NARRATIVE OF SEVEN WEEKS’ CAPTIVITY IN SAN SEBASTIAN, FROM THE FIRST STORM TO THE CAPTURE OF THE CASTLE IN 1813, BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL HARVEY JONES, H.E.
The following narrative of scenes which passed in the interior of San Sebastian, after the failure of the first assault, in July 1813, and until the surrender of the castle in the following September, is drawn up from notes inserted in my journal immediately after the capture of the place. In describing scenes which I witnessed, or relating the substance of conversations or anecdotes, I shall nothing ‘extenuate or aught set down in malice.’ The regular order of events as they occurred, has not been adhered to, it being considered unimportant, so long as the facts were faithfully reported. The narrative commences at the place that is, the breach, where he left me disabled by wounds, on the morning of the 25thJuly, 1813.
After witnessing the unsuccessful efforts of Lieutenant Campbell 9th Regiment†, and his gallant little band, to force their way on to the ramparts, and their retreat from the breach, my attention, a short time afterwards, was aroused by an exclamation from the soldier lying next to me – ‘Oh, they are murdering us all!’ Upon looking up, I perceived a number of French grenadiers, under a heavy fire of grape, sword in hand, stepping over the dead, and stabbing the wounded; my companion was treated in the same manner: the sword withdrawn from his body, and reeking with his blood, was raised to give me the coup de grace, when fortunately the uplifted arm was arrested by a smart little man, a serjeant, who cried out, ‘Oh mon Colonel, êtes-vous blesse!’† Ϯ and immediately ordered some of his men to remove me into the town. They raised me in their arms, and carried me, without the slightest difficulty, up the breach on to the ramparts of the right flanking tower: here we were stopped by a captain of grenadiers, who asked some questions, then kissed me, and desired the party to proceed to the hospital. On passing the embrasures of the high curtain, we were exposed to a very sharp musketry fire from the trenches; and here it was that we met the Governor and his staff in full dress uniforms, hurrying to the breach. He asked if I was badly wounded, and directed that proper care should be taken of me.
After descending from the curtain into the town, and proceeding along the street leading to the hospital, we were accosted by an officer, who had evidently taken his goutte [drop†] he demanded my sword, which was still hanging by my side. I told him he had the power to take it, but that he had no right to do so, as I had not been made a prisoner by him: and, he had not been at the breach. This appeared to enrage him, and with great violence of manner and gesture, he un-buckled the belt, and carried away my sword*. Upon reaching the hospital, the chirurgien-major [Surgeon major] was very kind in his manner; after enlarging my wounds according to the French system, and then dressing them, I was carried across the street, and put into a bed in one of the wards of the great hospital, which a soldier was ordered to vacate for my use; this man returned in the course of the morning for his pipe and tobacco, which he had left under the pillow. Soon after I was placed in bed, two officers of the Royals, Lieutenants Alston and Eyre†, were brought in severely wounded. In the course of the morning we were visited by the governor, who made inquiries as to our wounds, and whether we had been plundered of anything. I then learned that a great number of English soldiers, not wounded, had been taken, and were lodged in the town-prison. The two officers above –named, and myself, were committed to the charge of Monsieur Joliffe, a civilian attendant upon the hospitals and his wife; from both individuals we received every attention that the situation we were placed in permitted them to show us: they were both killed during the second siege, at least I must conclude so, as I could not learn anything about them after our removal into the castle.
On the morning of the 27th, Lieutenant Magill, 38th Regiment†, was brought into the ward severely wounded, having been taken prisoner in the trenches, during the sorties of the night. The soldiers and officers who were captured and not wounded, were lodged in the town-jail along with the prisoners taken at the assault of the 25th. The only persons permitted to visit us, were some staff officers, occasionally some of the engineers, a few Spanish ladies, and a Spanish barber; from the former I was made acquainted generally with everything passing in the British lines, at least as far as conjecture on the part of the French enabled them to communicate; there is every reason for supposing they did so in the expectation of ascertaining what might be the actual state of affairs in the British lines. Notwithstanding boats arrived nightly from Bayonne, bringing shells, medicine, charpie [a substitute for lint], artillerymen, and engineers, and returning with some of the wounded, the garrison remained in great ignorance of the movements of the two armies, Soult invariably sending word that he would soon raise the siege. Thus, by promises of immediate relief, keeping up the spirits of the garrison, and rewarding the gallantry displayed by particular individuals during the assault, and in the sorties, by promotion, or by sending them the decoration of the Legion of Honour.
