lots of images, which may scare some authors, but I was pleased that I could support the narrative with numerous visual cues in line with the text. The @War books have black and white images throughout, plus a colour section which follows a common format: colour profiles showing aircraft or vehicles relevant to the text, colour illustrations showing military uniforms and lovely big colour maps. The books are also printed on glossy paper, which improves the resolution of the images – particularly useful when your images are 70+ years old and often in poor condition. That said, searching for suitable images was probably the hardest part of the process as many libraries hide behind very expensive paywalls.

With help from Tom and latterly Andy Miles from Helion, plus a talented group of artists, cartographers and researchers, Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1 made its way to market, launching in March 2021, some fifteen months after that wet Friday afternoon in the café. It’s been a fascinating journey and the skills and techniques I picked up en route will hopefully make writing Volume 2 and future publications much easier for me, and the great team at Helion.

Cold War Berlin An Island City Volume 1 : The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950

Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1: The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950 is available to buy here.

A Moonlight Massacre – The Real End of Third Ypres

By Michael LoCicero

Overlooked by most campaign histories of the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July-10 November 1917), the Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917 remains a forgotten tailpiece to the controversial Anglo-French offensive. Based on an extensive array of British and German sources, many previously unpublished, and supported by numerous illustrations and maps, A Moonlight Massacre is the first full account of the tragic affair and an important re-interpretation of the discussion surrounding Third Ypres.

The operation having been ordered by British Second Army, its subordinate VIII Corps and II Corps were tasked with overseeing an attack north and north-west of Passchendaele village. The objective, a necessary preliminary to a proposed series of attacks astride Passchendaele Ridge during the winter of 1917-18, was to make a short advance from the dangerously exposed Passchendaele Salient on a 2,870-yard front. On the right, 8th Division (left formation of VIII Corps) would assault the formidable Venison Trench defences with a single infantry brigade; on the left, the neighbouring 32nd Division (right formation of II Corps), employing a reinforced infantry brigade, was to prolong the left flank by seizing Hill 52 and Vat Cottages Ridge. The short advance would, if successful, open out the west side of the salient whilst simultaneously carrying the British line “sufficiently far northward along the ridge to give us observation into the valleys running up to the Passchendaele plateau from the north and east.” Occupation of these vista sites would also prevent the enemy from massing troops along the ridgeline’s reverse slope thus reducing potential threats throughout the winter months.

Subsequently relegated to a local operation while the Battle of Cambrai raged to the south, the attackers would be operating under the aegis of a novel but ultimately flawed tactical plan that was the brainchild of an ambitious and ruthless divisional commander. Opposed by an expectant and alert enemy unwilling to concede what was deemed vital territory,  the outcome would prove disastrous for the divisions involved.

Pillbox winter 1917-18. (The Outpost, 17th Highland Light Infantry journal, January 1918)

Seven years have passed since first publication of A Moonlight Massacre. In order to ensure the second edition is as comprehensive as possible, new research material, including maps and images, has been added. The bibliography also contains some previously overlooked or unavailable at the time entries.

My post-publication desire to commemorate the Passchendaele night operation’s British  participants of which 1,689 were killed or died of wounds, resulted in a modest, self-funded memorial being officially dedicated in the vicinity of the West Flanders battlefield site 100 years to the day on 2 December 2017. Since then, it has become a somewhat esoteric place of pilgrimage. Further to this, I’m currently researching an even more obscure coda to the failed nocturnal assault; a narrative of a large-scale raid on the southern fringe of Houthulst Forest in February 1918. Carried out by 32nd Division, hard tactical lessons learned during the 2 December 1917 debacle were effectively applied with fortuitous consequences.

Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge Memorial. (Tganzengoed Staden)

You can now buy A Moonlight Massacre. The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917. The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres, Second Edition here.

The History of a Salamanca Myth

By Garry Wills

Our recent From Reason to Revolution title Glory is Fleeting contains a variety of studies of aspects of the Napoleonic Wars. In his chapter on the Maucune’s division at the Battle of Salamanca, Garry Wills addresses, amongst other things, the question of the various trophies captured by the allies in the battle. Here, he takes a look at the story of the eagle of the 22e Ligne and the vexed question of who actually captured it.

