The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter VII. The Passage of the Duoro--Talavera.
Very severe was the drill and discipline, and not very abundant was the food, and there was a general feeling of pleasure when, by the general concentration of the army at Coimbra, it was evident that active operations were about to commence. On the 5th of May 9000 Portuguese, 3000 Germans, and 13,000 British troops were assembled. Sir Arthur was already there, and upon the 6th General Beresford marched with 10,000 men, and orders were issued for the rest of the army to march out early the next day.
The Norfolk Rangers were in high glee that night, and many were the tales told by the old soldiers of former engagements in which they had taken part. Next morning, at daybreak, the tents were struck, the baggage packed, and the wagons loaded. The people of Coimbra came out in crowds to see the troops march, and many were the blessings and good wishes poured out as the long line wound through the streets of the city.
Hill's division was the last, and the rain was pouring down with great force by the time they started. The march, however, was not a very long one, for Beresford's division, which was to operate upon the Upper Duoro, had a long distance to make, and it was necessary that all should be ready for simultaneous action. For this purpose the army halted the next day, and upon the 9th marched to Aveiro on the River Vonga. Here a large flotilla of boats was found, and the Norfolk Rangers with two other regiments were ordered to embark at once. The Portuguese fishermen entered heart and soul into the business, and in perfect silence the little flats were rowed up the lake of Ovar.
The soldiers were greatly crowded in the boats, and were glad, indeed, when just as morning dawned they landed at the town of Ovar.
By this movement they were placed upon the right flank of Francheschi, the general who commanded the advanced division of the French army. Soon after they had landed the French were attacked in front, and finding their flank turned, and the whole British force, which they had believed to be seven days' march away, in their front, they fell back hastily.
To their great disappointment, the Rangers took no share in this the first skirmish of the war. But Hill's orders were not to press on the enemy's rear. Three days more of marching and skirmishing brought them close to the Duoro on the evening of the 11th. The enemy crossed that evening and destroyed the bridge, and during the night the British troops were all brought up, and massed behind the hill called the Serra. This hill stood upon a sharp elbow which the river makes just above the town of Oporto, and the British were here completely hidden from Marshal Soult, who had no idea that they were so close at hand. Indeed, knowing that the bridge was broken and that all the boats had been carefully taken over to that side of the river, the Marshal dreamt not that Sir Arthur would attempt to cross, but imagined that he would take boats lower down near the mouth of the river and there endeavor to cross. To prevent such an attempt Soult had massed his army below Oporto.
The troops were ordered to pile arms, and eat their breakfast, but to keep in position. "I wonder how we are to cross the river, Tom?" Peter said. "It is three hundred yards across, with a rapid current, no man in the world could swim that, and carry his musket and ammunition across."
"I expect Sir Arthur is reconnoitering, Peter; I saw him go up the hill to that convent there; he must be able to see from there right over Oporto."
An hour passed, and then two or three officers were seen coming down from the hill; one went up to General Hill, who happened at that moment to be talking to Colonel Tritton. "You are to prepare to cross, sir, Colonel Waters has discovered a small boat brought across by a Portuguese in the night. They are going to cross to that great convent you see upon the other side. They will bring back boats with them, and you will cross at once, take possession of the convent, and hold it against any force that may be brought against you until reinforcements arrive."
Very quickly were the orders passed, and with a smile of satisfaction the men took their arms and fell in. They were moved near the river, and kept under shelter of some houses.
"Keep near me," Colonel Tritton said to Tom and Peter, "I may want you to carry messages, there will be no sounding of bugles to-day."
Keeping under the shade of some trees so that they could command a view of the river without being seen from the opposite side, Colonel Tritton with two of his officers and his two buglers, watched what was going on. A few paces ahead of them were Generals Paget and Hill, like themselves, watching the daring experiment. Behind, under shelter of the houses, were the troops in dense masses. The Rangers, as the first regiment in General Hill's division, were in front, and would naturally be the first to cross. It was a most anxious moment, as Colonel Waters and two Portuguese pushed the tiny boat from shore and pulled across stream. The bulk of the Serra Hill hid the river at this point, and even the convent opposite, from the sight of the French army formed up below the town, but there were no doubt stragglers all over the city, and the whole baggage of the French army was in retreat by the road to Valarga which ran at a short distance behind the convent.
