Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 6

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The 2d Battalion of the 95th Rifles ordered to proceed to Portugal--Our Author visits England--Returns to Portugal, and joins his Regiment at Rodrigo--The Army move towards Badajos--Siege of Badajos--Badajos surrenders--Insubordination among the Troops--Quelled by the prompt measures of Lord Wellington.

We remained at Isla till June, without any thing of importance occurring, but at this time I was brought nigh to death's door by the bursting of a bloodvessel in the lungs. I was so ill that it was deemed necessary to send me home for change of air, it being exceedingly hot at this time at Isla. I was accordingly removed to Cadiz to wait for the first ship returning to England, and while there I suffered greatly, not being able to lie down in bed. However, before a vessel could be had, an order was received for my battalion to proceed to Portugal, and our esteemed commander was likewise ordered to proceed to that country. As I felt myself somewhat better, I obtained permission to accompany my battalion to Portugal, and I accordingly embarked with it at Cadiz on the 30th of that month, on board a transport, the name of which I forget. General Graham intended to have gone in a 50 gun ship that was leaving that port for England, he being to be left at Lisbon in pa.s.sing.

He sent an aide-de-camp on board to prepare for his reception; but he met with such treatment while on board, as induced the General to alter his plan and go in a frigate, on board which some of our people were embarked. It is said, that after the aide-de-camp had been shown the accommodation, the captain intimated to him, that it was expected the military officers would always keep on the leeward side of the quarter-deck. The windward side on board a man-of-war is considered the most honourable, therefore this was in fact putting the General beneath himself. He suffered, however, for his ill-timed a.s.sumption of supremacy, for there was a quant.i.ty of specie at Cadiz which was to be transported at the same time for the use of the army in Portugal, and which was intended to have gone in the ship with the General; but after this reception of his aide-de-camp, and the imperious condition attached to his going in this ship, he went on board the frigate with his suite, and took the money with him, thus depriving him of a considerable premium for its transport, to which he would have been ent.i.tled had the General gone with him. He, however, being the senior officer, we were all put under his charge, save the frigate before mentioned, and we were greatly annoyed by him during our pa.s.sage, which our master said he prolonged in looking out for American merchantmen, there being then an appearance of war between the two countries. They said he actually detained one or two which left Cadiz when we did, and that he fired small arms into them to bring them to, although war had not been declared. One day during the pa.s.sage he made a signal to the transports which we did not immediately perceive. We were astonished at the report of a gun, and at the same time a cannon-shot whizzed past our rigging.

This is not, I believe, customary, a blank gun being generally fired first, and when nothing else will do, a shot a-head of the vessel, but he appeared not to stand on any ceremony.

We were glad when the voyage was over, it continuing from the 30th June to the 19th July, although three or four days only is the usual time.

We landed at Lisbon, and immediately set about preparing for our journey up the country to join the army; but Colonel Barnard having received letters respecting the settlement of our late Colonel (General Manningham's) affairs, which could not be easily arranged without my presence, determined to send me home for the purpose, with a promise, however, that I should immediately come out again. I accordingly embarked on board the same transport with a ship full of all kinds and descriptions of people, sick and wounded, and lame and lazy; such a motley group I have seldom seen. Our paymaster also returned home with me, and besides him I did not know a person on board.

We had a long and tedious pa.s.sage, not reaching Portsmouth till the 27th August, although we embarked on the 1st of that month. When we entered the chops of the Channel, there was a considerable swell in the sea. Our master, for some purpose or other, had got up from the hold a small quant.i.ty of ballast (gravel), which was laid upon the quarter-deck. A fine stout young Irishman, an officer on board, came up the companion, and seeing the ballast lying there, asked where it came from.

"Why, don't you see," says the master, "how rough the sea is? it has been washed up from the bottom and thrown upon the deck."

The Hibernian seemed quite astonished at the effect of the swell, but believed the story with all the simple-hearted credulity of a Johnny-raw, as the soldiers term a young and inexperienced soldier. Our paymaster was a little of a gourmand, and having for some time been deprived of luxuries, determined to indulge a little now we had come to the land of plenty. On our road, therefore, to London, (he and another officer and myself posting it,) we stopped at G.o.dalming for dinner; he would needs have a carp, which he happened to see in a pond in the garden, made ready for our dinner. It was prepared according to his request, and with it and other good things we contrived to fare pretty well; although, according to my taste, a fresh herring would have been preferable. But lo, and behold! when the bill was called for, the awful sum of _half a guinea_ for the carp was added to the other items of the dinner, which amounted to quite enough without it. To remonstrate would have been useless; we therefore paid the bill and set off, determined to be more economical in future.