In the French army there appeared to have been a system of reward for good and gallant conduct by removal into the grenadiers, or voltigeurs, which had an excellent effect. A French soldier was extremely proud of his green, yellow, or red epaulettes; they were badges of distinguished conduct, and none but those who had shown great gallantry in action, were admitted into their ranks. The non-commissioned officers were generally selected from these companies, and then came the highest honour a Frenchman knew or coveted, which was, the Cross of the Legion of Honour, and it was liberally bestowed. What with the success attendant upon the sorties and the numerous decorations which had been distributed amongst the officers and private soldiers, such a spirit of daring and enthusiasm was created, that I believe before the batteries opened the second time, the garrison individually or collectively, would not have hesitated attempting any enterprise, however difficult or dangerous. The idea of a surrender never was entertained by them at any period previous to the capture of the town.
After the stones had been extracted, which had been blown into my legs and thighs, by the bursting of shells and grenades, I was enabled to move about, and get into the gallery running round the court-yard of the hospital, which was in a house of considerable size, built in the usual Spanish style, having a court-yard in the centre, with a large entrance-door from the street, galleries from each story running round it, and into which all the doors and windows of the rooms respectively opened, excepting on the side of the street. The gallery of the floor on which our ward was situated, was the only place where we were allowed to breathe the fresh air; and had it not been for the great height of the castle above the town, which enabled us to see the donjon† and some of the batteries, our view would have been bounded by the sky, and the four interior walls of the hospital. One day, whilst sitting in the gallery, I observed a table placed in the one below me and on the opposite side of the court-yard; immediately afterwards, an unfortunate French gunner was laid upon it, and both his arms amputated, his hands having been blown off by an accident in one of the batteries. In the course of the morning, whilst conversing with the surgeon who had performed the operation, he told me that he had acted contrary to his instructions, which were, never to amputate, but to cure if possible. And upon asking the reason for such an inhuman order having been issued, his reply was, the Emperor did not wish that numbers of mutilated men should be sent back to France, as it would make a bad impression upon the people. I replied, ‘You must be a bold man to act in opposition to this order.’ He said ‘Affairs are beginning to change, and moreover circumstances make it necessary that the soldiers should know they will be taken proper care of in the event of being wounded, and not left to die like dogs; we send as many as we can at night to Bayonne by the boats – thus we clear out the hospital, and are relieved from a great deal of labour.’
In conversations with many of the officers, they detailed acts committed by their soldiers in Spain, so revolting to human nature, that I dare not commit them to paper; the reader would be disgusted with the recital, and my veracity impeached; and equally incredulous should I have been, had not the narrators declared they had witnessed the scenes which they had described.
A chef de battalion once asked me how we managed with our soldiers when we wanted them to advance and attack an enemy. My reply was, ‘Forward!’ ‘Ah! That way will not do with us; we are obliged to excite our men with spirits, or to work upon their feelings by some animating address; and very often, when I fancied I had wrought them up to the fighting pitch, some old hand would make a remark which in an instant upset all I had effected, and consequently, I was compelled to recommence’.
In discoursing about the expeditions that detachments of their troops frequently made from the great stations, for a period of eighteen or twenty days, I inquired how they managed to provision them for so long a time. The answer was, ‘Our biscuits are made with a hole in the centre, and each biscuit is the ration for a day; sometimes twenty are delivered to each individual, who is given to understand that he has no claims upon the commissariat for the number of days corresponding with the number of biscuit he receives.’ I observed it was not possible for the soldier to carry them. ‘We know that very well; but then he has no claim upon the government for that period, and we do not inquire how he lives in the interim!’
It appeared that there was a very great difference in the accuracy of firing by the troops in the trenches. The Chief of the Staff, Monsieur Songeon, inquired what description of troops we had that fired so well. He said, ‘Some days I can look over the parapets without the slightest molestation; on other days it is not possible to show my nose, without the certainty of being shot.