The Lancashire Infantry Museum in Fulwood Barracks, Preston, proudly displays the eagle of the 22e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne. Alongside the eagle the museum states that it was captured by Ensign John Pratt of the 2nd Battalion 30th Foot, one of the antecedents of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.[1] Unfortunately the eagle of the 22e Ligne was not taken by Ensign Pratt, 2/30th Foot, but by a different regiment altogether, so how was this ‘myth’ created over the last 208 years?

The Battle of Salamanca was fought on 22 July 1812 and the captured trophies were brought to England by Captain Lord Clinton. In August 1812 Orme published a drawing of the trophies which clearly shows the two eagles, those of the 22e Ligne and the 62e Ligne, neither eagle is shown with its flag and while the eagle of 22e Ligne is marked with its number that of the 62e Ligne is not.[2] In his dispatch to Earl Bathurst, Wellington mentions the eagles but not their captors.[3]

Major General Pringle’s correspondence, written in the days immediately following the battle, makes it clear that the light companies of his second brigade of Leith’s 5th Division, including Ensign John Pratt, captured the eagle bearer party of the 62e Ligne.[4]

In October 1816, while in Gibraltar, Colonel Chichester William Crookshank wrote his statement of service, which included his service at Salamanca, commanding Caçadores N.12, in Pakenham’s 3rd Division, and the capture of the eagle of the 22e Ligne by that battalion.[5] As early as 1821, this was in the public domain via the Royal Military Calendar.[6]

In 1829 John Pratt, now a Major in the 27th Foot, recorded his statement of service, which, while describing his service at Salamanca, makes no mention of capturing any trophies let alone a coveted French Eagle.[7]

Napier published volume five of his history in 1836 but made no mention of the capture of the eagles at Salamanca.[8]

In 1844 a letter from John Garland, adjutant of the 2/30th at Salamanca, named Pratt as one of two officers who took eagles to headquarters from Leith’s 5th Division.[9]

In 1864, the history of the 44th Foot was published and included the following account, based on discussions with Pearce:

The eagle, which was that of the 62nd Regiment of the line, was taken by Lieutenant W. Pearce 44th Regiment, and the two standards by Lieut.-Francis Maguire, 4th, and Ensign John Pratt, 30th Regiment. The French were called on to lay down their arms, about which there was some demur; but on the cavalry returning to the charge they gladly did so, craving protection. Ensign Standley was killed carrying one of the colours of the 44th.

The French officer who carried the eagle had just wrenched it from the pole, and when Lieutenant Pearce first saw it, he was endeavouring to conceal it under the grey great-coat, which he wore over his uniform; Private (afterwards Sergeant) Finley aided in the capture, and the French officer making resistance, was assisted by one of his men, who attacking Lieutenant Pearce with his fixed bayonet, was shot dead by Private Bill Murray, of the 44th light company. Privates Blackburn and Devine, of the same company, had also a hand in this affair, and Lieutenant Pearce divided twenty dollars—all the money he had with him—amongst the four, for their gallant exertions. Soon after the capture of the eagle a heavy column of French infantry came in sight, although at a considerable distance; the eagle was at once placed on a sergeant’s halbert, the men giving three cheers. This trophy was kept for the night with the regimental quarter guard, and Lieut.-Colonel Hardinge sent to Major-General Pringle on the following morning, to know what was to be done with the eagle. ‘Send it to the man who took it,’ was the reply: and Lieutenant Pearce carried it on the march the next day and night, and delivered it the following day, the first time a halt was made, at head-quarters, at a village from which Lord Wellington wrote his despatch about the battle.[10]

In the footnotes further details were included;

