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Wellington’s Army: The Uniforms of the British Soldier, 1912-1815

Review by Cheryl Bolen

Wellington’s Army: The Uniforms of the British Soldier, 1912-1815
Plates by Charles Hamilton Smith
Text by Philip J. Haythornthwaite
Greenhill Books, London
Stackpole Books, Pennsylvania
Published 2002

This oversized book was extremely costly to produce because of the 60 full-color plates depicting the various uniforms of Wellington’s army, but thanks to a tip from a kindly soul on the Beau Monde loop, I purchased a never-used copy for a pittance on the internet.

And am I glad I did! Illustrator Charles Hamilton Smith, born in 1776, served in the British Army from 1796 until he went on half pay in 1821. His plates (except one) are housed in the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University in Rhode Island. One of the plates is in the National Army Museum in London. But those who own this book need go no farther than their home to see how officers, the cavalry, infantrymen, artillery, Royal Marines and various other military personnel dressed during the regency.

For those who don’t know a dragoon from light cavalry, this is the book for you.

Remembering the "red coats" of the Revolutionary War, I was under a bit of a misapprehension about military uniforms of the era. Not all of them are red. Some wore navy blue, some green, some gray.

Each regiment’s uniform was different, and within that regiment, uniforms varied according to rank.

Each of the plates in this book is presented with a companion page of text that thoroughly describes the variations and evolutions of the uniforms and provides details on hats and helmets, along with historical information on the regiment’s action. Here are a few examples of plates: "A Private of the 1st or King’s Dragoon Guards," "Heavy and Light Cavalry Cloaked," "Grenadiers of the Foot Guards in Full Dress," "British Infantry of the Line, 1812," and "Soldiers of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards in Marching Orders."

There’s a comprehensive chapter titled "Hamilton Smith’s Army" that details the regimental system and gives information about Wellington’s army, weapons, and men.

The book’s appendix enumerates the British regiments of 1814-15, including all commanding officers.

Those wishing to accurately describe an army officer’s dress in their books would do well to get this volume.

This review first appeared in The Quizzing Glass in January 2007.


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