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Book Review, NRJ 67.3

February 12, 2023 10:11 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

Coastal Defences of the British Empire in the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras

Daniel MacCannell

Daniel MacCannell’s latest book explores the coastal defenses of Britain through a lens of military and architectural history. MacCannell’s work primarily covers the timespan between the 1770s and 1815, through the American Revolution, and Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. MacCannell pushes to enlighten his readers on the importance of coastal defenses when defending an island nation. The strategies used in traditional land-based warfare do not properly address the challenges of assaulting a landmass by the way of the sea. MacCannell’s writing guides the reader through the dangers which existed for seaside towns during this period, such as privateer raids, or enemy naval and amphibious infantry attacks. By providing this backdrop, the microhistorical views of particular forts, and defensive emplacements gain relevance for the overall narrative of the book. MacCannell’s choice placement of imagery continues to further the quality of the work by providing a visual stimulus for the reader.

MacCannell uses a series of full-color photographs, paintings, illustrations, and other visual aids to bring his architectural history to life for scholars. His use of photographs of the modern remains of Martello towers shown in contrast to historical paintings of events exemplifies the durability of these defensive emplacements. By showing the placement and usage of the towers which were destroyed, or demolished, the work helps to broaden the perspective for a historian researching the various forts and Martello towers.

MacCannell’s writing shows a passion for military history. The fifth chapter of this book, “Power and Shot,” is wonderfully written, giving elements of command decisions, mixed in with the industrial standardization of weaponry during the period covered by this book. MacCannell’s writing could take even a novice historian and walk them through the evolution of the weaponry of this period to a sense of firm understanding of the how and why for various rifles. Cannons and even rockets. The Martello tower history is the pride of this book. MacCannell gives a walkthrough of how and why these towers were built in Britain and the Canadian colonies, and how they were used to defend against and deter French ships. After explaining the nature of these towers, MacCannell writes of how the towers were used to prevent further incursion to British territories worldwide. In the final chapter of the book, “Endgame,” MacCannell reiterates that the coastal defenses of this period were a combination of multiple tactics which had been tested, proven, and then improved during the relatively short window of history covered by his well-designed book.

  • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2021
  • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 240 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, index. $50.00
  • ISBN: 9781526753458

Reviewed by: Dominick Limle, University of West Florida

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