In order to mark its identity, Lieutenant Pearce scratched his name on the pedestal with a nail. Some years after, he went to see the eagles which had been removed from Whitehall Chapel to Chelsea College. Lieut.-Colonel Le Blanc, then Major of the Hospital, told him there was one that could not be accounted for, which he recognised as that captured by himself at Salamanca. Since the period of this visit it has been ascertained that one was missing, and it is considered it must be the eagle in question. Captain Ford, Captain of Invalids, Chelsea Hospital, in a paper published in. ‘Colburn’s United Service Journal’ for April 1844, states that the two eagles taken at Salamanca were then in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.[11]

Thus, the eagle was captured without its pole, but it is shown in Orme’s drawing mounted on a pole, which was presumably one of those recovered from the battlefield without eagles, as described by ‘one of Colonel Greville’s brigade’ in 1844.[12]

The history of the 30th Foot was published in 1887, but despite describing Salamanca over two pages, it made no mention of the regiment capturing an eagle.[13]

In 1912 Edward Fraser published The War Drama of the Eagles, in which he repeats Pearce’s description of the capture of the eagle of the 62e Ligne with some differences in detail. The biggest of these details is his description of the capture of the eagle of the 22e Ligne, ‘it was captured by a British officer of the 30th, Ensign Pratt, attached for duty to Major Cruikshank’s [sic] 7th Portuguese a light infantry (or Caçadores) battalion, serving with the Third Division.[14] This account contains several errors and is contradicted by the history of the 44th Foot. Ensign Pratt was never attached to any Portuguese unit, as evidenced by his own statement of service and Challis’s Peninsular Roll Call.[15]

In 1914, Oman published his history in which he stated ‘The 5th Division swept in some 1,500 prisoners from them, as also the eagle of the 22nd Line, which the heavy brigade had broken in their last effort, while five guns were taken by the 4th Dragoons’.[16]

In 1923 Neil Bannatyne published his updated and expanded History of the Thirtieth Regiment, now the First Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 1689-1881. In his account, Bannatyne describes Pearce taking the eagle of the 62e Ligne but has Pratt and Maguire taking fanions of two other battalions of that regiment rather than the banderoles of the 2e and 3e Porte-aigles as shown by Orme.[17]

On 10 September 1947, the Burnley Express and News reported, next to the cricket scores, that the eagle of the 22e Ligne was to be handed over by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea to the East Lancashire Regiment on 28 September 1947. The eagle was to be kept in the Regimental Museum within the Towneley Hall Museum, in Burnley. On 4 October 1947, The Sphere published a report on the handover ceremony complete with photographs.

From The Sphere, 4 October 1947. The original caption reads: ‘The Chelsea Pensioners parade with the colours and battle trophies; the veterans lined up before handing the standards and guidons to the Governor of the Royal Hospital, who, in turn, placed them in the keeping of representatives of the ten regiments concerned’

Conclusions

This survey of the literature regarding the capture of the eagle of 22e Ligne, is remarkable in that neither history of the 30th Foot made any claim for the capture of the eagle by Ensign John Pratt, who himself appears never to have claimed it. The ‘myth’ appears to rest on Edward Fraser’s erroneous interpretation of John Garland’s letter, Crookshank’s statement of service and Leith Hay’s ‘Major Birmingham’, although none of these sources are in Fraser’s ‘authorities consulted’.[18]

Having been captured by men of Caçadores N.12, the eagle of the 22e Ligne should be more appropriately displayed in the Museu Militar de Lisboa.

You can order Glory is Fleeting: New Scholarship on the Napoleonic Wars from the Helion and Company website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/glory-is-fleeting-new-scholarship-on-the-napoleonic-wars.php


[1] Museum website, available at;<http://www.lancashireinfantrymuseum.org.uk/the-salamanca-eagle/&gt;, accessed 24 October 2020.

[2] The Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 750679, Battle of Salamanca: trophies taken from French. 22 July 1812.

[3] J. Gurwood, The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington (London: John Murray, 1852), Vol.V, p.756.

[4] University of Manchester Library (UML), GB 133 Eng MSS 1273: Correspondence of Sir William Henry Pringle.

[5] Arquivo Municipal de Mafra (AMM), PT/AMM/CFLLTV/TT-MNE/091.

