Book Review:
Wellington's Peninsula Regiments:
The Irish

By Mike Chappell

It's hard to believe but some 40 per cent of the British army during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars are believed to have been Irishmen.

The hard-fighting soldiers from the Emerald Isle were spread throughout all arms of Wellington's army but, in Wellington's Peninsula Regiments: The Irish, Mike Chappell focuses on those with a official Irish identity.

They are the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards, 18th Hussars, 27th (Enniskillen), 87th (Prince of Wales' Own Irish) and the 88th (Connaught Rangers).

The five regiments had varying levels of success in the Peninsula from the 4th's "Bad War" to the fame and renown won by the Connaught Rangers.

After an interesting introduction to Anglo-Irish history Chappell looks at each regiment individually and paints a warts-and-all picture.

For example the 4th seemed permanently stricken with illness, lost almost all its horses and - for some three months - seems to have disappeared from the history books.

The 18th earnt the wrath of Wellington after Vittoria when they helped pillage King Joseph Bonaparte's treasure wagons and then behaved badly in the streets of the town. Wellington said: "The 18th Hussars are a disgrace to the name of soldier."

The infantry regiments behaved in a better way.

The 27th Enniskillens lost only four men during the terrible 1812 retreat from Burgos while other regiments lost hundreds. Their battle honours included Peninsula, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse.

The 87th won the nickname the Faugh-a-Ballaghs (Clear the Way) for their heroics at Barrosa and also the Eagle Catchers for Sergeant Patrick Masterton's capture of a French Eagle. Their battle honours included Peninsula, Talavera, Barrosa, Nivelle, Vittoria, Orthes and Toulouse.

The 88th had early disciplinary problems that earnt the public hatred of General Sir Thomas Picton who said they were more footpads and robbers than Connaught Rangers. It took the regiment some ferocious fighting throughout the war to win recognition from Picton who refused to accept that they were arguably the best single regiment in the British army.

Mike Chappell has backed up his interesting histories with some first-rate colour drawings of the Irish regiments in uniform. There are black and white images of some of the leading characters and incidents of the Peninsular War, including the capture of the Eagle and the Jingling Johnny taken by the 88th at Salamanca.

A terrific read.

- Richard Moore


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