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might be left open to the English, being the CHAP. only communication they had for their retreat or supplies.
From the 22d to the 24th, Soult received such reinforcements as made his army superior to the British. Junot, with the army which had been transported from Portugal to France, had advanced to Palencia, and threatened their right flank. Buonaparte was hastening from Madrid, with his imperial cavalry, and all the disposable force in that quarter. The force under Lefebvre was counter-ordered from the road to Badajoz, and directed toward Salamanca. The retreat of the British upon Portugal was thus cut off. Of the numbers advancing against him Sir John Moore was not informed; and so little idea was there of flying when he began his retreat, that it was determined to carry off the prisoners; and they were accordingly stowed in covered waggons. A thaw came on the day when they first fell back; on the following it rained without intermission : the soil in that part of the country is a heavy loam, and the roads were above a foot deep in clay. The proclamations of the French travelled faster than the British army: as usual, full of promises which would not be fulfilled, and menaces which would. . They were come, they said, to deliver Spain; to emancipate the people from the yoke of a tyrannical nobility and a fanatic priesthood. All persons who remained quiet in their houses, or who, having for. saken them, speedily returned, should receive
CHAP. no injury; but otherwise, whatsoever belonged
to them should be confiscated. Unhappily, the conduct of our people now began to give effect
to these hand-bills. The soldiers were indignant of the troops.
with the Spaniards for their apparent supineness; they were exasperated by the conduct of some poor wretches, whose carts had been pressed to carry the sick and wounded, and who, as many of them as could, had taken their mules, and run away in the night, because the movements of a retreating army exposed themselves to imminent danger, and their beasts to certain destruction. Weary and disheartened, in want of rest and food, disappointed in their confident hopes of victory, and indignant at turning their backs upon an enemy whom they would so eagerly have met in the field, it was a relief for them to vent these feelings, in the shape of anger, upon the only objects within their reach. In this temper they began to plunder and commit havoc wherever they went; and the officers, many of whom already murmured at the rapidity of the retreat, and were discontented with the total silence which the Commander-in-chief maintained respecting his future measures, did not exert themselves as they ought to have done, to prevent these excesses.
Sir David Baird, who took the shorter line Passage of
to Astorga, by way of Valencia de S. Juan, effected his march without molestation. The sick and wounded, following the same track, halted at the latter place, to pass the night.
the Ezla. Dec. 26.
Hardly had they been provided with the ne- CHAP. cessary food, and laid to rest, before the alarm was sounded, and they were again hurried into the waggons. The night was cold, misty, and exceeding dark, and the Ezla was to be crossed some little distance from the town. They were not provided with pontoons. The ford is dangerous, because of the rapidity of the stream, occasioned by two narrow banks of shingles, which form an angle in the middle; and at this time the river was fast rising, from the melting of the snow upon the mountains. A serjeant's guard had been left by Sir David on the opposite bank, to assist the waggons in passing, and skuttle two ferry-boats, when they had effected their
passage. They kindled a fire with grass and rushes, for the sake of its light, but the materials were wet, and the wind soon extinguished it. A Spanish muleteer attempted to guide them over the ford: his mule tripped in the mid stream, he was thrown, and saved by a soldier, when just in the act of sinking. Perilous, however, as the ford was, the passage was accomplished, without other loss than that of some baggage-waggons, which broke down.
Sir John Moore, meantime, with the other General division of the army, reached Benevente, and issued at there found it necessary to issue general orders, which reflected severely upon the conduct both of his men and officers. • The misbehaviour of the column which had marched by Valderas exceeded,” he said, “ what he could have believed
CHAP. of British soldiers. He could feel no mercy
towards officers who neglected, in times like these, essential duties, nor towards soldiers who disgraced their country, by acts of villany towards the people whom they were sent to protect." Alluding then to the discontent which was manifested at the hurry of the retreat, and the mystery which was thrown over their proceedings, he said, “ it was impossible for the General to explain to his army the motives of the movements which he directed; he could, however, assure them, that he had made none since he left Salamanca which he did not foresee, and was not prepared for; and, as far as he was a judge, they had answered the purposes for which they were intended. When it was proper to fight a battle he would do it, and he would choose the time and place which he thought most fit. In the meantime, he begged the officers and men to attend diligently to discharge their parts, and leave to him, with the general officers, the decision of measures which belonged to them alone.” Strong as this language was, it had no effect, and the havoc which had been committed at Valderas was renewed at Benevente. The castle there is one of the finest monuments of the age of chivalry; we have nothing in England which approaches to its grandeur: Berkley, Raby, even Warwick and Windsor are poor fabrics in comparison. With Gothic grandeur, it has the richness of Moorish decoration; open galleries, where Saracenic arches are supported by pillars of por
phyry and granite; cloisters, with fountains play- CHAP. ing in their courts; jasper columns and tesselated floors, niches, alcoves, and seats in the walls, overarched in various forms, and enriched with every grotesque adornment of gold and silver, and colours which are hardly less gorgeous. It belonged to the Duke of Ossuna; and the splendour of old times was still continued there. The extent of this magnificent structure may be estimated from this circumstance, that two regiments, besides artillery, were quartered within its walls. They proved the most destructive enemies that had ever entered them: their indignant feelings broke out again in acts of wanton mischief; and the officers, who felt and admired the beauties of this venerable pile, attempted in vain to save it from devastation. Every thing combustible was seized, fires were lighted against the fine walls, and pictures of unknown value, the works, perhaps, of the greatest Spanish masters, and of those other great painters who left so many of their finest productions in Spain, were heaped together as fuel. The archives of the family fortunately escaped.
The soldiers had, however, here an opportunity Affair of of displaying a spirit more becoming them as the Exla. Englishmen. Soon after the rear of the army Dec. 28. had marched into the town, an alarm was given that the enemy were on the opposite heights. In an instant all was on the alert; every man hastened to his place of rendezvous; the cavalry poured out of the gates:.. the plain in the op