Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - lightnovelgate.com
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My health now gradually improved, under the kind and fostering attentions of my warm-hearted host and hostess, and it became necessary that I should resume my station at Abrantes, which I did, in hopes of being able to obtain transport from thence, although the army was at this time in the neighbourhood of Madrid. But after returning to Abrantes I suffered a relapse, and was again brought to the borders of the grave, my mind still deeply impressed with my former ill forebodings, although not quite so distressing as before. I got my servant to read to me while I lay groaning on the floor, for I could not bear to sleep in a bed at this time, but felt little comfort from his endeavours, the Scriptures being at this time "a sealed book" to me; so true is it that till the grace of God dispels our darkness we have no light in us.
I think it is probable that some of my readers, on perusing this part of my narrative, will be inclined to say, "surely this man must have been an uncommon and atrocious sinner, above all others, or he never would have suffered thus." I acknowledge with shame that I have been a most abominable and vile sinner, deserving of all the Lord laid upon me, and much more, for I was, and am, fully deserving of hell fire; and should that be my portion (as, through the merits and sufferings of my Saviour, I have a humble hope it will not be), I must acknowledge the kindness and justice of God, although I perish for ever. But I would say to such readers, as our Saviour said to the Jews, that "except _ye_ repent, _ye_ shall likewise perish." Others may be inclined, on the contrary, to say, that all this was merely the effect of disease, and not at all to be resolved into God's hatred of sin and punishment of it in this instance.
I acknowledge that it was the effect of disease. But when God laid that disease upon me, He knew what effect it would produce upon my mind; consequently, both disease and mental agony came from Him; and, because I knew it came from Him, "I held my tongue and said nothing." And I have now, and I hope shall have for ever, the greatest cause to bless His holy name for this, as one of the greatest mercies He ever showed me, for having thus taught me to know how evil and bitter a thing sin is, and to set a juster estimate upon his favour. He thus taught me also to value and love the Saviour, who alone can deliver me from the punishment, the power, the pollution, and the love of sin, and to make me happy for ever. Blessed be His holy name, for He has done to me all things well, and I humbly hope to enjoy His favour for ever.
During my stay at Lisbon, my batman, whom I before mentioned as having lost, or rather sold, my mule, and who had here rejoined me to take care of the horse and mule I had with me, either from remorse, or some other cause, made an attempt to cut his throat, and succeeded so far as to sever the windpipe, I believe, but did not quite effect his purpose. He was found in a field near Lisbon bleeding nearly to death, and brought into the hospital, where, with great care, and after some time, he recovered. Indeed 1812 was a sickly year, and many were affected strongly in the mind, several having committed suicide, I believe.
While I lay here ill the second time, I received a letter from the regiment telling me that the paymastership had become vacant, the poor old gentleman with whom I returned to England last year, having come out again to the Peninsula, and got as far as Rodrigo on his way to the regiment, and there, being attacked with the same disease I had suffered so much from, died; and that as General Stewart, our colonel, had arrived at Lisbon, I was to go and wait upon him, and that letters would be written from the regiment requesting him to recommend me for the situation.
I with great difficulty again reached Lisbon, and waited upon the general, but to my great mortification I found the promised letters from the regiment had never been received, and that another person had, in consequence, been recommended, he being the son of the late paymaster, and had applied some time before. My disappointment did not prey upon my mind, for at this time I set very light indeed by the good things of this world, and felt conscious that I already possessed much more than I deserved. I was compelled through illness to remain again in Lisbon some time, but found great difficulty to obtain permission from the commandant for so doing. My general, however, procured me leave to stay till I should be able to resume my post at Abrantes. Here, not only myself, but all the officers who were then in Lisbon, and also at the army, suffered much from the want of subsistence. I had at this period seven months' pay due me, and could not obtain a dollar from the public chest, although I wrote a note to the commandant showing him how I was suffering from want of money.
The army had in the meantime pursued the French, as before noticed, on one side to Madrid, and on the other to Burgos; but the attempt to take the latter by storm having failed, and the enemy having been able to assemble a more numerous force than Lord Wellington had before it, he was obliged to retire from both those places to the frontiers of Portugal. The division from Cadiz, the siege of which having been raised by our forward movement in summer, had joined the army at Madrid. Much was suffered, I understand, during this retreat, the troops having been exposed to great privations, and the weather being exceedingly wet and unpleasant. My division, after the retreat, took up its quarters again in the villages on the Portuguese side of Rodrigo--my battalion being stationed at the village of Espeja. The army, as might be expected from the late severe and harassing service they had been engaged in, began to be extremely ill off indeed for want of clothing, many of the men being nearly quite naked; in consequence, the most pressing orders were sent from head-quarters to use every means possible to have the supplies immediately forwarded, for Abrantes at this time contained stores belonging to almost every regiment in the army. My health having been considerably improved, I again returned to that depot, and, after waiting a few weeks, the means of transport were at last given me by the commissary there. I need not say with what alacrity I prepared for and commenced my long wished for journey. I had got a sufficient escort assigned me, from a detachment of our men being about to join the regiment.
