This work first appeared as a set of articles published in the United Service Journal, starting in March 1831. They were written by an officer who served initially in the 1st, Royal Dragoons before being joining the hussars in 1812. They were written to counteract a common opinion of the time that the British cavalry had not conducted themselves well during the Napoleonic wars.
Certainly the story of the British cavalry is a mixture of unbelievable brilliance and bravery, tempered by frequent rashness and incompetent handling. One example was the charge of the 13th Light Dragoons at Campo Mayor on 25th March 1811. Two squadrons charged and routed two regiments of French cavalry and then chased them several miles to the gates of the French held fortress of Badajoz. The charge was brilliant and brave, the pursuit was reckless. This sequence was not unusual, other examples being at Vimiero, Talavera and Maguilla. There were however some notable successes, such as at Benavente, Sahagun or Usagre.
For most of the Peninsular war, the British cavalry was so weak that they could never face their opponents in an open field. This was possibly just as well. Wellington’s view was that man for man, a British trooper was better than a French trooper, but as the numbers rose they became less easy to control. This does seem to fit with the successes which the British cavalry did have, which invariably involved small numbers. This inability to control larger groups was partially due the lack of training received by the troopers themselves, but mainly due to the almost total lack of officers capable of manoeuvring larger bodies of cavalry. Only one name stands out, that of Henry Paget, whose skilful handling of the rearguard during Moore’s retreat to Corunna is well known. Further service in the Peninsula became impossible when he eloped with the wife of Wellington’s younger brother. Paget did not appear again until Waterloo, where his timing of the charge of the Union brigade had a decisive effect on the battle, although again they overran and were severely repulsed. There were other officers such as Le Marchant and Stapleton Cotton who displayed some skill, but their successes were overshadowed by the actions of Slade, Erskine and Long.
Overall, the British cavalry was rarely strong enough to compete on an even basis with the French, and being an island nation, had had little opportunity to perfect the skills developed by the French on the wide open plains of central Europe. Wellington had little evidence to place a great deal of confidence in their ability to attack and could never afford to suffer heavy losses as this would have left his infantry vulnerable to the more numerous mounted French troops.
This book contains the views of a cavalryman who took part in the Peninsular war and believed that their contribution to the final victory had been undervalued. His statements are not always accurate but they do reflect what is probably a common view amongst his peers in the cavalry at that time. I hope you enjoy reading this.
Printed and bound by hand. No more than 100 copies will be made. Approximately 130 pages in length.
Price £25 Sterling. ISBN 0-09522930-4-8
Copyright © December 2002 Mark S Thompson