Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - lightnovelgate.com
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We this day established two strong and well advanced batteries, and at night set fire to a windmill in their possession, which obstructed our view of some of their works. During the whole of the 25th, there was a constant fire both of artillery and fire-arms, by which one of the light battalions of the German Legion suffered rather severely. My battalion relieved them at the outposts a little before dark, and was fortunate enough not to lose a man, where they had lost considerable numbers.
On the 26th, a corps or division of the army was assembled, and placed under the immediate orders of Sir Arthur Wellesley. It consisted of the following regiments, viz. 43d, 52d, 92d, 95th, and 6th Battalion King's German Legion, with six squadrons of German cavalry, and some artillery, and was destined to advance against a body of the enemy composed principally of militia, which had been for some time past collecting in the neighbourhood of Kioge.
At three o'clock P.M., we started from the neighbourhood of Copenhagen, the troops making their way through the country to the left of the great road to Roskild. I had charge of the baggage, which was carried on light German waggons, the bodies of which are formed chiefly of wicker-work, and are so light and easy of draught that the natives travel in them in the same manner nearly of our coaches--they going sometimes at a considerable rate.
I found it impracticable to continue in the same direction the troops had gone, for they presently left all traces of a road, and struck right across the country--and as I knew I should be expected to have the baggage with them that night if possible, I determined to run all hazards, and proceed along the great high-road in hopes of afterwards being enabled to find them out--accordingly I moved forward, and presently passed the outposts of the German cavalry stationed in the direction of Roskild; the men, I doubt not, wondering at my temerity in pushing on with a few baggage waggons, where they were all on the alert with swords drawn, and with carbines and pistols loaded. I own it was a hazardous undertaking, for a very small party of the enemy would easily have captured both me and my baggage; but I knew my commanding-officer to be such a person as to pay little attention to excuses of any kind when he wished a thing to be done, and withal he loved his comforts, and would not have been easily pacified had he been deprived of them.
Fortunately, after advancing for some miles beyond the outposts of our army before mentioned, I fell in with a road branching off towards the left, apparently in the very direction the troops had taken.
Till I reached this point, I had advanced with considerable caution, and slowly; determined, if any enemy should appear in front, to endeavour to effect a retreat. But now, having left the great road, and taken that which I judged would bring me to the neighbourhood of those I was seeking, I accordingly ordered all my guards to mount, and set off at a brisk trot, keeping a good look-out to my right flank, for fear of surprise, and fortunately fell in with the division at the very moment it was entering the road by which I had come. I received great credit for my generalship, and was complimented by the officers of my corps, they being the only people in the division, I believe, who had the comfort of their baggage that night. The name of the village where we halted is Caughstrup.
The next day we continued to advance in the direction of Kioge, and in the afternoon we reached a village which I forget the name of, and where evident traces appeared of the enemy having shortly left it; indeed, we found two or three stragglers in the village, who were of course made prisoners. We halted outside the village for the night.
A short while before we reached this village, I saw a body of troops dressed in red, marching on our right flank, at right angles to the road by which we were advancing, and which I instantly concluded must be a part of the enemy's force, as we had no troops in that direction. But remembering the rebuke I received on the 17th for interfering with concerns that did not belong to me, I shut my mouth in silence, and did not, I believe, mention the matter. It is evident it was a part of the enemy's force, for the General's information led him to take that very same direction the next day; and that being towards Roskild, we set out and reached that city in the afternoon, but found the enemy had again given us the slip, and doubled back to nearly the same place from whence we had started.
The next morning about three o'clock we left Roskild, and took the road for Kioge, near which it was now ascertained the enemy had come to a resolution to make a stand. I forgot to mention that previous to this our force had been divided and formed into two brigades; the 52d, 92d, our 1st battalion, and some cavalry and artillery, remaining under the command of Sir Arthur; while the 43d, the 6th German Legion, and our five companies, with the remainder of the cavalry, were put under the command of Baron Linsengen, one of the generals of the German Legion.
