of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 36 - The Skirmish of
Fuente Duenna - The Leaguer of Alsa de Tormes
About the middle of October
the legions of Marshals Jourdan and Soult, having formed a junction,
advanced, under the command of the latter, fifty thousand strong, from
Valencia on Madrid, and in a short time arrived within a few leagues of
Aranjuez. Combining his forces with those of Generals Elio and Freire, and
with the Spaniards of Don Carlos de Espagna, Sir Rowland Hill, at the head
of forty thousand well-tried soldiers, moved to meet them, commencing his
march from Aranjuez on the 23rd of October. Many a sorrowful farewell was
said that morning, and many a bright eye grew dim as the retiring sound of
the British drums died away among the windings of the Tagus. Crossing the
latter, immediately below the walls of the palace, the division marched to
Col-menare de Orijo, a town of Toledo. Here different brigades were posted
at the several fords of the Tagus, by which Soult's infantry might attempt
to pass. That at Fuente Duenna fell to the lot of the first brigade. On
the second day after their bivouacking there a party of the enemy's
cavalry were seen approaching the river, either to cross or reconnoitre.
The light company of the Gordon Highlanders, and Captain Blacier's company
of the German Rifles, were ordered to receive them at the ford. Unluckily
for himself, Lisle accompanied 'the light bobs' on this occasion as a
volunteer, in place of an officer who was sick. Seaton commanded the
whole, and he placed the companies in hiding among some laurel-bushes,
willows, and long reeds, which grew by the water-side, overlooking the
place where the dragoons must cross if such was their intention. The
Highlanders knelt down on the right knee, but the Germans, who were posted
among the reeds, lay flat on the ground, and levelled their short rifles
over the glazed tops of their shakoes, which they placed before them. All
were ready to let fly a volley among the unsuspecting Frenchmen, who came
forward at a gallop with their carbines unslung. The party consisted of
nearly eighty heavy dragoons. An officer of cuirassiers and two others in
staff uniform accompanied them. They drew their bridles at the brink of
the river, and from his place of concealment Stuart recognised his friend
De Mesmai in the cuirassier : and in one of the staff-officers, Monsieur
Law, the Baron de Clappourknuis, in the other their late host at Aranjuez,
the Duke of Alba de T------.
'Stuart,' whispered Lisle, 'is it possible
that the officer without the epaulettes is really the duke?
'Without doubt 'tis he.'
'How base and treacherous!'
'He will receive the reward of his treason
instantly. It has always been whispered that he was false to King
Ferdinand and his allies. A base wretch! to join the invaders of Spain
when so many brave men are struggling with heart and hand to free her from
the grasp of the Buonapartes. Evan, bring that officer down. Mark him when
the word is given to fire.'
'Were he as fause as Menteith, an ounce o'
cauld lead will settle him,' replied Evan, blowing some loose powder from
his lock. 'I'll tak' him canny, and wing him aucht inches below the oxter,that's
just in the belt.'
'No, no, for God's sake!' whispered Louis to Stuart. 'He is the father of
Virginia de Alba, and were he as false as Judas, that would save him.'
'Hush!' whispered Seaton, in the same low
tone; 'they are conversing, and I should be glad to hear the news from
le Duc will perhaps be so good as to inform us whereabouts this infernal
bridge of Fuente Duenna lies? said De Mesmai.
'Ah!' chimed in the baron, in Spanish, 'this
is the place marked by the marshal in his map.'
'The bridge lies lower down the river,'
replied the duke; 'but there is a ford in this neighbourhood, which I will
have the honour to show you, senores.'
'Do so, in the devil's name!' replied De
Mesmai hastily, while he surveyed the duke with an expression on his dark
face which showed how much he despised such an auxiliary, notwithstanding
his rank. 'We have ridden quite far enough to see this ford, and when you
have shown it to the baron, I will condescend to thank you.'
'De Mesmai!' said the baron, holding up his
Monsieur le Baron,I comprehend ; the British may look for a visit in the
morning, which will yield them more danger than delight. With your
permission, Monsieur Law, after reconnoitring this ford we will retire as
soon as possible, because I little like riding here in such open ground.