Most anxiously their eyes were strained upon the opposite bank, from which they expected to see the flash of musketry, as the little boat neared the convent. All, however, was as still as death. Behind them they heard a rumble, and looking round saw eighteen guns on their way up the hill. From this eminence they could command the ground around the Seminary, as the convent across the water was called, and thus afford some aid to the troops as they crossed.
There was a murmur of satisfaction as the boat neared the opposite shore, and after lying still for a moment to reconnoiter the convent, pulled boldly up to the landing-place, where its occupants disembarked and entered the Seminary. Their absence was not long. In a few minutes they reappeared with eight or ten men, and then at once entered and cast off three large boats moored along side.
The boys could hardly repress a cheer as they saw them fairly under weigh. An officer now left the side of the General, and came to Colonel Tritton, "You will get your first company in readiness to embark, sir; do not let them show themselves until the last moment."
Colonel Tritton joined his men. "Captain Manley, take your company forward, when the first boat touches the shore embark. Let there be no noise or confusion."
"God bless you, Peter," Tom said, as they separated; "your company won't be many minutes after us;" for the bugler of the first company was ill, and Tom was ordered to take his place.
As the boat touched the shore Captain Manley ordered the leading files of his company to come from under cover and take their place in the boat. Twenty-four men entered, and when the other boats were also full Captain Manley took his place, followed by his bugler, and the boats pushed off again.
There was a dead silence in the boat, broken only by the sound of the oars as the Portuguese tugged manfully at them, each oar being double-banked by a soldier. The rest sat with their muskets in their hands, their pouches open ready for use, and their eyes fixed upon the shore. All was quiet, and with a sigh of relief, and a hearty hurrah muttered under their breath, the men leapt from the boat and ran up to the Seminary.
It was a large building with a flat roof, and the enclosure around it was surrounded by a high wall which swept round to the water's edge on either side. The only entrance was through a stout gate studded with iron. This was already closed and barred; the captain at once distributed his men at the upper windows of the Seminary, with orders not to show themselves until the alarm was given.
They had scarcely taken their places when they were joined by the occupants of the second boat, while those of the third, in which General Paget himself crossed, were but a minute or two later. Just as they touched the shore, however, there was a sudden shout heard, this was followed by others, and in five minutes a wild hubbub was heard in the town. Drums beat to arms, and it was evident that the enemy were at last awake to the fact that the British had effected a lodgment upon their side of the stream.
"We shall have it hot presently," Captain Manley said to Tom. "They will be a quarter of an hour before they can get round here, and we shall have the three boats back by that time. The one we came in is half-way across already."
Seven or eight minutes later a heavy column of men was seen pouring out of the upper gate of the town. As they got into the open ground, they threw out clouds of skirmishers, and pushed down towards the convent. A heavy fire was at once opened upon them by the English guns upon the Serra Hill. There was no longer any need for concealment. The soldiers in the convent took their places at the windows, and as they did so could hear the loud hurrahs of their comrades as they crowded down to the bank upon the other side of the river to await their turn to embark. Before the enemy were within musket-shot, three boat loads more had been landed, and there were, therefore, 150 men now in the convent. From the gates of the city the French artillery came pouring out, and, taking up a position upon an eminence, opened fire upon the convent just as the infantry had got within musket-range.
So suddenly did the noise of the enemy's cannonade, the crashing of the balls against the thick walls of the Seminary, the rattle of the enemy's musketry, and the louder roar of the muskets of the defenders, blended on both sides with shouts and cheers, break out, that for a minute or two Tom felt almost bewildered. He had no time, however, to think, for an officer came up to Captain Manley. "The general is up on the roof; he wants a bugler sent up to him."
