Like everyone else, I normally puddle along and fit my hobby activities in with other, less pressing matters, and sometimes things work out better than others. Swings and the other fellows – you know – roundabouts, that’s it.
On occasions, the gods seem to smile on what I’m doing, and I get lucky. Well, either they are smiling or else they were busy persecuting someone else, took their eye off the ball and allowed a few good breaks to sneak through by mistake.
One recent example was when the batch of pre-owned Scots and Irish ECW troops I got from eBay turned out to have been organized for Montrose’s campaigns, which is exactly what I wanted them for.
I’ve had a surprising run of fortunate coincidences, too, in connection with the arrangements for my proposed new 1809 Spanish army. As soon as I decided that there was no way I could ever collect enough metal figures for such an army, and had therefore shelved the idea, I suddenly got a series of windfall lots of OOP infantry on eBay and elsewhere, and I was in business. The army was feasible.
As I am hunting around trying to find all the fiddly bits to make up the army – command figures, gunners, staff and all that – and also trying to correct a lamentable lack of suitable cavalry figures, I get some good news from an associate in Madrid, who reckons he has tracked down some more obscure figures for me, and almost at the same time Hagen Miniatures begin to show the early proofs of some new Spanish artillery for the early Guerra de Independencia – the start of a mooted range which will include infantry later on. As if all this isn’t exciting enough, Ken Trotman have published a fine new book on exactly this period of the Spanish army, and it is a cracker.
Spanish Infantry of the Early Peninsular War, by Gerard Cronin and Dr Stephen Summerfield, is exactly what is needed by anyone who, like me, is trying to get a wargamer’s view of this army. Unusually, it makes use of Spanish sources, and presents a lot of information which I haven’t seen before, along with lovely reproductions of colour plates by Suhr, Knoetel, Bueno, Bradford and others. It also – importantly – features up-to-date research by Luis Sorando Muzas, and there are some marvellous reproductions of regimental flags as well as uniforms. This book, for the first time ever, makes sense of the bewildering variety of uniforms which were worn by the Spanish army – even before the chaos years of 1810 onwards, when manufacturing capacity disappeared under French control and units were clothed in whatever they could get hold of. The reality of the early years was a series of changes of dress regulations, of 1797, 1802 and 1805, each of which was never fully implemented, so that mixtures of uniform styles and improvisations on each and all of these were seen. There is a table giving a snapshot summary as at April 1808 of the known state of the dress of each regiment – this table is worth the price of the entire book, but there is much more besides.
The militia are covered, as are the Swiss and other foreign units, but the cavalry, guards, artillery and technical services must wait for the next volume. If you are interested at all in this period – especially if you field a Spanish army – you should seriously consider buying this book.
I have a few, relatively minor reservations. The first is entirely a hobbyhorse of my own: possibly because they are not from the inner sanctum of academic historians, the authors have really bent over backwards to cross-reference everything correctly, and the extent to which they have done this actually adds some clutter to the work. Referencing Von Pivka as a source, for example, might be regarded as a step too helpful.
My other complaint is also survivable, but annoying. If I were the author of this book, I would be furious at the lack of proof reading. Some words are reproduced incorrectly, there is the odd typo, which we should expect, but in some places the grammar is so strange that it requires a little unscrambling. I think I have worked out that it looks as though corrections were made to the text, but in many cases the corrections seem to have been added to the original text instead of being substituted. How can this happen? The book appears to be printed in the UK, so it is not as if there were no English speakers on the premises when it went to press. Were the publishers in such a hurry, or are their standards so low, that they did not have someone to check the final text? In the case of this volume, I would have been delighted to have carried out that service for them, free of charge – Trotman please take note.
In any case, I am so delighted with the book that it would be snivelling to make too much of these shortfalls. It will not give you a detailed history of the war or its campaigns (which you can get from other sources), but it will certainly show you things about the appearance and organization of the Spanish army that you have not seen before. I am very pleased with it.
A little clarity, at last.