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The Second Siege of Badajoz

FROM THE JOURNAL OF LIEUTENANT PARR KINGSMILL 88TH REGIMENT OF FOOT

On the 6th of April (1812) the fate of Badajoz was decided. The breaches were both reported practicable by the commandant of engineers, and the moment fast approached which was to end our painful toils. The enemy’s fire never ceased the whole morning and seemed to thunder forth defiance. Lord Wellington again reconnoitred from one of the surrounding hills, and, having determined upon storming the place that night, the flank-officers were assembled, and the names taken down of those daring spirits who volunteered to lead the forlorn hope; and upon this occasion, as upon all others where honour pointed to the path of glory, the 88th furnished one of the bravest of the brave in the person of poor Whitelaw, a young Irishman, who led the advance with the ladders against the castle, and fell mortally wounded. The reader will ask, what recompense did he or his family receive? I answer, none – he died in extreme agony in a Spanish hovel, unnoticed and unknown!

The yawning breaches now seemed to call upon us to advance and end our suspense by victory or the grave. At seven in the evening the order arrived to complete the men in ammunition and flints and at half- past eight we formed. The plan of attack was as follows:- General Picton, with the 3rd Division, was ordered to attack the castle; a strong detachment of the 4th Division was to assail the ravelin of St. Roque; General Colville, with the remainder of the 4th and the Light Division, was to attack the breaches which were in the bastions of La Trinidad and Santa Martha; and General Leith, with the 5th Division, was to make a feint attack at the south side of the castle, which was to be made a real attack if circumstances proved favourable; and a strong body of Portuguese troops was held in reserve.

In this order, at about ten at night, the whole advanced in the profound silence that rendered the approaching storm more terrific. The 3rd Division was not perceived until they arrived at a little river not very distant from the works, when we distinctly heard the entire line of French sentries give the alarm, and the whole guns of the garrison seemed as if by signal to open at once. The breaches soon afterwards were clearly defined by the continued blaze of fire from the enemy’s musketry; and the roaring of the guns from every quarter seemed only to act as a stimulus to perform a service that perhaps no other troops would have accomplished with equal intrepidity. Incessant volleys of grapeshot were poured on our division as we advanced, accompanied by fire-balls, which too plainly showed them our numbers and situation, and as clearly pointed out to us the difficulties we had to surmount. By quickening our pace we succeeded in getting so close under the wall that the guns could not bear upon us; but the brilliant fire-balls, which mocked all our efforts to extinguish them, burned so vividly as not only to enable them to direct their musketry, but also to hurl with fatal precision every kind of missile upon us.

The ladders being at length placed, the troops, with three cheers, courageously ascended, and nothing was soon heard but mingled cries of despair and shouts of victory. Several ladders, having too great a weight upon them, broke down, and the men were precipitated on the bayonets of their comrades below; nor did this in the least check their impetuosity – they continued to rush up in crowds, determined to reach the ramparts or die in the attempt. The ladder I mounted – like many others – was unfortunately too short, and I found that no exertion I could make would enable me to gain the embrasure or to descend. In this unhappy state, expecting immediate death from the hands of the ferocious-looking Frenchmen in the embrasure. I heard a voice above call out, ‘Mr Kingsmill, is that you?’ I answered ‘Yes.’ And the same voice cried out, ‘Oh, murther! murther! what will we do to get you up at all, at all, with that scrawdeen of a ladtherr?- but here goes, hould my leg, Bill’ and throwing himself flat on his face in the embrasure, he extended his brawny arm down the wall, and seizing me by the collar, with Herculean force, landed me, as he said himself, ‘clever and clane,’ on the ramparts. In the same manner five more were landed; and thus did this chivalrous soldier, with noble generosity, prefer saving the lives of six of his comrades at the risk of his own, to the rich plunder which everywhere surrounded him. And who do you think, Mr. Editor, this noble soldier was? Why, Sir, it was the gallant Tully O’Malley, a private in my company, an Irishman, and one of the ‘ragged rascals.’

