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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter XIII - The Third Battalion in the Peninsula, 1808-1814


Captain Waters* adventure—Corunna—The interlude of Wal-cheren—Busaco—Fuentes d’Onor—First use of name "Royal Scots” — Salamanca — Vittoria — Siege of San Sebastian—Nive.

The continual threat of invasion by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century resulted in a considerable expansion of the Army, not only by the creation of new regiments, but also in the enlistment of new battalions for the older units. The Royal Scots, whose boast it is that they alone have never had less than two battalions, were increased to four. On December i, 1804, new headquarters were established at Hamilton, near Glasgow, but recruiting went slowly for a time. During the thirteen years the extra battalions were in being, not only did they perform prodigies of valour as service battalions in their own right, but they were also used for supplying very substantial drafts to the first and second battalions, as has already been noted. There is, however, small record, other than inspection reports, etc., for the first few years of their existence, and they were quartered in many different barracks in the three kingdoms.

It was not until September 1808 that the third battalion was embarked for service in Spain. There is no need to set out here the origin of the Peninsular campaigns. Both Spaniards and Portuguese were resisting Napoleon’s attempt at world empire, and Great Britain sent a considerable force to their aid under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, afterwards Duke of Wellington. He sailed in July, and was followed by further corps, one of them under Sir Harry Burrard and Sir John Moore. The latter had already tested the quality of The Royals in Corsica and Egypt.

The battalion landed in October at Corunna with further reinforcements under Sir David Baird, who was to act under Moore in the new campaign in Northern Spain. The two forces joined at Majorga on December 20 and advanced to Sahagun, in the province of Leon, and north-west of Valladolid. Near here Captain Waters of The Royals had intercepted an important dispatch from Marshal Berthier, Napoleon’s Chief of Staff, to Marshal Soult.

The story of this picturesque incident is finely told by Mr. E. Fraser—

The dispatch announced that the Spanish Armies Sir John Moore was marching to join had been defeated and scattered, and that Madrid had surrendered, and had been in the complete possession of the French for the past ten days. Napoleon himself, the dispatch stated, was rapidly moving at the head of greatly superior forces to attack Moore’s army, and orders had been sent to the other French armies in Northern Spain to concentrate and close round the British so as to hold them fast, enormously outnumbered, as in a net. Soult was to push across so as to cut off Moore’s retreat and bar him from reaching the coast.

The dispatch fell into Captain Waters' hands by a strange chance. It had been sent in the care of a young French Staff-Officer, riding very imprudently without an escort. He had ridden safely for over 150 miles until he reached Valdestillos, where he halted at the posting-house—the village inn—to get a fresh horse. The villagers, as it befell, were celebrating a local festival on that day and holding revel, and dancing in front of the inn at the moment the French Officer rode up. In a loud and arrogant tone he called for the innkeeper. The man was dancing among the rest, and shouted back to the Officer that he would have to wait; he was going to finish his dance first. The French Captain lost his temper, swore at the Spaniard, swung himself out of his saddle, and striding in hot anger into the middle of the dancers, roughly laid hold of the innkeeper, and tried to drag him away to go and get the horse. The man resisted, and the girl he had been dancing with joined in the scuffle. She freed her partner, shoving back the Officer, who in a fury shouted in her face a brutal insult. Whipping out a knife from her garter for answer, the girl stabbed the young Frenchman to the heart then and there. The dead man’s valise was searched, and the dispatch was found. As that took place, Captain Waters came riding up.

The document was of little use to the Spanish peasants, who had no idea of its importance, nor thought of the British General in the matter. They would, however, not part with it. Captain Waters had to use all his arts of cajolery to get them to give it up to him. The innkeeper refused to let it go for less than twenty dollars. Captain Waters paid that sum, and at once rode off with his find. "The accidental discovery thus obtained was the more valuable,” we are told, "as neither money nor patriotism had induced the Spaniards to bring in any information of the enemy’s situation.

