Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - lightnovelgate.com
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We pursued the flying columns of the enemy for about two leagues beyond the field of action, crossing in our pursuit the river Luy de Bearne, and at night took up our abode in bivouack, near the village of Bonne Garde. The night proved extremely cold and frosty, for in the morning when I intended to arise, I found my cloak frozen to the ground. We had no kind of covering. My commanding-officer had taken up his abode in a cottage close by, where there was no bed but what the people occupied.
He therefore got into the kneading-trough, in which he slept very comfortably; but in the morning I remember he turned out like a miller.
We started soon after daybreak, and continued our march, crossing the small river Luy de France. Here I remember our assistant Quartermaster-general told us what great difficulty he found in obtaining information from the inhabitants as to the by-roads which run parallel to the great road from Orthes; for these good people could not conceive why he should be hunting after by-roads of this description, which were generally very bad, while the great road, which was always good, lay so near the line by which he wished to move, not knowing perhaps, or not understanding, that other divisions of the army were moving on the high-road, while we wished to make a corresponding movement on their flank. They would always, however, after directing him how to proceed for a while, bring him again on to the great road, which he wished to avoid for the reason before given.
The comfort, and the efficiency of an army in the field depends more, I am persuaded, on the abilities and zeal of officers in the Quartermaster-general's department, than on any other branch of the service; for if they are remiss or unacquainted with their duty, the marches and counter-marches, the halts, and the changes of direction, are so numerous and annoying, that the spirits and strength of the troops are soon worn out, and of course dissatisfaction and inefficiency soon follow. But to the credit of the officers of this department at the period of which I am writing, I believe never army possessed more able, more zealous, or more active staff-officers, than we did, and that principally owing to the excellent example set them by the head of this department, than whom a more able conductor of an army does not exist.
On one of these occasions when our assistant Quartermaster-general had occasion to wait upon the authorities of a village, he jokingly asked them for passports, as is customary in France, to proceed into the country. "Ma foi," says the worthy Mayor, "you obtained your passports at Vittoria, you need no others now."
We halted for the night near the village of Duerse. In the morning, we forded the Adour near a small village, the name of which I forget, and making a long and rapid march, we took possession of the city of Mont de Marsan, where we found immense magazines of provisions, which had been collected by the enemy. This was the most valuable capture that had been made by the British army since its arrival in the Peninsula; for although a great deal of treasure was obtained at Vittoria, yet a considerable portion of that fell into the hands of individuals; but this was secured for the benefit of the whole army. The enemy had abandoned the city previous to our arrival, consequently it was a bloodless conquest, which rendered it the more valuable. Mont de Marsan is what may be termed a fine and an extensive city, containing about 3000 inhabitants.
The people received us kindly upon the whole, and showed us great attention. Here we had superb quarters, and the change from what we had lately been accustomed to, produced a rather uncomfortable feeling; for our clothes and all our equipments so little corresponded with the magnificence around us, that we should have preferred less stately mansions, if comfortable, as more congenial with our respective establishments. But we did not long enjoy our splendid lodgings; for, having secured the booty, we left the city, and returned to the banks of the Adour. The march both to and from this city had been along straight flat roads, cut through an immense pine forest, with which this department is almost completely covered. The roads had been for some time much traversed, and having a sandy bottom, were consequently very bad at this season of the year; added to which, a violent storm of snow and sleet assailed us all the march of this day, which made it a rather uncomfortable business. We halted for the night in a village named, I think, St Maurice, and the next day were moved into St Sever, a considerable town on the left bank of the Adour, in which Lord Wellington had taken up his head-quarters. Here we remained some days, doing duty over his lordship, when we crossed to the right bank, and moved up the river, halting at the town of Grenade. We next morning continued our route up that bank till we reached Barcelonne, a considerable town some little distance from the river, and nearly opposite Aire, a large town on the left bank, and near which General the Hon. Wm. Stewart, with the 2d division, had had a smart brush with the enemy on the day we captured Mont de Marsan.
On the evening of the 10th we halted at the village of Arblade, and, on the 11th, entered Tarsac, where we remained for the night. We were next morning pushed on to a village in front, about a league distant, but were allowed to remain there only for one night, for the enemy now began to appear in our front in considerable force. We were consequently withdrawn, and, passing through Tarsac, the division formed in a wood about half-way between that and Aire. We expected something serious was about to occur, but, from what cause I know not, the enemy again retreated, leaving a body of cavalry on the road about half-a-league beyond Tarsac, to which we again returned and took up our quarters.
