Book Review: The Armies of Sir Ralph Hopton by Laurence Spring.

General – Pages : 220 | Images : 25 b/w illustrations, 9 b/w maps, 8 pages colour plates, numerous tables

Paperback – Date of Publication : December 2020 | Size : 248mm x 180mm | ISBN : 9781913336516 | Helion Book Code : HEL1277

https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-armies-of-sir-ralph-hopton-the-royalist-armies-of-the-west-1642-46.php?sid=57b28c0c5b1dd0dc71ca13fbf33bfea9

One (or perhaps we should say three) of the the most important armies that ever took the field for King Charles between 1642 and 1646 was that which included they famed regiments of Cornish infantry.

Renowned as both disciplined and fierce, the dogged westerners won fame in several important battles, and some go so far as to say that as the Cornish armies under Sir Ralph Hopton declined, so too did Royal fortunes dwindle. Perhaps only the little army commanded by Montrose in the north has as great a reputation as Hopton’s flinty West Country regiments.

Laurence Spring has gone a long way to creating the ultimate reference for the armies of Ralph Hopton, and indeed a very useful book to own about 17th century soldiering in Britain generally. Perhaps geared towards serious students than general readers, the book is not entangled in jargon, presenting a clearly thought out and carefully constructed presentation of the makeup of the western royalist forces.

Speaking as someone with only basic knowledge of how the civil wars in England, Scotland and Ireland were conducted, I found this book extremely enlightening. It is packed with detail drawn from allot of contemporary or near contemporary sources.

Those old stalwarts, the muster rolls and other administrative minutiae are consulted to form a picture of the type of men who served the King in the West Country. Everything from recruitment to weaponry, rates of pay and life on campaign is gone into with the same investigative thoroughness.

The author is not content either to find a convenient bottom line to present the reader for the sake of a neat paragraph, but presents a whole range of anomalies and contributing factors to each section. In the 17th century, exceptions tended to prove the rule, and this is especially obvious when he looks at how the royalist regiments were raised, trained and equipped.

The recruitment and commissioning of men and officers shows us how the struggled insinuated itself at all levels of society, and how seriously (and not so seriously) some gentry and nobility took their service. Readers more seasoned to military history will find it as no surprise that there was a degree of mixing in terms of the rank and file, and for instance, not every Cornish Regiment was made up of Cornishmen.

As noted above, although this is an invaluable insight into the workings of the royalist armies of Cornwall and Devon due to its deep level of research, but it’s also a good general work on ‘soldiering’ in the period, which we come to see somewhat less as a profession as in many cases a group of men who have mastered the use of arms for a fixed period. As such even those who are pursuing a wider impression civil wars, rather than just people specifically studying the western royalist forces, will find its many observations and findings of interest.

Happy Reading!

Josh.

Book Review: The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814 by David Wilson.

(Vols 1 & 2)

Amongst aficionados and buffs of military history, not least the majority of academics, the shores of the Baltic are a backwater of the Napoleonic Wars. The scene of moderately interesting special operations (Evacuation of the Romana Divison), a place of backstory for Wellington and Nelson (Operations against Copenhagen) and the scene of highly abbreviated campaigns over territorial possessions that were surprisingly influential in the tangled web of Napoleonic politics, (Russo-Swedish and Dano-Swedish Wars and the founding of the house of Bernadotte).

As a result very little time is given to the military forces of the Norse kingdoms of Denmark-Norway and Sweden (and Finland), dismissed as Bernadotte’s toy soldiers in the latter case and a nonentity of militias in the former. But the makeup and administration of the Danish army of the Napoleonic Wars will carry the reader beyond the field of discarded Clogs that is conjured whenever the Battle of Køge (1807) is mentioned. 

Much as surveys of the minutiae and material culture of military history may be dismissed as mere rivet counting, David A. Wilson highlights the importance for military historians to be aware of the intricacies of the military machines at work in his excellent 3 volume series of books on the organisation, uniforms and equipment of the Danish land forces of the period.

In an age of reform, Revolution and innovation, there is much to observe in the armies of what we might term the lesser powers, and a look at the organisation of their armies, the challenges they faced and the ambitions of their leaders can greatly inform the popular narrative of this war. 

Far from a pathetic rabble of militias, Wilson points the reader directly to a few home truths about the Danish army in a succinct and direct historical overview before digging into a breathtakingly detailed summary of uniforms and trappings that all writers of fiction, war-gamers and serious military historians wanting some basis in English for the war in the Baltic. 

