CAMPAIGN OF 1814: BATTLE OF ORTHEZ – ANECDOTE OF JUANA SMITH.
FROM the Chateau of Castilleur we moved more into the mountains to the rear and to our left of Ustaritz, where we never saw the enemy [Jan. 1814]. Our time was spent in shooting, and exploring the mountains. While we were in this position forage was very scarce, and we chopped up the furze-bushes very small by way of hay. It is astonishing how it agreed with the horses. The natives use it in the same way for their cattle.
We remained in this position until the end of February, when we moved, reaching Orthez on the 26th. Here our Division had one of the sharpest skirmishes in a town which I ever saw. Orthez is situated on both sides of the Gave de Pau and has a bridge, which the enemy held with great jealousy. On the afternoon of this day, the Duke and his head-quarters came up. It was his intention to have fought the battle that afternoon, had the 3rd Division been able to reach its position in time. I heard the Duke say, “Very well, Murray, if the Division does not arrive in time, we must delay the attack till tomorrow. However, I must have a sleep.” He folded his little white cloak round him, and lay down, saying, “Call me in time, Murray.” Murray awoke the Duke, saying, “It is too late today, my Lord.” “Very well, then, my orders for tomorrow hold good.”
At dark we withdrew all our posts out of Orthez but a picquet near the bridge in the town, and at daylight [27 Feb.] we crossed by a pontoon bridge below Orthez, and marched over difficult ground. We saw the enemy very strongly posted, both as regards the elevation and the nature of the ground, which was intersected by large banks and ditches, while the fences of the field were most admirably calculated for vigorous defence. As we were moving on the right of the 3rd Division, Sir Thomas Picton, who was ever ready to find fault with the Light, rode up to Colonel Barnard. “Who the devil are you ?” knowing Barnard intimately. “We are the Light Division.” “If you are Light, sir, I wish you would move a little quicker,” said in his most bitter and sarcastic tone. Barnard says very cool, “Alten commands. But the march of infantry is quick time, and you cannot accelerate the pace of the head of the column without doing an injury to the whole. Wherever the 3rd Division are, Sir Thomas, we will be in our places, depend on it.”
We were soon engaged, but less for some time than the troops to our right and left. I never saw the French fight so hard as this day, and we were actually making no advance, when the Duke came up, and ordered the 52nd Regiment to form line and advance. The Battalion was upwards of seven hundred strong. It deployed into line like clockwork, and moved on, supported by clouds of sharpshooters. It was the most majestic advance I ever saw. The French, seeing this line advance so steadily, were appalled; their fire, which at first was terrific, gradually decreased as we neared. The Divisions on our right and left also moved on. The battle was won.
In this advance the 52nd suffered considerably. The present Duke of Richmond, then Lord March, a Captain in the corps, received a severe wound in the side; the ball still annoys him. The Duke himself also got a crack on his knee, which lamed him for several days. When Lord March lay on the ground after the attack, I went to bring up Maling, Surgeon of the 52nd Regiment. As soon as he arrived, to my horror, he poked his forefinger into the wound to trace the course of the ball. At this moment up rode Lord Fitzroy Somerset, and Lord March’s brother, Lord George Lennox, awfully affected, believing the wound mortal. Lord March said, “Maling, tell me if I am mortally wounded, because I have something I wish to impart to George.” Maling said, “If you will be quiet, you will do very well.” Maling did not think so. However, Lord March made a miraculous recovery. I never knew a finer young fellow, –braver or cooler. In those days, he would not have opposed his kind patron, the Duke, as he did subsequently. That every peer and every other man should speak out his mind according to his conscience, I earnestly desire; but, as Duke of Richmond, he opposed the Duke of Wellington politically in a manner rather partaking of personal hostility than political consistency. Every admirer of Lord March in the army, and he had many, lamented the course he pursued.
But to the fight. We drove the enemy in great confusion before us. On this occasion, I literally lost a Battalion of my Brigade, the 1st Caçadores, for two days, they got so mixed with the 6th Division. The night I found them, after much diligence, I and my Brigadier, Barnard, got into a little sort of inn, kept by an old soldier disabled in Bonaparte’s Italian campaigns. He did not require to be told the wants of a soldier, but from habit and sympathy turned to like a “good Œun” to cook us some dinner. As he was hard at work, he said to Barnard, “Ah, the French are not always victorious, and I see war now is [not?] what it was when I served. The Cavalry give way first, then come the Artillery, and then follow the Infantry in disorder.” He became in the course of the evening very eloquent over his own wine, and told us some very amusing stories. The next morning, when Barnard paid him for everything we had consumed, he was perfectly thunderstruck. I shall never forget his astonishment or his “Eh bien! monsieur, comme vous voulez.”
