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ly to stop the fugitives in their flight, and partly to check a body of the enemy, which, at this moment, appeared upon the main road; and I must say, that our troopers executed both of these orders with great effect. Every man whom they met, no matter whether an English or a Portuguese soldier, they drove back, beating him with the flats of their swords over the head and shoulders; and then, suddenly rushing past a projecting copse, which concealed their motions, they spread death and dismay among the French infantry. But we had not much time given to watch the operations of others. We were ourselves in line in a moment, and advancing to the charge.
It was a tremendous and an overwhelming rush. The enemy stood nobly, and fought with desperate resolution, but we bore them back, as I have seen one bull borne back by another, into the wood. And then, again, began the same ceaseless roar of musket ry which had sounded in our ears last evening; whilst four or five pieces of cannon sent showers of grape and cannister amongst us, which, but for the shelter afforded by the trees, must have swept us all into eternity.
As soon as we were fairly in the wood, our compact order was, in spite of every effort, lost, We fought, how ever, with the same spirit as before, in detached parties, and pressed the enemy on all hands, who became as much divided as ourselves,-till not only was the ground recovered which had at first been lost, but we were considerably in advance of our original position. Nor was it practicable, even then, to check the ardour of the men. As fast as the enemy retired, our soldiers pushed on, till, at length, we found ourselves on the margin of a little lake, round the extremity of which the French were flying in great confusion. Such a sight added fuel to the fire of our eagerness; and we pursued in a state of little less confusion than that which prevailed among the fugitives.
We had already reached the farther end of the lake, and were in hot and heedless chase of a couple of fieldpieces, when a cry was suddenly raised of "The cavalry! The cavalry!" Several troops of French dragoons were advancing. Their horses were already in speed, there was no time to collect or form a square; so we threw our
selves as we best could into compact circles, and stood to receive them.→→→→ They came on with the noise of thun der; one circle wavered-some of the men abandoned their ranks-the cavalry rode through it in an instant. That in which I was stood more firm. We permitted them to approach, tiil the breasts of the horses almost touched our bayonets, when a close and welldirected volley was poured in, and numbers fell beneath it. But we knew that we had no business to remain where we were. Having, therefore, repelled this charge, we slowly retraced our steps, the cavalry hovering around us as we retired, till we had gained, once more, the shelter of the wood, and were safe from further molestation. There we stood fast, till a bugle sounding the recall, warned us to retire still farther, and we again united ourselves with the rest of the brigade.
The attack upon our post being thus defeated, we were commanded to lie down in a ditch, for the purpose of sheltering ourselves against a heavy cannonade with which the enemy still entertained us. A couple of brigades were, at the same time, marched towards the right, to support the light division, which had been very sorely pressed in its position at Arcanques. The French column had come on at a moment, when a regiment of Cacadores, which held the church, were in the act of cleaning their rifles, and hence one-half of the troops were virtually unarmed. But, though driven through the village and gardens, our people maintained themselves in the church, and the rising ground on which it stood; nor did the French succeed in making any lasting impression on that point. The loss, however, had, on our part, been so great, and the enemy still continued his exertions with so much ardour, that it was deemed requisite to send fresh regiments to relieve those which had been so long engaged; and hence five or six battalions were withdrawn from our rear, and the post which they had hitherto assisted in maintaining was left entire ly to our protection.
Whether it was the intention of Soult to cause this movement, or whe ther he only hoped to avail himself of it, as soon as it had been made, I know not; but just as the bayonets of our detached troops began to glitter in the wood behind Arcanques, another most
determined charge was made upon the corps in our immediate front. This corps was not only weak in point of numbers, but was absolutely worn out with hard fighting and want of food. It gave way almost immediately. Again the French were upon us; again we were hotly engaged, and, as it appear ed to me, with a still denser and more numerous division than any which had yet attacked us. The wood and the mayor's house were now both of them carried-the French came on with loud shouts and great courage-our Portuguese allies fairly fled the field-one or two British regiments were overpowered; and even we, whose ranks had hitherto been preserved, began to waver, when Lord Wellington himself rode up. The effect was electrical.
