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Narrative of the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo

NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTURE OF CIUDAD RODRIGO

by an officer of the 94th Regiment

On the 19th of January, 1812, the Third Division took its tour of duty in the trenches, the relief taking place in the morning, as was usual during the seige. In the afternoon of the same day, the Light Division arrived in the environs of the place; but, lest the enemy should suspect, from the presence of additional troops,that an attack was intended, this division was ordered to march on the Salamanca road to such a distance, that nightfall might prevent their return from being noticed by the garrison. The beseiged must have supposed that the object of a march in that direction was to cover the seige from an advance of the enemy, which was to be looked for.

It was then intimated to us that the breaches were practicable, and were to be stormed that night; the Third Division taking the greater, and the Light Division the latter, breach. It was ordered that two battalions of Major General the Honourable C. Colville’s Brigade should descend into the ditches, and clear them of all hindrance that might exist on or about the main breach. For this service, Major Ridge was instructed to proceed with the 5th Regiment, from the rear of the convent of Santa Cruz, to escalade the fausse-braie near where it joins the wall of the place, and to advance to the main breach by the inner ditch; and Lieutenant Colonel Campbell was directed to move the 94th Regiment, in double column of companies, from the left of the convent of Santa Cruz, to enter the outer ditch, and, turning to the left, carry the breach in the fausse-braie, and remove all obsructions that might be found on or about that breach and the main one, and thereafter to co-operate with the storming party in entering the place. From the engineers’ stores, there were given out to the 94th Regiment a number of knotted ropes to assist in descending the ditch, and of felling-axes to break down and remove the impediments supposed to exist about the breach.

Lieutenant Colonel. Campbell, having set his watch at the head-quarters of the division, moved his regiment forward, as soon as evening permitted, to the convent of Santa Cruz, and took post under a loopholed wall to the left of it, along which it had been intended to form a ditch – which, however, was excavated to the depth of only a foot or two. This position was enfiladed by two light brass guns, mounted en barbette on a projection of the fausse-braie; but as the moon threw the shadow of the wall on this half-formed ditch, we were enabled to approach unobserved to within 120 yards of the outer defences of the place.

Here we waited until the moment arrived, at which, as Colonel Campbell had been told, the storming party would leave the trenches; for, although we had less ground to pass over to reach the breach than they, it was of importance that we should be there before them, in order to perform the duty of removing whatever might embarrass the attack. Then, extending our front to the order prescribed, we passed swiftly in silence over the glacis, and reached the ditch. The bottom was not visible in the shade, but Williamson, Captain of Grenadiers, threw himself into it, and finding the depth not so great but that men with arms might leap into it without injury, the regiment followed him, and pushed forward at the same rapid pace to the breach in the fausse-braie, and through it to the foot of that which had been made in the rampart of the place. Here an instant sufficed to show that the breach was clear for attack, and to correct the formation of the regiment. Colonel Campbell, knowing that we must be immediately supported by the parties that were approaching the breaches in different directions, and that it was of consequence not to lose a second of time in such a situation, gave the word to fix bayonets and mount, which was so done that the front reached the top of the rampart as one man. No sooner had they set foot upon it, than a train of gunpowder was fired from the enemy’s left, which, passing across the breach, kindled and exploded a great number of shells, by which many were killed and wounded, and all who had gained the top were thrown down and stunned. At the same time a brisk fire was opened from a breastwork which had been raised at a little distance from the back of the breach, just without the line of fire of our batteries. The space between this breastwork and the interior scarp of the wall, which was entire, and 16 feet high, was filled with carriages of different kinds, chevaux de frise, and similar articles, so put together as to make it a work of time for an individual to traverse it by daylight.

The check that had been thus given was, however, but momentary. Immediately after, all sprang to right or left to force in by either flank of the breach. Colonel Campbell and those near him attacked that on our right. On this side the enemy had prepared a double retrenchment, consisting of two ditches (each 10 feet deep, and the same in width), and two parapets formed across the rampart. It appeared that they had been communicating with the breach from this side at the moment we mounted, by means of two strong planks laid across the ditches on the inner edge of the rampart. In the confusion of the surprise, the plank traversing the ditch next to the breach was only drawn a little back, so that one fell to the bottom of the ditch, while the other rested on the interior lip. In this position it furnished the assailants with the means of passing. This was eagarly seized, and, by mutual assistance, they rapidly cleared the first ditch. The plank laid over the second ditch having been left undisturbed, Colonel Campbell proceeded forthwith to take advantage of it: while he was on the plank, a French officer sprung forward, and, calling on his men to fire, made a lunge with his sword at the colonel; he parried the blow, and closed with the Frenchman, and both were instantaneously borne within the second retrenchment by the ardour of our men who were pressing on. At this instant the 5th Regiment reached and mounted the breach with a vehement cheer. This corresponding in the rear most opportunely with the exertions of those in front, startled and appalled the French soldiers at the critical moment at which, by supporting their brave officer, who was forced to yield his sword, they might have successfully defended their post. The advantage thus lost, their assailants were too energetic to permit them, whatever efforts were made, ever to regain; but springing one after the other within the retrenchment, each, as he came up, threw himself on the enemy, of whom the foremost soon lay lifeless on the terre-plein, and the rest, who were beyond the immediate reach of the bayonet, turned and fled in panic, without a thought but to save themselves.

