Re-assessing the Grand Old Duke

By Philip Ball

HRH The Duke of York (NYPL)

Personally, I am very glad that the French Revolutionary Wars are finally increasing in prominence, as they surely are with the From Reason to Revolution series. As a schoolboy and undergraduate I studied the Revolution itself but the wars it occasioned were always something that was going on elsewhere; to be manipulated by the various political factions in the National Assembly or a threat to the existence of the newly fledged Republic. The wars themselves rarely got a mention. I always thought this was odd as the Napoleonic Wars which came immediately afterwards are immensely popular with writers, wargamers, and those with an interest in history. The French Revolutionary Wars involved many of the same characters as those later wars, colourful costumes, a plethora of set piece battles, and can hardly be bettered for sheer drama. The great victories thrown away through folly, the brilliance and ineptitude shown in equal measure by both sides, and the chaotic unpredictability of the French Republic at war make for an exciting area of study.

Whilst working at the Museum of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment I came across reference to the Helder campaign.  This, I read, was a campaign fought by the British army alongside Russian allies, to provoke a counter revolution in the Netherlands. Two battalions of the regiment had fought in this campaign but I had never heard of it and could find little written about it. So, I was drawn to this period through a lack of information, the exploration of something familiar and yet unknown. I later wrote my Masters dissertation on the failure of the Helder campaign and was moved to research the Duke of York’s previous campaign; that fought in Flanders 1793-95. This, as it turned out, was quite a large subject and is known to us today largely through the nursery rhyme ‘The Grand old Duke of York’, so I felt that this was a large gap in the history of the period which needed filling.

The Duke of York, as the nursery rhyme would imply, did little to enhance his military reputation in the course of this campaign which, like the later one, ended in an ignominious withdrawal on the part of British forces and the surrender of the Netherlands to French forces. There have been attempts in recent years to revive the reputation of the Duke of York; to paint him as an early Eisenhower, holding coalitions together with his diplomacy and a general able to defeat his enemy when allowed to exercise independent command. Unfortunately there is little evidence of any of this when we look closely at the conduct of this operation. As the famous Gillray cartoon, ‘Fatigues of the Campaign in Flanders’, suggests, York seems to have lived well on campaign (he was accompanied by a vast retinue of cooks and liveried footmen) while his troops struggled with supply issues. An English lady visiting the Duke said that he was constantly surrounded by a coterie of young staff officers and rarely dined with the commanders of his army which did not endear him to them or give him the opportunity to discuss issues with the army. When the outgoing Hanoverian commander, Marshal Freytag went to report to his Elector (George III of England) York wrote a very telling letter to his father, the King, saying that he wasn’t to believe anything the old veteran said about York being perpetually drunk.

‘Fatigues of the Campaign in Flanders’, Cartoon by James Gillray (Public Domain)

York didn’t spend very much time with his army and when it wasn’t actually on the march he tended to find comfortable quarters away from camp. At the battle of Beaumont the army had to wait, drawn up to repel the French attackers, while York was fetched from his bed. It is not unsurprising therefore that the army, which is said by some to have been the worst to have ever left England, suffered some problems with indiscipline.  In  a war that was being pitched to the British taxpayer and the world in general as a crusade against the beastly excesses of republicanism, the British army committed a number of atrocities against the civilians it was supposed to be saving and upset almost as many allies as its commander did.

York’s biggest failing as a commander was perhaps the way in which acted towards his allies. In the later Helder campaign he was accused of being loudly critical of his Russian allies and it seems he was no different in Flanders. A young man, son of the King, fond of drink and rowdy company, he probably saw nothing wrong with his behaviour but his letters home are full of contempt for his allies, whom he blamed for every mishap he encountered.

This book has a number of themes but perhaps the central one is the difficulty of keeping coalitions together. The force that York was part of consisted of; troops of the Austrian Empire; Germans, Hungarians, Croats and Slavs, the Prussians and the Dutch, as well as various mercenary troops in the pay of Britain. All of the states involved had different motivations for being in the coalition and hoped for different things from the war. The various contingents were commanded by professional and experienced soldiers who doubtless resented York’s, widely broadcast criticism.

