« PreviousContinue »
whilst Joseph, quitting the capital, and carrying along with him the whole of his court, established his head-quarters at Valladolid. All these movements indicated an intention on the part of the enemy to assemble the bulk of his forces in the northern and north-eastern provinces; and the whole of April was accordingly consumed, by the French in filing from the Tagus to the Douro, by the British, in watching these movements, and preparing to take advantage of them as soon as the fitting moment should arrive.
That moment came at length, and Lord Wellington, at the head of the finest and best appointed army which England has, perhaps, ever sent into the field, moved from his cantonments above the Tormes. His success was such as to surpass even his own expectations;indeed the progress of the allied forces resembled, for a while, rather a triumphant march than the prosecution of a campaign on which the fate of kingdoms depended.
On the 24th of May, the advanced guard appeared before Salamanca; on the 26th that city was occupied; and the rear of the French so closely pressed, that several hundred prisoners remained in the hands of the pursuers. On the 27th and 28th, Sir Rowland Hill's corps took post between the Tormes and the Douro, whilst Lord Wellington in person, with the left wing of the army under the command of Sir Thomas Graham, proceeded towards Miranda-de-Douro. This point he reached on the 29th; and on the 31st, a position was taken up upon the Esla, the left resting on Tabara, in communication with the army of Gallicia, and the right in advance of Carvajales. But no pause was made here. On the 1st of June the huzzars entered Zamora; on the day following they took possession of Toro; and they executed their movements with so much alertness, that, besides sabring vast numbers, they succeeded in taking upwards of two hundred pri
The French army, having collected into one mass, was now under the nominal command of King Joseph, Marshal Jourdan filling the responsible station of Major-General. It retreated from the last mentioned place in great disorder, leaving Valladolid, well filled with all kinds of military stores, to be taken possession of by the victors; and precipitately crossing the Carrion, took the road to Burgos, with the view, as it was imagined, of putting it in a posture of defence. In this movement the enemy were rapidly and closely followed by the British troops; one division of whom, under the command of Sir Rowland Hill, succeeded in bringing them to action near the Pisuerga; and so decisive was the issue of that affair, that Burgos being abandoned, and its fortifications blown up, the retreat continued, almost without a halt, till, on the 20th of June, the two armies encamped in sight of one another on the heights on either side of Vittoria. Thus, in the short space of one month, and without having suffered any severe privations, or any considerable loss of lives, the allied forces traversed, and delivered, the entire kingdom of Spain; with the exception of a small portion of the provinces of Biscay, the Asturias, and Catalonia.
To a progress so vast and so little impeded succeeded a victory not less glorious than any which has ever graced the British arms. The battle of Vittoria was fought; and the shattered remains of the French army, without artillery, without baggage, without money, fell back, through the passes of the Pyrenees, upon their own frontier. They crossed the Bidassoa, leaving powerful garrisons behind them in the cities of Pampluna and St. Sebastian's; and there, on the mountains which overhang the stream, they continued in a state of inaction till the return of Soult with new powers, and the reorganization of the matériel.
Of all the French marshals to whom it has been the fate of the Duke of Wellington to be opposed, Soult appears to have been by far the most active, and the most enterprizing. No sooner did he find himself at the head of the army than, blaming the precipitancy which had induced his predecessors to abandon so many favourable positions, and to evacuate so many tenable strong holds, he proposed to remedy, as far as circumstances would allow, the fatal errors of which they had been guilty. He began by encouraging his troops in a proclamation as spirited and well composed as could have been delivered ; and he lost no time in following up the impression thus made upon them, by a renewal of offensive operations. Several sanguinary battles were fought among the vallies of the Pyrenees during the months of July and August; but, though the French general did wonders, and his troops, catching ardour from his example, surpassed themselves in valour and determination, the superior sagacity of the Duke of Wellington, and the cool courage of his soldiers, rendered every effort to force their position abortive.
