CAPTAIN ADAM WALL ROYAL ARTILLERY
Commanding 4th Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Artillery
On the 5th of November, 1808, having landed six pieces of light ordnance, together with the ammunition wagons and stores complete for a Light Brigade of Artillery, I received orders to march to Betanzos, the first day’s march towards Lugo. At 10 o’clock a.m., Sir David Baird arrived at the camp of St Lucia, and after he had inspected the Brigade, I proceeded on the march, followed by the 26th Regiment. We passed through a beautiful country, remarkably well-wooded, and arrived in the evening at Betanzos, an ill-built town, and a few good houses. I parked the guns, and billeted the men and horses; the forage disagreed with the horses, and one died in consequence. Major General Manningham arrived on the 7th, and directed me to march on the 8th with the 81st Regiment; to encamp two nights, and arrive at Lago on the 10th. I marched accordingly early in the morning (raining very heavy) and had a bad and hilly road to encounter; we ascended the mountain by a road curiously constructed, from which, when at the top, the whole road from the bottom could be discerned, although forming upwards of thirty zig-zags, apparently parallel for two miles. On the top of this mountain a village is situated, consisting of about five or six houses, or rather stable, as the whole appeared to be built for the accommodation of mules or oxen. Here we encamped on a heath with the ground very wet; the 82st Regiment found the tents of the Royals standing, which Regiment left the ground the preceding day. On the 9th, marched at 8 o’clock, and proceeded to a village named Barmonde, where we again encamped and procured good provisions for men and horses. On the 10th, struck our tents and marched to Lugo, a large straggling town, with some tolerably good houses and several convents, with which this country abounds. Here we met with a miserable reception, myself and Officers got billets, but so indifferent that we preferred taking up our abode at a dirty kind of Inn, where by supplying our own table cloth, plates, knives, forks, &c., we made a tolerable dinner, although the provisions were none the best. At this place I overtook Captain Brandreth’s Brigade, completely disabled from the horses being knocked up, but they were then recovering, having been several days in this town. Received orders from General Manningham that I should halt here on the 11th, and march the day following; lost two horses in consequence of the forage disagreeing.
On the 12th, I marched to the village of Constantino, the road extremely heavy and hilly; my horses suffered much in their shoulders from the collars being very badly made. I encamped for the night and marched the following morning to Nogales, a very fine corn country, but extremely hilly; overtook several convoys of musquet ammunition, and provisions going up to the head of the army.
On the 14th, we encountered one of the most tremendous mountains I ever marched over, its name Piedrahita. I should imagine its height at least seven miles, and great part of it so extremely steep, that I was obliged to leave part of the carriages on the hill, while I took the horses to get the others up, by which means, after the most distressing exertions of the horses, I arrived on the top of this tremendous ascent at 3 o’clock p.m. Several of the horses were completely knocked up, and I was obliged to take them from the carriages; I now found that four horses were not sufficient for each carriage, as by this time the few spare horses I had were in harness, and several of the N.C. officers of drivers mounted on the mules. From the top of this mountain the road descends into a rich valley, the descent as long and almost as steep as the ascent, but the road considerably better. At about 6 o’clock we arrived a little kind of hamlet called Herreria. This road must have been made at an immense expense, as it is supported on the side of the mountain by a very high wall. I don’t know how it is kept in the very good order we found it, but should suppose it is supported by the nation at large, as it is called the Royal Road to Madrid. We encamped near this hamlet upon very good ground, but found difficulty in getting the horses under cover, as the 81st Regiment occupied every building in the neighbourhood. The inhabitants of this hamlet bear a very bad character, as a respectable person travelling told me that a harbour for banditti that robbed in the mountains we had passed. Finding my horses much fatigued by the last day’s march, I halted here on the 15th. Finding that a number of horses were in want of shoes, I lost no time in getting this necessary job completed. A remarkably fine iron foundry is worked here by a vast number of hands, who, I was told, at times robbed on the mountains.
On the morning of the 16th, we marched to Villa Franca. The scenery in the valley into which we now descended is truly beautiful, a little river runs on the right, with very large trees hanging over it on each side, the river is very rapid, and meeting with obstacles of large pieces of rock, makes a continued murmuring through the trees, which is truly pleasing to the ear and eye. We arrived at Villa Franca about 12o’clock. This town has a good appearance from the road approaching it; it is built on the rise of a hill, and several very handsome monasteries and churches present themselves to the eye on approaching this town, but the streets are generally narrow. I should suppose this town more thickly inhabited than the generality in Spain, as immense crowds of people flocked to see the English Army. Here we were obliged to encamp, as other troops occupied the buildings appropriated for the use of the artillery. Here I lost a horse of great utility, he was taken ill on our arrival, and died in two hours in great agony. I could attribute this sudden dissolution to nothing but the forage, as the animal appeared much distorted from internal pain. The Officers of the Brigade of Guards stationed here gave me every assistance towards recovering this poor animal, by giving the produce of their canteens in order to recover him. A deluge of rain fell during our encampment at Villa Franca.
