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Letters written by Ensign John Hamilton, 2nd Line Battalion King’s German Legion to his wife.

He joined the 2nd Battalion as an Ensign on 26 July 1812 and became a lieutenant on 17 August 1813. He served in the peninsula from 1813-14 and at Waterloo. He died on the 24th November 1871 aged 84 and was buried in Brompton cemetery.


To Mrs Hamilton

The Crescent, Weymouth, Dorset, England


[Fuente]Guinaldo 31 January 1813


My Dear Wife,

The greatest pleasure I can possibly enjoy I now feel my dear love, in the opportunity of communicating with you, and I am only fearful lest you should imagine any neglect from my silence. Believe me it is not until this moment that I have been able to write with any probability of my letter reaching England from Lisbon. This letter will accompany Lord Wellington’s despatches and you will pay no foreign postage by this conveyance. I also write to [Hawkins?]. I fervently hope your health is better, than when I left Weymouth and that my father is recovered. I feel the most painful anxiety respecting you, as for myself, I am perfectly well. Indeed, in my health I was never better in my life.

We arrived here with the regiment on the 27th and nothing can exceed the kindness and generosity with which I have been treated by the officers of the regiment, indeed I may say our reception was truly brotherly. Very different description of men from those which were at the depot at Bexhill; the regiment is here in tolerably comfortable cantonments about 3 leagues from Viseu. We are towards the Douro, and from this spot, all to the banks of that river, the different divisions are stationed and General Hill’s picquets to proceed even to Salamanca. We expect to remain here till March or perhaps late April. Of any news from the French in the neighbourhood of Salamanca we have but little, indeed what will surprise you much is that we gain our intelligence from the English newspapers. It must be recollected that the outmost posts of our army are near 80 miles from this, with very little communication, and Lord Wellington is secret, but I believe the French have made no movements of consequence.

We hope everything from Russia. The army at present have many sick at Coimbra, a place through which we passed in our route. There were upwards of 5,000 sick and the deaths some day had reached to 22 and were seldom less than 12, this is the immediate consequence of the disastrous retreat from Burgos and in addition to which it is computed that more than 6,000 stragglers of the British and Portuguese were made prisoners. The British army at present, by every calculation is not so effective as it was during the last campaign. We had rather a long route from Lisbon to this, 22 day. I walked the whole way and destroyed nearly 3 pairs of boots, the roads were rugged, very in some parts and it was almost continually wet. Some parts of the country through which we passed, presented the most delightful appearances of beauty and natural fertility, particularly in the neighbourhood of Coimbra and Leiria. We passed through olive gardens several miles in extent and through extensive vineyards. But at other places the country is wild, mountainous and rugged beyond description. We ascended the mountain Bussaco and slept on the very piece of ground where Lord Wellington repulsed the French when they attempted to storm his position on his retreat after the Battle of Talavera.  General Symmonds[1] and many others were taken prisoners.

All the way from Lisbon till you arrive at Coimbra, present most shocking and melancholy traces of the outrages committed by the French Massena in this retreat. Whole towns completely destroyed, with scarcely a roof to be seen. Villa Franca, Leiria, Pombal, Guinaldo, were completely burned to the ground and the Convent of Batahlia, one of the most noble gothic structures in the world, was destroyed in the same manner. We slept one night under some of the arcades. General Oswald[2] has gone home on leave and does not return till March, I have no opportunity of presenting Mr H’s letters to him, but every purpose will be answered when he comes out. There are a few things Which I should be happy to receive out by him and I think my father will have the goodness to procure them for me, by that time. I shall have great occasion for them, and I find they are not to be procured here, 6 pairs of worsted socks, 3 pairs of boots, to be made short and buckle round with straps, 3 pairs of gloves, and some red cloth and trimmings for a regimental jacket. Tell my father I shall be grateful to him to procure these for me. I have enclosed the address of the man who made my boots in London and I have written to him also. You may add some thread worsted, needles and 3 bars of hard English soap, Mrs P will forward the both to me, by General Oswald.

I have endeavoured my love to give you all the news here, I am afraid it will not prove very interesting farther than your good feelings as coming from myself. When General Oswald comes out, I shall endeavour to get some detached appointment and should I succeed, I shall make every arrangement for you to join me, with that degree of happiness and pleasure, such a happy occasion would confer.

I entreat of you my dear wife to take care of your health and write to me immediately, not having heard from England since my departure. I am particularly anxious to hear of the state of your health and of my father’s, to whom I beg my most affectionate respects and remembrances.

At present with us it is extremely cold, as much so as with you in England, the ice is thick and the houses are not by any means calculated to keep out the cold, they have no glass in their windows, nothing but window shutters, which you must open for light, of course it lets in the cold as well. This is the plane of all the muddling houses, we have neither fire nor chimneys, except a little fire of wood in the kitchen and to a man not unaccustomed, it is unbearable the smoke. We console ourselves, the warm weather is not far distant.

Adieu my dear wife, may heaven preserve your health and that every possible happiness attend you, is the ardent prayer and wish of your ever faithful and attached husband. John Hamilton.

Ensign Hamilton

2nd Line Battalion KGL

British Army Portugal

[1] Actually French General Simon, who was wounded and captured at Bussaco.

[2] Major General John Oswald returned in March 1813 and resumed command of the 5th Division.

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