Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 7

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The army leave Badajos on the 11th of April, and move into quarters near the river Agueda, where they remain till the 11th of June--Advance towards Salamanca, which, with the exception of three forts, the enemy had evacuated--The forts invested--The main bodies of both armies bivouack within a mile and a half of each other, in the vicinity of Monte Rubio and Morisco--The forts of Salamanca surrender--The main body of the enemy retire to Tordesillas--Movements of the army.

On the 11th April we left Badajos to return again to the neighbourhood of Rodrigo, the French having, during the absence of our army from that frontier, made an irruption into Portugal, and penetrated as far down as below Castello Branca, completely ravaging the country. Our first march was to Campa Mayor, where we were quartered in the town. We next day reached Arronches, where we bivouacked in a wood near it. The following day we marched into Portalegre, and on the 14th, Niza; the 15th we crossed the Tagus at Villa Velha, and moved on to Larnadas. Here we began to perceive some of the effects of the recent visit from the French; but at Castello Branca, which we reached next day, the devastation they had caused was truly deplorable. We halted here one day to refresh the troops and get forward our supplies, and the next day reached Escallas da Cima. Here we began to get very close upon the rear of the enemy; it therefore became us to move forward with circ.u.mspection, for our force on this side the Tagus was yet but small.

We advanced, however, and occupied successively St Miguel d'Arch, Penamacor, and St Bartholomo, near Sabugal, which last town we pa.s.sed through on the 23d, and bivouacked that night at Alfyates. The utter desolation of Sabugal was beyond conception; filth and misery presented themselves in every direction. It had been made a depot for provisions by the French, I imagine, for on all sides the entrails and other offal of bullocks and sheep polluted the atmosphere by the abominable stench they caused, and had attracted mult.i.tudes of vultures and other birds of prey, who had by this time become horribly tame and familiar: one vulture sat so long upon a dead horse as I was riding along the road, that he allowed me to come near enough to make a cut at him with my sword, as he stretched his enormous wings to mount up from his prey.

On the 24th we reached Ituera, where we halted for two days. We had now entered Spain, and it not being intended as yet to commence another active campaign, we moved into quarters near the river Agueda, my battalion and the 43d occupying the village of La Encina, or "The Oak."

Here it was necessary that every exertion should be used to re-equip and prepare the troops for service, as it was intimated that another campaign would speedily commence.

All the winter and spring hitherto had been spent in active service, consequently much required putting to rights before we again took the field; all hands were therefore employed to patch up and repair our clothing and shoes, and to get every thing in good order when our services were again to be called for.

While we were here, I began to experience some of the ill effects of a deep-rooted enmity which one of my brother officers had conceived against me, though till now partly concealed. I was unconscious of having given him any cause for this; but he, without ever giving me any opportunity for explanation, used all his influence in endeavouring to injure me in the opinion of two of my superior officers, who had hitherto been friendly to me; and not only with them, but, I have reason to believe, with our acting brigadier, whose mind, with the others also, he completely estranged from me for a time. But though he misled them then, they did not retain the ill opinion of me which his misrepresentations had produced, for there are testimonials from all three at the end of this volume. I was not so fully aware of his dislike of me, till one day I was dining at the table of our acting brigadier, when he and one of those before noticed were also guests. I overheard him telling this officer, (with an intention, I almost imagine, that I should hear,) that I must be a bad man, for that I was sitting silent when all the rest were talking, in order that I might listen to their conversation. But I was the junior officer there, and it did not become me to be talkative; besides, I never was loquacious. I said nothing, (although some may blame me for it, but I loved peace,) trusting that one day such forbearance would not be forgotten; but I felt it deeply, and mourned over it in secret with great bitterness of spirit.

In this place also I began to receive very pressing letters from the merchants in England, from whom I had purchased a quant.i.ty of goods when last at home, but which, for want of transport, could not be got up to the army in order to their being disposed of; and, in short, scarcely a post arrived that did not bring some unwelcome and distressing tidings.

I had purchased a fine mule in place of that stolen from me at Badajos, for which I had given about 30. I sent him down to Lisbon with my batman, to bring up as many of the goods as the mule could carry; but he had not been long gone till I had the mortification to learn that this mule also was lost. The man said he had been stolen, but I had every reason afterwards to believe that he had sold him. Be it observed, I could but very ill afford losses of this extent out of my pay and scanty allowances; but I endeavoured to bear up as well as I could against these misfortunes, although it is certain I was not able to bring religion to my aid at this time of trial, for I had lived hitherto in total neglect of that most momentous of all concerns, and, although I endeavoured to amuse myself occasionally by fishing in the Agueda, my mind began to be greatly depressed.

