The Fatal Hill.


There were only three battles involving the British where Wellington was not present, Corunna, Barossa and Albuera. This book describes the events around the last of these battles, where the combined British, Spanish and Portuguese force under Marshal William Carr Beresford defeated the French army under Marshal Soult. Beresford had been given command of an independent Allied force to contain the French in the south of Spain whilst Wellington attempted to retake the northern frontier fortresses of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.

Whilst the book is about one of the smaller battles during the Peninsular War, it is about the people who lived and died through the period. I have tried to give a flavour of what those present actually felt by letting you read their words, rather than after being 'sterilised' by a historian. They tell the story of this period and of this battle. I have just added words in between to keep the continuity. The true value and interest in this minor campaign is the strong feelings it generated in those who played a part. This led to lengthy exchanges in print over the events and make fascinating reading to the military enthusiast.

The first major history of the Peninsular War was written by William Napier. For what appear to be political reasons, he took a dislike to Beresford and took every opportunity to denigrate his actions. Much of this campaign was the subject of controversy when Napier's 'History of the Peninsular War' was published. Volume 3, which covered this period led to a fierce exchange of pamphlets between Beresford, Napier and associates like D'Urban and Charles Edward Long. Several well known characters became unwilling participants in this verbal skirmish.

It is also interesting to note, that the battle of Albuera is a very rare instance where the texts of Oman and Fortescue do not follow a similar path. Oman takes a stance which is supportive of Beresford and critical of Napier's work. Fortescue is more sympathetic to some of the ideas put forward by Napier and less sympathetic towards Beresford's handling of the campaign.

Certainly Beresford did not command the same level of confidence from his troops as Wellington did. Since the publication of Oman's and Fortescue's volumes on Albuera, almost eighty years has passed. I am surprised at how much new material has come to light over that period. Also the popularity of facsimile reprints has made many of the rarer texts readily available again. So although the battle of Albuera is moving further and further away in time, there is something new to add to the existing story.

This book is about the political and logistical problems of waging war. It is about officers of limited ability and brilliant commanders. It is about treachery and bravery, co-operation and intransigence. In summary, this book is about the strength of the British soldier and his ability to overcome all obstacles.

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Hard Back with dust jacket, 235 pages in length.

Price 25 Sterling.      ISBN 0-09522930-7-2


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Copyright December 2002 Mark S Thompson