The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIX. Vittoria.
General Clausel fell back as Wellington advanced to Burgos, and the British laid siege to the castle of that place. Like all Wellington's sieges this was commenced with a wholly insufficient train of artillery, and without the time necessary to carry out regular siege operations. A considerable portion of the army were posted so as to watch Clausel. The place was badly fortified, but the French under Governor Dubreton defended themselves with immense skill and courage, the English assaults were repulsed, successful sorties were made by the garrison, and at last, after the failure of the fourth assault, the siege was given up, and the allied armies turned their faces once more towards Portugal.
It was time; the operations in the south upon which Wellington had relied to keep at least a portion of the French forces engaged, had failed signally, and the French generals were bringing up their troops from all parts of Spain, and General Souham, having under him Generals Clausel, Maucune, and Foy, with a force far superior to that of the British, advanced to give battle. Then Wellington, whose Anglo-Portuguese troops were much weakened by sickness, fell back rapidly, sending orders to General Hill, who commanded the troops left behind in Madrid, to evacuate that city, and to fall back and unite with him on the Tormes.
It was only by some masterly maneuvering and some stiff fighting at Venta de Pozo, on the Carrion, and on the Huebra, that Wellington drew off his army to Ciudad Rodrigo.
During the retreat the British suffered very severely, and the discipline of the army became greatly impaired, so much so that Lord Wellington issued a general order rebuking the army, saying that "discipline had deteriorated during the campaign in a greater degree than he had ever witnessed or read of in any army, and this without any unusual privation or hardship, or any long marches."
The number of stragglers may be imagined by the fact that the loss of the allied army was upwards of nine thousand, of whom not more than two thousand were killed and wounded at Burgos, and in the combats during the retreat. This number includes the Spanish as well as the Anglo-Portuguese loss.
It was the beginning of December when the allied army reached their winter quarters around Ciudad Rodrigo. It was fortunate that the season of the year, and the necessity which the French had to refill their magazines, and collect food, gave breathing time and rest to the British. Although strengthened by his junction with Hill, and by the arrival of reinforcements from the coast, Wellington was not in a position to have made a stand against such a force as the French could have brought against him.
Tom and Peter Scudamore had rejoined the army at the hottest part of the siege of Burgos, and had taken up their work at once. Lord Wellington heard from Tom a brief account of what had taken place, and said a few kind words expressive of his pleasure at their both having escaped from so great a peril, and, grave and preoccupied as he was with the position of his army, he yet laughed at the account of the scare Sam had given the guerillas. Among their friends nothing was talked of for a day or two but their adventure. The times were stirring, however, and one event rapidly drove out another. Sam became a greater favorite than ever among the officers of the staff, while the orderlies were never tired of hearing how he pretty nearly frightened a band of guerillas to death by pretending to be the evil one in person.
The next four months were passed in preparations for the grand attack with which Wellington confidently hoped to drive the French out of Spain. The news of the defeat of Napoleon in Russia had cheered the hearts of the enemies of France, and excited them to make a great effort to strike a decisive blow. The French army was weakened by the withdrawal of several corps to strengthen the armies which Napoleon was raising for his campaign in Germany, and British gold had been so freely spent, that the Portuguese army was now in a really efficient state; a portion of the Spanish army had been handed over to Wellington, and were now in a far more trustworthy condition than they had been heretofore, while the whole of the north of Spain was in a state of insurrection, which the French, in spite of all their efforts, were unable to repress.
The invasion was delayed until the end of May, in order that the crops might be in a fit state for the subsistence of the cavalry and baggage animals; but in the last week in that month all was ready, and, in several columns, the allied army poured into Spain nearly a hundred thousand strong. The French, ignorant alike of Wellington's intentions and preparations, were in no position to stem effectually this mighty wave of war, and were driven headlong before it, with many fierce skirmishes, until their scattered forces were, for the most part, united on the Ebro.
Here Joseph occupied a strong position, which he thought to hold until the whole of his troops could come up; but Wellington made a detour, swept round his right, and the French fell back in haste, and took up their position in the basin of Vittoria, where all the stores and baggage which had been carried off as the army retreated from Madrid, Valladolid, Burgos, and other towns, were collected. At Vittoria were gathered the Court, and an enormous mass of fugitives, as all the Spaniards who had adhered to the cause of Joseph had, with their wives and families, accompanied the French in their retreat. Hence the accumulation of baggage animals, and carts, of stores of all descriptions, of magazines, of food and artillery, of helpless, frightened people, was enormous, and, for the retreat of the army in case of defeat, there was but one good road, already encumbered with baggage and fugitives!