On the 16th, as these fellows still continued so near us, although evidently without any infantry to support them, it was determined either to drive them away or take them prisoners. I must observe, our 15th hussars were at this time occupying Tarsac with ourselves, and one squadron of them were selected for this service. The advance of the French consisted only of one squadron, the remainder of their regiment being at some distance in rear as supports; consequently it was but fair that an equal force should attack them. Captain Hancox's squadron (in which was Captain Booth, with his troop) was pitched upon for this affair. The remainder of the 15th were drawn out to support them, if needed, but were not to take any part in the combat. Every one of course went out to see the fight.
Accordingly this squadron moved on to the front, and steadily advanced upon the enemy, who seemed determined to stand the charge, as they put every thing ready to receive our gallant dragoons. When within a proper distance the word "trot" was given, and soon after "gallop," and then "charge," when our fellows dashed in among the French, upsetting them in all directions, and cutting many of them down to the ground. In a few minutes the business was settled, for our people returned, bringing in with them the captain commanding, (and who, I believe, had been personally engaged with Captain Hancox,) with about twenty-five men, prisoners. The rest made their escape. The French captain, and the greater part of the twenty-five men, were wounded, and some were left dead on the road.
I shall not soon forget the little wounded captain. He, I believe, was either a native of Tarsac, or somewhere near, and had been determined to show his valour to the utmost; hence his standing, when he ought to have retired; but all the way, as they were bringing him along into the village, and after he reached the house where he directed them to take him, he kept crying out, "I'm as brave as a lion!--I'm as brave as the devil!" and could scarcely be got to hold his peace while the surgeon was dressing him. Most piteous moaning was made by many of the inhabitants, to whom it seems he was well known.
We understood afterwards that this regiment, the 13th French hussars, had fallen rather under the displeasure of Soult, for some ill conduct on a former occasion, and that they were thus determined to wipe off the stain and retrieve their character; but they would have shown more sense, and have rendered more service to their country, had they retired when they saw it was determined to drive them away.
On the 18th, we again advanced by the road the French had taken, and, crossing the Adour at the bridge and village of La Row or Arros, we pursued our route till we reached the town of St Germain's, where we halted for a short space; and thence to Plaisance, a good town, where we remained for the night. An unfortunate circumstance occurred in or near this town, which might have produced the most disastrous consequences:--A man, who most likely had been resisting the plundering of his house, was basely murdered by some soldier or soldiers of the division; but although every endeavour was made to discover the perpetrators of this vile act, they could not be found out; but a subscription was set on foot among the officers of the division, and 100 guineas were collected and paid to the unfortunate widow, who, though grieved for the loss of her husband, was thankful for the money. I strongly suspect my friends the Portuguese were the culprits on this occasion.
On the 19th we again moved forward, and, passing Obrigort, halted for the night at the village of Aget. Towards the close of this day's march, we both heard and saw smart skirmishing, down on the great road which runs parallel to the ridge on which we were, and from Auch to Tarbes, along the plain on our right, and passes through Vic Bigore. Near this town the firing was very brisk. We understood it was Picton's division driving the French before them.
The next morning we started early, and, continuing our march along the ridge of the height on which our last night's quarters were situated, we reached pretty soon the town of Rabasteins, where we learnt that the enemy had taken up a position in and near the town of Tarbes. We, accordingly, changing our direction, moved to our right, down the road leading from the former to the latter place. We passed on this road the sixth division, which, it seems, was ordered to keep on the flank of the enemy, which, should he make a stand, this division was to turn. When we got within about a mile and a half of Tarbes, we discovered the enemy posted on a strong woody height on the left of the road, with a windmill on its highest and most distant point.
The whole of our 95th people were accordingly ordered forward, to endeavour to drive them from this position. My battalion formed the right, the 2d battalion the centre, and the 1st battalion the left of our line of skirmishers. We found them covered in front with a great number of light troops, which occupied us some time in driving in, and in which service we suffered considerably, for they occupied the hedges and dikes on the high ground, from which it was necessary we should dislodge them. We had also a considerably-sized brushwood to pass through before we could get at them. At length, after much smart skirmishing, we gained the height, but found the whole of their heavy infantry drawn up on a steep acclivity, near the windmill, which allowed them to have line behind line, all of which could fire at the same time over each other's heads, like the tiers of guns in a three-decker. We continued, however, to advance upon them, till we got within a hundred paces of this formidable body, the firing from which was the hottest I had ever been in, except perhaps Barossa. At this moment I received a shot through my right shoulder, which compelled me for a moment to retire; but meeting the main support of my battalion advancing with Colonel Ross at its head, and finding my wound had not disabled me, I again advanced with him, until we got close under the enemy's line, and took post behind a hillock, which protected us from their fire.
