Autobiography of Harry Smith
HARRY SMITH ONCE MORE IN ENGLAND - REUNION WITH HIS WIFE IN LONDON - INTERVIEW WITH THE PRINCE REGENT - DINNER AT LORD BATHURST'S - A JOURNEY TO BATH - HARRY SMITH INTRODUCES HIS WIFE TO HIS FATHER - VISIT TO WHITTLESEY HE RECEIVES ORDERS TO RETURN TO AMERICA UNDER SIR EDWARD PAKENHAM.WAINWRIGHT and I started from the George Inn, Portsmouth, which I well knew, with four horses at five o'Clock. I do not know what he considered himself; but I was of opinion that, as the bearer of dispatches to Government, I was one of the greatest men in England. Just before we started, our outfit merchant and general agent, tailor, etc., by name Meyers, who had been very civil to me going out to South America, begged to speak to me. He said, "I find the Iphegenia is from America, from the Chesapeake: that little box under your arm contains, I see, dispatches." "Well," I said, "what of that?" "If you will tell me their general purport, whether good news or bad, I will make it worth your while, and you may secure some pounds for a refit." At first I felt inclined to knock him down. On a moment's reflexion I thought, "every one to his trade," so I compromised my feelings of indignation in rather a high tone of voice, and with "I'd see you d first; but of what use would such general information be to you?" He, a knowing fellow, began to think the pounds were in my thoughts, so he readily said, "I could get a man on horseback in London two hours before you, and good news or bad on 'Change' is my object.
Now do you understand?" I said, "Perfectly, and when I return to America I shall expect a capital outfit from you for all the valuable information I have afforded you. Good-bye, Meyers."
Oh! the delight of that journey. I made the boys drive a furiously good pace. D-- me, if I had rather be beating off a leeshore in a gale, tide against me! The very hedgerows, the houses, the farms, the cattle, the healthy population all neatly clothed, all in occupation; no naked slaves, no burned villages, no starving, wretched inhabitants, no trace of damnable and accursed war! For seven years, an immense period in early life, I had viewed nothing beyond the seat of a war, a glorious war, I admit, but in that glory, death in its most various shapes, misery of nations, hardships, privations, wounds, and sickness, and their concomitants. The wild excitement bears a soldier happily through. My career had been a most fortunate one. Still the contrast around me was as striking as the first appearance of a white and clothed man to a naked savage. The happy feeling of being in my native land once more, in health and in possession of every limb, excited a maddening sensation of doubt, anxiety, hope, and dread, all summed up in this -" Does your young wife live? Is she well?" Oh the pain, the hope, the fear, and the faith in Almighty God, who had so wonderfully protected me, must have turned the brain if endurance had continued, for I had never heard of her since we parted.
At twelve o'clock we were in London, and drove to Downing Street, where I lodged my dispatches; then we sought out a bivouac, I and poor Falls. The navy man was off to the Admiralty. Every inn was full near Downing Street, at least where I desired to be. At last we got to the Salopian Coffee-house in Parliament Street. The waiter said, "One spare bedroom, sir; nothing more." "Oh, plenty!" we said. We had been feasting on the road on that indigenous-to-England luxury of bread, butter, cream, and tea. All we wanted was an hour or two's sleep, for, at that time of night, as to finding any one, we might as well have been back in America! The chambermaid said, "Only one room, sir." "Plenty," we said. " But only one bed, gentlemen I" "Plenty," we said. "Bring up the portmanteau, West." When we got to the room and proceeded (West and I) to divide this copious bed into two by hauling half the clothes on the floor, according to our custom of seven years, the astonishment of the poor chambermaid is not to be described. We bundled her out and were asleep before a minute.