November 18th, I proceeded on our march to Astorga; the weather was tolerably fine, but the march was long and very hilly, so much so that we did not arrive at Bembibre until dark, and the horses much fatigued. Here we got billets for Officers, men and horses; we got a comfortable room in the house of an old man, who wished to be hospitable, but had nothing to give; our rations supplied our table, and we made a hearty meal of beef soup.
On the 29th, we marched early, and arrived at Manzanal, a miserable village on the top of a mountain; our approach to this village was up an immense hill, nearly nine miles in length, through a very long Pass called Sierra Sevada. This hill winds up the side of a mountain, with a steep descent, on the right, at the bottom of which runs a small river, and a mountain rises almost perpendicularly on the other side. During the night an Officer of the Staff Corps arrived at the miserable Inn in which we were quartered, and gave us the information that the French had advanced upon Astorga, and that our Light troops before that place had been driven in. I forgot to mention that at this place Sir David Baird came up, and sent for me during the time he was changing horses, asked me several questions relative to the arrangement of my Brigade, and told me to have everything in readiness, as the French were not far distant from the head of the army.
On the morning of the 20th we descended the hill, and arrived in a flat country; the lofty spires of the City of Astorga made their appearance at about four miles distant, and at 1 o’clock we arrived. I waited on the Lieutenant General according to his desire; he again stated to me the necessity of fixing shells, and have everything prepared to meet the enemy. We remained here on the 21st, and on the 22nd the whole of the troops were drawn out in the plains about 3 o’clock, when Sir David reviewed the troops that had arrived at the head of the Army. Various reports were now afloat with respect to our advancing or retreating, but after the inspection was over we were ordered to return to the town. Just after our arrival Sir David Baird sent for Captain Bean and myself, and told us that in consequence of information he had received he was under the necessity of retiring with the Army, as the enemy had made two days very rapid marches, and that the communication between Sir John Moore’s Army and ours was intercepted; that the French were endeavouring to cut off our retreat by the Province of Asturias: in fact, he had determined to retreat towards Corunna; he meant the First Division to commence its march at daybreak the following morning, accompanied by my Brigade of Artillery; the remainder of the Army to commence its retreat on the morning of the 24th, covered by Captain Bean’s Brigade of Artillery. At this place I came up with the advance of the Army, and met a Captain of Engineers, who had arrived here on the 17th inst. From the Spanish Army, commanded by General Blake; I had a long conference with him, and read his written details of the disasters of this Army. The General (Blake) had behaved most gallantly, but his followers, principally peasantry, had deserted in flocks, and were flying panic-struck to their homes- following the example generally shown by their Officers; it was most extraordinary that they stood five successive attacks by the French, commanded by Marshal Lefevre, in the space of twelve days, the first attack on the 31st October. In one of these actions the brave General de la Romana was mortally wounded, and soon after died; this was a severe loss to the Spanish Army at this critical moment, as he was a man of considerable talent and great personal bravery; in fact, much depended on his arrangements. On his falling, the peasantry began to fly and disperse; but, notwithstanding this terrible disaster, General Blake made an attack on the French, in which he was successful in taking two small towns and two field pieces. The Spaniards attacked the French two days after, when the plans of General Blake succeeded so far as to turn the right flank of the enemy; but in the midst of all their success, the centre of the Spanish Army gave way, which threw the whole into confusion, and obliged the remains of the Army to make a precipitate retreat. Here again desertion became very prevalent, and Blake was reduced to eight thousand men, and retired to the mountains; here the Marquis de la Romana arrived, and was exerting himself in collecting the stragglers and fugitives. It was General Blake’s determination to retain his position until the French advanced, when he proposed to fall back upon the British forces. Captain Paseley mentioned that the Spanish Army was in the greatest distress for want of provisions, clothes, and, in fact, everything that would induce the people of the country to bear up against other difficulties, and a well-appointed enemy.
On the morning of the 23rd November I was prepared to commence our retreat, and waited on Major-General Manningham at daybreak to receive further orders. At the General’s Quarters I met the Adjutant-General, who gave me orders not to march, but wait for orders that I should receive during the day. On my waiting on Sir David Baird yesterday, he wished me to give up part of my camp equipage (although I had but little) for the accommodation of a Regiment in General Crawford’s Brigade, this I did, reserving for my Brigade but a scanty proportion. Sir David Baird mentioned to me that General Manningham had made a most flattering report of the state of my Brigade to him. To General Manningham I am much indebted for his attention; he frequently told me that it was his wish that I should make my own arrangements with regard to my brigade, as he was satisfied everything would be done for the best. The General was much pleased at my having reached the head of the Army in so short a time, as other brigades had been stopped through fatigue. I am sorry to observe that my horses have suffered considerably from constant marching and hilly roads; but my losses do by no means extend to what the other brigades have sustained.
