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on 3 August 2008
Sir Charles Oman (1860-1946), the great historian of the Peninsular War, called George Robert Gleig's account 'charming...pleasant' and 'life-like'. Gleig avoids 'second hand stories'; his are 'statements of fact' which `may be relied on' (Wellington's Army). Written in 1825, only ten years after Waterloo, the Subaltern is one of the superior memoirs of the Peninsular War. Seventeen year old Lieutenant Gleig only landed during the tail-end of the conflict, precisely during the siege of San Sebastian (1813), but his account of these often overlooked few months of bloody fighting is breathtaking. He is a vital source for understanding Wellington's invasion of France which included the crossing of the Bidasoa, the Battles Nivelle and Nive and the investment of Bayonne.

His style is semi-literary though still vivid. San Sebastian (after the sack) represented a 'chilling sense of the horrible points of our profession'; Wellington and Soult are described as `two mighty gamesters' during the Battle of the Nive. He is also somewhat philosophical in nature. He declines to delve into lengthy national stereotypes of the Spanish and Portuguese allies for example like so many Peninsular writers. He does place his account in context but as he wrote his work before Napier, the first great historian of the war, he avoids repeating ad verbatim large chunks of narrative featuring actions he was not present at. His style is perfectly honest; frequently deprecating his limitations to the reader at conveying events.

Gleig is particularly valuable for understanding how the British and French fought on a battalion basis. He unwittingly provides ample evidence as to the British utilising column and the French lines. Napoleonic-scholars have argued over such like ever since Oman's controversial 'line versus column' essay. He also has a romantic eye for sublime scenery (and the ladies) and is no stranger to the witty and/or grotesque anecdote as found in many other memoirs.

This well presented edition features an informative essay by Ian C. Robertson, a chronology, six maps and sixteen well chosen black and white plates. Undoubtedly the highlight is Gleig's fully unabridged account presented here with post-notes by Robertson.

First appearing in Blackwood's Magazine, the Subaltern even attracted the notice of the Duke of Wellington himself who subsequently became a acquaintance of Gleig as a consequence. The Subaltern is essential for those with both a keen interest in the Peninsular and those who just want to read a rollicking good military memoir.
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on 23 November 2013
This description of a short part of the Peninsular War is very well written and not at all out dated in style. The writer does not try to understand the overall strategy of the war but gives a detailed and enthralling account of his part in it. During which he travelled barely 200 kilometers from Northern Spain over the border into France. From the autumn of one year to the spring of the next. It gives an insight into the thinking of Junior Officers in Wellington's army and what they considered important.
A very worthwhile read however serious you are about history.
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on 18 March 2014
Very readable considering it was written over a century and a half ago. Some place names and actions have changed over the years, making the editor earn his pay :-)
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on 24 January 2014
The Napoleonic wars have always intrigued me, particularly the various Peninsular campaigns.

The book is surprisingly easy to read, especially considering how long ago it was written. The horrors of 19th Century warfare are not glossed over by the author.

I would like to read some more military books written in the same period.
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on 12 April 2014
Very interesting and easy reading once one is accustomed to his Jane Austen style prose (After all they were contemporaries), So much of what he says of the latter stages of the Peninsular War could be equally applied to some of my own experiences in WW2
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on 29 August 2015
Always wondered what happened at Bayonne at the end of the war, now I know. Fills in much detail on the everyday lives of officers during the Napoleonic war, as well as the duties of a junior officer . Worth a read by anyone interested in this period of history.
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on 12 January 2014
Very detailed and one can only suppose that he kept extensive notes. Admittedly a lot of time was spent encamped, fishing, shooting and acting as a tour guide, such is the nature of most wars. Readable non the less
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on 6 January 2016
A good insight into the peninsular war from the junior officer's point of view. Not quite what "Sharpe" experienced, but adding a more accurate flavour.
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on 6 January 2014
tells how it really was fighting a war
he paints a picture and takes you there to experience the hardships and tribulations of a Brirish fighting man
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on 19 April 2016
Really good read. a different perspective on the Peninsula War from a participant. Victorian english makes reading interesting.
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