Page images


night from our camp-ground we saw the peasants prowling about, plundering and mangling the dead, and killing any fallen Frenchman that showed the least sign of life.

When darkness came, the wretches kindled a great fire, and remained round it all night, shouting like savages or cannibals.

Having taken Lisbon, and advanced into Spain as far as the Escurial, we were compelled to fall back to Salamanca and commence & retreat. The cold was terribly severe; and I often woke in the morning to find my club of hair frozen to the ground. The roads bad, our marches sometimes forty-seven miles in the day, all the country covered with snow,—our sufferings were almost more than we could endure. At Sahagun we hoped to attack the enemy, and there was hope in every breast. • We will beat them to pieces, and then have our ease and enjoy ourselves,' said my comrades. Any struggle was better than the dreadful way of life we were pursuing. With heavy hearts we received orders to retire to our quarters. By St. Patrick,' said an Irish lad near me, we beat them so asy, sure the gineral means to march us to death, and fight them after.'

On the 26th it rained all day, and the roads were knee-deep in clay. A regular march became impossible. The troops lost their alertness and spirits, and became bitter, quarrelsome, and savage, galled at having to run from an enemy they had so lately beaten. Our fellows began to plunder the Spaniards who had not taken arms. After repulsing the Imperial Guard at Benevente, and capturing General Lefebre, we reached Astorga, and found General Romana's army a mere mob of sick and hungry peasants. They would not let us make a stand here, which was all we wished; but, having first burnt our stores, our shameful flight continued to Villafranca. Our first sixteen miles was up mountains and through a pass. The dismal silence was only interrupted by the groans of worn-out men, who, unable to proceed farther, laid themselves down in despair to perish in the snow, or else the report of a pistol announcing the death of an exhausted horse. The rain poured in torrents; the partly melted snow was half-knee deep, and stained by the blood from our wounded feet. I envied the dying men ; but my friend Donald kept me from falling out of the ranks to lie down and die. To add to our misery, we were forced by turns to drag the baggage. This was more than human nature could sustain. Many wagons were abandoned and much ammunition destroyed. Men began to say to each other of their comrades, “That man's shoes are better than mine. If he was dead, I'd have them pretty quick.' Some of the soldiers would not leave Villafranca, but hid themselves in the wine-cellars they had broken open. Many stragglers came up to the army dreadfully cut and gashed by the French cavalry, who rode through the long lines of lame defenceless wretches, slashing among them as a schoolboy does

amongst thistles.

Some of these poor fellows, faint and bleeding, were forced to pass along the line as a warning to others. Those near me said, “These officers of ours are worse than the French. They do not help us, and yet they will not let us die in peace.'

The day after we drove back the French and renewed our forlorn march. No shelter, no fuel, no food ; the sick and wounded, hitherto dragged in the wagons, were now left to perish. The road was one line of bloody footmarks, and on every side were strewn the dead and dying. I and Donald, who was nearly blind, at last began to fail : we had long been bare-footed and lame. He who had encouraged me, now himself lay down to die.

We sat down together silent; we looked around, then at each other, and closed our eyes. Near us, here and there, were about thirty other stragglers. Groans and curses could be heard between the pauses of the wind. I attempted to pray and recommend my soul to God, but I could not arrange my ideas. My mind seemed gone. Half an hour had passed, and sleep was stealing over us, when a bustle aroused me. It was an advanced party of the French. Unconscious of fear, mere habit aroused me. I started on my feet, levelled my musket, fired, and formed with the other stragglers. The French faced about and left us. The danger roused us; we shook off our lethargy, and joined again at Castro. I often heard the French say, as they turned from our bayonet points, We would rather face a hundred fresh Germans than ten dying Englishmen.' Our men kept constantly saying, “Let us unite, whether our officers will fight or not, and annihilate these French cowards; let us show them at home it is not our fault we run. Let us save England from disgrace, and take a sweet revenge.' Some new scene of horror now occurred every day, and near the summit of Monte del Castro I saw a crowd of soldiers gathered round some object. I knew it could be no common occurrence that roused their sympathy: I joined them. There, in the midst, lay a young and beautiful woman stone dead, and a child about six months old clinging to her breast and crying for milk. No one spoke, but tears were in every eye.

