The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVI. Salamanca.
The great triumphs of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos did not lead to the rapid successes which Wellington had hoped. The French generals, on hearing of the loss of the latter fortress, again fell back, and Wellington was so much hampered by shortness of money, by the inefficiency, obstinacy, and intrigues of the Portuguese Government, and by want of transport, that it was nearly three months before he could get everything in readiness for an advance into Spain. At last all was prepared, and on the 13th of June the army once more crossed the Agueda and marched towards the Tamar in four columns. On the 17th it was within six miles of Salamanca, and Marshal Marmont, unable for the moment to stem the tide of invasion, evacuated the city, which that evening blazed with illuminations, the people being half wild with joy at their approaching deliverance. The French, however, had not entirely departed, for eight hundred men still held some very strong forts overlooking and guarding the city.
These forts held out desperately; the British battering train was weak, and upon the 23d Marmont, having received considerable reinforcements, advanced to raise the siege. Wellington, however, refused to be tempted to leave his trenches to deliver a general battle, but faced the enemy with a portion of his army while he continued the siege.
Marmont, upon his part, believing that the forts could hold out for fifteen days, put off the attack, as he knew that large reinforcements were coming up. His calculations were frustrated by one of the forts taking fire on the 27th, when an assault was delivered, and the whole of the forts surrendered; Marmont at once fell back across the Douro, there to await the arrival of his reinforcements.
Wellington, on his part, followed slowly, and his army took up a position between Canizal and Castrejon, thereby covering the roads from Toro and Tordesillas, the only points at which the French could cross the river. The reports of the spies all agreed that the former was the place at which the crossing would be made.
On the 16th of July an officer rode into Canizal, at headlong pace, with the news that a reconnoitering party had crossed the Douro that morning near Tordesillas, and had found that place deserted, except by a garrison; and an hour later the news came in that three divisions of the enemy were already across the river at Toro. Five minutes later the Scudamores were on horseback, carrying orders that the whole of the army, with the exception of the fourth and light divisions, which were on the Trabancos, under General Cotton, were to concentrate at Canizal that night. By the morning the movement was accomplished.
The day wore on in somewhat anxious expectation, and towards afternoon Wellington, accompanied by Lord Beresford, and escorted by Alten's, Bock's and Le Marchant's brigades of cavalry, started to make a reconnaissance of the enemy's movements. Caution was needed for the advance, as it was quite uncertain whether the French were pushing on through the open country towards Canizal, or whether they were following the direct road from Toro to Salamanca. Evening closed in, but no signs of the French army were seen, and the party halted about six miles from Toro, and small parties of cavalry were despatched right and left to scour the country, and find out where the enemy had gone.
"It's very strange where the French can have got to," was the remark made, for the fiftieth time among the staff.
The detached parties returned, bringing no news whatever, and Lord Wellington again advanced slowly and cautiously towards Toro. Small parties were pushed on ahead, and presently an officer rode back with the news that he had been as far as the river, and that not a Frenchman was to be seen. It was too late to do any more, and they remained in uncertainty whether the enemy had recrossed the river after making a demonstration, or whether they had marched to their right, so as to make a circuit, and throw themselves between Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca, upon the line of communication of the British army.
Lord Wellington, with his staff, took possession of a deserted farm-house, the cavalry picketed their horses round it, and the Scudamores, who had been more than twenty-four hours in the saddle, wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and stretching themselves on the floor, were soon asleep. Just at midnight the sound of a horse's footfall approaching at a gallop was heard, and an officer, who had ridden, without drawing rein, from Canizal, dashed up to the farm.
Five minutes later the whole party were in the saddle again. The news was important, indeed. Marmont had drawn his whole army back across the Toro on the night of the 16th, had marched to Tordesillas, crossed there, and in the afternoon, after a march of fifty miles, had fallen upon Cotton's outposts, and driven them across the Trabancos.