Captain Manley nodded to Tom, who followed the aide-de-camp on to the roof. Here he could see all that was passing, and an exciting sight it was. Crowds of French soldiers were approaching the wall, keeping up a tremendous musketry fire, whilst behind them three batteries of field-guns were sending their messengers of death. From every upper window of the convent the answering flashes came thick and fast, while overhead hummed the shot from the British guns, on the Serra Hill. Oporto itself was in a state of uproar. Drums were beating, trumpets sounding, bells clanging, while from the house-tops the population, men and women, were waving their handkerchiefs to the English, gesticulating and making all sorts of pantomimic expression of joy.
Looking at the river behind, Tom saw with pleasure that some more boats had been obtained, and that strong reinforcements would soon be across. The whistling of the bullets and the hum of the round shot were incessant, and Tom acknowledged to himself that he felt horribly uncomfortable--much more uncomfortable than he had any idea that he should feel under fire. Had he been actively engaged, he would have hardly experienced this feeling; but to stand impassive under a heavy fire is trying to the nerves of the oldest soldier. He was angry with himself that he was not more indifferent to the whizzing of the balls; but the sensation of discomfort under fire is beyond the control of the will, and it is no unusual thing to see a young soldier who, later in the day, may display an almost reckless courage, yet at first flinch whenever balls hiss close by him, in spite of all his efforts to the contrary. Tom was able, however, to control any outward manifestation of his feelings, and took his place a few paces behind General Paget, who was standing with one of his officers by his side, watching the force which, momentarily increasing, was, in spite of the British fire, making its way onward towards the gate.
It was evident that the general considered the danger to be pressing, as he once or twice looked back to see how quickly the reinforcements were crossing the river. The first time that he did so, his eye fell on Tom. "Get behind those big chimneys, lad. There is no use in exposing yourself unnecessarily."
Tom obeyed the order with alacrity, and, once in shelter, was soon able to bring his nerves under control, and to look round the corner of his shelter without flinching when the bullets sang past. In five minutes General Hill joined Paget on the roof, and just as he did so the latter was severely wounded and fell.
Tom ran forward to assist him, and, kneeling beside him, partially supported him until four men came up and carried him below. The position of the little garrison was now very precarious, the artillery fire concentrated upon them was heavy, and the French swarmed up to the wall, which they in vain endeavored to climb. The English kept up a tremendous fire upon them, cheering constantly as fresh reinforcements arrived, or as the enemy was momentarily repulsed.
Tom had now lost all nervousness, and was standing eagerly watching the fight, when a ball knocked his shako off. The general happened to turn around at the moment. "That was a narrow escape," he said with a smile. "What is your name, lad?"
"Scudamore, sir," Tom answered.
"Scudamore--Scudamore. Yes, I remember the name now. You are one of the lads General Craufurd spoke to me about. I want to see you. Come to me to-morrow with your brother. Go down now and join your company; I do not want you here."
Tom gladly went down, for he longed to be doing something. He soon found his company, and, taking up a firelock of one of the men who had fallen, was soon hard at work loading and firing into the assailants. For an hour the strife continued. Fortunately General Murray had found some boats three miles higher up the stream, and had crossed, thus menacing the enemy's line of retreat. Suddenly a great pealing of bells were heard in Oporto, with shouting and cheering, and the house-tops were covered with people waving their handkerchiefs. The French were evacuating the town. The inhabitants at once took across some large barges to Villa Neva, a suburb lying across the river and just below the Serra Hill. Here Sherbrooke began to cross.
It was now the time for the English to take the offensive. There were now three battalions in the seminary, and as the French drew sullenly off to join the column now flowing steadily out from Oporto along the Valonga road, the gates were thrown open, and the English passing out formed outside the walls, and poured volley after volley into the retreating foe. Had Murray fallen upon their flank, the disaster of the French would have been complete; but this general feared that the enemy would turn upon him, and destroy his division before assistance could arrive, and he therefore remained inactive, and allowed the long column of fugitives to pass unmolested.