Donna M and her mother were very kind, and used frequently to pay us visits. The daughter was a remarkably fine and handsome young woman. Unfortunately, one day, when they were sitting with us, the governor arrived. He laughed and joked with Donna M; but when he left the hospital he gave an order to the corporal of the guard not to admit any more Spaniards. It was understood that a few days afterwards the governor sent to say that he wished to see Donna M, but she declined the invitation. Upon my release I made anxious inquiries for my fair friend, and ascertained that she was living with an English officer. It appeared that during the sack of the town, in order to save herself from the violence of the soldiers, who had forced their way into her house, she had thrown herself for protection into the arms of a British officer, who was passing at the moment, and heard her cries. She continued to live with him until the end of the war. Her protector was a captain in one of the regiments forming part of the division to which I was attached, and, consequently, Donna M was often fated to see me pass her on the line of march. Her downcast looks spoke plainly of painful recollections, and she never would recognise me.
From my first entrance into the hospital I had been attended by a Spanish barber, in whose house a French officer was billeted. As I could speak Spanish fluently we had a great deal of conversation. He used to communicate to me all he heard and saw of what was passing both inside and outside the fortress. When he learned that I was an engineer he offered to bring me a plan of all the under-ground drains, and aqueduct for bringing water into the town. Monsieur Joliffe, our attendant, although a good-natured man, kept a sharp eye on the barber, and in consequence it was difficult for him to give me anything without being detected. At last, one morning, when preparing for the operation of shaving me, he succeeded in shoving a plan under the bedclothes. I anxiously seized the earliest opportunity of examining it; and, from the knowledge I had previously acquired of the place, soon became acquainted with the directions of the drains, &c. From that moment my whole attention was fixed on the means of making my escape. I knew that the hospital was situated in the principal street, the ends of which terminated upon the fortifications bounding the harbour or sea; if once I could gain the street, I had only to turn to the right or left to gain the ramparts, and to make my escape from the town in the best manner I could. One evening just at dusk, when the medical men took leave of us for the night, one of them left his cocked hat on my bed. As soon as I made the discovery I put it on my head, hurried down stairs, and made direct for the great door. I found it so completely blocked up by the guard, that, unless by pushing them aside, it was not possible to pass without being discovered; I therefore retreated upstairs in despair, and threw the hat down on the bed. Scarcely had I done so when in rushed the doctor, inquiring for his chapeau.
We were more than once visited by the crews of the boats which arrived nightly from France; the sight of us appeared to afford them great gratification, but there was nothing in their manner or demeanour which could in any way offend us. Of course the object in bringing them to see the prisoners was that they might mention the circumstance when they returned to Bayonne. Very unexpectedly, one evening, about nine o’clock, the Governor’s Aide-de-Camp appeared at the prison, and told the officers to prepare immediately to go to France. A Portuguese Captain, one of the party, was dreadfully in fear of being sent there, and, with great warmth of manner, told the Aide-de-Camp that Lord Wellington would soon be in possession of the place, and that if the prisoners were not forthcoming he would make the governor answerable in his own person. It is supposed that the Aide-de-Camp went and reported this conversation to the governor, as he did not return for some time, and then told them that it was too late to embark that night, as the boats had sailed. They were never afterwards threatened to be sent away. Being very anxious to know how these boats escaped the vigilance of our cruisers, I was told that at dusk they started from Bayonne, sailed all night, direct into the Bay of Biscay, at day-break hauled up, and ran parallel to the Spanish coast, and at nightfall stood in for San Sebastian, thus avoiding our vessels, which stood off and on the coast between the town and Passages. These nightly communications were of essential service to the defence, keeping alive the spirits of the garrison, and bringing supplies. A colonel of engineers arrived a few days previous to the first assault, to replace one who had been wounded and sent to France. A considerable quantity of shells and stores were brought by them; and also medicine and articles required in the hospitals, particularly bandages and charpie.
