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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 12


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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.

But, sorrowful as the sight itself was, the news of it in England excited the strongest condemnation in the party which had always doubted the power of Wellington to cope with the vast armies of France. They declared that he was carrying on a system that was ruining Portugal, and must make our name an opprobrium over the whole world, at the same time that it could not enable us to keep a footing there; that we must be driven out with terrible loss and infamy. But not so thought Wellington. Before him were the heights of Torres Vedras, about twenty-four miles from Lisbon. These, stretching in two ranges betwixt the sea and the Tagus, presented a barrier which he did not mean the French to pass. He had already planned the whole scheme; he had already had these heights, themselves naturally strong, made tenfold stronger by military art; he had drawn the enemy after him into a country stripped, and destitute of everything, and there he meant to stop him, and keep him exposed to famine and winter, till he should be glad to retrace his steps. Neither should those steps be easy. Floods, and deep, muddy roads, and dearth should lie before him; and at his heels should follow, keen as hornets, the allied army, to avenge the miseries of this invaded people.

By the 8th of October Wellington was safely encamped within these impregnable fines, and the crowd of flying people sought refuge in Lisbon, or in the country around it. The English did not arrive a moment too soon, for Massena was close at their heels with his van; but he halted at Sobral for three days to allow of the coming up of his main body. This time was spent by the English in strengthening their position, already most formidable. The two ranges of mountains lying one behind the other were speedily occupied by the troops; and they were set to work at more completely stopping up roads, and constructing barriers, palisades, platforms, and wooden bridges leading into the works. For this purpose, fifty thousand trees were allowed them, and all the space between Lisbon and these wonderful lines was one swarming scene of people bringing in materials and supplies. The right of the position was flanked by the Tagus, where the British fleet lay anchored, attended by a flotilla of gunboats, and a body of marines occupied the line of embarkation; Portuguese militia manned the castle of St. Julian and the forts on the Tagus, and Lisbon itself was filled with armed bands of volunteers. There was no want of anything within this busy and interesting inclosure, for the English fleet had the command of the sea and all its means of supply. Seven thousand Portuguese peasantry were employed in bringing in and preparing the timber for the defences; and every soldier not positively on guard was enthusiastic in helping the engineers and artillery in the labour of making the fines impregnable.

It was one of the most interesting scenes in any warfare; and there was not a man who did not enjoy the astonish- ment and disappointment of the French when, on the 11th, they marched in wonder up to the foot of these giant fortifications. Wellington had doubly obtained his wish; for he was not only safely ensconced in his strong position, but the rainy season which he was anticipating had set in earnest. The main body of the French had been detained by the deep roads and the floods, and now, when the proud general, who expected so rapidly to drive the British into the sea, surveyed the scarped cliffs bristling with cannon and with bayonets far above him, his astonishment was evident. He rode along the foot of the hills for several days reconnoitring the whole position, which seemed suddenly to have altered the situation of the combatants, and not so much to have shut up Wellington and his army in Lisbon, as to have shut him and his numerous one out to famine and the wintry elements.

For more than four months the invincible Massena continued to watch the lines of Torres Vedras without striking a single effective blow at the " leopards " which he had been expected, long before this, to have driven into the sea. In fact, instead of attacking Wellington, Wellington attacked his advanced posts near Sobral on the 14th, and drove them in with the bayonet. The French then showed themselves in some force near Villa Franca, close to the Tagus; but there the gun-boats reached them, causing them rapidly to retreat, and killing general St. Croix. After this, the French made no further attempt on those mountain lines, which struck Massena with despair. After occupying his position for a month he fell back to the town of Santarem, and there and in the neighbouring villages quartered his troops for the winter. His great business was to collect provisions, for he had brought none with him; and, had the people obeyed strictly the proclamation of Wellington and the junta, he would have found none at all, and must have instantly retreated. But the Portuguese thought it hard to quit their homesteads and carry all their provisions to Lisbon or into the mountains, and the miserable junta threw all the blame of the order on the English general. Not only, therefore, was a considerable amount of provisions left in the country, but boats were left at Santarem, on the Tagus, contrary to Wellington's orders, by which provisions were brought over by the French from Spain. These things provoked lord Wellington exceedingly, and he wrote in very plain terms to the junta, telling them that, had they seen his orders fully carried out, Massena could not have remained a week; and that, unless they did see the orders fully carried out, he would not stay in the country. But these self-sufficient gentlemen not only allowed, and even encouraged the people to break the order, but they were constantly interfering with Wellington's military arrangements, blaming his plans, and pretending to know better than he what was best to be done. The bishop of Oporto and principal Souza were the worst of all; and Wellington was obliged to write to the prince regent, in Brazil, to say that, unless these gentlemen were checked, and principal Souza put out of the council altogether, he would throw up his command, and advise the English government to withdraw the army altogether. This was not done; for when the answer of the far-distant regent was received it favoured the junta; and for the greater part of the winter, Wellington, though he had no conflict with Massena, had a constant and most irritating one with the Portuguese junta. They would not furnish provisions for their own troops till they began to desert by whole regiments; and Wellington had not only to provide for his own army, but to maintain a Spanish army of upwards of six thousand men, whom Romana and Don Carlos de Espana had brought over to his camp as the best place to be maintained, for they could get nothing from their broken-up government. In nothing does the wonderful firmness of Wellington show itself more than in the patient but out-spoken perseverance with which he went on, notwithstanding such miserable and meddling treatment.

