[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. Hyphenation and accentuation have been standardised, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been maintained.]
SERGEANT WILLIAM LAWRENCE,
A HERO OF THE PENINSULAR AND WATERLOO CAMPAIGNS;
GEORGE NUGENT BANKES,
AUTHOR OF "A DAY OF MY LIFE AT ETON," ETC., ETC.
London SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE, & RIVINGTON CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET 1886
[All rights reserved]
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
Square 16mo, cloth extra, 2s. 6d. each.
A DAY OF MY LIFE AT ETON.
ABOUT SOME FELLOWS; or, Odds and Ends from My Note-book.
CAMBRIDGE TRIFLES; or, Splutterings from an Undergraduate's Pen.
A CAMBRIDGE STAIRCASE.
Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s.
WRITTEN TO ORDER: being some Account of the Journeyings of an Irresponsible Egotist, and of How he enjoyed himself thereon.
LONDON: SAMPSON LOW & CO., 188, FLEET STREET, E.C.
Sergeant William Lawrence died at Studland in Dorsetshire in the year 1867, bequeathing the manuscript of the accompanying autobiography to the family one of whose members now submits it to the notice of the public. Circumstances, which perhaps may be too often interpreted as really meaning an unfortunate tendency to procrastination, have hitherto prevented it being put into shape with a view to publication: one thing after another has intervened, and the work has been passed on from hand to hand, until after these long years a final effort has been made, and the self-imposed task completed.
The book is simply sent forth on its own merits in the hope that there are yet some, if not indeed many whose hearts are never weary of the tales of England's glory in the past, and seek to find in them reason why that glory should be perpetuated. Many an account have we already had of the victories of the Peninsula and Waterloo, and this but adds one more to the list: though perhaps it may be regarded in somewhat of a supplementary light, as treating of the campaigns neither from an entirely outside and soi-disant unprejudiced standpoint, nor with the advantages possessed by one who may have had access to the councils of the authorities, but as they were seen by one who came and went and did as he was told, and was as it were nothing more than a single factor in the great military machine that won our country those battles of which she has so much right to be proud. What criticisms of the conduct of the war our veteran occasionally does indulge in are of course chiefly founded on the camp gossip current at the time, and in reading them it must always be borne in mind that events at the moment of their happening often do not present the same appearance as when viewed from the calmer security of after years, and they must be judged accordingly.
As to the style. Lawrence, though he never betrayed the fact to the authorities during his whole military career, being possessed of a wonderful aptitude for mental calculation, and always contriving to get some assistance in concealing his deficiency when his official duties necessitated his doing so, and though he has carefully avoided all direct allusion to it in this work itself, never learnt to write, and the first form in which his history was committed to paper was from dictation. The person who took down the words as he spoke them, one of his fellow-servants, was but imperfectly educated himself, so that it may be imagined that the result of the narrative of one illiterate person being written down by another was that the style was not likely to aspire to any very high degree of literary merit. Still, to preserve the peculiar character of the book, it has been thought better to leave it as far as possible in its original shape: some emendations have perforce had to be made to render it actually intelligible—for instance, in the original manuscript there is scarcely any punctuation from beginning to end, with the exception of at those places where the amanuensis evidently left off his day's work; but the language, with its occasional half-flights into a poetry of about the standard of an Eton boy's verses, its crude moralizings, and imperfect applications of old proverbs and fables, has not been altered, nor, so far as there can be said to be one, has the method. It is trusted, therefore, that, remembering that the main object in the editor's mind has been to let the venerable hero tell his story in exactly his own words so far as his meaning can be thereby made out, no one will take any unnecessary pains to count up how often the words "likewise" and "proceed" are repeated in these pages, or to point out that the general style of the book combines those of Tacitus, Caesar's Commentaries, and the Journeyings of the Israelites. Nor, it is to be hoped, will any one be too severe in his comments on the fact that to the mind of a man in Lawrence's position the obtaining of a pair of boots was apparently quite as important an event as the storming of Badajoz, or the finding of a sack with a ham and a couple of fowls in it as the winning of the battle of Waterloo.
Interesting perhaps the book will prove as giving some of the details of what our soldiers had to undergo in those old times of war. Hardships they now have to endure, and endure them they do well, but all must be thankful to know that they are far better off than their forefathers; who, unsuitably clad, half starved, and with their commissariat such even as it was disgracefully mismanaged, and yet forbidden very often under pain of death to pick up what they could for themselves, submitted on the shortest notice to punishments which would nowadays call forth the indignant protests of hosts of newspaper correspondents; and still in spite of all fought stubbornly through every obstacle till they had gained the objects for which they had been sent out. What wonder can there be that under all these circumstances we should find our hero somewhat hardened in his estimate of human sympathies, and not altogether disinclined to view everything, whether it concerned life or death, or marriage, or parting or meeting, all in one phlegmatic way, as occurring as a matter of course? What ought to strike us as more curious is that he was only reduced to that level of intellect where he thought even that much of anything at all besides his actual eating, drinking, and sleeping.
But to go on further would be to depart from the original intention of letting the book speak for itself. To conclude therefore: there is much to wade through, though it is all more or less relevant to the progress of the story: some readers may like one part and some may prefer another; and if the pruning-hook had once been introduced it would have been difficult to decide what to leave and what to take, or whether it would not be better to publish another volume of the things pruned, since it had been determined to publish at all. But if the reader will accomplish the wading to the end, there will he find summed up in one simple paragraph the autobiographer's own ideas about the merits of his work. May it be received in the same spirit as it is sent forth!
CHAPTER I. Page
Starting in Life 1
Enlisted and ordered Abroad 9
The River Plate Expedition—Monte Video 16
The River Plate Expedition, continued—Colonia 26
The River Plate Expedition, concluded—Buenos Ayres 35
The Peninsula, 1809—Vimeira—Lisbon 42
Torres Vedras 67
1811—Pombal, Redinha, &c. 77
Siege of Badajoz—Albuera 87
1812—Ciudad Rodrigo 95
The Pyrenees—Villebar 143
The Nive—Further Promotion 154
San Sebastian—Nivelle 167
1814—Orthes—The Adour—Toulouse 175
End of the War 185
To America and back—Napoleon's escape from Elba 194
Return to Great Britain 227
Family matters 233
Pensioned and Discharged 245
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SERGEANT WILLIAM LAWRENCE.
Lawrence's Parentage — Birth and early training — Apprenticed — He falls out with his master — Is beaten and resolves to leave — A few words to masters in general — Finds a companion — Precautions against being forgotten too soon — To Poole via Wareham — Engages for a voyage to Newfoundland — Recaptured and sent back, but escapes again on the way — Receives some good advice, and starts to Dorchester, picking up some fresh company on the way.
As I have been asked to furnish as complete an account as I am able of my own life, and it is usual when people undertake to do so to start at as early a period as possible, I will begin with my parentage. My father and mother were of humble means, living in the village of Bryant's Piddle, in the county of Dorset. My father had been formerly a small farmer on his own account in the same village, but having a large and hungry family to provide for, he became reduced in circumstances, and was obliged to give up his farm, and work as a labourer.
I was born in 1791, and, being one of seven children, found myself compelled at a very early age to seek my own livelihood as best I could, so that I had not much opportunity for education, though I cannot say that I thought that much hardship at the time, being fonder of an open-air life. I was employed for some time in frightening the birds off the corn, for which I received the sum of twopence a day; after which I was advanced to sixpence a day as ploughboy, in which situation I remained until I was fourteen years of age. My father then obtained twenty pounds from a friend, with which he apprenticed me to Henry Bush, a builder living at Studland, a village in the same county, for seven years, the agreement being that my master was to find me in food, lodging, and clothes, and I was to receive no wages.
I had not been with him very long before I found that he did not suit me as a master at all well. Things went on pretty smoothly for the first month or so, that is, while the money for my apprenticeship lasted; but after that he became rather difficult to please, and besides took to allowancing me in food, which was a much more serious matter both to my mind and palate.
