Type of Document Dissertation Author Gerges, Mark Thomas Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-06172005-161036 Title Command and Control in the Peninsula: The Role of the British Cavalry, 1808-1814. Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Donald Horward Committee Chair Alec Hargreaves Committee Member Jonathan Grant Committee Member Michael Creswell Committee Member William Oldson Committee Member Keywords
- King's German Legion
- Duke of Wellington
- Napoleonic Wars
- British Cavalry
- Stapleton Cotton
Date of Defense 2005-06-15 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe purpose of this dissertation is to evaluate the utilization and effectiveness of the British cavalry during the Peninsular War. The accomplishments and reputation of the mounted arm has been in dispute since the end of the Napoleonic era, and no systematic study has been undertaken to either refute or support the various claims.
Numerous books and articles have been written on the British cavalry under Sir John Moore and the Duke of Wellington. They tend towards two schools. In the first, the cavalry could do no wrong-- gallantly charging against superior number, usually with the sun shining, reflecting off their sabers, and being successful everywhere is the core of this premise. The second tends towards examining the cavalry only during the major battles of the war, particularly the cavalry charges where the cavalry either had a spectacular success or failure. In this genre, the cavalry can often do nothing well, and the failure of the charge means the eternal condemnation of the branch. This dissertation attempts to fill in the gaps between these two extremes, examining the pre-war training, doctrine, officer education and selection as it pertains to the cavalry. With that base, systematically scrutinizing the organization and evaluating the effectiveness of the cavalry as an auxiliary arm will help to place their performance into the larger context of the operations of the British Army in the Peninsula.
The charge, the quintessential aspect of cavalry, was but a small portion of the cavalryman’s life. The cavalry, compared to the 18th century infantry, was more often on duty, facing a far-off enemy in lonely and monotonous outpost duty. This portion of the cavalryman’s life, the daily vicissitudes of protecting the army and providing early warning of their opponent’s action, has been too often missed in studies of the Peninsular War cavalry and yet forms the most important portion of their duties. The effectiveness of how the cavalry did this duty, as well as protecting the Anglo-Portuguese Army during advances and retreats, is the true essence of the role that cavalry provided to the army.
The leadership of the cavalry also is normally painted in a broad brush of extremes—bravery and heroism; incompetence and stupidity. Officer education, duties expected of an officer, both field grade and general, are often ignored. The British Army of the Napoleonic Wars has been called the last of the Ancien Regime armies; patronage and purchase seemed more important than performance and study. However, the professionalism of the officer core that occurred during this period has rarely been applied to their operations in the field.
When Great Britain deployed its small army to the Iberian Peninsula in 1808, it faced the most modern and effective army in Europe. That this small force was able to survive, grow, learn and finally contribute to the defeat of Napoleonic France is a testament to the officers and men who did take their profession seriously. The effectiveness of the British cavalry, and contribution it made should be placed into the context of the success of the Peninsular Army.
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