You must keep your ground, my lads," cried he; "there is nothing behind you.-Charge! Charge!" Instantly a shout was raised. Many fugitives, who had lost their own corps, threw themselves into line upon our flank; we poured in but one volley, and then rushed in with the bayonet. The enemy would not stand it; their ranks were broken, and they fled in absolute confusion. We followed with
out giving them a moment to recover from their panic; and having suffered hardly any loss in killed and wounded, we once more took possession of the chateau and the thicket. This was the last effort on either side, darkness ha ving already set in; and hence we found ourselves, for the second time, at the close of a day of carnage and fatigue, occupying exactly the spot of ground which we had occupied when that day began. The same wild and outlandish tumult ensued; men of all countries bawling and hollowing to each other, and the same arrangements of lighting fires, and lying down to sleep around them, were entered into by the weary combatants. The corps to which I belonged was, indeed, turned about a quarter of a mile to the right, where the charge of the outposts was committed to it; and those who had hitherto kept them being called in, were permitted to repose more securely in the rear. But with this exception, everything which had been done during the night before was repeated; and such as were not actually employed on picquet, slept soundly beside their watch-fires.
FROM an unwillingness to interrupt my narrative of the sanguinary operations of this day, I have omitted to notice an event, perhaps more important in its general consequences, than even the successful resistance of one British corps to the attack of almost the whole French army. The reader will, no doubt, recollect, that at the period of time respecting which I am now writing, the various states of Germany which had lain so long under the French yoke, were beginning once more to assert their independence, many, indeed, had taken up arms against the common enemy. The battle of Leipsic had been fought; the Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved; Holland and the Netherlands were, in a great measure, restored to their legitimate sovereign, and all in rear of the allied line, extending from Hunengen to the Low Countries, was free. Attached to the army of Marshal Soult were several brigades of German and Dutch troops, from whom the intelligence of the real state of their respective countries could not be concealed. Of these, about four
thousand men, through the instrumentality of their commanding officers, had for some time back been in secret communication with Lord Wellington. All, indeed, which was wanting to withdraw them from the ranks of the enemy was a convenient opportunity to desert; and against this the French general appeared studiously to strive. One brigade he had already sent to the rear on suspicion, and he had thrown out various hints that the rest must speedily follow; nor can it be doubted that these hints would have been acted upon, but for the events of the three last days. The extreme fatigue of his French battalions compelled him to assign the advanced station, this morning, to a corps of Germans, who had no sooner taken up their ground, than they proposed to carry into execution a plan which their officers had long matured. Collecting their baggage, and carrying with them their arms, ammunition, and accoutrements, they marched in regular order within our lines, and were instantly shipped, as they had previously desired, for their own country. Thus,
independently of his loss in killed and wounded, which, on the most moderate computation, could not amount to less, during the late operations, than four thousand men, Soult found his army weakened by the desertion of fif teen hundred or two thousand veteran soldiers.
The Germans had taken up the ground in our immediate front soon after dark on the evening of the 10th; but they were not prepared to abandon the cause of Napoleon at the instant. Messengers were, however, sent in, that night, to prepare our general for what was to take place on the morrow, and so to hinder the deserting column from being fired on by our outposts. All was fully arranged. Just before the Portuguese brigade advanced, the advance of which brought on the renewal of hostilities, the German corps began its march; and it was welcomed with cheers by its new allies, who were under arms to receive it. To us it was truly an animating spectacle, and it, doubtless, caused not only annoyance and rage, but alarm and despondency among the ranks of the enemy. But to return to my own personal narrative.
The night of the 11th was spent, as that of the 10th had been spent, round our fires, and in the open air. A supply of beef, biscuit, and rum had, however, been issued out, and the former being broiled over the coals, a substantial supper effectually recruited the strength of those who were really beginning to faint from absolute inanition. Thus, the grog being passed round, and pipes and segars lighted, we lay not down to sleep, till many a rude joke had been bandied about, and many a merry catch chanted. Not that we were altogether insensible to more grave and melancholy feelings. Our ranks were a good deal thinned of our beloved companions many had fallen; and I speak truly when I say, that we lamented their fall, even in the midst of our mirth. But a state of warfare is productive, and necessarily productive, of more consummate selfishness than any other situation into which man is liable to be thrown; and hence, except some bosom friend have perished, as Graham was to me, and I to him, it must be confessed that soldiers think less of the dead than of the living. Each man, indeed, is (shall I own it?) too happy to find himself unscathed, to
waste many fruitless expressions of sorrow upon those whose fate has been different.