We started about the beginning of January 1813, and proceeded on our route by way of Niza, &c. I had been obliged to buy another horse from some cause which I do not now recollect, but when we were leaving the town just named, I found, on turning out to move off, that a large nail had been driven right up into the centre of one of his feet. Whether this was done accidentally, or by design, I never could learn, but the consequence was the loss of the horse. I had great trouble also to keep the convoy, which consisted of about a dozen bullock carts, with as many soldiers as an escort, together; the drivers, if they were not strictly guarded, very often made their escape, taking their bullocks with them during the night, and leaving the cart in our possession, glad, I dare say, that they got off so cheaply, for they seemed to have a great antipathy to go with us. I was therefore compelled to collect them all together near Castello Branco, and making the soldiers load their rifles before them, told them as well as I was able that they had orders to shoot the first who attempted to desert with his bullocks. This had a good effect, for I believe we lost no more till we reached the regiment; but, as we approached the frontiers of Spain, several of the drivers ran away without their cattle, preferring the loss of both bullocks, cart, and payment, rather than enter that country, of which the peasantry in general seemed to have a great dread. Those who stuck by us to the last, were rewarded with the bullocks and carts of the deserters; but I think we did not take more than two or three out of the twelve to the regiment, the rest had all made their escape. Nothing can be conceived more tiresome than travelling with such a convoy. The carts are all constructed upon the principle of the Irish car; that is, the axle rolls round with the wheels, they being firmly united; consequently the creaking noise created by the friction is loud and most unpleasant, and they have no idea of grease or tar to diminish this, but believe in many parts, if not in all, the noise to be a sort of holy noise, which keeps the devil from them. I found, in removing these stores, that great robberies had taken place upon them, several of the bales having been opened while on board ship, great quantities of goods taken out, and their place filled up with old transport bedding, &c. I found it necessary, however, to endeavour to bear up against all this, for my mind would not suffer me to dwell too much upon such misfortunes. At length I arrived at the regiment, where indeed I was a welcome guest, for they were greatly in need of all kinds of equipment.
The officer who had rendered my life so unhappy before, had left the regiment, and gone into another far distant from my present place of abode, for which I was truly thankful, and his absence I found produced a great change in my favour; for every one seemed glad to see me, and sympathized with me in my late alarming illness; in fact, the face of things was entirely changed for the better. I myself had benefited much by my late chastisement. I had learned to think meanly of myself, and to be kind and submissive to all to whom I owed submission; a virtue which, I fear, I was but too deficient in before.
All things now went well with me. The goods, which before had been such a source of uneasiness and trouble, were rapidly disposing of, and thus the prospect of my soon being able to pay my creditors became every day brighter. But, in the mean time, what I had hinted at before took place: one of the merchants had actually reported me to his Royal Highness the Duke of York. This might, indeed, have deprived me of my commission, had his Royal Highness been harsh with me; but he caused a letter to be written to my commanding-officer, (now Sir Andrew Barnard,) to call on me to explain why I had not remitted the merchant what I owed him, and to account for my not answering his letters, which he said I had failed to do for several months. My answer was very simple, as the reader is aware; but, with respect to the letters, I showed the colonel one, in which the merchant acknowledged having received one from me a short time previously. This also was satisfactory, and I had moreover remitted him a short while before L.300 of the money I owed him. The colonel was fully satisfied, and wrote off to his Royal Highness accordingly, and I heard no more of the business. Soon after the captain, who had been acting as paymaster, was obliged to return to England, on account of ill health. After some necessary steps I was appointed to this duty, it being an addition of 10s. per diem to my pay. According to the army regulations, a person in my situation could not be appointed acting paymaster; but a committee of three captains was formed, who took all the responsibility of my transactions upon themselves, giving me, as before said, the whole 10s. per diem. This showed, at least, that they were not afraid to trust themselves in my hands; for I might have involved them deeply. In short, whatever I did (almost) prospered, and a kind Providence seemed to smile upon me; and I believe that from this to the close of the Peninsular campaigns was the happiest part of my life.
I have reason, therefore, to bless God for his unbounded goodness to me.
Preparations for the Field--Amusements in winter quarters--Grand Review--Advance of the Army in pursuit of the Enemy--Come up with their rearguard in the vicinity of Hornilla de Camino--Skirmishing--Encounter with the 1st brigade of the Enemy, who are beaten, and forced to retreat--Our Army advance in pursuit--An affair between the rearguard of the Enemy and our 4th Brigade--Vittoria--General Engagement--The Enemy defeated--Remarks.
I begin this chapter, through the mercy and goodness of God, with brighter prospects than any I have written hitherto; for though I was still ignorant of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, I believed God was at peace with me, and, from my late dreadful sufferings for sin, I certainly walked very circumspectly, and I believe I had also more of the genuine feelings of a Christian, though not the knowledge; for I was lowly in my own eyes, and loved all mankind. In me was fully verified at this time that sublime, but seemingly ill understood, saying of our Saviour's, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." I now was meek and lowly, and I had friends in abundance, and may truly be said to have possessed or inherited the earth, for I had plenty of every necessary good, and, withal, peace and contentment. I could not enjoy more had I been in possession of more. Alas! how lamentable is it that chastisement should produce a better effect upon me, than love and gratitude to God is capable of doing; for, to my shame be it spoken, pride and selfishness now prevail much more in my heart than they were able to do then; and I find it much more difficult now to bring my mind down to that lowly and contrite feeling which with God is so acceptable, and with the possession of which only He promises to dwell.