However, I rubbed on for about nine months, until one Sunday, when I had gone out to church in the morning and had happened to stay in the village all day, on my return home at last after dark I found the house locked up. I accordingly proceeded to Swanage, the nearest town, and called on my master's sister, who lived there, who took me in and was giving me some supper, when my master chanced to come in himself, and was very angry with me and told me to come along with him, declaring that he would pay me out in the morning. When we got home he ordered me to see if the garden gate was closed, which I thought rather strange, as it was a thing I had never had to do before; but meanwhile he slipped upstairs with a horsewhip, which he produced suddenly in the morning, and gave me a good thrashing before I had well got my clothes on. I bundled downstairs pretty much as I was, and out of the house as quick as I could, saying to myself, "This is the last thrashing I will ever receive at your hands;" and sure enough it was, for that same week I planned with another apprentice near the same place, who was under very similar circumstances to myself, to take our departure on the following Sunday; so that was the end of my apprenticeship.
And I should like here to warn any master whose eye may fall on this story not to treat any lad who is put under his care too harshly, as it is very often the means of discouraging him in the occupation he is intended to follow, and of driving him from his home, and even from his country, and to his ruin. Thus even in my case it will be seen that it was all my master's want of kindness that forced me into a very different sort of life to that which my parents intended for me; into one which, though it was not altogether so ruinous, was perhaps more perilous than many others, and on which I can only now look back in wonder that I have been spared to tell my story at all.
But I must go back to the day on which myself and my companion had resolved to leave our homes, which as I have before stated was a Sunday, no better opportunity appearing by which we might get a few hours' start unbeknown to our employers. We met early in the morning, but finding that neither of us had either money or food, and I likewise wanting to get hold of my indentures, we waited until the family had left the house as usual to go to Swanage to chapel, when I made my entry into the house by the back door, which was only fastened by a piece of rope-yarn. I could not find my indentures, but in the search for them I came upon a seven-shilling piece, which I put into my pocket, as I thought it might be useful. I also cut about three or four pounds off a flitch of bacon that hung in the chimney corner, nicely marked to prevent any being lost on account of my late allowanced state. I did not study that much at the time, however, but took what I thought we should require, and when I had put it into a bag with the necessary amount of bread, we marched off together up to a place near called King's Wood, where we put a little of our bread and raw bacon out of sight, for we were both hungry. Then we went on to Wareham, a distance of about ten miles, where we changed our seven-shilling piece, and had a pint of small beer to help us in again lightening our bundle; and, after about an hour's rest, proceeded on for Poole, about nine miles from Wareham. We felt very tired, but still walked on, and gained our destination at a very late hour, owing to which we had some trouble in obtaining a lodging for the remaining part of the night; but at last we found one in a public house, where we finished our bread and bacon, together with some more beer, the best day's allowance we had had for some time past.
We slept very soundly, and in the morning went round to inquire for service on board the Newfoundland packets. We soon found a merchant of the name of Slade, who engaged us for two summers and a winter, myself for 20l. and my companion for 18l. for the whole time, and our food and lodging till the ship left the harbour. But we were not long in finding that our destination was not to be Newfoundland, for on the very next day my companion's master came to Poole in search of us, and meeting his own boy wandering about the market, soon wished to know what business he had there, and took him into custody. He likewise asked him if he had seen anything of me, and the boy told him I was in Poole, but he did not know where. I at the time was at work on board the ship, but in the evening, having fallen in with the mate, he asked me where I was going. When I said to my lodgings, beginning rather to shake, for I thought by his manner that there was something up, he told me that I had better come with him. I did so, and presently found myself with my companion's master, who finished up for the night by having me put into gaol.
Next day we were both taken on board the Swanage market-boat to go back, but when we had got as far as South Deep, near Brownsea Castle, we had to anchor, as the wind was contrary. A number of stone-boats were lying there at the time, and one of the boatmen, named Reuben Masters, took charge of me to convey me back to my master's house, as he was going by it; so we landed, and proceeded towards home. When we were about half a mile off it, however, we met my mistress, who, after inquiring where I had been, told me that her husband would have nothing more to do with me, but would send me to prison. I could have told her I did not want to trouble him any more, but I thought I would leave that for them to find out; so I went on with the man to the next gate, when, seeing an opportunity to bolt; I took it and popped over to the other side; and all I heard the man say was, "Well, you may go, and your master may run after you for himself if he likes;" so I knew there was not much to fear from him.
I ran down into the common, to a place called Agglestone, which I knew had once been a great place for foxes, and there I crawled into a hole and remained till dusk. Then I came out of my den, and again made my way to Wareham. I called this time at the "Horse and Groom," where, having related my story to the landlady, she kindly gave me food and lodging for the night, advising me to go back to my parents and state my master's behaviour. So next morning, after she had provided me with breakfast, and some bread and cheese to eat on the way, I set off for Dorchester.
On the road I met with two boys who were going to Poole to try and get a ship bound for Newfoundland. I wanted some companions on my journey, so I told them not to go to Poole, as the press-gang was about, and, when I had been there myself a few days before, had fired a blunderbuss at me, but I happened to pop round the corner and so had escaped. The boys did not seem fit for soldiers, or sailors either, for they looked as if they had lain in the sun for some time, and one of them was warped. When they heard my story, they turned back and kept with me. They soon began to complain of hunger, but when I asked them if they had got any money, they said they had only one shilling and a farthing, with a hundred miles to travel before they reached their home again; so I took out my bread and cheese and divided it amongst us. We were very tired and hungry when we arrived at Dorchester, and I tried to persuade them to change the shilling, but they would not. However, they gave me the farthing; it was not much certainly for a hungry boy, but it served to purchase a cake for me to devour; and then I and my companions parted, and what became of them afterwards I do not know.
Lawrence's forlorn state of mind in Dorchester — He meets with a friend in need, who takes him to enlist — Is discovered and recovered by his parents, and ordered back sharp to his master — His military spirit proves too strong for him on the way, and carries him, through the agency of a friendly soldier, first to Bridport, and then to Taunton — Various further attempts at enlisting, slightly influenced by the disinterestedness of his friend, and ending in his joining the Fortieth Regiment — Subsequent changes of quarters, and final orders for foreign service.
Dorchester was only about eight miles from my parents' house, but I had never really had one serious thought of going to them. I seemed to myself to be completely friendless, and wandered through and through the town, watching the preparations for the fair, which was to take place the next day, not being able to make up my mind what to do or where to go.
At length, more by instinct than aim, I wandered into the stable-yard of one of the principal inns, where I was brought nearer to my senses by hearing the ostler sing out sharply, "Hullo, my man, what is your business?" I told him I was a friendless boy in search of some employment by which I might get a livelihood, as I was very hungry and had no money, or something to that effect; to which he replied that if I would brush about a bit, and help him rub over the horses, he would find me plenty to eat. I soon went to work, and finished the task he gave me; and sure enough he fulfilled his share of the bargain by bringing the requisite article in the shape of a lump of bread and beef enough for two or three meals. After eating as much as I wanted, as I felt very tired, I made up a bed for myself with some straw, and putting the remainder of my meal into my handkerchief to serve as a pillow, laid myself down, and the ostler having given me a rug to pull over me, I slept soundly there the whole night.
In the morning, after I had done a little more in the stable, I walked out with my new friend into the street, where seeing some soldiers, I told him I should like to become one. He said he knew where he could enlist me, and took me straight to the rendezvous, which was in a public-house, where we met a sergeant of artillery, who gave him two guineas for bringing me and myself five for coming, and when my measurement had been taken, a proceeding which was accompanied with no small amount of joking, I was put into an old soldier's coat, and with three or four yards of ribbon hanging from my cap, paraded the town with other recruits, entering and treating some one or other in almost every public-house.
It almost seemed, however, as if my hopes were again to be blighted, for in the very first house I entered, there sat a farmer from my home who knew me very well, and exclaimed on seeing me, "Hullo, young fellow, as you make your bed so you must lie on it." I entreated him not to tell my father and mother where and how he had seen me, and made my exit as quickly as possible; but later in the day I encountered another man, my father's next-door neighbour, who also recognized me immediately. I offered him the price of a gallon of ale not to say anything, and he promised, taking the money, but as soon as he got home he went to my father and acquainted him with what I was up to.