About this time an order was issued for each British regiment in the Peninsula to endeavour to enlist fifty Spaniards to be incorporated in the regiment. I was sent in company with another officer into the mountains of Gata, not far from the city of Placentia. We were not successful, for although we obtained the names of some who promised they would follow us to La Encina, they never made their appearance. However, the beauty and magnificence of the mountain scenery amply repaid us for our trouble. From this village also I had the pleasure of visiting, for the first time, the lately captured fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, and some of my brother officers who had shared in the toils and dangers of the siege, pointed out to me the most remarkable scenes about it. Like Badajos, it had been battered till practicable breaches were made to admit the besiegers, and then stormed in the same manner, but its defence was feeble compared with Badajos; and yet, to look over the ground in the neighbourhood of the trenches, one would imagine it impossible for troops to have lived, so completely was it ploughed up with shot and sh.e.l.ls, each of the latter generally making an excavation sufficiently large in which to bury a horse.

Whilst we remained in these cantonments, the officers of the division once or twice got up a sort of "pic-nic," every one contributing something towards the feast, which was held in a large wood in the neighbourhood of Ituera. On our way from La Encina to this a.s.sembly, we pa.s.sed over the ground where the 5th and 77th regiments had so distinguished themselves in September 1811, against a very superior force of the enemy's cavalry. The bones of the combatants lay bleaching upon the plain, the flesh having been very soon devoured by the innumerable birds of prey, which appeared as if collected from every part of the Peninsula. Indeed so numerous were the battles and skirmishes which took place along this frontier, together with the offal from the animals killed for the use of the armies, that they were no doubt better fed than they had in general been accustomed to.

But the period of our stay in this vicinity drew to a close, and on the 11th June we broke up from our cantonments, and pa.s.sing the Agueda, the division a.s.sembled in a wood about a mile or two in front of Rodrigo.

While we were here a rather remarkable phenomenon appeared about mid-day, or soon after; the sun, which shone most brightly, and the moon, with several stars, appeared all at the same time, the latter being distinctly visible. This of course attracted great numbers, and many were the sage remarks that were made, some believing it ominous of disastrous events; and indeed very shortly afterwards a circ.u.mstance occurred which in some degree confirmed their prediction. A grenadier of the 88th regiment (I think it was) had come over from his own division, to endeavour to prevail upon his wife, who had deserted him and taken up with a sergeant of our first battalion, to return with him, she having, as I understand, left him with one or more children, the first of their marriage, which he was anxious she should come and take care of. They had often, I fancy, quarrelled, and he had probably used her ill, but he was now desirous of a reconciliation, and entreated her to return with him to his regiment. He prevailed upon her to accompany him to some distance from the bivouack, that they might the more freely discuss the subject, for she had hitherto refused to agree to his request, being probably better provided for by the sergeant than she had been with him.

While walking in a field close to the wood in which the bivouack was situated, and arguing the point with some heat, and she still persisting in remaining where she was, he became so exasperated at her continued refusal, that he, in a rage of jealousy and anger, drew his bayonet and plunged it in her bosom. Her cries soon brought people to the spot, who at once secured him, and he was instantly committed to the provost prison tent, and her body of course brought in and buried. Poor creature! she was one of the gayest of the females which graced our rural b.a.l.l.s near Ituera only a short while previous, and had often danced with old General Vandaleur on those occasions. I believe he was not brought to trial for it, as her ill conduct probably had been considered as in some measure palliating what he did, and that he might be supposed to have been irritated to a degree of madness when he perpetrated the fatal act. I subsequently learnt that he was a brave soldier, and that he afterwards fell in the hard-fought battle of the Pyrenees.

We moved forward the next day in the direction of Salamanca, halting on the 13th at Alba de Yeltes, on the 14th at Sancho Bueno, the 15th at Matillo, in a large plain in front of which we bivouacked, where were the most luxuriant meadows I think I ever saw, the horses on our arrival being literally up to their bellies in fine rich gra.s.s. What a pity the natives know nothing of hay-making! This fine herbage is permitted to stand there till it perishes, and yet in the winter they are frequently very ill off for provender for their cattle; indeed I do not exactly know how they contrive to feed them in that season, but I know we were always greatly put to our shifts to procure any sort of long forage for our animals, being generally compelled by necessity to resort to this gra.s.s, rotten and dead as it was. I believe they use a considerable quant.i.ty of straw, which they chop very short, and which in truth is no bad subst.i.tute for hay; but when it is so very plentiful and so good, common sense, one would imagine, would induce them to preserve it.

Lord Wellington in the following season caused a considerable quant.i.ty of hay to be made in Portugal, getting scythes, &c. out from England, but we never returned that way afterwards to reap the benefit of it. All this immensely rich and extensive plain is in a complete state of nature--no enclosures to mark the different boundaries of the proprietors, should it have any, but where there are "landmarks," the mode of ancient days is resorted to.