By daylight I was in a hackney coach, and drove to the British (the Scotch) barracks of my old Rifle comrades. There I asked the porter the name of any officer he knew. At last he stammered out some. "Colonel Ross?" "What regiment?" says I. " He had a green jacket when he came up." I knew it was my dear friend John Ross. "Where is the room ?" I said. "Oh, don't disturb the gentleman, sir; he is only just gone to bed." Says I, "My friend, I have often turned him out, and he shall quickly be broad awake now." He showed the room. In I bolted. "Halloa, Ross, stand to your arms." "Who the devil are you ?" " Harry Smith," I said; "fall in." Our joy was mutual. "Well, but quiet, John; is my wife alive and well ?" "All right, thank God, Harry, in every respect as you would wish. I was with her yesterday." "Where, John ? where?" "In Panton Square; No.11." It is difficult to decide whether excess of joy or of grief is the most difficult to bear; but seven years' fields of blood had not seared my heart or blunted my naturally very acute feelings, and I burst into a flood of tears. "Oh, thank Almighty God." Soon I was in Panton Square, with my hand on the window of the coach, looking for the number, when I heard a shriek, "Oh Dios, Ia mano de mi Enrique!" Never shall I forget that shriek; never shall I forget the effusion of our gratitude to God, as we held each other in an embrace of love few can ever have known, cemented by every peculiarity of our union and the eventful scenes of our lives. Oh! you who enter into holy wedlock for the sake of connexions - tame, cool, amiable, good, I admit - you cannot feel what we did. That moment of our lives was worth the whole of your apathetic ones for years. We were unbounded in love for each other, and in gratitude to God for all His mercies. Poor little Pug was, in her way, as delighted to see me as her more happy mistress, and many an anecdote was told me of her assisting by moaning pitifully when my wife grieved aloud, as she was sometimes induced to do.
This happy reunion effected, I was off to Downing Street, where my Lord Bathurst received me in the kindest manner, and said, "The intelligence you bring is of such importance, the Prince Regent desires to see you. We will go immediately." I said, "My Lord, be so good as to allow me to take the map I brought you." "It is here." And off we started to Carlton House. We were shown into a large room where Lord Bathurst fortunately left me for half an hour, which enabled me somewhat to allay my excited imagination and return to the battlefields. I was soon deep in thought, when a sort of modesty came over me at the idea of approaching England's (actual) king. I gave my head a toss, saying, "I never quailed before the ~ Duke of Wellington, with his piercing eye, nor will I now, and General Ross begged of me to talk ;" for His Royal Highness, the story went, complained that "the bearer of dispatches will never talk." Johnny Kincaid says I was an impudent fellow." At any rate, I determined, if I saw His Royal Highness really desired me to be communicative, I would not be unready.
While I was forming all sorts of plans for both attack and defence, in came Lord Bathurst: "The Prince will see you." So I said, "My Lord, if we were in camp, I could take your Lordship all about, but I know nothing of the etiquette of a court." So he says, "Oh, just behave as you would to any gentleman; His Highness's manner will soon put you at ease. Call him 'Sir,' and do not turn your back on him." "No," says I, "my Lord, I know that; and my profession is one of 'show a good front."' In we went to the Prince's dressing-room, full of every sort of article of dress, perfumes, snuff-boxes, wigs, every variety of article, I do believe, that London could produce.
His Highness rose in the most gracious manner, and welcomed me to his presence by saying, "General Ross strongly recommended you to my notice1 as an officer who can afford me every information of the service you come to report, the importance of which is marked by the firing of the Parliament and Tower guns you now hear." I could not refrain from smiling within myself at Harry Smith of the Light Division sitting with the Prince Regent, and all London in an uproar at the news he brought. I was perfectly thunderstruck at the military questions the Prince asked me. He opened a map of America, and then referred to the plan of Washington I had brought home, with the public buildings burnt marked in red. He asked the name of each, and in his heart I fancied I saw he thought it a barbarian act. On all other topics he spoke out. I said it was to be regretted a sufficient force had not been sent to hold Washington. His Highness said, "What do you call a sufficient force?" I said, "14,000 men." He very shrewdly asked on what I based such an opinion. I talked of Navy, of population, etc., and perfectly satisfied His Highness I did not give an opinion at random.