Sir Arthur's people had not been with us for a day or two back, but where I do not exactly know. But this morning it was arranged that his brigade was to march directly upon Kioge and attack it in front, while we fetched a circuit behind, and came upon a part of their force stationed in a forest or wood behind the town--and thus cut off their retreat. But the poor creatures were unable to stand above a round or two, and almost immediately broke and fled in all directions.
As we approached the wood we were destined to attack, the appearance was certainly rather formidable; for from the immense cloud of dust they raised in performing their movements, we calculated on meeting with a considerable body of troops; and indeed, just as we approached the wood, our cavalry laid hold of an officer of their horse, dressed partly in uniform and partly as a civilian. From him we obtained information that they had in the field 12,000 men; 5000 of which were armed with pikes, 1000 cavalry, and the remainder consisted of artillery and infantry. He must, I think, have overrated their numbers, or surely they might have made some sort of a stand against 5500 men, the strength of our division.
On Sir Arthur attacking them in the town of Kioge, they stood, as before said, only for a round or two, and fled, many of them coming in contact afterwards with our brigade; but from the extent of (and intricate roads through) the wood, very few of them were made prisoners; till towards evening, when a company of my battalion, with some of the German cavalry, overtook a considerable body in the village of Herfolge, apparently the rearguard of the enemy. In this village they made a stand, getting into the churchyard, which afforded an excellent position, it being considerably higher than any other part of the village. Here also they soon began to waver, and after a few shots from our people, they all laid down their arms and became prisoners of war.
Their numbers were 1550 men, with 56 officers, and Major-General Oxholm, the second in command of this part of the Danish army. A considerable quantity of artillery, small arms, baggage, and provisions, &c., with two stands of colours, fell into the hands of the captors on this occasion. These poor creatures were instantly sent off as prisoners, and put on board our ships at Copenhagen; many of them apparently quite glad that they had done with fighting. Great numbers of them had nothing better by way of shoeing than wooden clogs--a very inconvenient kind I should imagine for a rapid retreat.
The loss of the British during this day's operations was, as might be expected, quite trifling. I had this day followed the ill-natured advice of my commanding-officer on a former occasion, and had taken a rifle, but had little opportunity of using it, not having fired more than eight or ten shots. My battalion halted in the village of Herfolge for the night, and the next morning moved forward towards the town of Kingsted, that being the direction in which the broken fragments of the Danish army had retired.
Our two battalions had been employed all the day of the 29th, after the first onset, in scouring the woods from Kioge to Herfolge. We continued this service on the 30th also, and took numbers of poor creatures who had been engaged in yesterday's operations, but who had not yet been able totally to divest themselves of their military habiliments, although apparently anxious to do so. We reached Kingsted on the 31st, and finding that the only regular part of the late army had retired into one of the islands in the Great Belt, and that the militia portion had totally disbanded itself, we halted here till the fall of Copenhagen, which took place on the 7th of September. But to prevent surprise from any lurking parties of the enemy, which might still have kept together, and to deprive them of the means of injuring us, strong detachments were sent out to scour the country, and to bring in all the military arms they could discover. A party of this description, consisting of 100 cavalry, and 100 of my battalion mounted on light waggons, traversed the country for a considerable distance, and returned after having discovered and taken possession of ten pieces of ordnance of small calibre, and forty rifles belonging to the Kallundburg rifle company, with several muskets. They also gained correct information respecting the regular troops that had been lately opposed to us, and found they had retired into the islands of Falstar and Meon.
On the capitulation of Copenhagen, terms of amity and peace were entered into between the Danish forces in the island of Zealand and the British; but these did not extend to the islands before mentioned, nor to the other parts of his Danish Majesty's dominions; consequently, we still remained at war with such of his forces as were not included in the capitulation; and he might at any time have collected an army, had he been able, and attacked us without any infringement of those terms.
It behoved our generals, therefore, to watch against any attempt of this nature; and accordingly strong outposts were established all along the Belt, composed principally of the men of our two battalions. The 1st battalion occupied Kallundburg, Slagelse, Korsoer, and Skielskiore; whilst the following towns and ports were occupied by my battalion, viz.
