The history books have forgotten the artillery of Wellington's army during the Napoleonic Wars, but in this book Nick Lipscombe offers a study of the gunners through first-hand accounts, bringing life and color to their heroic actions.
Wellington was, without doubt, a brilliant field commander, but his leadership style was abrupt and occasionally uncompromising, especially to his artillery. He trained his infantry generals as divisional commanders but not army commanders; for his cavalry commanders he had little time often pouring scorn on their inability to control their units and formation in battle; but it was his artillery commanders that he kept at arm's length in particular, suspicious of their different chain of higher command and of their selection through ability, rather than privilege. In consequence, Wellington's relationship with his gunners was dutiful at best, and occasionally failed completely. Frequently frustrated by his lack of control and influence over the artillery off the battlefield, Wellington would occasionally over-exert his authority on it, personally deploying the guns sometimes against the advice of his experts. Wellington's personal distrust culminated in a letter to The Master General of the Ordnance in December 1815 in which he commented, 'to tell you the truth, I was not very pleased with the Artillery in the battle of Waterloo'. This resulted in the mistaken belief that the gunners performed badly at this crucial battle, supposedly abandoning their guns and fleeing the field, in direct contrast to French eyewitness accounts.
Wellington's Guns is the long overdue story of this often stormy relationship, the frustrations, challenges, the characters, and the achievements of the main protagonists as well as a detailed account of the British artillery of this period. Even with the valiant contribution of some 12,000 gunner officers, NCOs and rank and file, five battery honour titles, and numerous primary accounts, this is a story which has never been told. This despite the fact that the artillery itself was revolutionized during the course of the Napoleonic Wars from developing the vital 'danger-close' missions in the woods of Hougoumont, Belgium to the mountain gun attacks during the Pyrenean campaign of the Peninsular War and creeping barrages and Congreve rockets in all theatres, with the ultimate result that the artillery itself became a crucial component of any future and indeed modern army.
"A very timely landmark book in a much neglected field. This is a scholarly and meticulous examination of one of the great puzzles of military history. Why did one of Britain's greatest commanders think so little of his gunners? Nick Lipscombe presents us with a fascinating analysis of Wellington's treatment of men who deserved better."
- Peter Snow, journalist, broadcaster and author of To War with Wellington
"Though ever present and ever more efficient, the artillery that supported the British armies that fought in the Peninsula and at Waterloo has not figured strongly in this historiography. In this splendid work Nick Lipscombe remedies this want and in the process provides us with much fresh information on the internal workings of the British military machine."
- Professor Charles J. Esdaile, University of Liverpool
"A remarkable and masterly account of Wellington’s gunners that is unlikely to be surpassed."
- Ian Fletcher, author of The Peninsular War – Wellington’s Battlefields Revisited