OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 14

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 <14> 15 16 17 18 19

Sir John had fought in Egypt, under Sir Ralph Abercrombie, and against this Regnier, who served in Egypt as second in command to general Menou. He had written a book, in which he had traduced the English army most shamefully, declaring that officers and men were destitute of both skill and courage, unworthy the name of soldiers, and that the loss of Egypt was owing entirely to the incapacity of Menou. Both Sir John Stuart and his men burned to avenge themselves on the impudent slanderer. The 58th regiment, now with Sir John, was one of those calumniated, having been at the battle of Alexandria, and with Sir John afterwards. Sir John landed in Calabria on the 1st of July, in the gulf of Santa Euphemia, not far from Nicastro, and advanced to seek Regnier. He had not quite five thousand troops with him, all infantry, and a third of these Corsicans, Sicilians, and other foreigners in British pay. Regnier had started for Naples with ten thousand, but some of these were lost, and others stationed to occupy different posts. He is supposed to have had now ready for action seven thousand men, including three hundred horse. Sir John Stuart had only sixteen pieces of artillery, ten four-pounders, four six-pounders, and two howitzers, and he had much difficulty in dragging even these along with him, owing to the rough and thickety ground over which they had to pass. Regnier started at once to meet him, and to drive him into the sea. He does not seem to have been better provided with cannon.

On the 3rd of July Sir John Stuart learned that Regnier was near Maida, about ten miles from Sir John's landing- place. Leaving a detachment to guard the stores, Sir John, on the 4th, marched forward, under a burning sun, to come up with him. He was accompanied in his march by a crowd of sailors from Sir Sidney Smith's squadron, mounted on donkeys, who were anxious to see the fight, and certain of victory. Sir John found Regnier drawn up in a strong position on a woody slope below the village of Maida, flanked by a thick, scrubby wood on either hand, and having in front the river Amato, at this season of the year perfectly fordable. The position was formidable, and, had Regnier kept it, it must have tried the English severely to dislodge him, especially as they had no cavalry; but Regnier, probably honestly of opinion that the English need only be encountered to be beaten, descended from his vantage ground into the plain. One reason might be, that his cavalry could better avail him there; another, that, after his boasts, Lebrun, the commissioner of Buonaparte, who always, in the old jacobin style, had such a person in the field to watch the conduct of his generals, would be ready to condemn him, if he showed any delay when engaged with so despised an enemy. The two armies approached each other about nine o'clock in the morning. They fired two or three rounds at each other, and then advanced with fixed bayonets. The officer commanding the British advance column, seeing that the men were oppressed by the blankets which they carried at their backs in that sultry weather, commanded a halt a little before they closed, and ordered them to let their blankets go. The French, seeing this momentary halt, were confirmed in their general's opinion of the cowardice of the English, and rushed on with loud cheers. They were bronzed and bearded veterans; the English, who composed the advance column, were chiefly young and beardless youths; and an officer present informed Sir Walter Scott, that, as he glanced first on the grim-looking French, and then at the smooth, young faces of the British, he could not help feeling a momentary anxiety. But, no sooner were the English freed from their blankets, than they dashed forward with loud hurrahs; and the French, who, since the battle of Austerlitz, had boasted no soldiers in Europe could stand against them in a charge of bayonets, were, in their turn, staggered. Some few stood firmly to cross bayonets with the foe, but the greater part fell back. The French officers rushed along their lines to encourage their men, but in vain; nothing could urge them to the points of the English bayonets. The hills around were crowded with the Calabrians, anxious spectators of the fight. When the English halted, they raised loud exclamations of dismay, believing they were about to fly, but the next moment they saw them springing forward with shouts and the French waver, turn, and fly. The first light infantry - a crack French regiment - were the first to break and run for the hills. But it was too late; the English were at their backs, and pursued them with a terrible slaughter.