In 1802 the Danish army was looking to the future and trying to create a strong military deterrent to a host of enemies. Indeed few countries can have been as luckless as Denmark between 1802 and 1814. That being said they had taken steps to secure their position after the upheaval of the 1790’s. Entering the league of armed neutrality and introducing sweeping reforms had taken hold of their armed forces and created a national army of conscripts, well equipped and well trained according to military thinkers like Von Huth, and led by capable generals like Carl of Hessen. 

The importance of a slew of German military thinkers on the kingdoms of Europe cannot be understated in the development of warfare at the end of the 18th century. Wilhelm Heinrich Von Huth, Who was an artillery commander under Frederick the Great, made reforms that braced Denmark’s armed forces for the trials to come and indeed were the bedrock of their effectiveness up to 1850. His innovative use of all available European improvements created a singular Danish model for the kingdom, which though unlikely to sweep away the other systems was more than suitable for the aggressive tactical doctrines that came to typify the kingdom.

A large national army, well equipped and trained with intelligent, well educated, if not brilliant officers emerged where they could, as an unusually aggressive and capable army. Hordes of skirmishers advanced before the infantry battalions who moved in lines rather than columns, light artillery rushing forwards, impelled by the doctrine to get into action and aim well, as there was no shame in losing a gun that had been well served. Trotting behind came equally waspish squadrons of horse, who showed considerable dash and elan when called to drive off inumberble Cossack and irregular columns after Leipzig.

As a military force, in 1813, the Danish division impressed even the iron marshal Davout during the siege of Hamburg, the infantry and cavalry showing great potential, displaying a marked mastery of light infantry warfare and all arms cooperation with startlingly aggressive cavalry, as the Russians, Swedish and Prussians found out as the French allied forces retreated from Northern Germany in the winter of 1813. Some might have heard of the defeat at Copenhagen and Køge, but few will have heard of the Battles of Boden and Sehested where Prince Hessen’s men proved why Davout had bend moved to declare that ‘I march as happily with them as I would with any French veterans.’

These books bring home the fact that Europe was in the throes of another military revolution even before the Napoleonic Wars broke out, and it is fascinating to see how Denmark prepared for the tumult ahead, creating a progressive and modern army that made them, (or should have made them) an attractive ally for the enemies of Napoleon. I am sure these books will be the start of many people’s investigations into the Norse and Baltic theatres of the Napoleonic Wars.

Content wise books are startlingly through, covering organisation, equipment, tactics, rations, recruitment, colours, horse tack, service, weapons and a multitude of uniform details and variations for infantry, technical branches, artillery, staff and cavalry and their various evolutions between 1802-1814. Each is illustrated by the author, who works under the name Jackdaw, and offers incredibly detailed and indeed charming uniform plates that will be a great boon to modellers and reenactors.

Volume 1 gives a general introduction and then focuses on the staff and infantry. Volume 2 progresses to the Cavalry and Artillery and Volume 3 will cover the forces in Norway and the militia. These are large format softcovers, almost A5 in size and will probably be very handy for direct visual reference when painting the Perry Miniatures range.

The weaknesses of the series remain in the lack of foot or end notes, relying for reference on a through bibliography. There are a few tactical diagrams but the majority of the images are those created by the author and among the interesting appendixes can be found a list of images that can be looked up. A lack of index is perhaps also a little frustrating but as the books are well structured navigating them for reference isn’t a problem.

Works like this in English are to be applauded not just for the thoroughness, as for many the Baltic theatre of the war remains illusive due to the language barrier,  I eagerly look forward to the Norwegian and militia volume.

Thanks for reading!

Josh.

Book Review: The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet by Jeremy R. Moss

  • Köelher Books
  • 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-64663-149-0
  • https://www.koehlerbooks.com/writer/jeremy-r-moss/
  • https://www.authorjeremymoss.com

If you’ve ever read about pirates, you might have heard of Stede Bonnet especially if I’m your reading you’ve seen something about Blackbeard. But if you’ve only heard of him then you might well be puzzled. This was what author, Jeremy Moss found when he began his search to find out the truth about the ‘Gentleman Pirate.’

Though rather obscure today, Bonnet was better known than some in the 18th century, indeed he was known in his day as one of the more infamous pirates of the Atlantic and Caribbean. But is this deserved?

