Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 9

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Before we reached our division, we had to pa.s.s a village, over against which was a very strong French battery, and where they peppered us considerably, but without doing much harm, I believe. We here joined our brigade. Immediately in front of this village the enemy made one of his longest stands. Our brigade now formed lines of battalions, and lay down in some ploughed fields, while their artillery kept playing upon us. On our left the 3d division was warmly engaged. In about half an hour we moved in that direction. The 45th we found posted behind a thin thorn hedge, with its commanding-officer poor Colonel Ridewood, whom I had known before, lying on its right, gasping in the agonies of death. A great many men of this regiment had fallen here. We pa.s.sed them, and continued to advance along the plain by brigades and battalions; but we found the ground much intersected with ditches, which would have r.e.t.a.r.ded us had we wished to advance rapidly; but from some cause or other, which we could not then comprehend, we never pressed upon the enemy closely, but gave them time to get quietly away. We were still, however, in expectation of their making their final stand; for at every short interval a beautiful little position presented itself, which the French invariably occupied in the finest style possible, forming their lines on these little eminences with the greatest precision, and in beautiful order; but they never stood to let us get at them, for the moment we began to come within musket-shot, they instantly began to retire to another, which they took and abandoned in like manner. All this time, indeed, there was continual skirmishing going on between the light troops of the two armies, and a constant cannonade, and occasionally the heavy lines came in contact; but their infantry appeared to us to leave the field in the main unbroken.

We continued these movements till near dark, by which time we had considerably pa.s.sed Vittoria, and the enemy's artillery had nearly ceased. Our cavalry now got at them; and although, from the nature of the ground, their movements were greatly cramped, yet they continued to charge, and nearly captured King Joseph. We halted when we had got about four miles beyond Vittoria, which we pa.s.sed on the left hand. We thought we had indeed gained a victory, but it appeared to us to be a most barren and useless one; and many were not over well pleased that the enemy had been allowed to get off so easily. But our n.o.ble Chief knew well what he was about, for he reaped all the fruits from this that could have been possibly gained from the most b.l.o.o.d.y battle. Indeed it was far from being a bloodless victory, but he certainly did not sacrifice one half the men that some in the action would have done; they thought we should have pressed the enemy far more, and brought him to closer action.

After we halted, I (being the only quartermaster present) was sent in search of the baggage belonging to the division, and which had followed as far as they could along the great road. I pa.s.sed through Vittoria on my way to the rear in search of it, and saw as I entered it several of Morillo's men, who had descended from the mountains and come into the town. From the vivas and other marks of gratulation which some of the inhabitants were rendering these ragged ruffians, a stranger would have thought that Don Morillo, with his 3000 or 4000 Spaniards, had achieved the whole victory themselves. It is certain they are a vainglorious people.

I pa.s.sed through the town, and, taking the great road, I soon had ocular proofs of the value of our day's work; the road being literally blocked up with every description of carriage-guns, tumbrils, waggons, &c. &c.

which filled the great high-road for nearly two miles to the rear of Vittoria. I found it difficult to make my way through them, but at last fell in with the baggage; I could not, however, get it through, and was obliged to leave it, after giving directions where to find the division in the morning. I again pa.s.sed through Vittoria in returning to the division; but oh, what scenes had I now to witness! The followers of an army are sometimes very numerous, and here they were abundantly so; muleteers, Portuguese and Spanish concubines, with every description of vagabond you can imagine. These were by this time all labouring hard in their avocation of breaking open and plundering the carriages and waggons, &c. that had been left by the enemy. Among these were hundreds of soldiers, who were now beginning to feel the effects of the wine, &c.

which they had found in the enemy's baggage; and such a Babel was here to be witnessed as is not easy to conceive.