As the officer whom I have had occasion so often to mention owed me a trifle of money, I wrote to him, in as friendly a manner as I could, hoping, now we were separated, that his enmity would cease, and I was desirous of being at peace with all mankind; for, as I said before, I never yet knew why he was my enemy. He wrote back, with an order for the money, telling me, he hoped never to hear from me again, for that he was anxious to forget that such a person had ever existed in the world.
This, as might be supposed, wounded my feelings deeply, but I remembered that I had myself sinned as deeply against God, and that He might raise up such instruments for my correction as seemed good to Him. My feelings, therefore, towards this person were more of regret and pity than of resentment, and I think I did not forget to pray to God for him.
Poor fellow, he has a good while since been called to his account, and that in rather an awful manner; he fell in a duel, but which (from all I could learn) he was engaged in from the best motives, that of endeavouring to prevent the seduction of a young female belonging to his regiment. I hope he is at peace.
During our stay in winter-quarters every exertion was made to put the troops in a proper state to take the field again, so soon as the season was sufficiently advanced. While we remained here also every sort of innocent amusement, at least generally innocent, was had recourse to, both by officers and men, not only to pass the time of inactivity with pleasure, but to keep up that readiness for action always so necessary in a state of warfare. We accordingly had races, balls, plays, and every other description of pastime our situation admitted of. We in Espija established what was termed a _trigger_ club, each one in turn giving an entertainment at his house, and at which, as the name would imply, as much game was produced as our sportsmen could procure. The plays were generally held at Gallegos, the quarter of the 43d, and which were indeed got up in a surprising style, considering the means of doing so.
A _walking_ club was established in our 1st battalion, which was quartered at Alamada; we were of course frequently favoured with the company of its members, for they thought nothing of setting out, each with a long pole in his hand, and walking twenty or more miles to dinner. Thus harmony and a brotherly feeling was promoted amongst the officers of the division,--a thing of great moment where regiments have to act together, as well as pleasant to all parties. Some of our people also occasionally had a wolf-hunt, for these animals were quite numerous in this part of the country; nay, so bold were they when pressed with hunger, that they did not scruple sometimes to enter our villages, and devour whatever fell in their way that they could master. An officer of ours had an ass or a mule torn to pieces one night while standing in the yard behind his house. The mode of hunting them was, to have a certain number with arms stationed at the different passes in the wood, whilst a large party of drivers scoured the wood in line, driving every thing before them, when the animals, coming upon the armed people, were shot; but I do not think they were at all successful: it requires people accustomed to the business to enable them to kill many. There is a premium given for every wolf's head, but I forget how much it is.
I sometimes took a trip to the Azava, or the Agueda, on a fishing excursion; but I was ill off for fishing tackle: the hooks the Spaniards make are the clumsiest things imaginable, and would not, I am persuaded, be made with less dexterity by the natives of New Zealand. Those which we were forced to use for fly-hooks had a hole or eye at the top, like the crook which you will sometimes see in a butcher's shop, intended to be hung upon another, which was formed by turning the wire down again, and through this they run their line; besides, they almost invariably broke, and I have been wofully tantalized sometimes by having the hook break off the only fly that the fish were taking; notwithstanding, I caught some very fine trout in the Agueda, this river abounding with them. I sometimes also caught barbel in that river; but it was literally swarming with a sort of roach, or what some of our people called rock-fish: they generally feed from some stuff they find on the large stones. But as the season approached which was to call us to the field, a review of the whole division was ordered to take place on the plain of Espija, and which, I think, was as brilliant a spectacle of that description as it was possible for 5000 men to make. Every regiment was in high and complete order, the whole having by this time been fully equipped for the campaign: the movements, too, were beautiful, and executed with great precision and promptitude, and, as might be anticipated, called forth the unqualified approbation of our illustrious Chief.
A new and different arrangement was made this campaign with respect to both officers and men in their field-equipment. Experience had proved that constant bivouacking injured the men's health, as the mode they had adopted last year, though very ingenious, was not calculated to protect them sufficiently from exposure to the weather. They had last campaign been ordered each man to have loops sewed on at the corner of his blanket; thus, when in the field, two of these were united, and spread over two stand of arms set up at the ends for poles, and being fastened down at the other corners with bayonets, they formed a sort of tent, into which perhaps four men might creep; but then they had thus only two blankets to serve as a bed for the whole four men; consequently they would, in cold weather, be much exposed. This campaign each company received four tents; thus allowing about twenty men for each, and the officers of each company had one among them, and the field and staff officers in like proportion. These were carried on mules, which before had carried the camp-kettles; but these being exchanged for smaller ones, the men carried them in turns upon their knapsacks. Thus it rarely happened that the tents were not on the ground nearly as soon as the men; but strict orders were given always to encamp out of sight of the enemy, if practicable, that they might not be able to calculate our numbers. How very different from the ancient mode of encamping! each of which being more like a town laid out with regular streets, &c. &c. But war was a very different thing in those days, and could Marlborough have risen to see one of our straggling and irregular mountain camps, I know not what his feelings would have been: he would, I fear, have thought we had sadly degenerated.