Whilst the personal feelings of the commanders did not have as much effect on the future of the coalition as the manoeuvring of their political masters, it almost certainly affected relations between the armies. Some commentators have even alleged that Austrian generals deliberately abandoned York to his fate at the Battle of Tourcoing due to their personal antipathy towards him. Remarkable as this is, by the end of the campaign the Dutch, the very nation that the British contingent had been sent to defend, were exhibiting more sympathy to the invading French than to their erstwhile allies and began negotiations while the British were still in the country.

So, this is a tale of personalities and alliances; it is also an account of a large number of battles. The campaign in Flanders seems to have been extraordinarily hard-fought: although the battles achieved little as the action see-sawed across Flanders, some towns changing hands several times, there were lots of them. For me one of the most interesting parts of this story is phenomenon of the republican war machine; the genesis of total war. This is a period that holds an almost mythological status in the annals of French military history; the ragged, starving, but ideological armies, led by men soon to be household names (Carnot, Jourdan, Vandamme, Macdonald, Bernadotte and Bonaparte to name a few) saved the republic from autocratic forces bent on its destruction.  What we see is the entire resources of a nation flung with abandon against its enemies. This book examines the effectiveness of the forces they raised and casts a critical light on the legends.   

‘Le désagrément d’être joli garçon’ (Anne S.K. Brown Collection)

After two years of bloody but fruitless campaigning the coalition failed. The vast hydra-like forces of the French Republic wore down the allies’ will to fight. Although generally successful on the field, the coalition lacked the clarity of vision to concentrate its efforts and was overwhelmed by French numbers and aggression. Numerous defeats did not seem to dent the republican war machine and as the coalition foundered it returned to the offensive.  The Prussians went back to pick over the carcass of Poland, the Austrians fell back to their own territory, and the Dutch surrendered, becoming a satellite of France until 1814. York was removed from his post and sent home to command the army from Whitehall while his men endured one of those harrowing retreats which dot the landscape of British military history.  They would return eventually, but spent most of the war nibbling at the rind of France in limited amphibious operations.

Neither Up Nor Down is part of our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series, and can be ordered from the Helion & Company website here.

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).

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.

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.

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.

The Secret Expedition. The Anglo-Russian Invasion of Holland 1799

By Geert van Uythoven

North Holland, 10 September 1799:

At daybreak the English spotted our advance guard, setting fire to the windmill in front of St. Maarten and opening fire on us with their batteries. On this spot, where the dragoon detachment had to remain in place, we were greeted by the fire of a howitzer of the enemy, which killed four of our horses. A dragoon’s cartridge-box was ignited and this set his uniform on fire. Only his presence of mind saved him, jumping quickly into a ditch filled with water, and the fire was extinguished. In the meanwhile the 1st Lieutenant Hoevenaar ordered his dragoons to close up, at which moment the detachment was hit by a 12-pdr cannon ball, which wounded a horse badly: the horse lost his complete forehead between the eyes and the nose, and it was necessary to shoot the animal. After this had taken place, two guns from the horse artillery arrived, commanded by Captain d’Anguerand. He deployed in front of the dragoons, and the accompanying caisson was placed at the same spot the dragoons were. The dragoons had no other option as to deploy in a new position, left of the road, close to the caisson and a small house, because there was not enough room to deploy properly.

After a short while a shell from a howitzer fell amidst of the horse-team of the caisson and three of the horses were killed instantly. Because we were so close near this caisson, it was lucky that the exploding shell did not hit the caisson itself, because when this would have happened surely the whole dragoon detachment and everyone near it would have been killed. It is commonly known that the terrain, where we fight on in Holland, has narrow roads and is intersected by many ditches and canals, which makes fighting very difficult.

Thus, Lieutenant Hoevenaar of the Batavian Dragoon Regiment describes his participation in the attack on the English positions in the Zijpe on 10 September 1799. His account illustrates that, contrary to the British and Orangist beliefs, the Batavian army was willing to fight for their country and did not run or defect at the first sight of the British. At a certain moment, the British Lieutenant General Abercromby even doubted the outcome of the battle and prepared for re-embarkation. Yet the common British expectation of an easy and victorious campaign was not surprising: years of polarisation between the Patriots and Orangists had divided the Dutch to the bone, not unlike the Democrats and Republicans in today’s USA. These divisions were also the main reason that the French were able to overrun the Dutch Republic easily in 1795, creating the French puppet state called the Batavian Republic. Hearing about the allegedly growing resentment of the Dutch against their French oppressors, a rising en masse of the Dutch population was to be expected.