This terrible accumulation arose partly from the fault of Joseph, who was wholly unequal to the supreme command in an emergency like the present. Confused and bewildered by the urgency of the danger, he had hesitated, wavered, and lost precious time. By resistance at any of the rivers, which Wellington had passed unopposed, he might easily have gained a few days, and thus have allowed time for the great mass of fugitives to reach the French frontier, and for Foy and Clausel, each of whom were within a day's march upon the day of the battle, to have arrived with a reinforcement of 20,000 good fighting men. Instead of this, he had suffered himself to be outflanked day after day, and his army forced into retreat, without an effort at resistance--a course of action irritating and disheartening to all troops, but especially to the French, who, admirable in attack, are easily dispirited, and are ill suited to defensive warfare.
The position which he had now chosen for the battle, on which his kingdom was to be staked, was badly selected for the action. The front was, indeed, covered by the river Zadora, but this was crossed by seven available bridges, none of which had been broken down, while there was but the one good line of retreat, and this, besides being already encumbered with baggage-wagons, could be easily turned by the allies. The French army, weakened by 5000 men, who had marched upon the preceding days, in charge of convoys for France, were still about 70,000 strong, the allies--British, Portuguese, and Spanish--about 80,000. The French were the strongest in artillery.
Wellington, seeing that Joseph had determined to stand at bay, made his arrangements for the battle. On the left, Graham, with 20,000 men, was to attempt to cross the Zadora at Gamara Mayor, when he would find himself on the main road, behind Vittoria, and so cut the French line of retreat. Hill, with a like force, was to attack on the right, through the defile of Puebla, and so, entering the basin of Vittoria, to threaten the French right, and obtain possession of the bridge of Nanclares. In the center, Wellington himself, with 30,000 troops, would force the four bridges in front of the French center, and attack their main position.
At daybreak on the 21st of June, 1813, the weather being rainy with some mist, the troops moved from their quarters on the Bayas, passed in columns over the bridges in front, and slowly approached the Zadora. About ten o'clock, Hill seized the village of Puebla, and commenced the passage of the defile, while one of the Portuguese battalions scaled the heights above. Here the French met them, and a fierce fight ensued; the French were reinforced on their side, while the 71st Regiment and a battalion of light infantry joined the Portuguese.
Villette's division was sent from the French center to join the fray, while Hill sent up reinforcements. While the fight on the heights still raged, the troops in the defile made their way through, and, driving the French back, won the village of Subijano de Alava, in front of the French main position.
Meanwhile, far to the left, Graham came into action with Reille's division at Gamara Mayor. The French here, knowing the vital importance of the position, fought desperately, and the village of Gamara was taken and retaken several times, but no effort upon the part of the allies sufficed to carry either the bridge at this place or that by which the main road crossed the river higher up. A force, however, was pushed still farther to the left, and there took up a position on the road at Durana, drove back a Franco-Spanish force which occupied it, and thus effectively cut the main line of retreat to France for Joseph's army. The main force under Wellington himself was later in coming into action, the various columns being delayed by the difficulties of making their way through the defiles.
While waiting, however, for the third and seventh divisions, which were the last to arrive, a peasant informed Wellington that the bridge of Tres Puentes was unbroken and unguarded. Kempt's brigade of the light division were immediately ordered to cross, and, being concealed by the inequalities of the ground, they reached it and passed over unobserved, taking their place under shelter of a crest within a few hundred yards of the French main line of battle, and actually in rear of his advanced posts.
Some French cavalry now advanced, but no attack was made upon this isolated body of British troops, for the French were virtually without a commander.