This important information changed Moore’s plans, and might have materially altered the campaign, but for the hopeless failure of his Spanish allies under La Romana. Moreover, Napoleon’s move against him was in such superior force that to remain at Sahagun was to invite annihilation. The Emperor, however, was badly served by his intelligence department and made some serious strategical errors. Moore had no delusions as to the difficulty in which he found himself, and began to retreat. The British troops were furious, discipline was much prejudiced, and deserters were many. For all that, the cavalry covered the retreat in most brilliant fashion, and the infantry marched magnificently through most difficult country and in cruel weather. Moore had encouraged his men by hinting that he might make a stand at Astorga, but he moved out of it on the last day of December, thirty-six hours before the troops of Napoleon and Soult came up. The horror of the retreat, with its orgies of pillage and destruction, has never been more dramatically summed up than in one of the pictures in Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts,1 where British deserters are seen lying in a guard-house. Happily for Moore, Napoleon had given up the chase and left it to Soult to destroy the already broken redcoats. The French cavalry harassed the retreat, and cut up hundreds of stragglers, but achieved nothing decisive. On January n, 1809, the ordeal was over and the main body of the British marched into Corunna under Moore’s eye. The transports ordered to take them off had been delayed by bad weather, so the landward side was entrenched against the inevitable attack by Soult. The action began on January 15, but did not fully develop until the next day. The Royals were in Manningham’s brigade with the Cameronians and the Eighty-first, and formed part of Baird’s division. They seem to have had no part in the earlier struggles at Elvina, in which Moore received his mortal wound, but their turn came in the afternoon. Manningham fell upon the French General Merle's columns as they were pressing forward to clear the British out of Elvina. The enemy turned on them and for hours the fight went savagely until the British were relieved by the Fifty-first. It would appear that only a small number of The Royals were engaged and no casualty list has been preserved, but the regiment was thanked in general orders for its gallant conduct. The sun set on a British victory, but with Sir John Moore dead. There is no need to tell again here the deathless story of his last hours, but we may well believe that there were no sadder witnesses of that solemn burial at dead of night than The Royals who had so often followed him to victory.

The army embarked soon after and arrived in England worn out and in filthy clothes which had not been changed for three weeks. It was not until 1832 that the honour "Corunna ” was ordered to be added to the regimental colours.

By July 16, 1809, the third battalion was embarked again on the disastrous expedition under the Earl of Chatham directed against Walcheren, a Dutch island in the North Sea near the mouth of the Scheldt. By August 7 it was engaged in the siege of Flushing to some purpose, for the enemy made a sortie and were repulsed by the violent fire of The Royals and a gallant charge by the light company of the regiment. Another brilliant attack across the sandhills resulted in the capture of an enemy gun by thirty Royals, and a week later the town surrendered. However, sickness and ill-conceived operations brought the campaign to an end with small glory to any one concerned, and the reader is referred to Captain St. Clair's memoirs for further details.

By the following March, the third battalion was once more at sea on the way to Portugal, and joined Wellington’s army in July, many of them still fever stricken from the effects of Walcheren. They were joined with the Ninth and Thirty-eighth under Barns and three Portuguese brigades to form the Fifth (General Leith’s) Division, and although Lord Liverpool had written from home of them, “the period will be very remote when they will be fit for active service,” they gave a good account of themselves when it came to fighting.

The position was as follows. The French Marshal Massena was moving from Spain with a huge army and boasted that he would drive the British into the sea. Wellington posted his army on the Serra do Busaco, a long uninterrupted ridge about nine miles long, its sides seamed with ravines, but its summit of sound firm ground. Leith’s division with The Royals was on the right, next within Hill’s, and astride the San Paulo road crossing the ridge. On September 26 Ney’s corps moved forward to reconnoitre and report to Massena, who was in chief command of the French. Junot and Reynier were also at the head of enemy corps, and the latter moved against the British right. The French under Foy stormed the hill with signal bravery, but met with a withering fire. Just as they reached the summit Barns’ brigade fell on them and saved the flank of Picton’s division from being turned. The Ninth were in front with The Royals in support. Foy was wounded, and his men ran in headlong rout. The battle was won as far as the British right was concerned. On the left Ney put up a magnificent fight but achieved no greater success, and Wellington was left in undisputed command of the ridge. The losses of The Royals were trivial and indeed their share in the hurling back of Foy was small, for the Ninth did their work so effectually that there was no need for any one to complete the repulse. Nevertheless, Leith reported on them very favourably and "Busaco” is among the battle honours of the regiment.