Mestyed, Lundbye, Wordingburg and Prestoe; thus forming a complete chain of posts around the west and south coasts of the island. We remained so posted till the 15th of October, by which time the greater part of the naval stores taken in the dockyard having been taken on board, and the period fast approaching for our evacuation of the country, we began to retire towards Copenhagen, which we reached on the 17th, and immediately embarked on board the Princess Caroline, a Danish seventy-four which had been surrendered with the others of that fleet, and which are mentioned below.
We remained in the roads till the 20th, when the fleet dropped down towards the Sound; and on the 21st the whole passed the Castle of Elsineur, with a favourable and pleasant breeze, the British ensign waving proudly from the lofty masts of their late gallant fleet; it must have been an extremely galling sight for them (the Danes) to witness, and I dare say they did not pray for many benedictions on our heads; I pitied them from the bottom of my heart. On taking leave of this country, I could not help remarking on the great similarity between its inhabitants and the Germans about Bremen--kind-hearted, hospitable, and inoffensive in the highest degree; and although suffering at that time so severely from the policy of our country, they were high in our praises as individuals and as a nation. I have great cause to speak well of those innocent and worthy people, for I have seldom experienced more kindness and attention than was shown me by them whenever circumstances rendered such kindness and attention suitable, particularly at Nestyde, where I met a young man who had formerly been in the West Indies, where he had learnt to speak a little English, (for of Danish I could not understand a word.) He introduced me to one worthy man, who had been an officer, and fought in the famous action of Kioge above narrated. Poor fellow, he felt heartily ashamed of the sorry attempt they had made to act the part of an army, and I daresay would gladly have blotted from his memory for ever the recollection of the ridiculous part they had acted. I was not aware of this circumstance at first, and when it was brought upon the tapis in the course of conversation, (my young friend being interpreter,) I unluckily said, that "any man armed with a bludgeon only, could easily beat three such soldiers."
I felt quite ashamed of myself afterwards, when I discovered that he, poor man, had made one in that memorable action; but he took it all in good part, apparently conscious of the justness of my remark. Indeed, I was partly led on to use such expressions by the young fellow condemning so bitterly their conduct, and which I afterwards would have given something to have unsaid. He, however, bore no resentment, and kindly took me home and introduced me to his wife, and requested me to salute her with a kiss. I hesitated, thinking that I could not have understood him right, and feeling awkward in such a situation; but my young friend assured me it was the custom there to do so, on which I of course complied. They are, in my opinion, an extremely moral race of people, no vices that I know of being practised by them, save occasionally a little drunkenness by some few individuals. I heartily wish them well.
We sailed, as I said before, on the 21st of October, and had fine weather till we arrived in Yarmouth Roads. We passed one Sunday on our voyage home, at a certain hour of which our pious naval commander (Lord Gambier) made signal for the whole fleet to lay to, and have divine service, that is, in such ships as there were chaplains on board of.
This caused the irreligious and profligate part of our people on board the Princess Caroline to blaspheme and storm at a terrible rate, for being so long detained when the wind was so fair.
It happened, when we arrived in the Roads at Yarmouth, or near there, I think it was on the Galloper Sand, that a tremendous gale began to blow, which baffled all exertions to withstand it. We cast out the anchors, but without effect, for we ran away with them both, and in the endeavour to vere out cable, or rather by the rapidity with which it was dragged out of the ship by the force of the wind, our bits caught fire, which with considerable difficulty were got extinguished after great exertions. During the gale, I understand a sailor was blown off the foreyard; and nearly at the same moment a woman, one of our corporals'
wives, fell down the hatches into the hold, and broke her back, of which, indeed, she afterwards recovered, but never after regained her upright posture.
