The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes
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History books report -- and rightly so -- that it was the strategic and intelligence-gathering brilliance of the Duke of Wellington (who began his military career as Arthur Wellesley) that culminated in Britain's defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815. Nearly two hundred years later, many of General Wellesley's subordinates are still remembered for their crucial roles in these historic campaigns. But Lt. Col. George Scovell is not among them.
The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes is the story of a man of common birth -- bound, according to the severe social strictures of eighteenth-century England, for the life of a tradesman -- who would in time become his era's most brilliant code-breaker and an officer in Wellesley's army. In an age when officers were drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the nobility, George Scovell -- an engraver's apprentice -- joined Wellesley in 1809. Scovell provides a fascinating lens through which to view a critical era in military history -- his treacherous rise through the ranks, despite the scorn of his social betters and his presence alongside Wellesley in each of the major European campaigns, from the Iberian Peninsula through Waterloo.
But George Scovell was more than just a participant in those events. Already recognized as a gifted linguist, Scovell would prove a remarkably nimble cryptographer. Encoded military communiqués between Napoleon and his generals, intercepted by the British, were brought to Scovell for his skilled deciphering. As Napoleon's encryption techniques became more sophisticated, Wellesley came to rely ever more on Scovell's genius for this critical intelligence.
In Scovell's lifetime, his role in Britain's greatest military victory was grudgingly acknowledged; but his accomplishments would eventually be credited to others -- including Wellington himself. Scovell's name -- and his contributions -- have been largely overlooked or ignored.
The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes tells the fascinating story of the early days of cryptology, re-creates the high drama of some of Europe's most remarkable military campaigns, and restores the mantle of hero to a man heretofore forgotten by history.
repeatedly ejaculating, ‘Oh! how sad it is for a general of hussars to be taken by a Friar! Yet Frenchman-like he met all our advances with the greatest frankness and candour.” Stewart remarked in his later history of the war that the French captive had been carrying important dispatches. Whether he discovered this at the time of their melancholy conversation but could not induce the Spanish to part with them, or whether he did not even think to ask, is unclear. What is certain is that he
trip took him eastward, through a copse of pygmy oaks and dense brush, across the stream that the locals called the ribiera del campo, and then atop the little tor that stood just to the east of it. There was patchy mist in the hollows, and as Brotherton arrived with the celebrated guerrilla at his side a nighttime chorus of bull frogs was giving way to the avian one of dawn. The small Spanish camp was already stirring into life that morning. While maintaining professional courtesies, Brotherton
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base at Seville. Ballasteros was a typical fighting patriot whose faith in his own operations was inexhaustable, despite a catalogue of routs, drubbings and débandades. With a few thousand men, he would happily march around the south, causing nervous French governors in their outlying garrisons to panic and raise the alarm left, right, and center. Wellington’s underlying assumption in planning these diversions was that if neither Marshal Marmont nor Marshal Soult wanted to take risks already, a
between Joseph and Dorsenne after Napoleon transferred the command of his armies. Dorsenne was refusing to cooperate with any orders coming from Madrid. Whether by oversight or by some game of divide et impera* Berthier’s instructions to the two men had been different. The notice of the transfer of command sent to Joseph had included Dorsenne and his Army of the North, but the general himself had received no such order. Indeed, Napoleon’s note to Berthier prompting the change had not mentioned