In the long interval of
time during which Lord Wellington's army remained cantoned on the Spanish
frontier, no hostilities took place saving General Foy's fruitless attack
upon Bejar, and the defeat of the French under General Frimont in the vale
of Sedano, near Burgos. During the winter, supplies of every kind,—pay in
some instances excepted,— arrived from Britain, to refit the army and
enable it to take the field, which it did in an efficient state in the
month of May, 1813.
During the long residence
of the Gordon Highlanders in the valley of Banos, they had become quite
domesticated among its inhabitants; and it was a daily occurrence to see
them assisting in household matters,— working with the men in the gardens
and vineyards, or carrying about in their arms the little children of the
patrona on whom they were quartered ; and before the battalion departed,
the venerable cura had wedded, for weal or woe, several of the
olive-cheeked maidens of the valley to men who wore the garb of old Gaul.
On the 13th of May the
corps marched from Banos, and the entire population of the secluded vale
accompanied them to the end of the pass, and watched them until the notes
of the war-pipes died away in the wind, and the last bayonet gave a
farewell flash in the sunlight as the rear-guard descended the mountains
towards the plain of Bejar, where Sir Rowland Hill mustered and reviewed
the gathering brigades of his division.
The troops presented a very
different appearance now from the wayworn, ragged and shoeless band which,
in the close of the last year, had retired from Burgos. Fresh drafts of
hale and plump British recruits had filled up the vacancies caused by
wounds, starvation and disease; and a few months in quarters had restored
the survivors to health and strength; the new clothing had completely
renovated their appearance, and all were in high spirits and eager again
to behold their old acquaintances, Messieurs the French. Sir Rowland
complimented Fassifern on the appearance of his Highlanders, who cocked
their plumes more gaily now than ever, as they marched past to 'the Garb
of old Gaul.' Truly, new scarlet jackets, Paisley tartan, and bonnets from
'skull-cleeding Kilmarnock,' had wrought a wonderful change upon their
Although the Duke of
Dalmatia and many battalions of French had been ordered into Germany,
Buonaparte's army in Spain still mustered 160,000 strong. King Joseph, at
the head of 70,000 men, kept his headquarters at Madrid; the rest were
scattered through the eastern provinces, under Suchet and other
commanders. It was determined by the British and Spanish Governments to
make one grand and determined effort to drive the French across the
Pyrenees, on again taking the field against them. An efficient train of
pontoons was fitted out to assist in crossing those deep and rapid rivers
by which Spain is so much intersected. Everything which would tend to the
comfort of troops on service had been provided; and the army in the end of
May, as I have before stated, commenced offensive measures against the
Wellington, with the light division, moved on Salamanca; Sir Thomas Graham
crossed the Douro, with orders to move on Braganza, Zamora, and
Tras-os-montes, and to form a junction with the allies at Valladolid;
while Sir Rowland Hill, from Estremadura, was to march on the same point
by Alba de Tormes. By these movements the allies turned that position on
the Douro which the French generals had resolved to defend; and so rapid
was their march, that General Villatte, who occupied Salamanca with three
thousand men, had barely time to effect a retreat, with a loss of two
hundred, and a few pieces of artillery. The able Wellington, after placing
the right and centre divisions in cantonments between the Douro and Tormes,
joined Sir Thomas Graham, whose troops, after encountering many
difficulties in crossing rivers, ravines, and mountains, over which they
had to drag their heavy artillery and pontoons, took up a position on the
left, in communication with the Spanish army of Galicia under General
who were utterly unprepared for these rapid movements, retired
precipitately, destroying in their retreat the bridges at Toro and Zamora;
and the combined army now directed its march in triumph on Valladolid, one
of the finest cities of Old Castile, and one which might be styled a city
of convents, as it contained no fewer than seventy,—one of them the palace
of Philip IV. Crossing Escueva, the allies continued to press impetuously
forward, and the enemy to retire unresistingly before them. Joseph
abandoned Madrid, concentrated the French legions around the castle of
Burgos, which he blew up on the 13th of June, and with his whole force
retired under the cloud of night towards the Ebro, the passage of which
his generals made every preparation to defend. But again he and they were
signally baffled by the skill, talent, and penetration of Wellington, who,
moving his troops by the San Andero road, crossed the river near its
source at Puente de Arenas and San Martino,—a measure which so
disconcerted the plans of Joseph and Marshal Jourdan, that they were again
compelled to retreat, and the allied army continued its march to Vittoria.
On the 20th of June the second division
encamped on the plain of Puebla, near Vittoria. The first brigade was then
commanded by the Hon. William Stuart (a brother of the Earl of Galloway),
a true and gallant soldier of the old school, whose valuable services
received no requital from his country.
The time had now arrived when Joseph was
compelled to make a final and determined stand in defence of the crown he
had usurped, or behold it torn ingloriously from his brow, and on the very
ground where Edward the Black Prince, on the 3rd of April, 1367, totally
defeated another intruder on the Spanish soil—Henry the Bastard,—and
restored Don Pedro to the crown of Castile. The time was likewise arrived
when the legions of France, whose movements since the commencement of the
campaign had been a series of retreats, should make a decisive effort to
renew their fading laurels, or by being driven disgracefully across the
Pyrenees, lose for ever that hard-earned fame which they won under the
banners of the great Emperor.
