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 11


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

In Andalusia, the French, under Sebastiani, held Malaga and Granada; but, more eastward, the Spanish made a very troublesome resistance. It was in vain that Sebastiani marched into the mountains of Murcia to disperse the forces that Blake was again collecting there. Beaten in one place, they appeared in another. A strong force, under general Lacey, surprised a body of six thousand French at Renda, and put them to flight, securing their arms and stores. In Catalonia general O'Donnell stood his ground well, the country not only being by nature strong, but lying along the coast, where the English could support them by their fleets. Rushing from their hills and mountain forts, the Catalonian militia, styled somatenes and miguelets, headed by D'Erolles, continually inflicted severe chastisement on the French invaders, and then retired to their fortresses. Marshals Suchet, Augereau, and Macdonald found it impossible to make permanent head against O'Donnell and the Catalonians. In fact, though Spain might seem to be conquered, having no great armies in the field, it was never less so - and that Buonaparte felt. Wherever there were hills and forests, they swarmed with guerrillas. For this species of warfare - the guerilla - the Spanish were peculiarly adapted. The mountaineers, headed by the curate, the doctor, or the shepherd, men who, in spite of their ordinary habits, had a genius for enterprise, were continually on the watch to surprise and cut off the enemy. Other bodies of them were led by men of high birth, or of military training, but who were distinguished for their superior spirit and endurance of fatigue. Amongst these, the names of Mina, the Empecinado, are of world-wide reputation. These leaders had the most perfect knowledge of the woods and passes of the mountains, and had the most immediate information from the peasantry of the movements of the French. They could, therefore, come upon them when totally unlooked-for, and cut them off suddenly. If they were repulsed, they disappeared like shadows into the forests and deserts. Sometimes they came several thousands strong; sometimes a little band of ten or twenty men would dash forward from their concealments, and effect some startling deed. To chase them appeared hopeless, for they spread through a thousand ways, as water sinks into the earth and disappears. To intimidate them, Soult published a proclamation that he would treat them as bandits, and immediately shoot all that he captured; and the guerrillas replied by another proclamation that for every Spaniard they would execute three Frenchmen; and they so literally fulfilled their threat, that the French were compelled to return to the ordinary rules of warfare.

Such was the State of Spain, though nominally conquered by the French. It was only held by a vast force, and there was no prospect that this force could ever be dispensed with. Joseph was so heartily tired of his kingdom that, on going to Paris to attend the emperor's marriage, he declared that he would abdicate unless he were made generalissimo of all the forces in Spain, the separate generals, in their own provinces, paying but little regard to his commands, but each acting as if viceroy of his own province. To Napoleon the state of things was equally irksome. The drain of men and money was intolerable, and appeared without prospect of any end. He resolved, therefore, to make a gigantic effort to drive the English out of Portugal, when he hoped to be able to subjugate Spain. He could not y et proceed thither himself, but he sent great reinforcements under Drouet and Junot, and dispatched Massena, who was reckoned the greatest general next to himself, to drive Wellington into the sea. Massena had been so uniformly victorious, that Buonaparte styled him " the spoilt child of fortune," and had made him prince of Esslingen. Neither Buonaparte nor Massena himself doubted for a moment that he should speedily expel the sepoy general and his leopards.

In the Peninsula, altogether, the French had upwards of two hundred thousand men, but the force which Massena led against Wellington did not amount to more than sixty thousand, Drouet remaining, for the present, in Spain with eighteen thousand men, and Regnier lying in Estremadura with ten or twelve thousand more. To contend against Massena's sixty thousand veterans, lord Wellington had only twenty-four thousand British on whom he could rely. He had thirty thousand Portuguese regulars, who had been drilled by general Beresford, and had received many English officers. Wellington had great expectation that these troops, mixed judiciously with the English ones, would turn out well; but that had yet to be tried. Besides these, there were numerous bodies of Portuguese militia, who were employed in defending the fortresses in Alentejo and Algarva, thus protecting the flanks of Wellington's army.

