« AnteriorContinuar »
had taken his clothes off, and then just given him a hand over the wall, and so placed him in the position described. “The two divisions attacked without knapsacks. The greater portion of the light division lay at the foot of the small breach in the ditch; hence it was that they fought on the slope, and rolled down in succession as they were killed; but on gaining the ramparts (there being no interior defences) they followed the French right and left, who retreated, panicstruck, into the interior of the city, keeping up, however, a running fire from the different streets, or the massive stone buildings. ‘The third division, at the first onset, were fired on from the parapets of the ramparts, and assailed by missiles and live shells, which were rolled from the summit of the wall : but the enemy did not stand on the crest of the great breach to oppose their ascent; for, if they had, it would have been impossible to escape behind their traverses. The enemy had left a space for one man to pass at a time, on the left of the right traverse, but expecting the attack, they had previously blocked it up with barrels filled with earth, having placed others behind to stand on for the purpose of firing over them. Before the morning, all these barrels, except one, were thrown down the scarped wall.”—vol. i. pp. 122–127.
The investment of Badajoz, and the successful conversion of this species of attack into that of escalade, are recorded by Captain Cooke, we believe, with extreme fidelity. Although we have repeated accounts of the battle of Salamanca, so famous for giving the Duke of Wellington the opportunity of exhibiting all the best qualifications of a general, yet the topic is of so much interest, that we cannot refuse our attention to any one who was present at the scene, however small be the amount of the information which he has to add. After describing the plain which was the site of the memorable victory, the author thus proceeds.
“The arrangement of our troops was inimitable; years could not have improved it. Our right had been fairly turned since the 20th ; the army were presenting a new front, so that the first or last, whichever it may be termed, of military movements was to be effected, that is for the contending armies to change places. . The French could not attack our left that day; if they had, the right of their army must have been either surrounded or cut to pieces. The third division would have been on their flank, the light division would have engaged them in front, the masses behind the Table Mountain could have debouched on either side, while our cavalry, artillery, and the rest of the army, could have moved forward, and attacked the left of the French in the plain, which must have advanced to support such a movement. The Table Mountain is the mark of the French marshall's discomfiture. Military men say the French ought to have taken possession of it: but was their army up and strong enough to maintain it? The advance of the enemy at six o'clock in the morning was not that of their whole force : I should say, that it was merely a reconnoissance; half a dozen squadrons of cavalry and a division of infantry must not be taken for a whole army, Nor had the French soldiers wings; for in justice to them, more could not have been done by legs. The Duke of Ragusa might have had his army in hand, and could have placed a corps of observation where his centre stood; then towards evening manoeuvred with his main body at a greater distance from our right flank, and threatened to cut us off from Rodrigo, (and thereby change positions with us) until night fall; at the same time keeping his communications open with Alba de Tormes, in the event of his not deeming it advisable to follow up such a movement the next day. At all events, the French general would have gained time, which was precious to him, as reinforcements were on the road to join him. The fact was, the French marshal was completely out-generalled : the Table Mountain puzzled him; and the third division descending from Cabrerizos at twelve o'clock, and raising clouds of dust as they passed along the rear of our army, caused the Duke of Ragusa to imagine that we were drawing off, which I am confident led him to take hasty measures, forgetting that he had been manoeuvring only on blank ground the four previous days. The Earl of Wellington saw his over haste and his error; knowing that to support such an extension of the left, the enemy ought to have advanced in force on the village of the Arapiles, or that they must expose their left to a flank attack, which they did. On the other hand, had they advanced towards the Arapiles in the plain in force, our right and centre would have become engaged, and the troops concealed behind the Table Mountain could have debouched, and hovered on their right flank. ‘This was the first general action fought on the Peninsula, where the Earl of Wellington attacked ; which led the French marshal still farther from his reckoning. The General-in-Chief, of course, did not wish to fritter away his army in useless skirmishes, and therefore only waited for a fit moment to bring it fairly in contact with the enemy, to finish well when once commenced ; and as the Duke of Ragusa brought himself to action within the precincts of Salamanca, the advantage was ours, the wounded soldiers having speedy assistance, while those of the enemy who managed to drag themselves far from the field, endured the most distressing privations. The French