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The Talavera Campaign 1809 (Hardback)

Military > Pre-WWI > Napoleonic > Peninsular War P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century World History > Europe

By Tim Saunders
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Series: Peninsular War Battlefield Companion
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9781399040037
Published: 4th July 2023


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Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley returned to the Peninsular in 1809 convinced that the country could be held against the French. His audacious crossing of the Duoro and speedy victory at Oporto in May, followed by the deceptively easy ejection of Marshal Soult’s corps, confirmed this view, giving him the confidence to plan a campaign with General Cuesta’s Army of Extremadura to advance on French-held Madrid via the Tagus Valley.

From the outset relations between the two allied generals were poor, not to mention the divisions and enmity within the Spanish juntas and army. Matters only got worse once Wellesley’s army entered Spain, thanks to a failure to provide supplies and missed opportunities. Finally, the French army, with King Joseph at its head, marched to confront the allies at Talavera.

The fighting did not start well for the British, who were taken by surprise and had to fight hard to extricate themselves from trouble, before inexperienced staff officers and commanders mis-deployed divisions and brigades, nearly resulting in disaster for the Allies when Marshal Victor launched a night attack. The Peninsular Army still had much to learn.

The following day, the French attacked again with the full force of a Napoleonic army infantry, cavalry and artillery, but the two-deep British line held and with their confidence shattered, the French withdrew. It was a hard-fought victory for the British commander, who was soon to be ennobled as the Duke of Wellington.

In many ways, The Tagus Campaign of 1809 and The Talavera Campaign: 1809 make a great pair. Tagus provides all the political skullduggery and incentives/disincentives for movements, especially Spanish, while Talavera provides a plentiful supply of maps with scales and a detailed tactical account of the main battle at Talavera.
Best of all, Talavera includes a British OOB with regimental numbers and Spanish and French OOBs with number of battalions but only total numbers per division.
Talk about a close-run affair! Both sides had opportunities and errors and the British just hung on long enough for the hard-fought victory. This was mitigated somewhat by the subsequent withdrawal back to Spanish-Portuguese border.
I should note that the book begins with the Douro Campaign that set up the campaign to Talavera.
The text contains plenty of British excerpts from memoirs and journals and such, perhaps a bit too much and too one-sided as French and Spanish excerpts are minimal. Still, you certainly gain an appreciation for the British perspective on the general situation, the battle, and the overall miserable logistics.
Typos: "was forced marching" should be "force marching" and "policy of flitching sugar islands" is likely "filching."
The book contains 59 black and white photos, 35 black and white maps (vast majority with scales), and 68 black and white illustrations. It is very well illustrated.
Pair these two books and you really do have a compact Snappy Nappy Campaign in a Day scenario. Inspiring.
Enjoyed it.

Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, September 2023

An exemplary historical study, "The Talavera Campaign 1809" by Tim Saunders is a simply fascinating and impressively informative work of meticulous research resulting in a detailed examination of a key event in early 19th Century British Military history. Profusely illustrated throughout with b/w illustrations, as well as featuring two Appendices (An Example of Wellesley's General Orders; Orders of Battle), six pages of Notes, and a three page Index, "The Talavera Campaign 1809" is a core addition to personal, professional, community, college and university library British Military History collections and curriculum studies lists.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

Review as featured in

After Action Report Newsletter, August 2023

Review as featured in

After Action Report Newsletter, August 2023

About Tim Saunders

TIM SAUNDERS served as an infantry officer with the British Army for thirty years, during which time he took the opportunity to visit campaigns far and wide, from ancient to modern. Since leaving the Army he has become a full time military historian and has made nearly fifty full documentary films with Battlefield History and Pen & Sword. He is an active guide and accredited member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.

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