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Victoria’s Scottish Lion: The Life of Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde, by Adrian Greenwood, Trafalgar Square, Chicago, Ill., 2015, $49.95

Victoria’s Scottish Lion is the biography of one of the most remarkable fighting men of the 19th century, one who managed to stand out in an era and an army distinguished by remarkable soldiers. From his commissioning as a teenage ensign in the British army, Colin Campbell attained the rank of field marshal and a peerage by the time of his death in 1863 at age 70. It was remarkable that this son of a Glasgow cabinetmaker, neither wealthy nor politically connected, should have risen so high in an officer corps dominated by upper-class elites at a time when high military rank was available for purchase. More remarkable was his mere survival. Campbell fought his first battle at age 15. Over the next half-century, on the Iberian Peninsula and in Canada, Ireland, South America, India, China and the Crimea, Campbell remained at the sharp end, fighting in numerous battles and suffering multiple wounds. While others schemed and bought their way to promotion, Campbell waged and won battles around the globe.

When finally given command of a brigade in the Crimean War, Campbell, though by far the oldest and most experienced soldier, was the most junior of the brigadiers—a fact that speaks volumes about the British peerage. Campbell performed with such distinction at the battles of the Alma and Balaclava in that otherwise disastrous campaign that even the British high command could no longer ignore his qualities. Consequently, when the Indian Mutiny broke out three years later, it was Campbell they tapped to command the army sent to suppress it. Once again he completed his mission successfully. The same can be said of Greenwood’s rousing saga of a professional soldier in an army dominated by aristocratic amateurs.

—Robert Guttman