CAMPAIGN OF1812: THE STORMING OF BADAJOS – HARRY SMITH’S MARRIAGE.
AT this period of the year (February, March) the coursing in this part of Spain is capital, and by help of my celebrated dog Moro and two other excellent ones, I supplied the officers’ mess of every Company with hares for soup We had a short repose, for the army moved into Estremadura for the purpose of besieging Badajos. We Light, 3rd and 4th Divisions, thought, as we had taken Ciudad Rodrigo, others would have the pleasure of the trenches of Badajos, but on our reaching Elvas [17 Feb., 1812] we were very soon undeceived, and we were destined for the duty, – to our mortification, for soldiers hate sieges and working-parties The Guards work better than any soldiers, from their habits in London. Badajos was invested by the 3rd, 4th, and Light Divisions on the Spanish side, or left bank of the river, and by the 5th Division on the Portuguese side, or right bank. On the night of the 17th March, St. Patrick’s Day, the Light Division broke ground under a deluge of rain, which swelled the Guadiana SO as to threaten our bridge of boats. Our duties in the trenches were most laborious during the whole siege, and much hard fighting we had, sorties, etc. The night [26 Mar.] the out-works La Picurina was carried by my dear friend Sir James Kempt, part of the 3rd Division (which was his) were to compose the storming party. The Light Division, the working party, consequently were sent to the Engineer Park for the ladders. When they arrived, General Kempt ordered them to be planted (Sir H. Hardinge, D.Q.M.G. of the Portuguese army, was here distinguished). The boys of the 3rd Division said to our fellows, “Come, stand out of the way;² to which our fellows replied, “D– your eyes, do you think we Light Division fetch ladders for such chaps as you to climb up? Follow us” – springing on the ladders, and many of them were knocked over. A notorious fellow, a Sergeant Brotherwood, a noble fellow on duty, told me this anecdote. The siege was prosecuted with the same vigour from without with which it was repelled from within.
After some hours in the trenches, when we returned I invariably ate and went out coursing, and many is the gallant course I had, and many the swift hare I and my dog Moro brought home from the right bank of the Guadiana. One day James Stewart, I, and Charlie Eeles set off; having three hours off duty, to look for a hare or two at a celebrated spot where the hares ran very strong because there was a rabbit warren which saved them. Moro, of course, was of the party. We soon found an unusually strong hare, and, although the greyhounds fetched round a dozen times, she still worked her way for the warren. I was riding a great stupid Irish horse bought from General Vandeleur, called Paddy, and as it was important for the soup to kill this hare, however unsportsmanlike on quiet occasions it would be deemed, I rode to head her from the warren. My stupid beast of a horse put his foot into a hole and rolled over me. Stewart and Eeles picked me up, but I was insensible. Although I have generally managed on such occasions to get away from the horse, the animal had rolled over me, and when I came to myself I was sitting on Eeles’ knee, my arms tied up with a whip~thong, and James Stewart, with a blunt-looking penknife, trying to bleed me, an operation I quickly prohibited by starting on to my legs. Moro killed his hare, though, without my help.
On the night of the 6th April the 3rd Division were to storm the citadel, the 4th and Light the great breach, the 5th the Olivença Gate, and to escalade, if possible. The command of the Light Division had devolved on Colonel Barnard. Vandeleur was wounded, and stayed at Portalegre, and poor Beckwith had gone to the rear with violent ague; he never joined us again, noble soldier that he was.