Early on the morning of the 21st of June the
allies were in motion. Sir William Stuart's brigade moved in front of the
second division, which marched along the highroad to Vittoria. The morning
was beautiful, the earth was fresh with dew, and the merry larks were
soaring aloft over bright yellow fields, which were soon to be drenched
with blood. The sky was clear, blue, and cloudless, and the shining
current of the Zadorra flowed among thickets and fields of ripe waving
corn, which often afforded concealment to the light troops during the
action. Violets, cowslips, and a thousand little flowers which flourish so
plentifully by the waysides in Spain, were blooming gaudily in the fresh
dew; the brown partridge was whirring about, and ever and anon a fleet
rabbit shot past as the troops moved into the corn-fields, treading and
destroying the hopes and support of many a poor husbandman. Afar off,
their hues mellowed by the distance, rose the bold and lofty ridges of the
Pyrenees and other sierras, the outlines of which appeared distinctly
against the pure blue beyond. Save the near tread of feet, or the distant
blast of a bugle, no other sounds were borne on the morning wind but the
bleating of sheep and goats, or a matin-bell tinkling in some solitary
hermitage, calling its superstitious inmates to prayer for the success of
the friends of Spain.
To the British it was known that the enemy
were in position in front, and every heart beat high, and every fibre was
thrilling with excitement, as the columns moved towards the plains in
front of the town of Vittoria. Moving in close column of companies, the
Highlanders matched through a field of ripened corn, which nearly
overtopped the plumes of their bonnets. The other corps of the division
followed and then halted for a time, during which the crop, which was all
ready for the sickle, was soon trodden to mire. But 'necessity has no
law.' The flints were examined, the colours uncased, and the drummers were
provided with temporary litters, formed of pikes and blankets, for bearing
off the wounded officers.
Fassifern's eyes kindled up with that bright
and peculiar expression which they ever had when he became excited.
'Highlanders!' cried he, as the regiment again
moved forward, 'in a few minutes we shall be engaged with the enemy; but I
need not exhort you to do your duty, for in that you have never yet
failed. Keep the strictest silence on the march, but you may shout till
the mountains ring again when the pipes blow to the charge.'
'Fu' surely and brawly we'll set up a skraigh
then, lads!' said his equerry, Dugald Mhor, who was the only man who dared
to reply. 'But it's an unco thing for Hielandmen to keep their tongues
still, whan the bonnie sheen o' steel is glintin' in their een. Troth,
lads, we'll gie a roar that will mak' Buonaparte himsel shake in his shoon,
if he be within hearin'.'
The soldiers began to cheer and laugh, while
Dugald waved his bonnet; but the voice of the colonel arrested them.
'Silence, Dugald!' said he to that aged
follower, who, with his sword drawn, stuck close to the flanks of his
horse; 'silence! You always create some uproar in the ranks by your odd
observations. I am ever apprehensive that you will thrust yourself
needlessly into danger; and indeed it would relieve me of much anxiety, if
you would remain in the rear. You know well, Dugald, how much I would
regret it, should anything happen to you during the engagement to-day.'
'That depends just upon yoursel, sir: whar ye
lead, I will follow,' replied the old man, whom the world would not have
tempted to separate himself from Cameron, who had often insisted on many
occasions that Dugald should not peril himself by coming under fire. These
were injunctions which the obstinate old vassal valued not a rush; and so
in these good-natured altercations the master was always overcome by the
man, who seemed to regard fighting rather as a sport or a pleasant source
of excitement, just as one would view a fox or a stag hunt.
While Major Campbell was boring Ronald Stuart
with a painfully-accurate account of the battle of Alexandria, and the
position of the French forces on that memorable occasion, the legions of
Joseph Buonaparte appeared in sight. As each regiment quitted the path
among the corn-fields, and entered upon the plain before Vittoria, they
came in view of the whole battle-array of the enemy, occupying a strong
position covering each of the three great roads, which at Vittoria
concentrate in the road to Bayonne. The long lines of dark infantry
appeared perfectly motionless, but their burnished arms were shining like
silver in the sun ; the tricolours of the legions were fluttering in the
breeze, and many of their bands struck up the gay Cà ira and Marseillaise
hymn on the approach of the allies.
The right flank of Joseph's army extended
northward from Vittoria, across the stream of the Zadorra, and rested on
the hills above the villages of Gamarra Mayor and Abechuco, covered there
by strong redoubts. Between the right and centre was a thick cork-wood,
into which were thrown many corps of infantry, to keep open the line of
communication. The right centre rested on a height which commanded the
vale of the Zadorra, and which was strengthened by nearly one hundred
pieces of artillery. Their left and centre occupied the bold ridges above
the village of Subijana de Alava, with a corps de reserve posted at
Gomecha, and a brigade thrown forward on the lofty and rocky mountains of
Puebla, to protect their centre, which might have been outflanked by the
mainroad where it crosses the Zadorra. Joseph Buonaparte in person
commanded the whole, having Marshal Jourdan acting under him as
lieutenant-general. The armies were pretty well matched, each mustering
from 70,000 to 75,000 men, the French having the advantage in occupying a
strong position, which every means had been taken to strengthen.
Each regiment of Hill's division, on its
debouching from the Vittoria road, formed line from close column, and
advanced in that order towards the enemy. To the latter, the view of the
allied army at that hour must have presented a grand and imposing
spectacle ; so many dense masses moving successively into the plain, and
deploying into line by companies obliquely, with all the steadiness and
regularity of a review; the bright barrels and bayonets of upwards of
70,000 muskets shining in the rays of the morning sun; the silken
standards of many colours—red, buff, white, blue, and yellow—waving over
them; the bright scarlet uniforms, relieved by the varied green of the
landscape; and then the many warlike sounds increased the effect of the
scene. The neighing of cavalry horses, the roll of tumbrels and
gun-carriages, the distant yet distinct word of command, the mingling
music of many bands, the trumpets of the horse, the bugles of the
riflemen, and the hoarse wailing war-pipe of the Highland regiments, ever
and anon swelled upon the breeze, pealing among the heights of Puebla, and
dying away among the windings in the vale of Zadorra.