I had some difficulty in forcing my way through the town, at the end of which I was accosted by five or six soldiers' wives, belonging to one of our light cavalry regiments, who wished to accompany me, in order that they might find their husbands, as that regiment was attached in some measure to our division. Of course it would have been cruel to refuse them; and as they were all mounted, away we posted, but had great difficulty to make out where the division now was. Many were the waggons and other carriages we pa.s.sed on the road, either broken down, upset, or with people plundering them; and I did not reach the division till 10 o'clock at night. I was very glad when I found them, being then excessively fatigued and hungry; and just as I reached my people, I found the mess to which I belonged cooking a piece of thin mutton, which they had cut off from a sheep that had been taken from the enemy. This was all the plunder I got that memorable day, although, had I done as many others did, I might have obtained a great deal both of money and other valuables; for, as I said before, the numerous carriages I pa.s.sed gave me an opportunity which many would have rejoiced at of possessing myself of immense wealth; but plundering never was my forte. One officer whom I knew got, I believe, near L.1000 worth of money, and other valuable property; and innumerable others got considerable sums, more or less. I am glad now that I refrained from what _might_ have been accomplished with ease and safety, but what also _might_ have entailed upon me disgrace and ruin. One officer I heard of, who, while in the rear, where he ought not to have been, found a box full of money, most likely silver, but very heavy. A German dragoon coming up at the same moment laid claim to half of it, and when this officer took hold of it to remove it, the German also laid hold to prevent him. A sort of scuffle ensued, when the German made use of most abusive and mutinous language, with threats, which the officer was obliged to submit to, knowing, as both of them did, how far he had descended from his station, thus putting it in the power of the soldier to treat him as a brother plunderer. Surely the mention of such an occurrence is enough to deter any man who possesses the least spark of honour from ever putting it in the power of a soldier to treat him so. Besides, if an officer plunders before his men, what may not soldiers be expected to do?

In looking back upon the events of this day, I cannot help being struck with the bad generalship of those who commanded the French army. Marshal Jourdan, I understand, was Joseph's adviser on this occasion. He had always borne the character of an able General, but here he showed but little ability. Why did he so much weaken his force on the conical hill to support his left? Had he maintained his ground there, which is strong by nature, and they had rendered it stronger by art, he might have completely checked us on the right; for if we had advanced too far on that side, our wings would have been separated, which would have been a dangerous experiment; and I think Lord Wellington would not have hazarded it. And after leaving his first position, why did he not fight at every one of the beautiful little positions which he afterwards took up but never defended? This conduct is most unaccountable, for had he made a longer stand, even although he should be beaten, which no doubt he would have ultimately been, yet, by making this stand, he might have got off the greater part of his materiel, instead of which he carried off with him one gun and one howitzer only, leaving upwards of 250 pieces of ordnance in our hands. Most of his infantry left the field apparently unbroken; for only here and there they had stood to let our people get at them. It is true Sir Thomas Graham early cut off their retreat by the great road to France; but what then? This ought to have made them fight the more desperately, to enable them to get off the better by the Pamplona road. The infantry should have stood till the last, and not retired till fairly beaten out of the field. Nothing could be finer than the movements of our army.

Every thing our Chief attempted succeeded to a t.i.ttle. The only thing I did not like was the delay we occasionally made in following up the enemy; but I could not, of course, comprehend the general movements, from seeing only a small part of them, and I believe the victory would not have been more decisive by being more b.l.o.o.d.y. We lost in the village, where we first began the fight, nearly thirty men, with the officer before mentioned as killed, and a considerable number wounded.

There was something remarkable in the fate of one of the men who were killed by the cannon-shot I before noticed. This man was remarkably averse to fighting, and had shown, on all occasions, a disposition to leave that kind of work as soon as practicable. Poor fellow! his failing was known to all; and on this occasion those about him had orders to watch him, and keep him to his duty. They had not been in the village many minutes when this fatal shot swept him and about five others into eternity in a moment. It has often been remarked, that this description of people are generally the first to fall.

It may not be generally known, perhaps, that a battle was fought on the 3d April 1367, a little higher up this river, near the village of Novarete, between our Edward the Black Prince, and Henry the b.a.s.t.a.r.d, who had usurped the throne of Don Pedro, King of Castile. The history of it is given by Froissart, who says, "a little before the two armies met, the Prince of Wales, with eyes and hands uplifted towards heaven, exclaimed, 'G.o.d of truth, the Father of Jesus Christ, who hast made and fashioned me, grant, through thy benign grace, that the success of this battle may be for me and my army; for thou knowest that in truth I have been emboldened to undertake it in the support of justice and reason, to reinstate the king upon his throne, who has been disinherited and driven from it, as well as from his country.'" This zealous prayer was immediately followed by the onset, the Prince crying aloud, "Advance banners, in the name of G.o.d and St George!"