On the 24th instant, at 5 o’clock in the morning, the Adjutant-General came to my quarters and gave me written orders, which described that the Army should march at different hours during the day, being divided into three Brigades, and a Brigade of Artillery in front and rear. Sir David Baird directed that Captain Bean and myself should arrange which Brigade should march in front; therefore according to the arrangements made on the evening of the 22nd, I marched with the First Brigade under Colonel Hay, composed of the 1st or Royals, 26th and 81st Regiments, at 10 o’clock in the morning. This Brigade was ordered to move by the same route we had advanced. Here a transaction occurred which was ill-judged indeed (whether orders had been issued I cannot say); but prior to the moving of the troops from the town of Astorga, the stores were destroyed. This occasioned such a scene of confusion as I believe never was witnessed before; – the streets flooded with rum, casks of beef and pork, and bags of biscuits strewed in every street, the troops conveying the rum in camp kettles, and drinking it to horrid excess. Fortunately I arrived on the ground where the guns were parked, just as great quantities of rum were brought in by the drivers; I ordered the whole to be destroyed, but notwithstanding, drunkenness was very prevalent. This proceeding excited great alarm among the inhabitants, as they expected the enemy to enter the town immediately. I was glad to leave this scene of confusion and distress, and marched my Brigade about a mile out of the town, where I halted until the head of the Column arrived, in order of march, on the road to Manzanal. At about 11 0’clock a.m., the left wing of this part of the Army commenced its retreat, with a strong detachment of Light Infantry in front of my Brigade, then followed the different Battalions with a strong rear guard; we arrived at Manzanal at 6 o’clock p.m., and encamped by moonlight. In the night General Manningham arrived, also a despatch from Sir David Baird to resume our retreat the following morning.
On the morning of the 25th, before we marched, a drum-head Court-Marshal was assembled by order of General Manningham; the irregularities committed at Astorga here became punishable, and the Staff-Sergeant of the drivers attached to my Brigade was broke and received corporal punishment. I cannot help observing that the Corps of Drivers under my command behaved universally so ill that my horses suffered considerably in consequence, and the constant attention they required prevented my arranging several things very necessary relating to other departments of the Brigade. From the moment I left Coruna, I found this detachment a constant care, plunder was more their object than their duty, and I am convinced that the irregularities spoken of by Sir John Moore were committed by the drivers of the different Brigades; at least, I can declare that my drivers contributed in a great measure, and I cannot help wishing that this scourge of the Army was no more.
On the 25th the Army marched to Bembibre; the village being incapable of accommodating the horses &c., of the Staff, I was directed by Colonel Hay to occupy a small village, St. Romana, about a mile-and-a-half in advance, the Infantry encamping near Bembibre, and Colonel Hay made head-quarters in the village. Despatches were passing day and night, but things appeared at a stand, as we halted the 26th, 27th, and 28th.
On the 29th at 7 o’clock a.m., a Courier arrived, and the Brigade again got under arms, struck tents, and again advanced towards Astorga; the Infantry halted at Manzanal, but as I could not provide for my horses at this place, I continued my march to a village about four miles from Astorga, where I encamped, and got my horses well housed. At 1 o’clock a Staff Officer rode into our camp, called me out of my tent, and told me that it was at length determined that the whole force, under the orders of Sir David Baird, was to retreat, and that he was proceeding to Lugo to make arrangements. A Brigade of Guards and a Brigade of Artillery were encamped three miles in the rear of my Brigade, and, notwithstanding the information I had received during the night, I determined on marching into Astorga, as did the Guards, commanded by General Warde.
On the morning of the 30th, at 3 o’clock, I despatched an Officer to Astorga, to bring me further information, but he returned without being able to ascertain anything certain. At daybreak I struck tents and marched; being a short distance, I arrived at Astorga, and found the Light Infantry Battalion had retired from the advance into the town; I waited on the General, when I found the information I had received previous to my march to be correct. I received orders to proceed the following morning, with a discretionary power, for Villa Franca, taking with me all the ammunition, both cannon and musket, which could impede the march of the rear Brigade, also two pieces of ordnance and ammunition belonging to Captain Bean’s Brigade, leaving everything light for the protection of the rear retreating. Lieut.-Colonel Cookson arrived at Astorga in the evening; I received further orders from him relative to the Artillery arrangements.
