CAMPAIGN OF 1812: BATTLE OF SALAMANCA-OCCUPATION OF MADRID-RETREAT TO SALAMANCA.
BUT to the thread of my narrative. Hardly had we reached the frontier of Portugal [24 April, 1812], our old haunts, Ituero, Guinaldo, etc., when our army moved on again for Spain, and fought the Battle of Salamanca. Before this battle we had an immense deal of marching and manoeuvring. -The armies of Marmont and Wellington were close to each other for several days, so that a trifling occurrence would have brought on a general action, and we were frequently under cannonade.
My wife could not ride in the least at first, and oh, the difficulty I had! although she had frequently ridden a donkey on her pilgrimage to Olivença, once to avoid the siege of Badajos, and at other times to her grandmother’s at Almendrajos.
However, I had one of my saddles turned into a side-saddle most ably by a soldier of Ross’s Troop of Horse Artillery, and at first made her ride a great brute of a Portuguese horse I had; but she so rapidly improved, took such pains, had so much practice and naturally good nerves, that she soon got ashamed of her Portuguese horse, and wanted to ride my Spanish little fellow, who had so nobly carried me at Redinha and in many other fights.
I always said, “When you can ride as well as you can dance and sing, you shall,” for in those accomplishments she was perfect. In crossing the Tormes [21 July], the very night before the battle of Salamanca (there are quicksands in the river), her Portuguese horse was so cowardly he alarmed me, and hardly had we crossed the river when a clap of thunder, louder than anything that can be described, burst over our heads. The Portuguese horse was in such a funk, she abjured all Portuguese, and insisted hereafter on riding her own gallant countryman, as gallant as any Arab. He was an Andalusian, which is a thorough-bred descendant of the Moosul horse, which is literally an Arab. The next day she mounted her Tiny, and rode him ever afterwards over many an eventful field, until the end of the war at Toulouse. She had him afterwards at my father’s house. The affection between them was of the character of that between spaniel and master. The dear, gallant horse lived to twenty-nine years of age, and died a happy pensioner on my brother Charles’s estate.
It is difficult to say who was the proudest on the morning of the battle [22 July], horse, wife, or Enrique (as I was always called). She caracoled him about among the soldiers, to their delight, for he was broken in like a Mameluke, though very difficult to ride. (The soldiers of the whole Division loved her with enthusiasm from the events so peculiar in her history, and she would laugh and talk with all, which a soldier loves. Blackguards as many of the poor gallant fellows were, there was not a man who would not have laid down his life to defend her, and among the officers she was adored, and consulted on all occasions of baggage-guard, etc.) Her attendant, who also had a led horse in case of accident, with a little tent and funny little pair of lanterns, my dear, trusty old groom West, as the battle began, took her to the rear, much to her annoyance, and in the thunder of cannon, the pride of equestrianism was buried in anxiety for him on whom her all depended. She and West slept on the field of battle, he having made a bed for her with the green wheat he had cut just in full ear. She had to hold her horse all night, and he ate all her bed of green wheat, to her juvenile amusement; for a creature so gay and vivacious, with all her sound sense, the earth never produced.
Next morning soon after daylight she joined me on the march. I was at that time so afflicted with boils, I could hardly live on horseback. I had eleven immense ones at the time on my legs and thighs, the excruciating pain of which is not to be described. Our surgeon, old Joe Bowker, insisted on my going to Salamanca, and one particular boil on the bone of the inside of my knee proved a more irresistible argument. So to Salamanca I had to go, my brother Tom doing my duty. I stayed fourteen days at Salamanca, a time of love and excitement, although, so distressed was the army for money, we lived almost on our rations, except for a little assistance from the lady of our house in coffee, etc. Wade, Sir Lowry Cole’s A.D.C., lent me one dollar out of forty which he had received to support his General (who had been severely wounded in the battle), and his staff. In such times of privation heroism is required which our countrymen little dream of.
At the end of the fourteen days I had as many boils as ever, but, boils and all, off we started, and rode some terrible distances for three or four days. We overtook the Division, to the joy of the soldiers, before we crossed the Guadarama Pass [I I Aug.J There had been no fighting in my absence, thank God.
We soon reached the neighbourhood of Madrid. No city could be better laid out for pomp and show, and the Duke’s entry [13 Aug.] was a most brilliant spectacle. My vivacious wife used to enjoy her native capital, and in her admiration treated London and Paris as villages in comparison. We spent a very happy time. It was a great amusement to improve our wardrobe for the walk on the elegant Prado of an evening, in which no love among the Spanish beauties showed to greater advantage than my Estremenha, or native of Estremadura. During our stay in the vicinity of Madrid we made several agreeable acquaintances, among others the vicar of one of the many rich villages around Madrid, Vicalbaro, a highly educated and clever fellow, a great sportsman and excellent shot, with a morbid hatred to a Frenchman. Upon our moving forward beyond Madrid as far as the beautiful and clean city Alcala [23 Oct.], I was brought in contact with the celebrated and unfortunate General EIo, whom I had known in South America at Monte Video. He was very converational, and we had a long talk as to that colonial war; but, as I was acting as interpreter for my friend James Stewart, the A.Q.M.G. of our Division, who was making arrangements of march with EIo, conversation on the past turned into plans for the ‘future. We moved forwards towards our right to Arganda [27 Oct.]. At this period the Duke had gone to Burgos, and Lord Hill commanded. We soon felt the loss of our decided and far-seeing chief, and we made marches and counter-marches we were unaccustomed to. At ten at night, at Arganda, Major-General Vandeleur received an order from General Alten, who remained in AIcala, to march immediately back to Alcala with the whole Division. Vandeleur sent for me and told me to order the assembly to sound. I remonstrated and prayed him to wait until two hours before daylight, for every soldier in the Division had more or less indulged in the wine for which Arganda was celebrated. The good general had been at the shrine of Bacchus too, and was uncontrollable. Blast went the assembly, and staggering to their alarm-posts went the soldiers. Such a scene of good-natured riot I had never seen in my own Division. With the Duke we generally had a sort of hint we might be wanted, and our tried soldiers would be as steady as rocks. Oh, such a dark night’s march as we had back to Alcala! Vandeleur repented of his obstinacy, and well he might.
