What was a British soldier's life like during the Napoleonic Wars? How was he recruited and trained? How did he live on home service and during service abroad? And what was his experience of battle? In this landmark book Philip Haythornthwaite traces the career of a British soldier from enlistment, through the key stages of his path through the military system, including combat, all the way to his eventual discharge.His fascinating account shows how varied the recruits of the day were, from urban dwellers and weavers to ploughboys and labourers, and they came from all regions of the British Isles including Ireland and Scotland. Some of them may have justified the Duke of Wellington's famous description of them as the 'scum of the earth'. Yet these common soldiers were capable of extraordinary feats on the battlefield that eventually turned the course of the war against Napoleon. As well as describing the men and their backgrounds, Philip Haythornthwaite explains the workings of the complex military organization that took them in - the regimental system in particular - and the different types of unit in which they served.
Using graphic contemporary testimony and records, he reconstructs the often miserable living conditions the men endured in barracks and camps. He looks at their diet, their social life, their opportunities for promotion and advancement, and at the harsh code of discipline that governed them. He considers, too, how these men interacted with the civilian population at home and on campaign overseas, and the experiences of their wives and children. He also records the confusion and terror of combat as it was seen by the ordinary soldier.Throughout the book the author draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of the military history of the Napoleonic era to give an accurate insight into the lives and living conditions of British soldiers 200 years ago.