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 15

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

Both the government and people of England responded to these demands with enthusiasm. War with Spain was declared to be at an end; all the Spanish prisoners were freed from confinement, and were sent home in well-provided vessels. The ministers, and Canning especially, avowed their conviction that the time was come to make an effectual blow at the arrogant power of Buonaparte. Sir Arthur Wellesley was selected to command a force of nine thousand infantry and one regiment of cavalry, which was to sail immediately to the peninsula, and to act as circumstances should determine. This force sailed from Cork on the 12 th of July, and was to be followed by another of ten thousand men. Sir Arthur reached Corunna on the 20th of the same month, and immediately put himself in communication with the junta of Gallicia. All was confidence amongst the Spaniards. They assured him, as the deputies in London had assured the ministers, that they wanted no assistance from foreign troops; that they had men to any amount, full of bravery; they only wanted arms and money. He furnished them with a considerable sum of money, but his experienced mind foresaw that they needed more than they imagined to contend with the troops of Buonaparte. They wanted efficient officers, and thorough discipline, and he felt confident that they must, in their overweening assurance, suffer severe reverses. He warned the junta that Buonaparte, if he met with obstructions in reaching them by land, would endeavour to cross into the Asturias by sea, and he advised them to fit out the Spanish ships lying at Ferrol, to prevent this; but they replied that they could not divert their attention from their resistance by land, and must leave the protection of their coasts to their British allies.

Sir Arthur then sailed directly for Oporto, where he found the Portuguese right glad to have the assistance of a British force, and most willing to co-operate with it, and to have their raw levies trained by British officers. On the 24th of July he opened his communication with the town. The bishop was heading the insurrection, and three thousand men in drill, but badly armed and equipped. A thousand muskets had been furnished by the English fleet, but many men had no arms but fowling-pieces. General Wellesley made arrangements for horses and mules to drag his cannon, and convey his baggage, and then he sailed as far as the Tagus, to ascertain the number and condition of the French forces about Lisbon. Satisfied on this head, he returned, and landed his troops, on the 1st of August, at Figueiras, in Mondego Bay. This little place had been taken by the Portuguese insurgents, and was now held by three hundred mariners from English ships. Higher up the river lay five thousand Portuguese regulars, at Coimbra. On the 5th he was joined by general Spencer, from Cadiz, with four thousand men; thus raising his force to thirteen thousand foot and about five hundred cavalry. The greatest rejoicing was at the moment taking place amongst the Portuguese from the news of general Dupont's surrender to Castanos.

Junot had from sixteen to eighteen thousand men in Portugal, but a considerable number of them were scattered into different garrisons; his hope of reinforcements from Spain were likewise cut off by the surrender of Dupont, and by the fact of the Spaniards being in possession of Andalusia, Estremadura, and Gallicia. Thus the numbers of the two armies which could be brought into the field against each other were pretty equal, except that Junot had a fine body of cavalry, of which arm the English were nearly destitute. On the 9th of August general Wellesley commenced his march southward, in the direction of Lisbon, to encounter Junot. At Leiria he found the Portuguese general, Friere, with his five thousand men. This general, who seems to have had all the awkward, unmanageable pride of a Spaniard, rather than the disposition of a Portuguese, had appropriated the stores expressly provided for the English troops by arrangement with the bishop and junta of Oporto. Not contented with this, he now expected that general Wellesley should regularly supply his army from his own commissariat - a strange proposition to a general come to fight the battles of the country, that, instead of being supplied with provisions, at least, by that country, he should maintain his own forces and supply those that he came to aid too. Sir Arthur Wellesley very properly refused. He was willing to purchase with hard cash all that he wanted for his own army, but he would not consent to support the Portuguese army to fight their own battle. At this general Friere was greatly offended, and refused any further to co-operate with the English; but we shall see that he was in a great hurry to come in for a part of the credit when the business was done without him. And all this, after general Wellesley had supplied Friere with five thousand muskets for his men - that is, had completely armed his corps - and also with ammunition and flints. In the end, one thousand six hundred of Friere's men were allowed to march along with the English army.

