Wednesday 20 September 2023

The Tagus Campaign of 1809

The Tagus Campaign of 1809, an Alliance in Jeopardy’ by John Marsden is No. 109 in Helion’s excellent often (in a very good way) eclectic ‘from Reason to Revolution’ series. I was not especially knowledgeable about this campaign, beyond the actual battles and the fact that my wife’s great, great, and so forth grandfather was at the time a physician under Beresford (not a mere surgeon!) in the Anglo-Portuguese army. I was hoping that it would broaden my understanding of the Peninsular Campaign in general so was looking forward to learning more, which indeed I did.

The starting point for this book is the invasion of Portugal by the French in 1808 and the subsequent British landing in Lisbon in April 1809. Led by Wellesley, the British liberated Portugal and then marched to link up with the Spanish army of de La Cuesta . Much of the book focuses on the involvement of the Spanish army and contribution by this rather unpopular character, but it is easy to come to the conclusion that he was a major player in the Anglo-Spanish campaign and deserves more recognition than he normally gets.

The book leads us through the early months of the campaign, the Spanish defeat at Medellin, and to the battle of Talavera and beyond. It is full of contemporary correspondence and similar, which for me at any rate bring these accounts to life; that on page 59 relating to a conversation between Spanish PoW and their French guard is amusing and adds a little bit of humanity to the otherwise disastrous and costly outcome at Medellin.

Chapter 13 is also worthy of note as it unwraps many of the issues affecting the campaign, including transport and provisions, Austria’s failure on the Danube and issues relating to Wellesley and Beresford perceived strategic errors.

The book contains 27 black and white, maps or diagrams, to accompany and compliment the text. Each depicts a significant moment in the campaign so for those like me whoseonly exposure to Portuguese and Western Spanish geography is based on holidays many years ago is quite handy.

There is a single appendix which contains interesting extracts from two letters from Wellesley, both dated 24 July 1809.

This is a well written and clearly well researched volume, and I can recommend this book highly, not only as it has increased my knowledge of this campaign, but because it presents a refreshing perspective that sheds new light on the Spanish participation in the 1809 campaigns in general, and the role of Captain-General Gregorio Cuesta in particular. I am sure readers with a deeper appreciation of the campaign will also find this book worthy of a place on their bookshelves.

ISBN 978-1-804511-90-9     Soft back, 251 pages

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