For the next eight days the English army followed hotly in pursuit, and several skirmishes occurred; but Soult effected a most masterly retreat, saving his army, when it seemed upon the brink of destruction, by leaving his guns and baggage behind him, and leading his men by paths over mountains supposed to be impassable for any large body of men. He lost altogether 6000 men in this short campaign. This included 3600 prisoners either captured in action or left behind in the hospitals, and 1400 killed. The number of guns left behind was fifty-eight. The English had only 300 killed and wounded.
Sir Arthur's plans for the invasion of Spain were not yet complete, and he accordingly halted his army to await supplies and reinforcements. During this time the young buglers had no opportunity of calling upon Major-General Hill. The transport supplied by the Spanish Government had failed grossly, and the troops were badly fed at a time when, taking long marches, they most required support. The first day after they halted the boys determined that they would, as soon as they were off duty, call upon General Hill. While parade was going on, however, they saw the general ride up to Colonel Tritton, and enter into conversation with him. The bugler, who was standing near, was ordered to sound the call for the officers to assemble in front; and when they did so, Colonel Tritton left the general's side and spoke a few words with them. There was a short conversation, and then the colonel rejoined the general's side, and the officers returned to their places. The colonel now rode forward to the center of the line, and said in loud tones, "Men, I have a piece of news to tell you which I think that you will be glad to hear. Upon my arrival at Lisbon I reported the gallant conduct of Tom and Peter Scudamore in rescuing one of their comrades when washed overboard in the Bay of Biscay. Captain Merivale, of the "Latona," also reported it, and General Hill, when he heard the circumstances, was also good enough to send home a report recommending them for promotion. He has received an answer from the Commander-in-Chief announcing that they are both granted commissions in this regiment as a reward for their act of distinguished gallantry. The regiment is dismissed."
As the men fell out they gave a loud and general cheer, and Tom and Peter were surrounded by their comrades, who shook them by the hand, and congratulated them upon their promotion. The boys were too much surprised and affected to speak, and they had scarcely recovered from their bewilderment, when Carruthers came up to them, and led them to the colonel. Here General Hill first, and then all the officers, warmly shook hands with them. The boys were much touched by the warmth with which they were received, and were soon hurried off to the tents of the officers. Several of the ensigns were slight young men, and they insisted upon rigging the boys out in uniform, and the boys had the less scruple in accepting the kind offer, inasmuch as they expected every day to enter Spain, when the baggage would be cut down to the smallest possible proportion, and the officers as well as the men be obliged to leave almost everything behind them. Sam was delighted at the promotion of his friends, and asked to be appointed their servant, a request which was at once acceded to. The regiment had now been three months in Spain, and the boys had continued to work hard at Spanish, devoting several hours a day to its study, and talking it whenever they could find an opportunity--no difficult matter, as Portugal was full of Spanish who had crossed the frontier to avoid the hated yoke of the French.
The delay in invading Spain was caused partly from want of transport, but more by the utter incapacity of the Spanish Junta or government, and by the arrogance and folly of Cuesta, the Spanish Commander-in-Chief, who was always proposing impracticable schemes to Wellington, and, inflated with Spanish pride and obstinacy, believed that his own worthless troops were fully a match for the French, and was jealous in the highest degree of the British general.
At last, on the 27th of June, the British army advanced. Scarcely had they made a day's march, however, when the utter faithlessness of the Spaniards became manifest. The provisions and transport promised were not forthcoming, and from the very day of their advance the British were badly fed, and indeed often not fed at all; and so great were their sufferings during the campaign--sufferings caused by the heartlessness of the people whom they had come to deliver from a foreign yoke, that the British soldiers came to cherish a deep and bitter hatred against the Spanish; and it was this intense feeling of animosity which had no little to do with the cruel excesses of the English soldiery upon the capture of Burgos and San Sebastian.
After many delays from these causes, the British army reached Oropesa upon the 20th July, and there formed a junction with Cuesta's army. Upon the 22d the allied armies moved forward, and upon the same day the Spaniards came in contact with the French, and should have inflicted a severe blow upon them, but the ignorance and timidity of the Spanish generals enabled the enemy to draw off and concentrate without loss.