Massena was checked but no more, and Wellington fell back on the lines of Torres Vedras for the protection of Lisbon. The British entrenchments here were so skilfully conceived and constructed that Massena could do no more than sit down before them, and this condition of stalemate continued until the end of the year.

It was not until March 5, 1811, that Massena fell back from his position at Santarem in the direction of the Spanish frontier. The British followed him, and two months later The Royals were engaged at Fuentes d’Onor, but only lost a few wounded. Ensign John Allen, of the regiment, left a diary of the campaign, from which we gather that the British soldier of that day was of the same careless humour which marks our men in Flanders now. On July 20 the regiment was bivouacked in a wood, “very busily employed in constructing a hut, etc. This place we call Vauxhall, from the woodland scenery and our bands.” Vauxhall was then the smart pleasure garden of London. To-day our men label a trench “Park Lane” and a dug-out "Carlton Hotel” in a like merry and reminiscent spirit. Allen’s diary is a mine of interesting and humorous stories, but too long to transcribe here, and the further operations of 1811 which it records were not of great military importance. The unreliable Cannon says that The Royals were at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo, but that is untrue. The Fifth Division did not reach the town until the day after its capture.

On February n the Prince Regent officially gave the regiment its present name : it was no longer to be called The First, or Royal Regiment of Foot, but “The First Regiment of Foot, or Royal Scots."

In April the third battalion witnessed the storming of Badajos but did not take any part in it, as they were fulfilling the honourable service of personal guard to Wellington.

Salamanca city was evacuated by the French before the British advance in June, and in the subsequent operations which led up to the Battle of Salamanca The Royals had some slight losses. On July 22 Wellington’s army was posted on the rocky hills south of the city, around and near the knoll called the Lesser Arapile, which gave the name to the village Arapiles. Marmont was in command of the French, and seized

! the bigger knoll called the Greater Arapile, working round to the west to outflank the British right under Pakenham (see Fig. 23). Leith’s fifth division (with The Royals in Greville’s brigade) was in the centre on the crest of the Lesser Arapile with Cole's fourth division (between 3 and 4 on diagram). He was ordered to advance across the valley and attack the French in front of him, as Pakenham with the Third Division advanced against the enemy’s left. Soon after five o’clock Leith was at grips with the French division under Maucune.

The men marched with the same orderly steadiness as at the first: no advance in line at a review was ever more correctly executed : the dressing was admirable, and the gaps caused by casualties were filled up with the most perfect regularity.1

The French were drawn up in a line of squares. Leith ordered his line to fire and charge.

In an instant every individual present was enveloped in smoke and obscurity. No serious struggle for ascendency followed, for the French squares were penetrated, broken and discomfited, and the victorious 5th Division pressed forward no longer against troops formed up, but against a mass of disorganized men flying in all directions. . . .

Leith was wounded, Greville the Brigadier was unhorsed, and the Colonel of The Royals fell severely hurt as he led his men to the charge. Major Colin Campbell took up the command, and under his leading the battalion pressed on and drove the broken Frenchmen into the woods.

Salamanca was won and The Royals had done their share nobly, but at the cost of 160 casualties. Not for nothing does Salamanca appear on the colours of the regiment. They continued with Wellington’s army all that year, but the further operations were not important.

In May 1813, after quitting winter quarters, there was a fresh advance into Spain, and the Allies pressed sharply on the heels of the retreating French. On June 21 Wellington began his attack on the enemy, who was drawn up before Vittoria. Colin Campbell (Major at Salamanca, and since promoted Brevet Lieut.-Colonel) was in command of the Third Royals, in the left British column (2 on the diagram) under Graham, afterwards Lord Lynedoch and Colonel of the regiment. The column carried the heights in front and dislodged the enemy with the bayonet. Campbell fell severely wounded and the command devolved on Major Peter Frazer. The Royals crossed the riven turned the enemy’s right and cut off his line of retreat. Elsewhere in the field Wellington was no less successful and the French fled towards France, a broken wreck, leaving their colours, guns and stores. Once more the gallantry of The Royals was marked by an addition to their battle honours, and Vittoria adorns their colours.

