The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Private George Woolger 16th Light Dragoons


Villaviega, 26 October 1809 Portugal

Dear brother and sister,

The last time I wrote to you was from Tomar, we marched from Tomar the 2 July over a mountainous country, we were 11 days on our march without halting, the sun excessive hot & the roads very dusty. We arrived at Placencia the 13th, we halted here 4 days to rest and shoe the horses.

18th instant we marched, the whole of the British army over the mountains, a very bad road, very hot & dusty & scarcely any water to be met with on the road, we were fortunate enough to camp 2 of the days by rivers. On the 20th we joined the Spanish army, they had 10,000 middling cavalry, 20,000 middling infantry, very irregulery [sic] dressed.

21st. This afternoon the British were drawn up in line for the inspection [of] Sir Arthur Wellesley & the Spanish General Cuesta, the line of British reached 4 miles. We then camped near Alcanguer.

22nd 4 am, it was a beautiful sight to see the English & Spanish army’s march on to the fine plains of Aratara, colours flying, trumpets sounding & men in high spirits. About ½ [past] 8am we came up with the enemy, at ½ past 9 the action began with a smart cannonade, from which was soon returned from the enemy however. The French did not stand long, they retreated 3 miles beyond Talavera & crosst [sic] the Tagus & made another stand & fired with cannon till dark. Nothing particular happened till the 26th when we had cannonading at some distance, which was a column of the Spaniards engaged with the enemy, the Spaniards was obliged to retire as also General Sherbrooke [1] which had advanced the 24th. This day we the whole of the British cavalry were ordered to be out at 2 am of the 27 July, we then advanced towards the outposts, when arrived we found General Sherbrooke retreating. Our cavalry then covered his retreat, General Sherbrooke crosst the Tagus 3 miles from Talavera with his 2 brigades to take possession of the wood. The enemy crosst the river unseen by us 4 miles higher and attacked our infantry with two strong columns. Our infantry struck them sharply for some time till ordered to retire onto the plains. The French would not follow us onto the plains, thee [sic] sharpshooters fired smartly on us for some time & teased us until there horse artillery had time to bring 2 brigades of guns to the edge of the wood, with which they give us an uncommon smart cannonade, which obliged our cavalry to quit the plains & retire towards Talavera, the French then crosst the Tagus & occupied the plain together with there sharpshooters followed us up close. By this time our infantry had formed the line, the British on the left, ye Spanish on the right. A little before sunset the battle became very hot, which continued till nearly 12 pm, the remaining part of the night was employed in arranging cannon on 2 hills which we took possession of, which if the French had gained, would have turned our army.

As soon as light appeared on the 28th the battle was renewed with a most tremendous cannonade from the contending armies, which continued for some hours without intermission. Our infantry was sharply put to it, our regiment suffered much, we lost 8 men and 21 horses in about 15 minutes, besides what we lost the day before. About 2pm the battle became dreadful, all this large plain was all in a smoake from cannon and musketry, and when the French give way their dead & wounded lay in almost whole ranks. The French stormed the 2 hills 6 times & were as often drove back with great slaughter till both hill were covered with killed and wounded. Too much praise can’t be given of the 29th, 31st, G[renadier] Guards, 48th Foot, in short every regiment did their duty, they staid [sic] like stone walls disdaining to flinch, dispersing their numbers, although they were 3 to one & we had had scarcely any bread or water these two trying days, excessive heat and hard fighting still & found none grumble. Provision very scarce as the French have layn [sic] here 7 months & made such havock with everything round this country & they knew every inch of the country for miles round which was of great advantage to them in this country, both sides fought hard. The French had near 100 guns & & we had not more than 40 & short of ammunition. The battle continued till dark till neither side could see where to fire a shot. The British remained on the field of battle all night, the French retreated during the night & left 20 guns behind them. We remained on the field till 10 am 29 July, but no enemy appeared to renew the actions. We were then ordered to our old camp ground, it was shocking to see the killed & wounded on both sides, some with both legs off, others both arms or one arm off, in short wounded in all parts. Men & horses lay together mangled in a shocking manner. All the houses in Talavera are filled with English, French & Spanish wounded, many die with loss of blood, some with there wounds.

3rd August. We were ordered to march to Oropesa on the road back to Placencia as Marshal Soult was coming in our rear. At 2 am we were ordered to saddle, we did so, at 11 we were ordered to make me for Ponte Ozos de Bispo [El Puente del Arzopisbo]. We had had no bread for the two last days here, we had 1 biscuit & half served to each mess, which was 10 men.

5th August. We march[ed] at 4am over a mountainous country, water scarce & bad, no bread.

6th August. Marched at 4am, still over mountains, we now begin to feel the hardships & calamities of a retreating army. Cars broak [sic] down, bullocks drop down dead with fatigue & hunger, artillery horses also. Likewise troop horses, and the infantry are obliged to be yoaked to the guns to draw them up these steep mountains. It was 3 o’clock on the 7 th of August, before we halted as we were forced to cover the artillery, we then rested till 6am, to be at our horses. At 6 we march[ed] again over the highest mountains & we saw infantry still at the guns. About half way we came to more level ground, we marched 5 leagues, water scarce & bad, no wine to be had for money this day, a hand full of rye & there was served out no bred [sic]. We halt[ed] here one day.

9th August. This day we had 5 small biscuits served out, which was previous our famisht harts [sic]. We now think ourselves out of danger a little, we now begin to receive a little more bread. However, we have made a good retreat, to Pau [Alter do Chao?] with easy marches, here we can have anything if we have money. In Portugal water is plentiful & good, we are preparing for the field again, we expect to meet them again about the middle of next month or not at all. I hope we shall be ordered home, when please God I see you again, I can give you a better account than by letter. I hope to find you & all the famley [sic] in a good state of health, as thank God I enjoy mine at present. Give my love to William, stepmother George & Mary. I hope you will write to mother and brother William as I have not wrote to them & let them know I am in good health. I have wrote to my wife & received answer she was well, if you should go any ways near her, you will call on her & see how she & the child are. I therefore conclude for the present, I remain your loving brother. Geo Woolger

Direct as before.

List of killed [and wounded?] of the British officers 238

Non commissioned 237

Rank & File 4,892

General MacKenzie, General Langwerth [2] 5,369

NAM 1999-09-54


[1] Major General John Cope Sherbrooke.

[2] Major General Alexander Mackenzie and General Ernest Baron Langwerth were both killed at the Battle of Talavera.

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