Autobiography of Harry Smith
CAMPAIGN OF 1813: BATTLE OF VITTORIA.AT Guinaldo we soon saw it was requisite to prepare for another campaign, and without any previous warning whatever, we received, about twelve at night, an order to march, which we did at daylight [21 May, 1813], and marched nineteen successive days without one halt.
I commenced this campaign under very unfortunate circumstances as far as my stud was concerned. I had five capital horses, and only two fit for work. Tiny, my wife's noble little horse, had received a violent injury from the pulling down of the bullock-manger (an immensely heavy timber, with mere holes in it for the ox's muzzle), when the extreme end and sharp point fell on his off forehoof, and he was so lame he could hardly travel to Vittoria. This was an awful loss to my wife. General Vandeleur now and then mounted me, or I should have been badly off indeed. James Stewart gave me a celebrated English hunter called "Old Chap." He had picked up a nail in his hind foot, and was not fit to ride for months, and an English mare had thrown out a ring-bone. (I must observe that winter quarters to my stud was no holiday.)
The march from Guinaldo to Palencia and thence to Vittoria was exceedingly interesting; the weather delightful; supplies, the mainspring of happiness in a soldier's life, plentiful; and never was any army (although the Duke had so censured us after the retreat from Burgos) inspired with such confidence in their leader, and such dependence on their own prowess. All was cheerfulness, joy, and anticipation. On reaching Toro [2 June], we found the bridge over the Douro destroyed. The river was full and barely fordable for cavalry and baggage animals. The bridge was partially repaired, some boats collected, and by boats our artillery, baggage, and material crossed, some of the infantry in boats, some scrambling over the bridge. The Douro, a magnificent and deep flowing river, was much up for the time of year. The passage was a most animating spectacle; it would have been a difficulty to an inexperienced army. With us, we were ordered to cross, and it was a matter of fun and excitement. No halt of Divisions, the river was crossed, and the day's march completed. My wifešs dear Spaniard being lame, she rode a thoroughbred mare, which I gave I4O pounds for, an elegant animal, but it no more had the sagacity of Tiny than a cur has that of a foxhound, and the day before we reached Palencia, upon a greasy bank, the mare slipped up and fell upon my poor wife and broke a small bone in her foot This was to me an awful accident; heretofore health and happiness facilitated all; now, but for her natural vivacity and devotion, such was the pain, she must have remained at Palencia, and we must have separated. The bare idea aroused all her energy, and she said, "Get me a mule or an ass, and put a Spanish saddle for a lady on it; my feet will rest upon the foot-board, and go I will!" Dozens of officers were in immediate requisition, some trying mules to find a very easy one, others running from shop to shop to get a good easy and well-cushioned saddle. There was no difficulty. The word "stay behind" was the talisman to move pain, and the mule was put in progress next morning with that success determination ever ensures, for "Where there's a will, there's a way.
The whole of the Duke's army passed this day through the narrow main street of rather a pretty city, Palencia [7 June]. From a little after daylight, until past six in the evening, there was a continued stream of men-cavalry, artillery, infantry, and baggage, without a moment's interruption the whole day. To view this torrent of life was a sight which made an indelible impression upon a beholder.
But to my wounded wife. At the end of the march, the Brigade head-quarters went, as usual, into the village near the bivouac. Oh, the ceremony of her dismounting, the quantity of officers' cloaks spread for her reception; the "Take care! Now I'll carry the leg," of the kind-hearted doctor! Talk of Indian attention! Here were a set of fellows ready to lay down their lives even to alleviate momentary pain.
As we approached Burgos, the scene of previous failure, we Light, 3rd, and 4th Divisions expected the reluctant honour of besieging it, and so flushed with hope were we to meet the enemy in an open field and not behind bastions, curtains, embrasures, and defences, we fairly wished Burgos at the devil.