Regnier's left thus routed by our right, he rode furiously about, bringing all the force he could muster on our left, but there the result was just the same: the French scarcely stayed to feel the bayonets, but fled in headlong confusion. The French, by their own authorities, admit that they had one thousand five hundred men killed or wounded. Sir John Stuart reports that they buried seven hundred French on the field; the English lost only about fifty men killed, and less than three hundred wounded. But the greatest havoc amongst the fugitive French was made by the enraged Calabrians amongst the hills, besides the numbers that they brought prisoners into the English camp. The French, who never lose a battle without assigning false numbers or other false causes for it, reported that Sir John Stuart's force was vastly superior in numbers to their own; and general Colletta, a Neapolitan, serving in the French army, and in favour with Joseph Buonaparte and Murat, had the hardihood to state, in his history of this campaign, that the English fought in an entrenched camp on the shore, and under the protection of awful masked batteries, which mowed down completely Regnier's troops. A Frenchman, more honest than the rest of his countrymen, however, gave a very different account. This was Paul Louis Courier, a witty and able writer. In a letter to his friends, dated from Cassano on the 12th of August, and published in his memoirs, he says that bulletins and the Moniteur might say what they pleased, but that Regnier was most completely beaten; that the French did not stay to fight at all. He represents the numbers of the armies as equal, and, therefore, to the French, very disgraceful; but the fact being that the French were greatly superior in number, the disgrace was the more decisive; nor does it appear that Regnier, who had excused the French army in Egypt at the expense of Menou, was magnanimous enough to excuse his troops by assuming his own incapacity. The English took all the forts along the coasts, and drove the French into Upper Calabria, where they were joined, near Cassano, by Massena, with a powerful army. But the English force was not strong enough to do more than it had done. Malaria also began to decimate his troops, and Sir John Stuart returned, in August, to Sicily, carrying with him a great quantity of stores, artillery, &c., which the French had prepared for the reduction of Calabria. The chief benefit of the battle of Maida was to show that the English troops, in proper quantities, were able to drive the French before them, but that, in the small numbers usually set on expeditions, they were merely wasted. The battle of Alexandria, and now that of Maida, demonstrated that, if England would continue to fight on the continent, she must prepare to do it with a sufficient force; and the after campaigns of Portugal and Spain, and the conclusive battle of Waterloo, were the results of this public conviction. At the same time, the brilliant episode of Maida had wonderfully encouraged the Neapolitans and Calabrians. The white flag of the Bourbons was raised in almost every quarter of the kingdom: in the mountainous districts especially, the people flew to arms. Piccioli, a daring partisan, raised nearly the whole of the population of the Abruzzi; and Fra Diavolo showed himself with his bands in the Terra di Lavoro, and approached, sometimes, to the very suburbs of Naples. Joseph Buonaparte, the French intruded king, was once or twice on the very point of flying to the army in Upper Calabria, and many of his counsellors strongly advised it. Massena advised Joseph to remain, and assured him that he would soon reduce the whole kingdom to obedience to him. But, in fact, it took Massena and his successors five years to accomplish the subjugation, with the sacrifice of one hundred thousand men. In carrying out this subjection, the French, in their wrath, committed the most horrible atrocities, in burning towns and villages, murdering the inhabitants, violating the women, and desolating the olive and orange groves. In a word, they had to reduce that lovely country to a desert. In the words of Tacitus, " they made a solitude and called it peace."

Another successful expedition this year was one against the Cape of Good Hope. This settlement, so desirable for England, with its Indian possessions, had been yielded up by the Addington administration, at the peace of Amiens, most impoliticly. A body of five thousand men was dispatched for its recovery, under Sir David Baird, in a fleet commanded by Sir Home Popham. They arrived in January, and the Dutch soldiers fled at the first attack. Retiring into the interior, general Beresford was dispatched after them, whereupon they surrendered, on condition that they should be sent to Holland without being deemed prisoners of war.