All being now ready for opening the campaign, a part of the army, under Sir Thomas Graham, crossed the Douro low down in Portugal, and proceeded up the right bank, while we, with Sir Rowland Hill's corps, moved forward in the direction of Salamanca and Toro. On the 21st of May, our division broke up from its cantonments, and assembled at the village of St Felices el Chico, a few miles below Ciudad Rodrigo, each regiment having had the Agueda to ford in its march to this camp. Our division at this time consisted of the following corps:--viz. the 1st brigade, under General Kempt, was composed of the 43d regiment, 17th Portuguese, and the 1st and 3d battalions of my regiment; the 2d brigade, under General Skerrit, contained the 52d regiment, 1st and 3d Portuguese cacadores, and the 2d battalion of my regiment; one troop of horse artillery, under Colonel Ross, was attached to the division; the whole being under the command of General Charles Alten. On the 22d, we moved on to Martin del Rey, near the river Yeltes, by the side of which we encamped. On the 23d, we marched to and encamped near San Munoz, where the division had, I understand, suffered considerably during the retreat of last year, from the French having gained ground upon them, and severely cannonaded them from a height near this village. On the 25th, we moved on to Robliza, having halted the day before to enable the other division to come up with us. We next morning moved forward to the little river Valmuzo, a few miles on the Portugal side of Salamanca, and alluded to in my former advance. Here we halted for three hours during mid-day and cooked, and in the afternoon advanced to the ford of El Canto, on the river Tormes, and about two leagues below Salamanca. Here we encamped for the night, and remained next day also. Lord Wellington, with some cavalry we understood, had entered Salamanca, where only a small force of the enemy's cavalry had been found, and which retired immediately; but I believe some little skirmishing took place between the parties. On the morning of the 28th we forded the Tormes, and advanced towards Aldea Nueva de Figuera, which we reached late in the day, the distance being about twenty-four miles.
While we lay at El Canto, a few of our officers visited Salamanca, in hopes of meeting some of their old friends of last year; but not a _viva_ greeted their ears on entering the city; a sort of suspicious look of recognition was all they could obtain from those people, who had received us only last summer with such extravagant demonstrations of joy. No doubt they had been made to suffer for their former expressions of attachment to us, for the French had in almost every place their partisans, who doubtless would not fail to give them, on their return, an account of the manner in which the English had been received, and the contributions would be laid on accordingly.
We remained at Aldea from the 28th May to the 2d of June, waiting for information from the corps under Sir Thomas Graham, it being intended to form a junction at or about Toro, where it was expected the enemy had a considerable force; this was distant from us about thirty miles. While we continued here, I took a trip to Sir Rowland Hill's division, where I had a townsman, an officer in the 28th, but had not the satisfaction of seeing him. I had other friends in that division, however, with whom I and my companions spent the day in great harmony and satisfaction, and at evening returned to our camp, about four miles distant, highly gratified.
On the 2d of June, we set off early in the morning, and arrived at Villa Buena about mid-day, where we halted for three hours to cook and refresh, after which we continued our march towards Toro, which we reached in the evening, but the enemy having destroyed the bridge across the Douro at this place, we encamped for the night in some fields on the left bank of the river. We learnt here that the hussars attached to Sir Thomas Graham's division had attacked a corps of French cavalry soon after their having quitted Toro, and with whom a very smart affair had taken place, the enemy being completely routed, and about 150 prisoners taken from them. Our cavalry, I believe, lost an officer on this occasion, who fell into the hands of the enemy. Nothing could exceed the miserable appearance of the horses taken from the French on this occasion; they appeared really half starved, although at this season there was plenty of green forage to be had; they must either have been sadly neglected, or have been doing exceeding hard duty.
The bridge having been rendered passable for the men, the division crossed on the following morning, the horses and mules fording the river. We left Toro immediately, and moved on in pursuit of the enemy, and encamped that night at Terra Buena. On the 4th, we reached the convent of Espinar, and encamped on a height just over it. It was a most picturesque and beautiful piece of country around this convent, but itself appeared to have been lately rendered uninhabitable. I believe the monks had been driven away by the French, but not a soul remained to enquire of; all about the building was desolation. We next day advanced to the village of Muderra, and on the 6th to Amperdia, and on the 7th we marched through the city of Palentia, and encamped outside the walls, on the banks of the river Carrion.
Here the inhabitants evinced the same degree of enthusiasm on our entrance as we had been accustomed to witness in other large towns, till the French had taught them a little more circumspection, and which the good people of Palentia would have been most probably fully taught, had these good friends of theirs ever got possession of their city again.