were formed on the heights behind the village of the Arapiles, with an extensive forest in their rear. ‘The field of battle generally was composed of light sand, with a few straggling blades of parched grass. A very light breeze blew towards the French, which gave them the benefit of the clouds of dust and the volumes of smoke arising from the immense masses in motion, notwithstanding the heavy rain on the preceding night. Near one P. M. the third division were passing in rear of ours. I was strolling about, here and there coming across a dead or wounded soldier of those who had fallen in the morning, when a Portuguese caught my attention. He was resting on his elbows with his legs extended, suffering indescribable pain from a wound in his stomach; his face pale, his lips discoloured, and stifled groans issuing from his nearly lifeless body, while an almost tropical sun was shining on his uncovered head. * Soon after the third division had reached its destination, a column of French descended a hili en masse on our extreme right, towards the village of Miranda. Three eighteen-pounders opened on them, which took full effect, and spoiled their regularity. The enemy hesitated, while the discharges of our heavy ordnance were overthrowing all opposition. They went to the right-about to get out of range. Our columns, formed behind the Table Mountain, now debouched in double time, showing the French marshal that the long-expected crisis was at hand. A sharp fire of musketry opened on some companies of the 7th fusileers, supported by the
light companies of the foot guards, as they broke through the village of the Arapiles at half-past two. The third division had already brought up their right shoulders, and were pushing on very successfully, when the enemy's horse furiously charged the grenadiers and right of the 5th regiment, while advancing in line, which they repulsed, and continued their movement. The fire gradually increasing, at half-past four the armies were in contact. The musketry rolled without intermission, only interrupted by the still louder artillery. The fourth division, breathless, amidst showers of grape, musketry, and round-shot, had succeeded in planting their standard on the crest of the enemy's position; but at that moment a French division, in close column, and at a run, with fixed bayonets, forced them down the hill, whilst others advanced on their left flank, which was exposed, and carried the centre of the battle again into the valley; but our heavy cavalry, in the right centre, were bearing down all opposition, driving the left of the enemy before them, and putting them into the greatest confusion. Major-General Le Marchant was killed heading this charge. Marshal Beresford, Generals Leith, Cole, and Alten, were wounded. On the part of the French that fell, were the Duke of Ragusa, Generals Fercy, Thomieres, Desgraviers, Bonnet, Clausel, and Menne, besides their losing numerous prisoners, standards, and cannon. At six the battle was at the height—no cessation of musketry, and the cannon of both armies thundering away as if there were to be no end of it. The columns of smoke and dust were rolling up in dense volumes, so that the atmosphere became dark above the bloody scene; yet there was not a cloud to be descried, except those which arose from the battle. A Spanish peasant was looking on with his arms folded; I heard him exclaim, “Que grandisimo mundo 1" “The inhabitants of Salamanca were crowding the places of public worship, to offer up prayers for the success of our arms. Apropos, it was Sunday. “At half-past six, a brigade of Portuguese guns opened on the enemy, in front of our division. At seven, the Prince of Orange, one of the General-in-Chief's aides-de-camp, rode up, and ordered our division to move on the left to attack. We moved towards the Table Mountain, right brigade in front, in open column; having passed it, we then closed to column of quarter distance. The enemy's skirmishers soon advanced, and opened a brisk fire. The shades of evening now approached, and the flashes of cannon and small arms in the centre and on the heights were still vivid, while the enemy were making their last struggle for victory. An English officer of General Pack's brigade passed us, covered with dust and perspiration; he complained of the rough usage of the French. They allowed the Portuguese to approach nearly to the summit of the point of attack, then charged them, and used the bayonet without remorse, taking that part of the field under their especial protection. ‘The enemy's light infantry increased, and retired very deliberately; the ascent was gentle. The first brigade deployed, supported by the second: the first division was marching in reserve. ‘Our skirmishers were obliged to give ground to the obstinacy of the enemy; and nearly ceased firing. The line marched over them, dead and alive. * Appearances indicated a severe fight, for we were near the enemy's reserves. The Earl of Wellington was within fifty yards of the front, when
the adverse lines commenced firing. The General-in-Chief ordered us to halt within two hundred yards of the enemy. They gave us two volleys with cheers, while our cavalry galloped forward to threaten their right flank. At this time I heard that a musket-ball had perforated the Earl's cloak, folded in front of his saddle. As we were about to charge, the enemy disappeared, not being in sufficient force to withstand the attack. This advance was beautifully executed.'—vol. i. pp. 182—189.