Had Sir Home Popham been satisfied with this well- executed piece of service, he would have merited honour; but, this being done, he suggested to Sir David Baird that an expedition might be made with advantage against the Spanish colonies in South America. It was reported - not truly, as it turned out - that these colonies were as poorly defended as they were wealthy. Sir David was weak enough to fall into the scheme, and, without any authority from home, as it would appear, for so important a proceeding, he permitted general Beresford to sail in Sir Home's squadron with a part of his forces. The fleet touched at St. Helena, and took in a few more soldiers, but the whole body did not then amount to more than sixteen hundred with this contemptible handful of men, the English squadron entered the river La Plata, and landed the troops, on the 24th of June, at a short distance from Buenos Ayres. The few Spanish troops in the city were easily routed, and the place capitulated on the 27th, and Beresford entered and took up his quarters there. But he was not long left at peace. The Spaniards, discovering, as a matter of course, the insignificance of the force which had thus rashly surprised the city, collected in sufficient numbers to make prisoners of them all. A French officer in the Spanish service, M. Liniers, landed with a thousand men from Monte Video and Sacramento, and, being joined by the troops of the neighbourhood which had been repulsed by Beresford, appeared before the city on the 10th of July, and summoned the English to surrender. This was the signal for the inhabitants to rise en masse and fall on them. They were prevented escaping to their ships by the badness of the weather, and they were assailed from the windows and doors, and exposed to a general attack in the great square, and were compelled to yield, on condition of being allowed to re-embark; but no sooner had they laid down their arms, than Liniers, who probably looked on them as no better than filibusters, treated them as such, and marched them up the country, where they were rigorously treated. Four hundred, of them had perished in this mad attempt. Meantime, Sir Home Popham had sent home upwards of a million of dollars, reserving two hundred and five thousand for the pay of the army. There were great rejoicings in London at the news, and at the receipt of the specie. Popham, in his dispatches, represented himself as having conquered a great colony, and opened up a wonderful mart for our manufactures; and the ministry, delighted at the receipt of the dollars, though they had, on first hearing of the scheme, sent out orders to stop the squadron, now, on the 20th of September, issued an order in council, declaring Buenos Ayres and its dependencies open to our trade. Long before this order could have reached America the whole scene was reversed. Sir Home Popham had, indeed, blockaded the river La Plata, and had attempted to bombard Monte Video, but his ships could not get near enough. In October, reinforcements arrived from the Cape and from England, but not in sufficient strength to enable him to do anything decisive. He therefore contented himself with landing troops at Maldonado, and drove the Spaniards from the isle of Gorriti, where he lay to, and waited for greater reinforcements. We shall soon see the fate of these, and of this most disgraceful expedition.

This attempt was the more disgraceful, because Spain, being at war with England, there was no reason, according to the laws of war, why England should not make a strong, and adequate effort, not to plunder and maraud on the coasts of the Spanish main, but to assist the inhabitants in throwing off the feeble and yet oppressive yoke of Spain, as Spain had done in the revolt of our own American colonies. A judicious and well-calculated expedition would, probably, have anticipated the independence of those vast and fertile regions by several years. The hour and the man were come, had England given effectual aid. The colonies were greatly discontented with the mother country, which continued to drain them without affording them the benefits of good government. Many districts had revolted, and were in a state of actual independence. There needed only a strong support by England to enable the whole of Spanish America to become free, and thus establish a friendly connection and a most lucrative one with us. There was a hero ready to head his countrymen, and there can be no doubt but that they would have accepted his leadership, had he come backed in a form which promised success. This hero was Miranda. He was a native of the city of Caracas, in Venezuela, and his grandfather had been governor of the province of Caracas. He himself was a colonel in the Spanish army, and had been intrusted with important operations in Guatemala. From his youth he was a devoted admirer of free institutions. He was inspired with a wonderful enthusiasm for the struggle of the North Americans for their independence, and, after that was achieved, visited the United States, and strengthened his republican sentiments by intercourse with the leading men of that great revolution. His penchant for republicanism ruined him with his own government, and he came over to Europe, and appeared as a zealous partisan in the French revolution. He served as a major-general in Belgium, and against the Prussian invaders, under Dumouriez; but he fell under the censure of that general, and had a narrow escape from the guillotine under the revolutionary tribunal. He became a zealous Girondist, and, after exciting successively the enmity of the directory and of Buonaparte, lie came to England, and here exerted himself to induce the British government to embrace the cause of South American freedom. Both Pitt and Addington listened to him, but neither of them had the statesmanship to grapple with a design so bold and yet so noble. Had Chatham then grasped the helm of affairs, the scheme was one to take hold of his comprehensive intellect, and he would probably have evoked a great and free South America, as he had made Canada, by Wolf, and India, by Clive, English. He would have done it, too, with half the expenditure of men and money which these ministers wasted over petty and fruitless enterprises on the coasts of Europe.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 <14> 15 16 17 18 19

Pictures for The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 14

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About