Those scoffing gentlemen before mentioned, attributed the whole of our misfortunes to the delay occasioned by the divine service before adverted to, and were not sparing of invective against the individual who caused its performance, forgetful, it would seem, that _He_, whom that commander invoked on that day, holds the winds in His hand, and can at pleasure let them loose upon an ungodly fleet, whether for correction or judgment, at what time, and in what manner, best pleases him. I doubt not the excellent commander alluded to has been a blessing to many. May he long continue to ornament the exalted station he fills! We weighed again after the storm abated, and proceeded round to the Downs, and the next day, the 16th of November, landed at Deal, and from thence marched to our old quarters at Hythe Barracks.
 List of Ships and Vessels captured at Copenhagen, 7th September, 1807.
Christian the Seventh, 98 Neptune, 84 Waldemer, 84 Princess Sophia Fredrica, 84 Justice, 74 Heir Apparent Frederick, 74 Crown Prince Frederick, 74 Frien, 74 Oden, 74 Three Crowns, 74 Shield, 74 Crown Princess Maria, 74 Denmark, 74 Norway, 74 Princess Caroline, 74 Conqueror, 64 Norge, 74 Dalmakin, 64 Pirle, 44 Wory Wife, 44 Liberty, 44 Iris, 44 Rotar, 44 Denry, 44 Mayed, 36 Triton, 28 Fredrington, 28 Kline Belt, 28 St Thomas, 22 Tylto, 24 Elbe, 20 Eydeman, 20 Gluckstadt, 20 Sarp, 18 Glowman, 18 Nid Elvin, 18 Dolphin, 18 Marcur, 18 Cousier, 14 Flying Fish, 14
Together with eleven gun boats, with two guns each in the bow, and fourteen do with one gun in the bow and one astern.
Our Author marries--The Battalion to which he belongs ordered to join the Expedition fitting out for Corunna--Movements of the Army in Spain--Return to England.
Some little time after our return from the Baltic, I obtained a short leave of absence, for the purpose of visiting my parents, and the other members of my family; and, during my stay in my native village, contracted a marriage with a young woman whom I had known from my boyhood, she having been one of my earliest schoolfellows. I cannot say that I enjoyed in the marriage state that happiness which I expected from it, partly owing to the frequent and long separations which my calling rendered unavoidable, and partly from other causes which have no connexion with my narrative. I believe, during the eight years which my wife lived after our union, I spent more than six of these in absence from her.
At the expiration of my leave, we set off to join the regiment, which still remained at Hythe, where we remained till the beginning of September following, when my battalion having again been ordered for foreign service in the expedition fitting out for Corunna, it became indispensable that my poor wife should return to Northumberland, and remain under the protection of her parents, till my return, should it please God to spare me. This, no doubt, was a severe trial to us both, but particularly to her, who had such a journey to undertake, alone and unprotected, and she at the time far advanced in pregnancy; but, however distressing, it must be undertaken, and I unfortunately could not be spared from the regiment, for our orders were to proceed immediately to Ramsgate, for embarkation.
We parted, after I had accompanied her as far as I was able, and seeing her safely stowed in the coach. It may be supposed that a new-married pair, under such circumstances, would part with heavy and afflicted hearts.
My battalion embarked at Ramsgate on the 10th of September. On this occasion, I was very fortunate in getting on board an excellent transport, called the Nautilus, of Shields, commanded by Captain Watson (my wife's maiden name), and the steward, a native of the Hermitage, a place within four miles of my home. Of course, we were mutually glad to meet each other, and often talked over old Northumbrian stories, which recalled delightful recollections of our younger years. The fleet in which we sailed rendezvoused at Falmouth, whence we took our departure, and arrived at Corunna on the 26th of October.
On our passage, when we made Cape Ortegal, a pilot-boat came off, in which were the first Spaniards I remember to have seen; certainly, they did not prepossess me greatly in favour of their countrymen, but they are now so well known in England, that a description of those I here saw, would be only to repeat what has been so often and so much better told by others. We landed at Corunna, as before said, on the 26th, and a day or two after, proceeded up the country, halting for the first night at Betanzos. Our force consisted of cavalry, infantry, and artillery, in all, about 10,000 men, and was commanded by General Sir David Baird, and intended to co-operate, or form a junction, with that under Sir John Moore, then in Portugal, and who was then advancing into Spain.