I pa.s.sed through London, and reached the depot of my battalion, then stationed at Ashford in Kent, where, after having arranged the business for which I had been sent home, I obtained a three months' leave of absence to visit my native place, where I arrived, thank G.o.d, in a much improved state of health, and where I found all my friends and connexions as well as could be expected, and no doubt happy to see me.

About the middle of November of the same year, I started once more for foreign service, and embarked at Portsmouth for Lisbon on the 22d of that month, on board a small brig heavily laden with corn for the army in Portugal. We remained some time wind-bound, but at length got to sea and proceeded on our voyage, but shortly after the wind headed us and began to blow very fresh. We were therefore compelled to run for the Race of Portland, where we came to anchor. But the wind coming more favourable in a day or two, we weighed again, and got as far on our voyage as opposite Torbay; but here again the wind coming foul, we were obliged to enter the bay and drop anchor again. We were detained here a good many days, during which I went ash.o.r.e with another officer, who was on board with me, and indulged in some Devonshire clotted cream at Brixham.

In about a week we again started, and got about half way across the Bay of Biscay, when a heavy gale overtook us, and in which we lost a considerable portion of our quarter-bulwarks (I think they are called).

Indeed, from the brig being so heavily laden, the water being within a very little of her gunwale, she did not weather the heavy seas which struck her very well, for during the night one came clean over her, partly filling the cabin where we lay with water; and I own I had considerable apprehension for our safety, which I believe was pretty universal on board. It pleased Him, however, who ruleth over all things, to bring us through the gale without further injury, although we appeared next morning in a very shattered condition, and after a few more days' sailing, we reached the Tagus, and landed at Lisbon about the middle of January 1812, and immediately commenced equipping for a campaign with the army which was at this time besieging Ciudad Rodrigo.

I had to purchase a riding-horse and a mule to carry my baggage, and a great deal more of essential requisites to enable me to do my duty in the field; and to say truth, I had not, by any means, sufficient funds to meet these considerable expenses, and was consequently forced to borrow, and glad enough to find a friend who could and would lend me enough for the occasion. And here I cannot but remark, that it seemed peculiarly hard on junior officers, on their taking the field, to be compelled to furnish all this equipment at their own expense. I have known several who did not recover from the debt they thus incurred (could they find a friend, as I did, to lend them what they wanted) for a considerable time after they had joined the army; nay, I believe some never recovered it, and the persons who were kind enough to oblige them lost several large sums in this manner. In my own case, I know, I was most wofully put to it to raise a sufficiency for this purpose; and many, I know, have been compelled to take the field without the necessary equipment to render them efficient. They were thus of little service to the army for a considerable time after joining, and many of them were obliged to leave it again, after striving to do their duty, inadequately provided with the conveniences and comforts requisite to enable a man to bear up against the fatigues he had to encounter. It struck me as but just, and in this opinion I am not singular, that all officers who have not sufficient pay and allowances to enable them to provide themselves with the means of transport, ought to be furnished in the first instance at the public expense, and then be afterwards obliged to keep them in a fit state for service at their own.

I set out from Lisbon soon after, and joined my regiment, which was one of those that formed the light division, and found them cantoned in the neighbourhood of Rodrigo, that fortress having fallen some days previous to my arrival. I had not been many days with the regiment till the division was a.s.sembled at a village called Ituera, on the banks of the Azava, to carry into execution the sentence of a general court-martial, before which seven men of the division had been arraigned for desertion to the enemy, they having been taken in Rodrigo at the capture of that place. They were of course all found guilty, as they were taken as it were out of the enemy's ranks, and never attempted to plead not guilty; but they had said in palliation of their heinous crime, that they were forced to desert from want of food and clothing; indeed the army had not been so well supplied for a short while previously, as they had been accustomed to, but there never was any thing like want. I understood the clothing also was getting bad, but the men could not be got up the country for want of transport, and they were no worse off than their comrades. Indeed, from all I could learn, they had acted in a most diabolical manner; for at the attack of the breaches in a.s.saulting the place, they were distinctly heard crying out to one another, "Now here comes the light division; let us give it them, the rascals," or something to that effect, and had, it is said, done more injury to the a.s.sailing party than twice their number of Frenchmen. Death of course was their sentence, and now the wretched victims of delusion were to atone with their lives for one of the greatest crimes known in the criminal code of the army.