Tully O’Malley having just landed me, as he said, on the ramparts, I found myself standing amongst several French soldiers, who crowded round the gun in the embrasure. One of them still held the match lighted in his hand, the blue flame of which gave the bronzed and sullen countenances of these warriors an expression not easily forgotten. A grenadier of the 103rd leaned on the gun and bled profusely from the head; another, who had fallen on his knees when wounded, remained fixed in astonishment and terror. Others, whose muskets lay scattered on the ground, folded their arms in deep despair; and the appearance of the whole group, with their huge bushy moustaches, and mouths blackened with biting the cartridges, presented to the eye of a young soldier at least an appearance sufficiently formidable.

‘Don’t mind them fellows, Sir,’ said Tully; ‘they were all settled jist afore you came up; and, by my soul good boys they war for a start, and fought like real divils, so they did, till Mr. S[mith] and the grenadiers came powdering down on them with the war-whoop. Och, my darlint, they were made smiddreens of in a crack, barrin that great big fellow you see there with the great black whiskers, bleeding in the side, and resting his head on the gun-carriage. He was the bouldest of them all, and made bloody battle with Jim Reilly; but ‘tis short he stud afore Jim. He gave him a raal Waterford puck that tumbled him like a ninepin in a minute; and, by my own sowl, a puck of the butt-end of Jim’s piece is no joke, I tell you, for he tried it on more heads nor one on the hill of Busaco’.

Away then flew Tully to join his company, forming in double quick time, with several others, to oppose the enemy, who were collecting an overpowering force at one of the gates of the citadel, apparently with an intention of charging and driving us from the ramparts. They had already opened a most galling fire of musketry from this dark gateway, which was warmly returned by our soldiers, whose impetuosity could no longer be restrained, and they charged through the gateway, led by my gallant friend Lieutenant Davern of the 88th, and were received by a shower of balls; but the massive gate being closed little impression was made. A second and third charge were likewise made without effect, when a number of the light infantry of the 74th and 88th, assisted each other to climb up on the arch-way over the gate, and opened such a destructive and unexpected fire down on the French (who thought themselves quite secure at the other side), that a general panic seized them, and they fled with the utmost precipitation and confusion, followed rapidly by our men, who now dashed through the gateway without opposition.

Several gallant soldiers were put hors-de-combat here, amongst them Major Murphy of the 88th, whom I found quite exhausted, and unable to move from loss of blood, not having been able to bind up his wound, which I had no sooner accomplished than we moved on. However, the panic of the enemy was but momentary, for the retreating soldiers soon met a strong body of their troops advancing at the pas de charge, when they instantly turned round and fired into the middle of the column of their pursuers, by which many of our gallant fellows fell to rise no more. But the struggle was short, and being chiefly decided by the bayonet, the French again fled, leaving the rampart literally covered with dead and wounded, amongst whom were the most forward of their officers, whose long, narrow-bladed sabres, with brass scabbards, instantly changed masters. One who lay on his back, wounded made several thrusts at the sturdy Ranger, who was endeavouring to disarm him, who in the encounter had awkwardly caught the sharp sword-blade in his hand, and was so severely cut that he was preparing to rush on his antagonist, when the buckle of the Frenchman’s waist-belt instantly flew open, and the sword was thrown to him; but Pat was angry, and was not now satisfied with the sword only, for perceiving a handsome silver-mounted calabash by the officer’s side, he coolly transferred it to his own shoulders (first taking a copious swill), and gravely addressing the wounded man, said (while re-loading his piece), -‘Now, my tight fellow; you see what you lost by your contrariness.’‘Ah, Monsieur,’’ said the Frenchman, ‘je suis grievement blesse, rendez moi mon calebache, jo vous en prie.’ [I’m seriously injured, give me back my water bottle, please]. ‘Grieving for your calabash – is it that you mane?’ said Pat, ‘Why, then, I’ll tell you what-no man shall say that Pat Donovan ever deprived either friend or foe of his little drop of dhrink – and there ‘tis, for you!’‘Grand merci, grand merci !’ [Great thanks! Great thanks!] said the officer. ‘Oh, don’t bother yourself axing mercy from me,’ said Pat; ‘but take my advice,’ said he, as he bawled loud and slowly in his ear, so as he thought he must understand him. ‘keep roaring mercy-mercy-mercy to all our fellows as they come up, and, by Gor, they’ll not take the least notice in life of you.’‘Ah, merci-merci-c’est fait de moi,’ [thank you, you have saved me] repeated the poor wounded young Frenchman. Fatal presentiment! One short hour only had elapsed ere we returned. He lay on the same spot, but his spirit had winged its flight to that place ‘where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest;’ and the gallant, daring Frenchman was already numbered with the dead.

