The Commander of the forces, with the main body of the cavalry, had
marched in the morning from Bembibre, and immediately on his arrival
at Villa Franca used every endeavour to remedy and quell the disorders
committed there. The disgraceful conduct which took place at Astorga
and Bembibre was here perpetrated by the preceding divisions. All
the doors and windows were broken open, the stores robbed, and the
commissaries so intimidated as to be prevented from making any careful
distribution of the provisions. One of the stragglers left behind had
the hardihood, although knowing that the Commander of the forces was
present, to break open and plunder a magazine in broad daylight; but
being taken in the act, he was ordered to be executed, and was shot in
the market-place.

After using every exertion to restore order and discipline, the
general returned to Calcabellos, and met us just as we halted. We
were immediately formed in contiguous close columns in a field by the
road, when the Commander of the forces rode up and addressed us in the
most forcible and pathetic manner. After dwelling on the outrageous
disorders and want of discipline in the army, he concluded by saying:
“And if the enemy are in possession of Bembibre, which I believe,
they have got a rare prize. They have taken or cut to pieces many
hundred drunken British cowards–for none but unprincipled cowards
would get drunk in presence, nay, in the very sight of the enemies of
their country; and sooner than survive the disgrace of such infamous
misconduct, I hope that the first cannon-ball fired by the enemy may
take me in the head.” Then turning to us, he added: “And you, 28th,
are not what you used to be. You are not the regiment who to a man
fought by my side in Egypt. If you were, no earthly temptation could
even for an instant seduce one of you away from your colours.” He then
rode off and returned to Villa Franca. This feeling and pungent address
made a deep impression on every individual present, as well officers
as men; but the feeling of remorse was but of short duration–future
temptations brought on future disorders.

Immediately on the departure of the General-in-chief General Paget
placed the reserve in position, giving us to understand that our not
being lodged in the village arose not from any necessity strictly
military, but that it was entirely owing to our own misconduct. After
the disgraceful scenes presented at Bembibre, it was not considered
safe to lodge the men in houses, more particularly as we could not tell
at what hour, day or night the enemy’s advancing columns might be upon
us. A detachment of from three hundred to four hundred cavalry (the
only ones left behind), together with about the same number of the 95th
Regiment, were pushed forward about two miles upon the road leading to
Bembibre, to watch any enemy coming thence or from Foncevadon. Late on
this evening General Paget issued an order strongly censuring our past
conduct, and stating that, although we committed fewer excesses and
were guilty of fewer disorders than any other division of the army,
and consequently had fewer stragglers, yet we were unworthy the proud
situation which we held, and had forfeited the high honour conferred
upon us when we were selected to lead into action and to cover the
army when required. He added that every instance of drunkenness in the
troops under present circumstances was compromising the honour of their
country; but that drunkenness in the reserve was wilfully betraying
the lives of their comrades in arms and endangering the safety of the
whole army. The reserve must be exemplary in their good conduct; every
soldier of which it is composed must consider himself at all times a
sentinel at the post of danger, consequently at the post of honour.
Orders were issued that no man was on any pretence whatever to enter
the town without being accompanied by a non-commissioned officer, who
was held strictly responsible for the due return of those committed to
his charge. Parties were ordered frequently to patrol the town during
the night, and make prisoners of any stragglers they should meet.

Notwithstanding these orders, the moving appeal of General Paget, and
the severe reproof so deservedly called forth from the Commander of the
forces against the whole army, scarcely had darkness prevailed when
stragglers from our position, with many who had escaped from Bembibre,
continued their disorders and depredations, principally against the
wine vats. Many were taken during the night breaking open doors and
plundering cellars; and two men were seized in the act of committing a
more serious crime, that of robbing the person of an inhabitant.