The bushes opposite might contain a thousand riflemen, or some of your
bare-legged brethren, than whom I would rather face the devil. I have
provided a white stake to drive into the ground, which will mark the ford
for Lamorciere's chasseurs, who lead the way in our attack on Hill's
'Colonel Lamorciere shall be welcome,' said Seaton, as De Mesmai moved his
horse along the bank of the river, chanting gaily an old rondeau beginning
Anglais, Vous n'avez que de I'arrogance. Pauvres Anglais,' etc., etc.
At that moment the Highland bugle-boy, who
knelt by Seaton's side, sounded 'fire!'
The bugle of the Germans answered on the left,
and a deadly volley, which enveloped the whole place in smoke, was poured
upon the French, nearly one-half of whom fell from their saddles. Horses
were seen galloping off in all directions, dragging their riders by the
stirrup, or leaving them dead or dying on the ground. The traitor dashed
his spurs into his horse's flanks and fled at full gallop, followed by the
baron. But not so De Mesmai, whom this unexpected volley had filled with
the utmost astonishment and ferocity, although it struck a temporary panic
into the dragoons.
'Revenge! mes camarades. Follow me,charge! By the name of the bomb! I
will cleave to the gorget the first dastard who attempts to fly. Vive
Animated by his example, they crossed the ford
at a gallop, dashing the water right and left; and forcing their horses up
to the bank, even while exposed to a hot fire, they fell furiously with
hoof and blade among the scattered Highlanders. It was a piece of
unexampled daring for a few dragoons to cross a river thus, under a hot
fire from concealed musketry.
'Vive l'Empereur! No quarter to the Germans!'
shouted De Mesmai, leaping his horse over the underwood.
'Form square!' cried the deep and manly voice
of Seaton. 'Rally rally! Quick, Highlanders, or you will be cut to
pieces! Close to the centre, Germans and all; blow the "assembly," bugler!
Hurrah, my lads! Shoulder to shoulder, Highlandmen! and give them the
bayonet.' With the speed of thought a rallying square was formed.
Blacier's Germans and the Highlanders mingled, the long cross-hilted
daggers of the former acting efficiently as bayonets when fixed to the
muzzles of their rifles. Ronald, while dressing, as it is technically
termed, one of the faces of the square, narrowly escaped a cut aimed at
him by a dragoon, who was instantly shot by Angus Mackie, a private next
to him; and Seaton had the feathers of his bonnet shred away by a stroke
from De Mesmai's sword. But the cavalry seldom came within a pike's length
of them; the stunted brushwood, the broken nature of the ground, and the
prostrate men and horses encumbered their advance, while the steady fire
of the little square disheartened and disconcerted them. After two brave
attempts to break the band of infantry, De Mesmai was compelled to recross
the ford, leaving sixty dragoons killed or wounded behind him.
Notwithstanding the hasty nature of their retreat, the twenty who retired
with him cut down and carried off several of the straggling riflemen,
dragging them across their holster-flaps by main strength of arm. Some of
these they were soon compelled to drop, when galled in retreat by the fire
of the victorious light infantry, who again lined the bank, and kept
blazing away so long as they were within range, 'Well done, 60th!'
exclaimed Seaton, as he mustered the companies together. ''Tis hard to say
whether the green jackets or the tartan kilts have distinguished
themselves most this morning. Lamorciere's chasseurs will have need of
other guides than the dragoons, if they visit the ford to-night.'
'Ech! Capitan Seetun, ve hab gibben dem der
teufels braden for breakfast,ech, ech!' replied Blacier, cramming a
quantity of tobacco into the bowl of a huge pipe, which he had pulled from
the mouth of a sergeant and transferred to his own. 'Someting more
betterer dan wahr-sagen vill show dem de foord dis nicht,de dragoons
I believe not, Blacier, my old boy! I shall recommend you to the notice of
Sir Rowland in my account of this affair. You have long deserved the
hole dich! I tink so. Much obleegemuch obleege to you.'