The British troops had now been for many days upon half rations, and Sir Arthur gave notice to the Junta, that unless his requisitions were complied with, he should retire from Spain. Cuesta, however, believing that the French were retreating in haste, pushed his army across the river Alberche, with the vain idea of defeating them, and entering Madrid in triumph. Sir Arthur, seeing the fatal consequences which would ensue, were the Spaniards attacked alone, laid aside his previously-formed resolution, and put his army in motion across the Alberche. The position of the allied armies was now most dangerous--far more so, indeed, than the English general supposed. Badly informed by the Spanish, he greatly underrated the enemy's forces. Taking advantage of the delay caused by the want of provisions and carriage, Soult, Victor, and Ney were marching their forces from various points, and concentrating to crush the invading army. Upon the 26th the French met the Spanish army. General Zayas, who commanded the Spanish advance of 4000 infantry and 2000 cavalry, scarcely offered any resistance, his men broke and fled in disorder, and the panic would have spread to the whole Spanish army, had not General Albuquerque brought up 3000 more cavalry and held the French at bay, while Cuesta retreated in great disorder. The Spanish loss by dispersion and flight was no less than 4000 men, and the whole army would have been broken up had not General Sherbrooke advanced with his division, and placed it between the French and the flying Spaniards.
The allies now recrossed the Alberche and took up a position to cover Talavera. Sir Arthur chose a strong defensive position, as it was evident that the Spanish were worse than useless in the open field. The Spaniards were placed with their right resting upon Talavera, their left upon a mound whereon a large field-redoubt was constructed. Their front was covered by a convent, by ditches, stone walls, breastworks, and felled trees; and thus, worthless as were the troops, they could scarcely be driven from a position almost impregnable.
The line beyond the Spanish was continued by Campbell's division, next to which came that of Sherbrooke, its left extending to a steep hill. Mackenzie and Donkin had not yet fallen hack from the Alberche. Hill was in rear. The British troops, including the German legion, were 19,000 strong, with thirty guns. The Spaniards had 33,000 men and seventy guns. The Spanish contingent could, however, be in no way relied upon, and were, indeed, never seriously engaged. The real battle was between the 19,000 British troops and 50,000 French. The French attacked the British outposts with great impetuosity, and Mackenzie and Donkin were driven in with a loss of 4000 men. The latter took up his position with his brigade on the hill on Sherbrooke's left; the former took post with Campbell's division, to which he belonged. The French cavalry now galloped up towards the portion of the line held by the Spanish, and discharged their pistols at them, whereupon 10,000 Spanish infantry and the whole of their artillery broke and fled in wild confusion. For miles they continued their flight, but in the evening the Spanish cavalry were sent round in pursuit, and drove some 4000 of these cowards back to their lines. Seeing the wild confusion which was raging on the allies' right, Victor resolved, although evening was at hand, to make a sudden dash upon the hill upon their left, which, held only by Donkin's brigade, was the key of the position. The hill was very steep upon the front, or French side, while towards the rear it sloped gradually. Ruffin's division was ordered to the attack, followed by Villette in support, while Lapisse was ordered to engage the German legion, which was on the left of Sherbrooke's division.
Hill's division was lying down behind the hill when Ruffin's troops advanced to the attack. There was no expectation of an attack that evening, and the woods and increasing darkness covered the movements of the French troops. Weary and hungry, the English soldiers, disgusted at the inhuman neglect of the Spaniards, and furious at their cowardice, were chatting over the events of the day and discussing the chances, by no means bright, of the expected battle to-morrow. All that day they had had no food whatever save a small portion of grain, served out raw and unground. Tom and Peter had been chatting with the officers, who were grouped under a tree, when Sambo came up to them and beckoned them aside.
"Look here, Massa Tom, here six eggs; tree for you, tree for Massa Peter."
"Thank you, Sam, that is capital; but you know you will get into a row if you get caught taking things."
"Me no take 'em, massa. Old hen give them to me."
"How was that, Sam?"
"Well, Massa, me saw her sitting on nest. Me went up and said to her, 'Give me some eggs, old girl.' She say 'Cluck.' I says, 'Cluck means yes, I suppose?' She say 'Cluck' again. Clear 'nuff that, so me take eggs, eat tree, bring six, young massa."