In June Massena advanced, and laid siege to Ciudad Rodrigo. This was almost within sight of Wellington's lines. The town was defended by a Spanish garrison, and Wellington was called upon to co-operate by attacking the besiegers. This he offered to do if Romana would under- take to prevent the march of Regnier from Estremadura on his rear the while; but Romana would not undertake to maintain himself against Regnier if the British force under general Hill crossed the Tagus. Wellington, whose object was to defend Portugal and not Spain, therefore lay still; and the Spaniards, after a brave defence, were compelled to capitulate on the 10th of July. Then there was a wild cry of indignation raised against Wellington by the Spaniards, and even by his own officers, that he should see a place taken from our allies, under his very eyes, and not attempt to relieve it. The French taunted him with it in the Moniteur, and regarded it as a great sign of his weakness. But none of these things moved Wellington. He knew what he had to do - which was to defend Portugal - and he had made his plans for doing it; but this was not by exposing his small army in any situation to which the Spanish chose to call him, while, at the same time, they declined to co-operate with him. He soon had the division of marshal Ney upon his outposts, where he fell in with our light division under general Craufurd. Wellington had ordered that, on attack, Craufurd should retire on the main body in order, because he did not wish to reduce his small numbers in skirmishes, but to reserve them for favourable occasions; but Craufurd, being hotly pursued, turned and gave the French a severe rebuff, killing and wounding above one thousand of Massena's men. Craufurd, having driven the French back three times, made a masterly passage, by a bridge, over the Coa, and joined the main army.

On entering Portugal, Massena issued a proclamation, informing the Portuguese that the English were the universal troublers and mischief-makers of Europe, and that they were there only for their own objects of ambition, and calling on the inhabitants to receive the French as their friends and saviours. Lord Wellington issued a counter-proclamation, remarking that the Portuguese had had too much occasion to learn wliat sort of friends the French were; that they had learned it by the robbery of their property, their brutality towards the women, and oppression of all classes. He called on them, as the sole means of rescue, to resist to the death; and he ordered them, as the English army retired upon Lisbon, to withdraw from their towns and villages, carrying whatever they could with them, so that the enemy might find no means of support. This was part of his great plan; and he assured the Portuguese that those who stayed behind after their magistrates had ordered them to withdraw should receive no assistance from him; and that whoever was found holding any communication with the enemy should be deemed a traitor, and treated accordingly.

On the 26th of August Massena arrived before Almeida, a strongly fortified town not thirty miles from Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellington hoped that it would detain him at least a month, for it had a good Portuguese garrison, commanded by colonel Cox, an English officer; and he himself drew near, to be able to seize any opportunity of damaging the besiegers. But in the night of the 27th there was a terrible explosion of a powder magazine, which threw down part of the wall, and made the place untenable. Treachery was immediately suspected, and what followed was sufficient proof of it; for the Portuguese major, whom colonel Cox sent to settle the terms of the capitulation, went over to the French, and was followed by a whole Portuguese regiment with the exception of its English officers. This was a great disappointment to lord Wellington, whose plan was to detain Massena till the rainy season set in, when he would at once find himself embarrassed by bridgeless floods and in intolerable roads, and, as he hoped and had ordered, in a country without people and without provisions.

But, undiscouraged, lord Wellington ordered general Hill, who had already crossed the Tagus, to hasten onward, and he then carefully fell back, and took his position on the grim and naked ridges of Busaco, a sierra extending from Mondego to the northward. Behind this range of hills lay Coimbra, and three roads led through the defiles to that city. These, and several lesser ravines used by the shepherds and muleteers, he thoroughly fortified; and, posting himself on these difficult heights, he calmly awaited the advance of Massena. The ascents by which the French must reach them were precipitous and exposed; and on the summit, in the centre of the range, Wellington took up his head-quarters at a Carmelite convent, whence he could survey the whole scene, having upwards of thirty thousand men disposed along these frowning eminences.