The division was formed into three sides square, on a plain in front of the village, the graves of the hapless beings occupying a part of the fourth face of the square. When all was ready, and a firing party from each regiment had been formed in the centre, the provost-marshal went to the guard-tent, where the prisoners were in waiting, to conduct them to the place of execution. They soon after appeared, poor wretches, moving towards the square, with faces pale and wan, and with all the dejection such a situation is calculated to produce. Their arms had been pinioned one by one as they came out from the guard-tent, and all being ready, the melancholy procession advanced towards the centre of the square. The proceedings of the court which tried them, together with the sentence, and the approval of the Commander of the Forces, was read by the a.s.sistant Adjutant-general, in the hearing of the whole division; which concluded, the prisoners were marched round in front of every regiment, that all might see and avoid their unhappy fate. They were then moved towards their graves. I ought to observe that the chaplain of the division had been with them in the guard-tent some little time previously to their leaving it, and when they quitted as above described, he followed them at a considerable distance, apparently ashamed of his peculiar calling, and the duty inc.u.mbent on him in such a conjuncture. They were led, as I said before, towards their graves; and when they reached the bank of earth in front of each, they were made to kneel down with their faces fronting the square, and then being one after another blindfolded, and left for a few moments to their own reflections or their prayers, the provost-marshal proceeded to the firing party, who had been previously loaded, and directing the men of each regiment to fire at their own prisoner, he advanced them to within about ten or twelve paces of the wretched men, and giving the signals by motion for their making ready and firing, the whole fired at once, and plunged the unhappy criminals into eternity. There was, indeed, one melancholy exception to this. One of the prisoners belonged to the troop of horse artillery attached to the division, and it seems the provost, in giving his orders for the soldiers of each regiment to fire at their own man, had not recollected that the artillery had no men there to fire. He was thus left sitting on his knees, when the others had fallen all around him. What his feelings must have been it is in vain to guess; but, poor fellow, he was not suffered long to remain in suspense, for a reserve party immediately approaching, they fired and stretched him also along with his companions in crime and misery; and in such of the others as they perceived life still remaining, they also immediately put an end to their sufferings, by placing their muskets close to their body, and firing into them. One poor man, when he received his death wound, sprung to a considerable height, and giving a loud shriek, he fell, and instantly expired.

When all was finished, the division was formed into column, and marched round in front of the bodies, where each soldier might distinctly perceive the sad and melancholy effects of such a fatal dereliction of duty. They were then, without more ado, thrown into their graves, which were filled up without delay, and the division separating, each regiment marched to its quarters.

I cannot describe the uncomfortable feelings this spectacle produced in my mind--nay, not only there, but in my body also--for I felt sick at heart; a sort of loathing ensued; and from the recollection of what I then suffered, I could not easily be persuaded to witness such another scene, if I had the option of staying away. Death in the hundred shapes it a.s.sumes on the field of battle seems honourable, and not near so revolting to the feelings, and withal comes suddenly; but to witness the slow and melancholy preparations for an execution such as this, is productive, in any heart that can feel, of the most unpleasant sensations, I think, imaginable.

One of the poor wretches was the little shoemaker of our Highland company, by name M'Guiniss, whom I had known for many years, and who formerly bore an excellent character; but he had most likely been seduced by some of his companions to commit this heinous crime.

Not many days after this, the whole army began to move towards Badajos.

On the 26th of February we left our cantonments, and pa.s.sing by way of Castello Branca and Villa Velha, we reached a village not far from Niza, called Povo das Meadas, where my battalion took up its quarters for a time. From hence I was dispatched to Lisbon for the regimental clothing, which had then arrived at that port; but being unable to procure the means of transport, I was obliged to return without it. I rejoined them in the camp before Badajos about the 25th of March, and witnessed the siege of that fortress from this period to its fall on the 6th of April.