Colonel Campbell stopped the pursuit at a place where a street coming from the centre of the town, nearly at right angles with the rampart, is terminated by the retaining wall, but ascends by a ramp on the left to the terre-plein. Beyond this ramp, the houses encroach on the rampart, and narrow it at one point to a few paces, whence it slopes gently down as far as the Agueda gate. A post was thus formed, which those who had reached it could have defended against any number of the enemy, had they recovered themselves.

The writer of this narrative had just congratulated Colonel Campbell on his success, when the tread of a considerable body of the enemy descending the street gave warning of their approach. A sufficient number of our men having been posted to close the rampart where it was narrowest, the rest were moved down the ramp to receive the enemy on the bayonet, as they should turn at the foot of the street. They came down at a steady step till within twenty or thirty paces of us, but then, hearing a call given to those who were on their way from the breach to move on, they all at once halted, seemed to listen for a moment, and then, throwing down their arms, fled with precipitation.

Our party was now joined successively by Captain C. Campbell, of the 94th ( brother of the Colonel ), Captain Laing, of the 94th, wounded through the wrist, Major Ridge, of the 5th, lame, having sprained his ankle, the Sergeant-Major of this last regiment, and several men. Still in all it did not number above forty. Patroles were sent out, who went to the old moorish castle, to the Agueda gate, which was found strongly barricaded with stones, to remove which would have required the labour of many hours, and to the different streets and lanes which touched the rampart in this direction, and which were found deserted and strewed with arms.

A strong desire was now manifested to advance into the town, and to take the defenders of the breach in reverse; but this Colonel Campbell would not permit, and all soon became sensible that by holding our present post, whatever might happen elsewhere, the garrison would be compelled to submit; as the knowledge that we had penetrated, and established ourselves in the town, must soon reach the parties who defended the breaches, and paralyze their exertions. Whereas, should we leave the rampart, and enter the streets, we not only exposed ourselves to be cut off in them, if any body of the garrison still retained courage and discipline enough to make a last effort, but also left free passage to them to occupy again the retrenchments we had carried, and thus enable themselves, almost to a certainty, to drive the assailants from the main breach.

It being now clear that all those belonging to the 5th or 94th Regiments, who had turned to the right flank of the breach, had either passed the retrenchments or fallen, while single files were sent in different directions, to keep up the alarm of the enemy by discharging their arms in the streets, officers went repeatedly towards the breach, in order to bring over those who were attacking the left flank. But they were unable to gain their attention, which was entirely occupied by the fire kept up on them from the retrenchment on that flank, and from the breastwork raised in rear of the rampart. This fire had brightened up, and become very close, it having been reinforced at the same instant that the parties approaching us had given way, our troops were dropping fast, and had opened their fire in return; and as the dazzling light in front, and the smoke which hung over the breach, threw the ditch and flank by which we had crossed into complete obscurity, no persuasion could prevail on them to follow in that direction.

The storming party, and the other brigade of the Third Division, on arriving afterwards, were in like manner attracted by the fire of the enemy, and without searching for entrance but where that fire appeared, eagerly strove to bring their own to bear on it, which in time they did so effectively as not only to keep down the fire of the flank, but to overpower and extinguish that from the breastwork, in which the men were more exposed, and were no longer sustained by fresh supplies from the panic-stricken garrison. Seeing this those on the flank dispersed, and allowed our people to enter without further opposition.

About the same time the Light Division carried the lesser breach. From the weak defence made at this breach, it seemed evident that when the attack was made the enemy stationed to defend it had been made aware that the town had been entered elsewhere. It appears impossible otherwise to account for French soldiers, with every means of resistance at hand, allowing so high and narrow a breach to be carried, without causing a greater loss to the assailants. That which the Light Division here sustained did not exceed what might have been caused by a single discharge into the crowded ditch. The town now became speedily filled with our troops, and no Frenchman was found in any quarter under arms.

Those officers and men of the 94th and 5th Regiments who attacked the retrenchment on the left flank of the main breach, clung to it to the last, and suffered severely in their constant efforts to overcome the obstacles to their entrance; but it was an utter impossibility so long as those behind it stood firm. The instant, however, that they wavered, these brave men sprung over, and both they and the Light Division each thought themselves first into the town.

A little attention to the following particulars will enable one to form a tolerably correct idea of the time consummed in the operation.

The point at the Santa Cruz convent from which the 94th Regiment started, by the route they followed along the ditch and through the breaches, was not further from the one within the town at which Colonel Campbell stopped the pursuit, than about 500 yards. The whole of this distance was traversed at a very rapid pace, with only a pause of a few seconds, to form at the foot of the breach, and an equally short one at the top from the explosion of shells; the retrenchments and ditches formed in the rampart were passed without a breathing-time, in a manner only to be accomplished by men under the most powerful excitement, many badly wounded, and themselves unable to proceed, still continuing to lend their aid and support to their comrades. The struggle within was but momentary, so that five minutes had not elapsed from the regiment quitting the shade of the convent wall before the lodgement was made in the town, and the majority of the garrison had thrown down their arms, many never having had time to take them [up]. The time from this until the enemy engaged at the breaches abandoned them, may, no doubt, have appeared to men in our situation much longer than it was in reality, but that it was not short will be admitted, when it is considered that after the enemy’s inlying picquets had faltered and dispersed, as before mentioned, and after a patrole had gone to the castle and returned, an officer had ample time to go down to the Agueda gate, examine it, come back, make his report, and again return to the breach, before the storming party from the other brigade had entered it. When they did arrive it still required a considerable time to overpower the fire from the breastwork at the back; until this was done those behind the retrenchment on the rampart held fast. In short, it is probable that altogether an hour had nearly elapsed before all resistance ceased.

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