[6] J. Philippart, The Royal Military Calendar (London: T.Egerton 1821), Vol.III, p.335.

[7] The National Archives, Kew (TNA), WO25/790/93, John Pratt’s 1829 Statement of service.

[8] W.F.B. Napier, History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France from the year 1807 to 1814 (London: Constable, 1993), Vol.V, pp.168–180.

[9] Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 22 June 1844.

[10] Thomas Carter, Historical Record of the Forty Fourth or the East Essex Regiment of Foot (London: W.O. Mitchell, 1864), pp.78–80.

[11] Carter, Forty Fourth Foot, pp.78–9.

[12] Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 25 May 1844.

[13] Anon., Historical Records of XXX Regiment (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1887), pp.96–98.

[14] Edward Fraser, The War Drama of the Eagles (New York: Dutton and Co., 1912), p.254; however the Historical Record of the 44th Foot is not amongst the ‘authorities consulted’.

[15] TNA, WO25/790/93, John Pratt’s 1829 Statement of service.

[16] Charles Oman, History of the Peninsular War (London: Greenhill, 1996) Vol.V, p.453.

[17] N. Bannatyne, History of the Thirtieth Regiment, now the First Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 1689-1881 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1923), p.279.

[18] Edward Fraser, The War Drama of the Eagles (New York: Dutton and Co., 1912), p.xv.

At the Point of the Bayonet

By Robert Griffith

Rowland Hill was perhaps Wellington’s most trusted subordinate. He was nicknamed ‘Daddy Hill’ by his troops because he so evidently cared for their well-being, which perhaps says as much for other generals of his era as it does about him. Historian Charles Oman, near the end of his A History of the Peninsular War, wrote ‘I have never seen a hard word of ‘Daddy Hill’ in any of the hundred Peninsular diaries that I have read’” However, there was much more to him than just compassion and kindness. The battles of Arroyomolinos and Almaraz, in 1811 and 1812 respectively, illustrate that he did not let his concern for his men stop him driving them hard, when needed, or risking their lives when the situation demanded it.

Hill had been a brigade commander during the 1808 campaign to drive the French out of Portugal, had marched with Moore into Spain that winter, and then returned to the Peninsula in the spring of 1809 and played prominent roles in the battles of Oporto and Talavera. When the army was reorganised Hill was given command of the 2nd Division and in December 1809 he was Wellington’s first choice for an independent command covering the southern approaches to Portugal.

Hill became ill in the winter of 1810 to 1811 and returned to Britain to recover. In his absence Beresford took over his command and fought the bloody Battle of Albuera. Hill returned soon afterwards to find his division shattered. He resumed his role covering the southern flank and became engaged in a tedious round of advances and retreats across the Spanish province of Extremadura. In October a French division moved forward to raise contributions from the town of Cáceres, driving Spanish troops back to the Portuguese border. Hill decided to manoeuvre forward to force the French to retreat. It was a dance that he and his French opponents had performed before and he did not seriously expect that the experienced French commander, Général de Division Jean-Baptiste Girard, would allow himself to be brought to battle.

Most Britons now think of Spain as a sunny holiday destination but the winters in the hills and mountains of the interior can be cold and wet. Hill’s British, Portuguese and Spanish force marched through torrential rain and squalls towards Cáceres. The roads were so dreadful that some of the artillery had to turn back. The troops slept in the open and had soon outpaced the commissary carts carrying their rations. After five days they were tired, wet and hungry. Girard had heard of their approach and so, as expected, had begun his withdrawal. However, Hill learnt that he had halted at the village of Arroyomolinos. Despite the fatigue of his troops Hill decided that he would make one last push to try and catch the French, and on the night of the 27th of October the allied army halted just a couple of miles from them. During the night Hill quietly pushed his men forward into position for an attack. The weather was still dire, with the commander of the 92nd Foot, the Gordon Highlanders, referring to the morning of the 28th as ‘one of the most dreadful mornings for wind and rain I ever remembered’ – which is saying something coming from a Scot.

