Book Review:
Galloping at Everything


By Ian Fletcher


While Britain's infantry of the Napoleonic Period won undying fame for its courage and reliability, the same could not be said of that country's cavalry.

Flighty, ill-disciplined and almost uncontrollable at times, history has painted a bad picture of the mounted arm of the British army.

But does the cavalry deserve such a reputation? Author and historian Ian Fletcher thinks not and has investigated the issue in depth.

Galloping at Everything: The British Cavalry in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo 1808-15 from Spellmount, is Fletcher's defence of the horsemen of Britain.

He begins his work by looking at all aspects of Napoleonic cavalry in Britain from the officers and men, their horses, organisation, tactics, training, weapons, its day-to-day picquet duties and how Spain and Portugal were unsuited to horses.

Fletcher also makes it obvious that few cavalry officers were suited to command and names only two as excellent - Henry Paget, later Lord Uxbridge, and Gaspard Le Marchant. Stapleton Cotton gets a thumbs up, but it is a bit of a back-handed compliment as the author says Wellington liked him because he'd do as he was told.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book come where he details some of the exploits of other officers - such as Mad Jack Slade - and they can be very amusing.

Having explained the good and bad points of the horsemen, Fletcher then goes through how they performed during the Peninsular War and in certain key actions.

From the overenthusiastic and disastrous charge of the 20th Light Dragoons at Vimiero, the successes at Sahagun and Benavente, the controversy that raged over who was to blame for the heavy losses at Campo Mayor, and "the unluckiest" cavalry combat at Maguilla.

Fletcher also examines the performances at Waterloo, including the crucial charge of the Union Brigade and its unabandonned pursuit that led to horrendous numbers of troopers being killed.

Despite the major hiccups, however, Fletcher examines and explains that Britain's cavalry performed very well overall and despite being greatly outnumbered, the cavalry usually bested its French counterparts in both small engagements and set battles.

Fletcher also has the temerity to question the Duke of Wellington's ability in handling his cavalry - as most of the great successes of that arm came when the commander was not present!

Galloping at Everything: The British Cavalry in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo 1808-15 is yet another excellent work from Ian Fletcher and should make people take another, more discerning look, at how good Britain's cavalry was during those crucial campaigns.

If you need to know anything about cavalry of the period then you need look no further.

- Richard Moore




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