Tuesday, December 2, 2014

European RC #7

I read this for the European Reading Challenge 2014.

The Destruction of Lord Raglan: A Tragedy of the Crimean War, 1854- 55 – Christopher Hibbert, 1961

The Crimean War the in middle 19th century was important in European history mainly because of its impact on the political system in Great Britain. The war was so grossly mismanaged that the public outcry demanded reform of the army. This book surveys from the beginning of the war to the death of the commander of British forces, Lord Raglan, in June 1855. Hibbert consulted very broad source materials and gives a vivid and accurate picture of the major battles, the problems of the siege of Sevastopol, and the sorry situation of the troops. The theme of the book is the rehabilitation of Lord Raglan’s reputation, which was besmirched by relentless and unjust attacks by the British press and the successful attempts of politicians to make him the scapegoat.

Hibbert shows Ragland was conscientious, courageous, and loyal in a situation that was made impossible by the chaos of the British army organization and the civilian’s bureaucracy’s callous bungling in supply and sanitary work. These problems of modern bureaucracy called for a relentless strong-man that could couple improvisation with a willingness to try new techniques and procedures.  
But Ragland, who soldiered with Wellington, was a conservative Christian gentleman of the old school.  Hibbert points out that he was polite and understated in reports when he should have been sharp and unambiguous. His shyness in the face of adulation from his troops contrasts with the inspiring showboating of, for example, a Gen. Patton. Perhaps worst of all, he was too compliant with his French Allies and peevish subordinates.

The value of the book is that it is extremely readable and short. In less than 300 pages, he provides a fine military history of the war and biography of Lord Raglan. The chapters "Chaos" and “Nightmare” are devoted to showing the painful lot of the enduring British infantry-man and Raglan's struggles against egotistical subordinates, clueless bureaucrats, government interference and a press that undermined Allied efforts by printing information that aided the adversary.

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