Amongst student of maritime crime, Bonnet is known as a bit of a joke, and Moss’ critical eye for detail makes him perfectly suited to act as his biographer. Bonnet was a wealthy gentleman who seemingly had a midlife crisis and joined the 18th century equivalent of a biker gang, only he bought all the bikes and hired all the riders to form his gang. 

“the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this”

Though it is true that he learned a great deal from being the prisoner of Blackbeard, and associations with others like Charles Vane, by the time of his capture he had learned how to act like a pirate, cruising and capturing passing craft casually from a secluded inlet, and puffing and blowing about taking revenge on ships from Carolina, and threatening to shoot any of his crew dead who refused to fight. As Moss brings us through the story of his unusual life, one even begins to wonder who was conning who when it came to Blackbeard. 

This book highlights very well the difference between the wannabe apprentice pirate captain Bonnet and ‘real’ pirates, who acted according to codes and traditions and considered themselves a loose brotherhood, hence they felt entitled to act in certain ways depending on who had done what in disregard of the rules. We see this when Moss looks into his motivations in turning criminal. Jacobite sympathies (a popular affectation by certain captains) mixed with, mid life crisis & literal dementia is an original hypothesis, and one that is actually borne out by the available sources. 

When I read the book, I loved how the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this, and it will really enable a serious student to do some proper digging. *doffs cocked hat*.

Stede actually got off to a good start but he wasn’t a typical pirate as he literally owned his ship & the crew had bounties, but he revealed he was no sailor and then got hammered by a Spanish Man O’ War.

The hero, for all his faults is treated kindly, for instance Bonnet is thought by the author to have likely remained faithful to his wife. I suspect the author is trying to make Bonnet out to be less than the figure of fun that he is commonly ascribed. And it’s true Bonnet isn’t implicated with women in the record.

Apart from a few small things, mostly cosmetic to do with naval terminology and weaponry, which gave me no pause to doubt the overall narrative, there were no speed bumps. A highly detailed coverage of the trial of the pirates takes up part two of the book, offering day by day narrative of the proceedings, yielding many interesting points for studious readers, and some are also amusing, such as Chief Justice Alein becoming irritated when he could get no straight answer as to wether or not Bonnet was, as he called it ‘commander in chief’ of the pirate ship. 

This wonderful moment of anecdote shows us not only the singularity of the semi-diplomatic nature of pirate crews, but we can also see the novelty of it at the time, as the confused Chief Justice becomes increasingly irate at the mention of the power of the pirate quartermaster exceeding that of Bonnet.

Excellent appendixes round out the book, which is in sum highly readable and supremely informative. I look forward eagerly to Moss’ future work.

Book Review: British Light Infantryman by Robbie MacNiven.

Author: Robbie MacNiven. Illustrator: Stephen Walsh Short code: ELI 237 Publication Date: 18 Feb 2021 https://ospreypublishing.com/british-light-infantry-in-the-american-revolution

They were known as bloodhounds. Because the relentless way the British Light Infantry would attack and pursue their patriot foes bred a chilling similarity to a pack of hunting dogs in full chase. 

With their sleek and cut down uniforms, garish feathers and distinctive bugle-horns blaring behind them as they went into battle, these were probably the most feared infantry in the British Army Serving in North America during the Revolution.

As author Robbie MacNiven shows us in this book, this was a reputation that the light infantry battalions consciously adopted and cultivated. They bred an elite culture within their ranks and at every opportunity encouraged an aura of capability, toughness and mercilessness that is reminiscent of special forces today. 

Even in defeat they were dangerous and Patriot commanders learned to be weary of them on the battlefield. Their fighting spirit was such that they became mutinous at the mention of making peace with the rebels. Their officers, no less spoiling for a fight than the men, would write home of how fighting the Americans was much like fox hunting. 

A steely eyed breed of short, stocky, active and dangerous men was born within these light companies. Men adept in the art of movement and concealment, of ambush and encirclement. They asked for no quarter and gave none, and they pursued their enemy relentlessly until they stopped kicking. 

The author reveals this elite force with great descriptive skill and academic verve. Not only in battle but on campaign and in camp, giving good descriptions, visual and textual of the dress and training of the units. Also including information on loyalist forces and some little known areas of light infantry history as well. One of the most interesting is the rarely explored subject of the 1776 ‘contract rifle’ which was issued to five men in every light company.

The reader will be able to begin to get an image in their mind as to the esprit de Corps of the light infantry battalions, some of their terminology and traditions, and a sense of warfare in North America in general too.