This escalade has been so frequently described, I shall only say that when the head of the Light Division arrived at the ditch of the place it was a beautiful moonlight night. Old Alister Cameron, who was in command of four Companies of the 95th Regiment, extended along the counterscape to attract the enemy’s fire, while the column planted their ladders and descended, came up to Barnard and said, “Now my men are ready; shall I begin?” “No, certainly not,” says Barnard. The breach and the works were full of the enemy, looking quietly at us, but not fifty yards off and most prepared, although not firing a shot. So soon as our ladders were all ready posted, and the column in the very act to move and rush down the ladders, Barnard called out, “Now, Cameron!” and the first shot from us brought down such a hail of fire as I shall never forget, nor ever saw before or since. It was most murderous. We flew down the ladders and rushed at the breach, but we were broken, and carried no weight with us, although every soldier was a hero. The breach was covered by a breastwork from behind, and ably defended on the top by chevaux-de-frises of sword-blades, sharp as razors, chained to the ground; while the ascent to the top of the breach was covered with planks with sharp nails in them. However, devil a one did I feel at this moment. One of the officers of the forlorn hope, Lieut. Taggart of the 43rd, was hanging on my arm – a mode we adopted to help each other up, for the ascent was most difficult and steep. A Rifleman stood among the sword-blades on the top of one of the chevaux-de-frises. We made a glorious rush to follow, but, alas in vain. He was knocked over. My old captain, O’Hare, who commanded the storming party, was killed. All were awfully wounded except, I do believe, myself and little Freer of the 43rd. I had been some seconds at the revétement of the bastion near the breach, and my red-coat pockets were literally filled with chips of stones splintered by musket-balls. Those not knocked down were driven back by this hail of mortality to the ladders. At the foot of them I saw poor Colonel Macleod with his hands on his breast – the man who lent me his horse when wounded at the bridge on the Coa. He said, “Oh, Smith, I am mortally wounded. Help me up the ladder.” I said, “Oh no, dear fellow!” “I am,” he said; “be quick !” I did so, and came back again. Little Freer and I said, “Let us throw down the ladders; the fellows shan’t go out” Some soldiers behind said, “D– your eyes, if you do we will bayonet you I” and we were literally forced up with the crowd. My sash had got loose, and one end of it was fast in the ladder, and the bayonet was very nearly applied, but the sash by pulling became loose. So soon as we got on the glacis, up came a fresh Brigade of the Portuguese of the 4th Division. I never saw any soldiers behave with more pluck. Down into the ditch we all went again, but the more we tried to get up, the more we were destroyed. The 4th Division followed us in marching up to the breach, and they made a most uncommon noise. The French saw us, but took no notice. Sir Charles Colville, commanding the 4th Division (Cole having been wounded at Albuera), made a devil of a noise, too, on the glacis. Both Divisions were fairly beaten back; we never carried either breach (nominally there were two breaches).
After the attacks upon the breaches, some time before daylight Lord Fitzroy Somerset came to our Division. I think I was almost the first officer who spoke to him. He said~ “Where is Barnard?” I didn’t know, but I assured his Lordship he was neither killed nor wounded. A few minutes after his Lordship said that the Duke desired the Light and 4th Divisions to storm again. “The devil!” says I. “Why, we have had enough; we are all knocked to pieces.” Lord Fitzroy says, “I dare say, but you must try again.” I smiled and said, “If we could not succeed with two whole fresh and unscathed Divisions, we are likely to make a poor show of it now. But we will try again with all our might.” Scarcely had this conversation occurred when a bugle sounded within the breach, indicating what had occurred at the citadel and the Puerto de Olivença; and here ended all the fighting. Our fellows would have gone at it again when collected and put into shape, but we were just as well pleased that our attempt had so attracted the attention of the enemy as greatly to facilitate that success which assured the prize contended for.
There is no battle, day or night, I would not willingly react except this. The murder of our gallant officers and soldiers is not to be believed. Next day I and Charlie Beckwith, a brother Brigade-Major, went over the scene. It was appalling. Heaps on heaps of slain, – in one spot lay nine officers. Whilst we were there, Colonel Allen of the Guards came up, and beckoned me to him. I saw that, in place of congratulating me, he looked very dull. “What’s the matter?” I said. “Do you not know my brother in the Rifles was killed last night?” “God help him and you! no, for I and we all loved him.” In a flood of tears, he looked round and pointed to a body. “There he lies.” He had a pair of scissors with him. “Go and cut off a lock of his hair for my mother. I came for the purpose, but I am not equal to doing it.²
The returns of killed and wounded and the evident thin appearance of our camp at once too plainly told the loss we had sustained. O memorable night of glory and woe! for, although the 4th and Light were so beaten, our brilliant and numerous attacks induced the governor to concentrate all his force in the breaches; thus the 3rd escaladed the citadel, and the 5th got in by the Olivença gate. Although we lost so many stout hearts, so many dear friends and comrades, yet not one staff officer of our Division was killed or wounded. We had all been struck. My clothes were cut by musket balls, and I had several contusions, particularly one On my left thigh.
Now comes a scene of horror I would willingly bury in oblivion. The atrocities committed by our soldiers on the poor innocent and defenceless inhabitants of the city, no words suffice to depict. Civilized man, when let loose and the bonds of morality relaxed, is a far greater beast than the savage, more refined in his cruelty, more fiend-like in every act; and oh, too truly did our heretofore noble soldiers disgrace themselves, though the officers exerted themselves to the utmost to repress it, many who had escaped the enemy being wounded in their merciful attempts! Yet this scene of debauchery, however cruel to many, to me has been the solace and the whole happiness of my life for thirty-three years. A poor defenceless maiden of thirteen years was thrown upon my generous nature through her sister, as described so ably In Johnny Kincaid’s book, of which this is an extract-
“I was conversing with a friend the day after, at the door of his tent, when we observed two ladies coming from the city, who made directly towards us ; they seemed both young, and when they came near, the elder of the two threw back her mantilla to address us, showing a remarkably handsome figure, with fine features; but her sallow, sun-burnt, and careworn, though still youthful, countenance showed that in her ‘the time for tender thoughts and soft endearments had fled away and gone.’