We here found Colonel Norcott, who then belonged to the 2d battalion, riding about on his large black mare; but he had not ridden long till he also was wounded through the shoulder, from which he still suffers.
While we were in this situation, a shot struck a captain of ours in the side where he had his drinking-horn slung; in fact it struck both the horn and his side; but, from some cause, it did not penetrate the flesh, but bruised it sore, which is generally painful. The captain, and those about him, thought he was shot through the body; they accordingly picked him up, and were carrying him off to the rear, when he cried, "Stop, let me feel," and putting his hand down to the place, and finding no wound, he sprung out of their arms, and, with the most ludicrous appearance possible, returned to his post again. No one present could refrain from laughing at the ridiculousness of this occurrence, although at the moment the men were falling fast around us. At this time also, a spent shot, one which I imagine had first hit the ground, struck me on the left arm, but did not injure me. I now thought it better to go to the rear to get my shoulder dressed, immediately after which I became quite faint from loss of blood. The firing still continued most animated on both sides; but before an hour had elapsed, the French were driven completely from every position they held on this very strong hill; and as I returned, (after having been dressed, and having swallowed some spirits to remove the faintness,) I found them posting away with all expedition to the plain below, some guns, which had just arrived, giving them an occasional shot, but from which they did not suffer much, they marched with such rapidity. We immediately followed them down to the plain, on reaching which, we perceived a body of French troops coming apparently from the town of Tarbes, pursued by the 3d division, with whom they had been engaged, and which, with some exertion, we thought we could intercept and cut off; but they, perceiving our intention, inclined considerably to the right, and marching with all speed, they got away before us.
The enemy now having all retired across the plain, began to take up a strong position on a height at its extremity, towards which we continued to advance; but Lord Wellington having expected that the 6th division would by this time have reached their position, and, attacking in flank, have rendered our attack in front more likely to succeed, and they not making their appearance, although it was now nigh dusk, he ordered the divisions here to halt, and bivouack for the night on the plain. I never saw any one more disappointed, or apparently more annoyed by this last order, than our Adjutant-general, the lamented Sir Edward Packenham; he was for attacking them at once; but this could not have been done without a great sacrifice of excellent troops, as all those were who now filled the ranks of the British army, having by this time been completely seasoned, and become almost invaluable. In reviewing the operations of this day, I need say little, as facts speak for themselves. The enemy had on the Windmill hill, as it was vulgarly called, or more properly the hill of Oleac, I believe a whole division, consisting of at least 5000 or 6000 men, while not a shot was fired by any but by the sixteen companies of my regiment, amounting probably to 1000 or 1100 men; it is true the other regiments of the division were drawn up in rear of us, and would have supported us had we been repulsed. But it is not so much to the driving away of this so much stronger force, that I would draw the reader's attention, as to the great loss the enemy sustained, and solely from our fire. I believe I shall not be far from the truth, if I state their loss in killed and wounded as equal to the whole strength of our sixteen companies.
Lord Wellington, in his dispatch, mentions the destruction caused in the enemy's ranks as unusually severe; hence the advantage of rifles over the common musket, or else the superior mode of using our arms beyond what is practised in the line. The Americans tauntingly tell us, our soldiers do not know how to use the weapons that are put into their hands; and, truly, if we are to judge by the awful destruction which they have occasionally inflicted upon our brave soldiers, we should be led to suspect that they understand this science much better than ourselves. It might, however, be easily remedied, if more attention were paid to the instruction of the recruit in this most essential qualification, and more time and ammunition devoted to target practice; but, at the same time, every officer should be made to know something of projectiles in general, or he will, as at present, be incapable of instructing his men. I will venture to assert, that eight out of ten of the soldiers of our regular regiments will aim in the same manner at an object at the distance of 300 yards, as at one only 50. It must hence be evident that the greater part of those shots are lost or expended in vain; indeed the calculation has been made, that only one shot out of 200 fired from muskets in the field takes effect, while one out of twenty from rifles is the average. My opinion is, that our line troops ought to be armed with a better description of musket. If five shillings more were added to the price, it would make a great difference in the article, and be very trifling to the public. Our army has always been too sparingly supplied with flints, which may be had almost for an old song; but if wanted in the field, nothing can supply their place. Many a brave soldier has fallen while hammering at a worn out flint. It is true we can, with the weapons we have, drive any other army out of the field, but not without occasionally sustaining an overwhelming loss, particularly when opposed to the Americans; and could we meet them with the same advantages they possess in point of shooting, our chances of victory would be greater, and at less expense. These are my private opinions only, and are deduced from the experience I have had, both as a heavy infantry soldier and a rifleman. I am now firmly persuaded, that of the near 200 shots I fired on the 2d of October 1799, in Holland, not one took effect, from my total want of knowledge how to aim. What an useless expenditure this was of both time and ammunition! Much indeed has lately been done by Sir Henry Torrens, to supply the deficiency of which I have been speaking, but still not sufficient, in my opinion, to remedy all the evils attendant thereon.