About the middle of August the garrison began to flatter themselves that the siege was turned into a regular blockade, and that they would be relieved by the successes of Marshal Soult: their spirits were high, and their hopes elated. The 15th August, the birth-day of Napoleon, was observed as a day of rejoicing among the garrison, and at nightfall the letter N, of a very large size, was brilliantly lighted up on the face of the donjon. When the operations of the second siege commenced, a captain, who was an almost daily visitor, kept me au fait of all that was going on. I learned from him the nature of the intrenchments made in rear of the breach, and likewise that a great quantity of combustible materials had been placed in the houses around and adjoining it. To this cause I have ever attributed the destruction of the town by fire, and not wanton mischief on the part of the assailants. It would obviously be the interest of the garrison to destroy the cover the houses would afford an enemy in making his approaches against the castle. The impression upon my mind was, and always has been, that the town was burned by the combustion of the materials previously arranged for that purpose. When the successive accounts of the progress of the fire in the town was communicated to the inmates of the hospital, a savage and exalting laugh would be heard from the officers who happened at the moment to be present, visiting their wounded comrades. Nothing could exceed their apparent delight when a Spanish Captain, an Afrancesados†, who had retired into the castle with the garrison, came into the hospital in the evening of the assault, wringing his hands, tearing his hair and declaring he had heard the shrieks of his wife and daughters, and saw his house in flames. Both were subjects for great merriment to the French; and the poor Spaniard must have bitterly regretted the day when he sided with them. The French officers did not fail to taunt him with having done so, and ridiculed his frantic actions. One morning early we were disturbed by a party of men, bringing in an officer of the Brunswickers, dreadfully wounded by a grape-shot. He had been taken in a sortie made during the night, with several soldiers, who were swept into the town from the trenches. In the course of the day I was asked whether I would like to speak to a corporal of Sappers, who had been made a prisoner during the sortie. I was delighted at the prospect of seeing one of my old friends, but was greatly astonished, in the afternoon, by seeing a fine young man, a stranger, walking into the ward, dressed in a red jacket. He was the first sapper I had seen in the new uniform, as blue was the colour worn when I was taken prisoner. Upon inquiring when he had joined the army from England, he replied, ‘Yesterday morning; I was put in the trenches last night, and was shortly afterwards brought into the town by the enemy!’
From the daily accounts we received of the extent and position of the different works carrying on in the trenches, it was evident that the same nature of attack would be observed as at the first siege. Knowing well the length and difficulty of the approach to the breach, and how strongly it had been intrenched within, I was fearful for the result, and the hopes of being released vanished. One morning, a captain of artillery, whom I had never before seen, came into the ward, and commenced conversing about the siege, addressing himself particularly to me: he observed that the whole second parallel was one entire battery; and if there were as many guns as there were embrasures, he said, we shall be ‘joliment f——d.’ [Nicely f…..d] My reply was ‘Most assuredly you will; depend upon it there are as many guns as embrasures; it is not our fashion to make batteries, and stick logs of wood into the embrasures, in the hopes of frightening an enemy.’ He made a grimace, and, with a shrug of his shoulders, walked out of the ward. The following morning the surgeon came, as usual, to dress our wounds; this was about half-past seven; all was still, and he joyously exclaimed, as he entered, ‘So we have another day’s reprieve!’ In about half an hour afterwards, and whilst I was under his hands, the first salvo from the breaching batteries was fired; several shot rattled through the hospital, and disturbed the tranquillity of its inmates; the instrument dropped from the surgeon’s hands, and he exclaimed, ‘Le jeu bientót fini!’[the game will soon be finished!] and then very composedly went on with his work.