"At the commencement," says Froissart, "the French and Arragonese made a desperate resistance, and gave the good knights of England much trouble; but at last, when all the divisions of the Prince were formed into one large body, the enemy could no longer keep their ground, but began to fly in great disorder; and Henry, the usurper, perceiving his army defeated, without hope of recovery, called for his horse, mounted it, and galloped off among the crowd of runaways. The English pursued them through the town of Najara, where they gained considerable plunder; for King Henry and his army had come thither with much splendour, and after the defeat they had not leisure to return to place in security what they had left behind them in the morning."

There is a striking coincidence in many parts of the two actions and their consequences, which the reader cannot fail to notice. The most material difference, I think, in the two stories is, the offering up of the prayer by the Prince, and the modern practice of not recognising, publicly at least, the hand of G.o.d at all in any of our victories. This is to be lamented.


Advance in pursuit of the Enemy--Our Forces retreat, in order to counteract Soult's movements for the succour of Pamplona--Total defeat of Soult in the several Actions near Pamplona--Our Forces again advance--Come up with the retreating Enemy at the Bridge of Yanzi--The Enemy take up a position behind Vera--A considerable body of the Enemy attacked at the Pa.s.s of Eschallar, and forced to retreat.

We remained in bivouack all night where the battle had terminated; and did not begin to move till near mid-day on the 22d, when we set off in the track of the enemy, and at night reached Salvatiera, where King Joseph had slept the night after the action.

The poor beaten French must have had a long march after the fight, for this was probably sixteen or eighteen miles from Vittoria. We started early on the morning of the 23d, and very soon began to overtake the rear of the enemy. They now resorted to a system of r.e.t.a.r.ding our march, at once both cruel and cowardly; every village they pa.s.sed through they set on fire. Of course this caused us some delay, as the road generally ran through the middle of the village, and the country on each side was enclosed, but still nothing could justify such barbarity to the unoffending natives, who were thus deprived of house and home, and probably all they possessed in the world. We overtook their rearguard near a village about two leagues from Salvatiera. They attempted to make a stand while the village was in flames, but a shrapnell sh.e.l.l from our horse artillery set them instantly in motion. We came upon a considerable body of them again near the village of La Cunca, where we again cannonaded them, and where our people had some slight skirmishing with their rear.

We encamped for the night near this village, and again started after them in the morning early. My battalion led the column to-day, the post of honour. We had marched, I think, about eight or ten miles without overtaking any of the flying foe before us, but at last we came to an open country, that which we had traversed being pretty thickly enclosed, with bad roads and wet weather, which rendered marching very uncomfortable. Here a halt was ordered, as the enemy was in front in some force; here for the first time we got upon the great road leading from Pamplona towards Bayonne; and here, where it turned the corner of a mountain, forming a pretty acute angle, they had the only gun and howitzer they had saved from the fight in position, and ready to receive us. The men of my battalion, and a part of our 1st battalion, were ordered to put their knapsacks up behind the hussars of the German Legion, as it was not expected they would be wanted, and it thus rendered our people better able to run. The enemy appeared to have two battalions here, one of which remained on the great road near the two pieces of artillery, while the other moved off more to our right, down a valley which they imagined would, at the other end, let them out into the great road again.

We now began to move forward, and as I happened to be the first mounted person who left the enclosed road we had been in, I was honoured with the first shot from their gun, which, although a good shot, did me no injury. Our people now pushed on at them pretty smartly, which caused them, after firing a round or two more, to limber up and retire with their artillery, though they of course retired as leisurely as possible, to give time for their troops, whom they were covering, to get away. The skirmishing between them and our people continued for about two miles, they gradually retiring before us; but when they came to a sort of pa.s.s in the road, formed by two rocks nearly meeting in the middle, their bugles or trumpets sounded first the halt to their troops, and afterwards the advance upon us. We could not comprehend the meaning of this, till in a few minutes the battalion which we had observed go down towards the right, suddenly made its appearance out of a wood among our skirmishers. Of course a sharp contest now took place, and the firing on both sides became more brisk; this battalion, it appears, had miscalculated on getting out of the valley, down which it had retired, and had been compelled, at whatever risk, to make the great road again before they pa.s.sed the rocks before mentioned; and in order to let it do so, the other skirmishers had advanced to cover its movement. This battalion suffered considerably before it reached the road, and we did not get off scot-free, having lost out of our five companies about twenty-four men.

