Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Peninsular Cavalry General 1811-1813 Book Review

 
 
Peninsular Cavalry General edited by T.H. Mcguffie is a series of letters sent home by Lt. General Robert Ballard Long to his brother Charles. Though in fact it also covers his life up to taking up a post in the Peninsular and has a narrative from the editor. The great thing about Long's earlier life is it is kept fairly brief running to 44 pages but with enough information to be interesting and help understand Long's attitude during the rest of the book.
 
However McGuffie had an agenda in editing this book. The letters are taken from nine volumes so a great deal of Long's correspondence is missing, much of it of no relevance or use in telling the story. But on has to wonder how much material was left out that would harm McGuffie's view of Long. To put it in modern terms, Long was somewhat of a prick! Sure this comes through in the letters but given what you do read you just know so much more is left out. Now I am not saying that I developed a dislike for Long, far from that and I could see where he came from but much of what made Long of interest to McGuffie in the late 40's and indeed to me today was exactly the stuff that would get him treated as he in the end was. Long is great in his inability to hold back his scorn of others whilst taking insult of anything said against him. Add to this his inability to be a good subordinate but seemingly a rather good commander of others. Long curiously though hated war and it's cost of human life and was responsive of the suffering of the Spanish under both French and British actions. Through the whole book the breach between Long and his original commander Berisford is never far from the surface and Long's refusal to let it go was in fact the ultimate reason Long suffered the end of his career in the way the way he did. Not that this was the only friction Long happened to have with his superiors but it was the one that ran the longest (in fact long after his death).
 
What you get from this book is details of the daily life of the commander of a brigade and the little details such as coming across a common soldier burying his brother. Long actually had a good eye for what was to come but with a fair chunk of pessimism that must have drove his superiors nuts. McGuffie does a good job of supplying a summery of the coming chapter and fill in in the detail that helps make the letters more sensible. I have to admit though that to say Long was in action for the best part of three years he seemed to be in far less action than you would expect. His moaning also sometimes gets a bit much and he can be a bit of a bore but overall this book supplies a great deal of information that is not in the typical book about this period.
 
Long did not serve with Wellington until the last campaign, rather he was part of the southern army that mostly acted independently. It's purely conjecture asking the question of would Long have fared better if Wellington had a more direct contact with Long or would it have sped up his return to England? The book provides a few scenario ideas, more of the skirmish variety than set piece and I would recommend the book to anyone  who has beyond a passing interest in the period.
 
I bought my copy at a local book store that stocks many thousands of second hand books as well as a fair few new (Scarthin Books) and doing a search on the Internet it seems very likely this book only had the one printing (1951) but copies of the book are available between £5 and £20 for the most part with the odd copy in excellent condition running to £50+ I  paid £6 for mine and it was money well spent. Modern revisionist works have tended to portray Long in a better light than contemporaries and earlier works, maybe this book and the Napier correspondence have influenced this change of attitude, if so McGuffie will have achieved his aim.

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like the average cavalry commander to me? Great review, might look for the book but little chance to actually find it.

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  2. @ Andrew, in fact he seemed not the average commander. i.e. he was not a charge on sight type. Amazon.uk have a few copies on the marketplace and if it's like amazon.com you still only pay domestic postage charge even if it comes from another Country. Tyr searching Amazon.UK and check out the postage cost.

    Ian

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  3. This is the way to know history. Through the eyes of the people who were there. So much more interesting than dry dates and facts.

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  4. @ Ray, I had fun with it for sure

    @ Anne, I had a history teacher called Tebbit who would disagree with you. Possibly a candidate for worst teacher award.

    Ian

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