At that moment one of General Moore's staff officers came up, witnessed the scene, took the infant, and wrapped it in his cloak. “Poor child !' he said, as we blessed him for his goodness, you shall be my care. The women and children began to die fast, and we left many on the snow covered with a blanket or a coat. By the time our reserve left Lugo the officers suffered as much as the men. Men of fortune were to be seen with strips of old blankets wrapped round their feet and legs. The soldiers, grown malicious and bitter from their sufferings, used to say, "There goes three thousand a year,' or * There is the prodigal son on his way home.' The great fault of our soldiers was the craving for spirits. Many sacrificed their lives for drink, and lying down tipsy were shot by the merciless French.

So unconquerable was this propensity, that our troops were often left in the fields all night in the cold and rain, to keep them from the wine-shops of the neighbouring town. On the 11th of January we reached Corunna. Every face brightened up, for the sea and England seemed words not to be discounted. On the 14th our friends the tars brought the transports, nearly all the artillery was embarked and the sick and dismounted cavalry. The beach was covered with dead horses, and resounded with the report of the pistols that wrought the havoc. The remaining horses grew mad, and breaking loose, neighed and screamed, galloping along the shore with manes erect and mouths wide open. We began our embarkation on the 16th, and about mid-day the French came down on us. Sir John headed every charge. Remember Egypt,' he said to the 42d, who drove all before them. The Guards' cartridges were all spent; but Sir John cried, Ammunition is coming ; you have your bayonets ;' and on they went. It was at this time Sir John received his death wound. Night put an end to the battle, and the army was drawn off and embarked by daybreak; great fires were left on the battle-field, and the freshest of our men stayed to keep them up and surround them to deceive the enemy. When morning came, the French opened fire on our transports from the heights of St. Lucia, and four of our vessels ran ashore in the confusion and had to be burnt. There was no regularity in the embarkation. One transport had men of seven regiments on board. The brave Spaniards manned the batteries to cover our departure, and the women waved their handkerchiefs to us from the rocks. Once on board, warm and well fed, the men were as happy as schoolboys out for a holiday. Donald returned quite blind, and when the cry rose of ‘Land ahead! he burst into tears and said, • Far better if I had died in Spain. I shall never see Scotland again. It is me that is the poor dark man.' When we landed in Plymouth the people showed us all manner of kindness, carrying the lame, leading the blind, and receiving us in every house as if we had been their own relations.

In July our regiment embarked for Flushing. One night the French burnt the town. Colonel Pack led us into one of the enemy's batteries, close to a sea-dyke, which the French had cut to inundate our trenches. The Colonel struck off the sentinel's head at one blow. As I leaped into the works a savage French officer seized my firelock, and was in the act of cutting me down before I could recover my balance, when the point of a bayonet forced him to the ground. It was Donald's bayonet; he fell over on both of us; but I had no time to thank him, for the enemy took forty of our men and forced us to retire. The night after Flushing surrendered I caught the marsh fever while on guard. I was sent home, and remained eight weeks ill, very ill in hospital at Brabantlees near Dover. The hospital men were constantly fighting for the clothes of the dead, and cursing each other as the dying men groaned out their last prayers. One day, being a little better, I crawled along the wall of the hospital to the door, to see if I could find a convalescent who would go and buy me some letter-paper, wishing to write to my mother and tell her where I was; the hospital men could not be trusted with the money. I longed to breathe the pure air and see the clear sky. Feebly and with anxious joy I pushed open the door. Horrible moment! There lay the half-stripped body of my old comrade Donald on a barrow at the stair-head, waiting to be taken to the dead-house; his poor face was uncovered. My head reeled, my eyes closed, and I fell senseless on the body. I awoke half delirious, and it was many weeks before I could open a door without a shudder.

