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Invading France with Lieutenant Gleig of the 85th Foot.,
This review is from: The Subaltern: A Chronicle of the Peninsular War (Hardcover)
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.