Girard had failed to post adequate pickets, and Hill’s men managed almost complete surprise with many of the enemy’s first inkling of their presence the pipers of the 92nd playing Hey Johnnie Cope are ye waukin’ yet. The highlanders charged into the village while other troops encircled it on the flanks. Girard’s only escape route was across the hills behind the town, and a long pursuit ended with him only saving around 500 men of the two brigades who had been in the village when Hill attacked, one brigade having already marched off before the action.

The 92nd Foot, the Gordon Highlanders, charge into Arroyomolinos on the morning of 28 October 1811 as the Duc d’Arenberg and other officers of 27e Chasseurs à Cheval emerge from their quarters. (Original artwork by Christa Hook (www.christahook.co.uk) © Helion & Co.)

Hill received a knighthood and much praise for the victory. It came at the end of a difficult year for Wellington’s army where, despite winning battles, they had not been able to break the stalemate in the Peninsula. Arroyomolinos earned the 2nd Division the nickname of ‘the surprisers’ and many of the memoirs and journals from the division relate how pleased the officers and men that Hill led were at the praise heaped upon their well-loved commander. Lieutenant Moyle Sherer of the 34th Foot wrote:

One thing in our success at Arroyo de Molinos gratified our division highly; it was a triumph for our General, a triumph all his own. He gained great credit for this well conducted enterprise, and he gained what, to one of his mild, kind, and humane character, was still more valuable, a solid and a bloodless victory; for it is certainly the truest maxim in war, ‘that conquest is twice achieved, where the achiever brings home full numbers.

During the winter of 1811 into 1812 Hill and his men resumed their game of cat and mouse with the French. Wellington captured the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo early in the new year and then came south to tackle Badajoz. With both fortresses that guarded the approaches to Portugal secure he could at last contemplate moving deeper into Spain. However, it was vital that the French forces, that still vastly outnumbered his own troops, were prevented from uniting against him. So, he determined to destroy the main crossing across the river Tagus near Almaraz which would prevent the French armies in the north and south from coming to each other’s aid. He chose Hill for the job.

Hill gathered a mixed British and Portuguese force and marched deep into French territory. The pontoon bridge near Almaraz was protected by several small but formidable fortifications, including one on a vital mountain pass that covered the only route down to the river for artillery. An initial night attack on that fort failed after the French were alerted by an accidental shot. Hill had also been trying to get down to the bridge via a small goat track but the terrain was so difficult that the troops were nowhere near the bridge by morning.

Hill paused and regrouped. He considered another attack on the fort at the pass but that could take time he did not have. The garrison at the crossing would have sent for reinforcements which were only a day’s march away. Instead, he ordered a diversionary attack at the pass while he again led a British brigade, and a Portuguese regiment, plus two companies of the 5/60th Rifles, through the mountains down to the bridge. The paths were so narrow and winding that the scaling ladders had to be cut in half. By daylight Hill’s men were near the bridge, but still spread out.

They formed up behind a low ridge and charged towards the main position overlooking the crossing, Fort Napoleon. The main assault was by two columns of the 50th Foot, and one of the 71st Highland Light Infantry. The rest of the 71st and the 92nd looped around to attack the bridge itself. The strongest part of the fort was assaulted by No.4 Company of the 50th led by Captain Robert Candler, 34 years old, from Colchester in Essex. Candler was first up the ladders and waived his sword, urging his men to push forward. He was quickly hit by several shots and fell dead inside the fort. The 50th and then 71st managed to overpower the French on the walls and the enemy’s resistance crumbled. The French cut the bridge and those on the far side fled, leaving their comrades to drown or be captured trying to swim across the river.

The original plan had called for artillery support and more than two brigades, but Hill had taken the risk to attempt the task with far less and won, although the casualties amongst the 50th especially were severe. The bridge and the forts were destroyed, and Hill retired before the French could react. Hill and his men again gained much credit from their victory. Wellington was convinced it was a key strategic point in the 1812 campaign:

I think we are now in a great situation. The blow which I made Hill strike a few days ago upon the enemy’s establishment at Almaraz has given me the choice of lines of operation for the remainder of the campaign, and do what we will we shall be safe. If I have luck we may do great things; at all events, the campaign is ours, I believe.

