網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

“I ween, a full fair sight;
When the fresh breeze was fair as breeze can be,
The white sail set, the gallant frigate tight,
Masts, spires, and strand retiring to the right,
The glorious main expanding o'er the bow,
The convoy spread like wild swans in their flight,

The dullest sailor wearing bravely now,

So gaily curl the waves before each dashing prow." Shall I confess the truth ? Never did an Irish cadet start for a scene of glory with less enthusiasm. In the retirement of my father's house, every newspaper that arrived had brought with it fresh details of British victory,—and I longed, like another Norval, “to follow to the field” any honest gentleman who would have taken the trouble to show me the shortest way of getting a quietus—miscalled, the road to glory. A few months had, however, wrought a marvellous alteration ; and but for the shame of the thing, I verily believe, I should have

I exchanged with some Captain Bailey of the day, and, without requiring “ the difference,” forsworn the trade of arms, excepting the bloodless duty appertaining to "country quarters."

Now I was regularly committed. The dullest spirit would catch a noble impulse. The fields of Roliça, Busaco, and Salamanca rose in glorious recollection ; another feeling succeeded the regret attendant on a first separation from the object of a first love; and, before the second sun went down, I should have scorned an ignoble return, until “ with war's red honours on my crest,” I could have proudly claimed my affianced one. Speedily the true mercurial temperament of the Green island returned. I joined the reckless merriment of all around: we drank, and laughed, and sang. Nothing could be more prosperous than the voyage.

“ On, on the vessel flies; the land is gone,
And winds are rude in Biscay's sleepless bay.
Four days are sped, but with the fifth, anon,
New shores descried make every bosom gay ;
And Cintra's mountain greets them on their way;
And Tagus dashing onward to the deep,
His fabled golden tribute bent to pay ;

And soon on board the Lusian pilots leap,

And steer 'twixt fertile shores where yet few rustics reap." On the sixth evening we disembarked at Belem ; and with my foster brother, Mark Antony O'Toole, I sprang from the frigate's launch, and, for the first time, set foot on that scene of British glory—the Peninsula.

a

CHAPTER XXVII.

JOIN

THE CANTONMENTS OF THE ALLIED ARMY -LIEUTENANT

CROTTY'S INTERVIEW WITH LORD WELLINGTON.

Sir James. Surely you exaggerate a little ?

Papillon. Yes-yes, this interview will sink him.
Young Wilding. True to the letter, upon my honour.”

Why he will tell you more lies in an hour than all the circu-
lating libraries put together will publish in a year.”

THE LIAR.

*

*

*

*

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I HAD scarcely landed when I received the unwelcome intelligence that General to whose staff I had been appointed, had been wounded on the retreat from Burgos, and in consequence obliged to resign his command, and return to England invalided. I felt the disappointment severely—but as the corps that I had previously exchanged into was at Valencia, with the Anglo-Sicilian army there collected, much as I should have desired “to follow to the field” the victor of Salamanca, I determined to join my regiment without delay, and “flesh my maiden sword” the ensuing campaign, under the colours of the old and honourable Twenty-seventh. Ignorant of the route by which I could cross the country to the eastern coast of Spain, and anxious to see that gallant army under whose conquering banners I had anticipated a glorious opening to my career in arms, after a three days' sojourn in Lisbon, I left that city of filth and splendour in company with half a dozen officers en route to join their respective battalions—some, in return from leave-and others, like myself, to smell powder for the first time. A captain of an Irish regiment was of the party. He was a gay, honest-hearted, blundering countryman ; and from the graphic sketches D'Arcy gave me on the road of all attached to the battalion I was about to join, from the junior Ensign of sixteen, to the old stiff-backed Colonel of sixty, I became so familiar with the corps, that I almost fancied at first sight I could have placed my hand on every head, and identified the individual-and, on the evening when we entered the encampment of the regiment, I felt perfectly at home, and entered the rude mess-room as much at ease, as if, after a temporary absence, I was merely returning to join some old acquaintances.