Not a moment's time was lost by Wellington after he received the news; but, unfortunately, six precious hours had already been wasted, owing to the despatches not having reached him at Canizal. With the three brigades of cavalry he set off at once towards Alaejos, while an officer was despatched to Canizal, to order the fifth division to march with all speed to Torrecilla de la Orden, six miles in the rear of Cotton's position at Castrejon.
Four hours' riding brought them to Alaejos, where a halt for two or three hours was ordered, to rest the weary horses and men. Soon after daybreak, however, all thought of sleep was banished by the roar of artillery, which told that Marmont was pressing hard upon Cotton's troops. "To horse!" was the cry, and Lords Wellington and Beresford, with their staff, rode off at full speed towards the scene of action, with the cavalry following hard upon their heels. An hour's ride brought them to the ground. Not much could be seen, for the country was undulating and bare, like the Brighton Downs, and each depression was full of the white morning mist, which wreathed and tossed fantastically from the effects of the discharges of firearms, the movements of masses of men, and the charges of cavalry hidden within it. Upon a crest near at hand were a couple of British guns, with a small escort of horse.
Suddenly, from the mist below, a party of some fifty French horsemen dashed out and made for the guns. The supporting squadron, surprised by the suddenness of the attack, broke and fled; the French followed hard upon them, and just as Lord Wellington, with his staff, gained the crest, pursuers and pursued came upon them, and in pell-mell confusion the whole were borne down to the bottom of the hill. For a few minutes it was a wild melee. Lords Wellington, Beresford, and their staff, with their swords drawn, were in the midst of the fight, and friends and foes were mingled together, when the leading squadrons of the cavalry from Alaejos came thundering down, and very few of the Frenchmen who had made that gallant charge escaped to tell the tale.
The mists were now rapidly clearing up, and in a short time the whole French army could be seen advancing. They moved towards the British left, and Wellington ordered the troops at once to retire. The British fell back in three columns, and marched for the Guarena, through Torrecilla de la Orden. The French also marched straight for the river, and now one of the most singular sights ever presented in warfare was to be seen.
The hostile armies were marching abreast, the columns being but a few hundred yards apart, the officers on either side waving their hands to each other. For ten miles the armies thus pressed forward the officers urging the men, and these straining every nerve to get first to the river. From time to time the artillery of either side, finding a convenient elevation, would pour a few volleys of grape into the opposing columns, but the position of the two armies, did not often admit of this. Gradually Cotton's men, fresher than the French, who had, in the two previous days, marched fifty miles, gained ground, and, reaching the river, marched across by the ford, the winners of the great race by so little that one division, which halted for a moment to drink, was swept by forty pieces of French artillery, which arrived on the spot almost simultaneously with it.
On the Guarena the British found the remaining divisions of the army, which had been brought up from Canizal. These checked Marmont in an attempt to cross at Vallesa, while the 29th and 40th Regiments, with a desperate bayonet charge, drove Carier's French division back as it attempted to push forward beyond Castrillo. Thus the two armies faced each other on the Guarena, and Marmont had gained absolutely nothing by his false movement at Toro, and his long and skillful detour by Tordesillas.
Quickly the rest of the day passed, as did the one which followed, the troops on both sides resting after their fatigues. Wellington expected to be attacked on the next morning and his army was arranged in two lines ready for the combat. At daybreak, however, Marmont moved his army up the river, crossed at a ford there, and marched straight for Salamanca, thus turning Wellington's right, and threatening his communications. The British at once fell back, and the scene of the previous day was repeated the armies marching along the crest of two parallel hills within musket shot distance of each other.
This time however, the French troops, although they had marched considerably farther than the English proved themselves the best marchers, and when night fell Wellington had the mortification of seeing them in possession of the ford of Huerta on the Tormes, thus securing for Marmont the junction with an army which was approaching under King Joseph, and also the option of either fighting or refusing battle. Wellington felt his position seriously threatened, and sent off a despatch to the Spanish General Castanos, stating his inability to hold his ground, and the probability that he should be obliged to fall back upon Portugal. This letter proved the cause of the victory of Salamanca for it was intercepted by the French, and Marmont, fearing that Wellington would escape him, prepared at once to throw himself upon the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, and thus cut the British line of retreat, in spite of the positive order which he had received from King Joseph not to fight until he himself arrived with his army.