Early on the morning of the 3rd the reserve marched up towards the
crown of a low hill, in front of Calcabellos on the Bembibre side.
Here we halted, leaving so much of it above us as served to screen us
from the view of an approaching foe. No enemy having as yet advanced,
the general of division ordered a hollow square to be formed, facing
inwards. A drumhead court-martial sat in rear of every regiment, and
within the square were placed the triangles. The culprits seized in
the town, as soon as tried and sentenced, were tied up, and a general
punishment took place along the four faces of the square; and this
continued for several hours. During this time our vedettes came in
frequently to report to the general that the enemy were advancing. His
only reply was, “Very well.” The punishment went on. The two culprits
whom I have mentioned as having been seized in the act of committing a
robbery stood with ropes round their necks. Being conducted to an angle
of the square, the ropes were fastened to the branches of a tree which
stood there, and at the same time the delinquents were lifted up and
held on the shoulders of persons attached to the provost-marshal. In
this situation they remained awaiting the awful signal for execution,
which would instantly be carried into effect by a mere movement from
the tree of the men upon whose shoulders they were supported. At this
time (between twelve and one o’clock, as well as I can remember) a
cavalry officer of high regimental rank galloped into the square and
reported to General Paget that the piquets were engaged and retiring.
“I am sorry for it, sir,” said the general; “but this information is of
a nature which would induce me to expect a report rather by a private
dragoon than from you. You had better go back to your fighting piquets,
sir, and animate your men to a full discharge of their duty.” General
Paget was then silent for a few moments, and apparently suffering
under great excitement. He at length addressed the square by saying:
“My God! is it not lamentable to think that, instead of preparing the
troops confided to my command to receive the enemies of their country,
I am preparing to hang two robbers? But though _that_ angle of the
square should be attacked I shall execute these villains in _this_
angle.” The general again became silent for a moment, and our piquets
were heard retiring up the opposite side of the hill and along the road
which flanked it on our left. After a moment’s pause he addressed the
men a second time in these words: “If I spare the lives of these two
men, will you promise to reform?” Not the slightest sound, not even
breathing, was heard within the square. The question was repeated: “If
I spare the lives of these men, will you give me your word of honour
as soldiers that you will reform?” The same awful silence continued
until some of the officers whispered to the men to say “Yes,” when that
word loudly and rapidly flew through the square. The culprits were then
hastily taken away from the fatal tree, by a suspension from which they
but a moment before expected to have terminated their existence. The
triangles were now ordered to be taken down and carried away. Indeed,
the whole affair had all the appearance of stage management, for even
as the men gave the cheers customary when condemned criminals are
reprieved, our piquets appeared on the summit of the hill above us,
intermixed with the enemy’s advanced guard. The square was immediately
reduced, formed into columns at quarter distance and retired, preceded
by the 52nd Regiment, who started forward at double quick time, and,
crossing the River Guia, lined its opposite bank. The division coming
up passed over the bridge, with the exception of the 28th Light
Company, who were left behind with orders to remain there until the
whole of the reserve should have crossed, and then to follow.

General Paget now moved forward and took up a strong position on
the side of a sloping hill immediately in front of Calcabellos. His
extreme right somewhat outflanked the town, his left rested on the
road leading to Villa Franca. The whole line was protected by a chain
of hedges and stone walls which ran close in front. Our battery of six
guns was pushed some way down the road leading to the bridge, to take
advantage of a small bay by which they were protected and concealed
from the enemy. The light company of the 28th, as soon as they retired
from the bridge, were to be posted immediately under the guns, which
were to fire over our heads, the declivity of the road allowing that
arrangement. The left wing of the 28th Regiment were pushed forward
immediately in rear of the guns and for their protection. The right
wing of the 28th Regiment now formed the extreme left of the direct
line. Further in advance, and extended to the left along the bank of
the stream, their right close to the bridge, the 52nd were placed.

[Sidenote: FIGHT AT A BRIDGE.]

The Guia, an insignificant stream, but at this season rising in its
bed, runs along the base of the sloping hill upon which Calcabellos
is situated, at the distance of from four to five hundred yards, and
passing under the narrow stone bridge, winds round the vineyards in
which the 52nd Regiment were posted. At this bridge the light company,
as has been said, were posted until everything belonging to the reserve
should pass over; and, before this was entirely accomplished, our
cavalry (at first preceded by the 95th, whom they passed through) came
galloping down to the bridge, followed closely by the enemy’s dragoons.
The enemy’s advance being seen from the high ground in our rear, the
battalion bugles sounded our recall; but it was impossible to obey,
for at that moment our cavalry and the rifles completely choked up the

The situation of the light company was now very embarrassing–in danger
of being trampled by our own cavalry, who rode over everything which
came in their way, and crowded by the 95th and liable to be shot by
them, for in their confusion they were firing in every direction. Some
of them were a little the worse for liquor–a staggering complaint at
that time very prevalent in our army; and we were so mixed up with them
and our own cavalry that we could offer no formation to receive the
enemy, who threatened to cut us down. At length, the crowd dissipating,
we were plainly seen by the French, who, probably taking us for the
head of an infantry column, retired. We sent them a few shots.

As soon as the 95th, who had lost between thirty and forty prisoners
on the occasion, had crossed over and lined the hedges on the opposite
side, and our cavalry, taking retrograde precedence more through
horse-play than military etiquette, had cleared the bridge, the
light company followed. It was mortifying to reflect that after such
an uninterrupted series of brilliant achievements, their farewell
encounter with their opponents should thus terminate, even although
they may have been somewhat outnumbered; but neither of their two
gallant leaders were present.

The light company now occupied their destined post under the guns,
and accounted for not having obeyed the battalion bugles, which had
continued to sound the recall during the whole time of our absence. The
cavalry rode on without a halt to join the main body, then on march for


Shortly after we had gained our position, either supposing that the
bridge was abandoned by the retirement of the light company, or because
their courage was wound up to proper fighting pitch, the French cavalry
advanced at a quick trot down the hill. Our guns instantly wheeled out
upon the road, and played upon their column until they became screened
from their fire by the dip in the road as they approached the bridge.
Here they were warmly received by the 52nd Regiment, now freed from
our own dragoons, and the 95th; and upon this they made a most furious
charge at full speed over the bridge and up the road towards our
position. During this onset they were severely galled by the 95th, who
by this time had lined the hedges on either side of the road within
a few yards of their flanks, and by the light company immediately in
their front, whom it was evidently their intention to break through,
as they rode close to our bayonets. But their ranks being much thinned
by the destructive flanking fire of the rifles and of the standing
ranks of the light company, their charge was vain, and, their gallant
leader having fallen close under our bayonets, they wheeled about and
underwent the same ordeal in retiring, so that but few survived to tell
the tragic tale. The road was absolutely choked with their dead. One
alone among the slain was sincerely regretted, their gallant leader,
General Colbert; his martial appearance, noble figure, manly gesture,
and above all his daring bravery called forth the admiration of all.
I say that one only was regretted, for the wanton cruelties committed
against the women and children on the previous day were too recent to
be either forgotten or forgiven.