The prospect before them must have been one of
no ordinary interest to the martial legions of France. At the moment that
the distant bells of the convent of Santa Clara de Alava struck a quarter
to ten, the memorable battle of Vittoria began.
'There go the Spaniards—the soldiers of old
Murillo!' exclaimed Seaton, as a loud and continued discharge of musketry
rang among the ridges of Puebla. The sound caused every heart to bound,
for the day was big with the fate of many!
'Murillo and the Condé d'Amarante have
attacked the left of the French,' said Cameron, watching the operations
through his telescope; 'but they will be compelled to retire unless
succoured, and that promptly, too ! The heights are becoming covered with
smoke------By heavens! they are giving way.'
At that moment an aide-de-camp dashed up to
the brigade, with Sir Rowland's order for the 71st Regiment to advance,
and sustain the attack on the heights, in concert with the light companies
of the division, while the Highlanders and 50th Regiment were to support
them in turn.
then, Stuart!' said Seaton, giving Ronald an unceremonious slap on the
shoulder, 'see if another gold cross is to be won upon Puebla. We shall be
under fire in five minutes,—forward, light bobs Forward, double quick!'
Away they went in high spirits to the assistance of old Murillo, whose
troops were already wavering, under the steady fire of the French. The
roar of cannon and musketry had now become general along the lines, and
was absolutely astounding. War on a great scale is a grand, yet a terrible
thing. The whole valley of the Zadorra,—the fortified heights of Gomecha
on the enemy's right, those of Puebla on their left, the dark woodlands
between, the corn-fields, the hedges, and all the grassy plain below, were
enveloped in smoke, streaked with continual flashes of fire. In the
villages every hut had become a fortress, loop-holed and barricaded, every
wall of cabbage-garden and vineyard a breastwork, for possession of which
armed men contested desperately, hand to hand, and point to point.
The Honourable Colonel Cadogan commanded the
71st, and other companies, which moved up the heights to the assistance of
the Spaniards on the extreme of the British right. Forming line on the
hillside, they advanced with a determination and impetuosity truly
admirable towards the enemy, whose close and deadly fire was thinning
soldiers! upon them like fury! Forward, charge!' cried Cadogan, dashing
spurs into his horse's sides. A loud hurrah was the reply, and
simultaneously they pushed forward with the bayonet, and rushing like a
torrent through clouds of smoke and sweeping volleys of shot, fell
headlong upon the enemy, and all was for a time hewing with the sword and
butt, or stabbing with bayonet and pike. A severe and bloody struggle
ensued, but the French were driven tumultuously from the heights, after
suffering immense loss, and having their commanding officer captured.
Ronald, who was then engaged in a charge for
the first time, became bewildered,—almost stunned with the whirl, the din,
and the wild uproar around him. The excitement of the soldiers had been
raised to the utmost pitch, and they became, as it were, intoxicated with
the danger, smoke, noise, blood, and death which surrounded them.
Impetuously they continued to press forward
upon the foe with all the fury of uncurbed steeds, and the conflict was
renewed, foot to foot, breast to breast, bayonet to bayonet, and with eyes
of fire men glared at each other above their crossed weapons. When rushing
forward with his company, at the moment they mingled with the enemy,
Stuart encountered—or I should rather say, when half-blinded with smoke,
ran violently against—a French officer, a cut from whose sabre he parried
with his dirk, while at the moment, he passed his sword through his
shoulder, hurling monsieur to the earth with the force of the thrust. At
that instant he was stunned and laid prostrate by a blow on the back part
of the head, dealt from behind by the butt end of a firelock, or truncheon
of a pike. Vainly he strove to regain his feet, but reeled senseless on
the sod, and the last sounds he heard were the triumphant cheers of the
British, drowning the feebler cry of Vive I'Empereur! from their
antagonists. Almost at the same moment the brave Colonel Cadogan fell from
his horse, writhing on the grass with the agony of a mortal wound. A yell
burst from his regiment, the Highland Light Infantry, as they beheld him
fall; an echoing shout broke from their companions, and redoubling their
efforts with the bayonet after frightful carnage, they obliged the enemy
to retire precipitately down the mountains. Their left was thus completely
routed and in disorder, and the British flag waved triumphantly on the
bloody summits of Puebla.
Encouraged by this good fortune, Sir Rowland
Hill ordered his second and third brigades to attack the heights of
Subijana de Alava, which were gallantly carried after a severe and stern
conflict. King Joseph, alarmed at the loss of these important positions,
directed his left wing to fall back for the defence of Vittoria, and Sir
Rowland, pressing forward with his usual vigour, followed up this
Cole and Picton attacked their centre, and after a spirited resistance the
whole chain of heights was abandoned, and the French army began to retire,
but in admirable order, on Vittoria. General Graham dislodged the enemy
from the hills above Abechuco, and his countryman, General Robertson,
without permitting his troops to fire a shot, but solely acting with the
bayonet, drove them from Gamarra Mayor after great slaughter, and
sustaining during the advance a tremendous fire of cannon and musketry.