Our artillery being pretty near at hand, Colonel Ross brought up two guns, and fired into their retreating column, doing considerable execution. We now moved forward in close pursuit of the enemy for about two miles farther, when a shot from Colonel Ross's guns having struck one of the leaders in their gun, and our people at this time pressing them so closely as not to give time to disentangle the dead horse, they unwillingly were compelled to throw their only gun into the ditch, and there abandon it. We continued the pursuit till we drove them under the walls of Pamplona, which I understand, poor wretches, they were not allowed to enter, on account of the scarcity of provisions in that fortress, and which after events proved was the case. We retired to the village of Aldava and others in the neighbourhood, where we remained for the night.

On the morning of the 25th, we advanced on the road to Pamplona, the enemy having all retired towards France, till we came within about one mile and a half of it, when we branched off to the left, and moved along a range of hills at about a mile distant from the works of the place, till we reached the town of Villaba, on the mountain-road from Pamplona to France; thus cutting off all retreat from the garrison, and thus in fact investing the place. During our movements to-day, my people being in the rear of the 17th Portuguese regiment, I was riding in company with my commanding-officer at the head of the battalion, when the horse of the Portuguese major threw out with both his hind feet with all his might, and struck me with one foot on my thigh, and the other on the calf of the leg. The blow was so severe that I nearly fainted, and was obliged to dismount and throw myself on the ground; but as no bones were broken, I gathered myself up again, and mounted and set off after the troops.

We encamped on the Pamplona side of Villaba, distant from the former about one mile and a half. The captain in whose mess I was, with his company, was that night ordered on picquet within about three quarters of a mile of the city. I went there to get my dinner, during which several poor people, who had made their escape from the place, came and welcomed us in the name of the people, telling us they were heartily tired of their present lodgers; of course there would be different opinions among them, but I believe the generality at that time hated the French most cordially.

There was a division of the French army under General Clausel, which had not partaken of the flight at Vittoria, being then stationed at Logrona, and he having learnt the fate of his companions in arms, and their retreat into France, was moving through the country to our right, in order to effect his retreat also. Next morning, therefore, the 3d and our divisions were despatched in pursuit of this French corps. We marched that day to near Taffala, and halted at the village of Muro, at the junction of the great road from Logrona with that we now occupied, but we learnt that Clausel had kept more to his right, and was directing his course towards the mountain-road, which pa.s.ses near Caceda and Languessa, into France.

We accordingly pa.s.sed through Taffala and Olite, and encamped for the night. Next day we started early, and moved on till mid-day, when we halted for an hour or two to cook and refresh near the village of Murillo del Fruto. We here came upon the river Arragon. This had been already a long day's march, and the greater part of the division were ready to lie down now, but a much longer portion still remained to be accomplished. Accordingly, we set off after a short rest, and traversed the right bank of this river for about ten hours longer. Night marches at all times are unpleasant, but much more so on such a road or path as this was, and every one so nearly tired before beginning it.

We crossed the Arragon at the village of Galla Pienzo, and lay down in a field not far from the village of Caseda. Very few of the division reached this place until daylight next morning. But when I got in I unfortunately lay down on a ridge immediately behind our column, and where, had I given it a thought, I was continually liable to be disturbed. And indeed I was most wofully disturbed, for every fresh batch that came in tumbled themselves down upon me, or in blundering about in the dark were sure to stumble over me. It must be observed that my leg by this time, instead of getting better, had begun to swell dreadfully and to suppurate, consequently I was in a high state of fever; and to the thumps and kicks which I received in the dark during this uncomfortable night, I cannot but attribute much of my subsequent suffering. Next morning we discovered that all our labour had been in vain, for Clausel had got the start of us, and had got off by another road into France.

We next day moved into Languessa, from which we were not far distant, but I could no longer accompany or precede the troops, my leg was now so bad. I was therefore obliged to get a pillow laid on my holsters, and then ride with my leg resting upon it, (a most uncomfortable position, could I have found a better,) while one of my men led my horse, and thus follow them as well as I was able. We rested in Languessa all the 30th and 1st July; and on the 2d reached Deriza, having pa.s.sed through Monreal. Here I was obliged to be lifted off my horse, and put to bed. I was almost stupid from the pain I suffered; for my leg was now swoln as large as my thigh. We next day moved into Villaba, from whence we had started in pursuit of Clausel, and thence into some villages on the plain, close to Pamplona. Here I believe some works were thrown up to shelter the troops, either against the shot from the fortress, or a sally from the garrison. This continued all next day. I remained very ill in bed.