On the 26th of September the hostile host was seen in full march - cavalry, infantry, and artillery, attended by a vast assemblage of wagons and burden-bearing mules. The spectacle, as described by eye-witnesses, was most imposing, in its multitudes and its beautiful order. At night, the whole country along the foot of the hills was fit up by the enemy's camp fires, and towards morning the din of preparation for the contest was plainly audible. Nothing but the overweening confidence of Massena in his invincibility, and the urgent commands of Napoleon, could have induced him to attack the allied army in such a position; but both he and Buonaparte held the Portuguese as nothing, regarding them no more than as so many Spaniards, unaware of the wonderful change operated upon them by English discipline. A letter of Buonaparte to Massena had been intercepted, in which he said that " it would be ridiculous to suppose that twenty-five thousand English could withstand sixty thousand French, if the latter did not trifle, but fell on boldly, after having well observed where the blow might be Struck." Ney, it is said, was of opinion that this was not such a situation; that it was at too great an odds to attack the allies in the face of such an approach. But Massena did not hesitate; early on the morning of the 27th he sent forward several columns both to the right and left of Wellington's position, to carry the heights. These were met, on Wellington's right, by Picton's division, the 88th regiment being commanded by lieutenant-colonel Wallace, and the 45th by lieutenant-colonel Meade. They were supported by the 8th Portuguese regiment. The French rushed up boldly to the very heights, but were hurled back at the point of the bayonet, the Portuguese making the charge with as much courage and vigour as the English. Another attempt, still further to Wellington's right, was made, the French supposing that they were then'- beyond the British lines, and should turn their flank; but they were there met by general Leith's division, the Royals, the 9th and the 38th regiments, and were forced down the steeps with equal destruction. Both these sanguinary repulses were given to the division of general Regnier - the same man who had written such libels of the English troops in Egypt, and had been so sharply punished for it at Maida, in Calabria. On the left of Wellington the attack was made by Ney's division, which came in contact with that of general Craufurd, especially with the 43rd, 52nd, and 95th regiments of English, and the 3rd Portuguese Cacadores, and with the same decisive and destructive result. There, too, the Portuguese fought gallantly, and, where they had not room to kill with their bayonets, they imitated the British soldiers, and knocked down the French with the butt- ends of their guns. Everywhere the repulse was complete, and Massena left two thousand slain on the field, and had between three and four thousand wounded. One general was killed, three wounded, one taken prisoner, besides many other officers. The allies lost about one thousand three hundred, of whom five hundred and seventy-eight were Portuguese. Wellington was delighted with the proof that general Beresford's drilling had answered the very highest expectations, and that henceforth he could count confidently on his Portuguese troops, and he wrote in the most cheering terms of this fact in his dispatches home.

On the 28th Massena had discovered the pass of Boyalva through these hills, to the north of Busaco, which Wellington had ordered colonel Trant to occupy. But Trant had missed his way, and did not reach the pass in time. Wellington saw, therefore, his flank turned, and the enemy on the highway to Oporto. He therefore quitted his position, and, taking Coimbra in his way, compelled such of the inhabitants as had not obeyed his order to march along with him. On the 1st of October he was on his route southward, accompanied by this strange crowd. It was a perfect exodus, and appeared to the poor inhabitants as a severe measure, but to it they owed their after-salvation. Had they remained, it would have been only to suffer the oppressions and insults of the French, and to see them supporting themselves on their provisions. As it was, the French, on entering Coimbra, found it, as they had done Viseu, totally deserted, and the stacks of corn and provisions that could not be carried away, for the most part, too adroitly buried to be easily found. They were left to the starvation that the English general designed for them. But what a scene on the road! The whole country moving south with the cattle and sheep, and wagons laden with their goods. " No power of description," says an eyewitness, " can convey to the mind of any reader the afflicting scenes, the cheerless desolation that we daily witnessed on our march from the Mondego to the lines. Wherever we moved, the mandate, which enjoined the wretched inhabitants to forsake their homes and to remove or destroy their little property, had gone before us. The villages were deserted; the churches - retreats so often, yet so vainly confided in - were empty; the mountain cottages stood open and untenanted; the mills in the valley, but yesterday so busy, were motionless and silent. From Thomar the flanks of our line of march were literally covered with the flying population of the country. In Portugal there are at no time many facilities for travelling, and those few the exigencies of the army had very greatly diminished. Rich indeed were those who still retained a cabriolet, and mules for its service. Those who had bullock-cars, asses, or any mode of transporting their families and property, looked contented and grateful; for respectable men and delicate women of the second class might on every side be seen walking slowly and painfully on foot, encumbered by heavy burdens of clothes, bedding, and food." It was a whole country in emigration; quitting their cities, homes, and fields to coop themselves up in the vicinity of Lisbon, for the stern purpose of starving the detested enemy out of the land.

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

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 11

The Battle of Talavera
The Battle of Talavera >>>>
Lord Collingwood
Lord Collingwood >>>>
Via Mala
Via Mala >>>>
Execution of Andrew Hofer
Execution of Andrew Hofer >>>>
Campo Vaccino
Campo Vaccino >>>>
Pope Pius VIII
Pope Pius VIII >>>>
Burdett riots
Burdett riots >>>>
Sir Francis Burdett
Sir Francis Burdett >>>>
Marriage of Napoleon
Marriage of Napoleon >>>>
The fire at the Austrian ambassadors ball
The fire at the Austrian ambassadors ball >>>>
Scene in the Peninsula
Scene in the Peninsula >>>>
Port of Rotterdam
Port of Rotterdam >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About