Towards evening Graham's division was pushed forward across the Zadorra,
and ordered to secure the road leading to Bayonne. By that time Lord
Wellington's centre had penetrated to Vittoria, and the enemy's right wing
had totally given way. All was now lost, and the greatest confusion ensued
among the foe. The court equipage of King Joseph, the baggage, the
artillery, and the military chest of his army were all captured. Those
columns retreating on the road to Bayonne were driven like herds of sheep
back upon that which leads to Pampeluna, and then the French army became
one vast mob, a disorganized and fugitive rabble. Joseph, owing his safety
to the swiftness of his horse, abandoned the wreck of his troops and fled
towards Pampeluna, hotly pursued by Captain Wyndham with a squadron of the
10th Hussars. In this great victory the loss of the allied army amounted
to 5,000, and that of the French to 6,000 or upwards, and the defeat of
the survivors was attended by every accompaniment of disgrace. A thousand
prisoners were captured by the allies and of the two solitary guns, of all
his immense train, which Joseph succeeded in taking off, one alone reached
Pampeluna, the other being taken next day.
Lord Wellington deserves the highest
admiration for the excellence of his dispositions and manoeuvres during
the whole of that brilliant campaign, and most decisive victory. Every
arrangement, every movement of the French generals, had been completely
baffled and disconcerted by his superior skill and military talents. In
four weeks he had driven them from Madrid to Vittoria, turning their
strong positions on the Douro and Ebro, and at last compelling Joseph and
Jourdan to show fight at a point where their army was utterly destroyed.
The battle had almost been fought and won
while Ronald Stuart lay senseless among the heaps of killed and wounded on
the hills of Puebla. The French, after being repulsed from the latter,
detached a legion, 7,000 strong, to. recover them, which movement being
perceived by General Stewart, he despatched Fassifern with his Highlanders
to the assistance of the troops already there. The regiment moved quickly
to the front, and after inconceivable exertions gained the summit by
clambering up the steepest part of the mountains, a feat perhaps only to
have been performed by Scots or Switzers. They soon reached the spot where
the desperate charge had been made. Cadogan lay there drenched in his
blood, and the carnage around him showed how fierce had been the conflict.
'Our light company men are lying thick here,'
said Fassifern, as he looked sternly around him.
'Here is Stuart,' exclaimed Bevan. 'Poor
fellow, this is his last field!' The regiment passed in open column,
double-quick, beyond the place where Ronald lay, to all appearance, what
his brother-officers thought him to be, dead. Close to him lay Torriano, a
lieutenant of the 71st, severely wounded; but there was no time to look at
them. The Highlanders moved onward to the assistance of their friends the
50th and Highland Light Infantry, who were severely handled by the enemy
on the other side of the heights. There the carnage was appalling in some
parts, where the ranks of friend and foe had fallen across each other in
piles. Smoke and bright flashing steel were seen everywhere, and the
echoes of the musketry reverberated among the deep ravines and grassy
summits of La Puebla. The overwhelming legion were still advancing; they
had outflanked the 71st, and cut off its communication with the 50th; and
the superiority of the French numerical force was compelling these brave
regiments to waver, when the cheers of their Highland comrades rang among
the mountains as they descended to their assistance. As Cadogan had
fallen, the command of the troops devolved on Fassifern, and, acting under
his orders, the three battalions compelled the legion to retire in
disgrace and disorder.
Three other attacks did they make in
succession, and with greater strength, but the attempts were vain. The
first brigade were resolved to hold Puebla or perish, and Cameron
continually drove them back. As the Highlanders said, 'their hearts werna
stoot eneuch for sae stay a brae,' and the proud Frenchmen were compelled
to abandon all hopes of regaining the important position.
Ronald lay long insensible where he fell, and
when life returned, the first sounds which saluted his ears were the
distant roar of the musketry, and all the confused din of a great battle,
which the breeze bore up from the plains to the mountains where he lay.
From loss of blood and the stunning effects of the blow, he was long
unable to rise, or even to speak; but his ear was intensely awake to every
sound around him, and he eagerly longed to know how the tide of battle was
turning in the valley below. The aching and smarting pain in his head was
excessive. He placed his hand behind, and withdrew it covered with blood,
and closing his. eyes, again sunk backwards on the gory turf. Although his
ears were invaded by the distressing cries and hoarse groans of agony from
the wounded around him, his heart wandered to that Highland home where his
very soul seemed to be garnered up; and in that terrible moment he would
have given the universe, were it his, for a single glance at the heather
hills and the wild woods around the old gray tower of Lochisla. He thought
of his white-haired sire, and of what would be his sufferings and feelings
should his only son perish in the land of the stranger. Alice, too,—but
the thought of her inspired him with new life and spirit. He rose and
unclasped her miniature, which was clotted and covered with his blood; he
restored it to his breast, and looked about him. As the noise of the
battle still continued without abatement, and he heard the shouts and
battle-cry of the French mingled with the cheers of the British at times,
he asked a French soldier who sat near him, shot through the leg, if he
knew how the day had gone. He answered, without a moment's hesitation,
that the troops of the great Emperor had outflanked, beaten, and cut to
pieces those of Wellington, who was on the road to Lisbon, flying as fast
as his horse could carry him. Although Ronald put little dependence on
this information, he resolved to satisfy himself. The Frenchman kindly
bound up his head, and gave him a little brandy from his canteen; for
which the Scotsman gave him his earnest thanks, being quite unable to
yield more solid remuneration, not having seen a day's pay for six months.
Making use of his sword as a support, he got upon his feet, and all things
seemed to swim around him as he staggered forward.