My battalion, and some companies of the first battalion of my regiment, formed the advanced guard, a situation which I consider the most enviable of any in the army--for here all is untried, and, as it were, unbroken ground; every thing is fresh, and although attended sometimes with a little more danger of being cut off while separated from the main body, yet possessing so many countervailing advantages, that I hesitate not to say it is the most desirable post of any in an army.
At Betanzos, we began to experience the great defectiveness of our commissariat department, at this period of our history; for the gentleman sent forward to provide our two battalions with food, was so utterly unacquainted with his business, that he was actually afraid to make an attempt to issue provisions. Although bread had been baked by order of the Spanish authorities, he not understanding, as he said, the Spanish weights and measures, durst not issue any thing without his own, which were behind; but it was evident the troops could not remain without provisions. We were here, as in most of the towns we afterwards passed through, lodged in convents, the officers generally either being quartered on the inhabitants of the town, or lodged by the monks in their cells. On these occasions the men occupied only the corridors, into which straw was generally put by the authorities of the place, the men lying as close as pigs in a sty, which indeed was necessary to keep each other warm; but these lodgings were not to be complained of, as clean straw, and shelter overhead in that country, are no contemptible quarters.
We moved forward by fair and easy stages, by way of Lugo, Villa Franca, Cacabelos, and Astorga; this latter place we reached on the 19th November, but during the march, we had experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining supplies both of provisions and the means of transport. This is a considerable town, containing probably about 5000 inhabitants. Both it and Lugo are surrounded by old Moorish walls, which may formerly have been considered strong, but which, according to the present mode of warfare, would offer but a feeble resistance to a besieging army. It contains a number of convents, both in the town and suburbs, and, of course, a proportionate number of idle monks, &c. Here, as in many towns in Spain, they have a curious mode of keeping out of their houses unwelcome visiters; for the doors being all made remarkably strong, and kept constantly shut, you cannot enter till the inmates have first reconnoitred you through an aperture above the door, made for the purpose; and it is not till they are satisfied who you are, and with your business, that they will open the door, which they generally do by a cord communicating with the latch from their peep-hole above.
Here we were pretty plentifully supplied with provisions, and rested for some days, my battalion having been pushed forward to a village called Zalada, about a league in front of the town. After having been refreshed by a few days' rest, my battalion was again pushed forward, and occupied the town of Labeneza, about four leagues in front of Astorga, while the main body of the army assembled in and around that town; but we had not remained more than a few days in Labeneza, before a report arrived of the enemy being in our front, and advancing in force; and we were consequently recalled to Zalada, in order to form a junction with our main body. Not long after this, about the latter end of November, orders were received from Sir John Moore, for our division to retreat and fall back upon Corunna. This measure, I understand, was rendered necessary, in consequence of the Spanish armies having been completely beaten and dispersed, so that nothing remained to oppose an overwhelming French force, which it was ascertained had entered Spain, but the few British troops comprising the armies under Sir John Moore, and ours.
We accordingly set to the right-about, and fell back as far as Cacabelos, the main body occupying Villa Franca and its neighbourhood.
This movement was not by any means liked by any of us; for, independent of its being so uncongenial to the spirit of Britons to turn their backs upon an enemy, we felt disappointed at what we saw and heard of the celebrated Spanish patriots. We had been given to understand that the whole nation was up in arms against the French, and that we should have been received, on entering their country, as liberators, and treated as brethren, but in both these points we were miserably disappointed; for, instead of a hearty welcome on our arrival, we could with great difficulty obtain leave to land, and still more to obtain the necessary supplies of carriages and provisions to enable us to come forward; and with regard to the patriotism of the people, whatever might have been their good-will to act in defence of their beloved country and Ferdinand, they appeared as little likely as any people I had ever seen, to effect any thing against such an enemy as the French. In fact, those of them who formed their armies, at least of those straggling parties we so often met, could be called nothing better than mere rabble--no organization, no subordination, but every one evidently pursued that plan which seemed right in his own eyes.