The opening of the batteries made a great stir amongst all hands. We soon got an intimation to prepare to be removed into the castle; a private hint was given to me to be ‘sage’ on the way up, as the captain of the escort was ‘trѐs méchant,’ [very wicked] and that we must be quiet and orderly. This I suppose was intended to deter any of us from making attempts to escape. The wounded prisoners, as well as those not so, were moved in one body up the face of the hill to the entrance of the castle. Under the Mirador battery, they were exposed to a sharp musketry fire; some of the party were wounded, and amongst them the Portuguese captain, severely in the thigh. Before passing through the gateway, I turned round to take a view of the batteries and trenches, but was soon faced to the right about by the captain of the escort, and conducted into the building on the sea-side, which had been constructed for a powder-magazine, but was now converted into an hospital: the interior was fitted up with wooden bedsteads similar to those in English guard-rooms; here the wounded were lodged; and in the area surrounding the building were placed those prisoners, 150 in number, who were not. As the number of wounded increased, the hospital filled rapidly, and, in the hopes of preventing the fire from the batteries being directed against it, some of the prisoners were desired to hoist a black flag on the roof of the building. While they were doing so, I told the French officer it was labour in vain, as it would not have the effect desired, but, in all probability, the contrary, as we had always considered, and been given to understand, that the building was their great depot for powder, and, consequently, hoisting a flag would be regarded as a ruse to preserve their ammunition, and not to protect the wounded. And little benefit did we receive from the ensign flying over our ill-fated heads. After the capture of the island [of] Santa Clara, it was almost impossible for any person to move about that part of the castle opposite to it without the risk of being killed or wounded: the discharges of grape and shrapnels from it swept the whole of the interior, and it was only at night, and then with great risk, that fresh water could be obtained from the tank, which was situated on that side.
The garrison always entertained the idea that the assault would take place during the night; therefore each succeeding morning, when light dawned upon them without having been aroused from their slumbers by the shouts of the assaulting columns, they felt as if they had obtained a reprieve for another twenty-four hours. On the 31st August, when the first rattle of musketry was heard in the castle, an inquiring look pervaded each countenance, but all were silent: as the firing continued, and the rattle of it increased, little doubt remained as to the cause; every soldier seized his musket and hurried with alacrity to his post. I was then debarred from speaking or holding converse with the unwounded prisoners outside. One day, after the breaching batteries had opened their fire, I was asked by a French officer, whether I thought that the prisoners would remain quiet when an assault of the breach should take place; and he added, if they were to make any attempts, they would all be shot. I replied, ‘You may depend upon it, if an opportunity offers, they will not be backward in taking advantage of it; do not fancy you have a flock of sheep penned within these walls; and, happen what may – shoot us or not – you will be required to give a satisfactory account of us when the castle is taken.’ On the 31st August, during the assault of the breach, the appearance of boats, with troops, pulling for the sea front of the castle, created considerable alarm, and, had the attempt to land been made, I have little doubt but it would have succeeded: the effect would have been great; the capture of the castle, in all probability, the result; and the troops in the town, upon learning that their retreat was cut off, would have surrendered at discretion.
From the commencement of the assault, until the rush into the castle upon the capture of the town, not the slightest information could we obtain as to the state of affairs at the breach. The period that intervened was one of the most anxious and painful suspense: at last the tale was told; and who can describe the spectacle the interior of the hospital presented? In an instant, the ward was crowded with the wounded and maimed; the amputation-table again brought into play; and, until nearly daylight the following morning, the surgeons were unceasingly at work. To have such a scene passing at the foot of my bed was sufficiently painful; added to this, the agonising shrieks and groans, and the appearance of the grenadiers and sappers, who had been blown up by the explosion on the breach – their uniforms nearly burnt off, and their skins blackened and scorched by gunpowder – was truly appalling; the recollection of which can never be effaced from the memories of those whose ill fate compelled them to witness it. The appearance of these men resembled anything but human beings: death soon put an end to their sufferings, and relieved us from this most distressing sight. Of all wounds, whether of fractured limbs or otherwise, those occasioned by burns from gunpowder appeared to be accompanied with the most excruciating pain and constant suffering.
In the rear of the donjon, there was a small building, in which was deposited a considerable quantity of gunpowder. Shells were falling fast and thick around it; and there being every appearance that it must soon be destroyed, a detachment of soldiers was sent to withdraw the ammunition. This dangerous service they were performing in a most gallant manner, and had nearly completed their work, when some shells fell into the building, exploded the few barrels that remained, and blew the building, with some of the soldiers, into the air, not leaving a vestige to show that such an edifice had ever been erected.
