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 4

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

The duque del Parque, who was posted for the protection of the line of the Tagus with another large army, was marching to support this intended conquest of Madrid, when, in the month of October, being strongly posted on the heights of Tamames, he encountered general Marchand, and defeated him. Elated by this success, he no longer trusted to hills and strong positions, but, like Areizaga, advanced boldly into the plains, and, on the 28th of November, he encountered Kellermann at Alba de Tormes, and received a most annihilating defeat. His men, both cavalry and infantry, scarcely staid to cross swords or bayonets with the French, but, flinging down their arms, and leaving all their baggage and artillery behind them, they fled in every direction. Kellermann pursued and cut them down without mercy - according to his own account, killing three thousand men, and making three hundred prisoners.

Lord Wellington, notwithstanding that the destruction of these armies, on which the defence of Andalusia and the provinces of the south depended, completely proved the justice of his statements to the junta, was deeply chagrined by the circumstance. " I lament," he said, in his dispatches, " that a cause which promised so well a few weeks ago, should have been so completely lost by the ignorance, presumption, and mismanagement of those to whose direction it was intrusted. I declare that, if they had preserved their two armies, or even one of them, the cause was safe. The French could have sent no reinforcements which could have been of any use; time would have been gained; the state of affairs would have daily improved; all the chances were in our favour; and, in the first moment of weakness, occasioned by any diversion on the continent, or by the growing discontent of the French themselves with the war, the French armies must have been driven out of Spain."

Lord Wellington's position was, by the destruction of these armies, left totally open, and he had for some time resolved to retire wholly into Portugal, and had been planning that system of defence which afterwards proved so astonishing to the French. Though he was left with about twenty thousand men to maintain himself against the whole French host in Spain, he never for a moment contemplated quitting the Peninsula, nor despaired of the final result. The French felt sure now of driving the sepoy general and his leopards into the sea, but they had yet to find that the genius of Wellington was infinitely above that of Sir John Moore. The experienced eye of lord Wellington, after the battle of Vimiera, had, at a glance, seen the admirable capability of the mountain ranges of Torres Vedras for the construction of impregnable lines of defence for Lisbon. So far from any idea of being driven to his ships, like Sir John Moore, he was satisfied that, by fortifying the defiles through these hills, and with our ships on the Tagus and on the coast, he could bid defiance to all the armies of France. He proceeded now to Lisbon, where he arrived on the 10th of October, reconnoitred the hills, and, having done so, he left with colonel Fletcher, of the Engineers, a clearly written statement of all that he desired to be done, so as to make the double line of defences complete: to erect batteries on each side of the defiles through which the necessary roads ran, to erect breastworks and entrenchments where required, and to break down the bridges in front of them. He ascertained the precise time it would require to accomplish all this, and, ordering all to be carried on with the utmost quickness, he returned to Badajoz, and next proceeded to Seville, to join his brother in urging on the Spanish government the necessary measures for the defence of the country. After visiting Cadiz with his brother, he returned to his head-quarters, where he had scarcely arrived on the 17th of November, when he received the news of the total overthrow of the Spaniards at Ocana. He then made a deliberate and orderly retreat from Spain, crossing the Tagus at Abrantes, where he left general Hill with his division, supported by general Fane's brigade of heavy horse, and marched on to Viseu, about one hundred and thirty-four miles northward of Lisbon, and quartered his army there in a more healthy situation. Both at Abrantes and Viseu his troops were now also well supplied with provisions.

During the long interval of repose - that is,- till the following May - Wellington actively employed himself in putting life and order into the commissariat, baggage, and conveyance departments; and general Beresford, to whom the important function of disciplining the Portuguese troops was assigned, laboured in that with such effect, that he produced at the next campaign troops which, officered by English officers, and mixed with the English regiments, fought admirably. The Portuguese were wise enough to allow the British commander full control, and by this means they avoided those defeats and calamities which fell long and heavily on the Spaniards.