This attack of the French cavalry was most ill advised, ill judged,
and seemingly without any final object in view. It is true that their
bravery was too obvious to be doubted; but they rushed on reckless of
all opposition, whether apparent or probable, and had they succeeded
in cutting through the light company, which they would have found some
difficulty in doing, and although they would then have escaped much
of the cross-fire of the 95th, yet they would have been in a worse
position than before. When they had passed beyond the light company a
hundred yards they would have encountered the left wing of the 28th
Regiment, supported, if necessary, by the right wing directly on their
flank, although a little in the rear; and had their number, which was
but from four to five hundred men, been quadrupled, every man must
have been shot, bayoneted or taken prisoner. In fact, there is no
calculating what amount of cavalry would be sufficient to force an
infantry regiment formed in column on a road flanked with a high hedge
on either side. I speak of British infantry, among whom no swerving
takes place, each individual being well aware that his greatest safety
depends on his manfully facing and strenuously opposing the foe.

At this time the Commander of the forces arrived, having left Villa
Franca as soon as he heard the report of the first gun fired. He
immediately withdrew the 52nd Regiment, who, as I have stated, were
a good way in front of our left, and placed them on the high ground
towards the centre of our position. Sir John Moore did not at all
differ from General Paget as to the strength of the position, but their
intentions differed. Paget took up the best possible position which the
nature of the ground offered to maintain a battle, however prolonged;
Sir John Moore perceived that both flanks of the 52nd were liable to
be turned, especially after the light company had retired from the
bridge, which would more than probably bring on a general action of the
whole reserve. This he studiously avoided, and for the best possible
reasons. He was ignorant as to the amount of force with which the enemy
were advancing against our position, but from all accounts he was
led to believe that it was very great; and at that time our nearest
division, that of Sir David Baird, was at Nogales, distant nearly forty

Not long after the failure of the charge headed by General Colbert,
some French dragoons together with their light troops crossed the Guia
under the high ground occupied by our right and centre. They were
opposed by the 95th, who moved from the hedges which flanked the road
to meet them, and a severe skirmish ensued. The enemy’s cavalry, who on
this occasion mixed with their skirmishers, were fast gaining ground
on the right of the rifles; the bugles from the position sounded the
retreat, but were very imperfectly obeyed. Some of the 52nd Regiment,
who could no longer restrain their feelings at seeing the critical
situation in which their old friends were placed, darted forward from
their position above to their assistance; and the 28th Light Company,
making a partial extension along the hedge which flanked the road upon
which they were stationed, sent many an effectual shot in their aid.


The fight now became confused, and the enemy’s numbers increased every
instant. Cavalry, tirailleurs, voltigeurs, 95th, and those of the
52nd Regiment who flew to the aid of their friends, now formed one
indiscriminate mass; and the light company on the road could no longer
fire except at the dragoons’ heads, some few of whom were lowered. It
stung us to the heart to see our gallant comrades so maltreated with
aid so near; for had we of the light company crossed the hedge under
which we were drawn up, and advanced a short way in regular order so
as to form a _point d’appui_, all would have been put to rights. But
we durst not move an inch, being posted close to our guns for their
protection, and every moment expecting to encounter another charge of

At this time General Merle’s division appeared on the hills in front
of our position, and moved forward. The reserve now showed themselves,
probably with a view of inducing the enemy to delay their attack until
the morning. A heavy column of the enemy were pushed forward towards
the left of our position, in front of where the 52nd Regiment had been
posted. Their intention was evidently to cross the stream; but their
column soon becoming unveiled, our guns again wheeled out on to the
road, and opened such a destructive fire that, although close to the
Guia, they hastily retired, after having sustained considerable loss.
Had the 52nd remained as first posted, the carnage in the column must
have been immense; but it is probable that the enemy were aware of that
regiment having shifted ground, for they sent no skirmishers in front
of their column. The skirmish, hitherto sharply maintained by the 95th
and 52nd against their opponents, now slackened and shortly ceased.
The French tirailleurs and cavalry, perceiving the failure of their
infantry attack on our left, and that they were fast retiring, retired
also down to the banks of the Guia.

