Thursday, October 21, 2010
Book Review - Charge!
I've just finished reading Charge! by Digby Smith, one of my birthday gifts. It's a history of cavalry charges during the Napoleonic Wars, from Marengo to Waterloo and covers all the big battles, but also some lesser known ones as well, including the great Cossack and Freikorps raids of 1813. The author puts them in the context of the overall battles they were part of and uses first hand accounts to help describe the action. It's a light read and not that academic of a book, each chapter dealing with a separate battle, which left me wanting to find out more. I think after reading Ian Fletcher's brilliant Galloping at Everything (see review here), I was expecting something with a bit more analysis. If you treat it as it's meant to be taken, that is a popular history, then it's quite a good read.
I even learned things; Platov's great Cossack foray to the north during the battle of Borodino has been previously viewed by historians as a great waste of time, but Smith maintains that if it had been given more support by Kutuzov, it could have been a turning point in the Russians' favour. As it was, Eugene had to redeploy his forces to meet this threat which delayed the assault on the Raevsky redoubt for 3 hours.
Other lesser known engagements include the battle of Mockern in 1813 where the Prussian Landwehr cavalry smashed French infantry squares of the Naval artillery (not the Marins of the Guard, as is sometimes claimed), showing how much morale is a factor when attacking squares (for both attackers and defenders); similarly, the action at Garcia Hernandez in the aftermath of the battle of Salamanca resulted in unsupported cavalry smashing 3 squares of infantry by the KGL dragoons. The first-hand description of how in the aftermath there were perfect square formations of discarded muskets also speaks volumes of shattered infantry morale.
A good light read with some surprises.