Both Arroyomolinos and Almaraz were small victories in the wider sweep of the long Peninsular War but they illustrate that Hill was far more than just ‘Daddy Hill’ and a safe pair of hands. He was also a general of considerable skill and daring.

You can now order At the Point of the Bayonet: The Peninsular War Battles of Arroyomolinos and Almaraz 1811-1812 here.

Hungary 1848: Europe’s Biggest Unknown War

By Chris Pringle

1848 is known as the year of revolution. Yet the Hungarian War of Independence (“the ‘48”), the largest and most violent revolution of that turbulent year, is almost unknown outside its home country. This conflict involved over half a million men and lasted a whole year. It encompassed a dozen major battles, many smaller actions, and some epic sieges, but is largely ignored.

The major focus of my own interest is on European wars of the nineteenth century, and particularly the large battles of the period from the point of view of strategy, generalship and grand tactics. In attempting to learn about the Hungarian battles of 1848­-1849 it became apparent that sources in English were almost non-existent, and those that did exist were limited or flawed. Given the scale of the war, this is a huge and unfortunate gap.

Since 2015 I have been collaborating with Professor Nicholas Murray of the US Naval War College on a series of English editions of previously untranslated military histories by that giant of military theory, Carl von Clausewitz. Consequently, my German translation skills are quite well honed. In addition, for other personal projects over the years, I have learned enough rudimentary Hungarian to use sources in that language as well. In order to learn about the 1848-1849 battles in Hungary, I became very familiar with some of the main Hungarian histories as well as the Austrian ones. Having established myself as a translator by publishing Clausewitz’s history of 1796, it seemed a natural progression to build on that and on my growing knowledge of the ’48 by publishing Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign – an English edition of the Austrian (semi-)official history of the first half of the war – to fill this void in the English-language literature. Helion was kind enough to oblige.

I was first attracted to the ’48 through a general interest in Eastern Europe and particularly in that period of warfare. I’ve always found it appealing to explore obscure and esoteric corners of history, and this one is certainly well-hidden. Once the quest was begun, it turned out to be incredibly rewarding because the campaigns are so richly complex and varied, there is a colourful cast of characters, and it offers all the fascinating episodes and drama you would expect from a war of this extent and duration. Furthermore, the battles provide some great tabletop challenges for the wargamer.

I was struck by some signal feats of generalship. On the Hungarian side, General Artúr Görgei performed astonishing feats to bamboozle and out-manoeuvre his opponents, both in attack and defence; among the mountains of Transylvania, the veteran Polish revolutionary Józef ‘Papa’ Bem conducted a campaign of lightning manoeuvre and aggressive attacks worthy of the Bonaparte of 1796. For the Austrian monarchy, Field Marshal Windisch-Grätz’s ‘McClellanesque’ caution in the Winter Campaign contrasts strongly with Haynau’s ruthlessly determined and ultimately victorious Summer Campaign.

If the original narrative history of the events of the war is not fascinating enough, I hope my editorial annotations have enhanced it further. I have added a lot of commentary on and analysis of the operations, both tactical and strategic, which I hope will help readers reflect on the commanders’ decisions and reach their own conclusions.

Biographical notes reveal which Hungarian generals then went on to fight for the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War, or who found the Hungarian crown jewels at the end of the war, or who got beaten up by angry brewery workers when he visited England. Footnotes include little nuggets like the importance of floating ship-mills on the major rivers, or the Hapsburg salt monopoly.

I am particularly proud of the large set of maps I created for the book. Each of these includes a text panel that summarises the action they portray. The idea is that, simply by reading through the maps and following the action, the reader can get a clear picture of the shape of what was a very complex war on several fronts.