How I was spending the rest of the night meanwhile can better be conceived than described; but next morning, as I was going up to the Town Hall with an officer to be sworn in, who should meet us but my father and mother. On their telling the officer that I was an apprentice, he gave me up to them without any further trouble, except that he asked me what had become of my bounty money, and on finding that I had only seventeen shillings and sixpence left out of my whole five guineas, kindly took the care of even that off my hands. Then we marched off home, and my father went to find out what was to be done in the matter from a magistrate, who advised him to take me back to Dorchester to be tried at the next sittings; which advice being acted on, I was severely reprimanded by the bench, and given my choice of serving my time or else going to prison. Of course I chose the former, and they gave me a letter to take with me to my master. When I got downstairs I met the officer who had enlisted me, who told me that if my master was unwilling to take me back, he would enlist me again; and finding on asking me if I had any money that he had taken all I possessed, he gave me a shilling and wished me well.
My father sent me off at once with strict orders to get back to Studland as quickly as I could, and that was all I received from him either in the way of blessing or anything: so with a heavy heart I set out on my retreat from Dorchester. I had not gone very far when I was overtaken by a dairyman's cart, in which the owner gave me a lift, asking me where I was bound for. I told him a little of my story, and showed him the letter, that he might open it and see what was inside: which, when he had done, he said I could go back quite safely, for my master would not be able to hurt me. That put me into rather better spirits, though I did not intend to go back all the same.
I rode along with the man as far as he went, and then continued on foot to a village called Winfrith, where I went into a public-house, and feeling hungry, ordered some bread and cheese. A soldier happened to be in there, who was on furlough, bound for Bridport, and the very sight of him again revived my old spirit and made me long to be like him. I got into conversation with him, and said how much I wished to be a soldier, to which he straightway answered that he could enlist me for the Fortieth Regiment Foot, which gave sixteen guineas bounty. I thought that was a great deal, and that if I got it I should not want for money for some time, so I quickly accepted his proposal: I soon found out, though, that I was very mistaken in my views about the money lasting.
I was rather afraid of finding myself in Dorchester again, so tried to persuade him to go round another way, but we at last slipped through at night, and got to Winterborne, where we put up, going on next morning in the coach to Bridport. I was again baffled for a time on arriving there, for the coachman knew all about me, and remarked in a way that was no doubt meant well, that it was but yesterday that my father had got me out of the artillery. The soldier then asked me if I was an apprentice, and I thought there seemed nothing to do but to tell him I was: on which he promptly made me get down, and taking me across some fields to his home, kept me there quietly for three days.
It seemed best after that to go on to Taunton in Somersetshire, where we went to the barracks and saw the colonel, who on the soldier telling him that he had brought me up as a recruit, asked me of what trade I was. I replied that I was a labourer, which he said was all right, for labourers made the best soldiers: but he could only give me two and a half guineas bounty: at which point we parted from him, and went to try the recruiting sergeant of the Marines, who promised us sixteen guineas bounty when I arrived at the Plymouth headquarters. This did not suit my conductor, however, as there was nothing for him after paying my coach expenses, so he asked me what I intended to do, and for his part advised me to go back to my master, saying he would not mind the expenses he had gone to for me. But as I had by this time destroyed the letter, I preferred going back to the Fortieth Regiment, so we went and again saw the colonel, who gave my companion two guineas, and sent me into barracks.
Next day I received my clothes, and in about a week more was sworn in before a magistrate, receiving my bounty at the same time. Very shortly afterwards orders came for the regiment to march to Winchester, where we remained for about a month without anything of any note occurring. I began to drill twice a day directly I joined, and soon learnt the foot drill, after which I was put on to musketry drill.
From Winchester we removed to Portsmouth, where we lay for a week, and were then ordered to Bexhill barracks in Sussex, where our First battalion was lying, and on our arrival a number of men were drafted out of our battalion, which was the Second, into the First, to make it a thousand strong, myself being one of the number. Then orders came for us to proceed to Portsmouth to embark on foreign service, our country being at the time at war with France and Spain.
Embarkation of the regiment at Portsmouth — Lawrence's feelings at the time beginning to be rather mixed — Heartrending partings witnessed and somewhat moralized upon by him — A few more words of advice, this time intended for apprentices — Ample opportunity for self-introspection afforded during the first week of the voyage — Incidents while becalmed — Arrival at Rio, and entertainment of the troops by the Queen of Portugal — Monte Video — Disembarkation and first brushes with the enemy — Barbarity of the Spaniards — Lawrence's feelings at last definitely uncomfortable — Sir Samuel Auchmuty's dislike to finery in soldiers — The town invested and subsequently stormed — Lawrence in the forlorn hope — Surrender of the Citadel.
We passed the night before our embarkation in the town: a night to many perhaps the bitterest they had ever experienced, but to myself, on the other hand, one mainly of joy, for I felt that I had at last outwitted my pursuers. But though I cannot say that I was yet at all repentant, it must not be thought that I felt altogether comfortable on leaving my country with all my friends and relations in it, so young as I was at the time: more especially when I considered the errand we were on, and thought that I might never return to see them again, knowing that they had not the slightest idea of where I was. I naturally felt rather timid, as all young recruits must feel on entering so soon on foreign service as I then found myself obliged to do.
But the worst and most disheartening spectacle of all was in the morning when the bugle sounded for the assembly of the regiment; for only about six women to a company of a hundred men being allowed to go with us, many who were married had to leave wives and children behind, with the thought that it might never be their lot to see them again. When the order was given to embark, the scene was quite heartrending: I could not see a dry eye in Portsmouth, and if the tears could have been collected, they might have stocked a hospital in eye-water for some months. Husband and wife, father and child, young man and sweetheart, all had to part, and perhaps none were more affected than the last, though with least cause: it indeed was dreadful to view.
I myself was much affected, but it was at the woes of others, for I had not one to throw so much as a parting glance at myself; and thus, amid the cheers of the crowd, and with the band playing the tune of "The Girl I left behind me," we embarked.
Then I felt quite freed from my pursuers; but in getting out of the frying-pan I soon found myself into the fire, for as it afterwards proved I had many men to deal with more difficult than even my old master had been. Thus it is that many are apt to dislike and leave their employment through trifles, and in the search for a better often only get a worse one, much to their disappointment.
The next day we drew out of Portsmouth harbour on our route to South America, and sea-sickness soon commencing on board, I was, the worse luck for myself, one of the number that succumbed to it. This lasted for nearly a week, during the whole of which time we scarcely ate anything; but when we got better, I think our appetites were such that we could have readily finished a donkey with a hamper of greens.
We had good weather until we reached the tropics, when a dead calm followed for a fortnight. As we were nearly upon the Equinoctial line, the usual ceremony of shaving took place, which was no doubt very amusing to those who escaped by treating the sailors to a bottle of rum, or those who had crossed the Line before; but to us on whom the barber, who was the sailor who had crossed the Line most often, operated, it was not so pleasant. For the satisfaction of some who may not quite understand the method of that interesting custom, I will give the routine, at least as it happened on board our ship, though I cannot altogether say whether the same is pursued universally, A large tub of water was placed on deck, and each one who was to be performed on, sat in turn on the edge; then the barber stepped forward and lathered his face all over with tar and grease, and with a piece of iron hoop as a razor scraped it off again; after which he pushed him backwards into the tub, leaving him to crawl out anyhow and sneak off to clean himself. All passed off very well, however, as there was plenty of rum provided to drink from those officers and men who were more disposed to join in the pay than the play.
