Grattan: Adventures With The Connaught Rangers

Pdf Grattan, William, Adventures With The Connaught Rangers, London: Edward Arnold, 1902
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Adventures With The Connaught Rangers by William Grattan is a memoir of his service as a subaltern with the 1st Battalion of the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers). He served from 1809 to 1814 with the regiment in Portugal and Spain during Lord Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign (1807-1814) as part of General Picton’s 3rd ‘Fighting’ Division.

The 88th Regiment, also known as 'The Devil's Own,' was created in 1793 by John de Burgh, 13th Earl of Clanricarde, after the disbandment of the Irish Volunteers when Revolutionary France fought George III during the War of the First Coalition. It was one of eight regiments of the British Army raised and garrisoned in Ireland , drawing its men from the western Irish province of Connaught .

The Connaught Rangers took part in the British invasion of the Plate Estuary in 1806 to seize the Spanish colonies in South America when Spain was an ally of France. The British were defeated in Buenos Aires and forced to surrender by a force of Spanish Americans led by Santiago de Liniers.

William Grattan, who was distantly related to the famous Irish parliamentarian Henry Grattan, joined the Connaught Rangers in 1809 as an ensign, gaining his lieutenancy in 1812. He continued to serve in the British Army until 1817 when the military was reduced in size following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

During Grattan's time in the regiment, the Connaught Rangers participated in the major battles of the Peninsular War. The conflict was precipitated by the joint invasion of Portugal by both France and Spain who had become the ally of the French Emperor Napoleon. Portugal had refused to join the French embargo of British trade.

In 1808, Napoleon deposed the Spanish King Charles IV, replacing him with his brother Joseph Bonaparte. This betrayal prompted various Spanish juntas to be set up throughout the country to resist the French occupiers using guerrilla tactics.

A British force, including the Connaught Rangers, under the command of the Anglo-Irish commander, Arthur Wesley, 1st Duke Wellington landed in Portugal and also fought the French forces in Spain. In danger of defeat, Napoleon took command of the French armies, put down the Spanish revolt and forced the British to retreat. However the threat of war with Austria forced him to return to France .

The British and their Portuguese and Spanish allies fought on. The Connaught Rangers played a major role in the French defeat at Salamanca in 1812, while the bulk of the French Army suffered a catastrophic defeat in Russia the same year. The defeat undermined Napoleon’s dream of a global French Empire.

Later the Battle of Vitoria in 1813 was a decisive victory for Wellington who ultimately chased the French over the Pyrenees into France itself. Napoleon, with allied European armies invading France from all sides, was forced to abdicate in 1814 and went into exile to the island of Elba. However Napoleon stunned the world by escaping, returning to France and again raising a huge French army. Wellington was the British commander at Waterloo where Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815. This time the tyrant was banished to St. Helena in the South Atlantic where he died in 1821.

Grattan vividly describes daily life for the ordinary men of the Connaught Rangers under his command in the Peninsular War who suffered terribly from inadequate clothing, food and pay and the horrendous brutality of war. The bravery, self-sacrifice and good humor of the rank and file is contrasted with Grattan’s distain for the snobbery of elite officers such as Picton and Wellington. It was not until 1848, after a gap of more than thirty years, that Grattan finally received his Peninsular Medal for his services in Spain.


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