The dawn of the 12th found us, as the dawn of the preceding day had done, under arms. Just before day broke, the battalions, leaving two companies to act as skirmishers, fell back to the rear of a thin hedge-row, for the purpose of keeping an open stubble field in its front, in case the enemy should attack. By this means we hoped to throw in our fire with the better effect, as they moved along this coverless ground, whilst a clear space lying before us, our charge, which must of course follow, would be the more decisive. But the enemy gave us no opportunity of carrying these plans into execution.
The French army was still before us in immense numbers; but it remained perfectly quiet. Hour after hour elapsed without any movement being made on either side, till about eight in the morning his column, which occupied the main road, began to retrograde. An English officer of artillery seeing this, as if determined that the retreat should not be altogether bloodless, fired the two guns which he commanded, I believe, without any orders being given. Whether these shots irritated the Marshal, or whether he was anxious to deceive us into a belief of fresh hostilities on his side, I know not; but they were immediately answered. The column halted, faced about, and made a show of advancing. The picquets came on, and a good deal of skirmishing ensued; but no decided attack was made, though enough was done to keep our attention awake. About noon, however, even this firing ceased, and a sort of pause in hostilities ensued.
Let me take advantage of this pause, to describe the relative positions of the two armies, as far, at least, as my circumscribed opportunities enabled me to judge of them.
The extreme left of the British, and consequently the extreme right of the French army, rested upon the sea. Between the high road and the sea, however, lay a small lake, measuring perhaps a mile in circumference, the ground beyond which was so rugged and so inclosed, that only a few companies were left to guard it. On it no military operations took place. Perhaps, then, I may speak more intelligibly if I say, that the left of our army,
and the right of that of the enemy, rested upon the lake. The main road, which was one key of our position, ran along the summit of the high bank above the lake. It was winding, but as nearly level as high roads generally are. To defend it, a battery of three guns had been thrown up a little way to the left, where an inclination of the lake permitted; and where the whole of a long sweep was completely commanded. On the right of the road, again, was the mayor's house, with its out-buildings, gardens, and thick plantations; for the possession of which so much blood had been shed. So far, however, the ground was perfectly even; that is to say, neither the French nor we possessed the advantage of an acclivity; nor could either side boast of superior cover from wood. But about musket-shot from the mayor's house, the case was different, and the general face of the country underwent a change.
In the quarter of which I have last spoken, and where, indeed, my own corps was this morning stationed, the French and English divisions were separated from one another by a ravine. The ground occupied by the enemy was, perhaps, higher than that on which we stood; but then on our side we were better supplied with thickets; and had the contrary been the case, there was ascent sufficient to give a decided advantage to the defenders over the assailants. In both lines one or two farm-houses stood conveniently enough, as posts of defence; and, on the side of the enemy, a wilderness of furze-bushes covered the face of the hill.
This ravine, after running in a straight direction about three or four hundred yards, wound inwards upon the French hill, so as to place the church of Arcanques rather in front of our station, than the contrary. That building stocd, however, upon a detached eminence. It was completely surrounded by ravines, except in the rear, where it sloped gradually down into a woody plain. Beyond Arcanques, it was not possible for me to make any accurate observations; but as far as I could judge, the country appeared flat, with the same sort of inequalities occurring in it, as those already described. There was, however, a great deal of wood scattered here and there, whilst several villages, some in the possession of the French, and others in our possession, could be
descried. On the whole, neither position could be pronounced greatly superior in natural strength to the other; nor, perhaps, would ours at least, have caught an eye less acute in these matters, than his who selected it for his winter line.
I have said, that a good deal of unconnected firing having been kept up till about noon, a solemn pause ensued throughout the whole line. Not that Marshal Soult had yet resigned all hope of forcing our left, and so gaining the command of the road by which our supplies were brought up; but he appeared satisfied that absolute force would not secure his object, and hence he betook himself to manœuvring. Of the various changes of ground which now took place among the different divisions of both armies, it is vain for me to attempt any minute description. What I myself beheld, however, may be repeated; though it will convey but a feeble idea of the magnificent operations of these two mighty gamesters.
We had stood, or rather lain, quietly behind a hedge about half an hour, when the arrival of a group of horsemen, on the brow of the French hill, attracted our attention. It was Soult and his staff. The Marshal dismounting, leant his telescope over the saddle of his horse, and swept our line. While he was thus employed, Lord Wellington, followed by about twenty aides-de-camp and orderlies, rode up. The glass of our General was instantly turned upon his adversary, and the two commanders-in-chief gazed at each other for several seconds. Now a mounted Frenchman rode to the rear of his group at full speed; whilst Lord Wellington flew, as fast as his horse could gallop, towards Arcanques; and for about a quarter of an hour all was still.