The breaches having been reported practicable by the engineers on the 5th, in the evening the army was a.s.sembled for the a.s.sault, and was disposed as follows: the 3d division under General Picton was ordered to attack the citadel, and to endeavour to establish himself there by escalade; the 4th and light divisions, the former under General Colville, and the latter commanded by Colonel Barnard, were destined for the breaches; the 5th division, which had not co-operated hitherto in the siege, but brought this evening into the neighbourhood, was ordered to occupy the ground in front of the town by way of reserve. One brigade of that division was ordered to make a false attack on a work called the Pardeleras, which was connected with the town, although not actually belonging to it. Another brigade of the same division was ordered to make another false attack round towards the gate near the river Guadiana, which latter was to be turned into a real attack, if circ.u.mstances permitted General Walker, who commanded it, to do so.

There was also a brigade of Portuguese, which was ordered to attack St Cristoval, a fort on the other side of the river. Every thing was arranged in the clearest and most satisfactory manner; all knew what they had to do, the point they were to occupy in the attack having been pointed out to most of them the day before. Soon after dark, the different divisions began to move towards their destined posts, all elated with the certainty of success.

I was then in the mess of the senior captain of my battalion, who commanded it on this occasion; and my other messmates were poor little Croudace and Cary, both lieutenants, the latter acting adjutant, and another. We had taken a farewell gla.s.s before we got up from dinner, not knowing which of them would survive the b.l.o.o.d.y fray that was likely soon to commence. Poor Croudace, a native of the county of Durham, and consequently a near countryman, put into my hand a small leather purse, containing half a doubloon, and requested me to take care of it for him, as he did not know whose fate it might be to fall or to survive. I took it according to his wish, and put it into my pocket, and, after a little more conversation, and another gla.s.s, for the poor little fellow liked his wine, we parted, and they moved off. Although I had thus, as it were, settled it in my mind that I would not go with them on this occasion, for my services could have been of but very little utility, yet, when they went away, I felt as if I was left desolate as it were, and was quite uneasy at parting from my beloved comrades, whom I had always accompanied hitherto. I therefore slung over my back my haversack, containing my pistol and a few other things, and moved forward, to try if I could find them; but falling in with some of my friends, staff-officers of the 43d, who were in the same brigade, they strongly dissuaded me from it, representing to me the folly of uselessly exposing myself, and the little service I could render there; and one of them requested me to accompany him to a hill immediately in front of the breaches, where we could see the business as it proceeded.

We waited till about ten o'clock, when the fire first commenced from the castle upon the 3d division, as they approached it; but the fire from thence did not appear very heavy. Not long after it opened out at the breaches, and was most awfully severe; indeed it was so heavy and so incessant, that it appeared like one continued sheet of fire along the ramparts near the breaches, and we could distinctly see the faces of the French troops, although the distance was near a mile. All sorts of arms, &c. were playing at once, guns, mortars, musketry, grenades, and sh.e.l.ls thrown from the walls, while every few minutes explosions from mines were taking place. The firing too appeared to have such a strange deathlike sound, quite different from all I had ever heard before. This was occasioned by the muzzles being pointed downwards into the ditch, which gave the report an unusual and appalling effect. This continued without a moment's cessation, or without any apparent advantage being gained by our struggling but awfully circ.u.mstanced comrades. Lord Wellington had also taken his stand upon this hill, and appeared quite uneasy at the troops seeming to make no progress, and often asked, or rather repeated to himself, "What can be the matter?"

The enemy had adopted an excellent plan to ascertain where our columns were posted; they threw an immense number of light b.a.l.l.s on all sides of the town, and when they found out where there was a large body, a rocket was fired in the direction of where it stood, and instantly every gun, mortar, and howitzer, not previously engaged, was turned in that direction, and grievous was the destruction their shot made in the ranks of these columns. Still our people at the breaches did not get forward, although we distinctly heard, with emotion, the bugles of our division sounding the advance. His lordship seemed now to lose all patience, and aides-de-camp were sent to ascertain the cause of the delay. They flew like lightning, while the whole rampart round the town seemed enveloped in one flame of fire. Our brave but unsuccessful comrades were heard cheering every now and then; but still the fire at the breaches did not slacken. At length a dispatch arrived from General Picton, stating, that he had established himself in the castle. This was cheering news to his lordship, who expressed very strongly the grat.i.tude he felt for that gallant General.

During the reading of the dispatch, which was done by torchlight, the enemy, perceiving the light, and that a number of people had a.s.sembled on the hill, directed a sh.e.l.l in that direction; but it fell short, and did us no injury. His lordship now rode off, and ordered our people at the breaches to retire, as the town was now perfectly secure. I also set off to inform my people of the happy circ.u.mstance. I found them drawn off from the glacis a few hundred yards; but, oh! what a difference in their appearance now from what they were previous to the attack! The whole division scarcely mustered at this time 2000 men, so many had been killed and wounded, and many had been sent to the rear with the latter.