Here warfare was dominated by who could deploy the most flexible infantry, and as a result this book builds on what other Osprey authors such as Stuart Reid have written about the so called ‘American scramble.’

An open order firing line able to act by company as well as by battalion, a theory which came to dominate practical linear warfare in the 19th century .

The book expands every now and then to observe that the British Army did not just stumble upon the light infantry doctrine at Shorncliffe camp in the early 1800s. A circular pattern emerged from 1755 to 1803 where as needs required light troops would be authorised and disbanded, but always enough residue would remain to ensure that the next time war loomed the light corps would return stronger than the last time. So by the start of Britain’s Napoleonic epic, fully authorised permanent light infantry battalions would be ready as a result.

With excellent accompanying images by Stephen Walsh this title is highly recommended.

Josh.

Book Review: US Soldier vs British Soldier by Gregg Adams.

  • Author: Gregg Adams
  • Illustrator: Johnny Shumate
  • Short code: CBT 54
  • Publication Date: 18 Feb 2021


https://ospreypublishing.com/us-soldier-vs-british-soldier

A simplistic appreciation and survey of three fairly well known actions during the North American War of 1812 is delivered by Gregg Adams in this latest combat title.

While offering little that is terribly novel about the challenges and minutiae of how opposing Battalions tackled each other in the field during the conflict, it is good to see this overlooked conflict get attention.

The point of this book is to demonstrate how the US Army learned to hold it’s own against the British. It does this in straightforward style. The Americans are beaten in two battles, Queenston Heights and Chrysler’s Farm, then win a victory themselves at Chippewa which apparently demonstrated their ability to fight. Yet in the end I felt no closer to understanding what went into this change than I did to begin with.

It is a trend in histories of the wars between Britain and the US to create an underdog scenario in order for the Americans to rise above their supposedly invincible enemies. While there is no doubt that the US Army was in poor shape in 1812 and only found its feet in 1813, this recipe has been done many times and in the confined space of a this type of book, there might have been an opportunity here to investigate a different angle. 

The battles are described at a fairly high angle level, without delving too deep into tactical or practical doctrine. Methods of fire control, logistics, and systems of arms handling and manoeuvre are only very briefly explained. The Americans lose the first two battles because of poor leadership and what the author calls their amateurish methods, but with little to demonstrate what exactly this looked like. To be honest I was left to imply from the quotes by General Scott that extensive training in roughly established methods paid dividends and that success could have been theoretically achieved at any time previously. Even the section dealing with Scott’s camp of instruction focuses only on the General’s opinion.

As one might expect, in the last year of the war some talented officers came along and got around to doing a proper job. This book is about regular infantry, and so discussing the militia and irregular forces, isn’t something it has time for, and that is good. But every now and then it throws in a little nugget of unsubstantiated information that raises more questions than answers. For instance in the section dealing with Chippewa, the author happily throws in a description of American Regulars taking aimed shots as if this was; A a hugely unusual thing, and; B even practical at all, given each side had roughly the same capabilties in terms of accuracy.

Combat books should realistically be about the dynamics and first hand experiences of combat from a very low level point of view, trying to conjure up a picture of combat from the ranks so the reader can get beyond the staple military history jargon, revealing what terms like ‘forced back’ actually looked like and what it meant.

This book gives some snappy and exciting battle summaries, especially if you like the David and Goliath scenario of British pros eventually being bested by Yankee amateurs, but little of the boots on the ground realities of linear combat in North America. 

thanks for reading!

Josh.

Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire. Available Now!

A new book, written by Anthony Ruggiero has been published and is now available, please have a look, as I’m sure it will be a great read.

‘The Tudor Dynasty of England, spanning from the late fifteenth century into the early seventeenth century, was filled with colorful monarchs that impacted the country politically, economically, and socially. One of those monarchs was Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary ruled over England from July 1553 to her death in November 1558. Despite its initial promise and success, Mary Tudor’s reign was unsuccessful due to the increased influence of foreign power. Mary’s early life and struggle to the throne reflected her determination to rule, her strong religious conviction to Catholicism, and her reliance on Spain.’

Find it on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Tudor-Story-Triumph-Sorrow-ebook/dp/B08FGLG75M/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=mary+tudor-+anthony&qid=1596987247&sr=8-5

Book Review: Allahu Akbar by Manimugdha Sharma

Published:18-10-2019
Format:Hardback
Edition:1st
Extent:330
ISBN:9789386950536
Imprint:Bloomsbury India
Dimensions:234 x 153 mm 
RRP:₹ 599.00
 RRP: £34.99

The rulers of India are no less beguiling today than they were when, as Manimugdha Sharma says, the emperor Akbar was in vogue amongst Dutch republicans trying to create a new state. 