During the calms, we amused ourselves fishing for dolphins, and practising for the first time with ball-cartridge, a bottle being corked and flung overboard as far as possible to serve as a target, and a dollar being offered to the first man who could break it, each one firing once. No one broke it, but I got a glass of grog from the major for being the nearest; so near that I made the bottle spin round. The major remarked that if I went so close as that to a Spaniard I should make him shake; and he likewise asked me what trade I was in before I joined the army. As I knew I was too far from England now to be sent back, I told him that I was a builder's apprentice; and he only said, "Well done, my boy, so you prefer knocking down houses in the enemy's country to putting them up in your own?" Certainly at this moment we were having an easy place, but there was many a time afterwards when I should like to have been given the choice of laying bricks again.
After spending about a fortnight in this way, a fair wind blew up, and we proceeded on our voyage. We called in at Rio Janeiro, the capital of the Brazilian Empire, lying upon the western side of the entrance to a fine bay which forms the harbour. Our chief object for putting in there was to take in water and provisions; and whilst we were anchored there we went on shore, and the Queen of Portugal reviewed us. Next day she sent a quantity of onions and pumpkins on board as a present, which we found very acceptable. We stayed there about a fortnight, sailing on next further south to Maldonado, the rendezvous of the fleet, whence after being joined by five thousand troops under Sir Samuel Auchmuty, the whole fleet moved on to Monte Video and anchored.
We lost no time on our arrival there, but early the next morning boats were ordered alongside the troopships to convey us on shore, which movement, as the enemy was on the banks about fifteen thousand strong to receive us, put rather a nasty taste into our mouths, there seeming nothing but death or glory before us. The signal was hoisted from the admiral's ship, and we started for the shore amid the fire of the enemy's artillery. They killed and wounded a few of our men, and sank some of the boats, but as soon as we struck the shore, we jumped out, and forming line in the water, fired a volley and charged, soon driving them from their position on the bank. We found even as early as then that Spaniards were not very difficult to encounter. In case of a retreat, our boats were still within our reach, but having gained the victory, we had no need of them, stopping where we were on the banks all night.
Some field-pieces were next sent on shore, and likewise a number of sailors with drag-ropes to work them, as we had no horses with us, and up to this time no artillery. The country was rather favourable for the sailors, being very level and mostly green pasture, so that they kept along pretty easily, seeming just in their glory, all this being new work to them. After some little firing from the cannon the enemy retreated into the town, which was well fortified. We placed an outlying picket of some three hundred men to watch the enemy's manoeuvres, while the body of our army encamped in the rear in a line stretching from sea to sea, so that the town standing upon a projecting piece of land, all communication from the mainland was cut off. The country around meanwhile abounded with ducks, geese, turkeys, fowls, and plenty of sheep and bullocks, which it may be made sure our men found oftentimes very providential.
On the third day of our encampment the Spaniards sallied out of the town to surprise our picket, which being overpowered was obliged to retreat, leaving two grenadiers wounded on the field, whom the Spaniards much to our horror deliberately cut into pieces. But on the body of our army coming up and charging them, a terrible slaughter ensued on their retreat to the town, which amply repaid us for our two grenadiers; as far as I am able to state, there could not have been less than three thousand killed and wounded, for the next day we had actually to bury two thousand of them. Our loss was a mere nothing.
I remember that I happened to be placed that night on sentry at the road leading to the town, and not far from a hole where we had buried five or six hundred of the enemy. It was the most uncomfortable two hours' sentry I had ever spent as yet, and I kept my eyes more on the place where the dead were than on the road I was placed to watch, not having altogether forgotten the absurd ghost stories of my own country. I in a way began to think, too, that I had done a good many things I should have liked not to, and to regret for the first time leaving my apprenticeship, my father, mother, and friends, to follow a life so dangerous as I now found this to be, with nothing to expect, as I thought, but to be myself numbered with the slain. I soon became more hardened, however, as I was more and more mixed up in similar or worse affairs than these slight brushes with a weak enemy had proved to be. However, at this juncture I took the opportunity to send my first letter home, so as to satisfy the folks there of my whereabouts, though I kept from them the more perilous part of my story.
We reported to the general the circumstances of the Spaniards' barbarity to our wounded comrades, and the answer he gave was that we were to repay them in their own coin. I may mention here that we all thought Sir Samuel a most excellent commander. He always delighted most in a good rough-looking soldier with a long beard and greasy haversack, who he thought was the sort of man most fit to meet the enemy. It was chiefly owing to his dislike to dandyism that wearing long hair with powder, which was the fashion then for the smart soldier, was done away with soon after we landed in the enemy's country; of course also partly because it was so difficult to get the powder.
We never found the Spaniards sally out of the town after this to engage us, as I expect they did not much like the warm reception they had received. We set to work building up batteries and breastworks, some three hundred of us being sent to cut down a copse of peach-trees that was near to make gabions and fascines to form them with. When our fortifications were completed, which was in a very few days, we began bombarding the town, for which purpose we had brought up our twenty-four pounders from the men-of-war. After about four days' play we made a breach by knocking down the gate and part of the wall, which was six feet thick, and though the enemy repaired it at night with a quantity of bullocks' hides filled with earth, next morning as early as two o'clock we advanced to storm the town.
Captain Renny of ours commanded the forlorn hope. The ladders were placed against the hides of earth, and we scaled them under a heavy fire from the Spaniards. We found the earth better stuff to encounter than stone, and though our poor captain fell in the breach whilst nobly leading on his men, we succeeded in forcing our way into the town, which was soon filled with the reinforcements that followed us. We drove the enemy from the batteries, and massacred with sword and bayonet all whom we found carrying arms: the general's orders being not to plunder or enter any house, or injure any woman, child, or man not carrying arms, or fire a shot until daylight. On our approach to the gunwharf of the town, we found some twenty or thirty negroes chained to the guns, whom we spared and afterwards found very useful, chiefly in burying the dead.
When the heat of the fighting was subsided, the drums beat to assembly in the square, and orders were then given for the massacre to be stayed, but that all the prisoners were to be taken that we could lay our hands on. Our troops were accordingly despatched to the forts and batteries, and nearly three thousand prisoners were taken; the governor of the town giving himself up with all the forts except the citadel, where there was a separate general in command. The governor said he had nothing to do with this, so Sir Samuel sent a flag of truce to know if the commander would give the place up. The answer being "No," three or four riflemen were placed on a tower sufficiently high and near to the citadel for the purpose of, if possible, picking out the general and shooting him. This was soon effected, for on his appearing for a walk on the ramparts in his full uniform, one of the men shot him dead: and when the Spaniards found that they had lost their commander, they soon became disheartened, and lowering the drawbridge, came out of the citadel and gave themselves up. Part of our troops immediately took possession, pulling down the Spanish colours and hoisting the English flag from the town and citadel in their stead. We took about four thousand prisoners in all, who were sent on board ship; but where they were taken to afterwards I am not able to state.
Incidents during the stay at Monte Video — The beguiling of Goodfellow — A man hanged and then condemned to be transported — Matrimonial designs of a Spanish father frustrated — Advance to and occupation of Colonia — Heroic conduct of a tallow chandler — He proves of service in more ways than one — Expedition to San Pedro — A battle with a hot breakfast at the end — Narrow escape of Lawrence from being shot — Unfortunate results of a combination of booty.
Now that we had got possession of a fine town, we could lie up comfortably, only having to put out three or four hundred men on picket round the walls and see that the gates of the town were closed every night at sunset and not opened till daylight in the morning, and then feeling that we could make ourselves quite at home. The inhabitants were meanwhile not altogether deprived of their livelihood, as our general issued a proclamation that they should open their shops and carry on their business as usual: and if any declined to open, he was kind enough to send parties to do it for them.
During the time that we lay there, which I should think was at least five months, the only things that occurred that could be called out of the way were, I am sorry to say, of rather an unpleasant nature. One thing was that a sergeant and corporal of the Spanish army came in disguise and tried to enlist any of our men who would join their service; and unfortunately a sergeant named Goodfellow, one of my own regiment, accepted their proposals, tempted by the heavy bounty they offered. But while passing out of the town in disguise with the Spaniards, he was met and recognized by the general himself and his staff: a most unlucky encounter for the three runaways, for they were brought back again and put under charge immediately, and a court-martial ordered on them next day. Our colonel, however, implored so hard for our sergeant's life on account of the regiment's late good conduct in the field, that the general granted it, and changed his sentence to one of transportation for life: but the Spaniards were not quite so leniently dealt with, for they were tried and hanged, to make sure that they could not repeat their mischievous practices.