I informed them that General Picton had got possession of the castle, but my story appeared to them an incredible tale; for it was actually impossible, they thought; and although they made me repeat it over and over again, they could scarcely bring their minds to credit such unexpected news.

It was now dawn of day, and the firing had ceased at every point. Here I learnt the fate of my two beloved friends and messmates: Croudace had been shot through the body, and carried to the rear; Cary had fallen, but they could not tell what had become of him. I now went forward towards the breaches, where I found that several men of both the 4th and light divisions had remained; and when General Picton moved from the castle towards that point, which I believe he stated in his dispatch to be his intention, the enemy, finding themselves attacked in rear, began to abandon the defence of the breaches, and our people were then enabled to enter. Never did I witness any thing like the artificial impediments which the enemy had here thrown up, which, added to the natural ones, that is, to the breaches not having been so perfectly practicable as was desirable, rendered it next to impossible to enter, even after all opposition on their part had ceased. In one breach (the large one) this was literally the case; for at the top of it was fixed a chevaux-de-frize extending the whole width of the breach, and composed of a strong beam of wood, with sharp-pointed sword-blades fixed in every direction, they being generally about three quarters of a yard long, and so closely set together, that it was impossible either to leap over them or penetrate between them, and the whole so firmly fixed to the works at the top, that it could not be moved. In addition, they had fitted a number of long and thick planks, with spikes about an inch or more in length, and laid them all down the breach, but fixed at the top, so that it was impossible for any one to get up without falling on these. Beyond the chevaux-de-frize several ditches had been cut, into which those must have fallen who surmounted the obstacles on the breach; but I believe none did, although I saw one Portuguese lying dead upon the ramparts; but I imagine he must either have been thrown up there by some explosion, or been one of those of the 3d division who came from the castle. In addition to all the above, from the covered way down into the ditch was, I should imagine, at least thirty feet; our people had descended by ladders, and, I doubt not, in the dark, and, in the hurry and confusion of the moment, many were thrown down and killed. In the middle of the large ditch a smaller one had been cut, which was filled with water, and in which, added to the inundation close to the right of the breaches, (which had been caused by bringing the river partly into the ditch,) numbers were drowned. Small mines had been constructed all along in the ditch, which were exploded when it was filled with people, and which produced infinite mischief.

On the top of the ramparts the enemy had a considerable number of sh.e.l.ls of the largest size, ready filled and fused; and when our people had filled the ditch below, these were lighted, and thrown over on their heads, each sh.e.l.l being capable of destroying from twelve to twenty men or more. They had beams of wood also laid on the ramparts, with old carriage-wheels, and every sort of missile imaginable, which were poured upon the unfortunate people below.

When these things are taken into consideration, added to the incessant and destructive fire of from 3000 to 4000 men, all emulous to do their duty, at the short distance of perhaps twenty yards, with the ditch as full as it could possibly stow, the reader will be able to form some idea of the destruction that must naturally ensue: and awful indeed it was, for, within the s.p.a.ce of less than an acre of ground, I should imagine not less than from 1200 to 1500 men were lying: it was a heart-rending sight. I learnt afterwards that many were the desperate efforts that had been made to ascend the breaches, but all in vain; that many had nearly reached the top, but they being either shot or blown up, the others were forced down again. Another and another trial still was made, but each succeeding party shared the fate of their predecessors.

At last the bottoms of the breaches were nearly blocked up with the bodies of those who fell.

By this time, General Philippon, the French governor, had surrendered.

When he found the 3d division had got possession of the castle, and were preparing to move down to second the attack of the breaches by taking the enemy in rear, and that General Walker, with a part of the 5th division, had escaladed, and established themselves at the other end of the town, he deemed further resistance useless, and retired, with the garrison, to St Cristoval, on the opposite side of the river; and shortly after the whole surrendered prisoners of war, the troops, after being stripped of their arms and accoutrements, being marched along in the ditch to one of the gates, from whence they were escorted on their way to Elvas. They pa.s.sed near the breaches while I was there, and I had a full view of them as they moved along. I thought they seemed under great apprehension for their safety, as they appeared quite downcast and dejected, which is not generally the case with French prisoners, who will shrug their shoulders, and tell you it is the fortune of war; but these poor fellows, who certainly had made a n.o.ble defence, seemed low-spirited and timid to a degree. Certainly by the rules of war, I believe, they might have been put to death, for having stood an a.s.sault of the place; but a British general does not resort to the same measures which their Marshal Suchet did at Tarragona, when he put all, both soldiers and inhabitants, to the sword.

