The siege of Badajoz

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    From Sir John Kincaid's 'Adventure's in the Rifle Brigade'

      On the 17th of March 1812, the third, fourth and light divisions encamped around Badajoz, embracing the whole of the inland side of the town on the left bank of the Guadiana and commenced breaking ground before it immediately after dark the same night.
      The elements on this occasion, adopted the cause of the beseiged; for we had scarcely taken up our ground when a heavy rain commenced, and continued, almost without intermission, for a fortnight; in consequence thereof, the pontoon bridge , commecting us with our supplies from Elvas, was carried away by the rapid increase of the river, and the duties of the trenches were otherwise rendered extremely harrassing. We had a smaller force employed that at Rodrigo; and the scale of operations was so much greater that it required every man to be actually in the trenches six hours every day and the same length every night, which, with the time required to march to and from them , through the fields more than ankle deep in stiff mud, left us never more than eight hours out of the twenty four in camp, and we never were dry the whole time (ARB page 62)

    Edward Costello also has some description of digging trenches for Badajoz:

      The greatest annoyance we experienced during the siege arose from the shells thrown at us from the town. Our works effectually screened us from the round-shot; but these dangerous missiles, falling into the trenches where we worked, and exploding, frequently did great mischief Immediately a shell fell, every man threw himself flat upon the ground until it had burst. Tom Crawley, I remember, though tolerably fearless with reference to other shot, had a most inveterate dislike to those deadly visitors. His fears made him believe that more of them were thrown where he chanced to be than in any other part of the trenches. At night, in particular, Tom was always on the qui vive: as soon as he beheld a shell coming he would call out, 'Here's another brute-lookout!' and instantly fall on his face. This, however, did not always protect us, for the head was no sooner on the ground, than its presence was again required, to watch the falling splinters. These, from their composing large portions of the metal of the missile, descended with great violence, and were sometimes of themselves sufficient to crush a man into the earth.

    Later Kincaid writes;

      On the 6th of April [1812] three practicable breaches had been effected, and arrangements were made for assaulting the town that night. The third division by escalade, at the castle; a brigade of the fifth division by escalade, at the opposite side of town ; while the fourth and light divisions were to storm the breaches. The whole were ordered to be formed for the attack at eight 0'clock. (ARB)

    From Costello again:

      A Sergeant Fleming coming up, informed Major O'Hare that a ladder party was wanted. 'Take the right files of the leading sections,' was the prompt order of the Major. No sooner said than done, I and my front-rank men were immediately tapped on the shoulder for the ladder party. I now gave up all hope of ever returning. At Rodrigo, as before stated, we had fatigue parties for the ladders, but now the case was altered; besides which the ladders, now in preparation, were much longer than those employed at that fortress.
      The word was now given to the ladder party to move forward. We were accompanied at each side by two men with hatchets to cut down any obstacle that might oppose them, such as chevaux-de-frise.
      There were six of us supporting the ladder allotted to me, and I contrived to carry my grass-bag before me. We had proceeded but a short distance when we heard the sound of voices on our right, upon which we halted, and supposing they might be enemies, I disengaged myself from the ladder, and cocking my rifle, prepared for action. Luckily we soon discovered our mistake, as one of our party cried-'Take care! 'Tis the stormers of the fourth division coming to join us. This proved to be the case. This brief alarm over, we continued advancing towards the walls, the Rifles, as before, keeping in front. We had to pass Fort San Roche on our left, near to the tower, and as we approached it the French sentry challenged. This was instantly followed by a shot from the fort and another from the walls of the town. A moment afterwards, a fire-ball was thrown out, which threw a bright red glare of light around us, and instantly a volley of grape shot, canister, and small arms poured in among us as we stood on the glacis, at a distance of about thirty yards from the walls.

    Inside Badajoz from Costello:

      The fire continued in one horrible and incessant peal, as if the mouth of the infernal regions had opened to vomit forth destruction upon all around us, and this was rendered still more appalling by the fearful shouts of the combatants and cries of the wounded that mingled in the uproar.

    Day after Badajoz - Costello had saved a Frenchman from death inside but Costello himself had been wounded on the knee, the Frenchman, recognising that his own life was in danger and that Costello needed assistance, stuck closely by his side.

      A soldier of the 83rd regiment was engaged in cleaning his firelock, when the piece went off and shot a corporal through the head, wounding also the hand of another man. The Frenchman seemed dreadfully frightened: he turned pale as marble, perhaps thinking the shot was aimed at him, as the corporal fell dead at his side. This accident struck me as a forcible instance of the casualties that attend a soldier's life. I could not, indeed, help feeling for the poor corporal, who after surviving the dangers of the preceding night, had lost his life by a clumsy hand cleaning a firelock.

    There were accusations afterwards that Wellington had made the siege too soon, putting too many lives at risk, and indeed the army didn't break through at either of the breaches, but through one of the escalades. The death toll was grim, and Costello had to wait for some time before he received medical treatment. In the meantime much of the army was absent as they spent three days rioting through Badajoz - enraged by the death toll, and what they felt was the easy way Badajoz had tamely submitted to the French;

      I remained three days in camp before there was a possibility of my being conveyed into the hospital at Badajoz, during which I had an opportunity of hearing of the casualties that occurred. The number of men killed, wounded, and absent was such that the company could not muster a dozen men on parade for three days afterwards. Parties were sent to the breaches to bury the dead, which now began to smell most dreadfully; but we could not collect men enough to perform that duty.

      To see some typical letters of this period, you might also want to check out the Shanahan's Postal site - here are two;
      To Mrs Bowes from her brother, J.S. Johnson, who was killed at Badajoz and the second one also to Mrs Bowes is from her husband General Foord Bowes.

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