It was a memorable epoch in the military history of Britain, when, early in the second week of February, 1813, I found myself in the cantonments of the fourth division on the banks of the Agueda. Like all sublunary affairs, war has its season of repose ; and those mighty masses of armed men, who but a few months before had stood in threatening array in presence of each other, were separated by mutual

a

[ocr errors]

a

consent to recover their losses and fatigues, and prepare for renewed exertions. Each had selected that portion of the country best adapted for obtaining supplies and reinforcements. The allied infantry were cantoned generally on the Agueda and Douro—with their cavalry in the valley of the Mondego, and round Moncorbo. One Spanish corps passed the winter in Gallicia, a second in Estremadura, and a third garrisoned Ciudad Rodrigo. Of the French armies, the head quarters of the northern was at Valladolid ; the southern at Toledo; and those of the centre, including King Joseph and his guards, were established at Segovia. In military circumstances, the rival armies found themselves, at the end of the preceding autumn, in a position similar to that of men who have fought a battle in which neither have come off conqueror. Both had sustained enormous losses without countervailing advantages ; and each required its casualties to be replaced, and its discipline restored. At the opening of the campaign, fortune went as heavily against the enemy, as it did against the allies at the close. From the 18th of July, when the French passed the Douro, until they recrossed it on the 30th, their loss might have been set down at fifteea thousand men, and the allies at about a third of that number. While, from the time when Lord Wellington broke ground before Burgos, until he halted on the banks of the Huebra, in retreat, chiefly from drunkenness and military irregularity, eight thousand of the allies were rendered hors de combat.

No wonder therefore that to both armies, winter presented a seasonable period of repose, and that both willingly accepted it. Nearly one third of his army were in hospital, and hence Lord Wellington deemed that rest for it was indispensable. Nor could his opponents avail themselves of this weakness, and continue active operations, for the French supplies were insecure, and their bases of operation disturbed by Partida bands, which were every where swarming on their flanks and in their

Indeed each army dreaded that the other would resume hostilities ; and when a report prevailed that Soult, who was upon the Upper Tormes, meditated an invasion of Portugal by the valley of the Tagus, and Wellington had, accordingly, removed the boat bridges at Almarez and Arzobispo, the French, equally afraid that the allies might cross the river, destroyed all means of passage at other points which the English general had overlooked as unnecessary.

Such was the military position of the allies in the field—one that, abroad, rendered the question of ulterior success an uncertainty; while at home, the failure before Burgos renewed loud expressions of discontent, which the brilliant opening of the late campaign had partially subdued. England was divided into two great sections ; one party advocating the necessity of continuing the Spanish war, and another decrying it as a ruinous experiment. What Salamanca had effected in establishing the policy of maintaining the struggle on the Peninsula, the retreat to the Agueda had undone ; and the balance of public opinion respecting the expediency of abandoning the contest in Spain was restored. “ The ministerial party had expected far too much, and consequently their disappointment was proportionate : the opposition had raised the wolf-cry until the country had ceased to dread it ;

rear.

;

[ocr errors]

*

success.

and they caught desperately at what proved a last pretext, to reiterate their denunciations, and abuse him who conducted, and those who planned the war. Ministers were denounced for continuing the contest, and for starving it-Lord Wellington both for inactivity and for rashness—for doing too little and too much”*—for wasting time at Madrid, and for attempting a siege with means so inadequate, that nothing but an enormous expenditure of blood could possibly obtain

But to the clamour of party and the calumny of faction, he, since happily surnamed “ The Iron Duke,” turned an indifferent ear; and the same proud feeling that on the heights of Guinaldo had sustained him, when a less assured courage might have faltered, enabled him now to regard the malice of political opponents with contempt; and, perfectly undisturbed, to direct the energies of a master-mind to the completion of those great means by which alone a great end could be accomplished. Profiting by past experience, the internal economy of the army underwent a sweeping reformation. Abuses were sought for, detected, and removed- every hospital was cleared of men who feigned illness to evade duty-and from every depot idlers were driven back to the columns they had abandoned. Supplies came liberally from England, proving the illimitable resources of the island-home of freedom ; and the great captain of the age was thus enabled to organize the most splendid force that ever took the field-one, so perfect in every arm, as to warrant its constructor, years afterwards, when the greater number of those gallant spirits who had composed it were sleeping in the grave, to make the proud and proven boast—that “with that army which had crossed the Pyrenees, he could do any thing and go any where.” No wonder that brilliant era of his life is still recalled in cherished remembrance by the old Peninsular ; and as, deed after deed, he details the conquering career of that matchless host, with which he crossed the Agueda to halt only on the banks of the Garonne, he