Our loss on this occasion was very heavy, being about 100 men and eleven officers killed and wounded; the proportion of officers being nearly double what usually takes place. The regiments which supported us also had some casualties, arising from the shots which passed over our heads striking among them; but they were not considerable. My servants having heard I was wounded, went to Tarbes, (where all the wounded were collected,) with my baggage. I should consequently have been very ill off, had not my kind friend and messmate, Major Balvaird, lent me his tent and bed, as he himself had been ordered on picquet. Immediately after nightfall, the enemy had all retired from the position in front of us. We accordingly next morning continued the pursuit, and halted at night at the village of Lannemazen, not far from the borders of the Pyrenees, towards which, in their retreat, they had been inclined. This day and night, my shoulder had become extremely painful. We started again in the morning; but leaving the Pyrenees, we turned our faces more towards Toulouse, and took up our abode for the night at a considerable-sized town, called Castelnau; here the inhabitants received us very kindly, and we had excellent quarters. However, on the following morning, we were obliged to continue our march, and passing through several villages on the road, halted for the night at L'Isle, in Dodon.
During this day's march, my poor old horse played me a sad trick. He was one which I had been compelled to purchase as soon after I lost my little Portuguese one by the bad shoeing of the blacksmith at Sumbilla, as I could fall in with one for sale. He was a very tall grey horse, rather old, and whose mouth had not been well made in his breaking; he was withal rather stubborn, or more properly speaking stupid, consequently he did not always obey the rein as he ought. The roads were excessively deep and dirty, and as I was riding at the head of the battalion, and had occasion to pull him a little to one side, for some purpose or other, he either would not, or could not, obey the pull of the rein; and as I had but one hand, he took advantage of it, and sat down completely on his haunches, in the very deepest of the mire. Of course I was tumbled right over his rump, and rolled in the mud, and after extricating myself as well as I could, I crawled out, as pretty a figure as may well be imagined. This, as might be expected, raised the laugh of all who saw it, at my expense; but, uncomfortable and ridiculous as my situation was, I was not hurt, the mud being sufficiently deep to protect me from any injury by the fall. In this village I fell in with a Frenchman who had just come from Toulouse, towards which he understood we were bending our course. He gave me such a flaming account of the "belle position" in the neighbourhood of that town, and of the impregnable works which Soult had caused to be thrown up, and of the superb artillery which were stationed there, and which, he said, were those who had served in the famous battle of Austerlitz, and of the utter improbability of any impression ever being made on them by an enemy, that if I had given credit to the half of what he told me, I might have been filled with fear lest all our laurels might here be tarnished. From what motive this rather exaggerated statement was made, I know not, but am inclined to think it was merely an inclination to indulge in a trifling gasconade. On the 25th we reached Mont Ferrand, where we halted for the night.
On the 27th, in the morning, we were moved forward to the village of Tournefoile, where it seems some of our cavalry had been quartered the night before, but who had had their quarters beat up during the night by a body of the enemy, who still held the ground beyond the village. My battalion, and a Portuguese battalion, were sent forward, the remainder of the brigade following. We found the enemy occupying the road leading from the village to a bridge about half a mile distant, together with the hedges and enclosures in the vicinity. My people extended to the left, while the Portuguese battalion kept on the road. A smart skirmish now commenced, during which the enemy gradually retired towards the bridge; but at this time a most remarkable occurrence took place. One of our men (the servant of a friend of mine) received a shot in the mouth, which struck out several of his teeth. One of these was propelled with such force by the blow that it flew at least twenty yards, and, entering the left arm of one of the Portuguese on the road, inflicted a deep and severe wound. When the surgeon of the 43d, who was the nearest to this man at the time, came to dress the wounded Portuguese, he, instead of a ball as every one expected, extracted a tooth, at which, no doubt, both he and all about him were quite astonished; and a report was immediately set afloat that the enemy were firing bones instead of balls. This most extraordinary circumstance was not cleared up till they were informed of our man having had his teeth knocked out, when, after comparing the relative situations of the two men, it became quite evident how this most uncommon wound had been inflicted. If any thing like a joke might be permitted on such an occasion, it may with great propriety be said, the Frenchman who fired the shot had killed two birds with one stone. I happened to be near our man at the time, and besides seeing him wounded, I enquired minutely into the circumstances, or I own I should have hesitated before I gave implicit credit to the story; so it may probably be with my reader. Poor fellow, he had afterwards nearly all his intestines torn out by a cannon-shot at the fatal attack near New Orleans, and where I saw him writhing in the agonies of death; his name was Powell, and he was, I believe, a Welshman.