Soon after daylight, the remaining men of attacking divisions began to rush into the town, in hopes of sharing, with those who had already entered, the plunder they imagined it would afford; and though every thing was done by Colonel Barnard, aided by the other officers, to keep out those of the light division, it was useless, although he even risked his life to prevent their entering. He had bravely, during the attack, repeatedly ascended the breach, in hopes of overcoming the obstacles which presented themselves, but he had always been driven back, although he escaped unhurt where all was death around him; and now his life nearly fell a sacrifice, in endeavouring to restore that discipline in his division which this unfortunate and unsuccessful a.s.sault had considerably impaired. He opposed his personal and bodily strength to the entrance of the plunderers, but in vain. They rushed in, in spite of all opposition; and in wrenching a musket from one of the soldiers of the 52d, who was forcing past him, he fell, and was nigh precipitated into the ditch. He, however, finding resistance here in vain, set off, accompanied by several other officers, into the town, to endeavour to restrain, as much as lay in his power, the licentiousness of those inside, whose bad pa.s.sions, it was but too evident, would be let loose upon the defenceless inhabitants.

I had been in company with Captain Percival, my commanding-officer before alluded to, from the time of my first coming down to the division before daylight; and now he and I, hearing the heart-piercing and afflicting groans which arose from the numbers of wounded still lying in the ditch, set to work to get as many of these poor fellows removed as was in our power. This we found a most arduous and difficult undertaking, as we could not do it without the aid of a considerable number of men; and it was a work of danger to attempt to force the now lawless soldiers to obey, and stop with us till this work of necessity and humanity was accomplished.

All thought of what they owed their wounded comrades, and of the probability that ere long a similar fate might be their own, was swallowed up in their abominable rage for drink and plunder; however, by perseverance, and by occasionally using his stick, my commandant at length compelled a few fellows to lend their a.s.sistance in removing what we could into the town, where it was intended that hospitals should be established. But this was a most heart-rending duty, for, from the innumerable cries of,--"Oh! for G.o.d's sake, come and remove me!" it was difficult to select the most proper objects for such care. Those who appeared likely to die, of course it would have been but cruelty to put them to the pain of a removal; and many who, from the nature of their wounds, required great care and attention in carrying them, the half-drunken brutes whom we were forced to employ exceedingly tortured and injured; nay, in carrying one man out of the ditch they very frequently kicked or trode upon several others, whom to touch was like death to them, and which produced the most agonizing cries imaginable.

I remember at this time Colonel (the late Sir Niel) Campbell pa.s.sed out at the breach, and, as he had formerly been a Captain in our regiment, many of the poor fellows who lay there knew him, and beseeched him in the most piteous manner to have them removed. He came to me, and urged upon me in the strongest manner to use every exertion to get the poor fellows away. This evinced he had a feeling heart; but he was not probably aware, that for that very purpose both my commanding-officer and myself had been labouring for hours; but it soon began to grow excessively hot, and what with the toil and the heat of the sun, and the very unpleasant effluvia which now arose from the numerous dead and wounded, we were both compelled, about mid-day, to desist from our distressing though gratifying labours.

It was now between twelve and one o'clock, and though we had had a great many removed, a much greater number lay groaning in the ditch; but our strength was exhausted, for he was lame and unable to move much, and I had been obliged to a.s.sist in carrying many myself, the drunken scoundrels whom we had pressed into the service seldom making more than one or two trips till they deserted us. But my lamented friend and messmate, poor Cary, was still to search for, and, after a considerable time, he was found beneath one of the ladders by which they had descended into the ditch. He was shot through the head, and I doubt not received his death-wound on the ladder, from which in all probability he fell. He was stripped completely naked, save a flannel waistcoat which he wore next his skin. I had him taken up and placed upon a shutter, (he still breathed a little, though quite insensible,) and carried him to the camp. A sergeant and some men, whom we had pressed to carry him, were so drunk that they let him fall from off their shoulders, and his body fell with great force to the ground. I shuddered, but poor Cary, I believe, was past all feeling, or the fall would have greatly injured him. We laid him in bed in his tent, but it was not long ere my kind, esteemed, and lamented friend breathed his last. Poor Croudace had also died immediately after reaching the hospital, whither he had been carried when he was shot.

