Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket

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9780002570978: Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket

'Redcoat is a wonderful book, doing justice to men who have long deserved a chronicler of Richard Holmes' skill. It is not just a work of history – but of enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge.' BERNARD CORNWELL

Redcoat combines a first-class military historian famous as a TV personality with a Schama-esque approach to one of the most enduring and magnetic subjects of British history. It has all the makings of a big autumn best-seller.

Richard Holmes is famous as TV’s military historian, the writer and presenter of War Walks and author of Firing Line and Riding the Retreat. Red Coat marks his return to serious writing.
Drawing on a wealth of original source material – diaries, letters, memoirs – Red Coat is an anecdotal history of the British soldier from 1700 to 1900, a period in which methods of warfare and the social makeup of the British army changed little, and in which the Empire was forged.

Similar in style to Katie Hickman’s Daughters of Britannia, or Simon Schama’s Citizens, Red Coat gives a rich and wonderful portrait of the men who donned the red uniform, charged in the Light Brigade, dug in at Rourke’s Drift, fought Napoleon at Waterloo, Washington in America, were stabbed by Afghans, annihilated by Zulus and turned the atlas pink.

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Review:

The battlefield museum of Waterloo, Richard Holmes comments in Redcoat, tells us much about Napoleon, Wellington and their senior commanders but far less about the men they led. Holmes aims, in this massively researched history, to redress the balance. He does so by piling up facts, information and anecdotes, many of them culled from memoirs of the period, to illustrate the everyday life of British soldiers in the 18th and 19th centuries, from the Battle of Blenheim to the Crimean War. In the hands of a less gifted historian this might have made for a dry, daunting and overpowering text. Holmes, however, has a sharp eye for the telling details and the memorable stories that bring the past to life. He pays as much attention to the small-scale as to the larger picture: a soldier is promoted because "his beautiful black eyes and whiskers had attracted the notice of his colonel's lady"; Crimea-bound infantrymen play cricket in "what the scorebook calls Sultan's Valley, Asia Minor"; black musician-soldiers enrich the repertoire of a regimental band; a respected military surgeon is revealed, after death, to have been a woman dressed as a man. Yet Holmes is always aware of that larger picture and of the hardships and dangers of the military life. His chapters on the floggings and punishments inflicted on the common soldier and on the terrible wounds that battle could bring--which again make vivid use of period memoirs--are often very moving. Anyone wanting to find out how the ordinary soldier of the 18th and 19th centuries was recruited, how he was drilled, how he fought, how he lived and (often) how he died, need look no further than this impressive work of popular history. -- Nick Rennison

Review:

Richard Holmes obviously has a deep love of his subject, and writes of it with an infectious enthusiasm... -- Evening Standard

Superbly illustrated and designed. It illuminates a tough, at times brutal, and at times heroic world with a pinpoint clarity. -- Sunday Telegraph

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