Gabriele Esposito, Wellington’s Infantry British Foot Regiments 1800-1815 (Pen & Sword, 2021)
The British army that fought and defeated the French under Napoleon was arguably the finest in this island’s long military history. Most of us can picture them in their red coats and black hats, facing down the French cavalry charges at Waterloo. But there was more variety in the British army than first meets the eye. To that end, Gabriele Esposito surveys the British infantry of the period in a book replete with colour pictures of the soldiers involved.
Esposito begins with the Foot Guards where he provides a history of the units and their involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. He describes the Line Infantry next with an emphasis on their organization added to their history and deployment. The peculiarities of the Scottish Regiments are considered before Esposito moves on to the Light Infantry. Royal Veteran Battalions and Fencible Regiments occupy Chapter 5. Esposito turns to British troops abroad, beginning in Canada, then the West Indies, Africa, and Australia, before arriving in India. Sometimes foreigners came to us and served in the British Army. Esposito describes the King’s Dutch Brigade among others, including Maltese, Italians, Greeks, Swiss, and mixed foreign units. The most famous foreign unit was the King’s German Legion, which receives its own chapter. Esposito concludes with a chapter on uniforms and equipment, which were more varied than novice Napoleonic Wars readers might know. Thus headgear, jackets, and coats are described before Esposito lists the facing colours of all the regiments in the army. He returns to describes officer’s rank distinctions, greatcoats, trousers and kilts, then lists regiments that wore ‘peculiar’ uniforms. Esposito adds belts and pouches, and weapons to complete the soldier’s appearance.
It is difficult to assess the audience for Esposito’s sojourn in the Napoleonic Wars. Veteran students of the period will find much to nit-pick in the text, which rarely rises above routine descriptions and shallow conclusions. The contemporary colour plates are interesting, but many of them are not matched to the text, which seems decidedly odd. That they were all derived from the same online source says something about the superficiality of the research and production of this book. Nevertheless, someone new to the period who wants a primer on the British Army will no doubt enjoy it before moving deeper into the subject.