It being now quite dark, our guns were withdrawn up to the main body
of the reserve, and were followed by the light company. The 95th also
fell back on to the main body; and, leaving strong piquets along the
line, the whole force moved on towards Villa Franca. Everything was now
quiet, with the exception of a few shots fired from the bank of the
stream in answer to some few of the 95th, who still remained behind,
and, although without any cause, persisted in continuing to fire,
exposing themselves by the flashes. Indeed, it was more difficult to
withdraw our men from the fight than to loose the hold of a high-bred

I have told already how during the hottest part of the skirmish the
bugles from the position sounded the retreat, which was not at all,
or at most but imperfectly obeyed. At this period of the retreat the
reserve were always closely pursued and harassed by the enemy without
their having an opportunity of revenge; and this, from their being
unaccustomed to campaigning, wrought them up to a pitch of excitement
amounting to frenzy. They suffered privations, and were at the same
time exposed to temptations which to British soldiers not habituated
to the presence of an enemy were irresistible; wine lay in their way
and in abundance, forsaken too by its owners. Thus it was that, when
on this day the French infantry first came in close contact with ours,
when bayonets were crossed and blood was profusely drawn, our men were
so wild and hot for the fray that it was hard to drag them from the


That Britons will fight to the last–that is, while they can stand–is
well known; and it was this determination that caused Napoleon at the
battle of Waterloo to say that the English were beaten according to
every rule of war, but did not know it. Long may they remain in this
species of ignorance, and, whether feasted flushed or fasting, continue
to maintain their true national character, a specimen of which was
given at Calcabellos! Some there were who fought with stomachs full,
many more with stomachs empty, and some there were who, if true men,
gave proof of their veracity in wine.

Thus terminated the first encounter which took place between the
reserve and the foremost columns of the French infantry. It was
conjectured that upwards of five hundred men must have fallen, killed
and wounded, in both armies. The loss sustained by General Merle’s
division could not be ascertained. Calculating, however, from the depth
of the column, the fitness of the range for the practice of our guns,
and the celerity with which they retired, it must have been severe; but
the greatest loss was in their cavalry–a just retribution for their
wanton cruelty at Bembibre.

Gratified by this preface to our future work, our morals improved by
the justly merited punishment which we received that morning, refreshed
by the clean sheets of driven snow upon which we had reposed, and
our frames more braced than benumbed by the cold to which our own
irregularities had doomed us, we pressed forward like soldiers upon
whom the light of conviction had flashed and to whom physical powers
were not wanting, and so marched that night to Herrerias, a distance
of eighteen miles, and, if I mistake not, without leaving a single
straggler of our division behind. The reserve again became disciplined
soldiers, determined to prove themselves such. They gave their word of
honour as soldiers to their general that they would reform, and this
too while the enemy were pressing forward to bear testimony to this
pledge, by the fulfilment of which they were to become the principal

It was at this time currently reported that the cause of our sudden
night march from Cambarros to Bembibre was a false alarm given to
our cavalry, stating that Napoleon had entered Astorga that evening
(December 31st) and was pushing forward his columns; this of course
rendered it necessary for the reserve immediately to retire, Cambarros
being scarcely two leagues from Astorga. The groundlessness of this
alarm became apparent through more certain information and succeeding
events; it was fully ascertained that Napoleon did not enter Astorga
until the afternoon of next day (January 1st). False alarms must be
expected in all campaigns, but more particularly in such a campaign
as ours. In this instance the alarm proved very injurious to us. The
night march of the reserve pushed on unnecessarily, harassed them a
good deal, which, added to the manner in which they were employed next
day in rousing the stragglers, caused them to leave many men behind in
Bembibre; and had Sir David Baird’s division not been started up long
before daybreak to make way for the reserve, but allowed to take some
few hours more repose to give the men time to sleep away the fumes
of the wine swallowed during the previous evening, some hundreds of
stragglers would have been saved to the army.

On leaving Calcabellos three or four miles behind, we approached Villa
Franca. The whole town seemed on fire. This conflagration was caused
by the destruction of stores and provisions; and so tenacious were
the commissariat in preserving everything for the flames that they
had guards posted around even the biscuits and salt meat to prevent
the men as they passed from taking anything away. A commissary or
one of his satellites stood close to each sacrifice, who exhorted
the officers as they passed to use every exertion in preventing any
diminution of the sumptuous repast prepared for the hungry flames and
grudged to the hungry soldiers. But notwithstanding these precautions
and strict orders and the chastisement received in the morning, many of
the men had the hardihood as they passed to stick their bayonets, and
sergeants their pikes, into the salt pork which was actually being set
fire to. Several junks were thus taken away, and many of the officers
who cut and slashed at the men to prevent such sacrilege against the
commissariat _auto da fe_, were very thankful that night at Herrerias
to get a small portion of the salt meat thus carried off.

[Sidenote: ROUND A POOL OF RUM.]

