HomeSign-inTop

Annual Booklist 2018-2019 : John Morewood

John Morewood read Modern History at Oxford University. He specialises in the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in particular the British cavalry and the Royal Navy. He lectures widely, runs historical tours and is Secretary to the 600 strong Waterloo Association (http://www.waterlooassociation.org.uk/) dedicated to increasing knowledge of the period and helping preserve the Waterloo battlefield. He co-authored “HMS Vanguard at the Nile- the men, the ship, the battle” and wrote "Waterloo General, the Life, Letters and mysterious death of Sir William Ponsonby 1772-1815" which was nominated by Professor Andrew Roberts in The Evening Standard as one of his "Best Buys of 2016". He is currently studying for a PhD at the Institute of Historical Research


I have at this moment a number of concerns about the commissioning of history books in the UK – two of which I will share. The first is the commissioning by publishers of “household names” to write accounts usually at the time of a historical anniversary that, despite the fanfares, in retrospect add very little to our knowledge of the subject matter. The second, linked, and perhaps the opposite side of the demand v supply equation, is certain historians’ belief that they need to produce at least one book a year. Inevitably their contribution is the summation of a number of previously published works which again add very little to our knowledge although they do have better illustrations than their predecessors! The books I have therefore chosen are ones that, in my poor opinion, have added valuable new insights as a result of the author undertaking original research.


Andrew Bamford’s “Gallantry and Discipline—the 12th Light Dragoons at War with Wellington” Frontline Books London 2014 provides just this. Ian Fletcher’s “Galloping at Everything” was a long-needed reassessment of the British cavalry in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. What was then needed was an assessment of how a cavalry regiment operated. We have very few records of this. Documents were either intentionally destroyed in the belief they were not needed, or unintentionally destroyed – for example those of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons by enemy action during the Second World War. But for the 12th Light Dragoons there is the correspondence of its Colonel, General Sir James Steuart, who was involved very much with the operations of the regiment, and whose correspondence and standing orders had not been previously published. Dr Bamford supplements this with the memoirs and letters of serving officers - Hay, Vandaleur and the regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel, Frederick Ponsonby to provide our first all-encompassing picture of a cavalry regiment during this period.


“The Journal of Trooper Samuel Gallagher 5th Dragoon Guards in Spain, Portugal and France 1810-1815” edited by Gareth Glover. Published by Ken Trotman Publishing 2017. I first came across the typed copy of this journal when I was writing “Waterloo General”. We do not have many accounts from the heavy cavalry and this is the only account, to my knowledge, written by a member of Sir William’s regiment the 5th Dragoon Guards, who served in the Peninsula from 1811 to 1814. Again, it is the details that are all important. We find out about measures taken to prevent the troops being poisoned when they discover wine abandoned by the French, previously unknown manoeuvres and combats on the Spanish Portuguese frontier, and the pursuit after Vittoria. Gallagher served in India and his throwaway line that paper was more plentiful in India than it was in Spain necessitating him writing his Journal on scraps of paper in Spain and then rewriting it in India is illuminating.


Very illuminating also is Richard Hopton’s “The Battle of Maida 1806- Fifteen Minutes of Glory” published originally by Leo Cooper in 2002 ISBN 0-85052-845-3 and subsequently republished in 2012 by Pen & Sword Military (ISBN-10: 1848848900, ISBN-13: 978-1848848900). This battle is the almost forgotten victory of General Sir John Stuart over the French forces at Maida in Southern Italy in 1806. Some will have heard of it because it gave its name to a pub which in its turn gave its name to a new residential area in London- Maida Vale. Others will remember it because Sir Charles Oman claimed for it the first example of British Line versus French column. Richard Hopton, by using French as well as British sources, showed Sir Charles Oman was wrong but left us with a tantalising account of a contibutory factor for the British victory which may have had an impact on Waterloo. Colonel Ross of the 20th Foot decided to wheel his regiment so they could attack the French advance in the flank- just as Sir John Colborne, one of Ross’ subordinates at Maida, decided to do with the 52nd at Waterloo.

Just because a book was published some time ago does not, of course make it invalid now. Never out of print and skilfully abridged by Toby Buchan is Thomas Pakenham’s “The Year of Liberty -the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798” (published by Weidenfield and Nicholson with superb illustrations and maps in 1998). Ireland of course had its own military establishment and the majority of the forces that committed such terrible atrocities in 1798 were raised from the Irish Protestant land owning class. Pakenham brilliantly, and for the first time, portrayed the dilemmas of key British commanders such as Abercromby, Sir John Moore and the Marquess of Cornwallis, desperately trying to reimpose the authority of the Crown and being very much caught between the rock and the hard place of the Protestant Ascendancy on the one side and the Catholic and Ulster Protestant United Irishmen on the other. How do you operate in what is in effect a civil war?


My final choice, linked to this question, is outside the time period of the other four. This is John Barratt’s “The Last Army- the Battle of Stow on the Wold and the end of the Civil War in the Welsh Marshes 1646” (published by Helion & Company 2018 ISBN 978-1-912390-21-2). We are accustomed to thinking that the Battle of Naseby was the final battle of the first English Civil War. Helion have in their “Century of the Soldier Series” very admirably produced a number of books on the lesser known conflicts of which this one, dealing with the final defeat of the King’s forces, is the latest. Its author has made a good use of contemporary sources and it is excellently illustrated.

I recently gave a talk on the North West of England during the Napoleonic Wars. This included defence against invasion and privateering raids, recruitment, and the roles of the various armed forces in dealing with civil unrest. So, it will not be a surprise if I add my voice to the need for a set of publications looking at the role of the armed services within the UK during this period. In 2019 we will commemorate Peterloo, but we must remember that this sad event was one of many in which armed forces were called on to intervene. J R Western’s book on the militia took their story to 1802. The fascinating story of the home front during this period still requires telling.

Back