Andrew Bamford ed., Life in the Red Coat The British Soldier 1721-1815 (Helion, 2020)
This book of essays, relating to British soldiers, is compiled from the Proceedings of the 2019 Helion and Company ‘From Reason to Revolution’ conference. The linking theme is the wide range of soldiers’ experiences in their various roles in and out of combat. The eight writers are at various stages of their writing or academic careers, and they are as varied as their subjects. Collectively, under Bamford’s watchful eye, they have produced an entertaining and informative book.
Bamford leads the charge with a chronology and introduction to the essays. Andrew Cormack follows with an analysis of Chelsea Pensioner records between 1715 and 1755. Jonathan Oates considers the rank and file soldiers of the British Army at Culloden, closing a hole in our understanding of that battle. The essays leap forward to Robert Griffith’s survey of foreign soldiers serving under Wellington in the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1814. Alexander Burns returns to the 18th Century to probe the extent and effects of Methodism in the British army from 1739 to 1789. Brendan Morrisey’s topic is the role of the army in suppressing the bloody Gordon Riots in June 1780 and their civic role in general when things went wrong. Robert Tildesley takes us to Minorca in 1756 and how soldiers experienced that losing battle. Zack White also examines soldiers’ reactions to defeat and victory as we return to the Peninsular War, then Carole Divale stays in the 1792 to 1815 period to describe how soldiers experienced battle.
The essays in Life in the Red Coat are of varying quality and originality, but they are uniformly interesting and informative. As an introduction to the experiences of British soldiers in the long 18th Century, this little collection works very well, though sometimes you have to hit the ground running to follow them. To his credit, Bamford acknowledges that these essays are not definitive but doorways to further exploration, and the footnotes and bibliographies will certainly help with that. This is an enjoyable and entertaining read for novices and experts alike.
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