Thus I lost two of my most particular and intimate acquaintances, from both of whom I had received many acts of kindness and friendship. They will long live in my memory. Cary was buried next day behind our tents, one of the officers (my other messmate) reading the funeral service.

I cannot help adverting to some of the scenes which I witnessed in the ditch, while employed there as above noticed. One of the first strange sights that attracted our notice, was soon after our arrival. An officer with yellow facings came out of the town with a frail fair one leaning on his arm, and carrying in her other hand a cage with a bird in it; and she tripped it over the bodies of the dead and dying with all the ease and indifference of a person moving in a ball-room,--no more concern being evinced by either of them, than if nothing extraordinary had occurred. It was really lamentable to see such an utter absence of all right feeling.

Soon after this the men began to come out with their plunder. Some of them had dressed themselves in priests' or friars' garments--some appeared in female dresses, as nuns, &c.; and, in short, all the whimsical and fantastical figures imaginable almost were to be seen coming reeling out of the town, for by this time they were nearly all drunk. I penetrated no farther into the town that day than to a house a little beyond the breach, where I had deposited the wounded; but I saw enough in this short trip to disgust me with the doings in Badajos at this time. I learnt that no house, church, or convent, was held sacred by the infuriated and now ungovernable soldiery, but that priests or nuns, and common people, all shared alike, and that any who showed the least resistance were instantly sacrificed to their fury. They had a method of firing through the lock of any door that happened to be shut against them, which almost invariably had the effect of forcing it open; and such scenes were witnessed in the streets as baffle description.

One man of our first battalion, I am told, had got a hogshead of brandy into the streets, and, getting his mess-tin, and filling it from the cask, and seating himself astride like Bacchus, swore that every person who came past should drink, be who he may. His commanding-officer happened to be one who came that way, and he was compelled to take the tin and drink, for, had he refused, it is not improbable the wretch would have shot him, for his rifle was loaded by his side, and the soldiers had by this time become quite past all control. Another, who had been fortunate enough to obtain a considerable quant.i.ty of doubloons, put them in his haversack, and was making his way out of the town, but was induced, before he left it, to drink more than he could carry. He laid him down somewhere to take a nap, and awoke soon after without even his shoes, and not only were the doubloons gone, but all his own necessaries also.

In, short, a thousand of the most tragi-comical spectacles that can possibly be imagined, might be witnessed in this devoted city. The officers did all they could to repress these outrages, but the soldiers were now so completely dispersed that one quarter of them could not be found; and indeed the only benefit almost that the officers could render was, by each placing himself in a house, which generally secured it from being broken open and plundered. The different camps of our army were for several days after more like rag-fairs than military encampments, such quant.i.ties of wearing-apparel of all kinds were disposing of by one set of plunderers to the other. But they were not content with what they had brought out of Badajos; they had now got such relish for plunder, that they could not leave it off when driven out of the town.

A night or two after the surrender of the place, they stole no less than eight horses and mules belonging to my battalion, and took them to some of the other divisions, where they sold them as animals captured from the enemy. I lost on this occasion an excellent little mule, worth at least L.20, and for which I of course never obtained a farthing. We used every exertion to discover both the perpetrators and the animals, but without success.

An English army is perhaps, generally speaking, under stricter discipline than any other in the world; but in proportion as they are held tight while they are in hand, if circ.u.mstances occur to give them liberty, I know of no army more difficult to restrain when once broke loose. A reason may perhaps be a.s.signed for it in part. On such occasions as this siege, where they were long and much exposed to fatigue almost insupportable, to the most trying scenes of difficulty and danger, which were generally borne with cheerfulness and alacrity, they perhaps reasoned with themselves and one another in this manner,--that as they had borne so much and so patiently to get possession of the place, it was but fair that they should have some indulgence when their work and trials were crowned with success, especially as the armies of other powers make it a rule generally to give an a.s.saulted fortress up to plunder. They had also become quite reckless of life from so long exposure to death; but an English army cannot plunder like the French. The latter keep themselves more sober, and look more to the solid and substantial benefit to be derived from it, while the former sacrifice every thing to drink; and when once in a state of intoxication, with all the bad pa.s.sions set loose at the same time, I know not what they will hesitate to perpetrate.

