CAMPAIGN OF 1813: ADVANCE TO VERA.
THE night before we reached Pamplona [24 June], the enemy, rather unexpectedly to us, drove in the picquets of my Brigade in a very sharp skirmish, although we were as ever prepared, and the Division got under arms. This convinced us that the whole army, except the garrison at Pamplona, was in full retreat into France. It is a peculiar custom of the French unexpectedly to put back your picquets when they are about to retire; that is, when the ground admits no obstacle of bridge, river, or village, intervening. The object of such forward moves I have never heard satisfactorily given.
On this evening a stout French gentleman came in to our advanced post, saying he wanted to see the Duke. I took him to General Vandleur. He dined with us, and a most jawing, facetious fellow he was. At first we regarded him as a spy, which he afterwards told General Vandeleur he was, and in the employ of the Duke. He could not proceed that night, for we did not know in the least where head-quarters were, and the night was excessively dark; so the French gentleman, whom I wished at the devil, was given in charge to me. If he had any inclination to escape I defied him, for I put some of our old vigilant Riflemen around him, so that not a man could get in or out of the room I had put him in. We afterwards heard my friend was a man of great use to the Duke, and one of King Joseph’s household.
The next day [25 June] we Light Division passed Pamplona, leaving it by a very intricate road to our right, and were cantoned in the village of Offala. It was necessary to keep a look-out towards Pamplona, and my General, Vandeleur, and I rode to look where to post our picquets. I had a most athletic and active fellow with me as a guide, very talkative, and full of the battle of Vittoria. He asked me what was the name of the General before us. I said, “General Vandeleur.” I heard him muttering it over to himself several times. He then ran up to the General, and entered into conversation. The General soon called me to him, for he could not speak a word [of Spanish]. “What’s the fellow say?” “He is telling all he heard from the Frenchmen who were billeted in his house in the retreat. He is full of anecdote.” He then looked most expressively in Vandeleur’s face, and says, “Yes, they say the English fought well, but had it not been for one General Bandelo, the French would have gained the day.” “How the devi1 did this fellow know?” says Vandeleur. I never undeceived the General, and he fancies to this day his Brigade’s being sent to assist the 7th Division was the cause of the Frenchmen’s remark. My guide, just like a “cute” Irishman or American, gave me a knowing wink.
This very fellow turned out to be owner of the house my wife and baggage and I got into – the General’s Aide-de-camp, as was often the case, having shown her into one near the General. After I had dressed myself, he came to me and said, “When you dine, I have some capital wine, as much as you and your servants like; but,” he says, “come down and look at my cellar.” The fellow had been so civil, I did not like to refuse him. We descended by a stone staircase, he carrying a light. He had upon his countenance a most sinister expression. I saw something exceedingly excited him: his look became fiend-like. He and I were alone, but such confidence had we Englishmen in a Spaniard, and with the best reason, that I apprehended no personal evil. Still his appearance was very singular. When we got to the cellar-door, he opened it, and held the light so as to show the cellar; when, in a voice of thunder, and with an expression of demoniacal hatred and antipathy, pointing to the floor, he exclaimed, “There lie four of the devils who thought to subjugate Spain! I am a Navarrese. I was born free from all foreign invasion, and this right hand shall plunge this stiletto in my own heart as it did into theirs, ere I and my countrymen are subjugated!” brandishing his weapon like a demon. I see the excited patriot as I write. Horror-struck as I was, the instinct of self-preservation induced me to admire the deed exceedingly, while my very frame quivered and my blood was frozen, to see the noble science of war and the honour and chivalry of arms reduced to the practices of midnight assassins. Upon the expression of my admiration, he cooled, and while he was deliberately drawing wine for my dinner, which, however strange it may be, I drank with the gusto its flavour merited, I examined the four bodies. They were Dragoons – four athletic, healthy-looking fellows. As we ascended, he had perfectly recovered the equilibrium of his vivacity and naturally good humour. I asked him how he, single-handed, had perpetrated this deed on four armed men (for their swords were by their sides). “Oh, easily enough. I pretended to love a Frenchman” (or, in his words, ‘I was an Afrancesado’), “and I proposed, a fter giving them a good dinner, we should drink to the extermination of the English.” He then looked at me and ground his teeth. “The French rascals, they little guessed what I contemplated. Well, we got into the cellar, and drank away until I made them so drunk, they fell, and my purpose was easily, and as joyfully, effected.” He again brandished his dagger, and said, “Thus die all enemies to Spain.” Their horses were in his stable. When the French Regiment marched off he gave these to some guerrillas in the neighbourhood. It is not difficult to reconcile with truth the assertion of the historian who puts down the loss of the French army, during the Spanish war, as 400,000 men, for more men fell in this midnight manner than by the broad-day sword, or the pestilence of climate, which in Spain, in the autumn, is excessive.
The next day we marched a short distance to a beautiful village, or town, rather, – Villalba, where we halted a day, and expected to remain three or four. It was on a Sunday afternoon, and some of the recollection of the Sunday of our youth was passing across the mind of the lover of his family and his country – the very pew at church, the old peasants in the aisle ; the friendly neighbours’ happy faces ; the father, mother, brothers, sisters the joys, in short, of home, for, amidst the eventful scenes of such a life, recollection will bring the past in view, and compare the blessings of peace with the horror, oh! the cruel horror, of war! In the midst of this mental soliloquy, my dear wife exclaims, “Mi Enrique, how thoughtful you look !” I dare not tell her that my thoughts reverted to my home. Hers being a desolate waste, the subject was ever prohibited, for her vivacious mind, and her years of juvenile excitement, could never control an excess of grief if the words, “your home,” ever escaped my lips.