The Germans had suffered a little in this
skirmish, several having been sabred by the French; but only two
Highlanders were killed, and these by carbine-shots. Everywhere around the
ground was strewed with helmets, holsters, sabres, carbines, and the
bodies of men and of horses, rolling about in agony, or lying motionless
and still in death. Sometimes a head, a boot and spur, or a gauntleted
hand rose above the clear current of the Tagus, and then sunk for ever, as
some wounded straggler was swept down by the stream. All the arms and
accoutrements lying scattered about were, in conformity with the usual
practice, dashed to pieces and completely destroyed by the victors.
'We have escaped easily in this affair,' said
Seaton, as he mustered his light company, 'only a file of men killed; it
might have been otherwise, had we formed square less promptly. You have
done well, my gallant green feathers; you will get an extra ration of grog
for' this morning's work!' The Highlanders responded by a cheer.
'The Germans have lost many; they lie pretty
thick by the water-side.'
'Owing to their own want of alacrity in
answering the bugle-call. Many of them have their heads cloven down, even
through the thick shako.'
'This will teach the survivors to be smarter
in future. But where is Lisle?'
'Stuart, by all that is sacred, he has fallen
into the hands of the enemy!'
'He was close beside me at the moment the
bugle sounded to form square, and I have not seen him since.'
'I am afraid, sir, Mr. Lisle is either killed
or taen awa' prisoner' said Sergeant Macrone, whose bare knee was
streaming with blood which he endeavoured to stanch by a piece of tartan
rent from a plaid.
saw him stagger under the stroke of a sabre at the moment the dragoons
broke frae the bushes amang us,' observed another sergeant advancing his
'And has any
man seen him since?' asked Stuart of the company, breathlessly. Angus
Mackie and several others replied that they had, but their statements
differed so much, that it was impossible to come to any conclusion. One
declared he had seen him killed 'by a cloure on the croon, and that he
never moved after it;' another stated that he slew the dragoon who wounded
him, but all agreed that he had never gained the shelter of the rallying
square. Evan Iverach declared that 'as sure as death he saw puir Maister
Lisle grippit by the craigie, and dragged awa' by the officer of the
cuirassiers.' This last statement appeared the most probable, as no trices
of poor Louis could be discovered on the ground save his sword and bonnet;
and Stuart had a dim recollection of seeing a red uniform among a few
prisoners whom De Mesmai's dragoons succeeded in carrying oft amid the
smoke and confusion.
From Villa Cornjos, Ronald next day wrote to Alice, giving an account of
her brother's capture in the skirmish at Fuente Duenna; and while he
deplored the event, he said not a word of his fears that he was
desperately wounded. He had very little doubt that he must have been so,
otherwise De Mesmai, strong and muscular as he was, would have found it no
easy task to carry off Louis in the singular manner he did.
Sir Rowland Hill, on discovering that King
Joseph and Marshal Soult were manoeuvring to outflank him, prepared
instantly to frustrate their intentions, and give them battle. Making
forced marches by day and night at the head of the British, Spanish, and
Portuguese troops he had collected together, he skilfully took up a strong
position in front or Aranjuez, intending there to await the arrival of the
passed the Puento Largo at midnight. A detachment of miners were making
preparations to blow it up; and their red lights, burning under the
ancient arches, and twinkling on the sluggish waters of the Jacama,
presented a singular appearance as the regiments marched above them
towards the hills, where the position was taken before daybreak. But no
battle ensued. A despatch arrived from the Marquis of Wellington, saying
that he had been forced temporarily to abandon the siege of Burgos, and
ordering an immediate retreat into winter quarters in Leon and Estremadura,a
sad and most unlooked-for reverse of fortune to the army, who had driven
the enemy before them into Valencia and the northern provinces. Marching
through the wide and fertile plains, in the midst of which rises Madrid,
the second division commenced its retreat, in obedience to this order.
Passing close by the walls or earthen defences of the Spanish capital,
they bivouacked at the distance of a league from it. There was no time to
pitch tents, and the troops lay on the ground without them, exposed to all
the misery of a most tempestuous night of wind and rain. Next night they
were comfortably lodged in the village and spacious palace of the Escurial.
