Death before Glory! The British Soldier in the West Indies in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815, Martin R. Howard

Death before Glory! The British Soldier in the West Indies in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815, Martin R. Howard

Britain and France had a long standing rivalry in the Caribbean, and during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars this led to a long series of costly campaigns, in which disease was often responsible for more deaths than enemy action.

Howard has taken an interesting approach to the topic. His text is split into three sections, looking at the armies, the campaigns, and the soldier's experiences. This approach works well. The nature of the campaigns meant that the British and French both had units scattered across many islands, so looking at their armies in a single place makes sense. The same is true of the soldier's experience - the nature of tropical disease didn't change during this period, so it would be rather repetitive to keep mentioning this during the campaign summaries.

The campaigns themselves were more complex than I'd realised. More general histories of the war mention various attempts to capture French held islands, which met with mixed success. However here we also see the British involvement in the fighting on Saint Domingue (modern Haiti), a horribly complex multi-sided conflict, involving Republican and Royalist French forces, the local French slave owners, and of course the eventually successful slave uprising, let at first by Toussaint Louverture. There were also uprisings on British held islands and conflicts with the Spanish and Dutch. In addition almost all of the conquests of the Revolutionary Wars were handed back in the Peace of Amiens, and the campaigns had to be repeated during the Napoleonic Wars (this time with rather more ease than the first time). We also see the impact of the seasonal winds, which restricted the freedom of action of the local commanders, and the difficulties caused by the far distant interference from London.

The third section, on the soldiers, covers four areas. We start with a look at the soldier's voyage to the West Indies and their first impressions of the islands, which vary quite dramatically. Next comes a look at daily life in the garrisons, including the role of women. Third is a look at the nature of the fighting, which varied quite significantly from the situation in Europe. Finally we look at disease - the issue that gave the islands such a dreadful reputation, and that killed many more men than actual combat.

This is an interesting read, and a valuable addition to the literature on this period, covering a theatre of war that more often appears as the backdrop to other issues.

1 - Dangerous Battalions: The British Army in the West Indies
2 - Citizens and Warriors: The French and Other Enemies

3 - The Crater of Vesuvius: Saint Domingue 1793-1794
4 - With Spirit and Impetuosity: The Grey Jervis Expedition of 1793-1794
5 - The Flame of Rebellion: The Uprisings of 1795
6 - Winds of Change: The Abercromby Expeditions, the loss of Saint Domingue and the Peace of Amiens
7 - An English Lake: The Short Peace and the Napoleonic Wars 1802-1815

8 - A Sense of Terror: Voyage and Arrival
9 - Nancy Clarke and Susy Austin: Life in the Garrison
10 - Muzzle to Muzzle: In Action
11 - A Great Mortality: Disease

Author: Martin R. Howard
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2015

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