The baggage reached us early the following day [1 March], and in the afternoon we forded the Adour, which was deep, rapid, and broad. My wife had ridden over the field of battle, and described it as covered with dead, dying, and wounded. She observed an extraordinary number of wounds in the head. These were due to the fact that, owing to the cover of the high banks before described, the head only was vulnerable or exposed. She saw one fine fellow of an Artilleryman with both his arms shot off, which he said occurred while he was ramming down the cartridge into his own gun. She offered him all she had in the eating or drinking way, but he most disdainfully refused all.
The same afternoon we made a long and rapid march on Mont de Marsan, where a Division of Cavalry and Marshal Beresford and his headquarters preceded us. We did not reach Mont de Marsan until some hours after dark. We were ordered to take up quarters for the night, but so full of Cavalry and head-quarters was the place, and all scattered over the town, not collected, as we Light Division used to be by streets and regiments as if on parade, we had great difficulty in getting in anywhere.
The night was showery, with sleet drifting, frosty and excessively cold. My poor wife was almost perished. We at last got her into a comfortable little house, where the poor Frenchwoman, a widow, lighted a fire, and in about half an hour produced some bouillon in a very handsome Sévres slop-basin, saying this had been a present to her many years ago on the day of her marriage, and that it had never been used since her husband’s death. She, therefore, wished my wife to know how happy she was to wait on the nation who was freeing France of an usurper. The widow was a true “Royaliste,” and we were both most grateful to the poor woman. The next day we were ordered back to St. Sever, on the high-road to Toulouse, and parted with our widow with all mutual concern and gratitude, our baggage being left to follow. We had a very showery, frosty, and miserable long march over an execrable road, after which we and Barnard got into a little cottage on the roadside. At daylight the following morning we were expecting to move, but, having received no order, we turned to breakfast, my wife relating to Barnard the kindness she had received the previous night and the history of the basin. To our horror in came my servant, Joe Kitchen, with the identical slop-basin full of milk. The tears rolled down my wife’s cheeks. Barnard got in a storming passion. I said, “How dare you, sir, do anything of the sort?”(he was an excellent servant.) “Lord, sir,” he says, “why, the French soldiers would have carried off the widow, an’ she had been young, and I thought it would be so nice for the goat’s milk in the morning; she was very angry, though, ‘cos I took it.”
Barnard got on his horse, and rode to headquarters. About ten o’clock he came back and said the Duke told him the army would not march until to-morrow. My wife immediately sent for the trusty groom, old West, and said, “Bring my horse and yours too, and a feed of corn in your haversack.” She said to me, “I am going to see an officer who was wounded the day before yesterday, and if I am not back until late, do not be alarmed.” Young as she was, I never controlled her desire on such occasions, having perfect confidence in her superior sense and seeing her frequently visit our wounded or sick. I went to my Brigade, having various duties, just before she started. It became dark, she had not returned, but Barnard would wait dinner for her, saying, “She will be in directly.” She did arrive soon, very cold and splashed from hard riding on a very dirty, deep, and wet road. She laughed and said, ‘ Well, why did you wait dinner? Order it; I shall soon have my habit off.” Barnard and I exclaimed with one voice, ” Where have you been?” “Oh,” she says, “do not be angry, I am not taken prisoner, as you see. I have been to Mont de Marsan, to take back the poor widow’s basin.” I never saw a warm-hearted fellow so delighted as Barnard. “Well done, Juana, you are a heroine. The Maid of Saragossa is nothing to you.” She said the widow cried exceedingly with joy, but insisted on her now keeping the basin for the milk, which my wife would on no account do. She had ridden that day thirty miles and had every reason to expect to meet a French patrol. I said, “Were you not afraid of being taken prisoner?” “No, I and West kept a good look-out, and no French dragoon could catch me on my Spanish horse, Tiny.” She was tired from the excessive cold, but the merit of her act sustained her as much as it inspired us with admiration. The story soon got wind, and the next day every officer in the Division loaded her with praise. It was a kind and noble act which few men, much less a delicate girl of sixteen, would have done under all the circumstances. Our worthy friend, Bob Digby, of the 52nd Regiment, Barnard’s A.D.C., overhearing my wife’s orders to West, after she had started, most kindly followed and joined my wife on the road, for, as he said, he was alarmed lest she should fall in with a patrol.
Footnote 1 – Charles, from 1819 5th Duke of Richmond, after the introduction of the Catholic Emancipation Bill hecame a vigorous opponent of Wellington. Though reckoned an ultra-Tory, he joined the Reform Ministry in 1830, and afterwards supported Lord Melbourne. On the other hand, in 1845-6 (after the date when the remarks in the text were written), he was a leader of the opposition to corn-law abolition. -He died within a few days of Sir Harry Smith, on 21st October, 1860.