Ronald's light company were quartered in the royal chapel, a building
which contains the tombs of all the Spanish monarchs, from Charles V. down
to the present age. Crossing the Guadarama, or sandy river, at a village
of the same name, the great mountain was ascended, through which lies the
famous Guadarama Pass, and from which an extensive view of the surrounding
country is obtained.
The mountains were growing dark as the setting sun, enveloped in the
clouds, sank far behind them, and the effect of the scenery was
considerably heightened by the march of so many thousand men cavalry,
infantry, and artilleryup the winding pathway among the silent and
solitary defiles, disappearing, section after section, with colours waving
and arms glittering, down the deep pass of the Guadarama. Afar off, on the
plains of Madrid, leagues in their rear, clouds of dust rolling along the
green landscape marked where the pursuing squadrons and battalions of
Soult followed the route of Sic Rowland with precision and rapidity.
On the 8th of November, to cover the retreat
of the whole army, and to stay Soult's advance, the first brigade was
ordered to defend, to the last extremity, the town of Alba de Tormes, near
the eastern borders of the ancient kingdom of Leon; a forlorn sort of
duty, when it is remembered that so small a band were to oppose the
concentrated French army, 90,000 strong, I believe. On being reinforced by
General Hamilton's Portuguese brigade, and two companies of Spaniards
under the Condé de Truxillo, every means were taken to render the place as
strong as possible, by erecting trenches and barricading the streets,
almost useless precautions, as the town, which lies low, is commanded by
two adjacent heights. Its appearance, when the brigade entered it, was
indeed miserable and desolate, having been completely deserted by the
inhabitants, into whose hearts the retreat of the British and the advance
of the French had stricken terror.
The soldiers had tasted nothing for thirty-six
hours; and although drenched with rain, and wearied by a hard and forced
march, had to remain under arms around the old and ruinous Moorish wall of
Alba, during a very chill November night. About dawn, as no enemy had yet
appeared, after guards had been posted, the troops were dismissed to take
up their quarters in the dreary and empty houses, where everything had
been carried off or destroyed by the inhabitants before their flight. The
drizzling rain which had fallen during the night had drenched them to the
skin, but a dry article of clothing was not to be had, as the baggage was
far away on the road to the rear. However, doors and shutters were torn
down from the houses, and blazing fires kindled on the tiled floors,
around which officers and soldiers crowded together without ceremony.
Another day of starvation was before them,untold gold could not have
produced an ounce of flour in Alba. At night, by the great exertions of
the commissary, some horse-beans were procured, and a handful given to
every man; but early next morning some muleteers arrived from Corde Villar,
bringing a few small bags of flour, which were received with wild
demonstrations of thankfulness and joy by the starving brigade.
Every man who could bake was set to work, and
the ovens were speedily filled with tommies, as the poor fellows
designated their loaves, and expectant crowds, with eager eyes and hollow
cheeks, stood waiting around the bake-house doors.
The hot and smoking bread was scarcely brought
forth for equal distribution, before the bugles sounded, and the distant
reports of carbines announced that the enemy were coming on; and the
picket of the 9th Light Dragoons, posted in front of the town, had begun
to retire before the heavy cavalry of Soult. 'Stand to your arms!' was now
the cry on all sides, and a scramble and uproar ensued among the soldiers
at the ovens. The hot loaves were torn to pieces in handfuls and scattered
about; and many who had fasted for eight-and-forty hours (the repast of
horse-beans excepted) received nothing, while too much fell to the share
unfortunately among the former, as it was impossible for an officer to
struggle for a mouthful of food among the men, and until that day he never
knew what it was to experience the utmost extremity of hunger. But there
was no help for it then; and venting a hearty malediction on the Duke of
Dalmatia, he joined the light company, which lined a part of the Moorish
wall facing the direction in which the enemy were momently expected to
appear. The trenches, barricades, and other hastily-erected works, were
manned, and two hundred of the Highland light infantry were placed in the
ancient castle of Alba, a lofty round tower built by the Moors. The rest
of the troops, not engaged in lining the walls, occupied those streets
which would protect them from the view and fire of the enemy; and General
Howard ordered a part of the regiment of sappers to undermine the bridge
over the Tormes, which at Alba is both deep and rapid, to the end that it
might be blown up, to cut off the pursuit of the enemy, when the British
were compelled to abandon the town. The light dragoons, retiring through
Alba, halted on the other side of the river to await the event, and
immediately afterwards Soult's advance came in sight.