At this place we arrived about a couple of hours before daybreak
on the morning of the 4th. Being a good deal fatigued, we halted to
take some rest; but as soon as the genial light of morning diffused
its renovating influence over wearied mortals, we pressed forward for
Nogales, distant from eighteen to twenty miles. During this day’s march
the misery and suffering attendant on wanton disorders and reckless
debauchery among the men were awfully manifested; some were lying
dead along the road, and many apparently fast approaching a similar
fate. Cavalry horses too were continually being shot. One circumstance
I shall mention which roused every feeling both of humanity and
indignation. About seven or eight miles from Herrerias, seeing a group
of soldiers lying in the snow, I immediately went forward to rouse
them up and send them on to join their regiments. The group lay close
to the roadside. On my coming up, a sad spectacle presented itself.
Through exhaustion, depravity, or a mixture of both, three men, a
woman and a child all lay dead, forming a kind of circle, their heads
inwards. In the centre were still the remains of a pool of rum, made
by the breaking of a cask of that spirit. The unfortunate people must
have sucked more of the liquor than their constitutions could support.
Intoxication was followed by sleep, from which they awoke no more; they
were frozen to death. This was one of the closing scenes, brought on by
the disgraceful drunkenness and debaucheries committed at Villa Franca
during the previous two or three days. Being marked with peculiar
circumstances, the scene is still fresh before me.

Whilst I was contemplating the miseries and depravities of human
nature, and paying no heed to the frequent discharge of pistols by
our dragoons, I was aroused by hearing my name, and recognised an
old acquaintance, Captain Bennet, of the 95th. He rode slowly and
was much bent over his saddle-bow, suffering severely from a wound
received the previous evening at Calcabellos. He bore up stoutly,
notwithstanding his sufferings, which were manifold. His mind was
afflicted with thoughts of his family; he dreaded falling into the
hands of the advancing foe, and the bodily pain which he was suffering
may be imagined, as he had ridden upwards of five-and-twenty miles with
a musket-ball in his groin, during a freezing night through a country
covered with snow. Poor Bennet! the only assistance which I could then
afford was to give him a silk pocket-handkerchief, which I placed
between his wounded side and the saddle; yet little as this assistance
was, it added to his ease, which he more gratefully acknowledged than
the trifling incident merited.

The slaughter of the horses continued throughout the day. They were
led to the last by the dragoons, who then, whilst unable to restrain
their manly tears, became the unwilling executioners of these noble
animals, which had so lately and so powerfully contributed to their
heroic deeds, and with a martial spirit equal to that of the gallant
riders whom they bore irresistibly against the foe. Upon my enquiring
of the men how it was that horses in apparently tolerable condition
were incapable of at least proceeding quietly along, the invariable
answer which I received was, that from the roughness of the road,
hardened by continued frost, they cast their shoes, and that they had
not a nail to fasten on those picked up, nor a shoe to replace those
lost; and they added that there was not a spare nail or shoe in any
of the forge carts, which retired with the cavalry. This appeared the
more strange as the cavalry were the previous day at Herrerias–the
“Forges,” so-called from the number of blacksmiths’ work-shops there
found; in fact, the greater part of the town consisted of forges. In
one of these some of us were quartered during the few hours we halted
on the preceding night, and there we partook of our sumptuous repast,
consisting of a little salt pork and biscuit served upon a massive
plate, a blacksmith’s anvil, and in place of a superfluous nut-cracker
there was a sledge-hammer to smash the flinty biscuit.


This day’s march was much retarded through our endeavours to rouse
the stragglers forward, who were very numerous, all left behind by
the leading divisions. Added to this, we were compelled to await the
95th Regiment, whom we had left when we retired from our position at
Calcabellos late on the previous evening. Piquets of the 95th were left
to occupy all the approaches leading to the position, and the regiment
halted some way in their rear for support. The piquets were repeatedly
attacked during the early part of the night by strong patrols; although
they lost some men, killed and wounded, they firmly maintained their
posts, always beating back the enemy, who invariably retired in total
ignorance as to whether the reserve had evacuated or still maintained
their position. Towards the end of the night the piquets, according
to orders previously received, fell back on their regiment, who now
followed the track of the division. As far as Herrerias all was safe
for them, as well from the darkness of the night as the start they had
of a few hours before the enemy discovered their retirement.

After Herrerias precautions became necessary. The 95th were a rifle
regiment. Rifles and swords were not so efficient as muskets and
bayonets to resist an attack of cavalry; and our last cavalry guard had
passed to the rear early on the preceding evening. We were therefore
obliged to make occasional halts to allow the rifles nearer approach to
efficient support.

During these halts the men lay down in martial wedlock, each folding to
his breast his better half–his musket–and thus enjoyed more repose
than they would have done in triple the time if regularly marched
into quarters; for when soldiers come into a town they become curious
travellers, and search very minutely for desirable objects–not that I
rank them as antiquarian virtuosi, since soldiers care rather for the
new and fresh than that rendered venerable by old age, and for quantity
more than quality. A bucketful of common black-strap even would by them
be preferred to a lesser portion, though it should be of the true old
Falernian; and a new polished dollar more highly estimated than a dusky
old medal or coin, although its antiquity should bear date even as far
back as the days of the first Darius.

In the evening, as dusk approached, and within two or three miles of
Nogales, we fell in with some Spanish clothing, shoes and arms. The
carts which contained these articles were totally abandoned; there were
neither mules, muleteers, nor guards. Our men immediately commenced an
inspection of necessaries; and the officers (I know not why) repeated
the same opposition as at Villa Franca. But in this instance the
soldiers, many of whom were severely suffering from want of shoes, were
not so easily deceived, and carried away many pairs of these absolutely
necessary articles, and also several pairs of trousers and other

At length we arrived at Nogales, long after dark. By this forced march
we made amends for the day we halted at Calcabellos to cover Villa
Franca during the destruction of such stores as could not be removed,
as well as to push forward the numerous stragglers. It also enabled us
to regain our proper echelon distance from the leading columns. In this
place we were very reluctantly received by the inhabitants; so much so
that in most instances we were compelled to break open the doors to get
under shelter, for the owners had either fled or concealed themselves
to the last moment. This latter was the case at the house upon which I,
with the light company of the 28th, was billeted.