The reader will judge of the state of our soldiers who had been engaged in the siege, when Lord Wellington found it absolutely necessary to order in a Portuguese brigade to force the stragglers out of the town at the point of the bayonet. At this time I think I was fairly tired of life, so disgusting and so sickening were the scenes the few last days had presented. I had also lost two of those for whom I had a great regard, together with several others of my brother officers, all excellent young men, with still a greater number wounded,--in all, in our fifteen companies, to the amount of twenty-six,--and men in equal proportion. It was indeed a trying time.

Notwithstanding what has been said above of the bad conduct of the British troops on this occasion, I am fully persuaded there is more humanity and generosity to be found in the breast of an English soldier than in any other in the world, for, except when inflamed by drink, I am confident it would be most revolting to his feelings to be ordered to proceed with cool deliberation to the execution of such horrid butcheries as we read of in the armies of other nations.--No! When calm and sober, no man acts with more tenderness towards those in his power than an English soldier. Bonaparte would not have found in them the willing actors in his political tragedy in Egypt, when he coolly fusiladed several thousands of his unfortunate Turkish prisoners, as related by Sir R. Wilson.

If I may be permitted to make a few remarks on the taking of this strong fortress, and of the conduct of the besiegers, I would say that never in the annals of military warfare was greater devotion shown by those of all ranks, from the General to the common soldier. The arduous and dangerous service of the trenches was cheerfully performed by every individual whose duty called him there; but the most conspicuous gallantry was manifested in the a.s.sault. Conceive of the heroic Picton and his brave division escalading a wall probably forty feet high, built on the summit of an almost inaccessible rock, and with troops at the top of all to oppose them as they reached its summit. It is true the enemy were not numerous here, having only about 200 men in the castle, but still one man in this situation was able to destroy probably twenty of the a.s.sailants, by throwing down a ladder after it had been set up; most of those ascending would be crushed to death by the fall over such a precipice. But he carried every thing before him, and after establishing his own division in this commanding situation, he either actually did, or prepared to move upon the body of the enemy, who were defending the breaches. General Walker also, who commanded a part of the 5th division, bravely forced an entrance into the town at the opposite side, overcoming every one of the numerous barriers and obstacles which presented themselves; and where he himself, in the act, I believe, of mounting the rampart, received a most desperate wound. It was said, but I know not how truly, that when he fell, the French soldier who wounded him was about to repeat the blow, which in all probability would have deprived him of life, but that the General, whether intentionally or not it is not said, made the masonic sign, which was understood by one of the Frenchmen, and that he instantly interfered in his behalf and stopped the blow. They say the General some time after found out that his brave deliverer had been sent to Scotland with his fellow-prisoners, and that he had him searched for and handsomely rewarded, and, I believe, procured him his liberty.

It is well known, I believe, to be the rule in all services like the a.s.sault of fortresses, &c., that those, both officers and men, who form the forlorn hope and the storming party, are volunteers, these being services of extreme danger, and which generally procure for the officers who survive a step of promotion; but it might as well have gone (in the light division at least) as a tour of duty, for on all occasions of this nature, with only one or two exceptions, the senior officers of each rank insisted upon being sent on that duty. Nay, in one instance this heroic feeling was carried to an almost censurable excess. Lieutenant Harvest of the 43d having been some time the senior of his rank in that regiment, and there being a vacancy for a captain, he had been recommended for the company; and although he had not been gazetted, yet it had been intimated to him through his commanding-officer that his name should shortly appear as captain. Thus his promotion was perfectly secure; notwithstanding, when volunteers were called for for the storming party, he insisted on his right of going as senior lieutenant; so over scrupulous was he that his permitting a junior officer to occupy this post might be construed to the detriment of his honour. He went, and fell; and thus not only lost his company but his life, and by his too refined sense of honour deprived another officer, probably, of that promotion which would have been the consequence of going on this duty had he survived.

Among the men also the same n.o.ble enthusiasm prevailed, for he who was selected for this dangerous service out of the superabundant numbers who always volunteered, was envied by his comrades as truly fortunate. In fact, it required a character for good conduct to ent.i.tle a man to this honourable employment. Whatever, therefore, their other faults might be, a want of bravery was not one of them.

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Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 6 summary

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