Whilst these events had been taking place in Spain and Portugal, England had been sending money and troops to oppose Buonaparte in other quarters. Early in the spring Austria was in the field; in July a powerful fleet, carrying an army, sailed from the Downs, to create a diversion on the coast of the Netherlands, and other operations were commenced in the south of Italy. The army destined for the Netherlands amounted to forty thousand men, attended by a fleet of thirty-five sail of the line and twenty frigates, to assist where they might be needed. Buonaparte had contemplated making a great port of Antwerp, and had expended much money and labour in docks and fortifications there; but, finding that the port of Antwerp was not deep enough for first-rate ships of war, he undertook to render Flushing capable of receiving and protecting a great fleet. He still contemplated, by the co-operation of Denmark and Russia, the sending forth a fleet, some day, which might cope with the British navy, or enable him to invade England. For this purpose he was building ships at Antwerp and Flushing; and it was, no doubt, these circumstances which determined the English to direct their attack on Flushing and Antwerp. Captain, afterwards Sir George Cockburn, was of opinion that these preparations of Napoleon could never affect England; that no possession of Zealand, or any part of it, could be kept by England, from its extreme un- healthiness to foreigners, even to Dutchmen, from the more elevated parts of their country; and that it was much better for England to let Buonaparte build ships, and take them whenever they came out to sea, than to sacrifice the lives of our troops for no permanent benefit in this region of bogs, stagnant waters, and malaria. Had these forty thousand troops been sent to support Wellington, and half the money that this fatal expedition cost, they would have enabled him to drive the French triumphantly out of Spain, and create the most magnificent diversion for Austria, as well as the most honourable to England. But the surprise of Antwerp and the destruction of the docks of Flushing were determined upon; and lord Chatham, rather for his name than for any military talent that he possessed, was appointed the commander of the forces. Lord Chatham was bo notorious for his sluggish and procrastinating nature, that he had long been nicknamed the late lord Chatham; the justice of this epithet had been too obvious in all the offices that he had hitherto held; and yet this expedition, which required the utmost promptness, and active skill, was intrusted to him. At the head of the fleet was placed Sir Richard Strachan, a man of no energy. The commander of the ships on such an occasion should have been lord Cochrane, for Sir Sidney Smith was already engaged on the coast of Italy. The orders for each commander were extremely loose and indefinite, thereby leaving every chance of disputes and consequent delays and mishaps; and, to complete the disgraceful management of the government, no inquiries had been made as to the healthiness or unhealthiness of the district where the army would have to encamp. Though the island of Walcheren had been occupied by our troops under William III., no record was to be found, or, indeed, was sought for, as to the cost of life to our men on that occasion from the climate. The whole plan was laid in ignorance and carelessness, and no wonder, therefore, that it ended in misery and disgrace.

The fleet sailed from the Downs on the 28th of July, and on the 30th they landed on the islands of South Beveland and Walcheren. The general orders of the government were, " the capture or destruction of the enemy's ships, building or afloat, at Antwerp and Flushing; the destruction of the arsenals at Antwerp, Terneuse, and Flushing; the reduction of the island of Walcheren, and the rendering, if possible, the Scheldt no longer navigable for ships." Nelson, who had contemplated this enterprise, had calculated that it would require four or five thousand men, and could be accomplished in a week. But now Buonaparte had rendered the task more difficult, and there was no Nelson to do it. The most sagacious of the officers pointed out that the first rush should be for Antwerp, as the extreme point of the expedition, so as to destroy or capture the vessels there before the French could come to the rescue. The places nearer to the sea could be taken, and the work done in them, in returning. Had the troops landed at Blankenberg, they could have made a rapid march along a paved road through Bruges and Ghent, and taken Antwerp, only forty-five miles distant, whilst the fleet ascended the Scheldt to receive them on their return; but no such common-sense ideas found acceptance with the commanders. They determined to reduce Flushing first, and the other forts on the Scheldt, as Lillo and Liefkenshoeck, in succession, by which time it was certain that the French would appear at Antwerp in numbers sufficient to protect it. Flushing was attacked on the 1st of August, and did not surrender till the 15th. Had this been the reduction of Antwerp, the rest of the objects of the expedition would have followed of course; but lord Chatham and rear-admiral Strachan were in no hurry. They remained signing the capitulation, securing six thousand prisoners that they had taken, and reducing two small islands to the north of the eastern Scheldt, till the 21st, three whole weeks, and on the 23rd they landed at Ter Goes, on the neighbouring island of South Beveland. Here, again, they delayed another precious fortnight, whilst the French were planting batteries at every turn of the river betwixt them and Antwerp; had drawn a boom-chain across the channel between Lillo and Liefkenshoeck; and had sunk vessels to obstruct the narrowest part of the channel beyond. They still talked of forcing their way to Antwerp; but according to a satiric rhyme of the time -

"The earl of Chatham, with his sword drawn,
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
Sir Richard, eager to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the earl of Chatham."