Joseph, finding his flank menaced by the movements of Graham and Hill, now ordered the army to fall back to a crest two miles in the rear, but at this moment the third and seventh divisions advanced at a run towards the bridge of Mendoza, the French artillery opened upon them, the British guns replied, a heavy musketry fire broke out on both sides, and the battle commenced in earnest. Now the advantage gained by the passage of Kempt's brigade became manifest, for the riflemen of his division advanced and took the French advanced cavalry and artillery in flank. These, thus unexpectedly attacked, fell back hastily, and a brigade of the third division took advantage of the moment and crossed the bridge of Mendoza. The other brigade forded the river a little higher up, the seventh division and Vandeleur's brigade of the light division followed, Hill pushed the enemy farther back, and the fourth division crossed by the bridge of Nanclares; other troops forded the river, and the battle became general all along the line.
Seeing that the hill in front of Arinez was nearly denuded of troops by the withdrawal of Villette's division earlier in the day to oppose Hill, Wellington launched Picton with the third division and Kempt's brigade against it, and the French, thus attacked with great strength and fury, and dispirited by the order to retreat, began to fall back. Fifty pieces of artillery and a cloud of skirmishers covered the movement, and the British guns answering, the whole basin became filled with a heavy smoke, under cover of which the French retired to the heights in front of Gomecha, upon which their reserves were posted. Picton and Kempt carried the village of Arinez with the bayonet, Vandeleur captured the village of Margarita, and the 87th Regiment won that of Hermandad.
This advance turned the flank of the French troops near Subijana de Alava, and of those on the Puebla mountain, and both fell back in disorder for two miles, until they made a junction with the main body of their army. Still the British troops pressed forward, the French again fell back, and for six miles a running fight of musketry and artillery was kept up, the ground being very broken, and preventing the concerted action of large bodies of troops. At six o'clock in the afternoon the French stood at bay on the last heights before Vittoria, upon which stood the villages of Ali and Armentia. Behind them was the plain upon which the city stood, and beyond the city thousands of carriages, animals, and non-combatants, women, and children, were crowded together in the extremity of terror as the British shots rang menacingly over their heads.
The French here defended themselves desperately, and for a while the allied advance was checked by the terrible fire of shot and shell. Then the fourth division with a rush carried a hill on the left, and the French again commenced their retreat. Joseph, finding the great road absolutely blocked up, gave orders for a retreat by the road to Salvatierra, and the army, leaving the town of Vittoria on its left, moved off in a compact mass towards the indicated road. This, however, like the other, was choked with carriages. It led through a swamp, and had deep ditches on each side; the artillery, therefore, had to cut their traces and leave their guns behind them, the infantry and cavalry thrust aside the encumbrances and continued their march. Reille, who had defended the upper bridges nobly until the last moment, now came up, and his division acting as a rear guard, covered the retreat, and the French retired with little further loss.
They had lost the battle solely and entirely from the utter incapacity of their general, for their loss had been but little greater than that of the allies, and they fell back in perfect order and full of fighting. The French loss, including prisoners, was not more than 6000, and that of the allies exceeded 5000. The French loss, however, in material was enormous. They carried off two guns only, and 143 fell into the hands of the British. They lost all their parks of ammunition, all their baggage, all their stores, all their treasures, all their booty. Last of all, they lost Spain.
The British pursued the French army for some days, and then invested the two fortresses of San Sebastian and Pampeluna.
Ten days after the battle of Vittoria, Napoleon despatched Soult, one of the best of his generals, to displace Joseph and assume the supreme command of the French troops. Traveling with great speed, he reached the frontier upon the 11th of July and took command. He soon collected together the divisions which had retired beaten but not routed from Vittoria, drew together the troops from Bayonne and the surrounding towns, and in a few days found himself at the head of an army, including the garrisons, of 114,000 men. Besides these there were the armies of Aragon and Catalonia, numbering 60,000 men.
After spending a few days in organizing the army, Soult moved forward to relieve Pampeluna, and then in the heart of the Pyrenees were fought those desperate combats at Maya, Roncevalles, Buenza, Sauroren, and Dona Maria, which are known in history as the battles of the Pyrenees. In these terrible nine days' fighting there were ten serious combats, in which the allies lost 7300 men, the French, including prisoners, over 15,000, and Soult fell back baffled and beaten across the frontier.
Throughout this account of the short and sanguinary campaign by which in two short months Wellington shattered the power of the French and drove them headlong from the Peninsula, but little has been said respecting the doings of the Scudamores. Their duties had been heavy, but devoid of any personal achievements or events. Wellington, the incarnation of activity himself, spared no one around him, and from early dawn until late at night they were on horseback, carrying orders and bringing back reports. At night their quarters were sometimes in a village hut, sometimes in a straggling chateau, which afforded accommodation to the commander-in-chief and his whole staff.