On the 5th, the division left this quarter, and set off on the road towards France; but I could not follow them. I got with great difficulty from my present station, which was now occupied by other troops, and stopped at a village, the name of which I forget, just over the ridge where I received my hurt, and a few miles distant from Villaba. Here I found out that Dr Jones of the 40th regiment was in the latter town; and, as he had formerly been in our regiment, I took the liberty of requesting he would come and see me. This I found out by my servant going in for provisions. He very kindly came, and gave me the best advice he could. By this time my leg had burst, and had discharged a prodigious quant.i.ty of matter.

I remained in this village till about the 10th, during which time a priest had shown himself remarkably kind and attentive; there were very few inhabitants remaining besides him. He told me in one of the conversations that I had with him, that, from the first entry of the French troops into this country, one million had pa.s.sed out of France into Spain, for he had had good opportunities of making a just calculation; and that, out of that vast number, not more than 200,000 had returned, thus proving that the enemy had lost in that country 800,000 men. And this is not to be wondered at, for nearly the whole population during that time had been in arms against them; and, although not acting as soldiers in the field, they never failed to a.s.sa.s.sinate the French wherever they could accomplish it. He said, moreover, that Mina, with his little band, could produce doc.u.ments to prove that he had destroyed 40,000 Frenchmen.

About the 10th, I set off from this village, as my leg had by this time become somewhat easier; and, pa.s.sing through Lantz, Elizonda, and St Estevan, arrived at Sumbilla on the 13th, still obliged to ride sideways with my leg over the pillow and holster. Here I found my division; and, as this journey had again brought my leg to nearly as bad a state as before, I was obliged to have it opened in two places, but without reaching the matter, as nothing but blood was discharged.

On the 15th, my division moved forward to the town of Vera, the last town on the Spanish frontier. Here the enemy had taken up a strong position, both in front and rear of the town; the front position was on Santa Barbara, an exceeding high and almost inaccessible mountain. They were dislodged from the position before the town by my brigade, and retired into the Puerta, or Pa.s.s of Vera. I was not present on this occasion, having been again compelled to stay behind on account of my leg. While I remained at Sumbilla, I had been obliged to have my horse shod by a Spanish blacksmith, who drove a nail right into the quick.

This I did not discover till several days after, when I found my horse quite lame.

On the 18th, I again crept on after my people, whom I found encamped on the height of Santa Barbara, from which I before said they had driven the enemy. Here we remained till the 26th, During this time my horse's foot had also suppurated, and he was quite unable to move. My leg also was daily discharging a vast quant.i.ty of matter, so that I felt at this time very uncomfortable; particularly as very stormy weather came on while we were here, which killed a great number of our animals, horses and mules, I believe not fewer than seven or eight in one night.

It will be known to the reader, perhaps, that on the 25th, Soult (who had now been appointed to the command of the French army) made an attack upon our posts at Roncesvalles and Maya, and had driven the divisions stationed there from their posts. He moved on towards Pamplona, in hopes either of beating back our army to Vittoria, (as he vainly talked,) or of being able to supply Pamplona with provisions, which it greatly needed. In consequence of this movement of the enemy, we also were compelled to fall back, although the troops in front of us made no demonstration of advancing.

Accordingly, on the 26th, we began our retrograde movement, being myself at that time in as pitiable a plight as can well be conceived. My horse was so utterly lame, that he could scarcely hop on three legs, while I was totally unable to walk a step. My kind friend Captain Perceval, with whom I had long messed, helped me out of my trouble, by dividing the load of one of his baggage-ponies among the other animals, and lending it me to ride upon. We retired from the height, and crossed the river Bida.s.soa, near Lizacca, through which we pa.s.sed, and kept along the mountains on the left bank of that river till we reached a height opposite Sumbilla, where we pitched our tents, and remained for the night. We did not move all next day; but just as night set in, we were ordered under arms, and continued our retreat. This was a still more distressing night-march than any I had previously witnessed.