Upon the 21st both armies crossed the Tormes, the French at Alba and Huerta, the British at Aldea Lengua, and San Marta. Upon that day the news reached Wellington that General Chauvel, with 2000 cavalry, and 20 guns, would reach Marmont on the evening of the 22d, or the morning of the 23d, and the English general therefore resolved to retreat, unless Marmont should, by some mistake, give him a chance of fighting to advantage.
Close to the British right, and the French left, were two steep and rugged hills, called the Hermanitos, or Brothers, and soon after daybreak on the 22d, the French seized upon the one nearest to them, while the British took possession of the other. Then, watching each other, the two armies remained until noon, for Wellington could not commence his retreat by daylight; but a long cloud of dust along the road to Ciudad Rodrigo showed that the baggage of the army was already en route for Portugal. Marmont now determined to make a bold stroke to cut off Wellington's retreat, and, although all his troops had not yet arrived, he ordered Maucune, with two divisions, to march round by the left and menace the Ciudad road. It was at three o'clock in the afternoon, and Wellington, who had been up all night, thinking that Marmont would make no move that day, had gone to lie down for an hour or two, when Tom Scudamore who, from an elevated point, was watching the movements of the enemy, hurried in with the news that the French were pushing their left round towards the Ciudad Road.
Wellington leaped to his feet, and hurried to the high ground, where he beheld, with stern satisfaction, that Marmont, in his eagerness to prevent the British escape, had committed the flagrant error of detaching his wing from his main body. Instantly he issued orders for an attack, and the great mass of men upon the British Hermanito moved down upon the plain to attack Maucune in flank, while the third division was ordered to throw itself across his line of march, and to attack him in front. As the advance across the plain would be taken in flank by the fire from the French Hermanito, General Pack was ordered to assail that position directly the British line had passed it.
Marmont, standing on the French Hermanito, was thunder-struck at beholding the plain suddenly covered with enemies, and a tremendous fire was at once opened upon the advancing British. Officer after officer was despatched to hurry up the French troops still upon the march, and when Marmont saw the third division dash across Maucune's path, he was upon the point of hurrying himself to the spot, when a shell burst close to him, and he was dashed to the earth with a broken arm, and two deep wounds in his side.
Thus, at the critical point of the battle, the French army was left without a head.
It was just five o'clock when Pakenham, with the third division, fell like a thunderbolt upon the head of Maucune's troops. These, taken by surprise by this attack, on the part of an enemy whom they had thought to see in full flight, yet fought gallantly, and strove to gain time to open out into order of battle. Bearing onwards, however, with irresistible force, the third division broke the head of the column, and drove it back upon its supports. Meanwhile, the battle raged all along the line; in the plain the fourth division carried the village of Arapiles, and drove back Bonnet's division with the bayonet, and the fifth division attacked Maucune's command in flank, while Pakenham was destroying its front.
Marmont was succeeded in his command by Bonnet, who was also wounded, and Clausel, an able general, took the command. He reinforced Maucune with his own divisions, which had just arrived, and, for a while, restored the battle. Then, past the right and left of Pakenham's division, the British cavalry, under Le Marchant, Anson, and D'Urban, burst through the smoke and dust, rode down twelve hundred of the French infantry, and then dashed on at the line behind. Nobly the charge was pressed, the third division following at a run, and the charge ceased not until the French left was entirely broken and five guns, and two thousand prisoners taken.
But forty minutes had passed since the first gun was fired, and the French defeat was already all but irretrievable, and the third, fourth, and fifth divisions now in line, swept forward as to assured victory. Clausel, however, proved equal to the emergency. He reinforced Bonnet's division with that of Fereij, as yet fresh and unbroken, and, at the same moment, Sarrut's and Brennier's divisions issued from the forest, and formed in the line of battle. Behind them the broken troops of Maucune's two divisions re-formed, and the battle was renewed with terrible force.