On the 16th we moved forward to within about five miles of Salamanca, and bivouacked near a range of low hills extending from the Rio Valmuso (which we had just crossed) to the city. In front of this place our cavalry fell in with that of the enemy, with whom they had a _pet.i.t affaire_, and had captured a few of them, who, in the afternoon, pa.s.sed our bivouack, on their way to the rear. We observed as they pa.s.sed that they wore long queues, which had an odd appearance in our eyes, the British army having for so many years left them off.

Next morning we advanced towards the city. We had gone, I think, about three miles, when ascending one of those heights over which the road pa.s.ses, we had a most interesting view of this beautiful place. It seemed thickly studded with elegant and highly ornamented spires, springing from the numerous cathedrals and colleges, &c. which it contained; but what heightened the effect was an immense column of smoke rising from some magazines which the enemy (not having time to carry off) had set on fire. We feared it was but the prelude to the whole city sharing the same fate, for their barbarous conduct in Portugal during Ma.s.sena's retreat, rendered it but too doubtful they were resorting to the same mode of warfare here. They still retained possession of a portion of the town, in which they had constructed three forts; one very strong, and capable of containing about 500 or 600 men; the other two were smaller, to cover and act as supports to the princ.i.p.al one. In constructing these works they had destroyed the greater part of the colleges, and a considerable number of other public buildings, besides several extensive streets which Salamanca had formerly contained; but even now it was still a beautiful and interesting city. One of these works commanded the bridge, which rendered our crossing the Tormes here impracticable. We were in consequence moved about a league higher up the river, where we crossed by a rather deep ford. However, all got safely over, and we halted for the night on a small plain, a short distance from the ford, the main body of the enemy having retired and left 800 men in the forts before mentioned. These occupied but about one-third of the town, of course the remainder was open and free, and, as might be expected, every one was anxious to have a peep at this famous university. Consequently away a number of us scampered, and soon entered the city, the inhabitants of which were overjoyed to see us. The nuns were seen waving white handkerchiefs out of their iron-grated windows, and the Padres and other respectable inhabitants welcomed us with a thousand vivas, embracing us, and using every means of testifying their joy at our arrival.

I need not attempt to describe the place, for I am not able, and it has so often been described that my reader will not be disappointed at my declining to do it here; suffice it to say, the buildings in general, and the religious edifices in particular, were most superb; but the Goths had destroyed the finest portion of the city.

The forts were immediately invested, and we went and had a look also at them. They seemed remarkably strong, having been constructed princ.i.p.ally of hewn stones, taken from the buildings they had destroyed; and on all sides of them a s.p.a.ce of perhaps two hundred yards or more was cleared away to make room for the play of their artillery, and to prevent a lodgement being made by the besiegers.

We next day moved from our bivouack near the ford, and marched to the village of Aldea Secco, in front of which our cavalry and the enemy had a rencontre, after which the latter retired: this was about a league and a half in front of Salamanca. Next day we were suddenly a.s.sembled in consequence of the enemy, in great force, making his appearance at some distance in front of our bivouack. We were then removed from the plain, and took up a position on a height called Monte Rubio, or Red Hill, a little to the right. Soon after, also, the other divisions of our army began to a.s.semble on the height, and our Chief arriving on the spot, every thing had the appearance of something serious being about to take place.

Here also, for the first time, I saw Don Carlos de Espagna with his few followers. These were better clothed and equipped than almost any other Spanish troops that I had seen. The day pa.s.sed over, however, without the French making any attack, and without any movement being made on our side, farther than putting the different divisions into position as they arrived on the ground. The French were continually receiving reinforcements, or rather their different divisions were rapidly arriving in succession, when they all bivouacked in the plain in front of us, at perhaps a mile and a half distance, and near to the village of Morisco. This they very soon gutted of every portable article, whether it was food, clothes, furniture, or whatever they could carry off; nay, they unroofed the greater part of the houses for fuel for the troops, but this latter proceeding could not be avoided, there being no wood near them. Englishmen may well feel thankful that their dwellings have not been exposed to such visitors, who, in half an hour, will convert a comfortable and smiling village into a heap of ruins.

We remained in this position for some days, the two armies, like two experienced pugilists, each waiting for the other to strike the first blow, by which he would in some measure lay himself open. It was not, however, Lord Wellington's game to commence operations, seeing a part of our army was then employed in the siege of the forts in Salamanca; besides, it is said, when some one ventured to hint that we should attack the enemy, that his lordship judged it would make a difference of 3000 men less on the side of the attacking army. I know not if this story be true, but certainly great prudence was displayed on both sides.

