Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Review: Wellington Against Massena: The Third Invasion of Portugal
It was all for nothing as it turned out. As the name would suggest, the focus should be on Wellington and Massena and who they were as men and commanders. What the book largely is about, is telling the narrative of the Peninsular War from the British perspective. A chapter deals with Wellington's early life and career and then a less detailed chapter goes into Massena's life and career. Having been well acquainted with Wellington's background, nothing new was really to be revealed. With Massena, his personal life is presented in passing and it appears the author made no real attempt to find new information to present to the reader. Massena's career is well covered and this was a jewel in the mud.
A major source of disappointment is the lack of written orders and correspondence from the two commanders. The documents exist showing the orders for battles and what they thought might happen, but they are not included. Also inexplicably, correspondence between Wellington and Massena are missing. Was the author unaware of this information still existing? Why was no attempt made to find the information?
And then you have errors that reflect the author's shallow understanding of the subject matter. On page 55, Napoleon is called an "inveterate warmonger" while the author goes off topic mentioning the Danube campaign. Was he unaware the Austrians started that war in 1809? David Buttery should be and he is likely allowing his British bias to show in an uncalled for deceptive statement.
Later on page 160, David Buttery erroneously states that the French Imperial Guard Grenadiers were present at Fuentes de Onoro. The error originates from a British soldier who mistook the converged grenadier battalions with their bearskins as the Old Guard. On page 164, the author now downgrades them to Young Guard status. These two errors reflect on the author's ignorance of the order of battle and the reliance on British accounts without much investigation of the source material. I refused to keep track of all the errors, so let these stand out as some of the obvious ones in the work.
The author concludes the book somewhat abruptly dealing with Massena's request to decline presiding over Ney's trial and rather short life after the war. For Wellington's conclusion, it somehow escaped mentioning the details of The Iron Duke's loss of social standing and attempt to steal Napoleon's mistresses, chef etc. Again, is the author unaware or avoiding harmful information? Massena's love of money is mentioned in multiple places in the book, but Wellington's cold and harsh personality is really glossed over by being mentioned only in passing. Again, this is where physical correspondence letters to subordinates and even opponents would have been invaluable to turning Wellington into a human being instead of a statue with a few human traits.
The book was a major disappointment on many levels. The book does include a generous list of "references", but if an author doesn't fully understand the subject matter or has some intent on rewriting history, then the sources cannot be cited as truth when they are misused. I walk away from this experience confused over the author's motive being improper or was he simply ignorant and felt if he used enough sources, he could pull off a good book? Anyone familiar with the theater would pretty much be aware of the battles so did not need them being retold with no new information being presented. Having read all seven volumes of Charles Oman's A History of the Peninsular War, gives me a higher understanding of the events and perhaps raised my hopes.
With all of this said, I would not recommend the book. Promoting the usual bias and rehashing old material with a new cover doesn't lend itself to being very useful for anyone researching the topic. The shallowness of the two commanders presented in a book with them as the subject is misleading at best. An amateurish work I wouldn't even donate to a public library. What a shame. The author had an attempt to do real research using archived material and giving these men depth and life and he chose to cut corners by using already published works - errors and all.