"I am afraid, Sam," Tom said, laughing, "your story would hardly save you from the triangles, if you had been caught. However, as it is rude to return a present, of course you cannot take them back to the hen. I suppose they are raw?"
"Yes, massa; no good make fire; make hole bofe ends, suck 'em."
"All right, Sam; it is not the nicest way, but, under the circumstances, perhaps it is the best; at any rate, I am too hungry to wait till we can get a fire lighted."
So saying, the boys sucked the raw eggs, and then joined the men, when, just as they did so, first a dropping rifle shot, and then a perfect roar of musketry broke out upon the hill above them. It needed no order to be given. The men fell into their places and prepared to climb the hill and assist Donkin's brigade, which was evidently unable alone to resist the attack. Knapsacks were thrown off, firelocks tightly grasped, and the regiment impatiently awaited orders to advance. None were more impatient than the colonel, who after a few minutes, seeing by the fire that the English were falling back, and that the French had gained the crest of the hill, waited no longer for orders, but gave the word for the regiment to advance. They were but half way up the hill when General Hill himself galloped down to meet them, and then turning, led the way beside Colonel Tritton.
General Hill had had a narrow escape. Donkin had repulsed the French who attacked him in front, but his force was insufficient to guard the whole crest of the hill. Consequently, the enemy had come up round his flank, and were now in actual possession of the crest. General Hill, ignorant of this, had ridden with his brigade-major right into the midst of the French before he found out his mistake. His brigade-major, Fordyce, was killed, his own horse wounded, and his bridle seized by a French grenadier. He had, however, broken away, and had ridden off under a storm of bullets.
With a cheer the Norfolk Rangers followed their gallant leader. They reached the crest, poured a tremendous volley into the enemy, and charged with the bayonet. The French, of whom but a small portion had as yet gained the crest, were unable to resist the impetuous onslaught, and at once gave way.
The Rangers were now joined by the 48th and the 29th, so that these, with Donkin's brigade, formed a strong body of troops. The French, who had fallen back, now united with their main body, and the attack was renewed with all the force of Ruffin's division. The heavy mass pressed upwards, in spite of the destructive fire of the British, and were within twenty yards of the crest, when, with a hearty cheer, the English troops burst upon them with the bayonet, and the French again fell back, broken and disheartened.
This ended the fighting on the 27th of July. Long lines of bivouac fires soon blazed upon either side. The wounded were carried down the hill to the field-hospital, which had been erected under its cover, and the men, eating their scanty supper, wrapped themselves in their great coats, and were soon asleep. The officers chatted for a short time longer, but as all were tired, and the next day was sure to be a severe one, they, too, soon lay down by their fire.
When morning broke, it was seen that the enemy had massed a large force of artillery upon a hill just opposite to the one held by the English. Soon afterwards Ruffin's division, as before supported by Villette, advanced to the attack, covered by the tremendous fire from his artillery. The British had no adequate force of artillery to reply to the iron storm, and the balls swept through their lines, mowing down their ranks, and causing great loss. The regiments in reserve lay down to avoid the iron shower, while the Rangers and 48th prepared to resist the French when they came within fighting distance.
As their men approached the summit of the hill, the French artillery was obliged to cease playing in that direction, and turned its attention to the British center, while a fierce musketry contest took place between the French and Hill and Donkin's men.
The ground was rough, and the troops on both sides, broken up into small bodies, fought desperately. General Hill was wounded, and the British troops fell fast. The French, however, suffered even more, and, as Hill brought up his reserve, the English gained ground foot by foot, until they drove them again down the steep side of the hill. As the French retired, their artillery once more opened fire to cover their retreat.
A pause now ensued; the French in this brief contest had lost 1400 men, and the British had suffered severely. The French then held a council of war, and determined to attack along the whole line in force. Hours passed away; the English munched their corn, smoked their pipes, and watched the enemy scattered over the plain. The weather was very hot, and the men of both sides went down to a little stream which divided their positions, drank, and filled their water-bottles in perfect amity. Some of the officers, who spoke French conversed with the French officers, exchanged cigars for brandy, and joked and laughed as if they had been the best of friends.