Yet, during this winter, while Massena's army was in a constant state of semi-starvation, badly clothed and badly lodged, and thus wasting away by sickness and desertion, that of Wellington increased in numbers, in physical condition, and in discipline. While Massena's army, originally seventy-one thousand men, was ere long reduced by the battle of Busaco and the miserable quarters in the wet country near Torres Vedras to fifty-five thousand, the forces of Wellington had been augmented, by reinforcements from England, and by the addition of Portuguese and Spanish troops, to fifty - eight thousand. When Massena retreated to Santarem, Wellington followed him to Cartaxo, and there fixed his head-quarters, and ordered general Hill to post his division opposite to Santarem, on the banks of the Tagus, so as to check the enemy's foraging parties in that direction. At the same time, colonel Trant, he who had surprised the French rear as Massena's army was leaving Coimbra on his march after Wellington to Torres Vedras, and had secured the sick and wounded in the hospitals there to the amount of five thousand men, and who retained possession of Coimbra, now joined Sir Robert Wilson and colonel Millar, who commanded the Portuguese militia, and their united force appeared in Massena's rear, cutting off his communication with the north and also with the Spanish frontier.

Such was Massena's situation, so early as the commencement of November - having to maintain his army in a country reduced to a foodless desert by the art of his masterly antagonist, and, instead of being able to drive the English before him, finding them menacing him on all sides, so that he dispatched general Foy to make his way with a strong escort to Ciudad Rodrigo, and thence to proceed with all speed to Paris, to explain to the emperor the real state of affairs.

The state was that the whole of Portugal, except the very ground on which Massena was encamped, was in possession of the English and the Portuguese. There was no possibility of approaching Lisbon without forcing these fines at Torres Vedras, and that, if done at all, must be at the cost of as large an army as he possessed altogether. All the rest of Portugal - Oporto, Coimbra, Abrantes - and all the forts except Almeida were in the hands of the enemy. As to the destitution of Massena's army, we have the description from his own statements in letters to Napoleon, which were intercepted. From this information, lord Wellington wrote in his dispatches, " It is impossible to describe the pecuniary and other distresses of the French army in the Peninsula. All the troops are months in arrears of pay; they are, in general, very badly clothed; they want houses, carnages, and equipments of every description; their troops subsist solely upon plunder; they receive no money, or scarcely any, from France, and they realise but little from their pecuniary contributions from Spain. Indeed, I have lately discovered that the expense of the pay and the hospitals alone of the French army in the Peninsula amounts to more than the sum stated in the financial exposť as the whole expense of the entire French army."

Such were the advantages now possessed by the English over the French commander, that both Portuguese and people at home were impatient that Wellington should at once attack and annihilate Massena's army. But Wellington knew better. He knew that a great battle, or battles, must vastly reduce his own as well as Massena's army. He knew that France could readily march down eighty or a hundred thousand fresh men into Portugal at extremity, but that England could not so readily do that; and, should the whigs come into power, as was probable, he could not calculate on any support at ail. The king now hopelessly insane, the prince of Wales must be soon appointed regent, and then, perhaps, would come in his friends the whigs. There were many other considerations which made Wellington refuse to accede to a general attack on the French at present. He had, as it was, trouble enough with the junta; but, should any reverse occur, his situation then would be intolerable. At present the Portuguese troops were in good spirits for fighting, but any defeat would ruin ail the progress yet made with them. He knew that the winter would do for the French army ail that he expected without any cost to himself, and he waited for that, ready then to follow up the advantages it would give him. It was his great plan of operations which already reduced them to the dilemma in which they were, and now came winter and did the rest, fully showing his superior sagacity. In November the weather became and continued wretched in the extreme. The country was flooded, cutting off the precarious supplies of the French, but adding strength to the encampment of Torres Vedras. The cross roads were impassable for artillery, and all but so for wagons bringing provisions, which had to be hunted for far and wide, with incredible hardships and little success. Leaving the hostile armies in this position till the spring, we must notice a number of other important matters.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 12


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