Not long after the commencement of the skirmish, the artillery on both sides was brought into play; but the enemy kept gradually retiring till they crossed the bridge, and as we did not pursue them, they quietly walked off, taking the road towards Toulouse. I cannot conceive for what purpose this body of troops had been sent here, unless it was intended as a reconnoissance, to ascertain whether any, and what description, of troops had arrived at this point, as their waiting, after driving out our cavalry, to see whether any infantry approached, would seem to indicate. Major Balvaird was conspicuously brave on this occasion. The loss on either side was but trifling.
The British Army cross the Garonne--Advance on Toulouse--Prepare for the Attack--The Attack--Spaniards driven back--Battle very hot--French completely defeated--Soult evacuates Toulouse, and tardily adheres to the Bourbons.
On the 28th or 29th, we were moved forward, and after a short march we reached a beautiful plain, with Toulouse appearing most magnificent in the distance. Here we went into cantonments, in the different villages and chateaux in the neighbourhood, the greater part of which were completely deserted, and many of them most wofully sacked and plundered, which could have been done only by their own troops. A noble and stately mansion, belonging to a Mr Villeneuve, stood immediately in front of our outposts, which had shared the same fate with all the others, every article of furniture having been entirely destroyed. The cloth had been torn from the billiard-table, the splendid pier-glasses shivered into a thousand atoms, and, in short, every article of luxury or splendour which a man could wish for, might have been found in this princely habitation previous to its desertion by its owner; but now devastation and destruction had laid its unhallowed hands on all in which its possessor had formerly delighted. I, with my messmates, took the liberty of visiting Mr V.'s fish-ponds, where we found some fine-looking carp; and having some hooks by me, we caught a considerable quantity, which we imagined would be a great treat to our messmates; but we found them excessively muddy, and not worth eating. Here also we rejoiced in being able to procure some good provender for our still half-starved horses and mules. The grass and cinquefoil which we found in this beautiful and luxuriant plain, in a few days began to make a wonderful improvement in our poor fellow-travellers. I know not a more gratifying feeling than we experienced in thus being able to feed the hungry; for although they were but of the inferior creation, yet so much did our own comforts, and, indeed, efficiency for service, depend on their being capable of performing the task allotted to them, and so much did the circumstance of our having passed through trials and dangers together attach us to them, that I very frequently would have preferred getting them a meal even at the expense of wanting one myself. Here my little Portuguese horse, which I had originally brought from Lisbon, and who had been my companion in all my wanderings, (except when he was left for a while owing to his bad foot,) began to look quite brisk and lively again; for hitherto his spirits had been very low indeed since he happened by his misfortune, and had been literally starved into the bargain.
A pontoon bridge having been constructed some distance above the town, and which our engineers had been able to accomplish on account of its being thrown over above the junction of the Ariege with the Garonne, on the 31st we moved down towards this point, and crossing it, my battalion was left as its guard in a village on the bank of the river. The remainder of the division, and the ---- division, moved up the Ariege river with the intention of crossing, and thus approaching Toulouse in that direction; but, from the heavy rains, the river was too much flooded, which, together with the dreadful state of the roads, these troops were unable to effect this operation, and were consequently recalled.
By the 2d of April the whole had recrossed the Garonne, when we again went into our cantonments on the plain, but now farther down the river than before. We remained here a few days, and I cannot help recording a remarkable circumstance which took place at this time. For want of dwelling-houses we had been obliged to put a certain number of the men of my battalion into a sort of wine-house; it was not a vault, for it was above ground, but had a considerable number of barrels of wine in it, amongst which the men were obliged to sleep. It will scarcely be credited, but not one of these men ever appeared the least intoxicated during the whole time they lay there. Whether they were completely tired of wine, or whether their having been placed in such a situation produced a feeling of honour and pride among them, I know not, but I verily believe less wine was drunk by these men during the time they remained here, than would have been had they had to pay most exorbitantly for it. With soldiers I believe it is as with mankind in general; what is prohibited always appears more valuable or more pleasurable in our eyes, than what we may with freedom enjoy.
