Napoleon’s Cursed War

David A. Bell writes:

Fraser is at his best when he plucks individual Spaniards out from the mass and sketches their idiosyncratic experiences. He gives a vivid account, for instance, of how Matías Calvo, a doctor’s son from Aragon, reluctantly became a guerrilla. Escaping from the siege of Saragossa in 1809 to his native village of Lecineña, Calvo had no desire to enlist as a resistance fighter. Indeed, his father had developed a friendship with the local French commander, conversing with him in fluent Latin. But after his father’s death in 1811, Calvo found himself short of money, and signed up with the famous guerrilla commander Espoz y Mina in part simply to ensure that he had enough to eat. By 1812, he was hardened enough to lead a raid into Huesca, shoot a French soldier dead at a butcher’s stall, and then calmly toast the killing at a nearby liquor shop before leading his French pursuers into an ambush outside the city gates.

(LRB 6 November 2008)

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