We also found among the prisoners an Irishman who had somehow got away from us over on to the wrong side, and had been fighting against us. He was tried and sentenced to be hanged, and we all had to march up next day to witness his execution and take example from it. But his life was not destined to end here, for the rope was not altogether a strong one, and he was fortunate enough when he fell to break it. Directly his feet touched ground, he begged hard for mercy: and the rope had made such a terrible mark on his neck that I suppose the general thought he had been hanged enough: so he was sent into hospital, and when he recovered, transported for the rest of the life that had thus been given back to him. While he was on his way down the town to go on board the vessel, I should think that if he had one dollar given him, he had at least half a peck, though I do not expect they would be much use to him where he was going to. I never heard any more of him, but I don't suppose many men could say that they had been hanged and then transported afterwards.
Another case of desertion was that of an officer's servant, who went away with the greater part of his master's clothes, taking with him likewise a Spanish lady; he was lucky enough to get off safe, and nothing was heard of him afterwards. This was not at all a rare temptation, though, that was put in our soldiers' way; for I was myself offered a fortune by a Spanish gentleman, together with his daughter, if I would desert and remain in the country. Whenever he met me about he would treat me to anything I liked to name, which I sometimes found very acceptable, and he would often give me money as well, in hopes of gaining me over in time. He had more chances of making up to me, for I forgot to mention that I had received a slight wound in the left leg in storming the town, which kept me limping about and partially disabled from duty for nearly a fortnight; but I don't think he would have minded his daughter not marrying me in particular, so long as he could persuade some one. But he happened one day to leave his horse tied up close to our main guard while he went into a kind of public-house, and occupied himself treating some of our men; and the fact being discovered by those outside that his stirrups were of solid gold, when he came out again one of them was missing. It must have weighed at least a pound, so naturally he thought it worth while reporting the circumstance to the colonel, and a search was made; but no clue could be found to the missing stirrup, so he had to ride away as best he could with only the other one; so he only came off a loser in the end, and he never got his daughter married after all.
After staying in the town for the time stated, a thousand of us were despatched up the river Rio de la Plata to a small place called Colonia, where an army of Spaniards about four or five thousand strong was lying. We landed with ease, and the enemy retreated out of the place after firing a few shots, leaving it in our hands, so that we again found ourselves for a time in comfortable quarters. We placed pickets of two or three hundred men round the place, and fixed a chevaux de frise in the gate, formed of very sharp and pointed swords stuck very thickly into a beam which was made to turn on its axis: rather an awkward instrument to face if one is not used to it. Duty at this place was rather hard, owing to there being so few of us, and such a number on picket or at work building some batteries for our better protection.
At the picket-house, which was some distance from the town, there lived a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler, who was very kind to us while we were there on duty, killing a bullock almost every night for our use, as he only required the skin and tallow, and any one may suppose that two hundred hungry men knew what to do with the rest of it. An incident took place during our stay at his house which will show how well disposed he was towards us. We had passed a very quiet week there, when one night the Spaniards passed our picket secretly in the darkness, fired a volley into the town, and then immediately retreated. Our picket only just managed to get through safely into the town, leaving one of our men asleep in the picket-house, and he must certainly have met his death if he had been caught there singly; but the tallow-chandler, though himself a Spaniard, concealed him under a quantity of dry hides while the enemy were scouring the place in search of stragglers, and so saved his life. In consequence of this surprise, still heavier duty was afterwards put upon us, the picket having to be augmented to prevent further annoyance.
Two or three days after this had occurred the tallow-chandler was sent for to join the Spanish army, no doubt because their general suspected him of favouring the English; but he would not go until he had obtained our colonel's advice, which was that he should go by all means, and if he could conveniently come back with full particulars of the enemy's strength he should be rewarded. As far as I can remember, he had been away about ten days, when he again made his appearance with the requisite information. What reward he got I cannot say, but as the result of his tidings, about two or three days afterwards we were called under arms at midnight and supplied with half a pound of beef for each man; the order then being given to return to our lodgings for two hours, and at the end of that time to fall in again. Meanwhile a number of sailors came from on board our ships to take charge of the town during our absence, we being now bound for some place as yet unknown to us.
A little after two in the morning we left the town with an Indian for our guide. We asked in the best manner that we could where we were going to, but all we could understand from him was that we were on the way to fight some Spaniards, which of course we had pretty well guessed before, and that we should have some four or five thousand of them to encounter. This last bit of news made us think that we were going to have hard nuts to crack, but we found them a very cowardly sort of folk to deal with, for after marching some five or six miles, we despatched skirmishing parties, who fell in with their picket and took a few prisoners, and soon made the others retreat without doing anything further than to send up some rockets to alarm the body of the enemy.
We marched on still further till we came nearly up to them, when we found a river in our way; fortunately it was not very deep, so we waded through it under a fire from the Spanish cannon, which killed two of our men while in the act of crossing; and as soon as we were over we formed line and advanced towards the enemy, who lay on some fine rising ground in our front. They had some few pieces of cannon with them, and opened the first fire with both cannon and musketry, but every shot seemed to rise over our heads, and I don't think that volley killed a man. We were up and at them like dragons, wounding and taking their general with about a hundred and fifty other prisoners; likewise a stand of colours, three pieces of cannon, and their baggage. Moreover, we found a nice breakfast cooking for us in the shape of fowls, geese, turkeys, beef, rice, and calavancos, (though the latter were rather too warm with cayenne pepper and garlic,) all of which the enemy had had to leave in his hurry, and which came in very acceptably at the end of a long march.
The colonel ordered everything to be taken from the prisoners we had made, as that was how he had been served himself when he had been taken prisoner at Buenos Ayres, so we set to clearing them of all they possessed, their money, which amounted to about two thousand dollars, their clothes, and even their boots. I had a very narrow escape while the plunder was going on. I entered one of the enemy's storehouses, at one end of which a quantity of bullocks' hides were lying, at a sufficient distance from the wall to allow a man to pass or hide behind them; and there beside the heap stood a Spaniard whom I knew well, as he had sold cakes to us while we were at Colonia, and who now offered me a pot of honey to eat. I had my misgivings, however, so made motion for him to eat first, for fear of poison; and at the same time, casting my eye to the left, I saw a Spaniard emerge from between the hides and the wall with a pistol, which he levelled at me. I became pretty active, as may be supposed under the circumstances, and managed to guard it off; but the shot whizzed very close to my head nevertheless, which made me very much enraged with the man, and determined he should not escape. Unfortunately for him, one of our dismounted cavalry, an Irishman, came in, and on my telling him there was a Spaniard behind the hides, who had just fired a pistol at me, "Tare an' 'ounds," says he, "I'll fetch him out; you stand at one end to stop him with your bayonet while I drive him out." So Paddy went round with his sword, and after a little exercise behind, "Look out comrade," he sang out, "he's coming;" and sure enough I skewered him to the wall by driving my bayonet right through his body, while Paddy came out and finished him by splitting his head nearly in two with his heavy sword, remarking as he did it, "Bad luck to ye, I don't think ye'll ever shoot another Englishman, or Irishman either." The other man had meanwhile made off.
We had taken amongst other things about twenty barrels of gunpowder and a quantity of cigars, which latter, owing to the carelessness of one man, proved to be more plague than profit; for whilst most of us were smoking, one of the company, going near the powder, happened to let a spark fall from his cigar, which resulted in twelve men being blown into the air: and though none were killed on the spot, they were so frightfully burnt that several died on reaching Colonia. I believe all that we lost actually killed by the enemy's hand were the two men who fell in crossing the river. We gave ten dollars to each of the widows of the men killed, and the rest of the prize-money was divided.