There were three French ladies in the garrison – the widow and two daughters of a French commissary-general, who had died in Spain: they were on their way to France when the investment took place. These ladies were permitted to enter the hospital, and were allowed a small space at one end of the wooden bedstead; here they remained for several days and nights; the only water they could obtain to wash, since the island of Santa Clara had been the possession of the besiegers, was the same that we had, sea-water, which the attendants contrived to procure by descending the rocks at the back of the castle – the small quantity of fresh water obtained from the tank during the night was reserved for cooking, or drinking, which was greatly needed by the troops during the fatigue and heat to which they were exposed at this very hot season of the year (August). As the number of the wounded increased, so the accommodation in the hospital became more restricted. Some of the officers, who were lying on the floor, were loud in their complaints that Madam and her daughters were occupying the space which properly belonged to them: they succeeded in getting the ladies turned out, to find shelter from shot and shell where best they could: The day the castle capitulated, I went in search of my fair companions, and found them nearly smoke-dried under a small projecting rock. One of the young ladies was extremely pretty, and shortly after the siege, was married to the English commissary, appointed to attend upon the garrison until embarked for England. The change from the hospital to the naked rock relieved them from witnessing many a painful scene, as the amputating-table was placed at the foot of the bedstead, in that part of the room allotted to us.
After the capture of the town, a heavy bombardment of the castle took place, by salvos of shells from upwards of sixty pieces artillery: the short interval of time which elapsed between the report of the discharge of the guns and mortars, and the noise of the descent of the shells, was that of a few seconds only. The effect of these salvos by day, terrific and destructive as they proved, were little heeded, in comparison with the nightly discharges. Those of the wounded and mutilated, who were fortunate enough to have found temporary relief from their suffering by sleep, were awakened to all the horrors and miseries of their situation by the crash of ten or a dozen shells falling upon and around the building, and whose fuzes threw a lurid light into the interior of the ward: the silence within, unbroken save by the hissing of the burning composition; the agonizing feelings of the wounded during these few moments of surprise are not to be described. No one could feel assured of escaping the destruction which was a certain attendant upon the explosion, to be immediately succeeded by the cries and groans of those who were again wounded. Many an unfortunate soldier was brought to the amputation-table, to undergo a second operation; and in the discharge of this painful duty the medical men were engaged nearly the entire night. As to rest, none could be obtained or expected with such scenes passing around a person’s bed. The legs and arms, as soon as amputated, were carried out, and thrown away on the rocks. It was a novel and by no means an agreeable sight, but one which I was daily compelled to witness.
It is but justice to the French medical officers to state, that their conduct during the whole period of their harassing and laborious duties was marked by the greatest feeling and kindness of manner, as well as attention to the relief of the unfortunate sufferers who came under their hands. Scarcely had the ward been restored to tranquillity, when another would be heard, and a repetition of the same scenes would take place.
The unfortunate prisoners who were not wounded had been placed in the area around the hospital, and consequently were exposed to the fury of each successive discharge, without the slightest cover or protection from its destructive effects. Knowing their exposed situation, I exerted myself in every possible way to obtain a few pickaxes and shovels to enable them to throw up some sort of traverse or splinter-proof. All my applications were unheeded; and, in consequence, 50 were killed or wounded out of 150 who were confined within the enclosure walls.
With the single exception of an act of brutality on the part of a French officer to myself, the wounded prisoners had no cause for complaint, though their confinement might have been less vigorous. From the surgeons who attended us, and the hospital attendants, we experienced great kindness. Our diet was regulated in the same manner, and of the same quality and proportions, as that of the French soldiers in the adjoining ward. The greatest luxury allowed was occasionally three stewed prunes.
The only officer of French engineers who escaped being either killed or wounded was Lieutenant Goblet*, who commanded the company of Sappers at the great breach, the post of honour which they claim. The greater number of this company were destroyed by the explosions during the assault. This officer was the only individual of the garrison Lord Wellington permitted to return to France. He carried despatches from General Rey, the Governor, Marshal Soult, to make known to him the surrender of the castle.
The effects of the vertical fire in the interior of the castle immediately after the capture of the town were so destructive and annoying, that, had it been continued six hours longer, the garrison, I have no doubt, would have surrendered at discretion. The officers were loud in their complaints at the obstinacy of the governor, as they said, in uselessly sacrificing the lives of the soldiers. They had lost all hope, or nearly so, that Soult could make any successful attempt for their relief. During this period everybody sought shelter where best he could among the rocks; still no nook or corner appeared to be a protection from the shrapnel shells. A serjeant of the Royals [1st Foot], standing at the foot of my bedstead, was killed by a ball from a shrapnel shell, and fell dead upon me. An Italian soldier, who had been appointed to attend upon the wounded prisoners, whilst endeavouring, close to the hospital door, to prepare some bouillon for our dinner, was, with his marmite, blown into the air; and so ended, for the day, all our hopes of obtaining a little nourishment. Life and bustle had disappeared: scarcely an individual was to be seen moving about.