However, the enemy had occasionally cannonaded us a little from the first; but about three days after their arrival, they made a very brisk and vigorous attack upon a conical hill immediately in front of our position, and a little to the right of Morisco. It was defended by the seventh division, which repelled the attack with great gallantry, driving the enemy down the hill again with great precipitation. The 68th regiment distinguished itself greatly, but in their pursuit of the beaten enemy, they advanced too far into the plain, and which the French observing, a forward movement was made again by them, and before our people could recover the high ground, Captain M'Kay and Lieutenant M'Donald, with a considerable number of their men, were made prisoners.

Poor M'Kay received I know not how many bayonet wounds on this occasion, I believe not less than ten or twelve, but none of them very serious of course, or he could not have survived. He, with the others, were taken into the French lines, but he was so ill when they retired a few days after, that they were obliged to leave him in Morisco. The enemy's artillery played upon our line during the greater part of this attack, and caused us some loss, but not of any consequence, the horses appearing to have suffered more than the troops.

The French seemed disappointed and annoyed at our sticking so pertinaciously to the hills on this occasion, and told M'Donald (from whom I afterwards had this information) that it was only when we had every advantage on our side that we durst give them battle. Our armies were, I think, pretty nearly equal, each having perhaps about 40,000, but they were, I believe, superior in cavalry, and of course the plain was the very ground for them. Marmont seeing himself thus foiled, withdrew from before us, and made a movement to his left, crossing the Tormes with a considerable part of his force, and advanced on the other side of the river towards Salamanca. Our heavy German cavalry, under General Baron Back, opposed them here, and greatly distinguished themselves, driving the enemy's cavalry from the field. Our army made corresponding movements with the enemy, changing in parts our position.

Meantime the siege of the forts had been proceeding with from the first day of our arrival, and as the distance from Monte Rubio to the town was not great, several of us rode in to see how the siege was progressing, as the Americans have it. An attempt had been made to carry them by escalade, but it had failed; General Bowes, who led the attacking party, with several officers and men, having fallen in the attempt. His lordship now deemed it necessary to batter them regularly previous to another a.s.sault being made upon them. Heavy ordnance was therefore got into battery, which not only effected a breach in the smaller fort nearest the princ.i.p.al one, but which also threw a considerable quant.i.ty of hot shot into a building in the centre of it, which served as a barrack to the troops, the roof of which was presently set on fire, and the only shelter they had was thus destroyed. They thus were compelled on the 27th to surrender prisoners of war.

It is not easy to describe the effect produced on those inhabitants who lived nearest to the forts while the siege was going forward. Just as I entered one of our batteries, which had been established close behind a street, still occupied by the people, one of our artillerymen was carried out shot by a musket ball in the breast, and dead; the poor people when he was brought out into the street a.s.sembled round his body, and set up the most piteous lamentations imaginable. This impressed me with the good feeling which must have existed in their minds towards the English, for they are not a people, as the reader will be aware, who are very susceptible of horror at the sight of blood. A few hours after these forts surrendered, I went to visit the princ.i.p.al one--the devastation caused by our hot shot on the house before mentioned was awful. They had been obliged to make this their hospital also as well as barrack, and it was really lamentable to see the poor wounded Frenchmen lying there in a house that was literally falling about their ears, the roof having been completely fired, while burning beams and rafters were continually dropping upon these poor helpless beings. A French surgeon was still in charge of these men, and he had the politeness to show us all over the fort. As it had appeared from the outside, it was in reality remarkably strong, and the place where our people had made an attempt to escalade it, was pointed out to us; he said it was heavily mined, and that if our people had carried it by escalade, the mines would most likely have been sprung. There was fixed immediately opposite the gate a beam of wood, with holes bored in it, and about twenty musket barrels fitted into them, so as to command the entrance. These, I imagine, it was intended to have fired by a train, as our people forced the gate, and it would have been like a little volley, which must have swept away the first of the a.s.sailants. The inhabitants seemed greatly rejoiced when this business was concluded, and peace once more established in their city, and they vied with each other in showing us every mark of attention and kindness, looking upon us as their deliverers.

If I am not mistaken, it was here where our ill.u.s.trious Chief played off a sort of innocent _ruse_ upon some of the Padres of the place. Soon after our arrival, and before the attempt upon the forts had failed, he went to visit some of the princ.i.p.al cathedrals, &c. which remained entire; the priests of course were proud to show their churches on such an occasion. He admired them greatly, and praised them much; but what seemed particularly to attract his attention was the extreme whiteness and cleanness of their walls and ceilings, although they were so very lofty. He enquired how they managed to get up to them to keep them so; and the unsuspecting Padre, without hesitation, led him to where they kept the immensely long ladders by which they ascended. This was just the very thing he wanted in his meditated attempt upon the forts, and of course they, with others of a similar description, were procured for that service. I will not vouch for the truth of the above, although I heard it, and I think it was not unlikely to have taken place. Indeed had he made a formal demand for such things, it is not improbable they might have denied they had them; but his having seen them himself precluded this.

