Despite the title, this is principally an account of Wellington's campaign from Corunna to Waterloo, with particular regard to communications among the French, their interception and their decoding.
Interception, and especially decoding and decryption, occupied George Scovell, a professional soldier of no social connections. Wellington did not favor soldiers of no social connections - he thought anyone who wouldn't inherit land couldn't be trusted not to foment rebellion, and preferred dashing cavalry officers who looked aristocratic. During the campaign, Wellington recognized the importance of Scovell's work and Scovell's particular talent for it; afterwards, he denied it. This fit Wellington's anti-popular political career and certainly made Wellington himself look more like a solitary miltary genius.
Fortunately, Scovell - who seems to have been a pleasant man - had made enough friends among the dashing that some of them looked after his career. Not too much is known of him; part of looking after his career was not teaching the skills he had learned during the war. Both depended on his talent for languages. The encrypted messages he teased out were often captured by his Corps of Guides, who were recruited from several armies and all classes, spoke many languages, and had to map not only the enemies' movement but the country they were moving through.
On p. 54, this force is referred to as the Corps of Mounted Guides; in the index, including the entry pointing to p. 54, as the Corps of Mountain Guides. Elsewhere it's Scovells' Guides or Corps of Guides. 'Mounted' seems more likely than 'Mountain'.
One of the reasons for Napoleon's failure to hold Spain was his desire to run everything personally. He had promoted merit to great effect as he rose, which was one of the reasons that Wellington suspected meritocracy of being innately revolutionary. Napoleon wouldn't delegate power, though, so while Wellington was invading Spain the French generals there were mostly politicking against each other and against King Joseph, Napoleon's brother. One French officer had the delicate job of taking a letter from Soult, accusing Joseph, to Paris; when there, he discovered that he had to take it to Napoleon in Moscow itself. He arrived there just in time to follow the retreat from Moscow - and he made it back to Paris.
ISBN: 0-06-093455-7So wrote clew in History (19th c.). | TrackBack