The campaign had started well enough for the British: although their beach landing was opposed and fiercely contested, the swift capture of Den Helder provided a safe port. The subsequent capture of the Batavian fleet at the Vlieter, without a shot being fired, strengthened their belief that the Batavian Republic was ripe for capture and the reinstatement of the House of Orange. With the British army reinforced by a substantial contingent of the formidable Russian army, the capture of Amsterdam would be a matter of time. As so often, the situation under the surface proved to be much more complex and challenging.

In writing The Secret Expedition I tried to provide the reader with a thorough insight in all this. Treating all nations and armies participating, sketching the political situation and the events leading up to this remarkable campaign, where British and Russians joined forces in an effort to turn the tide against the French rule of a large part of Europe, I studied the battles that were fought, which are described in detail, leading often to a fresh insight contrary to those of previous historians, who often copied supposed facts without challenging them. The text further includes many quotes and accounts to provide the reader with a ‘look and feel’ of how the participants experienced the events during these memorable months, in a campaign during which the reputation of many participants was built or came to an abrupt end.

The new paperback edition of Geert van Uythoven’s The Secret Expedition: The Anglo-Russian Invasion of Holland 1799 is available to order from the Helion website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-secret-expedition-the-anglo-russian-invasion-of-holland-1799.php

Defeat of a British outpost near Schoorldam
Zijpe polder seen from the Westfriesche Zeedijk between Eenigenburg and St Maarten
Zijpe Sluices

The Siege of Fort Augustus

By Jonathan Oates

275 years ago on this day, 5 March 1746, Major Hugh Wentworth, deputy governor of Fort Augustus (built 1729-1742, at the south-western end of Loch Ness), surrendered his fort to the Jacobite besiegers. Guided by artilleryman Major James Grant, the Jacobites made the best use of their few small calibre guns; or maybe they were plain lucky: ‘For while the walls were being bombarded by the artillery, a shot fell into the powder magazine. The powder ignited, and large pieces of masonry being blown up, a breach was made in the fort on this side’.

The fort’s Master Gunner later stated that the Jacobite guns blew up the powder barrels and cartridges on the turret of Wade’s Bastion. There had also been a shell on the court room and damage to the roof on the north side. No one had been injured, though, and the well was undamaged.

Fort Augustus (Map by George Anderson © Helion and Company)

Was Wentworth right in surrendering? His Master Gunner thought not. He argued ‘That the major and the other officers of the Garrison were mistaken in their assertion when they say there was no place of safety for the men to retire to or to boil their pots, for it appears that besides the vaults their common barracks were proof against any shells the rebels had to throw into the fort’. He concluded that it was ‘ignorance and panick that seized them all’.

How long they could have continued such resistance is a moot point. Cumberland did not think it was a strong point and the Board of Enquiry into the fort’s surrender later found, after studying the plans of the fort and having read statements from witnesses, ‘that the fort was defenceless. But do think that they ought to have delayed capitulating until the batteries had been playing upon them’.

Coehorn Mortar, as used in many of the sieges during 1745 and 1746 (Collection at Kedleston Hall, Photo by Brian Stone)

The result of that surrender was that part of the Jacobite army, including Grant and his guns, would go on to besiege Fort William, which was rather more strongly defended and guided by a more resolute defender. Not only did Fort William hold out, in a siege that lasted from 20 March to 3 April 1746, but the Jacobites were then decisively defeated at Culloden on 16 April. The capture of Fort Augustus, as things turned out, was the last major Jacobite military success.

Dr Jonathan Oates tells the story of this and the surprisingly large number of other sieges that took place in Scotland and England during 1745 and 1746, in his book The Sieges of the ’45: Siege Warfare during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746, which is available from the Helion and Company website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-sieges-of-the-45-siege-warfare-during-the-jacobite-rebellion-of-1745-1746.php

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801

By Charles White

Chuck White talks about the writing of his recent book, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801, for our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series.

If you are a student of German military prowess, then you need to read my book. Although much ink has been spilled on the subject of German military history over the past three centuries, with campaign and battle studies, memoirs, biographies, uniform plates and guides, orders of battle, wargames, and much more, far too much time and energy has been sadly devoted to the 12 years of the Nazi period. No other period of German history has been dissected more. For many, it would seem, Germany has only twelve years of history, from 1933 to 1945. Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is an attempt to rectify this sorry state of affairs. 