To force a Spanish door is not easy. They have large nails driven
through the panels at small intervals; these nails, or rivets, have
heads on the outer side of the doors nearly the size of a halfcrown
piece. And the doors are very massive–made of hard wood, generally
oak; so that striking against them with the butt ends of the muskets
was totally useless. On this occasion, after knocking for some time to
no purpose, we took a large stone, and, putting it into a sergeant’s
sash, four men stood close to the door supporting the sash, which
formed a kind of sling; others pulled away the stone as far as the
length of the sash permitted, and then, adding all their force to its
return, sent it with a tremendous bump bang against the door. After
we (for I acted engineer on the occasion) had repeated this mode of
rapping five or six times, the door became uneasy on its hinges, and
the master of the house put his head out of a window, as if just
awakened, and began to remonstrate loudly against the outrage; upon
which some of the men, in their desperation, threatened to shoot him at
the window, and I believe that, had his remonstrances continued much
longer, I should have found it difficult to prevent their carrying the
threat into execution. However, it could not have been held malice
prepense, since the muskets were always loaded; and as to manslaughter
or justifiable homicide, they were practising it every hour. The door
being at length wheeled back on its tottering hinges, we hurried into
the house; and so uncouth were we under such circumstances–fatigued,
fasting and freezing–that before we enquired after the master’s
health, the welfare of his wife and family, or whether he had any such,
he was closely interrogated as to the state of his larder and cellar.
It is lucky that we were even so far courteous, as it was the last
house we entered during the retreat. By “we” I mean the reserve, always
considering ourselves distinct from the _clodhoppers_–a term given by
our men to the leading divisions, who were always from one to three
days’ march ahead, as we advanced to the rear.

Soon after we entered our billets we all became on the best terms with
the landlord, who treated us very liberally; but notwithstanding our
not getting under cover until a late hour, being excessively fatigued
and feeling certain that we should be engaged with the enemy as soon as
the morning dawned, yet the men, except for their uniforms, resembled
more a party of sportsmen after a long day’s pleasant hunt than
soldiers after a long and harassing march.

[Sidenote: TALK OF THE MEN.]

The officers being obliged to lie down in the same apartment with
the men, we were condemned to listen to their rough jokes and loud
repartees, which under the circumstances were excessively unseasonable
and annoying.

“Gentleman” Roach, a title given to him from his continually boasting
of a long line of ancestors, was on this night more than usually
facetious. He certainly had received an education far above his present
station; but he did not rank among the best soldiers of the light
company, not being a stout marcher, rather inclined to be a lawyer,
and fighting his battles more poignantly with his tongue than with his
bayonet. His incessant chatter annoyed the whole company, who, being
anxious to enjoy a little repose, upbraided him for his loquacity.

Being no longer able to bear with his noise and vanity, which always
bent towards pride of ancestry, one of the men interrupted him by
crying out: “Bad luck to you and all your ancisthors put together! I
wish you’d hould your jaw, and let us lie quiet a little bit before the
day comes, for we can hardly hould up our heads with the sleep.”

The “gentleman,” always put on his mettle at the mention of his
ancestors, with indignant voice exclaimed: “Wretch! you personify all
the disproportions of a vulgar cabbage-plant, the dense foliage of
whose plebeian head is too ponderous for its ignoble crouching stem to

“Faith, then,” replied the plebeian, “I wish we had a good hid o’
cabbage to ate now, and we’d give you the shrinking part,–that’s like
yourself, good-for-nothing and not able to stand when wanted; and, damn
your sowl, what are you like, always talking about your rotten ould
ancisthors? Sure, if you were any good yourself, you wouldn’t be always
calling thim to take your part. Be Jabers! you’re like a praty, for all
your worth in the world is what’s down in the ground.”

“Contemptible creature!” replied the “gentleman,” “if even the least
of my noble line of ancestors were to rise from the grave, he would
display such mighty feats of arms as would astound you and all the
vulgar herd of which you appear to be the appropriate leader.”

The conclusion of this contemptuous speech, being accompanied with a
revolving glance, and his right arm put into semicircular motion,
including all the men as it passed through its orbit, brought him many

One of his new antagonists bellowed out with a loud laugh: “Bury him,
bury him! Since all the bravery that belongs to him is with his ould
dads in the ground, maybe, if we buried him a little while to make an
ould ancisthor of him too and then dug him up again, he might be a good
soldier himself.”