Their next business was to proceed, still under Graham’s command, to the investment of San Sebastian, the last foothold of the French in Spain. On July 17 three companies of the third battalion and one of the Ninth carried an important post with great dash. The batteries then began the work of breaching the walls, a serious matter with so fine a soldier as General Rey conducting the defence. The Royals, under Major Frazer, were detailed for the assault on the great breach, with the Ninth in support. The Forlorn Hope consisted of the light company with twenty men of the Ninth and was led by Lieut. Clarke of the regiment and Colin Campbell,a lieutenant in the Ninth, afterwards known to fame as Lord Clyde. The signal was given at 5 a.m., while it was still dark, and the troops filed out of their trenches and crossed the open stretch of broken and slippery ground.

Unhappily the British batteries had not heard it, and continued firing, so that the stormers were assailed with shot by friend as well as foe. Major Frazer was the first to get to the breach, and broke through with a few' men, but wfas killed as he reached the enemy’s ranks. The command then fell to Captain Mullen, who led The Royals in heroic fashion, but the defence was too strong and the breach insufficient. Most of the storming party had lost their direction, and they were dispirited by the confusion and their heavy losses. The defenders, flushed with success, poured a frightful fire : of grape, bullets and hand grenades from every gun, musket and hand, which tore to pieces the confused and pent-up mass of the stormers. Success being hopeless, the troops were ordered to retire, burning with rage and shame at the want of success which they could not but recognize was largely due to circumstances outside their control.

Graham’s dispatches emphasize the heroic nature of the attack and tell how The Royals refused to give way until they received definite orders. “ The Royal Regiment proved by the numbers left in the breach (87 were killed, 246 wounded, and 135 prisoners) that it would have been carried, had they not been opposed by real obstacles, which no human prowess could overcome.”

Lord Clyde, who commanded the Forlorn Hope, has left the following narrative of the assault—

On arriving within some thirty or forty yards of the demi-bastion on the left of the main front, I found a check. There appeared to be a crowd of some 200 men immediately before me, opposite the front of this work—those in front of this body returning a fire directed at them from the parapet above, and which was sweeping them down in great numbers, and also from an entrenchment which the enemy had thrown across the main ditch, about a yard or two retired from the opening into it. I observed, at the same time, a heavy firing at the breach; and as the larger portion of the right wing appeared to be collected, as I have described, opposite the demi-bastion, it was very manifest that those who had gone forward to the breach were not only weak in numbers for the struggle they had to encounter, but it was apparent they were also unsupported. I endeavoured with the head of detachment to aid some of their own officers in urging and pushing forward this halted body. They had commenced firing, and there was no moving them. Failing in this, I proposed to Lieut. Clarke, who was in command of the light company of The Royals, to lead past the right of these people, in the hope that, seeing us passing them, they might possibly cease firing and follow. I had scarcely made this proposition, when this fine young man was killed, and several of my own (qth) detachment, as also many of the light company of The Royals, were here killed and wounded. In passing tins body with the few of my own people and most of the lignt company of The Royals, some might have come away, but the bulk remained. Their halting there (opposite the demi-bastion) thus formed a sort of stopping place, between the trenches and the breach, as the men came forward from the former on their way to the latter. On arriving at the breach, I observed the lower parts thickly strewed with killed and wounded. There were a few individual officers and men spread on the face of the breach, but nothing more. These were cheering, and gallantly opposing themselves to the close and destructive fire directed at them from the round tower and other defences on each flank of the breach, and to a profusion of hand-grenades, which were constantly rolling down. In going up, I passed Jones, of the Engineers, who was wounded, and on gaining the top, I was shot through the right hip, and tumbled to the bottom. The breach, though quite accessible, was steep, particularly towards the top, so that all those who were struck on the upper part of it rolled down, as in my own case, to the bottom. Finding, on rising up, that I was not disabled from moving, and observing two officers of The Royals who were exerting themselves to lead some of their men from under the line wall near to the breach, I went to assist their endeavours, and again went up the breach with them, when I was shot through the inside part of the left thigh.

