The disastrous retreat and near disintegration of Sir John Moore’s army on the road to Corunna in 1809 is traditionally regarded as the low point in the history of the British intervention in the Peninsular War. Yet under the Duke of Wellington, the British and their allies suffered defeats and retreats that tend to be overshadowed by the series of victories that eventually drove the French from Portugal and Spain. None of these setbacks was graver than the retreat that followed the disastrous failure of the siege of Burgos in 1812. It is this, less than glorious, phase of the Peninsular campaign that is the subject of Carole Divall’s latest study of the British army of the Napoleonic Wars. By reconstructing events in close detail, and by bringing together [many] primary sources, she gives a vivid account of what happened and why. Wellington himself recognized the mistakes and miscalculations that led to the potentially catastrophic situation in which he placed his men. He described it as his ‘worst scrape’. Yet most of the letters, journals and memoirs that have survived praise the skill with which he saved Britain's only army from disaster. Carole Divall weaves together Wellington’s dispatches with the eyewitness testimony left by British and Portuguese officers and men, by civilians, and by the French. A fascinating, multi-layered impression emerges of the siege of Burgos itself and the sequence of maneuvers that preceded it. She describes in authentic detail the tense decision-making and the misjudgments that were made on the allied side and the headlong retreat that followed as the British fled from two French armies that threatened to trap and destroy them. Carole Divall’s in-depth study of a pivotal – and neglected – episode in the Peninsular War gives a fascinating insight into the character of the fighting, at every level, and into the strengths and weaknesses of Wellington’s command.
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Carole Divall has a special interest in military history, in particular the history of the British army during the Napoleonic Wars. She has published articles on regimental history, on the workings of the army of Wellington’s time and on aspects of the key campaigns. Her most recent publications are Redcoats Against Napoleon and Inside the Regiment, two studies of the officers and men of the 30th Regiment during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.Review:
This is Carole Divall's third book, the first two having dealt in detail with the 30th Regiment, and this time she concentrate's on the latter stages of Wellington's campaign of 1812, from his advance from Madrid on Burgos and his subsequent retreat. Using letters and memoirs from participants on both the British and French sides Carole paints a vivid picture of this pivotal campaign, one where Wellington showed what the British forces could do, but also showed it at its worst during the retreat. It led ultimately to the successful campaign of 1813 and the French being pushed out of Spain. Carole has presented in this book part of a campaign which has been largely overshadowed by Wellington's victories at Salamanca and Vittoria. This is an excellent book that fills a gap in the usual telling of the war in Spain and Portugal and one worth having for anyone interested in the war in Spain. - Crown and Empire It is about time what such a well researched, modern book on the Burgos campaign was published - especially as most of the 200th anniversaries in 2012 concentrated on allied victories. Wellington may have been over-confident following his successes at Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajos, Salamanca and Madrid. Carole Divall brings the subsequent story to life brilliantly with a very wide range of personal accounts and a logical analysis of events. Highly recommended. - Soldier Magazine
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