Some time after we had pitched our camp, and were strolling about the city, the lifeguards entered, and were of course saluted with repeated vivas. One of the men, a rather country-looking young fellow, cried out, "Ay, the folks be always glad to see we lifeguards," happily supposing, no doubt, that they were intended as a particular compliment to his corps alone. All the country through which we had marched for several days past, was one continued plain of waving corn, mostly wheat of the very finest description. There are no hedges or dikes, but, as before noticed, only landmarks to divide the different fields, so that its appearance is like an immense sea, stretching as far as the eye can reach, the long corn undulating with the wind as the waves in the ocean.
On the 8th we marched forward and encamped at the village of Tamara, the weather having, from being exceedingly fine, and indeed rather hot, set in extremely wet and cold, and thus rendered marching very unpleasant.
We next day reached La Pena, (the name, it may be remembered, of the Barossa Spanish hero,) the weather continuing very coarse and stormy. On the 10th we continued to advance, and marching through the village of Framosa, and passing over a canal which crosses here, we halted for the night on the right bank of the river Pisuerga, near the village of Lantadilla. In all these late movements, we had experienced a great deficiency of fuel for cooking and drying our clothes when wet, neither forest nor bush-wood being to be seen for days together, and indeed scarcely one solitary tree to be met with--nothing but corn; so that we were occasionally compelled to resort to the cruel and unchristianlike expedient of pulling down houses to obtain the timber with which they were built for the purpose of cooking, or we must have eaten our food raw. This, however, was done in a regular and systematic order, the Alcalde of the village pointing out such of the houses as were to be doomed to the fire, and the troops taking no more than was absolutely necessary. It is astonishing to me how the natives themselves exist for want of this article of first necessity.
From this village we moved forward on the 11th, and crossing the Pisuerga, marched on the town of Pallacio, which we passed, and reached the village of Landrino, near which we encamped for the night.
From the time we left Toro, the enemy had been gradually retiring before us, having withdrawn his forces from all the strong places on the Douro, and seemed concentrating somewhere in the direction of Burgos or Vittoria. Excepting our cavalry, no part of our forces ever had the satisfaction of seeing a Frenchman hitherto during the whole of this long and rapid march; but on the morning of the 12th, as we now approached Burgos, it was fully expected that we should be able to get a sight of the fugitives; and accordingly, after we had left our last night's quarters, and marched a few miles in the direction of the city, a pretty strong body of the enemy's cavalry was seen drawn out on a high plain, a little above the village of Hornilla de Camino. These were supported by a division of infantry formed in square, and occupying the outer edge of the high plain facing the way we advanced, and apparently observing our motions. On discovering this force, our division was halted to give the cavalry attached to us time to ride forward to reconnoitre, and ascertain more exactly the force before us, than could be done while we were on the low ground.
I rode forward with our cavalry, which, passing by the enemy's square of infantry, approached the main body of their cavalry. It not being, however, the intention of the French to fight here, they slowly and orderly retired before us across the plain; but as we had left the square of infantry nearly behind us, the guns attached to our cavalry turned in that direction, for this body seemed indifferent about the movements of our cavalry, and it was not till our division began to ascend the hill that they evinced the slightest intention of stirring.
On seeing them, however, they quickly decamped, and as they had to pass within 150 yards of the position our guns had taken up, I imagined considerable execution must have been done upon them before they got out of our reach. But, strange to say, I believe only one single man was knocked down by the great numbers of shot fired at them. It must have been owing to the relative situations of the two parties; they passed down a hollow way which led from the high plain in the direction of the Burgos road, and which covered them completely till they came immediately below our guns, when it became a difficult matter to depress them so as to bear upon the enemy's square as they passed us. However the whole turned round and gave us a regular volley, for, as we were so much above them, there was no danger from their firing in square; but this, although the shots flew pretty thick about us, was not productive of any mischief that I remember. They retired across the plain below us, pursued by another division of ours which had advanced on our right, and between whom and the French a pretty smart skirmish took place. So soon as their infantry were clear from us, their guns opened out from the opposite side of the river upon us on the height, but, the distance being considerable, their shot did little execution. It was evident this force was only left here as a rearguard, to ascertain our movements and force, &c. We encamped for the night near the road by which we had ascended the high plain; but were awoke early next morning by a tremendous explosion which shook the earth beneath us, although at the distance of 6 or 7 miles from Burgos, the castle of which the enemy had blown up, and retired altogether. We soon after commenced our march, and, leaving that city to our right, made a long march in the direction of the Ebro, and halted for the night near the village of Tovar. The next day we moved on to Quintanajar, and on the 15th, after a long march, we reached the Ebro, and halted at the village of Puente Arrenas, situated in the delightful valley of Veras. This is one of the most picturesque and beautiful valleys in Europe, I dare say. When you arrive at the brow of the high ground over the Ebro, a sight breaks upon you all at once which is indescribably grand and beautiful;--a large river rolling under you, beyond which a rich and fertile valley, laden with the fruits of a hundred orchards, with charming villas and farm-houses dispersed through all the lawn; a stupendous bridge, of I know not how many arches, leading you across this magnificent river; and the whole closed by high and beetling rocks jutting out of the high woody bank on the opposite side. It really appeared like enchantment when we first arrived within sight of it, from the long dreary plains we had been so long traversing. Here, for the first time since we entered Spain, did we meet with "manteca de vaca," or "cow butter," all the other we had been compelled to use hitherto for want of better, was what they call "manteca de puerco," or "hog's-lard." The women who brought it wore a quite different dress from those we had seen in the parts we had passed through; the women had on generally yellow stockings, with abundance of petticoats of red, yellow, green, &c. &c., and were all very stout-made; they were, I believe, from Asturias. Poor creatures, many of them followed us with loads of butter, wine, cheese, &c. &c., even into France, so pleased were they with the excellent prices their merchandise brought amongst us; indeed, we had been so long debarred the enjoyment of butter and cheese, that we would have given almost any price to get them sweet and good. They carried their loads (and tremendous ones they were) as the flesh-wives in Newcastle carry theirs, that is, by passing a broad leather belt across the forehead and over the shoulders, and so underneath the heavy load upon their back. They were a civil and obliging race of beings, and apparently much more industrious and cleanly than the rest of their country people.