In the meantime the cheering of our men, and the animating bugles sounding the charge, made those below so anxious to share the glory of their comrades, that many dreadful accidents occurred from the breaking of the ladders, in consequence of the crowds that still attempted to ascend. However, at length we had the satisfaction to see reinforcements pouring in from all points, and securing the prisoners, who scowled upon us with sullen and disappointed looks; and, although they surrendered without hesitation to their British conquerors, and perhaps, after all, with a better grace than the troops of any other nation under such circumstances, yet, when taken by the Portuguese they could not restrain their rage, and manifested towards them a degree of contempt and indignation which cost many of them their lives.

The enemy’s fire meanwhile continued with unabated fury, and those still under the castle wall were dreadfully shattered by the fire from the side batteries. In short, the carnage was so frightful, that the approach to the wall was now over the bodies of their dead and dying comrades, which caused a peculiarly revolting feeling not easily forgotten by the fiercest soldier. At this period, also, the uproar in the town exceeded all description; great guns roaring; musketry blazing; men shrieking from the agony of their wounds; bells ringing; and dogs barking, in such numbers, and with such fury, that it would seem that all the canine species of Estramadura were imprisoned in the fortress. Add to this, the sounding of our bugles in all directions, and the French drums beating with hurried and redoubled violence the pas de charge, whilst a murderous fire of shot, shell, and musketry poured on the 4th and Light Divisions, who rushed boldly forward the second time to the breaches, nothing appalled by the carnage and failure of the first attack; but all attempts to force the breach were fruitless.

Most fortunately the success of the 3rd and 5thDivisions rendered it unnecessary to continue any further attempts to force the breach, and the troops were withdrawn on the joyful intelligence arriving that the castle was taken. The French heard the news with the utmost astonishment and dismay, and commenced a hasty retreat to Fort St. Christoval, on the opposite side of the river.

During these operations the troops were engrossed in disarming and securing the prisoners. Among others, I happened to capture and save the life of the colonel commanding the artillery in the citadel, at the very moment our men pursued him at the point of the bayonet. He threw himself upon me, and finding I understood French, entreated that I would save him from our infuriated soldiers, which I found it extremely difficult to do, as each successive party, on perceiving his large gold epaulettes and orders, evinced a strong anxiety to make further acquaintance with him; and upon one occasion I was obliged to use my sword to protect him from a few of the 60th, who advanced upon him in rather a suspicious and business-like manner. He was in a state of violent agitation, and kept a firm hold of my arm throughout all the changes of the fight, until I met a field-officer of the British artillery, near a short flight of steps leading to a magazine, to whom I gave him in charge, and who appeared to be in search of him, when they entered the magazine together.

The Frenchman was anxious to bring me to the bomb-proof, where his baggage was secured, to give me some token of his gratitude, and overwhelmed me with thanks, but duty called, and I could not accompany him. The British officer then hurried him away in a very abrupt and hasty manner, and I have reason to know that considerable advantages resulted to the service in consequence of that officer’s life being saved, as no other individual in the citadel was so capable of giving important information relative to that hard-won fortress as that officer. The rencontre was a hit to the man of shot and shell, and I have no doubt he derived advantages from it much more solid than I did, as my only reward was a profusion of unmeaning thanks from the terrified Frenchman, and the consciousness of having done my duty.

