Fighting Napoleon

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Guerrillas, Bandits and Adventurers in Spain, 1808–1814

Charles J. Esdaile

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Alongside the Spanish army in the campaign against Napoleon (1808-1814) was an assortment of freebooters, local peasants, and bandits who were organized into ad hoc regional private armies. These “guerrillas”—a term introduced to the English language during the Peninsular War—ambushed French convoys, attacked French encampments, and pounced upon, dodged, and fought French columns, often with extreme brutality. This book investigates for the first time the irregular Spanish forces and their role in resisting Napoleon.

Delving deeply into previously untapped archival resources, Charles Esdaile arrives at an entirely new view of the Spanish guerrillas. He shows that the Spanish war against Napoleon was something other than the great popular crusade of legend, that many guerrillas were not armed civilians acting spontaneously, and that guerrillas were more often driven by personal motives than high-minded ideology. Tracking down the bandit armies and assessing their contributions, Esdaile offers important insights into the famous “little war” and the motives of those who fought it.

Charles J. Esdaile is reader in history, School of History, University of Liverpool. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on the Napoleonic wars.

“Based heavily upon manuscript and published primary sources and larded with wonderful quotations, this well-written book is a worthy complement to the author’s The Peninsular War. Highly recommended.”—Choice

“Esdaile’s study is welcome on many levels. He provides the human element in the history of the guerillas bands. . . . He also sweeps away the romance of the heroic guerrilla and replaces it with a much more complex picture of partisans, bandits, smugglers, and deserters. . . . Thus a picture emerges in which guerrillas can be seen as liberators, parasites, and an unwelcome diversion of scarce military resources. His challenge to the mythology which surrounds the guerrillas is effective, persuasive, and makes use of a staggering array of primary source material. . . . It is highly recommended.”—Jonathan North, Journal of Military History

"A valuable book for anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars, the origins of modern Spain, or irregular warfare." —The NYMAS Review

"[A] tremendous accomplishment of historical research and narrative. . . . Esdaile has provided what no doubt [is one of the] best military histories of the Peninsular War in almost one hundred years."—Enrique A. Sanabria, Journal of Modern History

"Esdaile's book is elegantly-written and deeply-researched. Every step of his argument, while certain to ruffle feathers, is supported by multiple examples drawn from archival and printed sources. . . . This is a thought-provoking book and an important contribution to recent literature on occupation and resistance during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars."—Mike Rapport, Canadian Journal of History

"Few authors are as qualified as this one to undertake this study of the guerillas in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. . . . This study is grounded in a mastery of the historiographical literature and in archives stretching from Madrid to Barcelona, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Carpetas, and London, to name but a few."—Linda Frey, The Historian
ISBN: 9780300101126
Publication Date: April 10, 2004
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
10 b/w illus. + 2 maps