On the 6th we moved down the river till within a short distance of Grenade, about twelve miles below Toulouse. We halted near a small village, and encamped. A pontoon bridge had been thrown over the Garonne here, and one division (I believe the 3d) had crossed; but now, owing to the swollen state of the river, together with several attempts which were now made by the enemy to destroy the bridge, by floating down trees, &c. which might eventually carry it away, it loosened at the farther end, and the anchors being taken up, the whole was allowed to float down to our side of the river, keeping fast the end next our own bank. We remained in this situation for several days, one division only being on the opposite side, with which it was impossible to communicate, or, if attacked, to afford it almost any support. Now was the time for the enemy to bestir himself; for had he marched out of Toulouse with half his force, and been met at this place by the force he had at Montauban, they must have annihilated this division, or taken them prisoners. It is true we might have rendered them some little assistance by our artillery from the bank we occupied, but the distance was so great that a determined enemy would not have held back from the dread of it.
I took a trip from hence to Grenade, where the paymaster-general had established the military chest, as I had not yet quite finished my paymaster's duty. It is a good-sized town, but contains nothing remarkable, only here I remember I got some excellent wine of the Champagne kind, and which my friend poured out of an immense magnum bottle. I understood our Chief was most anxious to have the bridge re-established by the 9th, which was Easter eve, the weather having now somewhat taken up, and the river of course had fallen; but although the engineer thought he could effect it, and had promised his lordship it should be ready by that time, it was not passable till the morning of the 10th. Early on that morning, my division crossed to the other side, together with the 4th and 6th divisions, and a whole host of Spaniards.
I omitted to mention, that these latter gentry, on their entering France, had behaved most wantonly, and had committed numerous atrocities; on which, his lordship, as Generalissimo, had ordered them back to their own country again; but upon the promise of good behaviour, and an anxious desire to participate in the honourable achievements of the allied troops, he had granted them permission to rejoin the army, and they were to have a post of honour assigned them at the ensuing battle. Such was the current report which prevailed among our army newsmongers: be it as it may, however, they were here in number, I should think, about 6000 or 8000. The whole army now present having crossed, except General Hill with the 2d division, advanced upon the town of Toulouse. We here found a beautiful country and excellent roads, along which we got on rapidly. The town stands close to the right bank of the river, along which there are numerous quays, and over which there is an excellent bridge, communicating with the suburb on the opposite side, called St Cyprian. From the river on the north side of the town runs the famous canal of Languedoc, with which it communicates by locks, and which, encircling the town on that and on the east sides, with the river on the west, almost entirely encloses it. On the east side of the town, and just beyond the canal, a considerable eminence arises, forming a sort of chain or ridge, on the top of which numerous redoubts and batteries had been constructed, and which, both from the nature of the ground and by the great labour bestowed upon them, had been rendered, as the Frenchman told me, nearly impregnable.
The 6th division, supported by the 4th, had been ordered to move considerably to the left, and, after crossing the Garonne, to attack this formidable position on the outer side, while the Spaniards were to attack it immediately in front. My division was ordered to communicate with the right of the Spaniards, and, extending down to the great Montauban road, was to press upon the town in this direction, in order to aid the attack upon the height before mentioned. The 3d division joined our right at the Montauban road, and extended from thence down to the river, and were ordered to act similarly to us. The 2d division, under General Hill, remained on the other side of the river, and was to co-operate by attacking the suburb before mentioned, together with the works for the protection of the bridge, and for the same purpose of our attack, namely, to keep the troops in these parts of the town employed, while the 6th division and Spaniards attacked the height. Immediately in front of our division, we found considerable bodies of troops, at some distance from the town, occupying the houses all along the road, and which it took us a considerable time to drive in. They had also constructed a battery on the bridge over the canal, where the great road passes, and from which they kept up an almost incessant fire. At the hither end of the bridge also there stood a very large convent, which they had fortified in a very strong manner, having loopholed the whole of the surrounding wall, which was twenty feet high, and had also looped the upper part of the convent, which contained a garrison of probably 1000 or 1200 men.
We commenced operations in conjunction with the 3d division on our right, in driving these people in, and with whom a smart firing was kept up during the whole day. The French had also other troops beyond the canal, and on the Moorish or Roman wall which encircled the town inside the canal, and both of which they had fortified; so that, had it been intended we should force the town on this side, we should have found it a difficult undertaking: we were, however, merely (as said before) to press upon them without committing ourselves; but unfortunately, in the eagerness of some of our people to push forward, they got immediately under the muzzles of the pieces of the men who were defending the convent, and from the loopholes several of our poor fellows were shot without being able to see their antagonists. A good number fell here; for it was not more than thirty yards distant where they had taken up their post, and an unpleasant one it was as well as dangerous; for they were obliged to stand in a drain which ran from a jakes, and which of course emitted no very desirable flavour; or, if they had left it for a moment, they were immediately shot. Our adjutant escaped here as by a miracle, the bole of a very small tree having stopped the ball that would have pierced his body. When, however, we had got them fairly driven in, we had then time to look about us, and the first thing we saw was the Don moving on to the attack of the height with all due ceremony.