We were now, it may be noticed, in the midst of the mountains of the Pyrenees, where precipices abound; consequently the precaution to avoid falling over them would be doubled. One little streamlet, I well remember, delayed the division probably two hours. It came down from the sides of the mountain which overhung the road, and crossed it at a very dark and ugly-looking place, making a considerable noise as it fell from rock to rock. This of course made every one extremely cautious; and in consequence a poor good-natured corporal, who was killed soon after, got himself into the middle of the streamlet, and took hold of every person's hand as he pa.s.sed, conducting him safely to the other side.

Poor fellow, he was extremely anxious to help me and my miserable little pony safely over. This and a few other places, something similar, prevented us reaching our destination till an hour after daylight next morning, although the whole distance was not more than ten miles.

We arrived at Zubietta in the morning. This place is about a league to the right of St Estevan, more into the mountains. Here we remained that day, and the next day moved higher up the mountain, behind the town, where we encamped, and remained till evening, when we again commenced our retreat. We had not quite so bad a march of it this night, the road being much more even, although, just at the outset, our adjutant, in riding along, had his cap pulled off by the bough of a tree, and in endeavouring to save it from falling, he pulled his horse right over a small precipice, which the two rolled down together. Luckily it was not a deep ravine into which he fell, or he would not have escaped so well: neither man nor horse were much hurt. We reached the village of Saldias in the morning, where we remained for the day. Last night my servant told me he had been obliged to leave my little horse behind, as he could not get him to hop any farther. I felt grieved at this, for he had brought me all the way from Lisbon, and shared both my good and bad fortune; however, it was no use to fret, for that would not improve my situation, which indeed was not an enviable one, my leg all this time being extremely painful.

On the 30th, we made an excessively long march, (by day,) and at night reached Lec.u.mberg, where we encamped. During the latter part of this day's march, we had heard an incessant cannonade and firing of musketry in the direction of Pamplona, from which we were apprehensive that Soult had penetrated too far; but as it did not appear to recede, we believed our people had been able to hold him in check at least. We were now on the great road from Bayonne to Pamplona, in order to keep up the communication between our right, where the fighting was now going on, and Sir Thomas Graham, who was besieging St Sebastian. We were here also to intercept any of the enemy's columns that might either advance or retreat by this road. Towards evening of the 31st, an aide-de-camp arrived from Lord Wellington, more dead than alive from the excessive fatigue which he had undergone for the last three or four days, with news of the total defeat of Soult in the several actions near Pamplona, termed the Battle of the Pyrenees, and ordering us to retrace our steps, and again advance. We set off in the evening, and reached Larissa, where we halted for the night. It was whispered that it was expected we should have gone much farther this night, but I am not certain whether it is true; but certainly we might have proceeded to Saldias, if absolutely necessary.

On the morning of the 1st of August, we again started pretty early. It was again reported this morning that another dispatch had been received during the night, directing us to proceed with all haste, as the enemy were retreating by St Estevan, and that we were to attack them wherever we met them. We now of course stepped out very freely, and presently gained Zubietta. Here I had ridden forward to get a shoe fastened on, my horse having cast one in coming over the mountains; during which time the quartermaster had been called for some purpose or other, as I was not there.

My General was not well satisfied: he saw me in this village, and asked me why I had not been present when I was wanted. I told him the cause, but he still did not appear satisfied, and, by way of punishment, directed me to remain in the village till the baggage came up, and show them the way the division had gone. I may here observe, that it was a little unreasonable in my General to find any fault with me on this occasion; for, had I not got the shoe put on my horse, I could not have been of any use at all as a quartermaster. My punishment indeed was slight, and I rather think he was glad to find any excuse to delay me for the purpose for which I was left. I am confident the officers of the infantry suffered more anxiety and even loss on account of the great want of farriers or horse-sh.o.e.rs in their regiments, than from almost any other cause. Without the officer was pretty high in rank, he had not only to pay most exorbitantly for any thing of this kind which he got done, but to beg and pray, and to look upon it as a favour conferred on him. Most of the good sh.o.e.rs were taken by the staff or general officers, consequently only the inferior ones were left for the regimental officers, and in several cases none at all. The consequence of all this was, the loss of several valuable animals, both horses and mules; besides, in some cases, the officers being rendered incapable of performing their duty as they otherwise would have done. To this I attribute a considerable loss in animals during this service. It might easily be remedied by each infantry regiment having a proper establishment of farriers, (say two,) with tools, &c. in proportion, and the means of carrying them; and then every officer, whose duty requires him to be mounted, might be served. I myself bought tools to the amount of L.4, and never had but one horse shod with them. I could not get a man to do it. As soon as I saw the baggage on the right way, I pushed forward, and joined the division again. We were literally at this time climbing up a mountain, where I could not ride, but was obliged to crawl up, and pull my horse after me. My leg by this time had much improved.