Sam, a good horseman now, was in the highest of spirits at being able to accompany his masters, and, although the Spanish women crossed themselves in horror when they first saw his black face, the boys would hear shouts of laughter arising before they had been a quarter of an hour in fresh quarters. He was a capital cook, and a wonderful hand at hunting up provisions.
There might not be a sign of a feathered creature in a village when the staff came in, but in half an hour Sam would be sure to return from foraging with a couple of fowls and his handkerchief full of eggs. These were, of course, paid for, as the orders against pillaging were of the strictest character, and the army paid, and paid handsomely for everything it ate.
It was, however, difficult to persuade the peasants that payment was intended, and they would hide everything away with vigilant care at the approach of the troops. When by the display of money they were really persuaded that payment was intended, they would produce all that they had willingly enough, but the number of officers wanting to purchase was so great and the amount of live stock so small in the war-ravaged country, that few indeed could obtain even for money anything beside the tough rations of freshly-killed beef issued by the commissariat.
Let the supply be ever so short, however, Sam never returned empty-handed, and the fowls were quickly plucked and on the fire before any one else had succeeded in discovering that there was a bird in the village.
Sam's foraging powers passed into a joke with the staff, and the Scudamores became so curious to discover the reason of his success, that after repeated questioning they persuaded him to tell them.
"Well, massa, de matter berry simple--just easy as fallin' off log. Sam go along, look into yard ob de cottages, presently see feather here, feather there. Dat sign ob fowl. Den knock at door. Woman open always, gib little squeak when she see dis gentleman's colored face. Den she say, 'What you want? Dis house full. Quarter-master take him up for three, four officer.' Den Sam say, 'Illustrious madam, me want to buy two fowls and eggs for master,' and Sam show money in hand. Den she hesitate a little, and not believe Sam mean to pay. Den she say, 'No fowls here.' Den Sam point to de feathers. Den she get in rage and tell lie and say, 'Dem birds all stole yesterday.' Den Sam see it time to talk to de birds--he know dem shut up somewhere in de dark, and Sam he begin to crow berry loud; Sam berry good at dat. He crow for all de world like de cock. Dis wake dem up, and a minute one, two, three, half a dozen cock begin to answer eider from a loft ober house, or from shed, or from somewhere. Den de woman in terrible fright, she say, 'Me sell you two quick, if you will go away and swear you tell no one.' Den Sam swear. Den she run away, come back wid de fowls and some eggs, and always berry much astonished when Sam pay for dem. After dat she lose her fear, she see me pay, and she sells de chickens to oders when they come till all gone. Dat how dis chile manage de affairs, Massa Tom."
The Scudamores had a hearty laugh, and were well pleased to find that Sam's method was one to which not even the strictest disciplinarian could object, a matter concerning which they had previously had grave doubts.
While the battles of the Pyrenees were being fought, the siege of St. Sebastian had continued, and once again the British troops had suffered a terrible loss, from the attempt to carry a fortress with an insufficient siege-train, and without the time necessary to drive the trenches forward in regular form. St. Sebastian stood upon a peninsula. In front of the neck of this peninsula was the hill of San Bartholomeo, on which stood the convent of that name. At the narrowest part of the neck stood a redoubt, which was called the Cask Redoubt, because it was constructed of casks filled with stand. Behind this came the horn-work and other fortifications. Then came the town, while at the end of the peninsula rose a steep rock, called Mount Orgullo, on which stood the citadel. Upon its left side this neck of land was separated from the mainland by the River Urumea; and upon the heights of Mount Olia and the Chofres, across the Urumea, were placed the British batteries, which breached the fortifications facing the river.
General Graham commanded the allied forces, which were detached to undertake the siege, and on the 10th of July batteries were commenced against the convent of San Bartholomeo, which had been fortified by the French. On the 17th the convent was in ruins, and an assault was made upon the position. The 9th Regiment took the place in gallant style, but an attempt being made to carry the cask redoubt, with a rush, the assault was repulsed, the British remaining possessors of San Bartholomeo.
