With Sir John Moore Battle of Corunna 1808 – 9
I STAYED in this happy land of my sires for two months, when I was ordered to join The regiment was then quartered at Colchester. Although there were many subalterns present who were senior to me, I had given to me, for my exertions abroad as Adjutant, the command of a Company.
This was the act of my kind and valued friend Colonel Beckwith, whom I shall have occasion to frequently mention in these memoirs, but never without feelings of affection of gratitude. The company was in very bad order when I received it, which Colonel Beckwith told me was the reason he gave it me. I was now procured a commission for my brother Tom, who was gazetted over the heads of several other candidates.
In the summer [spring] of 1808 10,000 men were ordered to Sweden under the command of Sir J. Moore. Three Companies of the Rifle Brigade under Major Gilmour were to form part of the expedition. By dint of great exertion I was appointed Adjutant to this detachment. We marched to Harwich to embark. When the fleet was collected, we anchored a few days in Yarmouth roads. The fleet arrived at Gottenburgh [on 7th May], blowing a heavy gale of wind. The harbour of this place was the most beautiful. The army never landed, but men were drilled, embarking and disembarking in flat-bottomed boats. I jumped against three regiments, 95th, 43rd and 52nd, and beat them by four inches having leaped 19 feet 4 inches.
(Commenced at Simla, Himalays, 11th Aug. 1844 – HGS)
At this period Napoleon announced his unjust invasion of Spain, and Sir John Moore’s army was ordered to sail and unite with the forces collecting on the coast of Portugal for the purpose of expelling Junot’s army from Lisbon. On approaching the mouth of the Mondego, a frigate met us to say Sir Arthur Wellesley’s army had landed in Mondego and pushed forward, and that Sir John Moore was to sail for Peniche, and there land on arrival.
The battle of Vimiera had been fought [21 Aug. 1808], and the Convention was in progress. Sir John Moore’s army landed one or two days after the battle and took the outposts. The three Companies to which I was Adjutant joined Colonel Beckwith and the headquarters of the Regiment, and I was appointed to Captain O’Hare’s Company (subalterns Smith, W. Eeles, Eaton).
After the embarcation of the French army, an army was formed under Sir John Moore for the aid of the Spaniards, and it moved to the frontier of the Alemtejo.
The 95th were quartered in Villa Viciosa, in an elegant palace. I occupied a beautiful little room with a private staircase, called the Hall of Justice. I was sent by Edward Paget to examine the fort Xuramenha and report upon it, the fords of the Guadiana, etc., near the important fortress of Badajos.
In the autumn of this year (1808), Sir John Moore’s army moved on Salamanca. As I could speak Spanish, I was employed by Colonel Beckwith to precede the Regiment daily to aid the Quartermaster in procuring billets and rations in the different towns, and various were the adventures I met with.
The army was assembled at Salamanca, and never did England assemble such a body of organised and elegant troops as that army of Sir John Moore, destined to cover itself with glory, disgrace, victory, and misfortune. The whole of this campaign is too ably recorded by Napier for me to dwell on.
I shall only say that never did corps so distinguish itself during the whole of this retreat as my dear old Rifles. From the severe attack on our rear-guard at Calcavellos [3rd Jan. 1809], where I was particularly distinguished, until the battle of Coruna, we were daily engaged with a most vigorous and pushing enemy, Making the most terrific long marches (one day 37 miles).
The fire of the Riflemen ever prevented the column being molested by the enemy ; but the scenes of drunkenness, riot, and disorder we Reserve Division witnessed on the part of the rest of the army are not to be described ; it was truly awful and heartrending to see that army which had been so brilliant at Salamanca so totally disorganised, with the exception of the reserve under the revered Paget and the Brigade of Guards. The cavalry were nearly dismounted, the whole a mass of fugitives and insubordinates; yet these very fellows licked the French at Coruna like men [16 Jan.]. The army embarked the following day.
I shall never forget the explosion of a fortress blown up by us – the report cannot be imagined. Oh, the filthy state we were all in! We lost our baggage at Calcavellos ; for three weeks we had no clothes but those on our backs ; we were literally covered and almost eaten up with vermin, most of us suffering from ague and dysentery, every man a living still active skeleton.
On embarcation many fell asleep in their ships and never awoke for three days and nights, until in a gale we reached Portsmouth [21 Jan]. I was so reduced that Colonel Beckwith, with a warmth of heart equalling the thunder of his voice, on meeting me in eth George Inn, roared out, “Who the devil’s ghost are you? Pack up your kit – which is soon done, the devil a thing have you got – take a place in the coach, and set off home to your father’s. I shall soon want again such fellows as you, and I will arrange your leave of absence!”
I soon took the hint , and naked and slothful and covered with vermin I reached my dear native home, where the kindest of fathers and most affectionate of mothers soon restored me to health.