Soult had departed in the same direction with Lord Wellington; and we were wondering what was to follow, when the head of a French column suddenly showed itself on the high ground opposite to Arcanques. An attack was of course expected,-but no such thing. As if the two columns had agreed to reach their ground at the same instant, the enemy had hardly appeared, when the wood, in rear of Arcanques, glittered with the bayonets of the seventh division. Again Soult showed himself on the ridge opposite, but a good deal farther to the right, gazing, as if with deep anxiety,
upon the advance of these troops. His plan was anticipated, and his newlyformed column melted gradually away. "Where next?" thought I; but no great time was spent in wondering. The same, or another mass, speedily crowned the hill opposite; and at the same moment, two or three brigades of fresh troops were in our rear. Once more the enemy withdrew. Thus the whole hours of light were spent, the heads of columns appearing and disappearing, at different points; and both armies were guided as the pieces upon a chess-board are guided, when two skilful and tolerably equal players are opposed. Darkness, at length, beginning to set in, an end was put to the manoeuvring, and we again made preparations to spend the night as comfortably as circumstances would per
It fell to my lot this evening to mount picquet. As soon as the night had fairly commenced, I put myself at the head of the body of men which was assigned to me; and moved down to the bottom of the ravine which I have already mentioned, as dividing the two armies. There our watch-fire was lighted; where the main-body of the picquet took its ground; whilst the sentinels were posted a little on the rise of the opposite hill. The French, on the other hand, stationed their outposts on the summit, and placed their sentries opposite to ours, at a distance of perhaps thirty paces. Thus, each man was at the mercy of the other; but both English and French sentinels were too well trained in the school of modern warfare, to dream of violating the sanctity which is happily thrown around them,
It will readily be imagined that this was to me a night of peculiarly high excitement. My friend Graham was with me, so the time passed cheerfully enough, but it was wholly sleepless. We took it by turns to visit our sentinels every half hour, who again were relieved, as sentinels generally are, each at the expiration of a twohours' watch; and thus, by going our rounds, and examining the state of the men previous to their proceeding to their posts, all inclination to repose was dispelled. The privates, indeed, on whose shoulders no responsibility rested, lay down, with their fire-locks beside them, and slept; but we sat by our fire, smoking and conversing, whenever an opportunity of sitting was
granted. All, however, passed quietly off. Except the voices of our own and the enemy's sentries, who challenged us as we approached, no sound could be heard in the front; nor did any event occur worthy of notice, till midnight had long past.
It might be, perhaps, about two in the morning of the 13th, when a sen tinel, whose post I visited, informed me, that he had heard a more than usual stir in the French lines about ten minutes before; and had seen a bluelight thrown up. "Have any reliefs taken place among them lately?" said I.-"Yes, sir," replied the soldier;
a relief has just gone now."-" We must reconnoitre," rejoined I; and so saying, I stooped down, and, in a creeping attitude, approached the ene my's videttes. One stood directly be fore me. Though it was very dark, I could distinguish his cap, and firelock; so I crept back again, satisfied that all was quiet.
In half an hour after I visited the same man. "Has anything occurred since?" asked I. "No, sir," was the answer; "all is perfectly quiet." Repeating my experiment, I found the French sentinel still stationary, and I was again satisfied. The same thing occurred at each successive visitation, till about four in the morning. At that hour, my own sentinel stated that he had heard no relief since he came on duty, neither had the man who was behind heard any. Upon this, I returned to consult with Graham; when it was agreed between us that a patrol should go forward and ascertain at once how matters sood. Taking with me four men, I again crept up the hill. The vidette was still there; we approached, he continued silent and motionless. We ran up to him,-it was a bush, with a soldier's cap placed upon the top of it, and a musket leaning against it. The enemy were gone. Not a vestige of them remained, except their fires, on which a quantity of fuel had lately been heaped. Of course, we transmitted to the rear, without delay, intelligence of all that had occurred; when a general recognizance being made along the front of the whole left, it was found that Soult had withdrawn, and that he had carried off with him, not only his artillery and baggage, but all his wounded. We gave him ample credit for the adroitness with which his retreat had been conducted.