Like any major war, the Hungarian War of Independence has other dimensions than the purely military. There is international great power politics in play; there is also the intense factionalism in the Hungarian camp between the radical revolutionaries and their more conservative, constitutionally minded rivals. The tensions and personality clashes in the Hungarian hierarchy are matched among the Austrian commanders by the entertaining sight of Windisch-Grätz trying to control his subordinates, the excessively aggressive Schlik and the erratic Jellacic. At the socio-economic level, there is the friction among the different ethnic groups in the Kingdom of Hungary, showing itself at its most bitter in the Serb and Vlach (Romanian) insurrections in southern Hungary (now northern Serbia) and Transylvania. For modern military professionals, there is contemporary resonance in the asymmetric nature of the campaign as an exercise in counterinsurgency.

I therefore hope that publishing this book will help the Hungarian War of Independence to be recognised as the epic struggle it was.

Miracles in 6mm! The Hungarian army of 1848-1949 in 1/300 scale.

Figures by Baccus (mostly adapted from Baccus’s American Civil War and Risorgimento ranges); flags by Maverick Models; painting by Richard Morrill. Photos by kind permission of Richard Morrill.

Jägers, Polish Legion, scythe-armed militia, grenadiers, German Legion, Tyrolean Jägers
Assorted honvéds, including the famous 9th battalion in their red kepis.
Colourful national guards flanking former imperial line infantry in their old white tunics.
Various hussar regiments escorting the artillery, including a rocket launch stand and crew.
The high command: Görgei, Bem, Klapka, et al.

***

Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign will soon be followed by its natural sequel, Hungary 1849: The Summer Campaign (also from Helion). Together these will provide a complete history of the war. At the time of writing this blog post, the translation is finished and the editorial annotations almost complete. The maps will be a substantial task, but the work will be delivered to Helion later this year for publication in 2022.

I am also preparing a Bloody Big BATTLES! campaign volume on the Hungarian War of Independence for publication in 2022. This will include 15 wargame scenarios for the most important battles of the war.

***

Chris Pringle’s previous three books are all Clausewitz translations:

Napoleon’s 1796 Italian Campaign

Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 1

The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 2

He is also responsible for a popular wargames ruleset, Bloody Big BATTLES!, for refighting nineteenth-century battles.

He lives in Oxford, UK, and is an academic publisher. His time as a junior officer in the Territorial Army left him with an abiding interest in the challenge of making soldiers do things they don’t particularly want to do. A lifelong wargamer, his focus is on recreating large historical battles. He maintains the Bloody Big BATTLES Blog to report his exploits in that domain.

Finishing the Armies and Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715

By René Chartrand

Volume 4 is in the editing process and will be published this year thus putting the final touch to this series. Like the previous volumes, it is basically divided into two parts, the first chapters being a narrative of the strategic, geopolitical and financial challenges and ambitions that were faced by Louis XIV who reigned and transformed France and the world around it from his accession as an infant in 1643 to his passing in 1715. 

Part One

His young years were shadowed by civil wars as well as near permanent conflicts, with Spain in particular, then a decaying kingdom vainly trying to keep its eminence in Europe. Other countries were vying for that lofty position, but few had the resources, population and capacity as a unified state to fill the post. France with its population of some 20 million souls, well over double the population of its neighbours, situated in a lush and well-exploited land that already had its share of leading scientist, intellectuals, artists, financiers and a large middle class. It could become Europe’s superpower if internal peace was achieved and its vast resources used to build up its untapped might. 

Amongst the characteristics of the young king that assumed autocratic power in 1661 was his passion for order and his determination to impose it so as to realise his aim: the definite elevation of France as the greatest power in Europe. Thus, strategic links on various events that cover wide areas are made in all volume. In that regard, the other great power was the Ottoman Turk Empire and whatever it did in the East had a strategic effect on western Europe, which we observe in our series.

Even today, statesmen, diplomats and senior military officers are always somewhat reserved about the equation that affirms that no nation can be a really influential world power without very large and modern armed forces. Yet, human History since Antiquity confirms the notion. The young Sun King, admirer of Antiquity, strongly believed that the somewhat decrepit French army he inherited had to be transformed and expanded if the vision of a greater France was to be achieved. 

