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Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket Paperback – 5 Aug 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (5 Aug. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006531520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006531524
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 116,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The battlefield museum of Waterloo, Richard Holmes comments in Redcoat, tells us much about Napoleon, Wellington and their senior commanders but far less about the men they led. Holmes aims, in this massively researched history, to redress the balance. He does so by piling up facts, information and anecdotes, many of them culled from memoirs of the period, to illustrate the everyday life of British soldiers in the 18th and 19th centuries, from the Battle of Blenheim to the Crimean War. In the hands of a less gifted historian this might have made for a dry, daunting and overpowering text. Holmes, however, has a sharp eye for the telling details and the memorable stories that bring the past to life. He pays as much attention to the small-scale as to the larger picture: a soldier is promoted because "his beautiful black eyes and whiskers had attracted the notice of his colonel's lady"; Crimea-bound infantrymen play cricket in "what the scorebook calls Sultan's Valley, Asia Minor"; black musician-soldiers enrich the repertoire of a regimental band; a respected military surgeon is revealed, after death, to have been a woman dressed as a man. Yet Holmes is always aware of that larger picture and of the hardships and dangers of the military life. His chapters on the floggings and punishments inflicted on the common soldier and on the terrible wounds that battle could bring--which again make vivid use of period memoirs--are often very moving. Anyone wanting to find out how the ordinary soldier of the 18th and 19th centuries was recruited, how he was drilled, how he fought, how he lived and (often) how he died, need look no further than this impressive work of popular history. --Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'I have never met Richard Holmes, but I am deeply jealous of him for Redcoat opens with the re-enactment of a Napoleonic battle that I wish I had written myself… The redcoat and his family were never appreciated, but Richard Holmes has written them a marvellous memorial. Redcoat is a wonderful book, full of anecdote and good sense. Anyone who has enjoyed a Sharpe story will love it, anyone who likes history will want to own it and anyone who cherishes good writing will read it with pleasure.' BERNARD CORNWELL, Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Hint: please, DO read the introduction.
Arranged in chapters dedicated to a particular theme, this book gives the history of the British Army during their busiest era when the Empire covered most of the world.
In describing the social conditions which forced a good number of Britons to join up, rather than suffer the civilian hardships, we get a brilliantly concise history of the period. This was a time of the greatest change that Britain had ever seen; canals, metalled roads and railways improved communication and access; mechanisation and imports undermined the traditional workers' jobs; a series of wars caused a terrific drain on the economy; expansionism was pushing back the boundaries of the Empire; and the Government was beset by constant calls for reform. Little surprise that the Army had its hands full, both at home and abroad, with the consequent need to increase its strength and change its mode of operation.
Written for readability rather than minutely describing the trappings of military dress, it succeeds admirably - we get in a few paragraphs a potted history of the major military (including naval) actions in the Georgian era - the rest of the book is dedicated to specific aspects of soldierly life, for which Prof. Holmes gets his information first-hand from letters and memoirs of the common soldier, as well as from the officers - both are quoted freely. But it goes beyond the bounds of military life, to describe the many outside influences which affected how the Army was recruited, clothed, fed, trained, punished, doctored and entertained.
Very readable, full of anecdotes, and probably the best condensed history of the period, both social and military, that I have come across. A must for any fan of military fiction. *****
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Format: Paperback
History lessons in Irish schools feature redcoats quite a lot - how they put down rebellions and killed loads of Irish people. I was very surprised to find in Holmes' book that 40% of the British army was Irish at certain times!
This book is very skillfully written from the point of view of the ordinary soldier. Holmes has researched his book in meticulous detail and I found it a fascinating read. There's no attempt to rewrite history, justify or condemn the actions of the army or Empire - we're told how life was.
I also liked the description of weapon's used - especially the Brown Bess musket. Now I know where the expression "Flash in the pan" comes from.
The only thing missing for me is what it was like in battle for the Redcoats. Some describe the horror and bloodbaths - but I've often wondered how soldiers get posted in the front of a rank or column where they are more likely to be killed - or are they?
The ordinary soldier comes through here and this book is well worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
Rarely does one read a history book that brings its subject alive with such vivid narrative and anecdote. Rather than plodding through a chronology of campaign and battle, Holmes takes broad topics such as uniform, armament, tactics, welfare, punishment, health, etc. and tracks their evolution (or lack thereof) through the 18th and 19th centuries. In each area he supports his narrative with a rich sprinkling of contemporary source material. Unlike many histories that draw on contemporary sources, however, Holmes tends to favour "personal" anecdote. This humanises the history and adds significantly to its relevance. The question that remains unresolved for me, given the grim picture painted of life in the British Army in this period, is why would anyone ever want to do it? Perhaps the answer is that the army of that time was largely peopled with misfits and the socially excluded. This being the case, the achievements it made are all the more impressive. Even if you are not really interested in military history, Holmes's enthusiasm, knowledge and insight will tell you a lot about some of the foundations of the British character, will entertain you and will leave you wanting to learn more.
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Format: Paperback
Holmes is a master at bringing the experience of battle to those of us fortunate enough never to have been involved in it and in this book he covers a vast amount of ground - the life and work of the British soldier in the era of musketry, infantry squares and red coats (roughly, 1700-1850). Holmes covers all aspects of military life - recruitment, drill and training, life in garrisons, campaigning, battles, uniforms, food, weapons, medical facilities - from the perspective of both officers and the NCOs and men that served under them.
Much of the book consists of extracts from the memoirs and diaries of soldiers and those close to them, linked by analysis from Holmes. Because the chapters are organised thematically rather than chronologically, there is a certain degree of jumping around in time and a slight degree of repetition between them, although this is not obtrusive.
Holmes does much to dispel the myth of the private soldier of the eighteenth and nineteenth century as an illiterate drunkard - many of the extracts from soldiers' reminiscences are very well-written and perceptive. Similarly, he contrasts the courage and professionalism of some officers with the rapid rise through the ranks of those who were willing to trade in commissions.
Holmes paints a vivid picture of an army in transition throughout the period - showing how campaigns, social changes and technology combined to form the force that helped build an empire.
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