On the 24th the batteries on Mount Olia, having effected what was believed to be a practicable breach, 2000 men of the fifth division, consisting of the 3d battalion of the Royals, the 38th, and the 9th, made an assault at night. To arrive at the breach they had to make their way along the slippery rocks on the bed of the Urumea, exposed to a flank-fire from the river-wall of the town. The breachers had been isolated from the town, and guns placed to take the stormers in flank. The confusion and slaughter were terrible, and at daybreak the survivors fell back, with a loss of forty-nine officers and 520 men.
The whole arrangement of the siege was bad. The plan of Major Smith, of the engineers, a most excellent officer, which had been approved by Wellington, was not followed, and the assault, contrary to Wellington's explicit order, took place at night, instead of by day, the consequence being confusion, delay, and defeat. The total loss to the allies of this first siege of St. Sebastian was 1300 men.
Neither of the Scudamores were present at the first siege, but both witnessed the second assault, of the 31st of August, as Wellington himself was present on the 30th, to see to the execution of the preparation for attack, and they obtained leave to remain for the next day to witness the assault. The siege had been resumed on the 5th of that month, and on the 23d the batteries had opened fire in earnest, and immense damage was done to the defenses and garrison. But upon this occasion, as upon the former one, the proper precautions were not taken; no lodgment had been effected in the horn-work, and, worst of all, the blockade had been so negligently conducted by the fleet, that large bodies of fresh troops, guns, and ammunition had been passed in, and the defense was even stronger than it had been when the first assault was delivered.
General Graham took up his position on the heights of the Chofres to view the assault, and the Scudamores stationed themselves near him. A dense mist hid the fortress from view, and it was not until eight o'clock that the batteries were able to open. Then for three hours they poured a storm of shot and shell upon the defences. The Scudamores sat down in one of the trenches, where they were a little sheltered from the blazing heat of the sun, and Sam took his place at a short distance from them.
As the clock struck eleven the fire slackened, and at that moment Sam exclaimed, "Grolly, Massa Tom, dere dey go." As he spoke Robinson's brigade poured out from the trenches, and, passing through the openings in the sea-wall, began to form on the beach.
It was known that the French had mined the angle of the wall overhanging the beach, and a sergeant, followed by twelve men, dashed gallantly forward to try to cut the train leading to the mine. He was unsuccessful, but the suddenness of the rush startled the French, who at once fired the mine, which exploded, destroying the brave sergeant and his party, and thirty of the leading men of the column, but not doing a tithe of the damage which it would have inflicted had the column been fairly under it.
"Hurrah! dere dey go," Sam exclaimed as the column clambered over the ruins and pursued its way unchecked along the beach. They had, however, to make their way under a storm of fire.
The French, as before, lined the wall, and poured a tremendous musketry fire into their flank, and the batteries of Mount Orgullo and St. Elmo plied them with shot and shell, while two pieces of cannon on the cavalier and one on the horn-work raked them with grape.
Still the column neither halted nor faltered, but dashed, like a wave, up the breach. When, however, they reached the top they could go no farther. A deep gulf separated them from the town, while from every loop-hole and wall behind, the French musketry swept the breach. The troops could not advance and would not retreat, but sullenly stood their ground, heaping the breach with their dead. Fresh bodies of men came up, and each time a crowd of brave men mounted the breach, only to sink down beneath the storm of fire.
"This is awful, horrible, Tom!" Peter said in a choked voice. "Come away, I can't look at this slaughter, it is a thousand times worse than any battle."
Tom made no reply, his own eyes were dim with tears, and he rose to go, taking one more look at the deadly breach, at whose foot the survivors of the last attempt had sunk down, and whence the mass of soldiers were keeping up a musketry fire against the guns and unseen foes who were sweeping them away, when an officer ran up from General Graham's side, and in a minute fifty guns from the Chofres batteries opened a storm of fire upon the curtain and the traverses behind the breach.
It was a terrible trial to the nerves of the assaulting columns when this terrific fire was poured upon a spot only twenty feet above them; but they were not men to shrink, and the men of the light division seized the opportunity to pull up the broken masonry and make a breastwork, known in military terms as a lodgment.
For half an hour the iron storm poured overhead unchecked, smashing the traverse, knocking down the loop-holed walls, and killing numbers of the defenders. Then it ceased, and the troops leapt to their feet, and again rushed up the breach, while the 13th Portuguese Regiment, followed by a detachment of the 24th, waded across the Urumea under a heavy fire from the castle, and attacked the third breach.
