The Untold Story of Wellington
Artillery in the Peninsula
and at Waterloo
By Nick Lipscombe
This volume is the story of the relationship of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and the members of the Royal Artillery under his command. To be exact, the Royal Artillery contingent was not under the Commander’s direct command. In 1763, after the Seven Years War, the Office of Master General of Ordinance was established to directly command the Royal Artillery companies. Prior to this time, artillery was just considered an auxiliary to the massed infantry formations as support.
In 1788, the Bureau of Ordinance was formed, this broke the command structure of the Royal Artillery completely away from the control of the general in command of a British Army. This became a problem during the Napoleonic Wars when the commanding general of an Army would have no say in who commanded his artillery contingent. By this time tactics had changed and a company of artillery was assigned to each regiment to act as support. Overall command of the Regiment of Artillery was decided back in London be the Board of Ordinance. The command structure of the Infantry and Cavalry allowed for promotion of officers by brevet because of heroism and leadership shown on the field of battle. The Royal Artillery had no such provision. Their command structure was strictly by time in rank and service, thereby making senior officers both aged and not tactically cognizant.
The fact that the command of the artillery was not directly under his control, led Wellington to discount the contribution of the artillery during the campaigns in Portugal and Spain. This brought complaints directly from the Royal Artillery officers to the Board of Ordinance decrying their being snubbed in the official reports of the battles submitted by Wellington.
Wellington subverted this command structure by assigning senior commanders to rear echelon positions in Portugal and other backwater areas, so that he could have the best of his young officers in charge in the front lines against the French.
This book is also a rather complete rendering of the war in the Iberian Peninsula during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon made his decision to take over the Spanish Monarchy, he made a grave miscalculation of the situation in Spain. While he observed the Spanish people being very at odds with the existing monarchy, they were more upset by Napoleon taking the king and queen into custody and placing his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. At this juncture, the Spanish citizenry rose against the imposition of a foreign ruler over he Spanish lands. Some Spanish Nobility, as well as the priests of the Catholic Church pushed this.
Napoleon marched some of his troops into Spain, with the proposal that they pass through to conquer Portugal. Britain’s last foothold on the European continent. By this time the Spanish people had risen against the French King and began to make the lives of the French troops a nightmare. The Portuguese monarchy welcomed the landing of a British Army on their soil and promptly fled to South America.
After sitting his brother upon the throne of Spain, Napoleon withdrew to Europe to combat another coalition forming against the French Empire, leaving some of his marshals in charge of holding Spain and conquering Portugal. These men were not altogether with the plans to deal with the British. They fought amongst themselves as to who was really in charge. They also had to detach large forces to secure their supply routes and foraging parties from the Spanish Guerillas.
This volume covers the step by step plans of the British commanders, good and bad, from the clearing out of Portugal, the march across Spain and into France. The final chapters cover the Belgian campaign and final defeat at Waterloo.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand the campaign in Iberia. The relationship between the Army and the Board of Ordinance makes for some very interesting reading. One must remember when reading this book that “History is written by the victors”, the battle descriptions by some of the British officers greatly deprecate the courage and steadfastness of the French troops. Some of these accounts were only written decades after the battle action took place, thereby coloring the memories of the writer.
I can also recommend this volume to any reader who has an interest in recreating the battles of the Peninsula War, or a least understanding the rational behind why certain decisions were made during that conflict. This book is excellent reading for any student of the Napoleonic Wars who is interested in the background intrigues that constituted the day-to-day maneuvering in a war zone where both antagonists were considered invaders.
This book is available from Osprey Publications.
This book is available in three different formats and they are;