Campaign of 1810 – The First German Hussars
In the winter of this year [12 Dec. 1809] we marched towards the northern frontier of Portugal. We marched towards Almeida, and were cantoned in villages to its rear – Alameda, Villa de Lobos, Fequenas, not far from the Douro.
Here too was good shooting and coursing ; but I was not permitted to be idle. We moved into Spain [19 Mar. 1810], and at Barba del Puerco had a most brilliant night attack in which Colonel Beckwith greatly distinguished himself.
At Villa de Ciervo a detachment of one sergeant and twelve Hussars (1st German) were given me by General Craufurd to go right in among the French army, which had moved by Ciudad Rodrigo and then retired. Many are the hairbreadth escapes my Hussars and I had, for we were very daring; we were never two nights in the same place. One night at Villa de Ciervo, where we were watching a ford over the Agueda, two of my vedettes (two poles elegantly mounted) deserted to the enemy. The old sergeant, a noble soldier, came to me in distress.
“Oh mein Gott, upstand and jump up your horse; she will surely be here directly!”
I was half asleep, with my horses reins in my hand, and roared out, “Who the devil is she?”
“The Franzosen, mein Herr. Two d–d schlems have deserted.” So we fell back to the rear of the village, sitting on our horses, the remainder of the night, every moment expecting the weakness of our party would cause an attempt to cut us off. At daylight we saw fifty French dragoons wending their way on the opposite back to the ford. I immediately got hold of the padre and alcalde (priest and magistrate), and made them collect a hundred villagers and make them shoulder the long sticks with which they drive their bullock carts and ploughs, which of course at a distance would resemble bayonets.
These villagers I stationed in two parties behind two hills, so that the ‘bayonets’ alone could be seen by the enemy. Then with my sergeant and ten Hussars (two having deserted) I proceeded to meet the enemy, first riding backwards and forwards behind the hill to deceive him as to my numbers.
The French sent over the river about half their number. I immediately galloped up to them in the boldest manner, and skirmished advancing. The enemy were deceived and rapidly retired, and I saved the village from an unmerciful ransacking, to the joy of all the poor people.
At this period General Craufurd had officers at two or three of the most advanced vedettes where there were beacons, who had orders to watch the enemy with their telescopes, and, in case of any movement to report or fire the beacon. I was on this duty in rather a remote sport on the extreme left of our posts. The vedette was from the 1st Hussar picquet. These men would often observe a patrol or body of the enemy with the naked eye which was barely discernible through a telescope, so practised were they and watchful. Towards the evening my servant ought to have arrived with my dinner (for we officers of the look-out could take nothing with us but out horse and our telescope), but he must have missed his way, and as my appetite was sharpened by a day’s look-out I began to look back, contrary to the vedette’s idea of due vigilance.
He asks, ‘What for Mynheer so much look to de rear?’ I, sad at the fast, “Hussar, you are relieved every two hours. I have been here since daylight. I am confounded hungry, and am looking out for my servant and my dinner.” “Poor yonge mans! but ’tis notings.”
“Not to you,” said I, “but much to me.”
“You shall see, sir. I shall come off my horse, you shall clim, or de French shall come if he see not de vedette all right.” Knowing the provident habits of these Germans I suspected what he was about. Off he got ; up get I en vedette. With the greatest celerity. He unbuckled his valise from behind his saddle, and took out a piece of bacon (I had kept up a little fire from the sticks and bushes around me), from a cloth some ground coffee and sugar, from his haversack some biscuit, and spread on the ground a clean towel with knife, fork and a little tin cup. He had water in his canteen – his cooking-tin.
He made me a cup of coffee, sliced some bacon, broiled it in the embers, and in ten minutes coffee, bacon and biscuit were ready and looked as clean as if in a London tavern.
He then says, “Come off.” Up he mounts, saying, “Can eat. All you sall vant is de schnaps.” I fell to, and never relished any meal half so much ; appetite was perfect, and the ingenious, quick and provident care of the Hussar added another to the many instances I had witnessed of this regiment to make them be regarded, as indeed they were, as exemplary soldiers for our emulation.
My servant soon after arrived. The contents of his haversack I transferred to my kind friend the Hussar’s and half the bottle of wine, on which the Hussar remarked, “Ah, dat is good; the schnaps make nice;” and my servant put up his valise again for him. I was highly amused to observe the momentary glances the Hussar cast on me and my meal, for no rat-catcher’s dog at a sink-hole kept a sharper look-out to his front than did this vedette. In the whole course of my service I never was more amused, and nothing could be more disinterested than the Hussar’s conduct, which I never forgot.