With Wellington in the Peninsula

Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier

Paul Cowan

Date Published :
March 2015
Publisher :
Frontline Books
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781848327863
Pages : 256
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Few men from the 71st Highland Light Infantry who sailed from Cork with Wellington to Portugal in 1808 returned to the Irish port six years later. The author of Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier was one of the survivors and claims only four other men from his company came through the entire six years with him.

As one of Wellington's elite Light Infantry units the 71st were in the fore of the fighting in some of the hardest fought battles of the Peninsular War. The book was controversial on its release in 1827 for its unvarnished and unsentimental account of the grim war against the French in Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and France itself. A cynic with a highly developed sense of humor, the author was not afraid to criticize his superiors, be they thieving sergeants or officers who were far from gentlemen.

Editor Paul Cowan draws on little known diaries and other accounts written by the author's contemporaries to corroborate and expand on this frank but all too long neglected firsthand picture of the war in the Peninsula as it was really fought.


“A long-neglected memoir by an anonymous soldier from the Duke of Wellington’s army. . . . The book  was a too unsentimental and unvarnished account of the Peninsular War for readers in 1827. Its references to thieving sergeants and officers who were far from gentlemen seem to have meant that sadly it sank into undeserved obscurity."

- The British Canadian

"Enlisted memoirs from the Napoleonic Wars are rare. . . only about 25% of those published in the past 200 years. With Wellington in the Peninsula is unlike any other I have read – either by an officer or enlisted soldier. It is highly entertaining, but also thought provoking for it tells what a soldier felt about his officers, being in the army, and being exposed to danger for years on end."

- The Napoleon Series

" a good tale of the sharp end. It is also a look at society of the early 19th century and why young men took the ‘shilling’. The book is well written and edited, easy to read with some clear informative maps."

- Army Rumour Service

"thoroughly recommend this book, it is an honest account of life in the period. I can fully understand why it wasn’t overly well received in its day but think that it is the unsympathetic yet balanced nature of the account that make it so valuable now. Life was neither full of horror and death, but neither was it six years of japes and humour. The truth lies between both and this account shows that. Humour can be found in the darkest of situations."

- 71st Highland Light Infantry

Such is the drouth for celebrating conspicuous anniversaries that this reprint of an 1827 publication orginally titled Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier has been none to subtly rebranded in the Waterloo-crazed year of 2015 as With Wellington in the Peninsula. This is despite the fact that Wellington is just an occasionally name-dropped bit-part player in this remarkable memoir of an anonymous Glasgow private of the Highland Light Infantry. According to its editor, Paul Cowan, it may have been ghost-written by George Robert Gleig, a retired officer from Stirling. If it was ghost-written it is remarkably accomplished, for it presents a convincing voice from within the lowest echelons of the rank-and-file as he fought his way through eight wearying years of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and France. The I-was-there intimacy of its author's blunt, wry, funny and often shocking observations caused it to be branded "trash" by what Cowan calls "that bastion of Tory privilege within the armed forces, The Military and Naval Magazine". If you like me are among the least military minded of people, here is all the ammunition you will ever need to heap scorn on the very concept of wars. "How can a private pretend to see a whole engagement?" he asks. "The whole thing will plainly be seen to be utterly impossible, when it is considered that the length of a stone's cast is often the extent of his view, while the conflict extends over miles." So you get moments like this instead: "One of the men actually brought in a French prisoner hooked by the cheek with his fixed bayonet." This is followed by the reassurance that "this was not done with any cruel intention , but in the mere hurry of the moment". The mere hurry of the moment is what this book is all about. I don't care much for military memoirs, but I couldn't put this one down.

- The Scots Magazine

"In this book, editor Paul Cowan presents readers with an edited version of a Scottish war memoir of the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century. Written by one of very few of Wellington’s men to make it back from the war, this book was originally published under the title Vicissitudes in the life of a Scottish Soldier in 1827. The editor is a journalist and the author of many books. He is currently based in Canada."

- ProtoView

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