He asked a variety of questions, and laughed exceedingly when I told him the anecdote of Calder's promising to save Brown. When I got up to leave the room, and was backing out, His Highness rather followed me, and asked if I were any relation of his friend, Sir Smith, in Shropshire. I said, "No." He then said, "I and the Country are obliged to you all. Ross's recommendations will not be forgotten, and, Bathurst, don't forget this officer's promotion." It was the most gentlemanlike and affable interview I could possibly imagine.
That evening I was to dine at Lord Bathurst's at Putney. I never met a more amiable-mannered man than Lord Bathurst; and his secretary, Punch Greville2, volunteered to drive me out in his tilbury. When I got into the drawing-room, who should be there but my dear friend Lord Fitzroy Somerset? He had been recently married. At dinner I sat between Lady Fitzroy and an elderly gentleman whose name I did not know, and, as the party was small, and I the lion, every one induced me to talk. Lord Fitzroy and I across the table got back into Spain; and, of course, as I regarded the Duke of Wellington as something elevated beyond any human being, and I was in high spirits, I did not hesitate to launch forth our opinion of him. The elderly gentleman who sat next me said, "I am very glad to hear you speak in such raptures of the Duke. He is my brother." I laughed, and said, "I have not exceeded in anything, to the best of my judgment."
After dinner Lord Fitzroy Somerset and I had a long talk. He had travelled after Toulouse, in a little carriage from Bordeaux to Cadiz with the Duke, and their conversation frequently turned on the Army. Fresh are the words on my mind at this moment. "The Duke often said to me, 'The Light, 3rd and 4th Divisions were the elite of my army, but the Light had this peculiar perfection. No matter what was the arduous service they were employed on, when I rode up next day, I still found a Division. They never lost one half the men other Divisions did.'" I was delighted, for this was what we so prided ourselves on. I have often heard our soldiers bullying one another about the number such a Company had lost, always attaching discredit to the loss. It was a peculiar feeling, and one which actuated them throughout the war, combined with the most undaunted bravery and stratagem as sharpshooters. But I must revert to domestic matters.
My wife had refused all the entreaties of my family to leave London before my return. She availed herself of masters, and saw so many friends daily. She had a forcible impression that I should not be long away. We started for Bath, and I wrote to my father to come to London in a few days, and we would return with him to Whittlesea. We found poor Mrs. Ross in the highest spirits at the achievement of our arms under her husband. Poor thing! at that very moment of her excessive happiness he was in a soldier's bloody grave. The delight of our journey to and from Bath is not to be described. Everything was modern, novel, and amusing to my wife: every trifle called forth a comparison with Spain, although she admitted that there was no comparison between our inns and the Spanish posadas, so accurately described in Gil B/as. No brutal railroads in those days, where all are flying prisoners. We dined where we liked; we did as we liked. At the last stage back into London, my wife, in looking at a newspaper (for she began to read English far better than she spoke), saw my promotion to the rank of Major-" The reward," she said, "of our separation."
On arrival in London we found my father had arrived from the country. I had not seen him for seven years. In this period he had been deprived of his devoted wife, leaving him eleven children, 1; of a mother; for everything that word comprises in its most comprehensive sense I had lost. Our pleasure at meeting, as may be supposed, was excessive, while we mingled our tears for the departed. As my wife had just come off a journey, and it was late in the afternoon, I would not show her to my father until she was dressed for dinner: a little bit of vanity and deception on my part, for I led him to believe she was of the stiff Spanish school, as stately as a swan and about as proud as a peacock. She liked the fun of the deception, and promised to dress in full Spanish costume, and act up to the supposition.
In she came, looking - oh! if I could but describe her ! but in place of acting either the swan or the peacock, she bounded into my father's arms, who cried like a child, between joy, admiration, astonishment and delight at seeing so young and beautiful a creature who had gone through so much, and showed a heart evidently framed for love.
