« VorigeDoorgaan »
When war's alarms are heard, the soldier reckons only upon short repose ; and after remaining a few weeks on the coast, the regiment to which I belonged was ordered into winter quarters. While stationed there, we had the misfortune to lose two of our officers, both of whom sank into an untimely grave. One of them fell a victim to the pernicious practice of duelling, and the other was drowned by incautiously venturing beyond his depth while bathing. During the time we remained in the neighbourhood the unceasing kindness of the inhabitants was remarked by us all. In the spring of the ensuing year we were ordered to Colchester, in the vicinity of which several regiments were quartered ready for active service, and expecting daily orders to embark for the Continent. The anticipated directions from London, so impatiently desired, arrived in the autumn of 1808: we were ordered instantly to prepare for foreign service; and never, I verily believe, was an invitation to a feast more readily obeyed. The regiment mustered in full strength, the men were in excellent condition ; a brief and hearty farewell was all we could spare for friends at home, and in an incredibly short period we were afloat at Harwich, from whence we sailed to Falmouth to await the arrival of other transports. In the course of a few days, the squadron had assembled, and immediately made sail.
We soon found that our destination was Corunna, in the north of Spain. The discovery led to a variety of conjecture, and speculation was busy in marking out the nature of our future service. The general opinion was, that we should not suffer from idleness : eager for the fray, nothing was coveted save a clear stage and no favour; victory was reckoned on as a matter of course, and as to the hardships and disasters of a hostile or contested land, every inch of which was to be fought for, the idea had no existence, or was dismissed as a trifle. Happy ignorance of the future! where prescience itself, unless true wisdom had been added, could only have depressed the mind. I am happy on reflecting that during the whole of our march not a man was missing ; no one slinked, and in the future conduct of the 43d, no one, that I ever heard of, deserted his colours or disgraced his country: but out of the many hundred of gallant fellows that then composed our honourable corps, how few were destined to see their native land again! Our voyage was remarkably pleasant, and we landed at the desired haven without danger or loss. The harbour of Corunna is spacious and safe, and the town is defended by batteries and guns mounted at all points. The citadel is also strongly fortified, but both are commanded by heights within a short distance. Within the houses of the inhabitants there is little to suit the taste of an Englishman : the weather when I was there, though cold and chilly, seldom produced the sociable sight of a cheerful fire within doors ; indeed, I never observed so much as a hearth or stove in which to kindle one. perstitious contrarieties and absurdities of Papacy have here an unmolested reign. While holidays were observed with punctilious scruples, for which no sound reason could be urged, the Sabbath, though guarded by scriptural injunction, was violated with impunity. The churches are well built, but the altar-pieces are dis
figured by a profusion of tinsel and ornament. The Virgin Mary is frequently exhibited in a figure some three feet high, dressed in laced clothing ; the saints also keep her company, some being placed in niches of the building, and others enclosed in cases of glass, with care proportioned, perhaps, to the merit assigned to each by their capricious and fanciful worshippers.
Without in the least entering into political detail connected with the causes and result of the memorable Peninsular campaign, which is not within my present design, it may be enough to state, that the expedition in which I had sailed was planned by the British Government to act in concert with several simultaneous movements in favour of the Spanish Constitutionalists, then contending with their French invaders. Our arrival in October, 1808, proved to be a momentous crisis: a few weeks previously, Buonaparte had entered Spain, and taken the command of the hostile army, with the avowed purpose of driving the English into the sea. He advanced as usual by marches prodigiously rapid, on Madrid, so that at the end of November his advanced guard reached the important pass of Somosierra : this pass was defended by 13,000 Spaniards, with sixteen pieces of cannon. They were attacked by the French under the Duke of Belluna, and after a vigorous resistance entirely defeated. On the 2d of December, Buonaparte arrived in the vicinity of Madrid, and in three days from that period was master of that capital. Dispirited and overwhelmed as the Spanish generally were by the presence of the hero of Jena and Austerlitz, it was evident they were unable, unless assisted by foreign allies, to resist the advances of such masses of troops as those now within their dominions. British co-operation was therefore sought and obtained. Its value, and the fidelity of the army it employed, had already been proved in Portugal,
where, with a force decidedly inferior, the invaders were repulsed at Vimiera, with unusual loss.
As a temporary residence at Corunna, we had been placed in a long uncomfortable building, formerly used as a factory or rope-walk. On the following day marching orders were received, when the entire division was put into motion; and leaving the coast, our route lay through Lugo, Villa Franca, and Benevente. After halting for a short time, we crossed the Eslar, and arrived at Sahagan, where we were ordered to remain. The light corps occupied an extensive convent built on each side of a square, in whose immense galleries several thousand infantry were accommodated : a numerous body of Monks, with other persons of similar sanctity, notwithstanding our heretical exterior, had also taken refuge under the same roof. On leaving the convent, we advanced in close order for several miles; when from the superior force of the enemy, it was judged advisable to retreat. A counter-march by sections was ordered, and just before midnight we had fallen back upon the line of our former route. Here we were directed to lighten our knapsacks as much as possible, and divest ourselves of every needless incumbrance. Meantime the advanced guard of Buonaparte's army had broken up from Tordesillas, and strong detachinents of cavalry had been pushed forward to Majorga. On the 26th Lord Paget fell in with one of these parties at the latter place ; his Lordship directly ordered Colonel Leigh, with two squadrons of the 10th Hussars, to attack this corps, which had halted on the summit of a steep hill. On approaching the top, where the ground was rugged, the Colonel judiciously reined in to refresh the horses, though exposed to a severe fire. When he had nearly gained the summit and the horses had recovered their breath, he charged boldly, and overthrew the enemy; many of whom were killed
and wounded, and above a hundred made prisoners. The brigade of which our regiment formed part, was under the command of General Crawford. Just before, or nearly at the moment of, our arrival on the banks of the river Esla, the principal part of the British forces, under Sir John Moore, were rapidly passing ; the stores were conveyed by Spanish mules. We were in the rear, and the enemy pressed forward with such impetuosity that the chasseurs of the Imperial Guard were frequently in sight, and, unable perhaps to do inore, captured some women and baggage. Exposed as we were to the assault of a vigilant and superior foe, not a moment's repose could be obtained, and it has seldom happened that personal courage has been put to a severer test. Permit me to recite an instance :-John Walton, an Irishman, and Richard Jackson, an Englishman, were posted in a hollow road on the plain beyond the bridge, and at a distance from their piquet. If the enemy approached, one was to fire, run back to the brow of the hill, and give notice if there were many or few; the other was to maintain his ground. A party of cavalry, following a hay cart, stole up close to these men, and suddenly galloped in, with a view to kill them and surprise the fort.
Jackson fired, but was overtaken, and received twelve or fourteen severe wounds in an instant; he came staggering on, notwithstanding his mangled state, and gave the signal. Walton, with equal resolution and more success, defended himself with his bayonet, and wounded several of the assailants, who retreated, leaving him unhurt; but his cap, his knapsack, his belt, and his musket were cut in above twenty places, and his bayonet was bent nearly double, his musket covered with blood, and notched like a saw from the muzzle to the lock. Jackson escaped death in his retreat, and finally recovered of his wounds. On the 27th, the cavalry being all