Salamanca 1812 - Wellington's Year of Victories, Peter Edwards

Salamanca 1812 - Wellington's Year of Victories, Peter Edwards

1812 was the key year of the Peninsular War. At the start of the year's campaigning the French held the key border forts of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and had armies scattered across most of Spain. Wellington soon captured the border forts, which changed hands for the final time, and advanced into Spain. At Salamanca he finally proved that he was more than just a defensive general, smashing Marmont's army in a superb offensive battle. The French were forced to evacuate Madrid and most of southern Spain, although Wellington finally ran out of steam out of Burgos and was eventually forced to retreat back to Portugal. The French were able to return to Madrid, but large parts of Spain remained free. Napoleon's disaster in Russia meant that there would be no reinforcements, and in 1813 the French would finally be expelled from Spain.

Edwards' account relies heavily on eye witness accounts, and he is well aware of the dangers of his sources. The most reliable were written either during the campaign or soon afterwards. Many of the least reliable appeared after Napier wrote his magisterial history of the Peninsular War, and were greatly influenced by it, sometimes repeated large sections almost intact. Edwards takes this into account, and is also aware of the contradictions even in earlier sources, where regimental pride often played a part.

This period includes quite a wide range of military activities - from the early success at Ciudad Rodrigo to the failed siege of Burgos, and including a major battle at Salamanca that didn't fit into the normal pattern of Wellington's victories. The eye witness accounts thus cover quite a variety of opinion, and reflect the army's attitudes towards Wellington after both success and failure.

Edwards takes an interesting approach to the endless debate about the virtues of line vs. column, looking at the detailed casualty figures for several such encounters. In each case the central battalion in the British line suffered the heaviest lose, as they came under the heaviest fire from the narrower French column, with casualties dropping as one moved out from the centre. In each case the French suffered heavier casualties than all of the relevant British battalions. This adds an extra dimension to the discussion - not only did the line allow more British troops to fire than the narrower French columns, but the outer parts of the British line were largely untouched by French fire, presumably increasing their effectiveness. 

Overall this is an excellent book on this crucial year in the Peninsular War, covering the entire year not just the initial sieges or the major battle at Salamanca.

1 - Ciudad Rodrigo
2 - Badajoz
3 - The Affair at Villagarcia, 11 April 1812
4 - Hill's Raid on the Almaraz Ridge, 19 May 1812
5 - Maguilla, San Cristoval and the Salamanca Forts, June 1812
6 - The Affairs at Castrejon and Castillo and Parallel Marching, 1-21 July 1812
7 - Salamanca - The Early Morning, Wednesday 22 July 1812
8 - Salamanca - The Middle of the Day, 22 July 1812
9 - Salamanca - The 3rd Division's Attack
10 - Salamanca - The 5th Division's Attack
11 - Salamanca - The Cavalry Charges
12 - Salamanca - Cole and Pack's Attacks
13 - Salamanca - Ferey's Rearguard
14 - Salamanca - Casualties and Comment
15 - Salamanca - The Sad Field of Battle
16 - Salamanca - Garcia Hernandez, 23 July 1812
17 - Madrid and Burgos, 12 August-21 October 1812
18 - Back to Portugal, 22 October-19 November 1812

Author: Peter Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 356
Publisher: Praetorian Press
Year: 2013

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