The origins of my book began during my junior year at West Point (1972-73). During the spring semester I took my first elective (we were given only six), which was a history course entitled, ‘War and Society’, taught by the academy’s first visiting professor – Jay Luvaas, a leading American scholar of military history. The research paper topic I drew literally from a hat was ‘The Impact of the Napoleonic Wars on Prussia’. All of the topics were overly broad for a 25-page paper, which gave us cadets some latitude in narrowing our focus on a subject to our liking, with the parameters of our topic. After conducting my preliminary research (and encouraged by Professor Luvaas), I settled on Gerhard von Scharnhorst (1755-1813), the great reformer of the Prussian military establishment following her catastrophic defeat at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.

The title of my paper, ‘Scharnhorst: Father of the Modern Army’, reflected my belief that the modernization program Scharnhorst implemented, though vastly unfinished by his own admission, over time became the model of large professional organizations – first in Prussia, then in Germany, and later (in varying degrees) in every major army in the world. Realizing the severe constraints under which he labored, Scharnhorst wrote to his favorite student and close personal associate, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), on 27 November 1807, advising him:

Who would not risk everything to plant the seed of a new tree, who would not gladly die if he could hope that the fruit would ripen with new strength and vitality! But only one thing can make that possible. We must kindle a sense of independence in the nation; we must enable the nation to understand itself and take up its own affairs; only then will the nation acquire self-respect and compel the respect of others. To work toward that goal is all we can do. To destroy the old forms, remove the ties of prejudice, guide and nurture our revival without inhibiting its free growth – our work cannot go further than that.

Scharnhorst and his associates clearly understood how to proceed in a potentially hostile environment. They planted a new tree, which over time produced the fruits of victory some 50 years later during the Wars of German Unification (1864-71).

After graduating from West Point, I continued my research and study into German military prowess, wondering why the German army continued to captivate so many American soldiers, despite the fact that it was the American army that had defeated the German army in two world wars. Interestingly, whenever I had opportunity to speak with German senior officers (I was stationed in Germany in the 1970s) about their military prowess, they would politely smile and refer me to Scharnhorst and the German notion of Bildung. Interestingly, Scharnhorst regarded the process of Bildung as central to the professional growth of the military leader. A fruit of Germany’s classical age, Bildung was the perfectibility of the individual’s character and intellect through the process of education and training. For Scharnhorst, Bildung was the mental fitness that empowered the military leader. It enabled him to assimilate knowledge from a variety of sources and then to synthesize and fashion that data into an appropriate response to the challenge at hand. It was a recurrent process rather than mere training to accomplish a certain skill.

Chuck White with General der Panzertruppe Hasso von Manteuffel in June 1977 at his home in Bavaria. Chuck spent the day with him, discussing his experiences as a tank leader. At that time Chuck was a First Lieutenant with the 2d Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Bad Kissingen, Germany.

Scharnhorst and Bildung became the central theme of my studies at Duke University, from 1980-86. My Masters’ Thesis focused on Scharnhorst’s efforts to establish a professional military educational program in Prussia. I then spent two wonderful years in Berlin on a Fulbright Fellowship, during which time I researched the holdings of the Prussian Archives, which housed Scharnhorst’s Papers (Nachlaβ Scharnhorst) and other primary and secondary sources. Returning to Duke, I wrote my dissertation on Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-05. Both studies covered Scharnhorst’s endeavors to inculcate Bildung into the Prussian army. Three years later I published my first book, The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 (1989). That study focused primarily on Scharnhorst’s pivotal role as the intellectual father and educator of the Prussian army, whose amazing recovery following its catastrophic defeat in 1806 remains one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Following the publication of The Enlightened Soldier, I embarked on the research and writing of this book. So much is known about Scharnhorst and his activities in Prussian service. So little is known or has been written about his formative years in Hanover, where he carefully crafted and endeavored to implement the modernization program he later realized in part in Prussia. This point is significant. When Scharnhorst arrived in Berlin in 1801, he already had his master plan in mind and continually looked for ways to bring the Prussian army and its leadership in step with the transformation of war shaped by the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

This study of Scharnhorst presents unpublished discoveries about his youth, his education, and his extensive time in Hanoverian service. Scholarship in the field of German history during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries has increased dramatically over the past 30 years; the most significant for this study was the publication of Scharnhorst’s Papers [Nachlaβ Scharnhorst] in eight massive volumes, with over 3,000 documents. These papers formed the foundation upon which I built my story of this enlightened soldier. I used primarily the first two volumes that deal with his long career in Hanover. Selected documents from other volumes are also included.