“She at once addressed us in that confident, heroic manner so characteristic of the high-bred Spanish maiden, told us who they were – the last of an ancient and honourable house – and referred to an officer high in rank in our army, who had been quartered there in the days of her prosperity, for the truth of her tale.
“Her husband, she said, was a Spanish officeir in a distant part of the kingdom; he might, or he might not, still be living. But yesterday she and this her young sister were able to live in affluence and in a handsome house; to-day they knew not where to lay their heads, where to get a change of rairnent or a morsel of bread Her house, she said, was a wreck; and, to show the indignities to which they had been subjected, she pointed to where the blood was still trickling down their necks, caused by the wrenching of their earrings through the flesh by the hands of worse than savages, who would not take the trouble to unclasp them!
“For herself, she said, she cared not; but for the agitated and almost unconscious maiden by her side, whom she had but lately received over from the hands of her conventual instructresses, she was in despair, and knew not what to do and that, in the rapine and ruin which was at that moment desolating the city, she saw no security for her but the seemingly indelicate one she had adopted – of coming to the camp and throwing themselves upon the protection of any British officer who would afford it; and so great, she said, was her faith in our national character, that she knew the appeal would not be made in vain, nor the confidence abused. Nor was it made in vain! Nor could it be abused, for she stood by the side of an angel! A being more transcendingly lovely I had never before seen – one more amiable I have never yet known!
“Fourteen summers had not yet passed over her youthful countenance, which was of a delicate freshness – more English than Spanish; her face, though not perhaps rigidly beautiful, was nevertheless so remarkably handsome, and so irresistibly attractive, surmounting a figure cast in nature’s fairest mould, that to look at her was to love her; and I did love her, but I never told my love, and in the mean time another and a more impudent fellow stepped in and won her! But yet I was happy, for in him she found such a one as her loveliness and her misfortunes claimed – a man of honour, and a husband in every way worthy of her!”
“That a being so young, so lovely, and so interesting, just emancipated from the gloom of a convent, unknowing of the world and to the world unknown, should thus have been wrecked on a sea of troubles, and thrown on the mercy of strangers under circumstances so dreadful, so uncontrollable, and not have sunk to rise no more, must be the wonder of every one. Yet from the moment she was thrown on her own resources, her star was in the ascendant.
“Guided by a just sense of rectitude, an innate purity of mind, a singleness of purpose which defied malice, and a soul that soared above circumstances, she became alike the adored of the camp and of the drawing-room, and eventually the admired associate of princes. She yet lives, in the affections of her gallant husband, in an elevated situation in life, a pattern to her sex, and everybody’s beau ideal of what a wife should be.”
I confess myself to be the “more impudent fellow,” and if any reward is due to a soldier, never was one so honoured and distinguished as I have been by the possession of this dear child (for she was little more than a child at this moment), one with a sense of honour no knight ever exceeded in the most romantic days of chivalry, an understanding superior to her years, a masculine mind with a force of character no consideration could turn from her own just sense of rectitude, and all encased in a frame of Nature’s fairest and most delicate moulding, the figure of an angel, with an eye of light and an expression which then inspired me with a maddening love which, from that period to this (now thirty-three years), has never abated under many and the most trying circumstances. Thus, as good may come out of evil, this scene of devastation and spoil yielded to me a treasure invaluable; to me who, among so many dear friends, had escaped all dangers; to me, a wild youth not meriting such reward, and, however desirous, never able to express half his gratitude to God Almighty for such signal marks of His blessing shown to so young and so thoughtless a being. From that day to this she has been my guardian angel. She has shared with me the dangers and privations, the hardships and fatigues, of a restless life of war in every quarter of the globe. No murmur has ever escaped her. Bereft of every relative, of every tie to her country but the recollection of it, united to a man of different though Christian religion, yet that man has been and is her all, on whom have hinged the closed portals of hope, happiness, and bliss; if opened, misery, destitution, and bereavement, and every loss language can depict summed up in one word, “He is lost to me.” But, O my God, Thou hast kindly spared us for each other; we have, through Thy grace, been but little separated, and we have, in unison of soul, received at Thy holy altar the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. May we, through His mediation, be still spared to each other in this life, and in the life to come be eternally united in Heaven!