Cadogan had been carried off by two soldiers
of his own regiment, but his horse was lying dead upon a wounded
Highlander, who had long struggled to free himself from its oppressive
weight, and now called aloud to Ronald, who was unable, to yield him the
slightest assistance. As he passed slowly onwards to that part of the
heights whence he expected to have a view of the whole battle-field, he
beheld the officer whom he had encountered lying dead, pierced with a
score of bayonet wounds. A soldier of the light company lay dead across
him, with his face literally dashed to pieces by a blow from the butt-end
of a musket, and so much was he disfigured that it was impossible to
recognise him. Close by a piper of the 71st lay dead, with his pipe under
his arm; his blood had formed a black pool around him of more than a yard
square. Hundreds were lying everywhere in the same condition; but further
details would only prove tiresome or revolting.
With much difficulty Stuart gained the
extremity of the ridge, and the whole soul-stirring display of the field
of Vittoria burst at once upon his gaze, extending over a space of ground
fully six miles in length. Truly, thicker than leaves in autumn the bodies
of men were strewed along the whole length of the hostile armies. The warm
light of the setting sun was beaming on the mountain-tops, but its lustre
had long since faded on the sylvan vale of the Zadorra, where the shadows
of evening were setting on the pale faces of the dead and the dying. The
plains of Vittoria, too, were growing dark, but at the first view Ronald
was enabled to perceive, and his heart beat proudly while he did so, that
the allies had conquered, and the boastful story of the Gaul was false.
Afar off he beheld dense clouds of dust
rolling along the roads which led to Pampeluna and Bayonne. There the
glistening arms were flashing in the light of the western sky, as the
brigades of British cavalry swept on like whirlwinds, charging and driving
before them, sabre à la main, the confused masses of French infantry, who,
when their position was abandoned, retired hurriedly towards the mainroads
for France. He saw his own division far down the plain, driving a column
like a herd of sheep along the banks of the river towards Vittoria; beyond
which they pursued them, until the smoke of the conflict and the dust
which marked its route were hidden by the cloud of night.
But long before this he had begun to descend
the hills, and weak and weary as he was he found it no easy task to
scramble among the furze, briars, and brambles with which their sides were
covered. At the foot of them he found many men of his own regiment lying
dead. These had been slain by the fire of a few field-pieces, which the
French had brought to bear upon them while moving towards Puebla. The moon
broke forth when he reached the banks of the Zadorra, which he forded, the
water rising up to his waist. This drenching added greatly to his misery,
as the night was cold and chilly; but he walked onward as rapidly as he
could, with the hope of reaching Subijana de Alava, Vittoria, or any place
where he might hope to get his wound dressed, after which he trusted that
he should be able to rejoin the regiment without delay. But losing his
way, he wandered across the field, where the bodies of men and horses,
dead or yet rolling about, broken waggons, dismounted or abandoned cannon,
encumbered him at every step.
No shrieks now saluted his ears as he passed
over the plain; but groans —deep and harrowing groans of agony, and
half-muttered cries for water, or pious ejaculations, were heard on every
side, while the ghastly and distorted faces, the glazed and upturned eyes,
the black and bloody wounds of the dead, appeared horrible, as the pale
light of the moon fell on them. The vast field, although so many thousand
men lay prostrate upon it, was, comparatively speaking, still; and to
Ronald there seemed something sad and awful in the silence which succeeded
the ear-deafening roar of the battle which had rung there the livelong
day. Many a strong hand was stretched there powerless, and many a gallant
heart, which had beat high with hope and bravery in the morning, lay there
cold enough at night.
Little think the good folk at home,—those who
for days will be haunted by the memory of some sudden death, which
possibly they had witnessed in the streets,—little do these good people
imagine, or perhaps care, for the mighty amount of misery accumulated on a
single battle-field, and the woe it may carry into many a happy home and
domestic circle. But the agony of dying men, and the tears of women, are
alike forgotten and unheeded when forts fire, cities illuminate, balls are
given, and mails sweep along, decorated with flags and laurels, in honour
of a victory. . . .
Eager to leave the field behind him, Stuart hurried forward as well as he
was able, until, stumbling over a dead cavalry-horse, he fell violently to
the earth, and his wound bursting out afresh, the light faded from his
eyes, and he lay in a sort of stupor across the corpse of a French
soldier, in whose breast a twelve-pound shot was buried. While lying
there, he became tortured with an intense thirst, which he found it
impossible to alleviate, until a drizzling rain began to descend, and
after exercising his patience he caught enough in the hollow of his hand
to moisten his parched lips.
The sound of voices close by recalled him to
himself fully, and he found that he was in imminent danger. A file of
Portuguese soldiers approached, bearing a lantern to assist them in
effectually plundering the dead. The knapsacks of soldiers were ripped
open, and the contents carefully scanned; and the epaulettes, lace, stars,
etc., were torn away from the uniforms of the officers. Stuart's blood
boiled up within him to behold brother-soldiers, men in arms, engaged in
an occupation so truly despicable ; but well aware of the danger incurred
by encountering or threatening people so unscrupulous as death-hunters, he
only grasped the hilt of his dirk, and lay perfectly still until they had
passed by, which they luckily did without observing him.
Scarcely were they gone, when another wretch
appeared, bent on the same disgraceful errand. He was either a robber or
guerilla, and carried on the hollow of his left arm a musket, from which
dangled a long leathern sling. A pewter crucifix glittered on the band of
his broad-leaved hat, and the polished brass hilts of the double daggers
and pistols in his Bash gleamed in the light of the moon, which at that
moment shone forth with peculiar brilliancy. A new pair of large
epaulettes, which Stuart had put on a few days before, attracted this
worthy's attention, and he came straight towards the wearer to possess
himself of them.
were the feelings of the young Highlander to behold in the robber the
abhorred Narvaez Cifuentes, the destroyer of the noble and beautiful
Catalina! An electric shock seemed to pass over every fibre, and again his
heart beat violently. He grasped tighter the thistle-hilt of his short
weapon, and watched with an eagle eye the motions of the robber. Narvaez
knew him the moment their eyes met, and uttering a short but emphatic
oath, he sprung forward and leaped upon Ronald with his whole weight, and
pressing a knee upon each arm, perfectly incapacitated him from making any
defence, especially in his weak and wounded state.