With the Internet came access to so many key sources that I might not otherwise have been able to obtain and research. Nearly all the rare books and journals I had studied in Germany in the early 1980s are now available on the worldwide web, especially the irreplaceable journals of the University of Bielefeld digital collection. Through the Internet I was also able to connect with other scholars who led me to addition resources and websites.

Returning to my introductory remarks, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is the starting point for those seeking to understand German military prowess. In was in Hanover that Scharnhorst developed the ideals and institutions that made the Prussian and later German armies the model upon which nearly every other major and minor power in the world fashioned its military establishment.

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801 can be ordered from the Helion website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/scharnhorst-the-formative-years-1755-1801.php

The Army of George II

Peter Brown talks about the writing of his recent book for our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series.

If you’re a fan of the British Army of the eighteenth century then you may feel that you don’t need to read this book. After all, much ink has been spilled on the subject over the years, with uniform guides and accounts of the battles and campaigns easily available. Believe me, I was acutely aware of how much was already in print when I sat down to write it.

However, almost all of the work currently available on the army of George II provides the reader with a snapshot of army life. There are many books on the French Indian War, for example, the Jacobite ’45, or the campaign in Germany during the Seven Years War. What appeared to me to be lacking was a view of the army ‘in the round’, so to speak; looking at every aspect of it from the accession of George II in 1727 to around the time of his death in 1760. How did it develop? How was it recruited, trained and disciplined? What were the officers like and how did they learn their trade? What about the medical services, the system of command and control and the changes to all of this that had to be made on campaign? We all know that the army marched to battle, but how exactly was this achieved and who was responsible if it all went wrong?

Fusilier, 23rd Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), War of the Austrian Succession (Reconstruction by Richard Marren Craft Workshop – photograph © Alan ‘Kael’ Ball)

Filling all of these gaps in our knowledge became the aim of the book and it often took me down some very unglamorous roads. I had to begin with the accounts, looking at how the army was funded and who exactly held the purse strings. Readers with a love of military history often do not share a love of eighteenth-century accounting, but none the less, the detail of how the army was funded is necessary if one is to understand why it was always short staffed, under equipped and often much too small to carry out the tasks allocated to it. I also had to explore the often-overlooked topic of logistics, which any military man will tell you can make or break a campaign. The housing, supply and movement of the army from A to B was no easy task and this book explores the intricacies of the system alongside its obvious failings.

The organisation and uniforms of the infantry, cavalry and artillery are dealt with in depth, with a chapter on each arm that tracks the development of their uniform and structure as the century wore on. Details are also provided of their colours, officer distinctions, and the role of the various officers in battle.  The medical facilities available to the army, both on campaign and at home, is not a topic well covered outside academic circles and I wanted to cover this, especially in regard to the aftermath of battle and the treatment wounded soldiers could expect. I was certainly surprised by the key role the soldier’s wives played in this, alongside the general support that they provided not only to the men, but to the regiment they were attached to.  Indeed, they were, in many ways, an invisible and often unrecognised logistical arm. The final chapter looks at how the men and their families mustered out, sometimes with a pension but more often simply laid off when the war ended and left to fend for themselves.

15th Light Dragoons, 1760 (Original artwork by Patrice Courcelle, © Helion & Company)

Writing this book was not all hard slog. From the chapter on recruitment, through the court martial system and on to the officers and their ‘duels of honour’, I found much to smile about. The British squaddie, it would appear, has not changed over the centuries and if there was trouble to get into he was sure to find it. There are some great little stories that I was keen to retain as they show off the indomitable spirit of the British soldier whilst showing the reader that army life was not all floggings and drill.

Going back to my opening paragraph, my aim throughout this project was to fill that hole in your knowledge that previous books on the subject had failed to do. Hopefully by the end of it you should have a complete understanding of the eighteenth-century British Army. It was a joy to research and write and I do hope you enjoy it.