Quite apart from the famed luxury of their courts and the exoticism that so easily transfers to the minds of distant foreigners from dimly imagined mental pictures; the leaders of South Asia often represent something special in the history of the world. The image of enlightened rule.

If we knew them better and compared them with our own past rulers, who would in their right minds not say that Ashoka ranked greater than any handful of English monarchs, not only for his conquests and his rejection of war itself but for his laws? Which are far more in tune with the classical ideal that Western Europeans have tried to harbour and rebuild since the fall of the western Roman Empire, than much of what replaced it.

Who, likewise, could arguably say with any credibility that Akbar the Great could not stand alongside any of the greatest contemporary kings and queens of Europe and not seem a little taller for his enlightened ideals of inclusion and, what Sharma calls the ‘physical and moral courage’ that makes great men beloved.

Though undoubtedly an inspiration to many in the past, since its independence India has rightly been a talisman to those who hold the promise of democracy near and dear to their hearts.

Rightly might citizens of the world’s largest republic revere the history of their march to liberty as a proud emblem to cherish. Therefore it is hardly surprising that the author feels a deep concern as he observes the course his nation is taking, and it should be no less concerning to the world either. 

‘we are a medieval people,’ he writes at the end, ‘creating conditions in the country akin to those that prevailed in Akbar’s lifetime, always using past hurt to justify present hate, and therefore needing a medieval monarch to show us the way.’

As he told me over a long and interesting Skype call, it is never good when the rule of a 16th century emperor seems necessary or preferable than a democratically elected official, but if one were to wish for such an autocrat you would want Akbar. When I finished reading this book, I could not help but agree with this assessment. 

On further contemplation I realised it is as important for the British to understand the Great Mughal as it is for the Indians.

In the British drive to establish themselves as rulers of India the legacy of the Mughals was a principle tool. Sharma points us to the importance of this element of baton passing by highlighting the importance of tiger hunts in Mughal court society.

In establishing himself as the perfect incarnation of universal kingship, the young emperor entertained his court with lavish hunts. The British would copy these and thus lend themselves to an image of shadow puppetry that is today a cypher for British rule in India.

It might be said that the British used Akbar and his dynasty as something as a template on which they could more easily assimilate themselves into the role as India’s overlords, they even took up some of his crusades, such as trying to abolish sati.

Nevertheless as the author told me, the idea of intolerance between Hindus and Muslims in India was encouraged to some degree by the British, who fostered the idea of the Mughals being foreign tyrants replaced by the enlighten rule of the Europeans.

Akbar by contrast strove to separate religion from society’s primary consciousness, and remove it as a source of division. Today it is this legacy of the British that is still causing the trouble and the lessons of Akbar are hard to learn from as a result.

There aren’t many writers that can make the past more present than Manimugdha Sharma can. The author has a hawk eyed knack of seeing across history, finding the similarities to the present and threading them together in a comprehensible narrative.

In saying that, one could say that this isn’t so much a biography of Akbar, but an investigation of the echo chamber of history. Sharma looks at the world and hears the echoes of distant resonance.

Allahu Akbar is a graceful read, with each paragraph revealing some detail of interest. Softly humorous and finely detailed, with sometimes wry, always sharp observations on the interplay of historical and modern issues.

One discovers in reading about the life of an extraordinary monarch that India’s politics have not changed very much. Sharma observes that candidates still attempt to vilify and deify through visual media, in the Mughal courts this was done through art and literature, whereas today it is done with much less subtlety and often exaggerated incompetence by keyboard warriors.

The results are nevertheless the same and the motives little removed from when Akbar was alive; to make governments and leaders seem untainted and untarnished as opposed to their opponents.

As a controversial figure in modern India, Akbar suffers from the stigma of being a Muslim emperor in a country with a Hindu majority and his indelible place in his country’s history, especially the interpretation of it, seems at times tenuous. 

Akbar’s early reign was a dark time, filled with brutal battles, political murders and betrayals. Akbar, sought to establish himself as a king in both name and practice, and he projected this aura very effectively, not only once he regained his throne but as he was doing so, and the author does not shy away from his subject’s more unvarnished or inglorious exploits.