December 1st, marched at daybreak, and although a distance of thirty-four miles, reached St. Romana that night, where I came up with two Battalions of the Guards on their route to Villa Franca. I encamped for the night, and on the 2nd inst., marched at 3o’clock, a.m., and arrived at Cacabelos, where I received orders to halt, as Villa Franca was full of troops. Lieut.-Colonel Cookson here overtook me, and gave me final orders to repair to Coruna with all haste, taking care to destroy such carriages and ammunition I might be obliged to leave behind in the event of the failure of any of my horses. I observed in this village, a greater degree of alarm than had prevailed in any of those I had passed, the inhabitants made strict enquiry as to the situation of the French; we, of course, described everything that was favourable, although few composing the British Army could wish well to a people so little inclined to help those who came to give them every assistance in working their independence; but I believe it is now ascertained that the French in this country counter-balances that of the English. Whether from fear of the French ultimately possessing the country, or from want of inclination, it is certain that the inhabitants of the Provinces we have passed through have rather obstructed than assisted our progress. I cannot help thinking that the presence of a British Army in the country did an injury to the cause, which, I much fear, is altogether hopeless. It is evident that the true character of the Spaniard is again showing itself; they suppose that a handful of British Troops can secure them against the attacks of a furious enemy. It appears to me impossible that Spain can be independent, as the natural idleness of her people will not admit of determined and lasting measures. It must be obvious to Great Britain that the greatest deceit on the part of Spain has been practised in order to draw supplies of money and clothing for the use of three times as many troops as they could possibly collect. When we landed at Coruna, we were told that Spain to a man was in arms against the Drench; but what a wide difference did the advanced part of our Army experience? The three armies of Blake, Palafox, and Castanos, never amounted to 100,000 men, and those principally peasants; the consequence was that the French made those insignificant Armies an easy prey. I apprehend that no information was obtained relative to the numbers or position of the French in our front; it was evident that the Spanish Army had been followed closely, as it had now arrived in the neighbourhood of Leon.
On the 3rd of December, arrived at Villa Franca, and received orders from General Manningham to pursue our route towards Coruna.
December 4th, left Villa Franca and encamped at a small village about six miles from Herreria. December 5th, struck tents early in the morning, marched to Nogales, halted an hour to get provisions and forage, and proceeded to Constantino, where we encamped for the night, and marched on the 6th December into Lugo, where we halted on the 7th, and marched on the 8th to the small village of Barmonde. We were about to proceed on the morning of the 9th December, but a despatch arrived directing that the whole Army should halt, and directed me to forward the order to Lieut.-Colonel Cookson, who was with the Horse Artillery about eight miles in my front. At 7o’clock p.m., a second despatch arrived, with orders for me to march immediately for Lugo. A number of sick artillery and drivers had arrived at this village during the day in a miserable situation, without medicines, and scarcely ant clothes; I procured some straw, and placed them in a spacious room, but could not even procure blankets to cover them; before we marched this night, one of these poor fellows breathed his last, and while the drivers were putting the horses to the guns, the gunners dug a grave, into which we put his remains, and left the remaining sick in charge of a medical gentleman; I heard the following day that few remained alive. The season began to be very severe; this night was attended by a very bad frost. This frequently brought to my recollection the situation we were obliged to leave the poor fellows in at Barmonde.
We arrived at Lugo at two o’clock on the morning of the 10th, where I found my ever-to-be-lamented friend, Captain Romer, had procured me a comfortable mattress upon the floor of his quarters. The intense cold of the night had obliged me to march on foot the whole way from Barmonde, I therefore enjoyed a few hours sleep in this comfortable habitation. I waited on Colonel Cookson, who informed me that the Army was to again advance towards Astorga, but as I found I had several deficiencies to fill up in my Brigade. I begged to halt here for a day. I found it impossible to pursue this arduous march without increasing the number of my draft horses, which I did, completing each carriage to six horses.
On the morning of the 12th, I marched to the village of Constantino, 13th, marched to Nogales, 14th, to a village the name of which we could not ascertain, 15th to Cacabelos, 16th to Bembibre, and on the 17th to a village.
On the morning of the 18th I marched into Astorga, which place Colonel Cookson had left just before I arrived, leaving me orders to take in charge all the ordnance stores left at this place. At 6 o’clock on the night of the 19th, Lieut.-Colonel Darling of the 51st Regiment, sent me orders to march immediately for Villa Manana, on the way to Benevente; this I found impossible, as from the great marching, many of the horses wanted shoes, and I was in great want of shoe nails, a supply of which was hourly expected from Lugo.