They gained the first or lower ridge without much opposition, and here getting up some artillery, a pretty heavy fire was opened on the enemy; but the French remained quite passive, not offering to resist the approaching Spaniards till they got within a certain distance of their works on the top of the hill.
The Spaniards, elated by having gained the first ridge so easily, pushed on too rapidly, and without having taken time to re-form their columns after the first conquest. They were not aware either that a rather deep ravine separated them from the enemy's works; however, on they pushed, in a very disorderly manner, till they reached the point the French intended they should reach, when a fire was opened out upon them, such as they had never witnessed before. Few troops would have remained unshaken by such a reception, but to the Spaniards it was intolerable; consequently they broke into a thousand parties, and, turning tail, it was who should be first away from such unpleasant doings. I am told that Lord Wellington at this moment could scarcely hold his sides for laughing, and cried out he "wondered whether the Pyrenees would bring them up again, they seemed to have got such a fright." He did not indeed depend on their valour, or he would have made a bad winding up of his Peninsular campaign. The moment they left the height, every man took the way that seemed to him best, and they soon after literally covered the whole plain, and set to work with all expedition to plunder at least, if they would not fight. Some of the villains had the audacity to come and take a poor man's horse out of the stable of the very house which we were then, as it were, defending, and had nigh got off with it; but having been perceived, it was taken from them, and restored again to its owner.
The left of our division was now obliged to be moved up to fill the space vacated by these vagabonds; and in doing which a good deal of hard fighting took place. This also made the people in front of us rally again, and coming out in great numbers hurraing and shouting, we had something to do to drive them back. But by this time we heard, in the distance behind the hill, a dropping and now brisker fire; by and by, approaching the summit, it became quite animated. We could plainly perceive now the different appearance which the French assumed; they no longer lay supine and passive till their enemy approached their works, but fought for every inch of ground, and all was now animation and bustle among them, hurrying to the support of those troops who defended the redoubts, &c. on the point assailed. The battle now raged with great fury, each party with all their might for the mastery, and the French, we could perceive, when compelled by sheer force to yield ground, did it with the utmost reluctance. At length, we saw the British colour waving on the summit of the hill, with the most deadly warfare raging on each side of it; but every move we saw was in favour of the British.
The 42d regiment had by this time gained possession of the principal redoubt, which they held till their ammunition was all expended, and which the enemy perceiving, or suspecting, again advanced, and gained possession of it. Things did not now wear quite so favourable an aspect; but being promptly supported by other troops behind them, a movement was again made in advance, and again the French were expelled from the redoubt. Great was the slaughter in and about this place, as I saw next day when I visited it.
The enemy were now reluctantly compelled to yield up all those famous works, on which so much time and labour had been expended, and on which they so much relied, and were obliged to abandon (slowly indeed) this long disputed ridge; but they fought till they were fairly forced down into the town, where they still kept up a feeble fire; at length it gradually subsided. This was the principal part of the drama; but it had many subordinate plots. On our right, General Picton, with that ardour which ever characterised him, was scarcely well satisfied to play an under part on this occasion; and, instead of merely keeping his opponents in play, as I before hinted, he was for effecting a forcible entry into the town. He accordingly attacked with his division a strong and well-secured battery, near the canal, in doing which his brave Connaught Rangers, who had scarcely ever hitherto known a reverse, met with a severe and bloody repulse, in which they lost a great number of excellent officers and men. The other corps of his division, who co-operated, also suffered greatly. General Hill strictly obeyed his instructions, and, as he always did, effected every object at which he aimed.
In this action I had another opportunity of witnessing the effect of presentiment. Early in it I was sent forward by my commanding-officer with some orders to a company of ours, which was in front skirmishing, and which had taken possession of a house, which partly screened them from the enemy's battery on the bridge. Behind this house, one of the men was sitting on a heap of stones with the most woe-worn countenance possible. He had separated from the rest of the men, and was sitting here apparently ruminating on his fate, and appeared to be quite absorbed in his meditations. I remarked him most particularly, wondering what could render him so different from the rest of his comrades, who were all life and animation, and from what he had formerly been himself in action. He presently went forward with some of the other men, and soon after fell to rise no more. The poor man's melancholy look made a deep impression upon me at the time, together with his fate soon after.
Thus terminated the battle of Toulouse; our troops maintaining the ground they had gained, while the enemy had retired into the town completely beaten. Soult seemed undetermined how to act, whether to endeavour to hold the town, (which indeed he might have done for a day or two perhaps,) or to leave it by the road towards the south, the only one now open to him. We rested on the field all night, the enemy sending an occasional shot or shell in the direction of our camp. Next morning we still found the enemy retaining possession of the town; and nothing being likely to be done, I rode up with another officer to see the bloody field, with all its redoubts and batteries, and also to see, if I could, in what situation the enemy now appeared. Just as we reached the summit, a cry was given by the 42d sentry, "Turn out the picquet."