Fascinating elements are to be found at practically every turn, from the typical accounts of intrigue and conflict to personal things as well. Quite apart from the flowing prose of his chroniclers and his fine accomplishments, Akbar, can be seen as a coarse man, a soldier and a sportsman as much as diplomat or a courier. His language was the language of military camps and peasants and he wore coarse clothing and enjoyed it. 

He mixed this with the piety of his father, which was devout, but not extremist, and he showed regret at the death of his enemies and when he could not show mercy as a beneficent, almost paternal, overlord.

Above all the great strength of the emperor was his attempt to create a unified and inclusive state that sought to draw the best out of the religions and philosophies of the world.

He was as some have said, a man of reason before the age of reason, and the people who have the will to effect change and not only that but apply such ideals are worthy of notice.

This is why Akbar is important, not only to India, but to the world, which is increasingly becoming a more insular place and in desperate need of uniting figures to admire. 

Despite her poor understanding of who Akbar really was it is telling that when Elizabeth I, herself a persecutor of catholics like many of her dynasty, wrote to Akbar that it was his humanity that had spread even to her distant shore. Note she did not speak of the conquests and might of this descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan, but his humanity. 

If that proves anything it proves that even in times of uncertainty, we don’t have to fear the foreign and the other.

Josh.

Wellington’s Cavalry by Marcus Cribb.

In the warfare that had developed out of many year’s conflict in Europe and its colonies, were 3 broad area of the combat system, most numerous were the infantry, supported by the artillery, guns, both large and small, finally, performing the tasks of reconnaissance, providing a screen of pickets (sentries) and scouting off the battlefield as well as lightning fast strikes and flanking manoeuvres in battle, were the cavalry. 

King’s Dragoon Guards – Waterloo. [Perry Miniatures]

Wellington himself served 2 years in the cavalry, from 1789 to 1791 with the 12th Light Dragoons. Service in the Army as an officer was through a complicated system of purchasing promotion, that was open to exploitation. The design behind it meant that the offer of promotion on merit alone was relatively rare, as it was hoped to favour those from a aristocratic background. A officer’s commission in the cavalry was particularly fashionable, with bold uniforms, a flamboyant reputation and the chance to seek glory and favour in a famous cavalry charge, meant that a commission in a cavalry regiment cost more than in the a line infantry regiment. 

The purpose of this article is to provide a overview of Wellington’s “British” cavalry regiments. As Spanish, Portuguese and “foreign” (Émigré regiments in British service) would have differences in their structure which may be covered at a later date. Each regiment would have varied on the number of men & horses sent on campaign, but a common structure was laid out.

For a British cavalry regiment during the period, it was formed round a single regiment. Unlike the infantry regiments, which would typically be formed of 2 Battalions, but could be many more in some cases, a cavalry regiment was a single unit.

The typical Regimental structure:Colonel of a regiment (General – Major General overseeing Administrative duties, promotions and supplies, such as uniform purchasing.)1x Lieutenant Colonel (with 1 additional space on the list, he would be able to promote to General rank and serve away, the other would be the Commanding Officer of the Regiment) 2x Majors10x Captains across 10x Troops100 ‘Troopers’ Per Troop. This was reduced to 80 men in December 1805.(Trooper referred to: Private – Corporal. N.b. Lance Corporal was only a regimental rank & stood as part of regimental standing orders, likely to received no/little extra pay)2 Lieutenants & 1 Cornet (equivalent to 2nd Lieutenant) per Troop.5 Serjeants per Troop (N.b. to tradition spelling of Serjeant with a J in the Cavalry)1 Trumpeter Serjeant Major with 10 Trumpeters (1 per Troop for passing orders) Regimental staff consisting of: Paymaster, Adjutant, Veterinary surgeon, Surgeon and 2 assistant surgeons.Plus a Serjeant Major (RSM), Paymaster Serjeant, Saddler Serjeant, Farrier Serjeant & Armourer Serjeant, along with a cadre of farriers.1x Quarter Master. (N.b. previously there was rank of Quatermaster Serjeant per troop, this developed into a Troop Serjeant Major.) With a strength of just over 1,000 men and the same again of horses (around 1,064 would have been needed per regiment), this was found to be unrealistic. Officers were permitted time away from regimental duties, such as adjutant to other units, staff officers, leave and even serving as sitting Members of Parliament common.

