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Review - MAA 382 - Wellington's Peninsula Regiments (1) The Irish

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  • yawors1@uwindsor.ca
    I thought it might be useful to post a book review of a new Osprey Men-at Arms title, Wellington s Peninsula Regiments (1) - The Irish . I just got a
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2003
      I thought it might be useful to post a 'book review' of a new Osprey
      Men-at Arms title, "Wellington's Peninsula Regiments (1) - The Irish". I
      just got a copy of it at Longwoods. As it is listed as being "volume 1",
      it is apparent that there will be more in the series.

      There is already a "Wellington's Highlanders" and "Wellington's Foot
      Guards" volumes in addition to the original two volumes of "Wellington's
      Infantry" and I'm guessing that Osprey has concluded that they missed the
      boat originally by putting out only two volumes on Wellington's Infantry.
      While it no doubt seemed a daring move at the time ("*two* volumes on *one*
      subject!") they have since discovered the almost insatiable appetite for
      information on this topic generated by people like the members of this

      I guess we can look forward to "The Fusilier Regiments", "The Light
      Infantry Regiments", "The Recently-Raised Regiments", "The Regiments that
      never got to do anything in any battle" etc etc until the subject has been
      milked for all it's worth.

      The volume is by Mike Chappell, text & illustrations. It is a high-quality
      effort by Osprey standards, I think ? the colour illustrations are very

      It starts off with a two and a half page homage to the Peninsular army,
      then a three-page summary on the Irish element. This quickly runs over
      some of "the troubles" going on in Ireland immediately before the war,
      notes how odd it is that so many Irish ended up in the British army despite
      these troubles, and points out that up to 40% of the rankers in the army
      were Irish.

      Chappell then states that the purpose of the volume is to consider the
      regiments that were identified as being "Irish" specifically.

      These regiments are:
      4th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Dragoon Guards
      18th Regiment of (light)Dragoons (Hussars) "sometimes called the "King's
      Irish Hussars" (and nicknamed the Drogheda Cossacks, apparently?) (note: is
      "sometimes" being called the King's Irish Hussars really meeting his
      criteria for inclusion?)
      27th (Enniskillen) Regiment of Foot (1st, 2nd & 3rd Battalions)
      87th (Prince of Wale's Irish) Regiment of Foot (2nd Battalion)
      88th (Connaught Rangers) Regiment of Foot (1st & 2nd Battalions)

      The book then goes through the service history of each regiment and each
      battalion of each regiment that served in Spain.

      The choice of regiments strikes me as a little arbitrary ? although a lot
      of the service of some of the battalions was around Cadiz (87th at Barossa
      and Tarifa) or in the Catalonia area (1st & 2nd 27th) at some point or
      other, each battalion discussed in the main text did indeed form part of
      the forces under Wellington's direct command.

      On a War of 1812 note, there is a coloured illustration of a private of the
      89th, which only served in Gibraltar and the south of Spain, and, as
      Chappell says, "was one of those regiments that chose not to have a title
      proclaiming it to be Irish." It's a good illustration and no doubt those
      who re-enact the 89th might want to buy the book to get it. (Hey, who am I
      fooling: we all know that all Peninsular War buffs will go out & buy the
      book and all the rest they are going to come out with! We can't get enough
      of this stuff!!!)
      Still, I'm left wondering if this illustration wasn't an afterthought, as
      the 89th doesn't meet either of Chappell's two criteria for inclusion in
      the book: it didn't serve under Wellington, and it didn't identify itself
      specifically as being "Irish". Still, I'm happy it's there?

      But back to the review.

      Each battalion's service record is discussed in sufficient detail so that
      if you have read Oman or a similar high-quality history that covers ALL the
      war in Iberia, you will be able to follow the story along very nicely.
      If you are not familiar at all with operations in the south or southeast of
      Spain i.e. the operations Wellington was not directly involved in, then you
      won't get much by way of enlightenment about them ? this is strictly a
      quickie summary for those who already know the broad outlines of the story.
      I found it enjoyable to follow the adventures of each individual battalion;
      you could probably get the same effect by consulting the index of Oman and
      piecing together the references to any specific battalion?but this volume
      is much handier.
      I thoroughly enjoyed reading it over (required time: 30 minutes or so.
      Hard NEW information gleaned: not much).

      And then - there's the illustrations?

      Most of the black & white illustrations are battalion-specific, these
      include period "action paintings/prints", photos of buttons, beltplates,
      and surviving tunics, regimental medals (88th gave out its own in three
      classes: for the first class, you had to have participated in TWELVE
      general actions? yikes!). These illustrations are all great sources of
      information for the regiments concerned.

      The illustration quota for an Osprey made it difficult to find ALL
      illustrations to fit this target, however, so on page 16, for example, we
      have an illustration of an 1809 drawing of a private of the Royal Police
      Guard of Lisbon and a member of the Algarve Ordenanza, with the notation
      that "Wellington's achievement in the Peninsular War would not have been
      possible without the support and co-operation of the Portuguese and
      Spanish?" etc . etc. ? the caption also advises the reader to see MAA 346,
      The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars" etc?. Useful information for
      followup, no doubt. There are also maps of Spain and Badajoz, wagons on
      the march, etc...

      The colour illustrations by Chappell are of a very high quality. There are
      some "close-ups" of regimental lace patterns, buttons, belt-plates etc, as
      well as rankers, officers, and musicians of the battalions covered in the
      book (plus the 89th dude).

      In keeping with a convention that seems to pervade all discussion of the
      88th Connaught Rangers, two of the three illustrations devoted to their
      rankers show them as in an extreme state of disarray ? no neck stocks,
      tunics unbuttoned, shoulder straps not buttoned down, shako as if used as
      the ball in a friendly game of rugby shortly before, etc.
      The one of a corporal staggering out of a freshly-plundered Badajoz is a
      classic: he's got a nearly-empty bottle of wine in his left hand, and a
      gold crucifix is dangling down out of his haversack. The zombie-like look
      on his face shall haunt my dreams for months to come, too.
      The illustration of some Irish lads gambling after Vittoria, the game being
      supervised by another Ranger, is also a classic. This time, he's got a
      very big knife ? something our buckskinner friends would love to have ?
      that he's using to cut a hunk of some sort of sausage for himself. Better
      yet, the tuft on his shako is in very sad shape ? sort of reminds me of the
      way the top fin on a killer whale in captivity flops over. Given a wire or
      wood core to these tufts, I'm not sure how this guy's tuft got in to such a
      sad state.

      It is worthy of note that other than the 88th private coming out of
      Badajoz, whose pants sport extensive patches, all the illustrations show
      soldiers wearing "regulation" uniforms ? white or grey pants, as
      appropriate, and no sign of patches etc.
      Even the 88th guy at Vittoria is wearing a proper unpatched uniform ? he's
      just wearing it in an extremely slovenly fashion. For some reason, for
      example, he has rolled up his coat's sleeves so only the 1" of facing cuff
      that is turned over and sewn down to the inside of the sleeve is visible.
      I've never seen anybody do this and I have to wonder "why?" Would it make
      him that much cooler, or whatever? Given the overall "tightness" of our
      sleeves, it seems to me this would be downright uncomfortable.

      Anyway, this book contains some excellent regimental-specific detail on the
      regiments it covers. It doesn't cover all the detail for each regiment,
      however ? i.e. it is not consistently thorough. I did think it had a nice
      balance of ranker vs officer detail.

      So what you have is a mini-history, or very quick and superficial sketch,
      of the services of 5 regiments in the Peninsular war. It seems a
      coincidence that they are all Irish ? or rather, the fact they were all
      Irish is merely an excuse for grouping them in the way that is done.

      It might have made more sense to group regiments by the division they
      served in. I suspect the 88th in Spain had a lot more in common with the
      other regiments of the 3rd division than it had with the battalions of the
      27th serving in southeast Spain. A "divisional" grouping would have made
      for a much more focused volume ? as it is, "The Irish Regiments" can only
      give thumb-nail sketches to the regiments that were serving all over the
      place. Putting infantry and cavalry regiments in the same book also seems
      to be attempting to cover a lot of ground.
      There is no real discussion of anything that made these regiments
      particularly different or distinguishable from "non-Irish" regiments.

      Bottom line: Would I buy it again?
      Answer: Yup.
      I think Osprey could have done better in designing the concept for this
      series, but given the parameters of Chappell's assignment, I think he did a
      good job and I found this first installment an enjoyable read.

      Jim Yaworsky
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