About the time of my receiving my second hit, Captain Arguimbeau, of The Royals, arrived near the bottom of the breach, bringing with him some eighty or ninety men, cheering and encouraging them forward in a very brave manner through all the interruptions that were offered to his advance by the explosion of the many hand-grenades that were dropped upon them from the top of the wall, and the wounded men retiring in the line of his advance (the narrow space between the river and the bottom of the wall). Seeing, however, that whatever previous efforts had been made had been unsuccessful— that there was no body of men nor support near to him, while all the defences of and around the breach were fully occupied and alive with fire, and the party with him quite unequal in itself-—seeing also, the many discouraging circumstances under which the attempt would have to be made, of forcing its way through such opposition, he ordered his party to retire, receiving when speaking to me, a shot which broke his arm.

The besiegers were not discouraged by this first failure, and another attempt was made. Behind the great breach which the guns had made in the eastern wall, however, the French had built a stout interior rampart fifteen feet high, which turned the breach into a death-trap. Never had British soldiers been sent on a more desperate adventure.

On the night of the 29th, a party of seventeen men of The Royals, under Lieut. Macadam of the 9th Foot, performed one of the most gallant actions on record, and one which for devotion has never been surpassed in the military annals of this or any other country. The existence of a big mine in the breach was known, and it was determined to tempt the French to fire it prematurely. The Royals on receiving orders ran from the trenches cheering and shouting. They rushed up the slopes of the breach hoping to make the enemy believe that the assault was imminent. The ruse was unsuccessful, and only Lieut. Macadam returned to the trenches. Here was an enterprise in which either success or failure meant severe wounds if not death, but these men were prepared to sacrifice their lives, all they had to give, so that their comrades might reap the benefit of their sacrifice. Their deed should never be forgotten. The final assault was fixed for the 31st, at 11 a.m., and the battalion, under Lieut.-Colonel Barns,1 was directed to attack the left of the second breach. The stormers gained the breach and clung to it, but owing to the defences which had been thrown up inside, they could get no further forward. Attack after attack was made, and the men at the breach were constantly reinforced, and as constantly decimated. The breaching battery now, by order of Sir Thomas Graham, brought their fire to bear on the defenders of the walls, and swept them clean, adding to their discomfiture by the exploding of their magazines. Relieved of the galling fire, a supreme effort carried the stormers over every obstacle, the town was won, and the French retired within the citadel.

It was not for nothing that Graham wrote, “our ultimate success depended on the repeated attacks made by The Royal Scots.” Their losses were 53 killed and 145 wounded. The citadel was battered into surrender on September 8.

Never was a battle honour better deserved than when San Sebastian was added to the regimental colours. But their work was not yet done. By an odd turn of Fortune’s wheel, this regiment, which had served France so faithfully in the seventeenth century, was the first to set foot in that country when Wellington drove the enemy across his frontier.

On November 10 the French lines on the River Nivelle were attacked, but The Royals were only lightly engaged, so they do not bear Nivelle on their colours. It was otherwise in December, and the battle honour “Nive” marks their gallantry in the attacks and counter attacks near Bayonne. Thus ended 1813, a glorious year in the records of the regiment.

The last fight of the Peninsular War ended sadly for The Royals. They were in the first brigade (still of the Fifth Division) under Major-General Hay, in Sir John Hope’s army which was blockading Bayonne. Hay was an old officer of the regiment, and his son George had fallen with them at Vittoria.

On the morning of April 14 the French, to the number of 3000, made a sortie from the citadel, and drove in our pickets, which were composed of men from Major-General Hay’s Brigade on the left, and from the Guards in the centre. Hay1 was shot dead, just as he gave the command to hold on to the church (at St. Etienne) at all costs. Hay had fought all through the Peninsula, surviving a hundred perils, and was promoted Major-General June 4, 1811. As he went the round of the pickets on the night of his death, he said to his men, with glee, “No more fighting, my lads; now for your homes, wives and sweethearts.” Three hours later he himself lay slain. The campaign closed with the last few shots of this night. The slaughter at Bayonne had been not only heavy but purposeless, for two days before Napoleon had abdicated.

The Royals were the last to leave French territory as they had been the first to enter it. They were at home in September, and the word “Peninsula” on their colours marks the deathless story of their exploits.


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