'How now, my gay senor soldado!' said Narvaez
with a chuckling laugh, after they had glared at each other in silence for
a few seconds.
'Methinks we have met at last, under circumstances somewhat
disadvantageous to your safety.'
Ronald's only reply was a frantic attempt to
free himself from the iron grasp of the other.
'Be still,—carajo!' said the ruffian as he
unsheathed a poniard; 'be still, or I may mercifully give a deep stroke at
once, without having the little conversation I wish to enjoy with you,
before you die.'
of a robber!—dog of a Spaniard!' gasped Ronald in a hoarse accent. 'Free
but my right hand, and, weak and exhausted as I am, I will meet you------'
'Ho, Demonios! a rare request! Par Diez! no,
no, mi amigo. I will have these bright epaulettes (which I beg you will
not spoil by struggling so), and I will have this golden cross and other
things, without either the risk or trouble of trying points with you. Hah!
have you forgotten the night when we first met at Albuquerque? By our Lady
of Majorga, you shall this night know that I have not! We have many odd
scores to pay off, and they may as well be settled here, on the field of
Vittoria, as elsewhere. Besides, Senor Valour, when your corse is found,
you will be mentioned among the killed in the Gaceta de la Regencia, Hah!
forget that this day my blood has been shed for Spain and Ferdinand VII !'
'You have been paid for that, I suppose,'
replied the fellow, accompanying his observation, which might have suited
a British Radical, with an insulting laugh, while Stuart panted with rage.
'Now, then,—what would you do were you
released by me?' 'Stab you to the heart!' The robber laughed.
'Cuidado was ever my motto,' said he; 'a dead
man tells no tales. Grasping and compressing Ronald's throat with his left
hand, he flourished aloft his right, which held his stiletto, a sharp,
short dagger, with a round blade like that instrument known as a butcher's
steel. 'Now, valiente senor, compound for death, and not for life. I may
prolong your tortures, giving a hundred stabs instead of one; but your
dying moment shall be easy, if the lining of your pockets is tolerable. A
stab for every duro! hah! hah!'
That instinctive feeling which causes every
man to struggle to the utmost to preserve life, arose powerfully in the
breast of Ronald Stuart at that instant, when he saw the deadly blade of
the ruthless assassin gleaming above him in the moonlight. He felt that
his last moment was come, and yet he resolved not to die without another
gallant struggle. Exerting every energy,—straining every muscle and fibre,
by one desperate effort he hurled the robber violently backwards; but
before he could rise, his merciless assailant again sprung upon him with
renewed ferocity, and striking blindly with his stiletto, buried it twice
in the turf close by Ronald's ear. There can be little doubt that this new
attack would have terminated fatally for him, had not two officers,
muffled to the eyes in their cloaks, ridden hastily up, upon which the
robber, without attempting to strike another blow, snatched up his rifle
and fled,—but not unscathed.
'A death-hunter! He shall die, by heavens!'
exclaimed one of the strangers, snatching a pistol from his holsters and
firing after Cifuentes, who was seen bounding with the speed of the
greyhound over the encumbered field, and the moon shone full upon him. A
sharp howl of pain followed the report of the shot.
'Your shot has told, my lord,' said the other
officer. 'These rascals deserve no mercy.'
'The fellow is leaping along yet. I would
again fire, but for the waste of powder.'
'He was struggling with some one here.'
'Your arrival has been very fortunate,' said
Ronald, in a voice which faltered from weariness and excitement. 'I have
had a protracted and desperate struggle with the ruffian, and must have
perished under his hands at last, as I am weak with loss of blood, and
totally incapable of defending myself.'
'Put this to your mouth,' said the first
speaker, 'and take a hearty pull. 'Tis cold whisky-toddy,—a beverage not
often got so near the Pyrenees.'
'Thanks, sir!' said Ronald, as he put the
flask to his lips, and drank gratefully of the contents. 'So we have
gained the day.'
'Gloriously!' replied the other. 'But where are you wounded?'
'On the head,—by a blow from a musket-butt, or
shaft of a pike. I received it on the heights of Puebla.'
'Ah, there was sharp work there, when the
battle began this morning. So you belong to the fighting division—Sir
Rowland's? You have wandered a long way from the heights.'
'I was endeavouring to rejoin my regiment,'
replied Ronald, staggering up, and propping himself with his sword; 'I was
loath to be absent while I could lift a limb. But to whom am I indebted
for my safety? You are both countrymen, I believe, by your voices.'
'You are right,' replied the officer who
wounded Cifuentes. 'This is Captain Ramsay of the 18th Hussars,—Ramsay of
the Dyke-neuk-heid, as we call him at home; and I am Lord Dalhousie. We
are riding to join the seventh division.'
'I was not aware to whom I had the honour of
addressing myself,' said Ronald. 'I shall be obliged by your lordship
informing me where my own regiment now is.'
'The Gordon Highlanders, I presume?'
'Exactly, my lord,—in Stuart's, late Howard's
brigade.' A brave regiment, and my heart warmed at the sight of their
tartans to-day. They are a long way from this, pursuing the French along
the Pampeluna road, and are probably as far as Salvatierra by this time.'