The day we were moving upon it [13 June] (the Duke knew it would not be defended), to our delight, one, two, three, four terrific explosions took place, and well did we know the enemy had blown Burgos to where we wished it. The universal joy was most manifest, for, if we had besieged it, former failure would have excited these crack Divisions to get into it with the determination they had ever previously evinced, but the blowing it up happily got us out of the difficulty to our hearts' content.1
My wife's foot gradually improved, and in a few days she was on her horse again, and en route in the column; for the soldiers, although generally averse to be interfered with by horses on the line of march, were ever delighted to get her to ride with their Company. Seeing her again on her horse was a great relief to my mind, for, in her peculiar and isolated position, the bare surmise of our separation was horrid, and, if I must have left her behind, the fact of a true Catholic allying herself to a heretic would, among bigoted inhabitants, have secured her anything but tender attention.
Our Division at San Millan, near Vittoria [18 June], intercepted the route of one of the French Columns as it was retiring into their position at Vittoria, and had as brilliant a fight entirely of our own as any one throughout the campaign. Some of the 1st Hussars also had a severe brush. Our Division halted the next day [20th], but the army never did, from the day of breaking up its cantonments until they fought the battle of Vittoria. It was a most wonderful march, the army in great fighting order, and every man in better wind than a trained pugilist.
At the Battle of Vittoria [21 June] my Brigade, in the middle of the action, was sent to support the 7th Division, which was very hotly engaged. I was sent forward to report myself to Lord Dalhousie, who commanded. I found his lordship and his Q.M.G., Drake, an old Rifle comrade, in deep conversation. I reported pretty quick, and asked for orders (the head of my Brigade was just getting under fire). I repeated the question, "What orders, my Lord?" Drake became somewhat animated, and I heard His Lordship say, "Better to take the village," which the French held with twelve guns (I had counted by their fire), and seemed to be inclined to keep it. I roared out, "Certainly, my Lord,' and off I galloped, both calling to me to come back, but, as none are so deaf as those who hear, I told General Vandeleur we were immediately to take the village. There was no time to lose, and the 52nd Regiment deployed into line as if at Shorncliffe, while our Riflemen were sent out in every direction, five or six deep, keeping up a fire nothing could resist. I galloped to the officer commanding a Battalion in the 7th Division (the 82nd, I think). "Lord Dalhousie desires you closely to follow this Brigade of the Light Division."
"Who are you, sir?" " Never mind that; disobey my Lord's order at your peril." My Brigade, the 52nd in line and the swarms of Riflemen, rushed at the village, and although the ground was intersected in its front by gardens and ditches, nothing ever checked us until we reached the rear of the village, where we halted to reform - the twelve guns, tumbrils, horses, etc., standing in our possession. There never was a more impetuous onset-nothing could withstand such a burst of determination. Before we were ready to pursue the enemy - for we Light Division ever reformed and got into order before a second attack, thanks to poor General Bob Craufurd's most excellent tuition - up came Lord Dalhousie with his Q.M.G., Drake, to old Vandeleur, exclaiming, "Most brilliantly achieved indeed! Where is the officer you sent to me for orders?" "Here I am, my lord." Old Drake knew well enough. "Upon my word, sir, you receive and carry orders quicker than any officer I ever saw. " You said, ' Take the village.' My lord, there it is," I said, "guns and all." He smiled, and old Drake burst into one of his grins, "Well done, Harry."
We were hotly engaged all the afternoon pursuing the French over very broad ditches. Until we neared Vittoria to our left, there was a plain free from ditches. The confusion of baggage, etc., was indescribable. Our Brigade was moving rapidly on, when such a swarm of French Cavalry rushed out from among the baggage into our skirmishers, opposite a company of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Tom Cochrane, we thought they must have been swept off. Fortunately for Tom, a little rough ground and a bank enabled him to command his Company to lie down, and such a reception they gave the horsemen, while some of our Company were flying to their support, that the French fled with a severe loss. Our Riflemen were beautiful shots, and as undaunted as bulldogs. We knew so well, too, how to support each other, that scarcely had the French Dragoons shown themselves when Cochrane's rear was supported, and we had such mutual confidence in this support that we never calculated on disaster, but assumed the boldest front and bearing.
A rather curious circumstance occurred to me after the first heights and the key of the enemy's central position was carried. I was standing with Ross's Brigade of guns sharply engaged, when my horse feIl as if stone dead. I jumped off, and began to look for the wound. I could see none, and gave the poor animal a kick on the nose. He immediately shook his head, and as instantly jumped on his legs, and I on his back. The artillerymen all said it was the current of air, or, as they call it, the wind, of one of the enemy's cannon-shot. On the attack on the village previously described, Lieutenant Northey (52nd Regiment) was not knocked off as I was, but he was knocked down by the wind of a shot, and his face as black as if he had been two hours in a pugilistic ring.