In the mean while, the siege of St. Sebastian's, on the one side of the position, and the blockade of Pampluna on the other, were formed; and it is here that our Subaltern takes up the thread of his story. At first, as is well known, neither the one nor the other proceeded with any favourable results. An attempt, indeed, to carry the former fortress by storm on the 25th of July, was defeated with considerable loss; nor was any impression made upon the fortifications such as to authorize a second, till the last day of August. On that day the old breach being widened, and a new one effected, it was determined to risk, once more, the conse
quences of an assault; and of the assault itself the following vivid and accurate account is given in the volume before us. We extract the passage, partly because it falls in with our own detail, and partly because it is a fair specimen of the Subaltern's style.
'The forlorn hope took its station at the mouth of the most advanced trench about balf-past ten o'clock. The tide, which had long turned, was now fast ebbing, and these gallant fellows beheld its departure with a degree of feverish anxiety such as he only can imagine who has stood in a similar situation. This was the first time that a town was stormed by daylight since the commencement of the war, and the storming party were enabled distinctly to perceive the preparations which were making for their reception : there was, therefore, something not only interesting but novel in beholding the muzzles of the enemy's cannon from the castle and other batteries turned in such a direction as to flank the breaches, whilst the glancing of bayonets and the occasional rise of caps and feathers gave notice of the line of infantry which was forming underneath the parapet. There an officer from time to time could be distinguished leaning his telescope over the top of the rampart or through the opening of an embrasure, and prying with deep attention into our arrangements. Nor were our own officers, particularly those of the engineers, idle. With the greatest coolness they exposed themselves to a dropping fire of musketry, which the enemy at intervals kept up, whilst they examined and re-examined the state of the breaches. It would be difficult to convey to the mind of an ordinary reader any thing like a correct notion of the state of feeling which takes possession of a man waiting for the commencement of a battle. In the first place, time appears to move upon leaden wings, every minute seems an hour, and every hour a day. Then there is a strange commingling of levity and seriousness within him, a levity which prompts him to laugh he scarce knows why, and a seriousness which urges bim ever and anon to lift up a mental prayer to the Throne of Grace. On such occasions little or no conversation passes. The privates generally lean upon their firelocks, and the officers upon their swords, and few words except monosyllables, at least in answer to questions put, are wasted. On these occasions, too, the faces of the bravest often change colour, and the limbs of the most resolute tremble, not with fear but with anxiety, whilst watches are consulted till the individuals who consult them grow absolutely weary of the employment. On the whole, it is a situation of higher excitement and darker and deeper agitation than any other in buman life, nor can be be said to have felt all which man is capable of feeling, who has not filled it.
• Noon had barely passed, when the low state of the tide giving evidence that the river might be forded, the word was given to adSilent as the grave
the column moved forward. In one instant the leading files had cleared the trenches, and the others poured on in quick succession after them, when the work of death began. The enemy, having reserved their fire till the head of the column had gained the middle of the stream, then opened with the most deadly effect. Grape, cannister, musketry, shells, grenades, and every species
of missile were hurled from the ramparts, beneath which our gallant fellows dropped like corn before the reaper; in so much, that in the space of two minutes the river was literally choked up with the bodies of the killed and wounded, over whom, without discrimination, the advancing division pressed on. The opposite bank was soon gained, and the short space between the landing-place and the foot of the breach rapidly cleared without a single shot having been returned by the assailants
. But here the most alarming prospect awaited them. Instead of a wide and tolerably level chasm, the breach presented the appearance only of an ill-built wall thrown considerably from its perpendicular, to ascend which, even though unopposed, would be no easy task. It was, however, too late to pause; besides, the men's blood was hot and their courage on fire, so they pressed on, clambering up as they best could, and effectually hindering one another from falling, each by the eagerness of the rear ranks to follow those in front. Shouts and groans were now mingled with the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry: our front ranks likewise bad an opportunity of occasionally firing with effect, and the slaughter on both sides was dreadful. At length the head of the column forced its way to the summit of the breach, where it was met in the most gallant style by the bayonets of the garrison. When I say
the summit of the breach, I mean not to assert that our soldiers stood upon a level with their enemies, for this was not the case. There was a high step, perhaps two or three feet in length, which the assailants must surmount before they could gain the same ground with the defenders, and a very considerable period elapsed ere that step was surmounted. Here bayonet met bayonet, and sabre met sabre, in close and desperate strife, without the one party being able to advance or the other succeeding in driving them back.