There was a good deal of firing going on in the suburbs nearest to the position, which this Highlander thought it right to apprize his people of. We looked a considerable time with our glasses, and observed a good number of troops on a green and open space in that part of the suburbs, and who every now and then would fire their muskets. I thought it must either be a sort of _feu-de-joie_, or a funeral, and it turned out to be the latter. They were burying a general officer, who had fallen the day before, and to whom they were paying the last melancholy honours; but it was conducted in a quite different manner from our military funerals, for they did not fire in volleys like us; but every few minutes apparently a few men only fired, and by and by some others. This had the effect, however, of turning out our whole line in the neighbourhood of the position; and as I was afterwards returning, I met Colonel Barnard and Colonel Colborne (than whom there were not two better officers in the army) riding up to see what was the matter. Colonel Barnard asked me what it was. I told him what I thought it was. He said the whole line had fallen in, thinking it was an attack.
Towards evening we heard that the inhabitants of the city had been most urgent on Soult to withdraw from it; and that he had promised to do so.
Indeed, had he not, Lord Wellington might, if he chose, have soon reduced the town to ashes; for the heights we had taken were not 500 yards distant from the city, and completely overlooked it. On the morning of the 12th, therefore, Soult marched out, and was not molested by our troops. He took the road to Villefranche and Carcassonne, up the canal of Languedoc, our cavalry following their track. Now all the loyalists came rushing out of the town to meet and welcome us; every one wearing white scarfs or favours to denote his attachment to the Bourbons. Now all was joy and festivity, and nothing but shaking of hands and embracing was to be seen in all directions. This day also arrived Lord Stewart from Paris with the account of Bonaparte's abdication, and of the Bourbons having been reinstated. It was also rumoured that Soult had received this news previous to the battle; but not being inclined to yield obedience to that dynasty, he had allowed the warfare to proceed. Indeed, what almost puts this beyond a doubt, was his still continuing for many days after this to refuse sending in his submission to the Bourbon government. We also heard afterwards that the courier bringing the official information of Bonaparte's fall, &c.
had been detained by the postmaster of Montauban by Soult's direction; for although he had had private intelligence of the fact, he imagined the detention of the official information might screen him hereafter.
Such are the surmises of the wise heads respecting this affair, which, as it turned out, is to be regretted; for the sacrifice of so many valuable lives on both sides was a thing of no trifling importance; but I believe Soult felt sore at his having been so often worsted, and hoped here in some measure to retrieve his lost honours; for it cannot be doubted, I believe, that he expected to be able to repel our attack at least, if not to force us to retire from Toulouse.
On the 13th, the divisions marched into the town; my battalion having the fauxbourg adjoining the lately disputed position assigned to it, and in which we found very comfortable quarters. To show that the French people of this place took Lord Wellington either for a very generous person, or a great fool, a man who owned a house on the border of the position, and which the French had fortified by loopholing it, and otherwise rendering it unfit for occupation by its owner, sent in a memorial to his lordship, praying him to order that he might receive out of the military chest a sufficient sum to enable him to put his house in its former state; and this, although it had been done by his own countrymen. I suppose his lordship would laugh at it when he saw it. I should have been inclined to be angry with the fellow. The man showed the memorial to the adjutant and myself before he sent it in--a step which of course we dissuaded him from taking.
Notwithstanding it was notorious that Bonaparte's career was at that time finished, Soult still made a show of holding out for him; in consequence of which the army was again put in motion to compel him either to send in his adhesion to the new government, or to resign his command of troops who had not now a master. He had taken up a position near Villefranche. Accordingly, we marched, I think, on the 15th or 16th, the which rather alarmed him; and in consequence he despatched Count Gazan with terms to offer to his lordship, the which, after some alterations, were finally agreed upon, and the army returned once more to Toulouse, where we resumed our former quarters.
Thus finished the Peninsular War, the last campaign of which had been the most active probably that is recorded in history. In ten months and a half we had marched from the frontiers of Portugal, had completely traversed Spain, which we had cleared of its long troublesome and insidious invaders; had penetrated far into the interior of that country, which three years before gave law to most of the continental nations; and had worsted, in various actions, those troops, which, except when encountering the British, had been accustomed almost invariably to conquer.
 Some obscurity is occasioned here and elsewhere, by blanks being left in the MS., which the death of the good-humoured and kindly author has rendered it now impossible to fill up.--ED.