On the 20th marched early in the morning on the road to Villa Manana, which was much flooded by the melting of the snow. From the conversation I had with several officers arrived from the advance of the Army, I thought it probable that the Brigade, would soon be called into the most active service; I therefore halted a few miles from Astorga, and obliged the woman that had accompanied the Brigade to return to that town. It is hardly credible the distance these women had accompanied us. On leaving Coruna, Sir David Baird, seeing the impossibility of affording any assistance to the women of the Army, made arrangements for their return to England in the ship transports; but this everlasting clog to a British Army was averse to this, and persevered in marching either before, or following different Brigades of the Army. The consequence was that the children all died from the inclemency of the weather, and the women themselves reduced nearly to starvation, and hardly a rag to cover them. It is a most mistaken idea to suppose that women can possibly be of the smallest use to an Army upon active service. The supposition of their washing for the soldiers is a delusion; for washing is a comfort the soldiers never sought, and the women never able or inclined to supply. I believe both officers and men were glad to get an opportunity of washing a shirt, when halted for a few hours, but the women, from excessive fatigue, were incapable of helping themselves, much less of washing for the men. I believe the Army that followed us in our retreat were not encumbered with either women or baggage, which must undoubtedly give superiority in the celerity of movement. The great road to Leon is that by which we were to proceed for twelve miles, then on the right by a track in the Plains to Villa Manana; but from want of a guide, I continued my route too far on the great road, and found we approached the City of Leon. As the day was now far advanced, and the snow falling very thickly, I thought it most prudent before we encountered the Plains to procure a guide at any price. The track, by which even a guide could direct us, was now filled up; the snow increased; and I found we had got into an extensive Plain, without a tree or house to mark our way. Towards sunset we perceived several small villages, which we passed without entering. At this time Lieutenant Colonel Darling and Major Blackall of the 51st Regiment overtook us, the Colonel’s horse was completely knocked up, and I was obliged to mount him on one of the gun horses, although little better than his own. As I imagined the Brigade in perfect security with the guide whom I had at length procured, I proposed to the Colonel and Major to follow the beaten track of a horse in the snow, and proceed to Villa Manana, which the guide said was but four miles distant, in hopes of procuring some kind of quarters before the arrival of our tired horses and men; but we had not proceeded far when we no longer could trace any mark by which we could find the road. In this situation we fully expected to pass the night in this apparently endless plain. The night was now extremely dark, the snow falling in great quantities, and the cold intense; our horses were completely tired, and we were obliged to dismount and lead them on as well as they could walk. After wandering about for some time, we perceived a light at some distance, and immediately made the best of our way towards it, when to our great joy, we found it to be the town we were in pursuit of. I found the Brigade already arrived. On finding out the magistrate, he gave Colonel Darling orders in writing that my Brigade was to proceed five miles further, cross a ferry in boats to Valencia de Don Juan, where I was to halt one hour to refresh men and horses, and then proceed sixteen miles to Mayorga. Colonel Darling, knowing the situation of the Brigade, and the impossibility of crossing a wide and rapid river on a dark night, coincided in opinion with me, that it would be better to remain until daybreak in this town. I got tolerable accommodation for the men, but the horses were exposed to the inclemency of the weather; for the whole night myself and officers were glad to put up with the accommodation of a blacksmith’s shop, where we slept most comfortably until daybreak.
On the 21st, we again commenced our march, and reached the ferry where I first tried to cross without boats, but from the immense pieces of ice that floated with great rapidity down the river I found it impossible. I therefore embarked two guns at a time, and got all across by 12 o’clock at noon; I found here an order to halt with the 51st Regiment. Valencia de Don Juan is an old fortified town, with it’s walls mouldering with age, it hangs over the River Esla; the remains of a fine old castle are immediately above the river; this town must have been a strong place, particularly towards the river. A great difference of opinion appeared to exist here between the Chief Magistrate and the person who issued provisions and forage- with great difficulty we procured either. I was here billeted upon a Priest, a good sort of man of the higher order, who was very generous, and offered all his house afforded. Country people frequently came in from the neighbouring villages, and mentioned horrid excesses committed by detachments of the French Army. A French Commissary had been in this town two days before our arrival, and ordered 50,000 rations to be instantly prepared for a French Army. This turned out to be a manoeuvre to deter us from advancing; we halted here the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, constantly keeping picquets at night, and I placed a 6-pr. at each entrance into the town, loaded with grape shot.
On the evening of the 24th an express arrived, ordering the 51st regiment and my Brigade to march to Mayorga. It appeared that this order ought to have arrived on the morning of the 23rd, but the Dragoons were for some time lost in the Plains, and only from the superiority of their horses escaped the pursuit of a strong body of French cavalry, which they fell in with about eight miles from this town. About half-an-hour after the first a second express arrived, directing us to re-cross the river, and march to Benesa. It was now 6 o’clock, consequently too late to re-cross the Ferry; Colonel Darling therefore ordered that the regiment and Brigade should move at daybreak to cross the river and proceed on our march. This retrograde movement threw a damp on the spirits of all; for we imagined, as the junction was formed, that nothing remained but to bring up a sufficient force to attack the enemy. My Brigade was now in better condition that it had been for some time; the three day we had been here enabled me to shoe my horses, and gave them a little rest; they now began to get into spirits and condition; in fact, I believe they were now better calculated for service that before they had been used to privations.