The forts surrendered on the 27th, and on the 28th the enemy's main body retired altogether; for they soon learned the fate of the besieged, as they had occasionally communicated in some measure by rockets thrown up, and answered. On the same day, our division moved forward to Castilbanos; and the day following to Parada de Rubiallis. On the 30th, we reached Castrillo de Aguerino; and on the 1st of July, the town of Ravel-del-Rey. The next day, we moved on towards Rueda, a considerable town. Here we found the French in some force, their main body having retired across the Duero to Tordesillas. The force in and about Rueda consisted of both cavalry and infantry, and seemed to act as a rearguard till the enemy's columns had time to file over the bridge at Tordesillas. I was at some distance in front of our division, the cavalry having preceded it, with whom I went forward. As we approached the place, a pretty large column of the enemy's infantry left it, and moved in the direction of the bridge. Some of our horse-artillery at this time came up, and fired Shrapnel sh.e.l.ls into it, which did considerable execution; one sh.e.l.l particularly having killed and wounded great numbers, among whom was an officer, I think one of the handsomest men I had almost ever seen. Our cavalry had a little brush with some squadrons of the enemy a little further on in the plain, and captured a few prisoners. One of these was the sergeant-major of one of their hussar regiments, and of all the men I ever saw taken, this man evinced the greatest trepidation and alarm. He was absolutely like to sink to the earth, either from fear of what awaited himself, or from the effects of the contest in which he had been engaged. He had lost his cap in the fray, and seemed like a person deprived of his senses. He must, notwithstanding, have been looked upon by the French as a good soldier, and a valuable non-commissioned officer; for I learned afterwards that they sent in a request that he might be exchanged for one of our sergeants whom they had captured, as it was intended immediately to promote him to the adjutancy of his regiment; of course this was immediately complied with. The enemy retired to Tordesillas, and we bivouacked near Rueda, a part of the officers being permitted to go into houses in the town during the day.

In this situation we remained for a day and a night; but the sun being so powerful, the troops began to feel the ill effects of the heat. They were accordingly brought into the town and quartered in the houses. Here I experienced more of that hostility before spoken of, on the following occasion. In the number of houses allotted to my battalion, there happened to be some of the best of them without stables; but as there was not time to examine farther than their outward appearance, this could not be known by me. I therefore marked off the houses according to custom, giving the best, in point of appearance, to the senior officers in succession, and so on till all were served. It so happened that the house allotted to this officer, who had nearly the best in the battalion given him, had no stable. This I was, from the fore-mentioned cause, totally ignorant of. Neither had I any stable in the house I occupied, but, after some trouble, I had found one in a house occupied by some of the men, where I had put up my horses and mules, and went about the other duties of my station. In the evening I was informed by my servant that my animals had been turned out by this officer, and his own put in, in their stead; and that mine were running loose in a yard, he not caring what became of them. My saddlery, and all the mule-apparatus, (precious articles in this country,) had also been cast out. He was my _senior_ officer, and I was consequently obliged to bear this ill-treatment.

I mention this little circ.u.mstance, because it will show with what determined and unrelenting hostility he pursued me. Indeed it might not have been so trifling an affair, for had I not heard of it in time, I might have lost every horse and mule I possessed, which would have been one of the most serious disasters that could have befallen me. I could obtain no redress, for the captain before mentioned, who commanded the battalion, and this officer, being on rather unfriendly terms, he felt delicate in interfering in my behalf. Indeed I have some reason to believe, that it was partly on account of his enmity to this captain (with whom I still messed) that he so persecuted me.

I own I was on this occasion strongly tempted to demand that satisfaction which the rules of honour (as they are termed) dictate, for I then had not a Christian feeling on this subject; but after consideration and consultation with some friends, it was feared he might take advantage of his superior rank, not only to decline giving me that satisfaction, but to report me, and thus destroy my prospects for life, for he would have been compelled to the latter step had he not acceded to my demand; and from the feeling he displayed towards me, there is not the least doubt he would have rejoiced at such an opportunity of ruining me. At this time, also, I had very few _real_ friends who would have stood by me; for his secret machinations, and his having the ear of our brigadier, tended greatly to estrange my former friends from me.

