Robert Craufurd – The Man & The Myth – The Life and Times of Wellington’s Wayward Martinet, Ian Fletcher

Robert Craufurd – The Man & The Myth – The Life and Times of Wellington’s Wayward Martinet, Ian Fletcher

Robert Crauford is most famous as ‘Black Bob Craufurd’, the tempermental command of Wellington’s Light Division in the Peninsula. However as this biography makes clear he was a much more complex figure than that, with a beloved family and often suffering from spells of depression. His military career was also rather unusual, and included fighting against Irish rebels, a spell in India that ended with a disasterous decision to leave the army and invest in a ship building concern, desperate attempts to get back into the army with a reasonable rank and participation in the disasterous British campaign in South America.

There are two main strands to this book – Craufurd the military man and Craufurd the family man. The first of those is by far the best known, and Fletcher covers it well. The second is far less familiar, but Fletcher uses Craufurd’s letters to his wife and family to great effect to give us a picture of a frustrated family man, who was increasingly unhappy with the time he had to spend away from his family.

Crauford’s military career was somewhat unusual. His first combat experiences came in India, where he was beginning to make a name for himself. However in 1793, frustrated by the limited prospects for promotion, he sold out, and invested in a scheme to build ships near Bombay. This failed, leaving Robert without a career and without money. The next few years would be dominated by his attempts to get back into the army with a reasonable rank, and the rest of his life would be blighted by a lack of money and a lack of seniority within the army (this led to his always feeling insecure while in command of the Light Division). However he was soon back in the army, and further enhanced his name fighting against Irish rebels.

At the end of 1806 he was given command of an independent expedition to South America, with orders to sail into the Pacific, conquer Chile and establish a line of outposts across the Andes to Buenos Aires, which had fallen to a British expedition earlier in the year. By the time his force reached South Africa, Buenos Aires had been lost, so most of his troops were taken from him, and instead he was given command of a brigade in the army that attempted to retake the city. This expedition ended in failure – Craufurd was involved in a disasterous attack on the city and was forced to surrender, and in the aftermath of this failure the expedition’s commander agreed to evacuate all British troops from the area in return for the release of the prisoners. Craufurd was furious about the loss of his independent command, but one can’t help feel that he escaped from a worse disaster in Chile!

Soon after his return from South America, Craufurd was sent to Iberia, where he would spend most of the rest of his life, and make his reputation. He took part in Moore’s campaign, although his brigade was detached from the army retreating to Corunna and sent to Vigo instead. This march saw him establish his reputation as something of a martinet, punishing men for diverting from their road to avoid steams or puddles, and insisting on strict disciple. However those men who served under him on this march seem to have seen this as a positive thing, and gave him credit for keeping their brigade together and saving many lives. This appears to have been the general attitude of his men throughout his time in Spain – he became famous for issuing detailing Standing Orders that were generally greated with dismay, but later credited with making his division far more effective and playing a major role in its success on outpost duty. On the other hand we do see him stretching the limit of Wellington’s patience on occasion.

A second strand to this book is Craufurd’s personal life. By the time his military career began to revive in 1806 he was married with children, and he wrote a series of tender letters to his wife, which give us an entirely different view of his character. This show us a man who missed his family, often regretted the time he was spending overseas and if the right post had come up would happily have left the army.

This is an impressive piece of work that brings us into Craufurd’s world, and gives us a picture of a far more complex man than just the simple martinent of legend.

1 – First Steps
2 – Monsoon
3 – The Austrian Mission
4 – Rebels
5 – Fanny
6 – In the Wilderness
7 – A Little Madness
8 – A Bad Situation
9 – Waters of Oblivion
10 – The Bubble Bursts
11 – Hard Toil and Long Miles
12 – Standing Orders
13 – Under Scorching Rays
14 – A Fortunate and Favoured Brigadier
15 – Lull Before the Storm
16 – The Strong Demon
17 – Overwhelmed with Anguish
18 – An Error of Judgement
19 – Revenge
20 – Homeward Bound
21 – The Most Dangerous Hour
22 – The Blue Devils
23 – Into the Breach
24 – Ashes to Ashes

Author: Ian Fletcher
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 616
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2021

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