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All too many historians have dismissed FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, first Baron Raglan, as at best, an indifferent and, at worst, an incompetent on the basis of his association with the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.
Yet as this long overdue biography of a pivotal military figure of the 19th Century reveals Raglan's achievements over fifty years should not be judged on so narrow a basis. True, as Commander of the Expeditionary Force to the Crimea, he must take his share of responsibility for the hardship suffered by the men under him particularly during the winter of 1854-55 but the fact remains that Raglan never lost a battle for which he was fully responsible.
Commissioned in 1804 he served under Sir Arthur Paget and the Duke of Wellington, throughout the Peninsular War losing an arm at Waterloo. He held key posts, including Military Secretary for an astonishing 25 years and Master General of the Ordnance and his influence was far reaching.
Raglan is revealed in this objective study as a brave, thoughtful, caring and capable man, who found himself an easy target for critics of an outdated and inadequate military administrative system. Very personal attacks, some from official quarters, mortally wounded him and he died in June 1855, a mere seven months after being appointed a field marshal amid public acclaim.
In this first full biography of Raglan, John Sweetman examines not just the man himself but the workings of an Army that was straggling to keep up with social and technological change. Readers will find this a fine exposé of a man who was placed in a no-win situation through little fault of his own.
John Sweetman graduated from Brasenose College Oxford (Modern History) before taking a PhD at Kings College, London. He later became Head of Defence and International Affairs at RMA Sandhurst. He is the author of numerous military works. Now retired he lives at Camberley.
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