She was now nearly eighteen, but a woman - not a girl, and certainly a person of most distinguished appearance, especially in her Spanish costume; not handsome, if beauty depends on regularity of features, for she had the dark complexion of the fairer part of her countrywomen, but with a colour beneath the clearest skin of olive which gave a lustre to her countenance - a countenance illumined by a pair of dark eyes possessing all the fire of a vivid imagination, and an expression which required not the use of speech. Her figure was beautiful, and never was any costume so calculated to exhibit it in perfection and in all its graces as that of her native land. She had a profusion of the darkest brown hair; teeth, though not regular, as white as pearls; with a voice most silvery and sweet in conversation, and she would sing the melancholy airs and songs of constancy of her country (so celebrated for them) with a power and depth of voice and feeling peculiar to Spain. Her foot and ankle were truly Spanish. She danced beautifully. Thus it was that the natural grace of her figure and carriage was developed, while the incomparable elegance and simplicity of her manner was a thing not to be forgotten, rarely to be met with. Her pronunciation of English at this period was most fascinating, and when she wanted a word, the brilliancy and expression of the eye would supply it. It flashed perpetually as she spoke, and filled up the intervals her slight knowledge of our language could not supply. She was animated and intelligent, with a touching tone of confidence and gentleness which made the hearer a willing listener to her words, but still her meaning was supplied by her vivid countenance. Such was the being my affectionate and kind-hearted father held locked in his paternal embrace, the faithful wife of his son. They were ever afterwards friends in every sense of the word, and, as he was the best and boldest horseman I ever saw in my life, and she could ride beautifully and any horse they were inseparable.
Poor "Old Chap," my war horse, which, together with her Andalusian "Tiny," I had sent to him, was dead, but, the morning after our arrival at Whittlesea, we were taken to the stall. There was Tiny in such condition The meeting between my wife and the horse was, as she said, that of compatriots in a foreign land. It was rendered still more amusing by the little pug and horse equally recognizing each other, for many a day had Tiny carried Pug. (My dear little thoroughbred horse I had so cried over3 was still alive and fresh, but alas! I had grown out of his memory. He was standing in the next stall, and had acquired the name of "Old Jack.") My wife let Tiny loose, to the alarm of my father, who expected to see him fly off full speed into his garden, which he prided himself on considerably. To his astonishment, and to mine too (for my father told me the groom could barely lead him), she says, "Now don't make a noise, and he will follow me like a dog," which he did into the drawing-room, Occasionally licking her hand or face when she allowed him. The saddle, however, was soon on him, and, as if proud to show off that he was broken in like a Mameluke's, she figured him so that few Mamelukes, jerreed 4in hand, could have touched her with effect.
In the midst of [happiness] I had the most melancholy visit to pay to my mother's tomb. If ever souls on earth could commune, I was so fascinated by the hallowed spot, which contained all which I so adored from my infancy, my consoler, my counsellor, my guide to the holy hill of God, I really believed I heard her speak when I prayed over her head and again vowed my promises at parting. Oh! that she could have lived to know my elevation, my being the bearer of dispatches to our King, that she could have seen my wife, that she could have shared, Heaven bless her, in the happiness of her children around! This one blank was for the moment all I lacked. I consoled myself that while we were revelling on earth with every uncertainty before us, she, my mother, was in heaven, where I dare firmly believe she is, for God is gracious and bountiful.
On my return from that hallowed and sacred spot, I found letters from the Horse Guards. The first was to order me to London immediately, the next was to tell me what I little anticipated. General Ross, contrary to his own opinion and his promise, had attempted Baltimore [12 Sept.], failed, as I anticipated, and lost his gallant life from not following the dictates of his own good sense and ability. My dear friend Sir Edward Pakenham was appointed to succeed him. I was appointed A.A.G. to the increased force going out! I had been nearly three weeks under the paternal and hospitable roof - my Only holiday for years - when that blighting word "separation" was again to be imparted to my faithful and adoring wife; and, cut off from all social ties of happiness and endearment, I was again immediately, in the very middle of winter, to encounter the stormy Atlantic and all the horrors of war in the distance. It is only a repetition of the former tale to talk of my poor wife's distress. It was agreed she was to accompany me to London, and my father was to bring her back; and twenty-four hours later, while brothers and sisters re-echoed each others' promises, and indeed feelings, of affection, we started back to London, with hearts as heavy as they were light coming down.