We followed the road by which we had retreated a few days before, and at length came to the rivulet that had so alarmed us all on our night-march. It was really surprising that we should have been stopped so long by such a trifle; but in such a situation, and at such a time, things of that kind are magnified a thousandfold by the imagination. We pa.s.sed our old camp ground opposite to Sumbilla, and here we came in view of the enemy's columns retreating along the road on the opposite bank of the Bida.s.soa. This gave our men new life; but here the 52d and other regiments of the 2d brigade were obliged to halt: they could proceed no farther.

We had marched by this time to-day two and a half of the stages we made in retreating; but the 2d brigade had been in the rear of the column all day, and had consequently suffered much from stoppages, &c. My battalion, our 1st battalion, and the 43d regiment, continued to move on, and as they approached, the enemy seemed to acquire fresh vigour. At length we reached the point of attack,--the bridge of Yanzi,--and here the 1st battalion turning down towards the river, at once left the wood and ground above the bridge to be occupied by us. The enemy sent a pretty strong corps of light troops across, which got engaged with our people; but we soon drove down through the wood again towards the bridge. At length, we got two companies posted just over the bridge, in front of which all the rear of the French column had to pa.s.s. Poor creatures! they became so alarmed, that they instantly began to cut away, and cast off, all the loads of baggage, and both cavalry and infantry, &c. to make the best of their way. But the mountain on their right was inaccessible; consequently they had all, as it were, to run the gauntlet. Great was the execution done amongst the enemy at this bridge, and many were the schemes they tried to avoid pa.s.sing. At length they got a battalion up behind a stone wall above the road, on the opposite side, from whose fire we received some damage; consequently those poor people who had afterwards to pa.s.s were not so much exposed.

Just about the close of the business, my kind friend, Captain Perceval, received a shot through his right wrist. His left hand had been closed for a length of time before, in consequence of a wound through that wrist, which had contracted his fingers, besides being lame from a wound in the hip. Now he was rendered completely useless. Towards dusk I went with him a little to the rear, and got his tent pitched, and made as comfortable as circ.u.mstances would admit. I pitied the French on this occasion, they seemed so much alarmed. The whole of their baggage fell into the hands of our 4th division, who were closely following them up on their side of the Bida.s.soa.

In this affair, the French were reduced to a dreadful dilemma; great numbers of their wounded had been brought off from the battles of the 28th, 29th, and 30th, near Pamplona, which were carried on biers or stretches by men of this division. When they saw us in front of them, where they had to pa.s.s, as it were, immediately under the muzzles of our pieces, they were compelled to adopt the cruel alternative of either throwing their wounded men down to perish, or run the risk of being shot or taken themselves. I believe the former, shocking as it seems, was generally adopted; and I have reason to believe that the greater part of them were thrown into the river; for, from the point where we first came in view of them to near where this affair took place, the Bida.s.soa was literally filled with the dead bodies of Frenchmen, and they could have come into it in no other way. We lost only a very few men on this occasion, not more than six or eight, while that of the enemy must have been extremely severe. Here the effects of rifle-shooting were plainly visible.

In remarking on this affair, I beg to draw the reader's attention to the following circ.u.mstances; viz. probably never troops made such a march over such a country before. We travelled at least thirty-two miles over mountains such as I before described, where you were sometimes nearly obliged to scramble upon your hands and knees. The day was exceedingly hot, and occasionally there was a great want of water. I am told that one of the regiments in our 2d brigade, which, it may be remembered, were obliged to halt, as they could go no farther, had no less than 200 men fell out, unable to keep up, and that some of them actually died of fatigue. I heard of one poor fellow, who, when he came to water and had drunk, lost his senses, fell to the ground, and shortly after expired. I have reason to be proud of my battalion on this occasion, which, when the roll was called, just before the action commenced, had only nine men fallen out; but they had been in the front all day, a great advantage in marching, particularly over a mountainous country.