All this, as might be expected, tended powerfully to depress my spirits, and to cast a gloom over a mind but too susceptible of impressions of that nature; for there is not any thing almost I would not do or submit to, to live on good terms with those I a.s.sociate with, and indeed with all men. My mind was also much hara.s.sed at this time by receiving very unpleasant letters from England on the subject of the goods I before mentioned, and which had not yet reached any farther than Abrantes; and as the men began to be ill off for want of clothing, I obtained leave to proceed forthwith to Abrantes, to endeavour to get both the clothing and goods brought up to the regiment. I therefore set off, accompanied by one servant on a mule, leaving the other animals with the battalion, and proceeded on the 16th on my journey, and pa.s.sing through Ravel-del-Rey, I halted for the night in a village where the seventh division was quartered. As I knew some of the officers of the 51st, I took up my abode with them for the night, and they indeed received me very kindly.

My friends spent the evening very merrily; but, about midnight, they were called out and put under arms, expecting shortly to turn in again, as they told me; but they were marched off, and left the place entirely, leaving only my servant and myself in occupation of the town.

It seems that Marmont, with his whole force, had moved from Tordesillas, and had threatened Lord Wellington's communication with Salamanca. In order, then, to keep up a corresponding movement, and be ready to take advantage of any false step the enemy might make, his lordship withdrew his whole force, and began to retire as Marmont advanced. Thus, in the morning, to my surprise, all the army had left the neighbourhood, and as I was not certain who the next visitors might be, I quickly decamped from a village now left open to the enemy. I got on at a considerable pace, as both my servant and myself were riding, and on the 19th I reached Salamanca.

During yesterday's march I heard a considerable cannonade to my right and rear, and I afterwards learnt that the two armies had come nearly in contact with each other, and some skirmishing and exchange of shots had taken place. I did not stop in Salamanca longer than to draw rations for ourselves and animals, being anxious to get on as fast as possible, to try to get up the supplies while the army remained near the frontiers, for it was still expected they would advance into the heart of Spain, notwithstanding the present partial retreat. I accordingly moved on that evening to Matilla, and continued thus making stages of thirty or forty miles a-day, and on the 25th I reached Abrantes; but on the preceding day I was overtaken by Lord Clinton, going home with the dispatches relative to the glorious and decisive battle of Salamanca, which took place on the 22d. His lordship was nearly worn out, being actually asleep on his horse as he rode past me, for he had never once stopped from the time he first set out. I learnt the news from the person who accompanied him. It is impossible to describe the joy this information created among the Portuguese inhabitants of the village. I stopped for the night at Gaviae.

I found at Abrantes a detachment of our second battalion proceeding to join the army; but, to my sorrow, learnt there was no chance of procuring transports for the clothing, &c., for months to come. This was distressing information to me, and of course added to the despondency already preying upon my spirits; for the merchants' letters I was continually receiving began to be most importunate, and indeed attributing the non-remittal of their money to a want of principle, and talked of reporting my conduct to the Commander-in-Chief.

Want of a proper religious feeling, under such circ.u.mstances, as might be expected, laid me open to great temptations. I therefore, to drown sorrow, and because I had always been too much addicted to it, began to give way to intemperance, and, falling in with a number of officers of very dissipated habits, I was led on to indulge in the most vile and abominable of all vices, _drunkenness_, to an excess almost incredible.

But the gloom still seemed to thicken, and a dark cloud seemed impending over me, of which I was fully aware, and wrote home to my friends to that effect. At length my birthday, the 4th of August, arrived, and which must, as my unhappy companions in sin urged on me, be kept with all due jollity. Accordingly, a dozen of strong port-wine was procured, and we boozed away most joyfully, the whole being drank by about four or five of us. This produced constipation in the bowels, and had nigh brought me to my end; but my mind was more affected, if possible, than my body. About two days after this debauch, on my retiring to bed at night, I felt an unusual inclination to rise up and fall down on my knees, to offer up my evening prayer; for, notwithstanding all my wickedness and forgetfulness of G.o.d, I had not altogether abandoned the _form_ of _saying_ my prayers at night, but it was always after I lay down. I resisted this impulse, however, to rise and pray, and, after mumbling over my _form_ without the _spirit_, I endeavoured to compose myself to sleep. I did sleep for a while, during which I was troubled with some confused and incoherent dreams; but soon after awaking, gracious G.o.d! what were my feelings then? Despair, black despair, had seized upon me. I rushed out of bed, and rolled upon the floor like one distracted, as indeed I was. Oh! what would I then have given that I had never been born, or that I could cease to exist! Had it been possible, by throwing my body into the flames, to annihilate for ever my consciousness of being, how gladly would I have done it! But no--the terrors of the Lord were upon me, and drank up my spirits; and no one who has not been in a similar situation can form the most distant idea of the misery which preyed upon me. The pains of h.e.l.l got hold upon me, and hope seemed for ever to be shut out from my mind. I believed I had sinned past all redemption; that the mercy of G.o.d could not possibly be extended to me; and of the efficacy of the Redeemer's blood I knew nothing. Oh! this was a time much to be remembered by me, for none but He who afflicted me, and my soul which bore the affliction, knows what I then suffered!