The fall of my horse had been observed by some of our soldiers as they were skirmishing forward, and a report soon prevailed that I was killed, which, in the course of the afternoon, was communicated to my poor wife, who followed close to the rear on the very field of battle, crossing the plain covered with treasure. Her old groom, West, proposed to carry off some on a led horse. She said, "Oh, West, never mind money. Let us look for your master." She had followed the 1st Brigade men, the 2nd having been detached, unobserved by her, to aid the 7th Division. After the battle, at dusk, my Brigade was ordered to join the 1st Brigade, with General Alten's head-quarters. I had lost my voice from the exertion of cheering with our men (not cheering them on, for they required no such example), and as I approached the 1st Brigade, to take up the ground for mine, I heard my wife's lamentations. I immediately galloped up to her, and spoke to her as well as I could, considering the loss of my voice. "Oh, then, thank God, you are not killed, only badly wounded." "Thank God," I growled, "I am neither," but, in her ecstasy of joy, this was not believed for a long while.
After putting up my Brigade (we required no picquets, the Cavalry were far in our front in pursuit of the flying enemy) we, that is, my General and Staff repaired to a barn, where we got in our horses and some forage, and lay down among them. It was dark; we had no lights, and sleep after such a day was as refreshing as eating, even if we had any means. At daybreak our luggage had arrived, and we were busy preparing some breakfast. Hardly did the kettle boil when "Fall in !" was the word. Just as we were jumping on our horses, my young wife, her ears being rather quick, said, "I am sure hear some one moaning, like a wounded man. We looked round, and I saw there was a loft for hay over our barn. I immediately scrambled up with assistance, for the ladder, like Robinson Crusoes had been hauled up. When I reached the landing-place, such a scene met my eye! Upwards of twenty French officers, all more or less severely wounded, one poor fellow in the agony of death, and a lady, whom I recognized as Spanish, grieving over him. At first the poor fellows funked I soon assured them of every safety and protection, and put my wife and the poor Spanish lady, her countrywoman, in communication. All we could spare, or, rather, all our breakfast, was given to the wounded, for march we must. The General sent his A.D.C. for a guard; we did all we cou1d at the moment, and the poor fellows were grateful indeed. The Spanish lady had a most beautiful little pug dog, a thoroughbred one, with a very extraordinary collar of bells about its neck. She insisted upon my wife's accepting the dog as a token of gratitude for our kindness. The little animal was accepted immediately, and named "Vittoria"; we jumped on our horses, and parted for ever, gratified, however, at having had it in our power to render this slight assistance to the poor fellows wounded and in distress. The dog became afterwards a celebrated animal in the Division, universally known and caressed, and the heroine of many a little anecdote, and hereafter at Waterloo must claim half a page to itself. It was the most sensible little brute Nature ever produced, and it and Tiny became most attached friends.
On this day's march our soldiers could scarcely move - men, in such wind and health as they were - but the fact is they had got some flocks of the enemy's sheep, and fallen in with a lot of flour; they had eaten till they were gorged like vultures, and every man's haversack was laden with flour and raw meat, all of which, except a day or two's supply, the Generals of Brigade were obliged to order to be thrown away. We were soon, however, close on the heels of the enemy, and the first shot revived the power to march. The retreat of the enemy was marked by every excess and atrocity and villages burning in every direction. Oh, my countrymen of England, if you had seen the twentieth part of the horrors of war I have, readily would you pay the war-taxes, and grumble less at the pinching saddle to National Debt! The seat of war is hell upon earth, even when stripped of the atrocities committed in Spain and Portugal, and everywhere else, I believe, except dear old England, by the French Army.
We Light Division had the pleasure, ere we reached Pamplona, to take the enemy's only remaining gun.2
Footnote1 - Vide Duke's letter, Nov. 23, 1812, to Lord Liverpool, in his Grace's letter to Marshal Beresford, Oct.31, ' You see what a scrape we have been in, and how well we have got Out of it."-H.G.S. return
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