On the 16th Wellesley came in contact with the van of Junot's army. On the landing of the English, Junot had called in his different garrisons, and concentrated his troops about Lisbon. He also dispatched general Delaborde to check Wellesley's march, and ordered Loison, now returned from his butchering expedition into Alentejo, to support him. But, before Loison could reach Delaborde, Wellesley was upon him, and drove in his outpost at the village of Obidos, and forced him back on Roliša. At that place Delaborde had a very strong position, and there he determined to stand. He was located on a range of rocky hills, the ravines between which were thickly grown with underwood and briars. Up these the British must force their way, if they attacked, and must suffer severely from the riflemen placed in the thickets and on the brows of the hills. But Wellesley knew that Loison with his detachment was hourly expected, and be determined to beat Delaborde before he came up. He therefore placed his Portuguese division on his right to meet Delaborde, and ordered his left to ascend the steep hills, and be prepared for the appearance of Loison's force, which was Coming in that direction. His middle column had to make its way up the steepest heights, in front of Delaborde's centre. All three columns executed their movements, however, with equal valour and spirit. The centre suffered most of all, both from the nature of the ground, and from a rifle ambuscade, placed in a copse of myrtle and arbutus, which mowed our soldiers down in heaps, with their gallant colonel, the son of lord Lake, of Indian fame, at their head. Notwithstanding all difficulties, our soldiers scaled the heights, formed there, and the centre charged Delaborde's centre with the bayonet, and drove them back. As the French had been taught that the English soldiers were of no account, and their general only a sepoy general, they returned several times to the attack, but on every occasion found themselves repulsed as by an immovable wall. Then, seeing the right and left wings bearing down upon them, they gave way, and ran for it. They were equally astonished at the terrible charges with the bayonet, at the rapidity and precision of the firing, and the general arrangement of the battle, and the exactitude with which it was carried out.

The French left six hundred killed and wounded on the field; the English had four hundred and eighty killed or disabled. Delaborde retreated amongst the hills to the village of Azambugueira, and thence to Torres Vedras, where he looked for the junction of Loison, and where that general really appeared. Still the English force was equal, if not superior, in numbers to the French, and Sir Arthur Wellesley advanced along the sea-coast to Vimeira, where he was joined by generals Anstruther and Acland. Unfortunately, at this moment arrived Sir Harry Burrard, whom the ministry had ordered to supersede Sir Arthur Wellesley in the chief command till the arrival of Sir Hew Dalrymple, who was to be the general-in-chief; Burrard, second in command; and Wellesley, Sir John Moore, lord Paget, Sir John Hope, and Macdonald Frazer, to command different divisions. Thus, by the old system of routine, the real military genius was reduced from the first to the fourth in command. Whatever were the rest of the generals - and Sir John Moore was the next best - the only one who had yet shown talent equal to the emergency, was Wellesley. In India, and at Copenhagen, his ability, his calm, comprehensive mind, his quick perception of the situation, his sound and accurate judgment, had uniformly pointed him out as a man capable of directing the most arduous possible campaigns. One who had watched his career in India - a man of competent judgment - wrote home, on Sir Arthur's quitting Hindostan: - " You seem to be at a loss for generals in England. There is one now returning from India, who, if you can overcome the objection of precedence and length of service, and place him at once at the head of the British army, is capable of saving England, at least, if not Europe, from the dangers which seem thickening around you." Chat- ham, who picked Wolfe and Clive out of the mass of self- confident mediocrity, would have at once put his finger on Wellesley; but the present tory ministry, though they had Canning amongst them, were not capable of this discernment, or of the vigour necessary to break the spell of routine; and thus within twenty-four hours, and at a moment so imminently critical, the English army had three commanders-in-chief!

