Book Review: Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword: The British Regiment on Campaign, 1808-1815


by Andrew Bamford

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. Pp. xxiv, 360. Tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0806143436

Sustaining Britain's Manpower at the Front during the Peninsular War

Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword examines an often overlooked aspect of war, how to sustain the manpower of armies in the field, using the British experience during the Peninsular War, due in part to their unique regimental system.  Bamford, who has specialized in the British Army during the Napoleonic Era, opens with a review of its operations during the 1790s, and the reforms instituted by the Duke of York, who had proven himself a poor field commander but a brilliant administrator. 

Bamford then devotes several chapters to an examination of the regimental system, with both its advantages and disadvantages.  While the “county regiment” system produced well trained soldiers with excellent esprit, it was a poor tool for managing the management of the nation’s manpower; losses on campaign might fall disproportionately on a particular county.

Bamford follows with a chapter on the development of divisional and ultimately corps level formations, initially resisted, and only gradually introduced, first on an ad hoc basis, and then more permanent, giving rise to the excellent divisions that were forged during the campaigns in Spain and Portugal. 

Two unusual chapters follow.  “Strategic Consumption” discusses the causes of “wastage,” demonstrating that it was most often disease, hunger, and privation that caused the loss of personnel, rather than battle.  “Beasts of Burden” discusses the problem of sustaining the Army’s need for horses and mules, a subject often overlooked in most histories. 

Bamford ends with some interesting general conclusions, noting that the British Army was perhaps not as unique as is sometimes claimed, but that it did have some unusual characteristics which did influence its successes and failures. 

A volume in the Oklahoma “Campaigns and Commanders Series, Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword is a valuable work on the British Army in the period, and arguably an excellent companion volume to Edward J. Coss’s All For the King’s Shilling.

Note: Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword is also available in several proprietary e-formats.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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