Risky Regencies

Fallen Soldiers

Today is Memorial Day, the day set aside by the US after the Civil War to honor military personnel who have lost their lives in service to their country. Memorial Day is particularly poignant for Americans this year, with so many of our soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice.

As the daughter of an Army officer, I have a particular regard for soldiers. Some of the heroes of my books are soldiers, and in all my books the war with Napoleon is mentioned. I love my Regency soldiers. I secretly yearn to write some Napoleonic war romances, sort of like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, except love stories. I own a brazillion books on the Napoleonic war and its soldiers. It seemed fitting today to tell you about one of them: Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula Letters and Diaries of Major The Honorable Edward Charles Cocks 1786-1812, Julia V. Page, editor (1986, Spellmount Ltd)

Major Cocks served in various capacities in the Peninsular war. He was attached to the regular Spanish army for a time and also with the 16th Light Dragoons. He worked as an intelligence officer behind enemy lines, performed special missions for Wellington, and was a field officer commanding soldiers. His family wanted him in Parliament, but Charles, as he was called, loved soldiering more than anything else. He was the consummate professional soldier, very much in his element in the war in Spain.

In a letter to his uncle, Charles wrote:

Few regard soldiers in their true light, that is as a body of men giving up many individual pleasures and comforts for a general national advantage, coupled certainly with the hope of personal fame and at the same time preserving more individual independence than any class of men….Men unused to war and ignorant of its ways regard slodiers as pernicious characters because they always figure them as intent on the desruction of their enemy, but a soldier only meets his foe now and then and he is every day engaged in reciprocal offices of kindness with his comrades….for my part I think there is much less ferocity in putting your foe to death when you see him aiming at your life, than in coolly rejoicing in your cabinet at home at successes purchased by the blood of thousands–Your dutiful and affectionate nephew, E. Charles Cocks

On October 8, 1812, Charles was acting as a field officer in the seige of Burgos. In the hours before dawn he led his men up a slope to regain the outer wall. When he reached the top, a French soldier fired straight at him. The ball passed through his chest, piercing the artery above his heart. He died instantly.

That morning Wellington strode into Ponsonby’s office, paced to and fro without speaking for several minutes. He started back toward the door, saying only, “Cocks is dead” before he walked out. Later Wellington wrote, “He (Cocks) is on every ground the greatest loss we have yet sustained.” When Wellington stood at his graveside, ashen-faced and remote, none of his officers dared speak to him.

Admiration for valor, gratitude for sacrifice, grief at loss. Today is not very different than 1812.

My father, Daniel J. Gaston, pictured here circa 1940s, was not called upon to make a soldier’s ultimate sacrifice. He reached an advanced age, long enough to see his daughters well-situated and happy, and his grandchildren grown. He died peacefully in 2001 before my writing career took off.

Do you have a soldier, real or fictional, who deserves tribute?

Would you like more war romances?

Can you think of any Napoleonic war romances (Heyer’s An Infamous Army comes to mind and one of Mary Jo Putney’s, featuring a blood transfusion–title fails me)?

To all our soldiers……Thanks

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Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I love An Infamous Army and would be very happy to seem some historical military romances (my friend Susan Willibanks has a wonderful one about a Sargent and an officer’s widow that NY can’t seem to grasp NEEDS to be published!).

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

Thanks, Kalen!

For better or for worse, my experience with trying to sell that manuscript has made me wash my hands of the romance genre, at least for now. If I can’t write stories that are military adventure AND romance, I’ll stick to the former–it feels like a more natural fit for my voice and style, and I can always put in romantic subplots when I feel so inclined. I just wish it hadn’t taken me three manuscripts and several years to figure out I was going in the wrong direction!

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I’ll read your books, Susan!! Military adventure with romance in it sounds great to me.

I think I always wanted to fix the romance in the Sharpe books. Sharpe was so dumb when it came to women.

I am discouraged that your military romances didn’t sell. Maybe I’ll wait a bit to try that dream.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I am discouraged that your military romances didn’t sell. Maybe I’ll wait a bit to try that dream.

Well, you could have better luck than I did. Much as I’d love to think I wrote a perfect book and the only thing that kept it off the shelves was the Cruel Market, I’m sure there was more to it than that, and a similar idea in the hands of a better and more experienced writer might meet with more of a welcome.

I think I always wanted to fix the romance in the Sharpe books. Sharpe was so dumb when it came to women.

I know what you mean, though Sharpe’s cluelessness with women works for me as a reader because of his background and because he never seems driven by cruelty or misogyny. (Unlike some heroes created by male authors, the ones who make me think, “If that’s what men think of women, is it too late for me to switch sides after 36 years on the heterosexual team?”) Sharpe does have a way of making the female reader think, “Me! Me! I can fix him!” though I know I’m much more Harper’s type…

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

You have a point, Susan. Maybe that is part of Sharpe’s appeal – we all feel we could fix him.

Maybe if I had a really great story idea, I could attempt a military romance. But I don’t….

15 years ago

You have your Dad’s smile!

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I would love to read more military romances!

The Mary Jo Putney you were thinking of is SHATTERED RAINBOWS. It’s one of my favorites-classic gut-wrenching MJP.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Thanks, Janegeorge! I always thought my dad was a handsome man.

And thanks, Elena….I’m so bad at remembering titles….Shattered Rainbows. Maybe I should reread it!

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

What a great post, Diane! My grandfather was in the Navy in WWII, and I always think about him this time of year…

Susan, I would definitely read that book, too! 🙂

And, Diane, I still remember our visit to Stratfield Saye on the Regency tour as one of the big highlights!

15 years ago

The only Napoleon related ones that I can think of are spy ones. . . and the military people tend to be out of the military, and if it’s part of the story, then they are dealing with the time in the war in some way. But I don’t think that’s what you’re really talking about. . .

Alas, I still have Shattered Rainbows on my list, it was out of print when I tried to order it at the bookstore a couple months ago. LOL

Wait, I might be thinking of the other two MJP. Well, it was a couple of hers. 🙂


15 years ago

I’m a big fan of military fiction–romances or otherwise. In a way it is odd that I find it so interesting, because I am basically a pacifist. Violence and danger have their horrible fascination, but also the virtues–courage, honor–that can only really be tested under such extreme circumstances.

When I was a teenager and had to register for the draft, I wondered at times what I would do if I were actually drafted. At one time, at least, they let conscientious objectors serve as medics. (The draft was not reinstated, however, so the point was moot.)

Given the imperfect world we live in, though, I am grateful to those who risk their lives for us: soldiers, and also police officers and fire fighters.


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