A company of infantry, the head of a column,
appeared between the two hills which overlook Alba. They were beyond the
range of musketry, and halting there, they ordered arms and stood at ease.
Shortly afterwards a staff-officer, wearing a glazed cocked hat and green
uniform, and mounted on a spotless white steed, descended at a trot
towards the town, and with the most perfect coolness walked his horse
slowly before the wall, which was lined by the 50th and Highlanders,
riding within fifty yards of their muskets,a distance at which, had they
fired, he must undoubtedly have been slain.
'A devilish cool fellow!' said Seaton. 'He
jogs easily along, looking every moment as if he expected a shot was
coming to spoil his impertinent reconnoitring.'
A murmur and cries of 'Tak him doon! tak him
doon! Gie him his kail through the reek!' arose among the Highlanders, who
began to look to their flints and priming.
'Weel would I like to gie that chield's pride
a' fa'!' said Angus Mackie, cocking his musket. 'The blind hauf hunder'
surely ha'na seen him. Dearsake, Captain Seaton! just say the word,will I
'Why,I know no
objection,' said Seaton, looking inquiringly towards Cameron, who was
standing on foot near an angle of the trench, with old Dugald Mhor beside
him holding his charger by the bridle. 'Colonel, some of my fellows are
anxious to fire; shall I permit them? I have some deadly shots in the
light company. Monsieur's reconnaissance will end the instant Angus fires
you, Highlanders!' exclaimed Cameron, his eyes beginning to sparkle as
usual when he was excited. 'Would you fire on a solitary individual, who
cannot return you a shot? He is a brave soldier, although a rash one, and
I will never permit such a deed to be done. Keep steady, men; you will
have firing enough in a short time.'
The light company were abashed, and the life
of the Frenchman was saved,a piece of generous clemency which Cameron
soon had reason to repent. The staff-officer, continuing at the same
deliberate pace, ascended one of the heights, where he was joined by an
orderly on foot, who, by his directions, was seen to place eleven stones,
equidistant, around the summit. Descending past the head of the infantry
column in the valley, he ascended the other eminence, and there the same
movements were performed; after which they disappeared to the rear.
That French officer, who so narrowly escaped
death, was MARSHAL Soult,the great Duke of Dalmatia himself, as one of
his own despatches, which a few days afterwards fell into the hands of our
troops, sufficiently testified.
Scarcely had he withdrawn, before twenty-two
pieces of artillery, each drawn by four horses, ascended the heights at
full gallop, and took their ground at the several marks which Marshal
Soult had laid. In an instant the gunners leaped from their seats; the
guns were wheeled round, with their yawning muzzles pointed to Alba; the
horses were untraced, the limbers cast off, and with the speed of thought
the cannoniers, all stout fellows, wearing high grenadier caps, gray
greatcoats with large red epaulettes, were seen hard at work with sponge
and rammer, charging home the cannon. Their active figures were seen more
distinctly by the yellow light shed across the sky by the morning-sun, the
rays of which shone merrily on the glistening Tormes, the brown autumnal
woods, the mouldering walls and desolate streets of Alba, where soon the
work of death was to begin.
'Well, colonel,' said Seaton, 'what think you
of this gay preparation? We shall have sixteen-pounders and long nines
firing like hailstones in a minute more. You will scarcely rejoice at
allowing the white steed to carry off its rider with a whole skin.'
Cameron bit his lips, and his fiery eyes
flashed; but he made no reply. 'Hech!' muttered an old Highlander; 'it's a
true sayin' at hame Glum folk are no easy guided. Ta cornel's been makin'
a fule o' hersel the day before the morn; hoomch!'