This day's work gave me a higher idea of the powers of human nature, when properly trained, than ever I possessed before; for when you consider that each of those soldiers carried a weight of not less probably than forty or fifty lbs. and some much more, it cannot but be surprising that men should be able to sustain such fatigue for such a length of time--at the end of which to fight, and gain a victory.

Next morning were clearly observable the effects of the evening's work.

In the house, the yard, and on the road opposite the bridge, were a great number of dead Frenchmen; and to the rear, by the way they had advanced, the road was literally strewed with baggage, and equipments of every description. Some of our people picked up a number of visiting cards, with General Vandermason on them, very elegant; so that his baggage, no doubt, had been cast off, as well as that of inferior people.

Soon after daylight, we were ordered to fall in, and move forward towards Vera. Just as we cleared the bridge, old Douro, with his staff, came riding up, who, when he saw how we had handled the enemy the night before, gave his head a significant nod, and smiled, which conveyed most intelligibly his approbation. We soon reached the neighbourhood of Vera, behind which, in the pa.s.s of that name, as before stated, the enemy took up a strong position, from which their picquets had never yet been driven. We were ordered to encamp a little below the bridge leading to Lezacca, between that and Vera, while the other regiments were intended to occupy the heights of Santa Barbara, from which we had before retreated. But towards mid-day it was discovered that the enemy still had a considerable body of troops in and about the pa.s.s of Echallar, a few miles to our right. Our brigade was therefore ordered again under arms, with the intention of co-operating with the 7th division in an attack upon those people. It was a thick mist, so that we could scarcely see twenty yards before us; but when we reached the bottom of an immensely high hill, on which the enemy were posted, we presently discovered whereabouts we had them.

Our 1st battalion extended to the right, and my battalion moved straight forward up the hill. For a considerable time the enemy's fire did us no injury, being deceived, I imagine, by the denseness of the fog. They fired almost always over our heads, some of which shots struck the men of the 43d, a considerable way below us. At length we began to approach the summit of the mountain, where the enemy were of course much more condensed, the ground they had to occupy being much smaller. Our people were advancing regularly up the hill, when we run right up against a rock, on the top of which was collected an immense body of the French, and from whom our people received a most destructive fire, knocking down fourteen men in an instant. This unlooked-for circ.u.mstance checked our people, and made some of them retire for an instant behind a broken part in the mountain, from which they kept up the best fire they could.

During this transaction, the French, who were not more than ten or twelve yards distant, were calling out to us in Spanish to advance, and abusing us most l.u.s.tily. A Spaniard (one of the recruits I formerly mentioned) was so much annoyed, that he began in his turn to abuse the French; and, as if words were not enough, accompanying them with the best shot he could give them. Poor fellow, he was instantly shot through the body, and fell to rise no more.

They now began to get courage, and made a show of advancing upon us: they did do so on the right against our 1st battalion, but my commanding-officer calling out to cheer our people, set up a shout, which had the effect of intimidating them, and they did not dare to advance. I was now sent away by Colonel Barnard to request the 43d (who were behind us) to send a company to support our 1st battalion, which they instantly did; and just as I returned, I found the French had evacuated the rock from which they had annoyed us, on the top of which we found a great number of caps and pouches, &c., belonging to men who had fallen there. We followed them over the hill, but they now gave us leg-bail, posting down into the valley towards France with all expedition.

The 7th division had some pretty sharp work before they dislodged the people in front of them, and had suffered very severely in effecting their object. When every thing was settled, one of our men thought he saw a man hiding behind a tree just below us: he went to see what it was, and dragged out by the neck a French soldier of the 2d light infantry. Poor fellow, he came out shrugging his shoulders, and, putting on a most beseeching look, begged we would spare him, as he was only a "pauvre Italien." Of course no injury was done him, only the soldier who took him claiming and taking from him his knapsack, which appeared a fine full one, and which he appropriated to himself. I thought it cruel, and would have prevented it, had my voice been of any weight; and yet, had it not been taken from him now, it would very soon after, when he became a prisoner.

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Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 9 summary

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