Along with this, there were always, casualties, sickness, missing (including desertion which was unfortunately common in the non-commissioned ranks) and with the strains of a long war, recruitment was a problem. The recruitment problem contributed to the December 1805 decision to formally reduce a regiment to 800 men plus staff, even then there was difficulty recruiting enough men, but more trouble was had in finding enough horses to mount the men. The high demand persisted meaning higher prices were asked for by horse-breeders for the cavalry mounts.The decision to lower the regimental number to around 860, meant that a typical number serving in a regiment overseas could be around 400-600 men. This was usually supplemented by leaving 2 to 4 Troops at home to train new recruits and horses.

12th Light Dragoons.

This leaves the modern and traditional sub-units. Principally, the “Squadron”. Unlike in the modern army, a squadron wasn’t a standing unit, but still a common one. Usually formed of 2 Troops, with the senior Captain in command (occasionally a Major in place for tasks deemed important by the Commanding Officer).

The squadron allowed for 2 Troops to support one another and proved a useful structure. For example if a regiment was sent to the Peninsular, then a single squadron would often be maintained at the depot, to recruit, train, provide replacement and break in new horses. Often when orders came for campaign a given number of squadrons for a regiments was requested, leaving much to the colonel to decide on who to send.

Secondly, under the Troop level, was “The Squad”, these were kept separate and each commanded by a Serjeant, leaving the common administrative work to NCOs meant the officers were relieved of some mundane orders, however it was regulated that the officers were to check their men at “meal times”. So this left a structure of: Regiment – Squadron – Troop – Squad.

Welfare of the horses for paramount to the regiment, for every sick or lame mount a soldier could not perform their duties. The Royal Veterinary College had only been founded in 1791, so the requirement to have a Veterinary surgeon in each regiment was forward thinking from the Army’s commanders at Horse Guards, ensuring a better provision for the mounts at home and on campaign.

Farriers, under the Farrier Serjeant were part of the Troop, but with additional duties. Typically strong men, made bigger by the work of beating steel. They developed a role to care for the horses, along with riding instructors; there was a wealth of knowledge of equine science and welfare. For example, foreign forage was found to cause illness if fed immediately to the horses, so it was mixed into food brought from Britain, whilst on campaign, weaning them onto local food so to acclimatise them to their new feed.

There was well documented knowledge of experience of equine diseases and illnesses that would be well cared for. Sometime at the grumbling of infantry soldiers who thought the horses sometime had better care than they did.Recruits and training; Although Horse Guards set out guidelines for training the way new recruits were instructed was a matter for each individual regiments. Recruits were trained as part of the Troop, under the instruction of the NCOs.

A Special cadre of “rough riders” were kept with the depot to break in newly bought horses, with that came a special pay. For new officers, horse riding was thought to be an essential skill, but they also paid a small sum to the Sergeant in the role of master at arms, for sword and sabre practice.

General John Le Marchant, after having observed the British Cavalry’s inferior skills at arms in the lowland campaigns of the 1790s wrote a new doctrinal book, as well as redesigning the swords. Before this, swords were purchased by the Regimental Colonel, leading to a myriad of designs, across a variety of qualities.

What followed was the 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Sabre and the 1796 Pattern Heavy Cavalry Sword (for respective designations of light and heavy cavalry troops). Le Marchant thought that British swordsmanship had reminded him of “someone chopping wood”.

His thoughts and practices were turned into a drill manual, becoming The Rules and Regulations of the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry (Released in 1796 also). This led to a rapid improvement of the close combat ability of the British cavalry, using Le Marchant’s manual, each man would learn the key 6 offensive cuts, along with guard positions and downward strokes, all formalised. The 6 cuts centred round a circle, representing an enemy’s face, rather than wildly hacking at the upper torso that had been ineffective before.

1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Sabre.
1796 Pattern Heavy Cavalry Sword.

.It is also worth noting here the 2 main branches of cavalry; heavy and light. The distinctions meant different uniforms and swords, but meant little in the way of duties and both types were armed with pistol and carbines. In theory the light cavalry rose slightly smaller horses and were purposed for scouting and pickets (sentry). But heavy cavalry frequently often see themselves used in that role. Also it was the heavy cavalry that were meant to execute fierce charges on the battlefield, but light cavalry would see heavy action and carry out brilliant charges, such as the combat at Villa-Garcia. Wellington himself paid little attention to the designation of the cavalry role, compounded by the fact he was often calling for more cavalry (of either type), he used regiments as convenient, without regard to their official classification.

Ride Like the Devil. The Light Dragoons at Vitoria. Chris Collingwood. Image, Cranston Fine Arts.


