« PreviousContinue »
of the 16th April our people were disposed as follows : The Spanish army, which joined us on the night of the 15th, under the orders of General Blake, was on the right, in two lines ; its left rested on the Val. verde road, on which, just at the ridge of an ascent, rising from the main bridge, the right of our division (the second) was posted, the left of it extending to the Badajos road, on ground elevated above the village, which was occupied by two battalions of German riflemen ; General Hamilton's Portuguese division being on the left of the whole. General Cole, with two brigades of the fourth division (the fusileer brigade and one of Portuguese), arrived a very short time before the action, and formed, with them, our second line. These dispositions the enemy soon compelled us to alter. At eight o'clock he began to move; and menacing with two columns the village and bridges, under cover of his cavalry, he filed the main body of his infantry over the rivulet, beyond our right, and attacked that flank with very superior numbers and with great impetuosity. The greater part of the Spaniards hastily formed front to the right, to meet the attack; and, after a short and gallant resistance, were overpowered and driven from their ground. The enemy now commanded and raked our whole position : the fire of his artillery was heavy, but fortunately for us, not very well directed. It became now imperiously necessary to retake, at any price, the important post, unfortunately, not blameably, lost by the Spaniards. The three brigades of the division Stewart marched on it in double quick time, led by that General. The first or right brigade, commanded by Colonel Colborne, was precipitated into action under circumstances the most unfavourable : it deployed by corps as it arrived near the enemy, fired, and was in the act of gallantly charging with the bayonet on a heavy column of their infantry, when a body of Polish lancers, having galloped round upon its rear in this most unfortunate moment, (for a charge is often a movement of exulting confusion), overthrew it with a great and cruel slaughter. The 31st regiment not having deployed, escaped this misfortune ; and the third brigade, under General Houghton, and second, under Colonel Abercromby, successively arriving, re-established the battle, and with the assistance of the fusileer brigade under Sir William Myers, the fortunes of this bloody day were retrieved, and the French driven in every direction from the field. I should not omit to mention, that during the whole of the day, there was very heavy skirmishing near the village, which was occupied and held, throughout the contest, by the German light in. fantry, under the orders of Major General Alten.
General Lumley, who commanded the allied cavalry, displayed great ability, and foiled every attempt of the enemy's horse to turn our right,* who were in that army very superior, and who directed their efforts repeatedly to that object. The Portuguese troops, with the exception of one brigade, were very little engaged in this affair, and numbers of the Spanish troops never came into action. The brunt of the battle fell on the British, who lost 4,103 killed and wounded, including in this number
* This may sound inconsistent; but it will be understood that the order of battle was changed from its commencement; and again, the Polish horse were but a small body, detached for a particular object.
120 of the German Legion. The Portuguese lost about 400 ; the Spaniards 1800 ; making a total of about 6300. The French lost, at the lowest calculation, 9000. Soult had about 24,000 ; and we were, perhaps, in point of numbers, a little superior to him altogether, but had only 7000 English. The two British brigades, who inore particularly distinguished themselves on this glorious day, were the fusileer brigade commanded and led by Sir William Myers, and third brigade of the second division, headed by General Houghton. The first of these, composed of two battalions of the 7th regiment and one of the 23d, lost upwards of 1000 men; and the other, composed of the 29th, first 48th, and 57th regiments, lost 1050 men killed and wounded, having entered the field about 1400 strong. This last brigade went into action led by a major-general, and with its due proportion of field officers and captains. I saw it at three in the afternoon ima captain commanded the brigade ; the 57th and 48th regiments were commanded by lieutenants; and the junior captain of the 29th regiment was senior effective officer of his corps. Not one of these six regiments lost a man by the sabre or the lance; they were never driven, never
thrown into confusion; they fought in line, sustaining and reply, ing to a heavy fire, and often charging ; and when the enemy at length
fled, the standards of these heroic battalions flew in proud though mournful triumph, in the centre of their weakened but victorious lines. I have read the annals of modern warfare with some attention, and I know of little which can compare with, nothing which has surpassed, the enthusiastic and unyielding bravery displayed by these corps on the field of Albuera. Yet this dear-bought, and, let me add, not useless victory, won by unaided courage, graced with no trophies, and followed by no proportionate result, has almost sunk into oblivion, or is remembered only, and spoken of, as a day of doubtful success, if not of positive disaster. It was certainly not useless, because the object of Marshal Soult, which was the relief of Badajos, and the expulsion of our troops from Spanish Estremadura, was wholly defeated; but it had yet a higher, a nobler, a more undying use, it added one to the many bright examples of Britisi heroism ; it gave a terrible and long-remembered lesson to the haughty legions of France ; and, when Soult rode by the side of his imperial master on the field of Waterloo, as the cheering of the English soldiers struck upon his ear, Albuera was not forgotten, and he could have whispered him, that they were men who could only be defeated, by being utterly destroyed. So much for the battle, generally considered : would now relate what fell under my own observation, and describe, if it be possible, my feelings on that day. We stood to our arms an hour before break of day ; it was a brilliant sight, at sup-rise, to see the whole of the French cavalry moving on the plain ; but in a short time they retired into the wood, leaving their picquets as before. The battalion being dismissed, I breakfasted, and immediately afterwards set out to walk towards the Spanish troops, little dreaming that day of a general action. But the sound of a few shots caused me to return; and I found my line getting hastily under arms, and saw the enemy in motion. The prelude of skirmishing lasted about an hour and a half, and our division lost a few men by random gun-shot; all this time we were standing at ease, and part of it exposed to a heavy, chilling, and comfortless rain. Sounds, however, which breathed all the fierceness of battle, soon reached us; the continued rolling of musketry, accompanied by loud and repeated discharges of cannon on our extreme right, told us, convincingly, that the real attack was in that quarter. The brigades of our division were successively called to support it. We formed in open column of companies at half distance, and moved in rapid double quick to the scene of action. I remember well, as we moved down in column, shot and shell flew over and through it in quick succession ; we sustained little injury from either ; but a captain of the 29th had been dreadfully lacerated by a ball, and lay directly in our path. We passed close to him, and he knew us all ; and the heart-rending tone in which he called to us for water, or to kill him, I shall never forget. He lay alone, and we were in motion and could give him no succour; for on this trying day, such of the wounded as could not walk, lay unattended where they fell :-all was hurry and struggle ; every arm was wanted in the field. When we arrived near the discomfited and retiring Spaniards, and formed our line to advance through them towards the enemy, a very noble looking young Spanish officer rode up to me, and begged me, with a sort of proud and brare anxiety, to explain to the English, that his countrymen were ordered to retire, but were not flying. Just as our line had entirely cleared the Spaniards, the smoky shroud of battle was, by the slackening of the fire, for one minute blown aside, and gave to our view the French grenadier caps, their arms, and the whole aspect of their frowning masses.