You can order The Army of George II from our website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-army-of-george-ii-1727-1760-the-soldiers-who-forged-an-empire.php

Wellington’s Favourite Engineer?

Since we announced our latest book, several people, have questioned the choice of title. Can we truly say that John Fox Burgoyne was Wellington’s favourite? If so, why him and not other deserving Royal Engineer officers such as Richard Fletcher? Author Mark Thompson explains why he believes Burgoyne to have had pride of place in Wellington’s esteem.

Of course, no-one will ever know for certain. Wellington did not say it, but a look at Burgoyne’s service with the Duke will make such a claim reasonable and explain why I have said this about him and not the senior engineer for most of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Fletcher. Apart from one brief absence, Richard Fletcher was the Commanding Royal Engineer under Wellington from 1809 until his death in September 1813. From reading the correspondence over the period, I would describe Fletcher’s relationship with Wellington as professional rather than warm. Over the duration of the war, Wellington came to respect Fletcher’s advice even when he did not follow it. Fletcher was probably one of the few officers who could ‘speak truth unto power’ to their leader and stay in his role.  As the war continued the relationship appeared to become strained, particularly after the difficulties in the sieges of 1811 and 1812. One scurrilous account suggested that Wellington left Fletcher at Badajoz to make the repairs in 1812 because he blamed him for the high casualties (I do not believe it).  Similarly, Fletcher did not appear to have a friendly relationship with his engineer subordinates. He was a great organiser rather than a great leader.

Burgoyne, on the other hand, was generally well liked and had built close and friendly relationships with most of his fellow engineers who served with him in the Peninsula. Burgoyne had also met several Peninsular generals including John Moore and Thomas Graham and was well respected by them. When Burgoyne first came into contact with Wellington he would have come with positive reviews.  In 1809 Burgoyne was ordered by Wellington to carry out comprehensive surveys of the Douro river and the northern border which.  Later in the year he was the only engineer who was with the army for several months when all others were ordered to Lisbon to start work on the Lines of Torres Vedras. This remained the case until mid-1810 when Fletcher re-joined headquarters. Burgoyne would have seen Wellington regularly through this period and was heavily involved in the preparations for the French invasion, surveying potential routes, mining bridges, preparing fort conception and identifying defensive positions all of which would have required close liaison with his commander.

The incident during the action at El Bodon in 1811 where Burgoyne was ordered to stay with a threatened Portuguese regiment (described in detail in the book) showed Wellington’s confidence in Burgoyne, and willingness to use him in non-engineering roles.

Burgoyne then took senior roles at the sieges of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo but avoided the flak that the chief engineer received. When Fletcher remained at Badajoz in 1812, Burgoyne commanded the engineers with the army even though there was another senior engineer in the Peninsula. He carried out another detailed survey of the Douro which would have been in preparation for the advance in 1813 although he would not have known that at the time. The challenges of the Salamanca forts and the failed siege at Burgos did not appear to impact Wellington’s view of Burgoyne.

On the death of Fletcher at San Sebastian in 1813, Burgoyne took over temporary command again. There were two senior engineer officers in the Peninsula at the time and Wellington did not order either up to the army (one was only 40 miles away).  It was almost certain that Wellington was involved in the decision to appoint Burgoyne to the American expedition of 1814.

Burgoyne’s relationship with Wellington did not finish with the end of the war. Wellington was Master General of the Ordnance from 1819-1827 and is likely to have had direct contact with Burgoyne who was commanding engineer for the Medway District, based at Chatham. Burgoyne was selected to be chief engineer of the expedition to Portugal in 1826 and Wellington would have approved this appointment. In 1831 Burgoyne was appointed to the Board of Public Works in Ireland and his work in that country will not have escaped the attention of the Duke.  Burgoyne’s later civil duties across the nation meant he would have been in contact with ministers during the period that Wellington was in the government. One wonders if Wellington had a hand in some of these appointments.

The claim that Burgoyne was (possibly) Wellingtons Favourite Engineer is based on his regular use of this officer when others could have been used. Wellington clearly had great confidence in him and was happy to use him in the absence of senior engineer officers and sometimes over other army officers. No other senior engineer officer served as long under Wellington during the Peninsular War and survived. This relationship built in war would endure for another thirty years in peace.