Christmas morning opened with heavy rain; I commenced embarking guns, horses, etc. One of the 6-prs. was nearly demolished. From the severity of the frost, and the rain freezing as it fell, the hill, which is very steep, became so slippery, as to make it impossible to take the carriages down with horses. One of the men took up the shaft of a 6-pr., on which it immediately rushed forward and went over the precipice, the man fortunately dropped, and the wheels passed on each side of him, and strange to tell the carriage was not hurt. Misfortune still pursued us, as the platform from the shore to the boat gave way with a gun on it, which plunged it into the deepest part of the river; but the zeal and attachment to the service on the part of the N.-C. officers and men here prevailed, and a party immediately followed the gun, and, with some difficulty, fixed the ropes about it, and by perseverance got it on shore. This was an anxious time for these accidents to happen, as we apprehended from the orders we had received, that a body of the enemy was not far distant from Valencia. The 51st Regiment had crossed the river some time before I had passed with the guns, and assembled at a small village about a mile distant. When I arrived, we proceeded on our route towards La Baneza, the rain and sleet falling in great quantities. We marched until night, when it became so dark that we could no longer discover the track in the Plains, arriving at the small village of St. Pedro at 6 o’clock, having marched a great part of the way up to our knees in water, and nearly drowned with the rain. The inhabitants of this village had almost totally deserted it, the French having visited it but a short time before, and taken the whole of their winter’s stock of provisions. Colonel Darling determined on halting here for the night, as Baneza was still sixteen miles distant, and troops completely tired. It was with difficulty we could get admittance into any of the miserable huts; I took up my abode in a stable with plenty of straw, and covering myself with a blanket, already well drenched in rain, I laid down in my wet clothes and slept until 3 o’clock the following morning, when my servant, discovering where I was brought me some rum and bread which he had reserved from the provisions of the day before.
On the 26th December, at 7 o’clock, a.m., proceeded on our march, still raining, and arrived at La Baneza at 2 o’clock, p.m. Sickness here became prevalent among the men of the Brigade from the great fatigues and severity of the weather we had encountered. Unfortunately, at the very time I stood in need, my Surgeon was not with me, and consequently I was obliged to make application to the Surgeon of the 51st Regiment. At 10 o’clock, p.m., two hundred French prisoners were brought in by a strong escort; they were fine looking fellows and well clothed, several of them were desperately wounded in the head. They apprehended that we should give them up to the Spaniards; but before they were forwarded with a fresh escort from this place, they were assured they should be treated as English prisoners.
December 27th and 28th, halted.
December 29th, A Division of Sir John Moore’s Army arrived, consisting of about 8,000 men, and the whole of the Artillery under the command of Lieut.-General Fraser.
December 30th, I received orders to march with General Fraser’s Division towards Astorga, which we reached that day.
December 31st marched to Bembibre and villages adjoining. This day’s march was very harassing, a distance of thirty-four miles without halting a minute; a deep snow over the whole of the mountain to Manzanal; our sickness increased, and I was obliged to carry nine men in a spring wagon in a delirious fever. We continued a precipitate retreat until the 4th January, through a country completely destitute of supplies, from the number of troops that had passed and re-passed since the landing of the British Army. The mountains covered with snow, and the weather extremely cold, our troops began to drop as we marched along, and thousands were left to die in the snow, or fall into the hands of the enemy. The roadside was strewed with the carcasses of horses, mules, and oxen; the troops without shoes, marching barefoot, and horses without forage, exposed at night in this severe season of the year. This Division of the Army was considerably reduced by the 4th inst., when we marched into Lugo at 8 o’clock p.m. The night was extremely dark, and with difficulty could I procure any place for men or horses, as the infantry had arrived before me, and occupied every habitation. I waited on general Fraser, and reported my arrival; I found him preparing to proceed by a different route with the infantry to Vigo, but as the road was not calculated for the passage of Artillery, I received orders to push on to Coruna the following morning, supposing that I should reach that place on the morning of the 6th inst. I was obliged, with regret, to inform the General that it was impossible for the Brigade to perform two forced marches without shoes for either men or horses, most of the horses lame, and most of the men so completely knocked up, that I was obliged to carry most of the gunners on the guns and ammunition wagons; we had already performed forced marches for a distance of 145 miles without halting one hour during any day, and merely resting a few hours at night. General Fraser ordered me to halt here until the morning of the 6th January.
