THE PRISONERS OF CABRERA: Napoleon's Forgotten Soldiers, 1809–1814

Dennis Smith, Author, Denis Smith, Author . Four Walls Eight Windows $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-56858-212-2

Relying on prisoners' memoirs and their captors' documents, Canadian scholar Smith (Rogue Tory; etc.) tells a rather uninspired tale of French soldiers imprisoned on Cabrera, a Spanish island. After Napoleon deposed Spain's Charles IV in 1808, he made his own brother Joseph the new king. A grassroots Spanish rebellion ensued, aided by Napoleon's mortal enemy, Britain. The so-called Peninsular War started badly for Napoleon: a large French army was defeated at the Battle of Bailén in southern Spain. The postbattle terms of surrender included the repatriation of the French army back to France. Arguing that a repatriated French army would simply be marched back into Spain to fight again, the British convinced Spain to renege on its promise. At first, the French POWs were kept on ships anchored in Cádiz harbor. Later, they were shipped to the Spanish island of Majorca, but the Majorcans refused to allow the enemy soldiers on their island. Desperate, the Spaniards dumped the POWs on the deserted island of Cabrera, which had insufficient food, water, shelter and medical facilities. Thousands of POWs died from malnutrition and disease. Smith recounts the prisoners' pastimes: building shelter and waiting for the next food shipment. They established a newspaper, filling it with fictitious stories of French glory, and a theater company devoted to French classics. Some POWs, such as the memoirist Henri Ducor, planned escapes. In 1814, after Napoleon was imprisoned on Elba, the Cabrera prisoners were sent home. Despite the potential of this material, Smith shapes a prosaic, unsatisfying narrative devoid of the drama of individual portraits. Photos and illus. (Nov. 15)

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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