'Keep close under your walls and trenches,
lads, cried Campbell, who was watching the heights through a telescope
levelled across the saddle of his horse. 'Keep close; but never duck down
when a ball comes; as old Sir Ralph used to say, 'it looks d-----d
unsoldierlike.'Here comes a shot.'
A flash, and a wreath of white smoke,
announced the first cannon-ball, which, striking the wall of a house,
brought a mass of masonry tumbling into the street. Whiz came a second,
and a third, and a fourth, all in quick succession. The French cannonade
commenced then in good earnest, and continued incessantly from ten in the
morning until five in the afternoon,firing thirteen hundred round of shot
and shell, and perhaps to so hot a discharge of cannon so small a body of
troops, in such a defenceless place, were never subjected before. Without
the least intermission it continued for seven hours, and even then the
enemy only ceased to cool their guns, and await the completion of a plan
formed by Soult for surrounding and completely cutting off the defenders
of Alba. It was a miracle that every man in the place was not destroyed;
but the enemy chiefly expended their shot on a large empty convent, which
they supposed to be full of soldiers, and in consequence levelled it to
sixteen-pounder came whizzing amongst the light company, and, striking the
breastwork of loose earth, buried Seaton and a section of men under it;
and a hearty laugh arose from the regiment, as they scrambled out of the
trench, shaking off the soil and turf which had covered them up. Although
shot were crashing, shells bursting, and houses falling incessantly for
seven consecutive hours, only about fifty Highlanders were killed. The
loss of the other corps I have never ascertained, but the streets were
everywhere strewed with the dead. Many of the wounds were beyond
conception frightful, being all by cannon-snot or bomb-splinters, tearing
absolutely to pieces those they struck, and shearing oft legs and arms
like withered reeds. Macildhui, a sergeant, was killed as Ronald was
delivering some orders to him. His head was carried away like an
egg-shell, and his brains were spattered over the pavement. Night was
closing, and the enemy's guns were still in position on the heights, from
which another iron dose was expected in the morning, when an aide-de-camp
from Salamanca, covered from plume to spur with dust, dashed into the town
at full gallop, and informed General Howard that 3,000 French cavalry had
forded the Tormes some miles above Alba, that his position was turned, and
that the Marquis of Wellington desired he would abandon the town without a
moment's delay, otherwise the first brigade were lost men. The order was
instantly given to decamp, and the place was quitted double quick, the
troops moving through those streets which concealed their movements from
Soult, and forming in close columns on the other side of the Tormes, to be
in readiness for the cavalry, should they make their appearance. To
deceive the French marshal, the sentries were kept on the walls until the
last moment; and, Stuart, with ten light-company men, was sent to bring
senor!' cried Truxillo, waving his sabre to Ronald over the battlements of
the ancient Moorish tower, which he had volunteered to defend to the last
with his two companies of Castilians, to cover the retreat of Howard's and
'Adieu, gallant condé!' answered Ronald, as he passed beneath the walls
with his party. It was the last time he ever beheld him. By the sound of
his silver whistle he collected the Highland sentinels from all points.
These, with Major-general Howard, Wemyss, the brigade-major, and Ronald
himself, were the last men who quitted the ruins of Alba. The mounted
officers rode at a trot, and the heavily-laden infantry followed
double-quick, with their muskets at the trail. The moment the bridge was
cleared, the sappers sprung the mine; a roar like that of thunder shook
the current of the Tormes, and a cloud of dust and stones rose into the
air. Ronald, who was severely bruised by the falling fragments, cast a
glance behind as he hurried along. The bridge was a mass of ruins. The
Spanish flag was waving from the round tower of Alba, which was now
enveloped in smoke, and flashes of musketry broke from it on all sides as
the forlorn band of the condé opened a sharp fire from the rampart and
loopholes upon a dense and dark column of French infantry, which was seen
descending rapidly towards the town, with tricolours flying, and brass
drums beating in that peculiar manner by which the French regulate the
quick step. After a desperate resistance, Truxillo and his Castilians were
captured ; but the sound of the firing was long heard by the brigade as it
retreated in squares along the road for Ciudad Rodrigo, thus completely
frustrating Soult's design to enclose and cut them off by his cavalry, who
appeared in about half an hour, and met with so desperate a resistance
that they were compelled to retire with immense loss. That night the
brigade halted on the skirts of a cork-wood, five leagues distant from
Alba de Tormes. The half-leafless branches afforded but a poor protection
from the rain, which continued to pour without cessation until daybreak,
when the weary march was recommenced.