We halted the next day at Alcala. Here, although it was now October, it was evident to me that a long retreat to the frontier was about to be undertaken, and I got from a Spanish officer, called Labrador, his fine large Andalusian horse in exchange for an Irish brute I had bought from General Vandeleur. He gave me three Spanish doubloons to boot, a fortune in those days, particularly to me.
These three doubloons were given to my vivacious Spanish wife, who put them up most carefully in my portmanteau, among my few shirts. On the march the motion of the mule had shaken them out of place, the doubloons were gone, and all our fortune! Her horror, poor girl, is not to be described. She knew it was our all, and her delight when I gave the treasure into her charge was now more than eclipsed by the misery of the loss. I only laughed, for in those days hardships and privations were so common, they were missed when comparative affluence supplied their place.
We marched [30 Oct.] to Madrid, or rather its suburbs, where the poor inhabitants were in indescribable distress, seeing that they were again to be abandoned to French clemency and contributions. While our troops were halted, waiting for orders whether to bivouac or whether to retire, to our astonishment up came the Vicar of Vicalbaro. He took me on one side, and told me most pathetically that he had made himself so obnoxious to the French, he feared to stay, and had come to crave my protection. This I gladly promised. While I described to him the hardships a winter retreat would impose upon him and us, he said gallantly, “I am young and healthy like yourselves; what you suffer, I can. My only fear is that I may inconvenience you and my young countrywoman, your wife.” I laughed, and called her. She was all fun, notwithstanding the loss of the doubloons, and began to quiz him; but in the midst of her raillery he observed, as he said to me afterwards, her soul of kindness, and the Padre was installed in my establishment, while my old comrades laughed and said, “Harry Smith will do, now he has a father confessor,” by which name the Padre always went – “Harry Smith’s confessor.” The hour or two of halt was occupied by the padre in buying a pony which he soon effected, and his marching establishment, a few shirts, with an immense capa, or cloak, almost as much as the pony could carry.
It rained in torrents, and we marched to Aravaca, some miles to the rear of the capital, where we found Lord Hill’s headquarters in possession of every hole in the village, which was a very small one. General Vandeleur, who was still suffering from his wound at Ciudad Rodrigo, found a Captain of the Waggon Train in possession of a small house. In walks the General to a nice clean little room with a cheerful fire. “Who are you, sir?” says the General. “I am Captain —-, of the Royal Waggon Train, attached to Lord Hill, and this house is given me for my quarters.” “I, sir, am General Vandeleur, and am d–d glad to see you in my quarters for five minutes.” The poor Captain very quietly packed up his traps and went – I know not where.
I, my young wife, the Padre, all my greyhounds and dogs, about thirteen, got into a little hole about six feet square, and were glad enough to get out of the rain, for, though my wife had her little tent, that, pitched on exceedingly wet ground, was a horrid shelter for any one. Owing to the kindness of our Provost-Marshal (Mr. Stanway), I got my horses also under a kind of out-office. We marched the next day to the foot of the Guadarama Pass, where our soldiers, when dismissed in bivouac, had a fine hunt after a wild boar, which they killed. The sunshine brightened, and when I returned from a variety of duties I found the young wife as neat as a new pin in her little tent, her habit and all her things which had got wet in yesterday’s rain hung out to dry. So after breakfast I proposed to decorate my person (shave I need not, for as yet that operation was unnecessary), and the portmanteau was opened, the delinquent from which our doubloons had escaped. Some of the shirts were wet from the rain, and in searching for a dry one, out tumbled the three doubloons, which had been shaken into the folds of the shirt by the motion of the mule, and so lost. Oh, such joy and such laughing! We were so rich. We could buy bread and chocolate and sausages and eggs through the interest of the Padre (for we found the holy friar could get things when, however much money was exhibited, it proved no talisman), and our little fortune carried us through the retreat even to Ciudad Rodrigo, where money was paid to us.
This retreat was a very severe one as to weather, and although the enemy did not actually press us, as he did the column from Burgos, we made long marches and were very broad awake, and lost some of our baggage and stores, which the wearied bullocks obliged us to abandon. On reaching Salamanca, my wife, with the foresight of age rather than youth, expended some of the doubloons in buying me two pairs of worsted stockings and a pair of worsted mits, and the same for herself; which I do believe saved her from sickness, for the rain, on the retreat from Salamanca, came in torrents.
Footnote 1 – Her relations are numerous. She was in three sieges of her native city: in one her wounded brother died in her arms. She was educated in a convent, and is a lineal descendant of Ponce de Leon, the Knight of Romance, and certainly she, as a female, inherits all his heroism. Her name, Juana Maria de Los Dolores de Leon, at once gives the idea of Hidalgo consanguinity, and she is of one of the oldest of the notoriously old Spanish, not Moorish, families. After Talavera, when the Duke’s headquarters were at Badajos, and my wife was a child, Colonel Campbell and Lord Fitzroy Somerset were billeted in her sister’s house. That was in the palmy days of their affluence, when they derived a considerable income from their olive groves. These, alas! were all cut down by the unsparing hand of the French, and the sisters’ income seriously reduced. An olive tree requires great care and cultivation, nor does it bear well until twenty or thirty years oid.-H.G.S.