While we remained at Cacabelos, (a place famous for good wine,) many were the schemes adopted by some of our bibbers, to obtain a sufficient quantum of this excellent beverage. I understand they occasionally borrowed each other's clothes; that is, a 43d man would borrow a rifleman's green jacket, and _vice versa_, and go and steal, or in some other illegal mode obtain, a camp-kettle full or two; and when the owner came to point out the person who had robbed him, of course he could not be found.
We had not remained above a day or two in our new quarters, before an express arrived from Sir John Moore, with orders for us to advance again immediately; and which, notwithstanding we had little or no prospect of assistance and co-operation from the Patriots, was cheerfully complied with. We retraced our former steps, passing through Astorga and Labeneza, and reached Benevente on the 15th December.
Our cavalry, consisting of the 7th, 10th, and 15th hussars, under Lord Paget, had by this time come up from Corunna, and had been pushed forward to join Sir John Moore's force; they fell in with a party of the French cavalry at the town of Rueda, not far from Tordesillas, and of which they either killed, or took prisoners, nearly the whole; in fact, through the whole of this service, nothing could exceed the gallantry and intrepid conduct of our cavalry under his lordship. At this town, as well as at Astorga and Villa Franca, depots of provisions began to be formed soon after our arrival.
On the 17th December, we again advanced from Benevente, in order to form a junction with Sir John Moore's army, and passing through Valderas, Majorga, and Sahagun, we reached the convent of Trianon, about a league in front of the latter place. On the 20th, here the two forces were united, and a fresh distribution into brigades took place. Ours, under Brigadier-general Crawford, was termed the Light Brigade, and consisted of the 1st battalion 43d, 2d battalion 52d, and the 2d battalion of my regiment.
The whole army was assembled in this neighbourhood, and consisted of about 26,000 men, the whole _now_ under the command of Sir John Moore.
Previous to our arrival at Sahagun, Lord Paget, with a part of the 10th and 15th hussars, discovered that a considerable body of the enemy's cavalry occupied that town. He therefore detached the 10th by a circuitous road, while he with the 15th approached it by the more direct one. They were, however, discovered by the French before reaching the town, which gave the enemy time to turn out and form to receive the attack. His lordship, when a favourable opportunity offered, charged the French, who were greatly superior in numbers, and completely overthrew them, taking two colonels, eleven other officers, and about 150 men.
On the evening of the 23d, the whole army was put in motion, with an intention, it was said, of attacking Marshal Soult, who, with a corps of about 16 or 18,000 men, was posted behind the River Carrion, his head-quarters being at Saldanha. The Spanish General Romana, was to take a part in this movement; his small and sadly inefficient force had approached the left of our army, or rather we had drawn towards his position, and he was, I believe, perfectly willing to lend all the assistance in his power, in the contemplated attack; but our General, I fancy, did not calculate upon any material help, from a force so greatly out of order as his was said to be. Soon after dark, the troops fell in; and as it was understood an attack was going to be made on the enemy, every pulse beat high, in expectation of soon congratulating each other on a victory. All was life and animation; and the necessary preparations, by the light of our blazing fires, for such an event as a battle, after the many long and harassing marches we had had, gave an interesting appearance to the scene.
When all was ready, the troops moved forward. It was a cold and bitter night, and there were some small brooks on the road. An officer of my battalion, who was not very well, when he came to one of those, instead of marching straight through, as it appears had been ordered, went a little way round by the bridge, although not off the road. A certain general officer, who happened to be there at the time, observed it, and getting into a great rage at the officer leaving his section, made him turn back, and march through and through repeatedly, by way of punishment. Such a mode of treating an officer, certainly appeared rather harsh; but this general piqued himself on his being able to make his brigade better marchers than any other troops in the army; and in this he certainly succeeded, although it was not without frequent exhibitions, such as the above. Our people had not gone far, however, till they were countermanded, and returned back to our convent. I rather think the main body of the army had not moved out of their cantonments; but ours being the advanced brigade, it was necessary we should move before the others.