At one o'clock the French drums were heard to beat, and the men were soon formed in order. Tom and Peter stood with a group of officers on the brow of the hill. Nothing could be finer than the sight. Far away the view stretched over the country, thickly wooded, and with chateau and farm-houses scatted here and there. Through the trees the dense masses of the French could be seen, as they moved in columns towards the positions from which they were to attack. Upon an eminence, nearly opposite to their position, the boys could see a long line of the French artillery. Far away, to the right, rose the churches of Talavera, while behind the hill were the British and Spanish cavalry, ready to charge should the French endeavor to turn the British left by pushing round its foot. Fifty paces from the officers of the Norfolk Rangers sat Sir Arthur Wellesley, on horseback, watching attentively through a field-glass the movements of the enemy, and at a short distance behind him were his staff. The British troops were standing in easy order, a little behind the crest of the hill, so as to be sheltered from the artillery fire with which the French were sure to cover the advance of their column of attack.
"This is a grand sight, Peter," Tom said, "but I wish they would begin; it makes one fidgety waiting for it."
Scarcely had Tom spoken when, as if in answer to his wish, a series of jets of white smoke puffed out from the opposite hill, and two or three seconds later came the thunder of eighty guns, and the whizzing sound of as many balls. Instinctively the group drew back a pace, but it was not upon them that this tremendous fire was opened. It was directed against the right of the British line, and almost at the same moment a cloud of skirmishers appeared among the trees, followed by the dark columns of Sebastiani's division.
Upon these the English guns at once opened fire; but rushing forward with their usual impetuosity, they cleared away the obstacles which had been raised across the British front, and charged with fury against the British position. Campbell's division, however, assisted by Mackenzie's brigade and two Spanish battalions, stood firm, and driving back the skirmishers, advanced in line, cheering loudly. The head of the French column withered away under their tremendous fire, and, pushing forward, they overlapped it, and drove them back with terrible loss, capturing ten guns. Then Campbell prudently recalled his men to their first position, and the British artillery, which had necessarily been silent while friend and foe were mingled together, opened furiously upon the French as they tried to re-form upon their supports. A Spanish cavalry regiment dashed down upon their flank, and they retired again in great disorder.
Every incident of the fight could be seen from the British position on the hill, and the troops almost held their breath with excitement as the British lines clashed against the head of the French column, and a loud shout of triumph burst out spontaneously as the French broke and fled.
But it was now the turn of the left. Already Villette's division, preceded by the Grenadiers and supported by Ruffin's division, was advancing, and the British cavalry were ordered to charge them. The ground was, however, quite unfit for cavalry. Colonel Arentschild, a very experienced officer, who commanded the German Hussars, drew up his regiment at the edge of a deep cleft which crossed their front, and refused to take his men to certain destruction. The 23d Dragoons, however, dashed into the ravine. Men and horses rolled over in all directions; still, they got across, and, charging furiously between the French infantry regiments, which poured in a terrible fire, fell upon a brigade of Chasseurs in their rear. Victor sent up his Polish lancers and Westphalian light horse to the assistance of the Chasseurs, who already outnumbered the 23d, and this gallant regiment was completely broken, the survivors escaping to the shelter of Bassecourt's Spanish division, which lay beyond the hill, having lost 257 men and officers.
Tom and Peter did not see this disastrous affair, for on the approach of the enemy's column they fell into their places in the ranks. It was, however, in vain that the French tried to gain the crest of the hill, their efforts at this point being indeed far more feeble than they had been either in the morning or upon the previous night. It was in the center that their great effort was made. Here Lapisse threw his division against that of Sherbrooke, and, covered by his own artillery and by the guns upon the hill, charged right up to the position. The British, however, repulsed them, and the guards, carried away by the excitement of the moment, followed them with reckless ardor. The French reserves of infantry and cavalry came up, the artillery plied the British with shot and shell, the fugitives rallied and again came to the attack, and the Guards fell back in confusion. The Germans next to them, severely pressed, began to waver, and for a time it seemed that the British, victorious upon both flanks, were yet to lose the battle by being broken in the center.