It was indeed a night of misery ! Although
worn out with fatigue and hunger, it was impossible to sleep on the wet
ground, on which the rushing rain was descending in drops larger than peas
; and almost equally impossible to stand, after what had been endured for
some days past,marching from dawn till sunset laden with seventy-five
pounds weight, and fasting for six-and-thirty or eight-and-forty
consecutive hours. Cursing themselves and their fate, many of the soldiers
were so disheartened at the retreat, and the miseries they had undergone
since they left Aranjuez, that they were often heard aloud ' wishing to
Heaven their brains had been blown out in Alba!'
Ronald, being sent on out-picket, lost even
the slight shelter afforded by the wood ; but the soldiers had lighted
prodigious fires, upon which even the power of the rain was lost; and
seated by one, he passed a sleepless night, listening to the rain-drops
sputtering in the flames, and to the hoarse croaking of frogs in a
neighbouring marsh. During the night it was discovered that the wood was
the lair of wild pigs, and a regular hunt ensued; by which means scores
were shot during the glimpses of moonlight. As fast as they were killed
they were quartered, and served out to the men, who crowded round the
fires, broiling them on their bayonets and long steel ramrods. Major
Campbell, who was a keen sportsman, and had been accustomed to shoot by
moonlight at home, exerted himself so well, that with his own hand he shot
five, and brought them to the bivouac, where he threw them among the
soldiers. The out-pickets had been puzzled to comprehend the meaning of
the firing within the wood, and Ronald was agreeably surprised by his
servant bringing him a slice of wild pork, famously fried in a camp-kettle
lid, and with it a berengena (a fruit of the cucumber genus) which he had
found in the wood and reserved for his master, although almost perishing
for want of nourishment himself. But the instances of Evan's fidelity are
contents of the camp-kettle were shared between master and man without
ceremony, and without the absence of salt or other seasoning being
affair of pig-shooting in the cork-wood, the commander-in-chief took the
opportunity to tell the army, in a general order, that they had
degenerated into 'a lawless banditti,' and that, without having suffered
the least privation, they were in a state of mutiny and disorder. This
taunting and bitter address is still remembered with peculiar annoyance by
the few survivors of that brave army.
But, to return to the unhappy and unlooked-for
retreat from Burgos, privations the troops did suffer (and I say so in
defiance of that general order), and privations such as soldiers never
endured before or since. Continuing their rapid retreat across the
frontier, on the evening of the 19th of November, the first brigade
entered the miserable village of Robledo, in Leon ; and as the soldiers
halted and formed line in the street, pale, exhausted, wayworn, famished,
and absolutely in rags, shirtless, shoeless, and penniless, they seemed
more like an assemblage of gaunt spectres than British men. Ronald's shirt
had not been changed for ten days, nor had his beard been shaven for the
same period. His shoes were completely worn away, and his bare feet had
been cut and wounded by the flinty ground, while his uniform hung in
fritters about him. Every officer was in the same predicament.
The military chest was emptythe stores
exhausted. The cavalry and artillery horses perished in scores for want of
forage ; and during the whole retreat from Alba de Tormes to Robledo, the
soldiers had fared on scanty rations of tough beef, horse-beans, acorns
and castanos picked up by the wayside ; or now and then, when the
commissary could procure it, a few handfuls of wheat served out to each
officer and privateunground. On reaching their winter quarters, thousands
or soldiers died of sheer exhaustion, or were invalided and sent home, to
become burdens to their friends, parishes, or themselves, for the
remainder of their lives.
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