We left this delightful spot on the morning of the 16th, following the course of the river upwards for about a league, then turning short to the right, passed through an enclosed country, and halted for the night at the town of Medina del Pomar. This is a considerable-sized place, in which was a nunnery, the inmates of which greeted us with hearty welcomes and vivas, with waving of handkerchiefs, &c., through their strongly iron-grated windows, where they more resembled criminals of the worst description shut up in a strong prison, poor things, than people who had devoted themselves to the service of their Maker. Next morning, we moved forward through a country almost without roads; we were, in fact, crossing the country in order to get nearer to the great road leading from Madrid to Vittoria, and on which the enemy's army was then retiring. We encamped for the night, after a fatiguing day's march, on a woody height near the little river Loza. We took the high ground on this occasion for our encampment, although extremely inconvenient and uncomfortable, being among stumps and brushwood, where there was scarcely room to pitch our tents; this was in consequence of being in the neighbourhood of a considerable force of the enemy, which was retreating, as before noticed, along the great road.
The next morning, the 18th of June, we started pretty early, and calculating that we should this day come in contact with the above force, we marched in such a manner as to be ready, when that event took place, to take advantage of any favourable circumstances that might offer. We had in our front a squadron of Hussars belonging to the German Legion, and which were generally attached to our division. About mid-day the squadron in front of us reached the village of San Millan, where the road on which we were then marching, and the great road on which the enemy was retreating, unite; the latter descending from a high tableland just above the village, and passing a narrow defile between two high rocks. Our cavalry, on reaching this village, descried the advance of the French, composed also of cavalry; and what was not a little singular, they also were Germans in the French service. Our brave Hussars instantly charged those of the enemy, and immediately overthrew the body opposed to them, and in the charge captured several men and horses, which they brought in prisoners.
By this time the head of the division had reached the spot, (my 1st battalion leading,) which in a few minutes got warmly engaged with the enemy's voltigeurs, a considerable number of whom had advanced to oppose us, in order that the main body of their division might be enabled, under cover of their fire, to pass through the village on the way towards Vittoria. Our people, however, pressed them so hard, that the whole of their leading brigade was obliged to join in the action. At this moment our illustrious Chief came galloping up; for, whenever any thing was to be done, he was always present. He had also taken care to have our 4th division moved so as to arrive at the village of Espija, a town about a league in front of us on the great road, nearly about the same time, so that, should the French contrive to get away from us, they might fall into their hands. He immediately sent me off to the leading company of our people who were engaged, for the guide they had had with them, in order that he might conduct his lordship to Espija; but that was no place for a Spanish peasant who had neither honour nor glory to gain, and he had accordingly made his escape the moment our folks got into action. His lordship instantly dashed off without a guide, while our two battalions, that is, the 1st and 3d of my regiment, kept advancing upon the enemy, and fairly drove them through the village, being supported by the other regiments of the brigade, but who had not any occasion to come into action.
The first brigade of the enemy being thus beaten, retreated along the great road in the direction of Espija, leaving their second brigade and all their baggage to their fate. These latter being pressed by our second or rear brigade, and seeing us in possession of the village, and the road they had to pass, immediately broke in all directions, and dispersed themselves in the mountains over the village, each man making the best of his way. This their baggage could not do, and it consequently fell into the hands of the captors, an easy and valuable booty; but although my brigade, by beating and dispersing the enemy at the village, had been the principal cause of its capture, yet those whose hands it fell into had not the generosity to offer the least share of it to us, but divided it amongst themselves.
During the skirmish in the village, a French hussar chased one of our officers several times round one of the trees growing by the side of the road, and repeatedly cut at him with his sabre, and it is likely would have cut him down at last, had not the officer seen a rifle lying near, belonging to a man just killed; and luckily it was loaded when he picked it up. He waited for the Frenchman, and coolly shot him through the body, and instantly seized his horse as lawful prize; had the rifle missed fire he was gone. We had not rested long after this brush till we heard a firing in our front, where indeed it was expected. The troops which had just left us, I imagine, had been attacked by the 4th division, and we, the 1st brigade, were instantly ordered to their support should they need it; but before we reached Espija, the enemy was completely beaten, and had retired in the direction of Vittoria. We had to retrace our steps and join our other brigade, and encamped for the night in the neighbourhood of San Millan.
