Friday, July 4, 2008

Wellington and His Army (Book #64)

Wellington and His Army (Godfrey Davis, 1954) assumes reader familiarity with the general course of the Peninsular War and Waterloo Campaign, focusing instead on Wellington's personality, his interactions with his officers and men, and everyday life with the army. I didn't learn much new from it, but I do try to keep myself immersed in this kind of book, because these are the people and the world I write about. (More or less. Since I'm doing alternative history, everything is a little...different.)

One thing that struck me with this book is the degree to which the archetypal Wellington story involves some soldier getting out of a flogging or worse by making him crack up. A typical example: a soldier in the act of stealing honey is accosted by Wellington, who asks him where he got that. The soldier, not recognizing the army's commander because his face is half-hooded against the bee stings, tells him where to find the hives, and helpfully urges him to hurry up if he wants some, because there's already a crowd helping themselves. Wellington laughs, and the soldier goes unpunished. There must be at least half a dozen similar incidents reported in books like this, and of course it's impossible to tell at this distance which are real and which are apocryphal. I'm struck (probably because I'm geeky and strange) by the contrast with, say, the archetypal Robert E. Lee story, which usually involves him showing semi-anonymous mercy and personal care to some soldier, whether Confederate or Union--the Lee stories emphasize that general's reputed saintliness, while the Wellington stories instead undercut his reputation for seriousness and strictness.

(Yeah, I know. I'm geeky and strange.)

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