The first rays of a beautiful morning discovered to us the incredible strength of Badajoz, and how dearly the capture of it had cost us. The gallant hearts that beat with devoted bravery the night before, now lay in the cold grasp of death: a comparative degree of silence has succeeded the dreadful din of arms, and rendered more awful the contemplation of this awful scene of death and desolation. A vast number of the enemy’s soldiers lay dead in a heap close by the spot where our men were forming, and whilst I gazed on these unhappy victims of a fierce and deadly fight, I was not a little astonished to observe a very young French officer who lay amongst them, and whom I supposed to be dead also, slowly and cautiously raise himself up, and, after looking about with a wild stare, and reconnoitring the ground, he coolly walked over to the prisoners and delivered himself up. This wily hero had not been wounded, nor had he received the slightest scratch, but being more frightened than hurt, he lay concealed in this manner until all apprehension of danger was over. It excited a good deal of merriment amongst our men, but the French curled their moustaches, gave him a hearty ‘sacre,’ and looked at him with the most sovereign contempt. P.K.

THE SIEGE OF BURGOS

FROM THE NOTES OF A STAFF-OFFICER

The evening of the 4th of October, 1812, was very fine. Groups of Spaniards occupied the distant heights, and a stillness reigned around very different from the noise and confusion heretofore prevailing in this siege. At five o’clock Lord Wellington, accompanied by Lord Fitzroy Somerset and his aides-de-camp, assembled within a short distance of the castle of Burgos, to witness the springing of a mine, which had been constructed under the wall of the third line of works after incredible labour and great loss of life. Colonel Jones was on the spot to superintend its firing, and the 24thRegiment was to storm. The signal being given, the mine was sprung, presenting an excellent breach, and in ten minutes the lower line was ours.

For some time before this period, the firing from the garrison had ceased, but they were making ample preparations, for they knew what was coming, and on the instant of the explosion they opened from all their defences with great and small arms, directing some heavy guns from the castle on Lord Wellington’s party: several shot and shell went amongst them, but without accident.

Nothing could exceed the brilliant conduct of the 24thRegiment, commanded by Captain Hedderwick. This battalion, in two bodies, entered the breach now made and a smaller one on its left at the same moment, in the most energetic manner, without firing a shot, and the enemy fled to the second line. From former failures the interest excited by the taking of these works was very great, and it was hoped that now the siege would be brought to a favourable termination.

Our loss included some valuable officers: amongst the rest Colonel Jones, our best engineer, badly wounded – an incalculable loss at this period. We had now only left of that department, Colonel Burgoyne, Lieutenants Reid and Pitts, with four sappers and miners; Major Thompson, of the 74th, and Lieutenant Neville, of the 30th, Assistant Engineers, who had seen service as such at Badajoz; and heavy artillery under Colonel Dickson, there was none of any importance to carry on such a siege against the formidable batteries and means opposed to us. A lodgement was formed before the captured breach, notwithstanding the heavy fire and the skill of General Dubréton and his garrison: they incessantly rolled live shells upon us from the second line, which incommoded our working party greatly.

It was now nearly night; the 24th had been relieved by a detachment of the Highland brigade [79th foot], when the French sortied with considerable vigour drove our working party before them, and upset the gabions and sandbags of our lodgement. At this time Lieutenant Pitts and Neville greatly exerted themselves, and with their Highland comrades, at length succeeded in driving the enemy back, but not before the latter officer fell severely wounded, having had a personal contest with two French soldiers, and a narrow escape from being covered with earth by their working party. He had the good fortune to find Lieutenant Pitts close enough to grasp his foot and make himself known, when he was carried to his quarters by a serjeant of the 79th, to whom in gratitude he offered his watch, but the serjeant declined it: on inquiry it was found that the latter was killed a few nights after in an unsuccessful attempt on the second line, along with his intrepid officer, the much- lamented Major the Honourable C. Cocks, of the same regiment, who had devoted himself to conquer or perish. This casualty leaves the 79th without a field-officer, Major Lawrie having been killed in the first attack on this place.

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