Sir Arthur went on board Sir Harry Burrard's vessel on the evening of his arrival, the 26th of August, and explained to him the positions of the armies, and his plan of advancing along the coast to Mafra, thus turning the flank of Delaborde and Loison, and compelling them to fight or retreat on Lisbon. This was clearly the view of every one of the officers, who were eager to press on; but Sir Harry, old and cautious, was of opinion that nothing more should be risked till Sir John Moore arrived with his reinforcements. Sir Arthur must have returned under a sense of deep disappointment, but, fortunately for him, the enemy did not allow of his waiting for Sir John Moore. At midnight he received a hasty message that the French were in motion, and coming in one dense mass of twenty thousand men to surprise and route him. Sir Arthur was strongly posted in the village of Vimeira- and on the Hills around it. He sent out patroles, and ordered the piquets to be on the alert, and he then called out his troops, and had them in good fighting order by the dawn of day. At about seven o'clock the advance of the enemy was perceived by the clouds of dust that rose into the air, and soon they were seen coming on in columns of infantry, preceded by cavalry. By ten o'clock the French were close at band, and made an impetuous attack on the English centre and left, to drive them into the sea, according to a favourite French phrase, the sea actually rolling close to their rear. The first troops which came into collision with them were the 50th regiment, commanded by colonel Walker. Seeing that the intention of the French, who were led by Delaborde himself, was to break his line by their old method of pushing on a dense column by a momentum from behind, which drove in the van, like a wedge, spite of itself, colonel Walker instantly changed the position of his regiment so as, instead of a parallel line, to present an oblique one to the assailing column. This was, therefore, driven on by the immense rear, and, instead of breaking the English line, was actually taken in flank by it, and the musketry and grape-shot mowed down the French in a terrible manner. This was immediately succeeded by a rapid charge with the bayonet; and so astonishing was the effect of this unexpected movement, that they were thrown into irretrievable confusion, and broke on every side. Whilst this was the effect on the centre and left, general Sir Ronald Fergusson was attacked with equal impetuosity by Loison: bayonets were crossed, and the same result as took place at Maida occurred - the French fell back and fled.

Nothing was wanted but a good body of cavalry to follow up the flying foe, and completely reduce them to surrender. The small body of horse, commanded by colonel Taylor, fought with an ardour that led them too far into the centre of Margaron's powerful cavalry, and colonel Taylor was killed, and half of his little troop with him. Kellermann, to cut off the pursuit, posted a strong reserve in a pine wood, on the line of retreat, but they were driven out at the point of the bayonet. Had the orders of general Wellesley now been carried out, the French would have been cut off from much further retreat. General Hill was commanded to take a short cut, and interpose betwixt the French and the strong position of Torres Vedras, and general Fergusson was directed to follow sharply in their rear. In all probability they must have capitulated at once; but, here, the evil genius of Sir Harry Burrard again interfered to save them. He appeared on the field, and thought sufficient had been done till Sir John Moore arrived. It was not enough for him that the French had now been twice put to the route within a few days, and were in full flight, and that they were found not to be twenty thousand, but only eighteen thousand strong. He ordered the pursuit to cease, and the army to sit down at Vimeira till the arrival of Moore. To the great astonishment of the French, and the equal mortification of the English, the retreating enemy was thus allowed to collect their forces, and take possession of the heights of Torres Vedras.

The next day, the 21st, Sir Hew Dalrymple arrived from Gibraltar, and superseded Sir Harry Burrard. But the mischief was done; the enemy had gained the strong position from which Wellesley would have cut them off. What would have been the effect of Sir Arthur's unobstructed orders was clearly seen by what did take place; for, not- withstanding the possession of the strong post of Torres Vedras, Junot saw that he could not maintain the conflict against the English, and, on the 22nd, he sent general Kellermann with a flag of truce to propose an armistice, preparatory to a convention for the evacuation of Portugal by the French.

The terms which Junot required were that the French should not be considered as prisoners of war, but should be conveyed to France by sea, with all their baggage; that nothing should be detained. These would, in fact, have allowed them to carry off all the plunder of churches and houses, and to this Sir Arthur decidedly objected. He declared that some means must be found to make the French disgorge the church plate. But the convention was signed, subject to the consent of the British admiral, Sir Charles Cotton, and that especially because Junot had stipulated that the Russian fleet in the Tagus, commanded by admiral Siniavin, should not be molested or stopped when it wished to go away. Admiral Cotton objected to these terms, and it was concluded that the Russian fleet should be made over to England till six months after the conclusion of a general peace; and commissioners were appointed to examine the French spoil, by which the property of the museum and royal library, and some of the church plate were detained; but the French were allowed to carry off far too much of their booty. The definitive treaty was signed on the 30th of August, much to the disgust of Sir Arthur Wellesley, who, however, signed it as a matter of form. Ile then wrote home to Lord Castlereagh, to say that he desired to quit the army; that matters were not prospering, and that he had been too successful to allow him to serve in it in any subordinate situation. Indeed, he saw that, left to himself, he could carry victory with the English standard, but that it was impossible to do any good under men who could neither do that themselves, nor would allow him to do it, who could.

<<< 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 15

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About