Book Review: By Fire and Bayonet: Grey's West Indies Campaign of 1794


by Steve Brown

Solihull, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. 248. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 1911512609

A Forgotten Campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars

In 1794 Lt. Gen. Sir Charles Grey undertook a campaign against the French colonies in the West Indies, and turned in a remarkably successful performance, one which has hitherto been almost wholly neglected in the literature. In this work, British historian Brown takes on the tale of this little known but impressive campaign.

Grey was a seasoned veteran of the Seven Years’ War and the War of the American Revolution, during which he earned a reputation for using novel tactics, such as conducting night attacks by bayonet alone, which earned him the nick-name "No-flint Grey". He arrived in the Caribbean with some 6,200 troops in February of 1794. In a series of operations in conjunction with a Royal Navy squadron led by Sir John Jervis, he took Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadalupe in about two months.

Brown does an excellent job of covering the campaign. He not only gives us a clear picture of Grey’s tactics and the sophisticated state of British amphibious operations at the height of the age of fighting sail. Brown also discusses the devastating effects of fever on troops, one of the most dangerous factors in operation in the tropics; two-third’s of Grey’s men were dead by year’s end, most from fever.

Brown also makes the insightful observation that the campaign was a school for generals, as eight of Grey's junior officers rose to high command under Wellington in the Peninsula in 1808-1815; five division commanders, two successive chiefs of artillery, and chief of the Royal Engineers.

A volume in the Helion series “From Reason to Revolution”, By Fire and Bayonet is a good read for those interested in the French wars or combined operations.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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