may raise his head with military pride, and exclaim, “ Pars fui !”

Of two hundred thousand men under the direct command of Lord Wellington, the Anglo-Portuguese, amounting nearly to seventy-five thousand bayonets and sabres, were the flower. From the first moment of the Peninsular contest, the British infantry had established its superiority ; and now the cavalry and artillery were superb. Every thing required for field service had been skilfully provided. A fine pontoon train accompanied the army, and ambulances were provided for the accommodation of the sick and wounded. Other means to increase his comforts were also afforded to the soldier ; and, for the first time, tents were supplied for shelter in the field, while the cumbrous camp-kettle was replaced with others of smaller size, and lighter material, as better adapted for all the purposes of campaigning.

During the suspension of active operations on both sides, and while the French and Allied armies were quiet in their respective cantonments, that restless enemy, the Partida bands, were busily employed. Longa, in the vicinity of Burgos, was actively engaged in harassing

* Maxwell's Life of Wellington.

was

1

the marauding parties of the enemy, interrupting their communications, and surprising their detached posts; while Mina, in Arragon and Navarre, carried on a desultory warfare with equal success. Another less celebrated but not less active leader the Friar,” (El Frayle,) who, with a numerous band admirably organized, kept Valencia in confusion. Indeed, the Guerillas had now become as formidable in numbers as they had ever been audacious in their mode of warfare. No longer confining their operations to the cutting off of foraging parties and the interception of convoys, they fell upon strong detachments, and almost invariably with success; until at last no courier could pass the roads, nor even a battalion of seven hundred men move from one garrison to another, without the protection of an escort. Such was the military attitude of Spain when I joined the fourth division.

In a dilapidated farm-house I found my future companions in arms seated at a comfortable dinner, although a stranger looking mess room was never occupied by gentlemen of the sword. It had been the grand apartment of the dwelling of a farm proprietor; the house was generally in ruins, but this wing had been judiciously selected for the symposia of the gallant Twentieth, inasmuch as the roof was nearly weather-fast. The table was a collection of old doors placed upon temporary supporters; and as every member of the body politic furnished his own conveniency of sitting at “the board,” the especial method of accommodation depended on the ability or fancy of the individual. Some, in superior luxury, had deposited their persons on a camp-stool, while others were contented with a block of wood, a basket, or a broken arm chest. The table appointments were not unique, for every person found his own; and nothing was held in common property save the viands and the wine.

But a lighter-hearted community than the gallant Twentieth could not have been discovered. The hardships of the retreat to the Huebra were still in vivid recollection ; and now, anticipating similar privations, but attended by more glorious results, the present was their only care ; and over the head of the master of the revels the apposite motto “ Carpe diem!” had been inscribed with a burnt cork. Heralded by my loving countryman, I was introduced in terms of commendation that brought the colour to my cheek. I received, consequently, a warm and soldierly reception ; and before I retired to

; a shake-down offered me for the night in the tent of the junior major, I called every man by an abbreviated name-or, at least, as many of the batch as a memory, slightly obfuscated, could manage to remember.

“Upon my sowl !” observed a short and snub-nosed captain, with an accent redolent of “ the far west,” “ that's dacent wine ; and the divil that brings it should be encouraged.—Here's your health, O'Halloran ; and in return you'll call me Philbin, if you plase ;and now that the owld colonel's gone, may I live to see you senior captain of the regiment, and then I know who'll command it—and that's myself.”

To this delicate and disinterested compliment, I replied in suitable terms.

a

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »