Sir Ralph Abercromby is most famous as the British commander during one of the British Army’s first major successes of the Revolutionary Wars, the defeat and expulsion of the French garrison of Egypt in 1801. To add to his fame, he was mortally wounded during one the battles to capture Alexandria, ensuring that he became one of the heros of the British war effort, along with his protégée Sir John Moore.
Abercromby’s career wasn’t a tale of continous success. He was caught up in some of the less successful British campaigns of the wars, from the failed campaign in the Austrian Netherlands during the War of the First Coalition, through one of the many attempts to conquer the French islands in the West Indies, a largely political failure in Ireland and a poorly concieved and executed attempt to invade Holland. However during most of these campaigns Abercromby emerged with his reputation largely intact.
This biography takes us into a rather unfamiliar version of the British army of this period. The vast majority of books on the British army in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars focus on Wellington’s army in Portugal, Spain and at Waterloo, a well led, well organised and successful army, operating with a limited amount of political interference, at first because of the distance from home and later because of Wellington’s prestige. In this book we see a far less successful army, operating just across the Channel, within range of political interference, and for most of the time led by Frederick, duke of York (the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’), whose lack of command experience was less important than his Royal status, which made him an acceptable leader of coalition armies. Abercromby had to make the best of ill judged plans and unreliable coalition allies, and emerged with his reputation largely intact. His one big failure came in Ireland, where he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army, but never had the political support he needed to put his plans into effect.
This is a useful biography of a figure best known for his final campaign, helping to explain how he ended up in command of such a far flung expedition, and how his style of generalship helped achieve victory in Egypt.
1 – The War of the First Coalition
2 – War in the West Indies
3 – Ireland – A Poisoned Chalice
4 – The War of the Second Coalition
5 – The Last Campaign
6 – The Do-Something General
Author: Carole Divall
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military