The Thinking Man's Soldier

The Life and Career of General Sir Henry Brackenbury 1837-1914

Christopher Brice

Date Published :
July 2015
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Helion Studies in Military History
Illustration :
16 b/w illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781907677694
Pages : 208
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781910777404
Pages : 370
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available


Nominated for the SAHR Templer Medal 2013

Sir Henry Brackenbury is a now largely forgotten but extremely important soldier, writer, and administrator of the late Victorian era. To Lord Wolseley Brackenbury was "not one of but the cleverest man in the army" and "that first-rate man of business", to the conservative Duke of Cambridge he was "a very dangerous man" whilst King Edward VII remembered him as the man who "pulled the army out of a hole in South African".

Born to a minor Lincolnshire landowning family of modest but comfortable means, and as the youngest son of a youngest son, it was always essential that Henry Brackenbury had a 'career'. Although initially studying for a career in the legal profession he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1856.

He saw active service during the Indian Mutiny, but after that he settled down into a series of administrative and teaching appointments within the Royal Artillery and as Professor of Military History at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. Finding he had a considerable amount of spare time on his hands he was encouraged to write a history of the origins of artillery in Europe. With this he started an illustrious literary career which would see him produce five books alongside a large number of journal and newspaper articles. He had a simple narrative style alongside an ability to engage the more technical reader. Being of limited personal means the financial success of his literary work was extremely important.

He worked for the National Aid Society on the continent during the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1872 he was asked by Garnet Wolseley to join his staff and accompany him to Ashantiland. This was the start of a long association as one of what would become known as the 'Wolseley Ring' that would see Brackenbury serve in Natal, Cyprus, Zululand and ultimately the Sudan where Brackenbury would lead the River Column and end the war by being promoted to Major-General.

The remainder of his career saw him undertake three key administrative posts. As Head of the Intelligence Branch of the War Office, where he became a Chief of Staff in all but name. Later as Military Member of the Governor General of India where he combined the roles of a Chief of Staff and Secretary of State for War completely reforming the administrative and financial systems of the Indian Army and establishing the Indian Army's first mobilization scheme. Finally as Director General of the Ordnance he had to deal with the large scale demands that the South African War placed on his department and him personally.

His extremely interesting and significant military career has largely been overlooked until now. Alongside the private papers in the public domain the author has been granted unprecedented access to the private archives of the Brackenbury family and has viewed many letters of a more personal nature, and has been able to produce the first detailed biography of Sir Henry Brackenbury.

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Brice is the author of The Thinking Man’s Soldier and Brave As A Lion. He is at present working on three further books, all dealing with matters related to the Victorian British Army. Alongside his writing he is the series editor for Helion & Co Ltd’s 19th century series, newly retitled From Musket to Maxim.


"In some ways Brackenbury was, even more than his mentor, ‘the model of a modern major-general’. Scientific and immensely hard-working, he recognised, as did the best officers of the Prussian general staff whom he had encountered in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, that waging modern war was about administration and good management as much as courage and inspiration. Such work tends to remain unsung; in Brackenbury’s case it has – until now. Christopher Brice has made good the deficit with the exhaustive biography which Brackenbury deserves and whose research he would surely have appreciated.”

- Professor Hew Strachan

“In this meticulously researched biography of the largely forgotten Henry Brackenbury, Christopher Brice casts new light on the late Victorian army. He illustrates the complexities of civil-military relation of the era and shows how Brackenbury was the first of a new breed of ambitious, intellectual army officers who would ultimately play a key role in reshaping the military in the late nineteenth century. This is an important addition to the historiography of the Victorian army.”

- Dr Spencer Jones, author of From Boer War to World War: Tactical Reform of the British Army, 1902-1914.

"The Thinking Man's Soldier is a book that all serious students of the late Victorian army should read."

- Soldiers of the Queen

“ … fills a vital gap in our understanding of the Late Victorian Army and brings into focus the story of a remarkable officer whose example has resonance today … Brice writes well and manages to weave a fascinating narrative out of a career that, at first glance, might appear more worthy than adventurous …”

- Mars & Clio: Newsletter of the British Commission for Military History

“ … superb biography … helps pierce the shroud of relative obscurity that has descended over Brackenbury's career and life … Brice’s deeply researched, insightful, and handsomely produced biography will prove to be an indispensable study of late Victorian British army generalship …”

- Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

"Brice emphasizes the ongoing reform and modernization of the British Army, in which senior leaders like Brackenbury played an important, although frequently unrecognized, role … Brice’s deeply-researched, insightful, and handsomely-produced biography will prove to be an indispensable study of late Victorian British Army generalship.”"

- International Bibliography of Military History

“The book is of wider interest for the light it casts on the late Victorian army.”


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