My reverie was soon aroused by the entrance of a soldier, without ceremony-for every one was ever welcome. “Sir, is the order come ?” “For what?” I said. “An extra allowance of wine ?” “No,” he said, “for an extra allowance of marching. We are to be off directly after these French chaps, as expects to get to France without a kick from the Light Division.” I was aware he alluded to General Clausel’s division that was retiring by the pass over the Pyrenees, called La Haca. It is most singular, but equally true, that our soldiers knew every move in contemplation long before any officer. While we were in conversation, in came the order; away went all thoughts of home, and a momentary regret on quitting so nice a quarter was banished in the excitement of the march.
In twenty minutes our Division was in full march to try and intercept Clausel’s Division. That night we marched most rapidly to Tafalla, next day to Olite, thence brought up our right shoulder towards Sanguessa. This was a night march of no ordinary character to all, particularly to me and my wife. Her Spanish horse, Tiny, was so far recovered from his lameness that she insisted on riding him. On a night-march we knew the road to be difficult. In crossing the Arragon [30 June], although the bridge was excellent, on this march by some singular accident (it was very dark and raining) an interval occurred in our column – a thing unprecedented, so particular were we, thanks to Craufurd’s instructions – and the majority of the Division, in place of crossing the bridge, passed the turn and went on a league out of the direction. My Brigade was leading. Two Battalions came all right, and I stayed more at the head of the column than was my wont, to watch the guides. So dark and intricate was the road we were moving on, I proposed to the General to form up, and see that our troops were all right. After the two first Battalions formed, I waited a short time in expectation of the next, the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. I hallooed, seeing no column, when a voice a long way off answered. It was that of the most extraordinary character, the eccentric Colonel Wade. I galloped up, and said, “Colonel, form up your Battalion, so soon as you reach the Brigade.” “By Jesus,” he said, “we are soon formed; I and my bugler are alone.” I, naturally somewhat excited, asked, “Where’s the Regiment?” “Upon my soul, and that’s what I would like to ask you.” I then saw some mistake must have happened. I galloped back in the dark to the bridge, saw no column whatever, but heard voices far beyond the bridge. The column, after passing it in the dark, had discovered the error and were coming back. Meanwhile, my wife heard me halloing and came towards me. I had dismounted, and was leading my horse a little way off the road up the left bank of the Arragon; the rain was falling in torrents, the bank of the river gave way under me, and a flash of lightning at the moment showed me I was falling into the bed of the river about thirty feet below. I had firmly hold of my bridle – the avalanche frightened my noble horse (the celebrated “Old Chap,” the hunter that James Stewart gave me); he flew round and dragged me from inevitable perdition. My wife and old West were close behind at the moment, and she witnessed the whole, equally to her horror and satisfaction. Then such a tale of woe from herself. The uneven ground at night had so lamed her dear little horse, Tiny, that he could not carry her. She got off in the rain and dark, herself still excessively lame from the broken bone in the foot, and literally crawled along, until the rocky road improved, and West again put her upon her faithful Tiny. I could devote neither time nor attention to her. Day was just beginning to break. I directed her to the bivouac, and most energetically sought to collect my Brigade, which, with the daylight, I soon effected. When I got back, I found my wife sitting, holding her umbrella over General Vandeleur (who was suffering dreadfully from rheumatism in the shoulder in which he had been wounded at the storm of Ciudad Rodrigo), recounting to him her night’s adventures and laughing heartily. The weather totally precluded any possibility of our molesting Clausel, and we were ordered to march to Sanguessa, which we did the following day, and Charlie Gore, General Kempt’s A.D.C., gave a ball [1 July], where there was as much happiness as if we were at Almack’s, and some as handsome women, the loves of girls of Sanguessa.
That night’s march was the most extraordinarything which ever occurred to our organized Light Division. We all blamed each other, but the fact is the turn of the road to the bridge was abrupt, the night dark, the road so narrow that staff-officers could not ride up and down the flank of the column; it may be regarded as an untoward event.” From Sanguessa we made rather long marches for the Valle of San Estevan, through a most beautiful country covered in a great measure with immense chestnut trees. After we had halted a day or two [7-14 July] in this valley, of which the beauty is not to be conceived, we marched on towards Vera by a road along the banks of the river Bidassoa. At Vera, the enemy had fortified a large house very strongly, and their picquets were upon its line. On our advance, we put back the enemy’s picquets, but not without a sharp skirmish, and we held the house that afternoon.
In front of the mountain of Santa Barbara was a very steep hill, which the enemy held in force, but a dense fog of the mountains prevented us seeing each other. Colonel Barnard, with the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, was sent to dislodge them [15 July]. They proved to be three or four times his numbers. His attack, however, was supported, and as he himself describes it, “I hallooed the fellows off in the fog.” We had a good many men and officers, however, severely wounded. The next day, or in the night, the enemy abandoned the fortified house of the large village of Vera in their front, retired behind the village, and firmly established themselves on the heights, while we occupied Vera with some sick officers, our picquets being posted beyond. The enemy’s vedettes and ours for many days were within talking distance, yet we never had an alert by night or by day.