To follow Captain Cooke through the succeeding details of his narrative, would be only to repeat the story of the latter epoch of the Peninsular war, and we are afraid that with no better Cicerone than the author of these volumes, the pilgrimage of the Pyrenees would be rather an uninteresting amusement. Our readers may be assured that Captain Cooke bears ample testimony to the fact, of the battle of Vittoria having been fought, of Burgos having been unsuccessfully besieged, of St. Sebastian having been captured after great slaughter; and upon the same authority we may state, that these actions and these sieges were carried on precisely in the way in which they were minutely described at the time, in the dispatches of his Grace of Wellington. The only novel feature which we remark in Captain Cooke's narrative of the events which succeeded the battle of St. Jean de Luz, is his account of the very curious and equivocal intercourse kept up between the advanced piquets of the contending armies. A passage descriptive of the nature of this communication will not fail to interest the reader. “At day break, on the 10th December, we perceived the advance of the enemy within one hundred yards of our picquet, loitering about as usual, without any outward display of any thing extraordinary going on, or any signs indicating that they were about to assume offensive movements. At eight o'clock, Sir James Kempt came to my picquet, and having seated himself by the fire, the assembled party consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith, (a staff officer) of the Rifle Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel W. Napier, Major Sir J. Tylden, Lieutenant Maclean, and the Honourable C. Monk, of our regiment, who all entered into an indifferent conversation, without contemplating that an attack was meditated by the enemy. Lieutenant-Colonel Napier remarked that he thought the French loiterers seemed very busy, which induced us to approach the window, which commanded a full view of the enemy's picquet house, and having looked at the same time, without seeing the cause of alarm, some of the party burst into a loud laugh, and declared that it was only Napier's fancy: but he still persisted, and would not give up his point, saying that he had seen them very often before, in a like manner, walking off by ones and twos to assemble at given points before making some rapid and simultaneous assault; and sure enough, before the expiration of half an hour, these ones and twos increased considerably all along the hedges. “Although Sir J. Kempt was always on the alert, (no general could be moro so,) still he persisted that nothing would take place, and ordered the first brigade to return to its quarters at Arbonne, a distance of more than two miles, and over a very bad road. Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith
remarked that he now agreed that the French seemed to be eyeing the post, and advised Sir James to rescind the order, as it would be better to conceal the troops, and to wait until the evening should develope their intentions. The field officer rode off to warn the other companies in advance to be in readiness. These were formed disadvantageously on a gentle concave acclivity, which could not be helped from the nature and shape of the country. * Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith alone remained, and before he rode off, walked round the sentinels with me, as I was ordered to defend the post, should the enemy come on, to oblige them fully to develope their intentions. Shortly after this, one of the sentinels, stationed on the most rising ground, turned his back to the French, and beckoned me. On reaching his post, he informed me that he had seen a mountain gun brought on a mule's back, and placed behind a bush. In a few minutes, the Duke of Dalmatia, with about forty staff officers, came within point-blank range of my picquet, to reconnoitre the ground. During this interval I fancied that I could hear the buzz of voices behind a small hillock, and in clambering a fruit tree near my picquet house, I could just descry a column of the enemy lying down in readiness to pounce on us. There being no longer any doubt that they were about to attack, I instantly mounted my horse, . leaving the company in charge of the next senior officer, whom I met within a quarter of a mile, and told him there would be a general action fought that day, and there was no time to be lost. Sir James Kempt ordered me to send a mounted officer from the picquet to General Baron D'Alton, and to be sure and not to begin the firing until the last moment. He sent also the greater part of another company to my assistance. In two or three minutes after I returned to the picquet some French soldiers, headed by an officer, issued from behind the hedges, and moved round our left flank within one hundred yards. The officer naturally thought we should fire at him : therefore, to feign indifference, he placed his telescope to his eye, looked carelessly about in all directions, and made a bow to us. Further to the left we could also see a body of French cavalry debouching from the small thicket of La Bourdeque, three miles distant, near the Grea Bayonne road. - - -: “The French soldiers, witnessing our civility to their small party, were determined not to be outdone in politesse, and called out to our sentinels to retire, in French and Spanish. At half-past nine o'clock, A. M., the enemies, skirmishers, in groups came forward in a careless manner, talking to . each other, and good-naturedly allowed our sentinels to retire without firing on them. They imagined from their superiority of numbers to gain this post by a coup de main, and the more effectually by this means to surprise, if possible, the whole line of out-posts. However, when they were within twenty yards of our abbates, I said, “now fire away.” The first discharge did great execution. These were the first shots fired, and the beginning of the battle of the Nive.”—vol. ii. pp. 60–63.
Whilst the British troops lay in front of Bayonne, the intercourse appeared to be conducted on a more friendly footing, at least so we should conclude from the following anecdote.
‘Various acts of complaisance now passed between the vanguards of the hostile armies. A lady from Bayonne, with a skipping poodle dog, one