Part Two

This leads us into the second part of each volume, which deals specially with the “nuts and bolt” of the army in its organisation, its command systems, its qualities and faults and its material culture. This last aspect is a most important one to the author, and not only because he spent most of his professional life as curator, but also as a historian. It is important to explain why, which and how weapons and clothes were used by soldiers; it satisfies the basic instinct of curiosity all humanity shares as to what were things like in the past. History is ourselves, and so, how did military men in the days of the Sun King look like and how did they live? 

Of other important aspects on the efficiency of a modern army, the advent of a flow of regulations signed De Par Le Roy (by the King) to bring order and discipline over a force that went from a fairly informal affair dominated by nobles to a centrally managed institution imposed by the Sun King and his ministers from the 1660s. These practices were followed by all other armies. 

The amazing growth of the size of the French regular army, which reached nearly half a million men in arms by the 1690s, put tremendous pressure on its rivals to equal such a force. We found that the French cavalry alone had some 100,000 troopers, by far the highest of any other nation’s cavalry in western Europe. As readers of Vol. 3 know, the author being from a family of horsemen had a great time presenting such things as saddlery. By the late 1680s, however, there were worries that not enough Frenchmen would join the army. The Sun King came up with the first modern system of national military service by an annual draft of young villagers that, by the early 1700s, made up a notable part of the regular army. 

Into Vol. 4

Vol. 4 is certainly a very rich ground regarding geopolitical strategy in western Europe itself and, in its first part, while reviewing the extraordinary campaigns by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene in Flanders, Germany and Italy, a deeper look into the War of Spanish Succession fought in Spain is given. It was, after all, the object of the struggle as to who would be King of Spain “and the Indies” between the Sun King’s grandson of the Austrian Emperor’s brother. Most of the Spanish people supported the Sun King’s grandson and, led by excellent tacticians Berwick and Vendôme, the renewed Spanish army with many French troops triumphed. Elsewhere, inept marshals and princes were roundly defeated to the point where one can only admire the resilience of the Sun King, his armies and his nation. We have looked into the financing of wars in each volume, but in Vol. 4, we see it as a main factor for Britain’s withdrawal from the allied camp from 1711. This coincided with the advent of the brilliant and daring Marshal Villars whose victory at Denain basically sealed the end of the struggle. 

The second part of Vol. 4 reviews artillery, engineering and explores in some detail two other as yet largely unstudied topics that particularly drew our attention: 1) the militarised constabulary forces and local regular military units throughout the kingdom apart from the regular army. We found many thousands of such militarised armed and uniformed troops not only in Paris, but surely in every city and  town. 2) the militia. Every major city (except Paris) and all towns in France had Bourgeois militia units with elite Privileged Companies that were often uniformed and well armed. The men in all coastal areas were obliged to enlist in the coast-guard militia. Some of these units were in action against the enemy and usually did quite well. There seems to be so far no reliable documents on their numbers, but a conservative estimate would be at least half a million Bourgeois militiamen with up to 200,000 coast-guardsmen. The Sun King sometimes implied the importance of this national reserve and, as with everything else he did seriously, it was no empty bluff.

The French army in trenches during the siege of Tournai in late June 1667. At the right foreground, a royal servant wearing a blue livery coats hold the Sun King’s white horse. The king is hazily seen in the background standing above the trench. Painting by van der Meulen. Musée Magnin, Dijon. Author’s photo.
French attack on Aardenberg, June 1672. A large French force failed to take the town defended by only 40 Dutch soldiers and a few hundred militiamen. It was one of the few successes in an otherwise very difficult year for the Netherlands. Detail from an unsigned contemporary print. Rijksmuseum, Courtesy Amsterdam. RP-P-OB-77.104.
The Dauphin Dragoon Regiment in action on the Rhine front, c. 1712. Print after Maurice Leloir. Private collection. Author’s photo.
Artillery on the march, last third of the 17th century. Print after Molzheim. Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library, Providence, RI, USA. Author’s photo.

You can register interest in The Armies and Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715 Volume 4 here.