“Arrah! sure it’s no use,” cried out another, “to be loosing your talk
with a dancing-masther like him. Wasn’t he squeezed up behind a tree,
like the back of an ould Cramona fiddle, while I was bothering three
Johnny Craps, when they were running down screaming like pelebeens to
charge the bridge? And, after all that, I’ll engage with his rotten
ould ancisthors that when we goes home he’ll have a bether pinshun than
me, or be made a sergeant by some fine curnil that always stays at home
and knows nothing at all about a good soldier.”

At this period of the noisy orgies, the night being far advanced, with
no chance of repose owing to the loud laughter, a man of the company,
who was always looked upon as a kind of mentor, at length interposed,
and by some admirable and personal arguments put an end to the noisy


How little the minds of soldiers on service are occupied with thoughts
of the enemy from the moment they are separated from them may plainly
be seen by the merriment which they enjoyed during the greater part
of this night; and how reckless they are of the manner in which they
will be employed next day, and how completely their hardships and
fatigues are forgotten as soon as terminated, was also made clear on
that same night: for although we had been for the previous four days
and nights either marching or fighting or outlying piquets in the
snow, yet some of the light company returned back nearly three miles
to where the carts containing the Spanish clothing were abandoned, in
the hope of procuring more shoes, thus voluntarily adding a night march
of six miles to the most fatiguing march which took place during the
whole campaign. The shoes thus procured, as well as those carried away
previous to our entering the town, were regularly distributed among
the company, which enabled the men to march stoutly next day. They who
carried off some three, four or five pairs of shoes supplied those who
were so unfortunate as not to have been enabled to carry away any. But
the shoes were not given as presents; they were sold at high prices
on promise of payment at Corunna or on arriving in England. Some of
those promissory notes became post-obits next evening along the road
to Constantino, and many more shared the same fate before and at the
battle of Corunna.

Having been somewhat refreshed by our short repose at Nogales,
we commenced our march on the morning of the 5th about daybreak;
but scarcely was darkness succeeded by light when the fight again
commenced, and continued until darkness again returned. For as soon as
the enemy discovered on the morning of the 4th that the reserve had
retired during the previous night from the position which they occupied
at Calcabellos, they had pushed forward, and by a forced march arrived
at Nogales before daybreak on the 5th. Our skirmish with their cavalry,
who all carried long carbines, was rather sharp during the morning; but
at a few miles’ distance from Nogales, as we approached a beautiful
bridge, the skirmish became much more lively. This bridge, the name of
which I do not recollect, presented a most romantic appearance. It was
situated close to the foot of a hill. The stream immediately after
passing through the bridge suddenly winding round the base of the high
ground on the opposite bank, was entirely screened from our view as we
approached the bridge, thus giving its numerous arches the appearance
of so many entrances to subterranean caverns beneath the mountains,
into which the current rushed. On the opposite bank and not far from
the bridge, the road assumed a zigzag course; and to have allowed the
enemy, who were fast increasing in numbers, to come too near would have
subjected our men to a destructive fire while ascending this meandering
road. To avoid this General Paget marched us quickly across, and having
surmounted the zigzag road, halted us just beyond range of musket-shot
from the opposite bank; he then ordered the guns to be unlimbered and
the horses removed to the rear; and the division then moved on, leaving
the guns apparently abandoned. At this bridge we found a party of
engineers endeavouring to destroy it, but as the stream was fordable
on either side, the party were sent to the rear to practise their art


We remained at our post beyond the bridge for about an hour, during
which, although the firing continued, it became more slack. The enemy
held back, evidently awaiting reinforcements; yet they were continually
pushing small parties across the fords. General Paget, who sat the
whole time on a slope where the light company were posted in sight
of the bridge, anxiously awaiting any attack which might be made to
capture the guns, and seeing the passage at the fords, addressed me,
saying, “You are a younger man than I am; run up that hill” (rather
on our flank, and round it the stream ran), “and see what force the
enemy have collected on the other side.” I instantly started off, and
returning as quickly as possible, reported that the enemy on this bank
were from two to three hundred men, infantry and cavalry, but that
they were collecting in greater force on the opposite side. The general
merely remarked, “It is no matter,” and ordered the guns to be horsed,
saying, “These fellows don’t seem inclined to add to their artillery.”
Had they indeed taken the guns, which I believe it was the intention of
the general to permit, they could never have been more warmly received,
and they would have paid most dearly for their momentarily held prize.
The light company were posted behind a low hedge immediately on the
flank of the guns; the grenadiers were drawn up about a hundred yards
in their rear; the remainder of the regiment (28th) were posted at
an appropriate distance in rear of their grenadiers, ready to push
forward, and our gallant general was present to animate and direct.

The guns being horsed were immediately sent forward to join the main
body of the reserve, who by this time had got a start of four or five
miles, to gain which advantage was the principal object of our halt.
But General Paget, perceiving the great number of the enemy coming upon
him, and his flank partly turned, judged it prudent to delay no longer,
the more especially as he had but one regiment with him in the rear. We
therefore lost no time in following the guns.

The general, observing our disappointment at the reluctance of the
enemy to come forward to attack us, took a pinch of snuff out of his
buff-leather waistcoat pocket, and said, “28th, if you don’t get
fighting enough, it is not my fault.”

