Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I've just finished reading 'Fusiliers' by Mark Urban (Faber and faber, 2007). Subtitled 'How the British army lost America but learned how to fight', this is an account of the American War of Independence written from many previously unpublished primary sources, focussed mainly (but not exclusively) on the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Urban manages to write a well paced and engaging piece of history, developing within it the story of the revolution in British tactics that developed on the North American continent, and the subsequent battle to have these adopted by the British Army in the early days of the French revolutionary wars.

His chronicling of Cornwallis' campaign through the southern states, and his accounts of the battles in which the protagonists engaged (Camden and Guildford Courthouse stand out), are engaging and memorable.

Most profound for me is his account in his last two chapters of the regression of British tactics in the 1890s  (as the Duke of York pushed the emulation of the Prussian linear tactics that he saw on show at the 1785 Prussian maneuvers) and the work of Calvert and Cornwallis to re-introduce the 'light infantry' tactics that Cornwallis had developed with the British Army in North America 25 years before, with line infantry fighting in 2 ranks, with larger spaces between files, and dedicated light infantry.

The book is compelling reading, and ought to be on the reading list of any 'gamer (or scholar for that matter) with an interest in 18th and 19th century warfare.

Here is the Independent's review of the book.

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