Light cavalry was made up of a mixture of “Light Dragoons” and “Hussars”. It wasn’t until after Waterloo in 1815 that regiments converted to become lancers. The heavy cavalry were “Dragoons” or more elaborately “Dragoon Guards” along with the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guard regiments (which formed the Household Cavalry).

Wollen, William Barns; The Scouts; Horsepower: The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-scouts-24256 National Army Museum.

Sources: “Gallantry and Discipline. The 12th Light Dragoons at War with Wellington” by Andrew Bamford”So Blood a Day. The 16th Light Dragoons in the Waterloo Campaign” by David J. Blackmore”The Cavalry that Broke Napoleon. The King’s Dragoon Guards at Waterloo” by Richard Goldsbrough” Wellington’s Peninsular Army” Men-at-Arms series, by James Lawford.

Writing for Land of History: https://adventuresinhistoryland.com a collection of excellent articles and blogs by Josh Provan, which I can strongly recommend.Linked via https://marcuscribb.wixsite.com/thedukeofwellington/blog & https://twitter.com/mcribb89

Book Review: No Earthly Pole by Ernest Coleman.

  • Published: 15 Sept 2020.
  • Format: Hardback.
  • 342 Pages.
  • 50 images.
  • ISBN: 9781398102118

Absorbing, humorous and written with a soft, almost confidential, way, the story of a Navy Officer’s quest to increase the knowledge about the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew is essential lockdown reading.

Right now all of us are in need of strong voices, that talk confidently of mental and physical fortitude, which guide us in how we can achieve our goals. Ernest Coleman’s book which details his four remarkable expeditions to uncover the truth behind some of the Franklin expedition’s biggest myths can help us get into that necessary expeditionary mindset and at the same time brigs and authentic light to this historical maritime disaster.

In tackling much debated explanations such as death by lead poisoning and cannibalism, Coleman is frank and straightforward rather than scholarly in his approach. This imbues the reader with a confidence in his common sense and capability (and rigorous testing of the written evidence) to present and interpret his findings.

Half travelogue, half history, half exploration log, No Earthly Pole is replete with its own sense of adventure and struggle. Before the book is half over Coleman half kills himself clinging on to a ATV trailer and becomes his own worst enemy during an isolated march across King William Island, where he ended up existing on hot chocolate and fisherman’s friends for ten days while he awaited rescue. 

Getting followed by a film crew intent on making him sing at every possibility was another singular achievement. But that aside, there is also the endless cycle of expedition, followed by lecture tours, followed by fundraising, which is the tempo of this book. It is a realistic facet of all such memoirs of expeditions; that those who undertake them are necessarily locked into this pattern in order to forward their projects, the latter two being often more challenging than the actual expedition.

Not every expedition was a blinding success, and none could be considered outright failures, but most importantly, none were finished up without benefit. And that is an important queue for us to follow. The truth of all expeditions of a historical and archaeological nature is that very often a great deal of work goes into saying, ‘well, we know it’s not here at least.’

But Coleman’s hardships are borne with a true spirit of enterprise, for as Shackleton said, a man must shift his objectives, as soon as the last one disappears. It is how we move on. Yet sometimes peril and isolation can seem overwhelming. In one particularly striking moment, which can be used to exemplify the highs, lows, dangers and humour of this book, the author, alone and exhausted heard his own voice lulling him to lie down and drift into restful oblivion.

He fought this siren song off by debating the merits of, what was at the time a hot button issue for the Church of England; the acceptance of female ministers. Through rigorous debate he kept himself from harm, and his demons were put to flight, but he ended up deciding that he was against co-educational bible college curriculums. When, afterwards, he told a churchman of his inner struggle and how he overcame it, Coleman was told that to the mind of his correspondent, God seemed to have accepted that change was the best way, to which Coleman replied; ‘and who do you think I was talking to?’

Josh.

How to Make the Royal Game of Ur. Video.

The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of 20 Squares has been found in the tombs of Pharaoh’s and Kings. It was scratched into the walls of palaces so guards could pass the time, and you can play it too.

Thanks to the work of Professor Irving Finkel the rules of he game were discovered and translated, making it the oldest game in the world with an accompanying set of rules known to refer to it.

There are lots of versions for sale online, but allot are quite expensive. So I made my own. I visited the British museum, did some research, and then created a portable version of the game that double’s as a useful tote bag.

I hope you enjoy the video, please support the channel if you can. And I’ll see you next time for another Adventure in Historyland.

Josh,