I soon, however, became convalescent, and in September 1810 was draughted-off for service in Portugal. On the 14th of October the French attacked us on the hills round Sabral de Monte Agraco. Colonel Cadogan called out to us as we pushed on to drive back the French advanced skirmishers, My lads, this is the first affair I have ever been in with you; show me what you can do, now or never !' We were behind a mud wall, forty yards from the French, who, seeing the bugle and tartan of our bonnets covered with black crape, took us for Portuguese, and leaped over the wall on us with more than usual fury. We could not retreat, for behind us was ploughed land heavy with rain. So to it we fell pell-mell, all in a heap, every man with one or two opponents. I got my man up against the wall with my bayonet. He would not let me spare him, though he was unhurt; he cursed, defied me, and struck at me, till I pierced him, and he fell, his breath passing away in a curse and a menace. I was instantly again attacked, but my new antagonist fell, dropped by a random shot. We soon forced them to retire over the wall, cursing their mistake. I followed the enemy for a mile without shoes or bonnet. When I returned I found the mud covered with trampled bonnets and shoes, and I took the first I could get. Here I earned my first plunder. I saw a French soldier lying dead, his hat fallen off, his head resting on his knapsack. I kicked his hat; it rattled.

I seized it, and found in the lining a gold watch and silver crucifix. Cold and hungry, I would have given the watch to any one for a good meal and a dry shirt.

One night, soon after this, one of our officers and twelve men went up to the French pickets, who had grown careless, and looked over the wall. There were fifty of them drinking and playing cards. Our men levelled their muskets and gave them a volley for luck; on which they took to their heels, officers and all. For five nights, nearly always wet, I was never in bed, but lay on ploughed land ankle-deep in mud. I slept sitting on my knapsack, with my musket between my knees, and my blanket over all. I always woke stiff and benumbed with cold; and many of our men caught fever and ague in this way. For five days our pickets lay in a small village not more than 150 yards from a windmill which the French occupied. As their deserters told us they were short of food, our sentinels used to present biscuits to them on the tops of bayonets. One day, as the French were trying to kill a bullock, he broke loose and ran right into our lines. They looked very foolish as we hurraed and killed the godsend in good style. Soon after an officer and four men came with a flag of truce, and quite humbly begged for half the beast, which we gave them.

In this retreat the French murdered and plundered as they went. Every house they entered they left a sepulchre. In Safrea I saw twelve dead bodies on one floor; and in one small village seventeen dead bodies of men, women, and children! Our soldiers used to wonder why the Frenchmen were not swept from the earth by heaven for their cruelties, for every hundred yards we came upon their victims. The peasants killed all stragglers. In one wine-store, while drawing wine from a tun, we found a dead French soldier at the bottom. I could never drink red wine again after that.

After winter-quarters, our division was posted at Alberguila, a small town on the frontiers of Spain ; and on the 30th of April 1811 reached Fuentes d'Onoro after a march of three days, two of them without food. At daybreak on the 3d of May, Colonel Cadogan put himself at our head. My lads,' he said, 'you had no provision for two days ; there is plenty in front; let us divide it.' We advanced at the double-quick, our firelocks at the trail, our bonnets in our hands. The light companies, whom we met retreating, called to us, - 71st, you'll come back quicker than you advanced !' When we came in full front of the enemy, the Colonel cried, “Here is food, my lads ; cut away! We waved our bonnets, and cheered three times; then brought our firelocks to the charge, and drove them through the town. The French kept vociferating and chafing each other almost to madness, as they shouted at the very points of our bayonets; while after the first huzza our officers were restraining their men, and kept still as death, and the only sound you heard was a whisper of · Steady, lads, steady!' In this advance I had wonderful escapes. A French bayonet went through between my side and clothes up to my knapsack. The man to whom the bayonet belonged fell by a musket-ball from my rear-rank man. While freeing myself from the bayonet, a ball broke off part of my right shoulder - wing and killed my rear - rank man, who fell upon me. Narrow as this was, I felt no uneasiness, I had become so inured to danger and fatigue. In our retreat to the town, when the enemy bore hard upon us to break our line, I was often obliged to stand with a foot upon each side of a wounded man, who wrung my soul with prayers I could not answer, and pierced my heart with cries

« PreviousContinue »