Now, however, the 48th, which Sir Arthur had ordered down from the hill when he saw the rash advance of the Guards, was seen advancing in line through the disordered masses. Wheeling back, it allowed the retreating regiments to pass through it and then again formed and fell upon the flank of the victorious French column. The French paused in their advance, the Guards and Germans rallied and came back again to the fight, the shots of the British guns plowed lines in the column, the French wavered, and, as the British light cavalry trotted up with the intention of charging them, fell back, and drew off to their first position amidst shouts of victory along the whole length of the British line.
Thus the battle ceased, each party occupying the ground it had held in the morning. The British loss in killed, wounded, and missing, in the two days' fighting, was 6200; that of the French 7400. Had the British been in a condition to have sallied from their position and pursued the retiring enemy, the victory would have had far greater results; but, exhausted and half-starved, the British were incapable of following up their advantage.
The next morning at daybreak, the French army quitted its position, and, retiring across the Alberche, formed line of battle there, and awaited the attack, should the English take the offensive. This they were in no position to do, although in the course of the day Craufurd had come up with the 43d, 52d, and 95th Regiments. These three regiments had heard of the first day's fighting from the Spanish fugitives, and had marched with all speed to the assistance of their friends. They had, carrying their kit and ammunition, weighing from 50 lb. to 60 lb., actually marched sixty-two miles in twenty-six hours in the hottest season of the year, one of the greatest feats recorded in military history.
The Rangers had suffered heavily, and in the two days' fighting had lost thirty-eight killed and 109 wounded. Among the former were two officers, while several others were wounded. The Scudamores had, fortunately, both escaped without a scratch. The inhumanity of the Spaniards was now more markedly shown than ever. Although both in Cuesta's army, and in the town of Talavera provisions were abundant, yet the inhabitants carefully concealed them, while both the wounded and fighting men of the British army were in want. So great was the misery and indignation of the soldiers at this shameful treatment, from those for whom they were doing so much, that they would willingly have attacked the Spanish army and plundered the town; and from this period to the end of the war the British hated the Spanish with a deep and bitter hatred.
Wellesley now received news that Soult had crossed the mountains through the pass of Banos, which had been left undefended by the Spanish, and was marching upon his rear. Believing that Soult had only 13,000 men with him--whereas in fact, he had 50,000--Sir Arthur left the Spanish army at Talavera in charge of the hospitals, with 6000 sick and wounded, and retraced his steps, with the intention of giving battle to this new enemy.
Upon the 3d, however, he learned the real strength of Soult's army, and upon the same day heard that General Cuesta had basely retreated from Talavera, without having provided any transport whatever, according to his promise, for the British sick and wounded. All of these who had strength to crawl rejoined the British army, but 1500, who were unable to walk, were left behind, and fell into the hands of the French, by whom they were treated with far greater kindness and attention than they had been by the Spanish. Upon the 4th Cuesta joined Sir Arthur, and at six o'clock next morning the only possible course for safety was adopted. Victor was advancing from Talavera, Soult was hurrying from Placentia to cut off the retreat of the British, and accordingly Sir Arthur fell back upon Arzobispo, on the Tagus.
The artillery, the baggage and wounded, first crossed the bridge, and at two o'clock the entire army was across. So great was the hunger of the men that a herd of swine happening to be seen close to the line of march, the soldiers ran upon them, shot and bayoneted them, and devoured them raw. Taking up a strong position, guarding the bridges of the Tagus, the British army remained quiet until the end of August. During this time they became so weakened by starvation that they could scarcely walk; a great portion of the cavalry horses, and nearly all the baggage animals died of hunger, and at last, Sir Arthur, finding that no remonstrances availed with the Junta, fell back again to the Portuguese frontier by slow marches, for the army was so utterly enfeebled that it resembled a vast body of invalids, rather than an army of unbeaten soldiers.