Detailed history of the 1812 battle at Salamanca, Spain, where Lord Wellington proved his tactical virtuosity by defeating French forces under the command of Marshal Marmont.
Historian Muir (Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807–1815, not reviewed) uncovers enough new material to justify academic reconsideration of Wellington’s near rout of the French army during the Napoleonic Peninsular War. He chooses a traditional structural approach, revealing a conflict between opposing commanders with contrasting personalities leading armies of roughly equal size and power. Muir quickly sets the stage of how Marmont, the impetuous and aggressive French commander, spent the days leading up to the decisive battle trying to maneuver cautious Wellington’s allied army into an exposed position. The elaborate reconstruction of the resulting day-long conflict is unprecedented among existing scholarship about the battle. In addition to conventionally relating the opposing armies’ battlefield dispositions and walking the reader through Wellington’s brilliant decision to attack Marmont’s weakened left flank, he also captures the day’s chaotic and desperate atmosphere with dozens of eyewitness accounts of carnage as the French retreat threatened to become full-fledged panic. Adding further authenticity to the narrative, Muir offers important insights about Wellington’s tactical decisions gleaned from walking the battlefield himself. The combination of rigorous research, obscure eyewitness accounts, and personal insight results in moments of keen appreciation for Wellington’s genius. More often, however, they overwhelm the reader with minute and often conflicting details that obfuscate rather than clarify important aspects of the battle.
While Muir presents his reconstruction in too much detail to hold a general history reader’s attention, students and enthusiasts of Napoleonic warfare will feast on the thoroughness of his research and the accuracy of his scholarship. (20 detailed battle maps)