Scarcely had we moved when a column of the enemy crossed the bridge in
perfect order. Their light troops, together with those who forded in
the morning, were soon close to our rear, when the skirmish resumed
its lively character, which was incessant during several miles’ march.
Hurrying our pace about noon and thus gaining a mile or two ahead of
our pursuers, we halted on the road (we of the light company only), at
a place where we could only be attacked in front, and that by a strong
force; we therefore threw out no flankers. The mountain on our left, as
we turned round to face the enemy, was stupendous, covered with snow,
and rose nearly perpendicularly from where we stood. On our right the
precipice was very deep, its steepness bearing proportion to the sudden
rise of the mountain above.

The enemy, seeing it impossible to force us in front until their heavy
columns should come up, sent their voltigeurs and some cavalry into the
valley low down on our right to turn that flank–an operation attended
with many difficulties. The country being deeply covered with snow,
the inequalities of the ground were undiscoverable to the eye; and it
afforded us much amusement to see men and horses tumbling head over
heels as they advanced through the valley.

It was during this short halt that an officer wearing a blue coat rode
up from our rear (we faced the enemy), and on his enquiring for General
Paget, some men of the company sent him forward to me for an answer.

Upon his coming up he addressed me by saying, “Pray, sir, where is
General Paget?”

As the general was not five yards distant, leaning against the wall of
the road, and heard the demand as plainly as I did, I considered it
would be indecorous in me to make any reply. The officer with the blue
coat repeated his question rather hastily, and for the reason already
mentioned I remained silent.

The general then stood up, and putting on his hat said, “I am General
Paget, sir; pray, what are your commands?”


By a partial closing of one of the general’s eyes I discovered a small
shadow under the inner corner of its lower lid, which, although it did
not prophesy a raging monsoon, yet clearly indicated severe weather not
far distant.

“Oh, beg pardon, sir,” said the blue-coat officer; “I am
paymaster-general, and—-”

Here he was interrupted by the general, who, advancing one or two paces
towards him, said in a voice not to be mistaken, “Alight, sir!”

The gentleman complied, yet apparently as if he did not see the
absolute necessity of so doing. Then, repeating that he was a–or
_the_–paymaster-general, I forget which, continued by saying: “The
treasure of the army, sir, is close in the rear, and the bullocks being
jaded are unable to proceed; I therefore want fresh animals to draw it

“Pray, sir,” said the general, “do you take me for a bullock-driver or
a muleteer, or, knowing who I am, have you the presence of mind coolly
to tell me that through a total neglect or ignorance of your duty you
are about to lose the treasure of the army committed to your charge,
which, according to your account, must shortly fall into the hands of
that enemy?” (And he pointed to the French advanced guard, who were
closing upon us.) “Had you, sir, the slightest conception of your
duty, you would have known that you ought to be a day’s march ahead of
the whole army, instead of hanging back with your foundered bullocks
and carts upon the rearmost company of the rearguard, and making your
report too at the very moment when that company is absolutely engaged
with the advancing enemy. What, sir! to come to me and impede my march
with your carts, and ask me to look for bullocks when I should be
free from all encumbrances and my mind occupied by no other care than
that of disposing my troops to the best advantage in resisting the
approaching enemy! It is doubtful, sir, whether your conduct can be
attributed to ignorance and neglect alone.”

There were other expressions equally strong which are now in part
forgotten; yet the words, “ought to be hanged!” have been hanging on my
memory for many years.

While the sterling and the pound-sterling generals were thus giving
and getting, the enemy were creeping round our right flank. Soult’s
heavy columns were closely approaching in front, and their balls coming
amongst us obliged us to retire. I thought at the time that the general
prolonged his discourse to give the man of money an opportunity of
witnessing how the rearguard were generally occupied, and to show him
the different use of silver and lead during a campaign.


We now retired and soon came up to the treasure, contained in two
carts lugged by foundered bullocks, moving so slowly as to render
motion scarcely visible even in the wheels. The light company were now
ordered to the rear in double quick time, to a village called, I think,
Gallegos, about two miles distant, there to refresh and halt until
called for. This order, although we had been fighting since daybreak,
rather astonished and mortified us; but General Paget formed a pretty
correct idea as to how we were to be employed during the remainder of
the day. As the light company passed to the rear the regiment were
drawn up close to the carts, and preparation commenced for the fall
of the dollars. As they rolled down the precipice, their silvery notes
were accompanied by a noble bass, for two guns were thundering forth
their applause into Soult’s dark brown column as they gallantly pressed

After the money had been thus disposed of, and the enemy’s column for
a short time checked, the regiment and the guard of the treasure,
consisting of a subaltern’s party of the 4th or King’s Own, passed to
the rear. The light company by this time had had a halt of upwards of
an hour, during which time we had some little repose, and sparingly
partook of our frugal fare; but our moderation arose more from economy
than care of health, of which there was no necessity, for scarcely
had the regiment and guard of the 4th Regiment got clear through the
village when our old friends came up and liberally supplied us with
their pale blue digesting pills. We were instantly under arms; and the
fight proceeded, and was well maintained on either side during several
miles without the slightest intermission, until we came to a low hill
within little more than musket-shot of the village of Constantino.

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