Our loss on this occasion was but trifling, considering the smartness of the affair. An officer of my regiment, of the name of Haggup, a countryman of my own, received a most dangerous wound in the abdomen, of which it was feared he would die, but he soon after completely recovered. An aide-de-camp of the French General was wounded, and taken prisoner, but he soon after died, poor fellow. Along with the captured baggage were a number of Spanish ladies, who had been attached to the French officers to whom it belonged, but they did not appear over faithful to their protectors, for most of them, I believe, preferred remaining in the hands of their captors, to being forwarded after their beaten and now ill-provided former companions; such is generally the fidelity to be expected from that sort of people.
On the 19th we advanced by the same road the French had retired, till we reached the town of Salinas, where there were very extensive salt-works, as the name of the place denotes. We encamped for the night near the village of Pobes, on a small rivulet named Bayas, I believe. Near the end of our march to-day we had a view of the enemy's rearguard, as they rounded the end of a mountain, which lay immediately before us, and over which the road to Vittoria passes. After rounding the mountain, this part of the enemy's force fell in with our 4th division again, which had been moved forward from Espija by another road. A very smart skirmish was the consequence, which we distinctly heard, and in which a good number fell on both sides. The French retired from hence into their position in front of Vittoria. During the next day, while we halted here, it began to be whispered that the enemy had concentrated his forces in and around Vittoria, which was distant from us perhaps about ten or a dozen miles, and that the divisions of our own army had that day approached nearer together, which indicated a determination on the part of our Chief to try his hand with King Joseph, should he be bold enough to stay where he then was.
Many, of course, and various would be the reflections which occupied the minds of the different individuals composing the two armies; but I can speak from experience, that those are of a much more pleasing nature which a consciousness of superiority and a good prospect of success inspires, than those which a retreating army are compelled to entertain.
Pretty early in the morning of the 21st, we fell in and moved forward by the way the French rearguard before-mentioned had taken, and after having passed the end of the mountain and descended into the valley on the other side, we saw evident proofs that the affair between our 4th division and the French, above alluded to, must have been pretty warm.
We continued to advance on the road to Vittoria, till, on ascending a rising ground, the French army appeared in position immediately in front of us. It was a noble and animating sight, for they appeared as numerous almost as grashoppers, and were posted as nearly as I can recollect in the following order. Immediately before us ran the river Zadora, passing from our left and front to our right and rear. In the centre of an extensive plain rose a pretty lofty conical hill, from which extended to their left a sloping plain, through which the great road lay, and terminated by a long range of mountains, stretching from Puebla de Arlanzon, just above the river, to a considerable distance beyond Vittoria. The city was shut out of our view by the conical hill before mentioned, and was distant from it about four or five miles; to the right of this hill, along the bank of the river, it appeared broken, and not easily approachable. On the face of the conical hill, and to its very summit, it appeared as thickly set with troops as if they had been bees clustering together; it was also thickly studded with batteries and other field-works. On the plain between that and the long range of mountains, the troops appeared to stand so thick that you might imagine you could walk on their heads. There did not appear any great force on the mountains to their left, and what they had to the right of the conical hill and towards Vittoria we could not discern, but it turned out they had a strong force there. There were several small villages in the plain and on the side of the mountains; the largest stood rather to the right of the plain, with a wood immediately behind it; this, I believe, is called Subijana de Alva. On the bank of the river also were three or four villages, most of them on our side, with a bridge at each village. The French army did not extend immediately to the river bank, but was placed at some little distance beyond it. The river was easily fordable.
Our army began to arrive by divisions, and was posted as follows--General Hill with the 2d division, consisting of about 12,000 men, was on our extreme right, except about 3000 or 4000 Spaniards under General Morillo, who were still more to the right, and facing the long range of mountains before mentioned. In the centre was his lordship with the 3d, 4th, 7th, and light divisions, perhaps 25,000 strong, with the main force of artillery and cavalry. Sir Thomas Graham had been early detached to our left with the 1st and 5th divisions and some Portuguese, about 12,000 in all, to turn the enemy's right flank, and to try to cut him off from the great road leading from Vittoria to France, which ran in that direction.
Whilst this movement was executing, and the different divisions were getting into their several stations, we, who had arrived first, were allowed to pile our arms and sit down. His lordship, with a numerous staff, went down a little nearer to the river to reconnoitre the enemy's position. I wandered down with them, and got as near as I could in order to ascertain the opinion of the big-wigs as to the business about to take place. One staff-officer, after carefully examining the position of the enemy through his glass, gave it as his opinion, that we should scarcely be able to make any impression upon so numerous an army, and so very strongly posted; but this opinion must have been dictated, I think, by his rather desponding temperament, for I believe it was entirely singular.
