7

CAMPAIGN OF 1812: STORMING OF CIUDAD RODRIGO.

AS the winter approached we had private theatricals. The Duke appointed so many days for horse races, greyhound matches, etc., and the very day they were to come off, which was well known to the French army, we invested Ciudad Rodrigo, namely, on the 8th of January, 1812, and that very night carried by storm the outworks called Fort San Francisco, up to which spot it took the French several days to approach. We broke ground, and thus the siege commenced.

When the detachments of the Light Division Brigades were parading, my Brigade was to furnish 400 men. I understood four Companies, and when Colonel Colborne (now Lord Seaton) was counting them, he said, “There are not the complement of men. I said, “I am sorry if I have mistaken.” “Oh, never mind; run and bring another Company. I mention this to show what a cool, noble fellow he is. Many an officer would have stormed like fury. He only thought of storming Fort San Francisco, which he carried in a glorious manner.

The siege was carried on by four Divisions-1st, 3rd, 4th, and Light, cantoned as near Ciudad Rodrigo as possible. One Division was on duty at a time, and each had to ford the Agueda the day it was for duty. The Light was at El Bodon. We had a distance of nine miles to march every fourth day, and back on the fifth, so that we had only three days halt. The frost was excessive, and there was some little snow, but fortunately the weather was fine above head.

The Light Division stormed the little breach on the evening of the 19th of January (nine o’ clock). I was supping with my dear friend Captain Uniacke, and brother Tom, his only subaltern not wounded. When I parted from Uniacke was a noble, light-hearted fellow – he says, “Harry, you will be a Captain before morning.” Little, poor fellow, did he think he was to make the vacancy. I was senior subaltern of the 95th, and I went to General Craufurd and volunteered the forlorn hope that was given to Gurwood. Craufurd said, “Why, you cannot go; you, a Major of Brigade, a senior Lieutenant, you are sure to get a Company. No, I must give it to a younger officer.” This was to me a laborious night. Just as my Brigade had to march, I discovered the Engineer officer had not brought up the ladders, fascines, and bundles of hay, and old George Simmons was sent for them.

In ascending the breach, I got on a ravelin at the head of the 43rd and 52nd, moving in column together. Colborne pulled me down again, and up the right breach we ascended. I saw the great breach, stormed by the 3rd Division, was ably defended, and a line behind a work which, as soon as we rushed along the ramparts, we could enfilade. I seized a Company of the 43rd and rushed on the flank, and opened a fire which destroyed every man behind the works. My conduct caused great annoyance to the Captain, Duffy, with whom I had some very high words; but the Company obeyed me, and then ran on with poor Uniacke’s Company to meet the 3rd Division, or rather clear the ramparts to aid them, when the horrid explosion took place which killed General Mackinnon of the 3rd division on the spot and many soldiers, awfully scorching others. I and Uniacke were much scorched, but some splinters of an ammunition chest lacerated him and caused his death three days after the storm. Tom, my brother, was not hurt.

I shall never forget the concussion when it struck me, throwing me back many feet into a lot of charged fuses of shells, which in the confusion I took for shells. But a gallant fellow, a Sergeant MacCurrie, 52nd Regiment, soon put me right, and prevented me leaping into the ditch. My cocked hat was blown away, my clothes all singed; however the sergeant, a noble fellow, lent me a catskin forage-cap, and on we rushed to meet the 3rd Division, which we soon did. It was headed by a great, big thundering Grenadier of the 88th, a Lieutenant Stewart, and one of his men seized me by the throat as if I were a kitten, crying out, “You French —–.” Luckily, he left me room in the windpipe to d—- his eyes, or the bayonet would have been through me in a moment. Gurwood got great credit here unfairly. Willie Johnstone and poor Uniacke were the two first on the ramparts, Gurwood having been knocked down in the breach and momentarily stunned, which enabled them to get before him. However, Gurwood’s a sharp fellow, and he cut off in search of the Governor, and brought his sword to the Duke, and Lord Fitzroy Somerset buckled it on him in the breach. Gurwood made the most of it.

We had many officers of rank wounded. George Napier, of the 52nd, lost an arm; the General of Brigade, Vandeleur, was wounded in severely in the shoulder; and Colonel Colborne, of the 52nd, received an awful wound, but he never quitted his Regiment until the city was perfectly ours, and his Regiment all collected. A musket-ball had struck him under the epaulette of his right shoulder, and broken the head of the bone right off in the socket. To this the attention of the surgeons was of course directed. Some months after Colborne complained of a pain four inches below where the ball entered, and suppuration took place, and by surgical treatment the bone was gradually exposed. The ball, after breaking the arm above, had descended and broken the arm four inches below, and was firmly embedded in the bone. The pain he suffered in the extraction of the ball was more even than his iron heart could bear. He used to lay his watch on the table and allow the surgeons five minutes’ exertions at a time, and they were three or four days before they wrenched the ball from its ossified bed. In three weeks from that day Colborne was in the Pyrenees, and in command of his Regiment. Of course the shoulder joint was anchylosed, but he had free use of the arm below the elbow.

After this siege we had a few weeks’ holiday, with the exception of shooting some rascals who had deserted to the enemy. Eleven knelt on one grave at Ituero. It is an awful ceremony, a military execution. I was Major of Brigade of the day. The Provost-Marshal had not told the firing off so that a certain number of men should shoot one culprit, and so on, but at his signal the whole party fired a volley. Some prisoners were fortunate enough to be killed, others were only wounded, some untouched. I galloped up. An unfortunate Rifleman called to me by name – he was awfully wounded-” Oh, Mr. Smith, put me out of my misery,” and I literally ordered the firng party, when reloaded, to run up and shoot the poor wretches. It was an awful scene.

“Blood he had viewed, but then it flowed in combat . .”

Footnotes
Footnote 1 – Costello (p.140) tells how, after the taking of Fort San Francisco, many of the French wounded prisoners were stripped naked by the Portuguese Cacadores. One of them, a sergeant, on being marched in, and seeing his officer in the same plight with himself; “ran to embrace him, and, leaning his head on his shoulder, burst into tears over their mutual misery. Captain Smith, the General’s aide-de-camp, being present, generously pulled forth his pocket-handkerchief and wrapped it round the sergeant’s totally naked person, till further covering could be obtained.”

Footnote 2 – There is an interesting account of this heroic soldier in the United Service Journal for 1837, Part I. p. 354, by J. K. (John Kincaid), written after Johnstone’s death at the Cape.

 

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