Pack, at the same moment, attempted unsuccessfully to carry the French Hermanito by assault with his Portuguese division, and the fate of the battle was again in the balance; the British divisions outnumbered, and outflanked, began to fall back, Generals Cole, Leith, and Spry, were all wounded, and the French cavalry threatened the flank of the line. Wellington, however, had still plenty of reserves in hand, and at this critical moment he launched them at the enemy. The sixth division was brought up from the second line, and hurled at the center of the enemy in a fierce and prolonged charge, while the light and first divisions were directed against the French divisions which were descending from the French Hermanito, and against that of Foy, while the seventh division and the Spaniards were brought up behind the first line. Against so tremendous an assault as this the French could make no stand, and were pushed back in ever increasing disorder to the edge of the forest, where Foy's and Maucune's divisions stood at bay, and covered their retreat in the fast gathering darkness.
Wellington believed that he should capture a great portion of the beaten army, for he relied upon the Castle of Alba de Formes, commanding the ford at that place, being held by the Spaniards, but these had evacuated the place on the preceding day, and had not even informed Wellington that they had done so.
Thus, hidden by the night, the French retreated with but slight loss from the pursuing columns. In the battle the French had forty-two thousand men and seventy-four guns; the Allies forty-six thousand and sixty guns, but of the infantry a division were composed of Spaniards, and these could not be relied upon in any way. It was probably the most rapidly fought action ever known, and a French officer described it as the defeat of forty thousand men in forty minutes. The French loss was over twelve thousand in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and so completely were they dispersed that Clausel a week afterwards could only collect twenty thousand to their standards. It was a great victory, and celebrated as the first which Wellington had gained over the French, for although at Talavera and Busaco he had repulsed the French attack, he was not in either case in a position to do more than hold his ground.
Throughout this short and desperate fight the Scudamores had been fully engaged in conveying orders from one part of the field to another. Shot and shell flew around them in all directions, and yet when they met at the end of the action they found that they had escaped without a scratch. The day following the battle the pursuit began. Had King Joseph's advancing army united with Clausel's broken troops, he could have opposed Wellington's advance with a force far superior in numbers to that defeated at Salamanca. But Joseph, after hesitating, fell back in one direction, Clausel retreated in another, the opportunity for concentration was lost, and Wellington found no foe to bar his way on his triumphant march upon Madrid.
Joseph fell back from the capital as the English approached, leaving some thousands of men in the strong place known as the Retiro, together with an immense amount of arms, ammunition, and military stores of all kinds, all of which, including the troops, fell into the hands of the English within a few days of their arrival at Madrid.
It was a proud moment for the Scudamores, as riding behind Lord Wellington they entered Madrid on the 14th August.
The city was half mad with joy. Crowds lined the streets, while every window and balcony along the route was filled with ladies, who waved their scarves, clapped their hands, and showered flowers upon the heads of their deliverers. Those below, haggard and half-starved, for the distress in Madrid was intense, thronged round the general's horse, a shouting, weeping throng, kissing his cloak, his horse, any portion of his equipments which they could touch. Altogether it was one of the most glorious, most moving, most enthusiastic welcomes ever offered to a general.
The next fortnight was spent in a round of fetes, bull fights, and balls, succeeding each other rapidly, but these rejoicings were but a thin veil over the distress which was general throughout the town. The people were starving, and many deaths occurred daily from hunger. The British could do but little to relieve the suffering which they saw around them, for they themselves were--owing to the utter breakdown of all the arrangements undertaken by the Portuguese government, and to the indecision and incapacity of the Home Government--badly fed, and much in arrears of their pay. Nevertheless, the officers did what they could, got up soup kitchens, and fed daily many hundreds of starving wretches.
The heat was excessive and a very great deal of illness took place among the troops. The French were gathering strength in the South, and Wellington determined upon marching north and seizing Burgos, an important place, but poorly fortified. Leaving General Hill with two divisions at Madrid, he marched with the rest of the army upon Burgos.