Things had continued in this state for nearly a quarter of an hour, when Major Snodgrass, at the head of the thirteenth Portugueze regiment, dashed across the river by his own ford, and assaulted the lesser breach. This attack was made in the most cool and determined manner, but here, too, the obstacles were almost insurmountable ; nor is it bable that the place would have been carried at all but for a measure adopted by General Graham, such as has never perhaps been adopted before. Perceiving that matters were almost desperate, he had recourse to a desperate remedy, and ordered our own artillery to fire upon the breach. "Nothing could be more exact or beautiful than this practice. Though our men stood only about two feet below the breach, scarcely a single ball from the guns of our batteries struck amongst them, whilst all told with fearful exactness among the enemy. The fire had been kept up only a few minutes, when all at once an explosion took place such as drowned every other noise, and apparently confounded, for an instant, the combatants on both sides. A shell from one of our mortars had exploded near the train which communicated with a quantity of gunpowder placed under the breach. This mine the French had intended to spring as soon as our troops should have made good their footing or established themselves on the summit, but the fortunate accident just mentioned anticipated them. It exploded whilst 300 grenadiers, the
elite of the garrison, stood over it; and instead of sweeping the storming party into eternity, it only cleared a way for their advance. It was a spectacle as appalling and grand as the imagination can conceive, the sight of that explosion. The noise was more awful than any which I have ever heard before or since, whilst a bright flash, instantly succeeded by a smoke so dense as to obscure all vision, produced an effect upon those who witnessed it, such as no powers of language are adequate to describe. Such, indeed, was the effect of the whole occurrence, that for perhaps half a minute after not a shot was fired on either side. Both parties stood still to gaze upon the havoc which had been produced ! in so much, that a whisper might have caught your ear for a distance of several yards. The state of stupefaction into which they were at first thrown did not, however, last long with the British troops. As the smoke and dust of the ruins cleared away, they beheld before them a space empty of defenders, and they instantly rushed forward to occupy it. Uttering an appalling shout, the troops sprang over the dilapidated parapet, and the rampart was their own. Now then began all those maddening scenes which are witnessed only in a storm, of flight and slaughter, and parties rallying only to be broken and dispersed, till finally, having cleared the works to the right and left, the soldiers poured down into the town.'—p. 49.
Having thus exhibited our author in his character of a man of violence, we deem it right to let our readers see in what frame of mind he contemplates, at a moment of inaction, the scene of a battle passed by. In company with some of his brother officers he visited St. Sebastian's about a fortnight after it had fallen.
. The reader will easily believe that a man who has spent some of the best years of his life amid scenes of violence and bloodshed, must have witnessed many spectacles highly revolting to the purest feelings of our nature; but a more appalling picture of war passed by—of war in its darkest colours,—those which distinguish it when its din is over-than was presented by St. Sebastian's, and the country in its immediate vicinity, I certainly never beheld. Whilst an army is stationary in any district, you are wholly unconscious of the work of devastation which is proceeding-you see only the hurry and pomp of hostile operations. But, when the tide has rolled on, and you return by chance to the spot over which it has last swept, the effect upon your mind is such, as cannot even be imagined by him who has not experienced it. Little more than a week had elapsed, since the division employed in the siege of St. Sebastian's had moved forward. Their trenches were not yet filled up, nor their batteries demolished; yet the former had, in some places, fallen in of their own accord, and the latter were beginning to crumble to pieces. We passed them by, however, without much notice. It was, indeed, impossible not to acknowledge, that the perfect silence which prevailed was far more awful than the bustle and stir that lately pervaded them ; whilst the dilapidated condition of the convent, and of the few cottages which stood near it, stripped, as they were, of roofs, doors, and windows, and perforated with cannon shot, inspired us, now that they were deserted, with sensations somewhat gloomy. But these were triling-a mere