I little thought then of what I had to go through, witness, and endure, but, if I had, my task would still have been to affect a cheerfulness in the prospect of more promotion which, I avow candidly, I did not feel. However, I was a soldier, and as much wedded to my profession and a sense of duty as any man, so I lit up my torch of hope and did all in my power to cheer and comfort her I so loved.
On our arrival in London I immediately went to poor dear Sir Edward Pakenham, who was delighted to see me, and said that we must be in Portsmouth in a few days, and that the Statira frigate was waiting for us. I then sought out Macdougall of the 85th, who before I left the Army had been acting, in place of sick Falls, as A.D.C. to poor Ross, and I readily learned all that occurred before the service lost that gallant soldier. My firm and faithful friend John Robb, surgeon of the 95th when I joined, was appointed Inspector-General of Hospitals, and he and I agreed to send our baggage by coach, and go down together to Portsmouth in a post chaise on Sunday afternoon, for the Statira was to sail on Monday. Old West was started off per coach, and at three o'clock on Sunday, the - November, the horrible scene of parting was again to be endured. It was less painful to me than the first, I admit, for my dear wife was now known and beloved by all my family; but to her the dread of separation, and separation for the exploits of war, was as painful as before, and, when I tore myself from her, which I was literally obliged to do, that heart must be hard indeed that was not, as mine was, ready to break. I can see her now, with her head resting on the chimney-piece (as I left the room, and took a farewell glance) in a state bordering on despair. My father, too, was awfully overcome. In a few minutes I was rolling on my road to Portsmouth, deeply absorbed, I admit, but my companion Robb was a man of strong mind, of whom I had a high opinion, and not to appear desponding before him, I exerted all my energy and began to talk of my plans on my return. Robb said the only thing I ever heard him say that I thought would have been as well unsaid-" Oh, that's capital! a fellow going out to be killed by an American Rifleman, talking of what he will do when he comes back!" Now, such is the perversity of human nature, this so put up my blood, that grief and anguish were mitigated in a determined spirit of oppositi on.
We arrived at the George at twelve at night, and found West, who reported all right. We found an order directing us to be on board by ten o'clock, as the ship would get under weigh at twelve, and we knew that our men of war are punctual fellows.
The next morning, at breakfast, we directed old West to parade our portmanteaus. My kit had increased just double, viz. I had now two portmanteaus. "Here they are, sir," says West. "Why, that is not mine, West!" He overhauled it, and soon agreed with me. We went to the coach; there was no other. So I opened it, and, to my horror, in place of my things, it contained the dirty linen of a Frenchman and his silk stockings and evening pantaloons, etc, etc. Upon a little inquiry from poor old West, we learned that two coaches were loading at the same time, one for Dover, the other for Portsmouth. It was evident, therefore, my red coats were in company with my French friend. In my portmanteau were all my boots, my uniform, and my flannel waistcoats. We were to embark immediately, and I had nothing for it but to go to my friend5, and tell him, "Now's the time for the outfit I have lost my portmanteau." He very kindly undertook to write to Charing Cross and send back the Frenchman's, and in three weeks after the failure at New Orleans my portmanteau was sent out to me by my dear friend John Bell.
It is a very odd coincidence that, on my first going abroad to South America, I lost my kit and all my large stock of silver given me by my poor mother - some teaspoons, etc. On that occasion I never recovered anything.
1 - "FROM MAJOR-GENERAL ROSS TO EARL BATHURST
"Tannani" in the Patuxent, Aug.30, 1814.
"Captain Smith, assistant adjutant~general to the troops, who will have the honor to deliver this dispatch, I beg leave to recommend to your lordship's protection, as an officer of much merit and great promise, and capable of affording any further information that may be requisite " (Given in W. James's Military Occurrences of the Late War (1818), ii. p.498). Back
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