The enemy, however, did not fail to notice this movement of our General and his staff, and instantly detached a corps of voltigeurs, who, rushing down to the river, dashed across the bridge at the village of Villoses, and immediately took possession of a small woody height on our side of the river, from whence they opened a fire on his lordship and those that were with him. This of course could not be borne; and as my battalion was the leading battalion of the column and nearest at hand, we were ordered (with two companies of our 1st battalion, which stood next to us) to take our arms, and drive those fellows across the river again. Thus we had, I believe, the high honour of commencing the action on that memorable day. We soon chased the voltigeurs from the woody height, down through the village, and over the bridge, where they took post and remained, we not having orders to pursue them any farther. We took possession of the village, and continued skirmishing with the enemy, a good many men falling on both sides, as the river was not more probably than thirty or forty yards wide, and a constant fire was kept up by both parties till the French were afterwards driven away by our divisions crossing lower down the river.
After we had chased the enemy along the bridge, and they were fairly clear of the village, a French battery, situated a little above the river towards the conical hill, opened its fire upon us, from which we suffered a good deal, one shot having taken our people, who were lining a garden wall, in flank, and swept away five or six at a stroke; after this we kept more under cover.
Almost the first person who fell on our side was a lieutenant of the name of Campbell. He had, I am sure, a strong presentiment of his death, for he had, I believe, made his will the evening before; and when we first came in sight of the French army, and the others were all animated with life and glee at the prospect of gaining laurels in abundance, he, poor fellow, sat down by himself quite pensive, and seemed lost in thought. He received a shot in the forehead which terminated his career in a moment as it were, and plunged him into an eternity of bliss or woe. I hope he was prepared, but scarcely dare say I believe he was. Our duty having been accomplished by taking possession of this village, and keeping the French from coming over, we had now leisure to look round us and see what was going forward; and we had certainly a noble field for observation. My commanding-officer, with the rest of the staff-officers and myself, together with half a company of men, took up our station at the church, which, standing high, gave us a fine opportunity of witnessing the movements of both armies.
A short while after we had taken post here, we observed the smoke to arise in dense columns in the direction which Sir Thomas Graham had taken, which showed he had commenced the attack on that flank of the enemy, and this was the signal for commencing operations on our right and centre. Sir Rowland Hill's people, with the Spaniards, instantly forded the river, and advanced along the top and side of the mountains before mentioned; and as this was done in considerable force, it seemed to disconcert King Joseph a good deal, for instantly his aides-de-camp were seen galloping in every direction, and the troops which stood upon the plain began to move in that direction, while those upon the conical hill began to descend in great numbers into the plain. This was precisely what our Chief had calculated upon; and now, by a rapid movement, he threw the centre divisions across the river, by the bridges of Trespuentes and Nanclara, a little below our village, and attacking the remaining troops upon the conical hill, they were overthrown as fast as our divisions reached them. The 2d, Sir Thomas Picton's division, here particularly distinguished itself.
General Hill's people were by this time very warmly engaged, for the enemy having, as stated above, strongly reinforced that point, they made a rather obstinate defence, particularly at the village and wood of Subijana de Alva, which latter was filled with their light troops, and where our 28th regiment, which was opposed to them, suffered considerably, and were not able to make much impression. The action had now become general, and our people on every side advancing; at this moment old Douro, who never failed to inspire confidence wherever he appeared, came dashing down into our village, and seeing the light troops which had been opposed to us had retired, instantly ordered us to advance, and join our division on the other side of the river. We accordingly moved forward, and marched with all expedition to reach our point; but the French had now begun to retire, and our people to follow them, so that we found it difficult to overtake them, and did not do so till they had passed the conical hill. When we came near that eminence, I rode up to have a peep at the field before us, and never did I witness a more interesting and magnificent sight. A beautiful and extensive plain lay before me, covered with the cavalry, infantry, and artillery of the contending armies; while the noise and din, occasioned by repeated volleys and rolls of fire from the infantry, with the rattle of upwards of 200 pieces of artillery, almost stunned the ear. Near the end of this plain, and to the left, arose the lofty spires of Vittoria; and beyond that again, the smoke arising from the attack of Sir Thomas Graham's people added animation to the scene.
I had not contemplated the scene before me above a minute or two, till a howitzer-shell from the French fell close at my feet. My horse's bridle was hooked on my arm, and I was standing looking through my glass; but when this unwelcome visiter descended so near me, I thought it high time to be packing. My horse, however, not having the same fear of the consequences that I had, would not move but at a snail's pace. I was, therefore, constrained to leave him to take his chance, and get myself out of the way. It burst, but providentially without injuring either horse or man, but in the scramble I lost the top of my glass, which I could not afterwards find.
I got down the hill, and joined my people, who had by this time passed it; and just at this juncture I observed a body of troops a little to our right, moving in the same direction we were. They were dressed in blue, and had caps covered with white canvass. I took them for Spaniards; but upon consideration that no Spaniards ought to be there, and a closer inspection, I found they were a battalion of French, and most likely those who had been so warmly engaged with the 28th at the village of Subijana, and who having stood perhaps too long, and afterwards having the wood to traverse, they had been detained considerably behind the rest of the army; for by this time our advance, and consequently the French rear, could not be less than half a mile in front of us. I pointed them out to one of our lieutenant-colonels; but as we had received orders to push on with all haste, and he not liking to disobey his orders, and withal a ravine being between them and us, which would have prevented our closing with them, they were allowed to move quietly off, which they did with a pretty quick but steady pace.