Meantime Cambacérès and Fouché had dispatched couriers to Louis Buonaparte, in Holland, to march down troops to the defence of Antwerp; and he had not only done that, but had opened the sluices on the borders of the Scheldt, and laid the country under water, to prevent the march of the English. He also had ordered the erection of numerous batteries, and Bernadotte arrived in about a fortnight, by Orders of Napoleon, to resist the advance of the English. From forty to fifty thousand troops were assembled in and around Antwerp, and hosts of Dutch and Belgian militia swarmed over the country. This was certain to be the case if any time was allowed, and it was now agreed, in a council of war, that it was not possible to proceed further. In fact, they were no longer allowed to remain where they were. Their provisions were rapidly being exhausted, sickness was spreading amongst the troops, and the fire of the enemy's batteries from both sides of the river compelled them to fall down the stream. That was the end of the campaign; the rest was a foolish and murderous delay in the island of Walcheren, without any conceivable purpose. There was no use in retaining the island, for we could at any time blockade the mouths of the Scheldt, and our men on board the ships were comparatively healthy; but in this swamp of death the soldiers continued dying like rotten sheep. The island of Walcheren, to which they were now confined, is a spongy swamp, below the level of the sea at high water. The wet oozes through the banks, and stagnates in the dykes, and is only capable of being pumped out by windmills. The ground is covered often with mud and slime, and the inhabitants are sickly and sallow in aspect, and of loose and flaccid muscles. Yet, in this den of fever and death, the commanders seemed determined to retain the army till it perished entirely. The earl of Chatham himself returned to London and to court, where he was a particular favourite, on the 14th of September. At this time he left eleven thousand, out of the seventeen thousand quartered on the island of Walcheren, on the sick-list, and rapidly dying; yet neither he nor Sir Eyre Coote, who succeeded him, seem to have felt the necessity of saving the army by retiring from the place. They attributed the unhealthiness to the dykes being cut, and the surrounding country being flooded in the hot season. No matter what was the cause, the army was perishing, and ought to have been removed; but, so far from this, the ministers seemed determined to keep possession of this useless and pestilential swamp at any cost. As it was imagined that the drinking of the water Avas the cause of the fever, Thames water was carried over for the troops, five hundred tons per week being required. But it was not the drinking it only that caused disease and death, but the Standing and working in it, as many of them did, up to the middle for many hours together, and the malaria arising from the oozy soil. As the roofs in Flushing were knocked to pieces by the storming of the town, English workmen, with bricks, mortar, tiles, and tools, were sent over to repair them, so as to protect the sick in the hospitals, though plenty of workmen and materials might have been had in the country.

As it was necessary that some doctors of note and experience should be sent over to examine the nature of the illness and the condition of the men, the surgeon-general was ordered to proceed to the spot, and make the necessary inquiries; but he replied that it was not in his department, but in that of the physician-general, Sir Lucas Pepys. Sir Lucas excused himself on account of his age, and recommended some other physicians to be sent out. Both these gentlemen were contented to receive the country's money easily at home, but if a whole army was perishing, they would not risk their own precious lives. They were dismissed, and their conduct showed the necessity of a thorough reform of the medical establishment of the army. Sir Richard Strachan, though he saw the continuous destruction of the soldiers, strongly recommended government to retain possession of Walcheren, as a very important naval station, and the ministry were besotted enough to contemplate fortifying it on an extensive scale, and more men and materials were sent over for that purpose. But, fortunately for the remains of our army there, the emperor of Austria had now made peace with Buonaparte, and our diversion in his favour here was useless, and, on the 13th of November, orders were sent to lieutenant-general Don, who had succeeded Sir Eyre Coote, to destroy the docks and fortifications of Flushing, and come away. Thus ended this most fatal expédition, which cost this t country twenty millions of money, and many thousands of lives. Of those who survived, thousands had their constitutions broken for ever; and even such as appeared to get over the lingering and invidious Walcheren fever, on being sent to the war in the Peninsula, proved so liable to its return on exposure to wet or cold, that often one-third of these troops were not fit for service. So far from wishing to remove us from Walcheren, Buonaparte wrote to the minister of war, saying: " We are rejoiced to see that the English have packed themselves in the morasses of Zealand. Let them be only kept in check, and the bad air and fevers peculiar to the country will soon destroy their army." The fatal results of this expédition introduced dissensions into the cabinet, and soon after occasioned the resignation of Canning.

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

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 4

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About