Waterloo & MS 300: Peninsular War papers of S.G.P. Ward

Last year’s celebrations for the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo saw many commemorative events to mark the famous Allied victory of 18th June 1815. Conferences, lectures and new publications continued the historical debate on the history and significance of the Peninsular War. Waterloo has exerted a powerful influence on the public imagination for over 200 years – many contemporaries visited the battlefield as tourists, recording their experiences in works of art and literature. Souvenir engravings and maps, and exhibitions of paintings and artefacts relating to the battle, were popular at the time:

Chateau of Hougoumont

‘An entrance to the Chateau of Hougoumont: “It was here that the great battle of the 18th began…. the house was set fire to… and all the wounded perished in the flames.”’

The Barn at La Haye Sainte

‘The Barn at La Haye Sainte: “It was in this extensive building that more than 500 hundred limbs were amputated – what hospital of contemporary establishment can vie with it.”’

MS 300 A4011/16/2: sketches by Robert Hills of the ‘important scenes of action about the plains of Waterloo’, c. July 1815, published in The Illustrated London News, December 1945

These sketches are part of a series drawn by Robert Hills a few weeks after the battle. Note the slightly sensational captions which he has added to the scenes!

The Hill sketches were published in the Christmas 1945 edition of The Illustrated London News. A copy can be found in MS 300, the Peninsular War papers of Stephen George Peregrine Ward, military historian. These were donated to the University of Southampton along with his notable Peninsular War library. It is no coincidence that there was renewed interest in the study of the Napoleonic Wars in the post-WWII era: Mr Ward had served in Western Command during the Second World War, during which time he was introduced to the administrative problems of running a general staff and to the Murray papers in the National Library of Scotland. This, together with the acquisition of many of the Peninsular War items from the library of Sir Charles Oman, c. 1946, was the genesis of Ward’s work on the Peninsula, leading to his Oxford B.Litt. thesis, published as Wellington’s headquarters: a study of the administrative problems in the Peninsula, 1809-1814 (Oxford, 1957) and Wellington, (London, 1963).

Sir George Murray

Sir George Murray

MS 300 A4011/15/8ix: an engraving of Rt. Hon. Gen. Sir George Murray G.C.B., F.R.S., painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, engraved by H.Meyer, published by Fisher, Son & Co., (London 1831)

We have recently catalogued an additional deposit of S.G.P. Ward’s papers held in the Special Collections at the University of Southampton. MS 300 A4011 includes a copy of his B.Litt. thesis and a number of his publications, articles and lectures. Ward was working on a biography of Major General Sir George Murray, Wellington’s Quartermaster General in the Peninsula. The work remained unfinished at his death, but Ward’s typescript draft – which includes complete chapters – as well as many of his research notes, form a valuable resource for historians. An acknowledged expert, Ward wrote the Oxford D.N.B. entry for Sir George Murray – which is current today.

Another useful part of this collection is the large number of photographic prints of portraits and paintings – both of Murray and his family, as well as of generals and military figures of different nationalities – from the Napoleonic period.

Ward acquired original manuscript material as well as copies and transcripts of archive sources relating to the Peninsular War. An unusual example is the Commissariat papers of Henry Whitmarsh c. 1812-14, (MS 351/7 A4237). These shed light on the logistical problems involved in moving large numbers of cattle between army depots in the Iberian Peninsula – essential for the maintenance of Wellington’s army. We learn that Henry had expected promotion, but was disappointed, and he complains that many gentlemen were obliged to return to England for their promotion.

In ‘Notes by Brigadier General Pack respecting Almeida’ (MS 351/9 A4242) we read a first-hand account of Brigadier General Sir Denis Pack’s experiences in the Peninsula in April and May 1811. The notes were enclosed in a letter to a friend dated 22 May 1811 and both are full of interesting detail. Pack’s Portuguese brigade, under the orders of Major General Campbell, was to support the blockade of the French garrison at Almeida: “On the 3rd [May] about 2 o’clock a.m. I received orders to relieve all the picquets of [Campbell’s] division with my brigade to which, with the addition of an English battalion (the Queen’s 400 strong) and 2 guns, I was informed the blockade was intrusted under my direction. A more distressingly anxious command I never had – Massena’s first attack on Lord Wellington’s lines (distant about 5 miles) commenced at 10 o’clock that day. The garrison almost immediately became emboldened, stronger picquets than usual were sent out from it; frequent skirmishes ensued and signals were distinctly made by rockets, guns, and lights, which were answered by the enemy’s army or from Ciudad Rodrigo.” When the French garrison escaped, Pack and his picquets pursued them all the way to the bridge over the River Aguedo at Barba de Puerco. General Campbell and his men arrived “most critically at the moment [the enemy] was making good his retreat across the Agueda – ten minutes sooner would have placed him in safety – ten minutes later, and his destruction would have been inevitable; as it was in killed, wounded, drowned and prisoners I should imagine he lost nearly half his men.”

To find out more, why not visit the Archives and Manuscripts to view the manuscript collections.

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One response to “Waterloo & MS 300: Peninsular War papers of S.G.P. Ward

  1. Pingback: 2016: Year in review | University of Southampton Special Collections

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