But still no entry could be effected. The French fire was as heavy as ever, and the stormers again sank baffled to the foot of the great breach. The assault seemed hopeless, the tide was rising, the reserves were all engaged, and the men had done all that the most desperate courage could do. For five hours the battle had raged, when, just as all appeared lost, one of those circumstances occurred which upset all calculations and decide the fate of battles.
Behind the traverses the French had accumulated a great store of powder barrels, shells, and other combustibles. Just at this moment these caught fire. A bright flame wrapped the whole wall, followed by a succession of loud explosions; hundreds of French grenadiers were destroyed, and before the smoke had cleared away, the British burst like a flood through the first traverse.
Although bewildered by this sudden disaster, the French rallied, and fought desperately; but the British, desperate with the long agony of the last five hours, would not be denied; the light division penetrated on the left, the Portuguese on the right. The French, still resisting obstinately, were driven through the town to the line of defense at the foot of Mount Orgullo, and the town of St. Sebastian was won.
"Will you go across, Peter, and enter the town?"
"No, no, Tom; the sight of that horrible breach is enough for me. Let us mount, and ride off at once. I am quite sick after this awful suspense."
It was as well that the Scudamores did not enter the town, as, had they done so, they might have shared the fate of several other officers, who were shot down while trying to stop the troops in their wild excesses. No more disgraceful atrocities were ever committed by the most barbarous nations of antiquity than those which disgraced the British name at the storming of St. Sebastian. Shameful, monstrous as had been the conduct of the troops at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and at Badajos, it was infinitely worse at St. Sebastian. As Rapin says, hell seemed to have broken loose.
The castle held out until the 9th, when it surrendered, and the governor and his heroic garrison marched out with the honors of war. The British loss in the second siege exceeded 2500 men and officers.
There was a pause of two months after the fall of St. Sebastian, and it was not until the 10th of November that Wellington hurled his forces against the lines which, in imitation of those of Torres Vedras, Soult had formed and fortified on the river Nivelle to withstand the invasion of France. After a few hours' desperate fighting the French were turned out of their position with a loss of killed, wounded, and prisoners, of 4265 men and officers, the loss of the allies being 2694.
Now the army of invasion poured into France. The French people, disheartened by Napoleon's misfortunes in Germany, and by the long and mighty sacrifices which they had for years been compelled to make, in order to enable Napoleon to carry out his gigantic wars, showed but slight hostility to the invaders.
Wellington enforced the severest discipline, paid for everything required for the troops, hanging marauders without mercy, and, finding that it was impossible to keep the Spanish troops in order, he sent the whole Spanish contingent, 20,000 strong, back across the Pyrenees.
He then with the Anglo-Portuguese army moved on towards Bayonne, and took up a position on both sides of the river Nive, driving the French from their position on the right bank on December 9th. On the 13th, however, Soult attacked that portion of the army on the right of the river, and one of the most desperate conflicts of the war took place, known as the battle of St. Pierre. General Hill commanded at this battle, and with 14,000 Anglo-Portuguese, with 14 guns, repulsed the furious and repeated attacks of 16,000 French, with 22 guns.
In five days' fighting on the river the French lost more than as many thousand men.
The weather now for a time interrupted operations, but Wellington was preparing for the passage of the Adour. Soult guarded the passages of the river above Bayonne, and never dreamed that an attempt would be made to bridge so wide and rough a river as is the Adour below the town. With the assistance of the sailors of the fleet the great enterprise was accomplished on the 13th of February, and leaving General Hope to contain the force in the entrenched camp at Bayonne, Wellington marched the rest of the army to the Gave.
Behind this river Soult had massed his army. The British crossed by pontoon bridges, and before the operation was concluded, and the troops united, Soult fell upon them near Orthes.
At first the French had the best of the fight, driving back both wings of the allied forces, but Wellington threw the third and sixth divisions upon the left flank of the attacking column and sent the 52nd Regiment to make a detour through a marsh and fall upon their other flank. Taken suddenly between two fires the French wavered, the British pressed forward again, and the French fell back fighting obstinately, and in good order. The allies lost 2300 men, and the French 4000. Soult fell back towards Toulouse, laying Bordeaux open to the British.