At length the morning came, but with it no comfort for me. One of my sinful and dissolute companions came to see me, but he seemed greatly shocked at the recital of my woful tale, and I believe then formed for himself resolutions of amendment, which I fear, poor fellow, he never was able to fulfil. He did not long survive, but was shortly after called to his awful account, whilst I am spared,--a monument of the long-suffering mercy of G.o.d. Amongst all my companions in error and wickedness, I could not procure a Bible, and, as a proof of the unG.o.dly state I was then in, I had not one myself. This poor friend, however, had a Prayer-book, which he lent me, and out of which I eagerly sought for comfort and hope, but in vain, for all was against me. Yes--and all who make G.o.d their enemy, will find in the hour of need, that every other creature and thing will fail to yield them comfort; but I had sinned too deeply and too perseveringly to find peace speedily. Oh! in what black array did the sins of my whole life pa.s.s before me, and how did I sigh for annihilation; or, if I could in any way atone for my wickedness, if I could but go and bury myself in a cave or den of the earth, and forego for ever all intercourse with mankind, how easily and how cheaply did I then conceive I should purchase pardon and peace! But, alas! I knew nothing of the way of reconciliation with an offended G.o.d, although I had been duly instructed in my youth. I was in such agony of mind that I scarcely heeded my body, but was prevailed upon to have a surgeon, who administered what he considered necessary, but without effect. My bowels had ceased to perform their functions, and this no doubt would greatly affect my head; still, although this, as a _second_ cause of the distraction of my mind, was easily discoverable, yet the _great first cause_, not only of my disorder, but of all its effects, was the G.o.d against whom I had so grievously sinned, and from whom alone I could hope for the removal of my present sufferings. But hope was at this time banished from my breast, and I gave myself up to all the agonies of a soul that is lost for ever; but still I could not _rest_ in this sad situation. I therefore now determined to set off for Lisbon, in hopes that I might obtain from the chaplain, who was stationed there, some slight alleviation of my misery, for none but Roman Catholic priests were to be found where I then was. I accordingly set off, accompanied by my servant, but in such a hurry, and so utterly regardless of all worldly concerns, that I left my baggage in my quarters, which was taken care of by the friend before mentioned.

I started in the afternoon of the second day after my attack. The sun was scorching hot above my head, but I regarded it not, seeing there was a hotter fire within me; indeed I believed I could not mortify my flesh sufficiently, so blind was I at this time of the nature of atonement. My feeling was, that I had an Almighty enemy over me; that His eye was upon me for evil, let me go where I would; and that I could not possibly escape from the destruction which He would shortly inflict upon my soul.

How gladly, as I rode along, would I have solicited the rocks and mountains to fall upon me, and hide me from His sight, did I believe they could have availed for this purpose! But no--I felt it was impossible, and that I must endure for a short while longer the lighter punishment he had then laid upon me; and by and by I must drink to the dregs the cup of His everlasting indignation. O, sinners! be persuaded to flee from the wrath to come, for indeed one of the slightest terrors of the Almighty is enough to drive to distraction the strongest mind, and to appal the stoutest heart!

I arrived at Galigao, the place of my intended rest for the night--and here I was attacked with ague and fever in addition to my other disorder--this was the effect of my exposure to the sun in so weak a state. But I cared not for my body. I knew that would return to the dust from whence it was taken. But oh! the never-dying soul--to think that it should endure eternal and omnipotent wrath, overwhelmed me with dread indescribable. My mind, it is true, was affected by my disorder; but it could not be termed insanity or madness, for I even now remember with great distinctness the feelings I then experienced, and those feelings remained with me for a considerable time afterwards.

Here I felt myself extremely ill, and believed I could not survive till morning. I consequently got my servant to make down my bed in a corner of the room I occupied, with his own near it, and told him to leave the candle burning, for that my time could not be long. I was compelled to submit, and quietly lay myself down, in dreadful expectation of the fatal hour, and when, as I imagined, the infernal fiend would be commissioned to seize and carry off my soul to its abode of everlasting misery. I could not pray, nor had I any the most distant hope that my sentence could be reversed, for I fully believed it had been finally p.r.o.nounced by Him who changeth not.