'Then I can never reach them to-night,' said
'Here are some of the waggon-train,' said the earl. 'To their care we must
consign you, and be off forthwith, as all the troops are pressing forward
en route for the Pyrenees.'
As Dalhousie and his aide-de-camp rode off,
the noise of wheels and cracking of whips announced the arrival of some of
the Royal Waggon train. One of the cars was advancing straight towards
him, but slowly, as its course was continually impeded by the dead and
wounded lying across its way. An officer of the train, with an immense
plume in his cocked hat, and wearing the rich uniform of this easy branch
of the service, rode beside the waggon, into which they were putting those
wounded men whose cries attracted their attention.
'The heights of Puebla?' said the waggon-officer,
in a tone of surprise and expostulation, to another who rode beside him.
'Oh! it is quite impossible to detach any of my party so far.'
'How, sir! so far?' replied the other angrily,
in the voice of Major Campbell. 'And is a brave lad to bleed to death, and
have his bones picked by the corbies, because a loon like you is afraid to
climb a hill? By the Lord! he shall not perish through the neglect of one
like you, whose whole share of a battle is seeing the smoke and hearing
the noise at a comfortable distance, and then coming in with these
infernal rattle; traps to pick up the wounded when the danger is all
He of the
waggons was too much enraged to reply readily; and before he could speak,
Ronald heard the voices of Macdonald and Evan Iverach.
'Come, major, don't quarrel about it. I am
afraid that it will be a fruitless errand seeking Stuart among the
heights. Poor fellow! I am too sure he was quite dead when we passed him
Mr. Macdonald, dinna say sae!' groaned Evan, who had been lamenting as
they came along, 'dinna say sae! I have had an awfu' day o' wae and
anxiety upon his account. There he is—God preserve me in my senses! No, my
een dinna deceive me,—there he is!' cried Evan in a voice rising into a
scream nearly, while he rushed forward as Stuart's figure, moving slowly
towards them, met his view. Evan, as usual, began to caper and dance,
blubber and weep with joy, while Campbell and Alister warmly shook the
hand of his master.
'Ha, Stuart, my lad! I knew you were hard to kill,' said Campbell; 'and
so, in spite of Alister's assertions that you were gone "to the land o,'
the leal," I determined to set out in search of you as soon as the
regiment halted. Old Ludovick Lisle of ours would have been buried alive,
once upon a time, in Egypt, but for my interference. He had been struck
down by an iron mace in some brawl with a loon of a Mameluke, and I knew
that he was only stunned; so I poured a glass of brandy down his throat,
and brandy never failed to bring old Ludovick to, whatever was the
objected to entering the waggon, which was already crowded, and the bottom
of it was covered with blood: so it moved off, the officer telling
Campbell that he should hear from him in the morning. The major replied
that he should be very happy, and dismounting, gave his horse to Stuart;
who, as they moved along, gave a report of his encounter with Cifuentes,
and interview with Lord Dalhousie.
'He is a brave man and a good officer,' said
Campbell. 'And as for Ramsay, by the Dyke-neuk-heid he is, though a
Lowlander, one of the finest fellows I ever met, and the best mixer of
Athole-brose and whisky-punch in the three kingdoms. But we must move
forward as fast as possible. Spur up this nag, Stuart; he was a French
dragoon-horse this morning, but has changed masters. My poor Rosinante, on
which you ran such a rig at Almarez, was shot under me as we ascended the
heights. Cameron, likewise, had his horse killed under him; and, to make
the matter worse, had another killed over him, by which he was
'But I see, major, that your left arm is in a
'I received a
scratch from the sabre of a French sub, who assailed me before I could
draw Andrea; but I knocked him down with my stick, disarmed, and took him
Alister, I rejoice to see you have escaped this time; and Evan, my trusty
sound and haill, sir; but I had a narrow escape frae a sharpshooter birkie,
wha put three shot through my bonnet just before the regiment cam'
rattling doon the brae to our assistance.'
'And how have the corps fared throughout this
eventful day?' 'Easily indeed,' replied Macdonald, 'considering how our
friends the 71st and the 50th have been cut up.' 'Where is the regiment?'
'Bivouacked a few miles in front of Vittoria.
None of the officers are killed, but some are wounded,—Cameron by the fall
of his horse, which was killed by a twelve-pound shot, and Seaton had his
left arm shot through ; but the moment it was dressed he rejoined, and is
probably now with his "light bobs." At the foot of the hills, we lost a
sergeant and many men by the fire of the enemy's cannon, but------'
'But we had our vengeance to the full,' cried
Campbell, brandishing his stick. 'They have lost as much as was ever tint
at Shirramuir. Forgetting the crown of Spain, only think, Stuart, my
man,—one hundred and fifty splendid pieces of ordnance, four hundred
caissons laden with Lord knows what, the plunder of all Spain, perhaps!
some millions of musket cartridges, the baggage of the army, the military
chest, colours and drums innumerable, and the baton of Jourdan, which he
dropped in his hurry or fright. But the military chest, by Jove! had you
seen how free the 18th Hussars made with it,—every rascal of them stuffing
his boots to the brim with gold napoleons! There will be a devil of a row
kicked up about it at the Horse-Guards, you may be sure of that. We have
captured I know not how many carriages, every one full of the ladies of
Joseph's court : rare work we have had with them! Alister, with twenty
men, gallantly stormed one vehicle at the point of the bayonet, and seized
four terrified young ladies—one of whom, I believe, is the Countess de
Gazan, wife of the general of the same name.'