It was a momentary, but a grand sight ; a heavy atmosphere of smoke again enve. loped us, and few objects could be discerned at all, none distinctly. The coolest and bravest soldier, if he be in the heat of it, can make no calculation of time during an engagement. Interested and animated, he marks not the flight of the hours, but he feels that,
66 Come what come may,
This murderous contest of musketry lasted long. We were the whole time progressively advancing upon and shaking the enemy. At the distance of about twenty yards from them, we received orders to charge; we had ceased firing; cheered, and our bayonets in the charging position, when a body of the enemy's horse was discovered under the shoulder of a rising ground, ready to take advantage of our impetuosity. Already, however, had the French infantry, alarmed at our preparatory cheers, which always indicate the charge, broken and Aed, abandoning some guns and howitzers about sixty yards from
The presence of their cavalry not permitting us to pursue, we halted and recommenced firing on them. The slaughter was now,
for a few minutes, dreadful ; every shot told ; their officers in vain attempt. ed to rally them; they would make no effort. Some of their artillery, indeed, took up a distant position which much annoyed our line ; but we did not move, until we had expended every round of our ammunition, and then retired, in the most perfect order, to a spot sheltered from their guns, and lay down in line, ready to repulse any fresh attack
with the bayonet. To describe my feelings throughout this wild scene with fidelity, would be impossible: at intervals, a shriek or groan told that men were falling around me; but it was not always that the tumult of the contest suffered me to catch these sounds. A constant feeling to the centre of the line, and the gradual diminution of our front, more truly bespoke the havoc of death. As we moved, though slowly, yet ever a little in advance, our own killed and wounded lay behind us ; but we arrived among those of the enemy, and those of the Spaniards who had fallen in the first onset : we trod among the dead and dying, all reckless of them. But how shall I picture the British soldier going into action ? He is neither heated by brandy, stimulated by the hope of plunder, or inflamed by the deadly feelings of revenge ; he does not even indulge in expressions of animosity against his foes ; he moves forward, confident of victory, never dreams of the possibility of defeat, and braves death with all the accompanying horrors of laceration and torture, with the most cheerful intrepidity. Enough of joy and triumph. The roar of the battle is hushed ; the hurry of action is over ; let us walk over the corse-encumbered field. Look around, behold thousands of slain, thousands of wounded, writhing with anguish, and groaning with agony and despair. Move a little this way, here lie four officers of the French 100th, all corpses. Why, that boy cannot have numbered eighteen years! How beautiful, how serene a countenance! Perhaps on the banks of the murmuring and peaceful Loire, some mother thinks anxiously of this her darling child. Here fought the 3d brigade ; here the fusileers : how thick these heroes lie! Most of the bodies are already stripped ; rank is no longer distinguished. Yes: this must have been an officer ; look at the delicate whiteness of his hands, and observe on his finger the mark of his ring. What manly beauty ; what a smile still plays upon his lip! He fell, perhaps, beneath his colours; died easily ; he is to be envied. Here charged the Polish lancers; not long ago, the trampling of horses, the shout, the cry, the prayer, the death-stroke, all mingled their wild sounds on this spot ; it is now, but for a few fitful and stifled groans, as silent as the grave. What is this ? A battered trumpet ; the breath which filled, this morning, its haughty tone, has filed perhaps for ever. And here again a broken lance. Is this the muscular arm that wielded it ? 'Twas vigourous, and slew, perhaps, a victim on this field ; it is now unnerved by death. Look at the contraction of this body, and the anguish of these features ; eight times has some lance pierced this frame. Here again lie headless trunks, and bodies torn and struck down by cannon shot; such death is sudden, horrid, but 'tis merciful. Who are these that catch every moment at our coats, and cling to our feet, in such a humble attitude ? The wounded soldiers of the enemy, who are imploring British protection from the exasperated and revengeful Spaniards. What a proud compliment to our country!
Some readers will call this scene romantic, others disgusting: no matter ; it is faithful ; and it would be well for kings, politicians, and generals, if, while they talk of victories with exultation, and of defeats with philosophical indifference, they would allow their fancies to wander to the theatre of war and the field of carnage.
OLD CUMBERLAND BEGGAR.
I saw an aged Beggar in my walk;