Return to Colonia — General Whitelock assumes the command of the army in the Plate, and a movement is made on Buenos Ayres — Studied insolence on the part of certain Indian natives — Remarkable value attached by them to a British head — Their eventual punishment — The troops effect an easy entrance into Buenos Ayres, but, for reasons unknown to the narrator, retreat almost immediately and not very creditably — Return to Monte Video and final departure from the Plate — Terrific storm on the way home — Inconvenient mishap to a soldier — Christmas in Cork Cove.
As we had effected all that was wanted at San Pedro, which was the name of the place where we had been carrying on these operations, we returned to Colonia, dragging back the guns laden with our wounded, and taking with us the prisoners, who had to walk along barefooted, as we had availed ourselves of their boots. On our arrival at Colonia our sailors saluted us when they saw the number of our prisoners and the three pieces of cannon we had taken, giving "three cheers for the brave soldiers." The prisoners were then sent on board a ship that was lying in the river, and an outlying picket having been posted as usual, the rest of us remained comfortably in the town. Next day the colonel gave orders for everything belonging to the prisoners, such as clothes, &c., to be brought out, offering a fair price for them to be returned to their proper owners, which showed of what a good disposition he really was: only he had allowed us to take the things before as an example.
We remained here about a month this time, when General Whitelock came out with a reinforcement and took the command from Sir Samuel Auchmuty, and soon afterwards, some troops being left in charge of Monte Video, the rest proceeded to Buenos Ayres, calling at Colonia on the way to pick up our little squad. We landed some miles before coming to Buenos Ayres, intending, if possible, to storm the back of the town, as it was strongly fortified on the side towards the coast. We were thus obliged to march inland and form encampments, the first of which was situated a little way from where we landed.
An incident took place here, which was attended by the death of two men, a corporal and a private, and likewise the very narrow escape of a second private. They were engaged in plundering one of the Indian huts, when the inhabitants fell on them armed, and, catching the corporal round the neck with a lasso, soon dragged him away, at the same time knocking the private down and stabbing him; the other private only escaped back to the regiment after receiving a sabre-wound which carried the skin and hair off the back of his head. This was a great glory to the natives; they stuck the corporal's head on a pole and carried it in front of their little band when on the march. They also made use of the rifle and ammunition they had taken from him to fire at times into our camp, but fortunately it was a very harmless sort of practice.
Next day we again resumed our march, encamping again at night. I remember that night was very foggy, and an officer and some men having gone out in search of bullocks for the supply of the army, the officer was very nearly lassoed by an Indian who came on him suddenly in the darkness. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to ride after him, which saved his life, for so the Indian could not pull him over; and then he managed to cut the lasso with his sword.
As we marched along on our next day's journey, about two hundred Indians kept following us, the foremost of them wearing our dead corporal's jacket, and carrying his head—I do not exactly know for what reason, but perhaps they thought a good deal more of a dead man's head than we should feel disposed to do. We went on for some distance through a great many orange-gardens, till we came to a lane thickly hedged in on both sides, which was entered by a gate, and there, after the body of our army had passed through, some few men, including myself, waited in ambush for the Indians, having a reserve placed a short distance down the lane in case of a combat. The Indians soon approached, but seemed to have some misgivings, though we could not exactly understand what they said. There being only a few of us, not quite twenty in all, I rather shook in my shoes on seeing their number; but we soon found there was very little occasion for this, for on our firing directly the front party had passed the gate, killing two of them and wounding and capturing their chief, who was the one who was so proud of his head, the rest fled for their lives, not liking the smell and much less the taste of our gunpowder. We picked up the wounded man and carried him, and left him, more dead than alive, in a neighbouring village.
On nearing Buenos Ayres the Light Brigade was ordered on in front, under the command of Colonel Pack, who soon succeeded in taking the Bull Ring battery; for Buenos Ayres was much more easy to take than Monte Video, as it was very slightly fortified towards the country. There were some cannons placed at the end of each street, but they proved a very small difficulty to be overcome, as there seemed nobody efficient to work them, and after passing these, our soldiers were soon in possession of the city. Then they hoisted the King's flag on a convent and waited, expecting every minute that the body of our army would come up; but instead of this, General Whitelock encamped about a mile out of the town and remained there. If he had attended properly to his business he would have followed up and relieved the brigade; but as it was, the Spaniards rallied and overpowered it. I was with the main body, and so was not able to enter the city to see what was going on. We all fell under arms when we heard the muskets at work, waiting for the general's orders to advance: but there we lay the whole night, not doing a stroke, and next day we re-embarked for Monte Video, having come to some terms, though we were ignorant of that at the time.
We remained at Monte Video some two months longer, during which interval the ships taken in the harbour were offered for sale, but the inhabitants refusing to buy them, we loaded some ourselves with hides, tallow, and cocoa, and the rest, which were not worth bringing home, were towed out to the mouth of the harbour and set on fire. The Spaniards had previously blown up a very fine frigate to prevent it falling into our hands. Part of our army was then embarked for the East Indies and the Cape of Good Hope, whilst we others went on an expedition about a hundred miles up the Rio de la Plata to get fresh water, and when we returned proceeded on our way homewards from that part of the world.
The first part of our voyage was very pleasant, the troops in general keeping very healthy; but when we had sailed some distance, we had a dead calm for a considerable time, which made us much longer on our voyage than we had thought for, and consequently our water supply ran very short, and had to be served out in allowances of half a pint a day. A small supply, however, fortunately came before long. Our captain, seeing a cloud in the distance, foretold that we were going to have a thunderstorm, and ordered the scupper-holes to be stopped, and all except the watch to remain below. I happened to be one of the watch at the time, and well I remember how it very shortly after began to thunder and lighten, the rain falling in torrents for two or three hours; it was the heaviest thunderstorm I had ever witnessed. We baled up some twenty or more casks of water, which was none the better, perhaps, for there being pigs, fowls, geese, and turkeys all over the deck, but still was very acceptable to us in our parched state, as till that we had had to cook our food and wash ourselves in salt water only.
During the storm our mainmast was struck by the lightning, which split a piece off it from top to bottom, but fortunately did not disable it; but a sad mishap befell one of our men while sitting at mess at the time, for he was struck dead, his shirt being burnt in places like tinder, and his mess-tin being likewise turned black, while the top of a bayonet that was standing close to the unfortunate man was melted like lead. The blow had shaken our little bark so terribly that the captain ordered the pumps to be tried; fortunately there was no leakage to be found, but the lightning must have got well down below, for on opening the main hatchway the sulphur came up enough to suffocate any one.
After the storm, the calm still continued, and we had to amuse ourselves as best we could with fishing; a few days after a breeze sprang up, but it was foul for England, and we had to knock about till a more favourable one blew up, which finally landed us in the Cove of Cork. We spent the Christmas of 1807 on board, sending on shore for raisins, flour, fat, and beer, and so being enabled to enjoy ourselves very comfortably.
The troops kept in Ireland — Ordered to Spain to fight new opponents in behalf of their late ones — Land in Mondego Bay and advance to Vimeira — A light repast interrupted by a heavy battle — Battle of Vimeira — Preliminary skirmishing — Lawrence's first experience in fighting the French — A good front-rank man — Defeat of the French and advance on Lisbon — The French evacuate the city — Lawrence's impressions of Lisbon — Sir Arthur Wellesley made commander-in-chief — The regiment invalided for a time — Attempt to join Sir John Moore frustrated — Seville — Lawrence's first offence — He is court-martialled for it and flogged — Moral reflections on the same.
We had already laid in our sea stock in preparation to start for England, when we found ourselves disappointed of our hopes, for orders came for us to land in Ireland; and we had to march to Cork and thence to various other places for six months, nothing of any particular note happening during the while; and at the end of it, orders again came for us to embark for Portugal, to drive the French from there, and from the Spanish dominions. Thus after we had been in open war against the Spaniards, who for the time had been in alliance with the French, or rather had been forced to be so, now that Buonaparte had overrun their own country and kindled hatred against himself, these same Spaniards had made peace with us, and sent to us for assistance to drive him out of their country: so that we had to go and fight for the very nation we had been a few months before opposing in Monte Video, Buenos Ayres, and Colonia.
After we had all embarked we had still to lie in Cork Harbour, waiting for the English fleet, and then we sailed from the Irish coast, about twelve thousand strong, under Sir Arthur Wellesley, on the 12th of July, 1808. We first touched at Corunna to make arrangements with the Spaniards, and their advice being to land in Portugal, we went to Mondego Bay, near the town of Figueras, where we landed, leaving our baggage on board. After about five days' march we were joined by General Spencer, and next day our advanced guard had a slight engagement with the enemy at Rorica. Thence we marched on to Vimeira, and were joined by Generals Anstruther and Acland with more reinforcements, and Sir Hugh Dalrymple took the head command from Sir Arthur Wellesley.
The village of Vimeira stood in a valley with a fine range of hills to the westward, and a ridge of heights to the east. Our brigades were stationed on the mountains to the west, whilst our cavalry was posted in the valley, and General Anstruther's brigade lay to the east.
On the first night of our encampment there, two of my comrades and myself were strolling over the hills together, when we fell in with a hive of bees, weighing I should think at least a hundredweight, which we carried back into the camp: not without difficulty, however, for we found them very uncivil passengers to carry, and our faces and hands were fearfully stung; but our honey and grapes, for we had profited too from being encamped in some very fine vineyards, paid us for this a little. Next morning we proceeded to make our breakfast off the same materials, but we were not destined to finish very quietly, for in the midst of our meal we were disturbed by the near approach of the enemy, and were immediately ordered under arms.
The right of our line was engaged at least two hours before a general engagement took place on our side, which was the left, but we were skirmishing with the enemy the whole time. I remember this well, on account of a Frenchman and myself being occupied in firing at each other for at least half an hour without doing anyone any injury; but he took a pretty straight aim at me once, and if it had not been for a tough front-rank man that I had, in the shape of a cork-tree, his shot must have proved fatal, for I happened to be straight behind the tree when the bullet embedded itself in it. I recollect saying at the time, "Well done, front-rank man, thee doesn't fall at that stroke," and unfortunately for the Frenchman, a fellow-comrade, who was lefthanded, came up to me very soon afterwards, and asked me how I was getting on. I said badly, and told him there was a Frenchman in front, and we had been trying to knock each other over for some time, without either of us having been able to succeed; on which he asked me where he was, that he might have a try at him. I pointed out the thicket behind which the Frenchman was, and he prepared his rifle so as to catch him out in his peeping manoeuvres, but not without himself, as well as I, being well covered by my old front-rank man. By-and-by Mr. Frenchman again made his peep round the bush, but it was his last, for my comrade, putting his rifle to his left shoulder, killed him at the first shot.
After we had been thus employed in skirmishing for some time, a large body of French made their appearance in our front. Our artillery greeted them pretty sharply, ploughing furrows through them with ball and throwing them into a confused state, after which our columns advanced under General Spencer, our cannon still playing over our heads, until we got within a short distance of the enemy, when we fired and charged them, driving them from the position they had occupied after some very severe fighting well kept up for some time on both sides, and capturing about seven pieces of cannon, with ammunition waggons. The loss of the French at this place could not have been much less than two thousand, though some have reported it less and some more; but it is very hard to arrive at a just calculation. Our loss was reported to have been about seven hundred.
After the battle was ended we marched on towards Lisbon, passing on our way about a hundred and fifty carts laden with the enemy's wounded. When we arrived at Lisbon we encamped, so that the French had no means of communication with the city; as, our fleet lying in or near the mouth of the harbour, and our army stopping all approach from the land, the French in the city were blocked in. On the first night of our encampment the inhabitants illuminated the part where we lay. We were not destined, however, to be outside the city long, for on the leaders of our army and the French coming to some terms, the French left with the honours of war, and gladly embarked from the harbour in September. These were the very troops with whom at a later period we had to contend.
When the enemy had left Lisbon we took up our quarters in the city, amid the joy and enthusiasm of the inhabitants, who shouted in triumph as the French left, and held illuminations even on the vessels in the harbour for several successive nights afterwards.
Lisbon then on every side still exhibited marks of that terrible earthquake which almost completely destroyed it in the year 1755. It was situated on the right bank of the Tagus, near its mouth, which forms a very fine harbour; and it stood chiefly on very precipitous hills, of which the highest was occupied by the fine castle of Saint George, which was indeed the principal object that attracted the eye anywhere from the city. The great squares contained some magnificent edifices, noteworthy for the fineness of their pillars. The streets were narrow and winding and dirty, and indeed after the French had left the whole city was in a most desolate state; but the general view of the city and its environs from the harbour at a distance was very beautiful, the sides of the hills being clothed with plantations and numberless vineyards, and the buildings extending for a mile and a half or two miles along the coast.
Sir Hugh Dalrymple, Sir Arthur Wellesley, and some other of the chief leaders of our army were then recalled to England to communicate the circumstances of the terms that had been arrived at in Portugal between the two armies: as the rulers, and indeed all classes in England received the first reports of them with indignation. This was the reason that the inquiry was made, of which the fruits were that Sir Arthur Wellesley was decided on as the proper person to take the head command of our troops in the Peninsula.
During our stay in Lisbon our regiment fell ill and was obliged to be returned unfit for service, which state of things lasted about two months. But as soon as Sir Arthur Wellesley returned as commander-in-chief, we were ordered into Spain, in company with five thousand Spaniards, to join Sir John Moore's army. We had a long and tedious march until we reached a place called Seville, where we encamped for several weeks, on account of Sir John Moore having been obliged to retreat; and the French cutting off our communication, we had to proceed to Cadiz and there embark again for Lisbon.
I must here relate a circumstance which took place before I proceeded from Seville, which, although not very creditable to myself, is of too great importance as an event in my life to be omitted. I absented myself without leave from guard for twenty-four hours, and when I returned I found I had jumped into a fine scrape, for I was immediately put into the guard-room, and a drum-head court-martial was ordered on me. It was the first offence to cause one to be held on me, but that did not screen me much, and I was sentenced to four hundred lashes. I felt ten times worse on hearing this sentence than I ever did on entering any battlefield; in fact, if I had been sentenced to be shot, I could not have been more in despair, for my life at that time seemed of very little consequence to me. My home and my apprenticeship days again ran in my head, but even these thoughts soon lost themselves as I neared the spot where my sentence was to be carried out. I found the regiment assembled all ready to witness my punishment: the place chosen for it was the square of a convent. As soon as I had been brought in by the guard, the court-martial was read over me by the colonel, and then I was ordered to strip, which I did firmly and without using any of the help that was offered me, as I had by that time got hardened to my lot. I was then lashed to the halberds, and the colonel gave the order for the drummers to commence, each one having to give me twenty-five lashes in turn. I bore it very well until I had received a hundred and seventy-five, when I became so enraged with the pain that I pushed the halberds, which did not stand at all firm, on account of their being planted on stones, right across the square, amid the laughter of the regiment. The colonel, I suppose, thinking then that I had had sufficient, ordered, in the very words, "the sulky rascal down," and perhaps a more true word could not have been spoken, as indeed I was sulky, for I did not give vent to a single sound the whole time, though the blood ran down my trousers from top to bottom. I was unbound and the corporal hove my shirt and jacket over my shoulders and conveyed me to the hospital, presenting about as miserable a picture as I possibly could.
Perhaps it was as good a thing for me as could then have occurred, as it prevented me from committing any greater crimes which might have gained me other severer punishments and at last brought me to my ruin; but for all that it was a great trial for me, and I think that a good deal of that kind of punishment might have been abandoned with great credit to those who ruled our army; for it is amazing to think of four hundred lashes being ordered on a man young as I was, and undergoing all the privations of a most sanguinary war, just for an offence, and that the first, which might have been overlooked, or at any rate treated with less punishment and a severe reprimand.
