Tim Saunders & RobYuill, The Light Division in the Peninsular War 1808-1811 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The British Light Infantry during the Peninsular campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars were at the heart of the action. They fought toe to toe with the French in the advance and on the retreat. Tim Saunders and RobYuill tell their story and describe the lives of the soldiers on and off the battlefield.
In typical fashion, the British were slow to adopt Light Infantry on more than a nominal scale, with no battalions until 1803, though they had a Rifle Corps from 1800. This became the 95th (Rifle) Regiment under Sir John Moore. Light Infantry served in the Peninsular campaigns of 1808/1809, by which time the Light Division had been formed. The Riflemen that travelled to Portugal were soon in action at Rolica and Vimiero. The unfortunate Moore found himself in command of the Peninsular army in October 1808 and despite his best efforts they found themselves in full retreat by December in the face of the French advance into northern Spain. The Light Infantry were very busy covering that retreat to prevent it becoming a rout. They were hard-pressed all the way to Corunna where with the rest of the army they stood and fought a pitched battle in which Moore was killed but the army escaped by sea. In 1809, the Light Infantry returned to the Peninsula under Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. This was to be a very different campaign with the Light Infantry leading the advance against the retreating French, helping to drive them out of Portugal if only temporarily. In 1810, they took up outpost duties, skirmishing with the French across the lines. They also began working with the Portuguese Cacadores light infantry. The French pushed the British back again, but the Light Infantry proved a consistent thorn in their side with skilled and disciplined skirmishing tactics. In the Winter of 1810-1811, the Light Infantry proved their worth again protecting the lines of Torres Vedras, Wellington’s defensive position in Portugal. In 1811, Wellesley took the offensive again this time for good with the Light Infantry to the front as usual.
Saunders and Yuill cover well-trodden ground in this book as far as the campaigns go, but the focus on the Light Infantry is an interesting angle. The authors deliver solid combat narratives with primary sources incorporated skilfully, particularly the reminiscences of Rifleman Harris of the 95th. They add box-out text sections, covering extraneous information such as weapons, equipment, and uniforms. Reenactor photographs showing loading and basic tactics, including the famous Plunkett Position, and clear maps and modern photographs of terrain illuminate the narrative. Napoleonic wars enthusiasts will enjoy this book very much.