After the disorganization our troops had rushed into, it became the duty of every officer to exert himself, and nobly did Colonel Barnard set about the task, and ably supported was he by every officer in the Division. We had not marched for the north two days when our soldiers were, like Richard, “themselves again.” When the French garrison were marched to the rear, my Brigade furnished an escort to the next Division en route to Elvas. I paraded upwards of four thousand very orderly, fine-looking fellows. Many of the officers praised the gallantry of our men, and all said, “Why break ground at all with such soldiers? Had you stormed on the rainy night of the 17th March, you would have taken the place with half the loss.” This is creditable to us, but the Duke of Wellington would have been by no means borne out in such an attempt.
However, as all this writing is to show rather my individual participation in these scenes of glory and bloodshed, I must dwell a little upon the joy of my marriage. I was only twenty-two, my wife just on the verge of fourteen. But in southern climates Nature more early develops herself and attains maturity. Every day was an increase of joy. Although both of us were of the quickest tempers, we were both ready to forgive, and both intoxicated in happiness. All my dearest friends Charlie Beckwith, John Bell, Johnstone, Charlie Eeles, Jack Molloy, etc. – were saying to themselves, “Alas! poor Harry Smith is lost, who was the example of a duty-officer previously. It is only natural he must neglect duty now.” I assured them all that the contrary would be the case, for love would incite me to exertions in hopes of preferment, the only mode I had to look to for a comfortable maintenance; and my wife’s love, aided by her good sense, would see I was never neglecting her if engaged in the performance of my duty. Conscientiously did I act up to my feeling then, and no one ever did or ever could say, I was out of my place night or day.
My duty was my duty – I gloried in it; my wife even still more so, and never did she say, “You might have been with me,” or complain if I was away. On the contrary, after many a day’s fatiguing march, when I sought her out in the baggage or awaiting me, her first question invariably was, “Are you sure you have done all your duty?” Then I admit my attention was unbounded, and we were happy – oh, how happy, often amidst scenes of distress and privation that would have appalled stouter hearts, not devoted like ours! And oh, when I reflect on God’s mercy to us both! In a succession of the most brilliant battles for years I was never even wounded, and, although I say it, no man ever exposed himself in every way more as a soldier, or rode harder as a sportsman. Wonderful, most wonderful, have been my hairbreadth escapes from falls of horses under and over me all over the world.
Footnote 1 -Not till 24 March (Napier, iv. 105)
Footnote 2 – Random Shots by a Rifleman, by Sir John Kincaid, pp.292-296.
I venture to quote the rest of Kincaids interesting passage: “Thrown upon each other’s acquaintance in a manner so interesting, it is not to be wondered at that she and I conceived a friendship for each other, which has proved as lasting as our lives – a friendship which was cemented by after-circumstances so singularly romantic that imagination may scarcely picture them! The friendship of man is one thing – the friendship of woman another; and those only who have been on the theatre of fierce warfare, and knowing that such a being was on the spot, watching with earnest and increasing solicitude over his safety alike with those most dear to her, can fully appreciate the additional value which it gives to one’s existence. “About a year after we became acquainted, I remember that our Battalion was one day movign down to battle, and had occasion to pass by the lone country-house in which she had been lodged. The situation was so near to the outposts, and a battle certain, I concluded that she must ere then have been removed to a place of greater security, and, big with the thought of coming events, I scarcely even looked at it as we rolled along, but just as I had passed the door, I found my hand suddenly grasped in hers. She gave it a gentle pressure, and, without uttering a word, had rushed back into the house again, almost before I could see to whom I was indebted for a kindness so unexpected and so gratifying. “My mind had, the moment before, been sternly occupied in calculating the difference which it makes in a man’s future prospects – his killing or being killed, when ‘a change came o’er the spirit of the dream,’ and throughout the remainder of that long and trying day I felt a lightness of heart and buoyancy of spirit which, in such a situation, was no less new than delightful. ‘I never until then felt so forcibly the beautiful description of FjtzJames’s expression of feeling, after his leave-taking of Ellen, under somewhat similar circumstances-
“‘And after oft the knight would say,
That not when prize of festal day
Was dealt him by the brightest fair
That e’er wore jewel in her hair,
So highly did his bosom swell
As at that simple, mute, farewell.'”
Footnote 3 – From the time of their first residence at the Cape in the thirties, Juana Smith conformed to the Church of England, and was in consequence disowned by her remaining Spanish relatives.
Footnote 4 – He was really twenty-four, but he seems never to have known his own age. His wife (born 27 March, 1798) was just past fourteen.