Lawrence transferred into the Grenadier company — The regiment embarks at Cadiz for Lisbon again in consequence of Sir John Moore's defeat at Corunna — Hospitality of an English merchant — March to join Sir Arthur Wellesley at Castello Branco — The Spanish troops reviewed — Lawrence's opinion of them — Battle of Talavera — Lawrence's opinion of the Spaniards justified — Severe fighting on the second day of the battle — Friendliness between the wounded — Final attack and repulse of the French — Horrible fate of some of the wounded — Advance to Oropesa — The Spanish General Cuesta deserts the wounded at Talavera — March towards Badajoz — Privations on the road — Fresh supply of clothes at Badajoz — Lawrence invalided to Elvas — Is cured chiefly by reflecting on his manner of burial — Returns to Badajoz — Sir Arthur Wellesley made Viscount Wellington — End of 1809.
I remained in hospital about three weeks, and on coming out I was transferred from the Light into the Grenadier company.
As I before said, on leaving Seville, which I did in a pretty well marked state, of which I bear the remembrances on my back to this day upwards of fifty years since, we marched to Cadiz and encamped there, intending to embark for Lisbon, Sir John Moore's army having been by that time repulsed by sheer force of numbers, and himself killed at Corunna. On that night an English wine-merchant asked permission to give each man in our regiment a pint of wine and each woman half that quantity, with a pound of bread apiece; and accordingly we were all drawn up in line, and marched into a tremendous cellar, big enough, had they been so disposed, to have admitted the whole regiment, with two doors one at each end, at one of which we entered to receive our share, and went out by the other. He likewise invited the officers to dine with him; and so that night, after drinking the merchant's little kindness, as we most of us did to pretty quick time, we slept a good deal sounder.
Next day we embarked for Lisbon, and after landing there we proceeded some miles up the country to join Sir Arthur's army in Castello Branco, making up altogether about twenty thousand English and sixty or eighty thousand Allies.
We then advanced across a fine plain, which I should think was more famed for hares than anything else, for I never saw any place that swarmed so with that kind of game. They were running in all directions, and often even right into our lines, for they are stupid animals when frightened, as they then were by the noise our men made; and I managed to kill one with the muzzle of my musket, and sold it to the captain of my company for a dollar.
The bands played each before its own regiment as we crossed the plain, and Sir Arthur Wellesley took the opportunity of reviewing the Spanish troops as they passed. They looked a fine enough set of men, but they were fit for scarcely anything except to fall into disorder and confusion, as we had already found when we had taken the field against some of them at Monte Video, Colonia, and Buenos Ayres, the smell of powder often seeming to cause them to be missing when wanted, either from not having been properly disciplined, or else because they had not good officers to command them; this, of course, now bringing the brunt of most of the battles on us.
We often passed marks of the enemy's encampments, and even encamped at or near the same places ourselves, as close as possible to some river or large supply of water, a small quantity being of little use for the purposes of a large body of men like our army, accompanied as it was, too, by horses and wagons and such things. We never caught sight of the enemy, however, till we got to Talavera, where we came to an engagement with the French on the 27th and 28th of July, 1809. The whole of our line there extended for about two miles, and at times the whole of it was joining in the general engagement, which came more hot upon us for the reason before described; a great number of the Spaniards even throwing down their arms and fleeing, for which conduct their general, Cuesta, ordered them to be decimated; but eventually, on the entreaty of Sir Arthur Wellesley, only about forty of them were killed. General Cuesta, however, really wanted quite as much leading on as his men, as he was often very obstinate, and refused to fight when called upon by Sir Arthur Wellesley.
After the first day's battle we encamped on the ground we then occupied, but the French made another and unexpected attack on us at night, and at one time had almost gained the heights; but we repulsed them at last, though after that we had to lie on our arms, expecting every minute to be again attacked. Some little altercation occurred with the Spaniards very early in the morning, but it only lasted a short time; however, about five or six o'clock the French columns were seen in motion towards our left, and very soon afterwards they ascended the height to attack us, and were only driven back by the heavy fire of our musketry, leaving the ground strewn with their dead. At eleven or twelve o'clock in the day the firing ceased, and a period of truce was allowed for both armies to collect their wounded, and convey them to the rear, where, as they lay often intermixed, a friendly intercourse sprang up between them, the Allies and French often going so far as to shake hands with each other.
At one or two o'clock the enemy again advanced and recommenced with a heavy cannonade and an attack on the whole British lines, but after some very brisk fighting on both sides we repulsed them for the third time, and obliged them to retreat with a loss of some thousands and a few pieces of cannon, the British loss being about a thousand killed and three or four thousand wounded. A very dreadful occurrence happened after the battle, for the long dry grass in which many of the wounded were lying caught fire, and many were scorched to death before assistance could be brought to convey them to hospital in Talavera. We lay that night in much the same state as on that previous, expecting to see our noble enemy again, but we were mistaken, for most of them took themselves off during the night, and in the morning only their rear-guard could be seen.
Next month commenced by Sir Arthur Wellesley leaving the Spanish general Cuesta in charge of Talavera and the wounded, while on the 3rd he proceeded to Oropesa, where he expected to come up with and engage Soult's army. But he had not been there long before he found the obstinate Cuesta, upon hearing that the enemy was on his flank, had abandoned Talavera, thus leaving nearly the whole of the British wounded unprotected. The conduct of Cuesta in thus retreating and abandoning the position and the charge entrusted to him, was almost too much for Sir Arthur to bear, particularly as it was afterwards found that there was no need for it, as the enemy was at some distance off, and not in the least interfering with the Spanish army's movements. So in this case we would have been much better without his services altogether.
From Oropesa we advanced through a country abounding with difficulties, the army suffering much during this march from the heat of the weather, the long exposure, insufficient food, and bad roads, and illness being very prevalent. Our provisions rarely exceeded two pounds of meat a day; and sometimes a pint of wheat took the place of one of the pounds of meat, with occasionally, but very rarely, a little flour. Our way of cooking the wheat was to boil it like rice, or sometimes, if convenient, we would crack the kernel between two flat stones and then boil it, making a kind of thick paste out of it. This having so little bread or other vegetable substance to eat with our meat was one of the great causes of illness.
We halted at or near Val de la Casa as our next stage for Oropesa, and two days after that at Deleitosa; and from there we were marched to Xaracego, whence, through lack of provisions, we were obliged to proceed to Badajoz, arriving there after being about a fortnight on the road. On leaving Talavera our clothes had been completely threadbare, and now, through having no change for so long we were smothered with vermin. When we had been a little while in Badajoz, however, we were supplied with new clothes, linen, blankets, and great coats, our old ones being burnt; and more live stock was destroyed in the process than there were troops in the country at the time.
Whilst we were staying at Badajoz, numbers of us fell sick daily, and amongst them was unfortunately myself. We were conveyed to a Portuguese town some four leagues from Badajoz, called Elvas, which was the strongest fortified town in Portugal, being very little more than two leagues from the frontier of Spain. It was situated at the summit of a lofty hill, and at the other side of a valley was a still higher hill, on the top of which was built another strong fort, the two together being called Elvas. We invalids occupied the convents of the town.
Our loss here through the sickness, which was some kind of fever, and was increased through the want of doctors and medicine, was very great, cartloads of the dead being carried out of the town every day for interment in the ground kept for the purpose outside the fortifications. I recovered sufficiently after about six weeks to be able to get out a little on the ramparts, and there a fearful spectacle often met my gaze, for the dead were brought out of the convents completely naked, and after they had been pitched into carts like so many pieces of wood, were carried out and put into holes scarcely large enough to admit of such a number. This unpleasant office of burying the dead fell chiefly on the Portuguese convicts, and it was surprising to see with what readiness these men went to work. They carried one body at a time, having the legs over their shoulders, and the head dangling down behind them, and when they came to the graves, on account of the piece of ground appropriated for the burials being so small, they had to pack their burdens with the greatest nicety. This sight soon cured me, as I thought what a narrow escape I had had of being handled by these same men; and I was glad to get back to my regiment at Badajoz as soon as possible.