'How horrified the poor creatures were!' said
Macdonald. 'One train of court-carriages, in flying away at full gallop to
escape Graham's division, which had intercepted their flight to Bayonne,
came among us, and were, of course, compelled to halt. But they were
treated with all due gallantry and honour.'
'Especially by Blacier's riflemen, who dragged
some ladies out without ceremony, and rummaged them over like so many
custom-house officers; and with their bayonets tore and ripped up the rich
silk lining of the carriages, in hopes of finding concealed jewellery.'
'Germans are more proverbial for their greed
than for devotion to the gentler sex. But Lord Wellington has despatched
the ladies away to the rear, among the prisoners taken in the battle.'
'A knowing chield!' said the major. 'Some of
these French girls are pretty enough to turn the hearts and heads of their
captors. Arthur knew that, and thought them safer en route for Belem than
in the midst of his army. By my word ! 'tis a devil of a thing to hear a
sweet young girl, with bright black eyes, cherry lips, etc., etc.,
imploring you in most dulcet French to spare her life, and all that. What
the deuce ! Some of these fair creatures to-day seemed to think they had
got among an army of ghouls or ogres instead of honest British soldiers.'
'I forgive their terror,' answered Ronald.
'Only imagine what would be the feelings of British ladies, falling, as
these did, into the hands of a foreign army, flushed and fierce with the
excitement of such a battle, the blood and glory of such a victory!'
On entering the town of Vittoria, they found
it filled with French and British wounded; and the numbers were
increasing, as the waggons went to and fro between the field and town,
which soon became converted into a hospital. Cries, groans, and thrilling
exclamations of suffering rang from every house; and men were lying in
ranks below the piazzas of the market-place, waiting till their wounds
could be looked to; and in every street lay scores of weary and maimed
soldiers, who, unable to proceed further, had sunk down bleeding and
expiring, helpless as babes, without a hand to close their eyes.
Stuart's wound was of too little importance to
procure immediate attendance, all the surgeons being hard at work, with
their shirt-sleeves turned up, hewing off legs and arms mercilessly, as
was their will and pleasure in those days. On with the tourniquet, and off
with the limb, was the mode then; any attempt to reduce a fracture being
considered a waste of time, and a style of cure troublesome alike to
patient and physician. After searching about for some time to find a son
of Esculapius unemployed, but without success, they adjourned to a cafe
immediately within the Santa Clara gate.
The large drinking-room was crowded with
officers, some of whom had got their scars dressed, and, in defiance of
the orders of el medico, were quaffing horn after horn of the country
wine, in honour of the victory. Seaton, with his arm slung, was thus
employed in one corner with an officer of the 50th, whose head was wrapped
in a bloody handkerchief. Many others were in the same trim ; and the
conversation consisted of loud and boisterous observations and criticisms
on this and that movement—the advance of one division, the retreat of
another— promotion, brevet, thanks of Parliament, a medal,—and so on; and
all were lavish in their animadversions on the 18th Hussars, for making so
free with the military chest. Their observations were often mingled with
loud and reckless military merriment, and an occasional hearty malediction
on some wound which would not cease bleeding, or an exclamation of pain at
the twinges it gave. Many Spanish officers were sitting over chess-tables,
absorbed in their favourite national game, forgetting altogether, in the
interest which it excited, the battle so recently gained, and which was of
so much importance to the liberties of their country. But it has been
truly remarked by some one that, give the Spaniard his cigar, his
sunshine, his querido, and amusements, and it is all one to him whether
Spain is ruled by a Solon or a Caligula.
In another corner of the drinking-room a
Spanish colonel was sitting coolly with a napkin and brass basin under his
chin, undergoing the operation of being shaved by the senior surgeon of
his regiment, as it is, or was, the duty of that officer to take off the
colonel's beard every morning, or whenever required. So much for the
dignity of the medical profession in Spain. Enveloped in a cloud of
tobacco-smoke, which left no part of him visible but his twinkling gray
eyes and red snub nose, Captain Blacier occupied the opposite corner, busy
in preparing a luxurious German dish, the ingredients for which he
produced from the haversack of glazed canvas which he carried with his
blanket on his back. A large tin trencher stood before him, and into it he
was shredding a cabbage, which he had picked up when skirmishing in the
neighbourhood of Salvatierra the preceding day; and after sprinkling over
it pepper, salt, vinegar, and garlic, he began to eat with infinite
his wound dressed by the Spanish medico, and after drinking a few horns of
agua y vino, Ronald procured a light forage-cap in place of his heavy
plumed bonnet, and accompanied by Seaton and those who found him on the
field, he set out for the regiment, which, with Hill's whole division, lay
bivouacked six miles in front of Vittoria, where, after pursuing the
French till past midnight, they had halted.
On being accommodated with a horse, Ronald was
enabled to accompany the troops, which moved next day to drive the enemy
across the Pyrenees. Acting with his usual promptitude, Wellington pushed
onward with the third, fourth, and light divisions to Pampeluna, whence
the ex-king Joseph, with the greater part of his shattered host, retired
into France by the famous pass of Roncesvalles; while the rest, under the
command of General Gazan, retired by the vale of El Bastan.
Lord Wellington surrounded Pampeluna, which
was yet held by a French garrison; and Graham, who with the left wing of
the allies had pursued the retreating enemy on the great road for France,
came up with a corps near Tolosa, which he attacked and defeated, and
driving them across the Bidassoa, boldly invested the strong fortress of
San Sebastian, from the towers of which yet waved the tricolour and the
standard of King Joseph.