Colonel Harding, commanding the artillery, arrived with Sir John Moore at Lugo, when a number of troops were employed with the Artillery in destroying ammunition, provisions and stores, which had been brought from Coruna, and for want of a mode of conveyance could not be moved; the quantity of musquet ammunition was immense, together with a number of Artillery carriages; the conflagration through the whole of the day appeared as if the whole of the city was on fire; during the day I was busily employed in getting my horses shod, and harness repaired. The fever still continued with great violence amongst the men, but there was no alternative, I was obliged to drag them along in this horrid state, sooner than leave them to the mercy of the enemy. At 12 o’clock at night, finding the Farrier had made great progress, I reported to Colonel Harding, and proposed marching immediately, which he consented to; I got the horses to the guns, again set out for Coruna, and just as I was leaving Lugo the advanced guard of General Fraser’s Division was marching in, having been re-called from its route to Vigo.
On the morning of the 6th I arrived at barmonde and halted for an hour to feed the horses, and proceeded to Cavarlio Torto, which we reached very late at night, and found the roads much cut up by the quantity of provisions that had been conveyed towards the head of the army.
On the 7th, at daybreak, we marched and reached Betanzos at 1 o’clock p.m., and during the time my horses were feeding, I paid a visit to my host, whom I was billeted on when first advancing up the country; I met with the kindest reception. A young woman, his wife, was under the greatest alarm, having heard that the French had committed horrible excesses during the pursuit of our Army, and with much trouble I persuaded them to the contrary. They fancied their children would be put to death. They prepared something as refreshment, after which I left this unfortunate family. I could not help being under apprehensions for this man, as he held the situation of Corregidor (or Mayor of the town) and was extremely active in forwarding supplies, &c., to the British Army. I proceeded towards Coruna, and on again beholding the ocean, supposed our fatigues drawing to a conclusion. At 8o’clock, p.m., I entered Coruna, where I found several Officers of the Corps occupying a small house in St. Lucia where I got plenty of everything, and my mind free from the care of horses or guns. Here I found preparations making for the defence of the place, and on the 8th, Captain Lefebure of the Engineers arrived and gave directions to strengthen the most vulnerable parts of the works. Nothing particular occurred until the 10th January, when the British Army quitted its position at Lugo, and crossing the river at Betanzos, took up a position about four miles from Coruna, blowing up the bridge of El Burgo; the French followed our Army until they arrived at the bridge, where the progress of their Artillery and stores was stopped. Some cavalry, however, crossed the river at a ford, and foraged on the Coruna side of it. On the 12th, the French had repaired the bridge, and brought a large force to occupy the high ground opposite to the British position, Marshall Soult commanding the French Army. The transports had, by a prior order, gone to Vigo; consequently, when the Army arrived at this position, a very few transports were in the harbour, which were appropriated to the use of the Artillery, stores, and cavalry, as far as these vessels could accommodate them.
On the 13th, a magazine containing sixteen thousand barrels of gunpowder was discovered by chance a little in rear of the right of our position. The powder in this magazine was ordered to be destroyed, and on the night of the 13th, six hundred Artillerymen and Officers were employed in taking the barrels out of the magazine and filling wells, strewing it about the adjacent fields, and destroying as much as we could that night. A Spanish Officer who had charge of it, declared on the arrival of the party at night, that the magazine was empty; however, having good information to the contrary, we forced the door open, and found it completely filled. At daybreak on the 14th we relinquished this arduous task, and proceeded to the town, intending the following night again to proceed on this business. I was not called on this duty a second time, nor was it effected on the night of the 14th.
On the 14th, at noon, we had the satisfaction to see an immense fleet of transports, making for the harbour, accompanied by twelve sail of the line, frigates, and other ships of war, which anchored at night.
On the 15th, at 10 o’clock, a.m., the magazine was blown up, two tremendous explosions shook the whole of Coruna, breaking windows, and spreading the greatest consternation amongst the inhabitants. The French outposts showed a disposition to arrack our pickets, and skirmishing continued the whole of the day, but nothing decisive took place.