This state of affairs continued until the batteries in the trenches slackened their fire. Nothing was done: everybody sought shelter from the tremendous fire of shells which was poured into the castle, and to escape from the terrific havoc caused by their explosion. The whole interior was ploughed up; and, had this stream of fire been continued a few hours longer, the garrison would have obliged the governor to surrender.
* Note by Jones – Minister of War in Belgium, after the separation of the country from Holland in 1830
The shriek of bullets from a shrapnel shell is very different from the whistle of a musket-ball; and oft repeated were the exclamations, ‘Ah! ces sacrѐs bullets creux!’ [Ah! These terrible hollow balls!]
It may not be unworthy of remark, that the bullets discharged from a shrapnel shell assume the form of a polygonal prism. A French officer showed me one that had just been extracted from a wounded man: he anxiously inquired whether they were of that form when put into the shell. I afterwards observed the same in many others, which at my request, were handed to me by the operating surgeons. The excellence of the British artillery is well known. Nothing could surpass the precision with which the shells were thrown, and the accuracy with which the fuses were cut. It is only those who have had the opportunity of witnessing their fire, and comparing it with that of the French, that can speak of its superiority. During the siege, we little heeded the lazy French shells thrown into the batteries or trenches. From the length of the fuses, sufficient time was almost always allowed, before bursting, to put ourselves under cover; and, when they did burst, the splinters flew lazily around. On the contrary, when the sound of an English shell was heard in the castle, or when the man stationed in the donjon cried ‘Garde la bombe,’ [Beware the bomb] everybody was on the alert. The velocity of its flight far exceeded that of the French. Touching the ground and bursting were almost instantaneous; and then the havoc and destruction caused by the splinters were tremendous.
None but those who have been exposed to the effects of shrapnel shells can fully appreciate the advantages of possessing such a terrific and destructive missile. It appeared to be of little avail where a man placed himself for protection. No place was secure from them; and many a soldier was wounded without having been aware that any shell had exploded in his neighbourhood.
A French officer of engineers, who was very badly wounded, and lying on the opposite side of the ward, was well supplied with the best professional books. He kindly allowed me the use of them. Many were works which I had never been able to procure; and much pleasure and instruction did I derive from the perusal of them. Upon inquiry, I was given to understand, that the French engineers were always supplied with them by the government, and their generals with the best maps of the country where they were employed.
One day, before the great battery in the horn-work opened its fire against the castle, I was called to the door of the ward by a French officer, who exclaimed, ‘Voila les fiacres qui viennet nous chercher.’ [Here are the cabs that come to pick us up]
I was puzzled to know what he meant; when, upon looking out in the direction he pointed with his hand, I beheld a most cheering and beautiful sight, in the appearance of a large convoy of transports under full sail. The officer was a true prophet, for these vessels conveyed the garrison from Passages to England.
When it was communicated to me that we were no longer prisoners, I looked around for the best sword in the ward, to replace the one taken from me. Having discovered a handsome sabre, belonging to a wounded Staff Officer, I sent, and desired that it might be taken down from the place where it was hanging, as I wanted such a weapon. I have it still by me. It was the only sword I wore until the end of the war: and often, when at the outposts with flags of truce, have I seen the French officers regard the eagles on the belt with anything but a gratifying look.
In July, 1813, who would foresee that, in two years from that time, such a change would take place in my position as afterwards was the case. In 1815, I was quartered in Paris, and was engineer in charge of the fortifications on Montmartre. During that period I frequently saw several of the officers who had formed part of the garrison in San Sebastian; and from my old friend, the Chirurgien-Major, I received frequent visits. We both agreed, that, notwithstanding the tables were turned, our present position was more agreeable than when our acquaintance commenced in San Sebastian.