During this woful night, I appeared to possess a sort of second self, a being which existed and thought and reasoned quite distinct from that _me_ who was stretched upon the floor, and which appeared to upbraid me with the misery it was then suffering, and was still to suffer, for the sins of my past abandoned life. I know not whether any other person in despair ever experienced this feeling; but to me it was quite obvious, for I remember distinctly the sin to which it more particularly drew my guilty attention. Was not this the soul which will exist when the body is dissolved, and may not such an upbraiding take place between the body and the soul when the former shall be raised to join the latter in the judgment? But the fact is, my soul was that night as it were on the point of taking its departure from the tenement of clay, and seemed strong to endure the everlasting wrath of G.o.d.

I do not know whether I slept any during this dreadful night; but morning came, and with it a certainty that I was still in this world, but without the hope that this might have been expected to produce. I felt as in a fire, yet I scarcely durst put my burning hands into the water my servant brought me. I felt convinced that I had forfeited all claim to any thing like blessings, and that curses, both in body and soul, were alone my due.

Ill as I was, however, I proceeded on my melancholy journey, not with any hope that a minister of religion could give _me_ any relief, but a drowning man will catch at a straw. Oh! how strong, how awfully strong, did my soul appear at this time, to endure the tremendous wrath of Omnipotence, whilst my body seemed fast sinking into its original element!

I reached Lisbon in two days from this time, having taken a boat at Santarem. I ate nothing, with a trifling exception. I had no inclination for food, nor did I think I ought, for the reason before given; my only sustenance was a little water which I kept in a bottle, and with which I now and then moistened my parched lips.

I arrived at Lisbon about daybreak in the morning, and proceeded as well as I was able to a friend's house, and knocked at the door; but shocked indeed were he and his wife, when they saw me standing below, more like a ghost than an inhabitant of this world. Indeed it is not easy to describe my looks at this time; there must have been much of that spiritual misery depicted in them which a confirmed despair no doubt produces. They took me in, and after hearing my woful tale, prepared to do for me the best that lay in their power; they gave me their own bed, taking a pallet for themselves, and treated me as if I had been their brother. He, poor fellow, is no more, but his beloved and kind partner still lives, and may she always enjoy that happiness she seemed so desirous of contributing to on this occasion, and everlasting happiness hereafter! As soon as it could be conveniently done, the clergyman was sent for, and also a medical officer, although from neither had I any hope. But, alas! from the former, although a kind and sympathizing man, I derived but little benefit. He did not direct me to the only source of a sin-sick being's hopes, the Lamb of G.o.d which taketh away the sins of the world. He made my hopes to centre too much in my own resolutions and after-doings. No doubt, as my sins had been enormous and flagrant, my repentance ought to be proportioned; but when he saw me bowed down under an indescribable sense of guilt, oh! had he, like Paul to the jailer, pointed me to the Saviour, how unutterably precious and acceptable would it have been to my soul! I do not remember that any one character in scripture is described as having felt more fully and more keenly the sinfulness of sin, and of its consequent danger to the soul, than I did at this time. How thankfully would I have accepted the mode of salvation pointed out in the gospel; for indeed I was but too much (as all natural men are) inclined to expect pardon and happiness from the things which, if G.o.d spared me, I intended to perform. But He only knows best. This kind gentleman wrote me out prayers, and seemed much interested in my welfare; notwithstanding, the gloom of despair still hung heavy on me, and at length; and when the kind medical friend was enabled, after repeated efforts, to procure me some relief, I felt as if it was only the prolonging of my existence, in order that I might fill up the measure of my iniquity. This, I am now fully persuaded, was a suggestion of the Father of Lies, in hopes probably of prevailing upon me to adopt the awful and miserable resolution of Judas to get rid of life.

I thank G.o.d this was the only temptation of that nature which he permitted me to be exercised with; for I felt no inclination even in my darkest hours to commit suicide, fully believing that the utmost of my sufferings here could bear no proportion to those of the d.a.m.ned in h.e.l.l.

I consequently had no inclination to hasten them by rushing into eternity; this, it is evident, was of the merciful goodness of the Lord, and for which I am bound to be truly thankful.

I continued in this state of mind for several months, and could not, with all my reading, praying, and doing, find peace. My reading and praying seemed to me more like an irksome task, than an exercise in which I took delight. I had formed a resolution from the first to retire from the service, where it appeared to me I was exposed to so many temptations; but here the experienced Christian will perceive how erroneous were my views, and I think feel pleased that I never fully effected my purpose, although I made preparations for it. Indeed I could not well feel _certain_ that I should act right by retiring from the post to which G.o.d's providence had appointed me, although my firm determination was to live devoted to Him. But, alas! how wofully have I failed of maintaining that resolution!

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Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 7 summary

You're reading Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): William Surtees. Already has 91 views.

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