On the morning of the 16th, the outposts of the Artillery were relieved as usual from Coruna, and the greater part of the Ordinance and ammunition was by this time embarked. At about 11 o’clock a.m., the whole of the Artillery (three companies excepted) were paraded in the citadel, and ordered to march to the waterside for embarkation at different points. It was some time before I could collect the whole of the men of my Company, as many were employed in the embarkation of the ordnance and stores. On marching to the place appointed, I found the greatest difficulty in approaching the boats, as horses, baggage, and sick were pressing forward for embarkation. I at length succeeded in getting those I could muster in the Men-of-War’s boats. At this moment a firing commenced at the position occupied by the British Army, and by the time we reached the transport the firing became general; at 5o’clock,p.m., the firing ceased. The result of this action is fully detailed in Lieut.-General Hope’s despatches. During the night a number of drivers and other troops were put on board the transport. The morning of the 17th presented a scene of confusion hardly to be described, the troops marching into Coruna, the inhabitants running in all directions, carrying their movables to the citadel. At 7 o’clock the rear of our Army having got into the town, the gates were closed, and the French occupied the village of St. Lucia, and the heights. Our fire from the batteries on the land side now opened upon some of the enemy that had approached the gate, which did great execution; they immediately retreated precipitately and concealed themselves in the houses of St. Lucia, and shot a number of our wounded and stragglers as they were approaching the town by the great road. During this time two Companies of Artillery were dismantling the Batteries that could annoy the shipping, should the French get possession of the town before the Fleet could put to sea. In the meantime the French erected two Batteries on the heights which commanded the bay. We clearly perceived their intention, and of course were very anxious to get away before their works were completed, but from the number of ships that lay in the passage, it was impossible to get under weigh, as a strong gale blew directly into the harbour. Sixty of the 95th Regiment, with four Officer, were now put on board, which made our numbers 190, exclusive of Officers. Just as they came on board, the French opened a brisk cannonade upon the shipping. As our ship was meant for the reception of horses, we were anchored high up the bay, consequently were considerably exposed to the enemy’s fire. The shipping soon finding it necessary to make the best of their way out, cut the cables, in doing which, seven transports struck on the rocks, with all sail set, and soon went to pieces or sunk. We also cut our cable, and instead of getting out of the harbour, we drifted (before the sails could be set) foul of a large vessel at anchor. In this situation we remained for some time exposed to the heavy fire of the enemy. As the two ships now attracted their notice, our sprit-sail was shot away, and our rigging much cut; and the French having accurately ascertained the range, struck the other ship several times also. This being by no means a desirable situation, I thought it better to save one ship than lose both, and I accordingly ordered some of the men to go up the rigging of our ship and cut away that of the other, by which means we got clear; and setting sail we, with the greatest difficulty, cleared the rocks off the Castle of St. Antonio, on which several transports were wrecked. I congratulated the Officers on board on our miraculous escape, as we were under strong apprehensions of either being prisoners or shipwrecked.
On the 18th January we were waiting off the harbour, expecting the fleet to come out, but as they did not appear, I interrogated the Master of the vessel as to the quantity of provisions he had on board, and to my great astonishment found we had but provisions for thirty men for three weeks. This alarmed me, as 190 souls were now embarked in this vessel. After consulting with the Officers on board what was best to be done, I came to the determination of ordering the Master to make the best of his way to England, the wind then fair. The ship was fitted up as a horse transport, consequently, not calculated to convey more than the thirty men, equal to the number of horses supposed to be on board; I was therefore under the necessity of cutting up the trusses of hay to make beds for the men. Our voyage proved fortunate, and we arrived off the Isle of Wight on the [Illegible] instant; but the wind shifting we were unfortunate in striking upon a bank, and afterwards a rock, just after passing the Needles. I was under great apprehension that our campaign was to terminate with a shipwreck; but a number of pilots coming to our assistance, and the tide rising, we fortunately got once more afloat, but with the loss of our last cable and anchor; and in this situation, with pumps going, we ran into Cowes and run the vessel aground.
Here ended a campaign which England had the most sanguine expectations from, but in which the troops experienced more real difficulties and distress than any British army had done before; from what fell to my lot. I can easily conceive what must have been the sufferings of the rest of the Army. I marched with the Light Brigade under my command from the 5th of November to the 8th January, the severest months of the year, generally encamped, and frequently in snow, often marching up to our knees in snow or water, under every disadvantage, want of provisions and forage, and what could be procured generally disagreeing with both horses and men. We not found the greatest difficulty in procuring horse shoes, but shoes for the men, as the constant marching frequently reduced us to bare feet, and at one time both Officers and men were in this position, particularly on entering Coruna. Getting the vessel put in temporary repair, we proceeded to Portsmouth, and were removed to another ship to proceed to Chatham, but from extreme fatigue and anxiety of mind, I was obliged to disembark and proceed to London by land. In a few days the Company arrived at Chatham, and disembarked in a horrible situation, most of the men attacked by the fever, and obliged to be carried to the hospital in carriages, where many survived but a short time. During the campaign, and of the fever after our arrival, my losses amounted to thirty-two, but as five of that number are not accounted for, except as missing in Spain, they may be forthcoming; but many of those who survived was so completely worn out by fatigue, that they will never be effective for the service.
As the events mentioned in this narrative were recorded on the spot where they occurred, many errors may appear, as this was written at the intervals of the Army halting, frequently for a few hours, when few who composed the Army would prefer writing to sleep.