Ben Hughes is an ESOL and EFL Lecturer. After graduating from Leeds University in 1997, he spent several years teaching and travelling throughout South America. His passion for the continent and a lifelong interest in the Napoleonic era prompted him to investigate a forgotten episode in the history of the Americas. His book with Osprey, Conquer or Die! is due out in 2010. Over the next few months Ben is going to be blogging about his book, the stories surrounding Simon Bolivar, and providing some juicy appetizers from the book.

Over the next few months I will be contributing a series of blogs previewing Conquer or Die!, a forthcoming Osprey title on the British troops who helped Simón Bolívar liberate Venezuela and New Granada (modern day Colombia) in the early nineteenth century. Some will focus on the key characters involved. Others will look at the untamed geography of the continent, the merciless nature of South American warfare and the ravages of tropical disease. I will also include a report on how the book was written. The first of the series, featured below, is a condensed synopsis. As well as introducing the story, it reflects the style of the book and offers an insight into why I decided to write it.       

In the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, over six thousand British volunteers sailed across the Atlantic to aid Simón Bolívar liberate Gran Colombia from her oppressors in Madrid. The expeditions were plagued by disaster from the start. Shortly after leaving Portsmouth, one ship, The Indian was driven onto the rocks off the Isle of Ushant, killing all one hundred and ninety-three men, women and children onboard. Others deserted or died after arriving in the New World. Lieutenant Watson was captured and executed whilst making his way up the Orinoco. Lieutenant Plunkett succumbed to yellow fever, vomiting blood yet lucid until the end, and Sergeant Cookson was devoured by jaguars after wandering off alone into the jungle.

Conditions on campaign were appalling. Forced marches left a trail of dead across flooded savannah, through tropical rainforest and over snowbound Andean passes. Massacres were commonplace, rations crude, pay infrequent and supplies insufficient. Nevertheless, those that endured made key contributions to Bolívar’s success. Colonel Rooke’s bayonet charge at Vargas saved the army from destruction, the Black Rifles were instrumental in victories across the continent and at the Battle of Carabobo the British Legion’s defiant stand proved decisive.

After the fighting had finished, several volunteers attained influential positions in military and political circles. Others returned to Britain and a few continued their adventures around the globe. Although the contemporary media followed their story closely, their memory soon faded once the war was won. In the intervening years, their role has been deliberately downplayed in the countries they helped to liberate and all-but-forgotten at home. Conquer or Die! aims to redress this imbalance. Conquer or Die! is their story.

(Conquer or Die! is scheduled for publication in August 2010. Osprey is currently working on cover designs for this 352 page, hardback book).