Robert Blakeney.

A boy in the Peninsular war; the services, adventures and experiences of Robert Blakeney, subaltern in the 28th regiment; online

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when one of us remarked that the wood must have skirts
more extensive than a dragoon's cloak to keep them at
such a distance. The enemy, perceiving how far they
kept away, descended from the mound on which they had
expected to be charged, and rapidly pushed forward without
any molestation ; for as our dragoons moved they still more
deviated from the enemy's line of march, and seemed to be
en route for Badajoz. Had our cavalry closed upon the
wood and even menaced a charge, the progress of the enemy
would have been impeded ; but had our cavalry and light
guns, by which they were accompanied, pushed forward
rapidly, which they could have done since the plain was flat
and level, and headed the enemy, they would have kept them
until our infantry came up. But nothing of the kind was
attempted, and so every French soldier escaped, though
every one ought to have been made prisoner, and this
affair of Merida would have been more complete than even
that of Arroyo Molinos ; for when I reported the position
of the enemy to General Hill, they were not more than two
miles distant from our advanced guard. This affair caused
an era in the life of General Hill ; for I heard many of his

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258 I PROCEED TO BADAJOZ. [Ch.

oldest acquaintances remark that before the evening of
this day they never saw a cloud upon his brow.

All hopes of being permitted to remain in the Peninsula
having vanished, I resolved to return to England. With
heavy heart I parted from the regiment in which I first drew
my swordy in which my earliest friendships were formed and
my mind modelled as a soldier. In Colonel Abercrombie's
quarters at Merida many of the officers were assembled.
Sorrowful, I bade adieu to my gallant old comrades, and
quaffed a goblet to their future success whilst I clasped the
colours to my breast — ^those colours which alone throughout
the British army proudly display the names of the two
bloodiest fought battles in the Peninsula, Barossa and
Albuera ; and in each of the3e battles the regiment claimed
a double share of the glory. At Barossa, while Colonel
Belson at the head of the Ist Battalion charged and turned
the chosen grenadiers forming the right of the enemy's line,
Colonel Browne of the regiment, at the head of their flank
companies, united with those of two other corps, conmianded
the independent flank battalion ; and this battalion, the first
in the battle and alone, suffered more casualties both in
officers and men (I allude particularly to the fiankers of
the 28th Begiment) than triple that sustained by any
other battalion present in that memorable fight At
Albuera the 2nd Battalion of the regiment were led by
a gallant officer, Colonel Patterson ; and the brigade in
which they served, that which with the brigade of the
gallant Fusiliers turned the wavering fortunes of the day,
were commanded by the gallant Abercrombie, the second
lieutenant-colonel of the regiment.

Next morning at parting the light bobs gave me a cheer.
I distinguished among them some few of the old ventrilo-
quists of Galicia ; but on this occasion their notes were, I



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XXI 1 1.] FAREWELL TO THE SLASHERS. 259

believe, genuine. I bade a monrnfiil farewell to the old
Slashers, and bent my steps towards Badajoz, then abont
to be besieged. The next evening (March 15th) I came
before the place ; and very opportunely Lieutenant
Huddleston of the 28th Regiment, my brother officer in
the battalion company which I commanded for a short
time, arrived on the same day, being appointed to serve
in the Engineer department. He willingly shared his
tent with me ; and Sir Frederick Slavin, also of the 28th
Regiment, then adjutant-general of the 3rd Division, intro-
duced me to General Picton, who did me the honour of
saying that I should always find a cover at his table during
my stay before Badajoz. General Bowes, with whom I had
the pleasure of being acquainted at Gibraltar, gave me a
similar invitation. Thus, finding myself comparatively at
home, I felt in no way inclined to proceed too quickly to
Lisbon.

During the siege I assisted generally in the trenches.
On March 16th everything was finally arranged, and on
the following evening the different divisions and regiments
prepared to occupy their respective posts. All the troops
being assembled, generals and commanding officers in-
spected their brigades and regiments in review order.
The parade was magnificent and imposing. The colours
of each regiment proudly, though scantily, floated in the
breeze ; they displayed but very little embroidery. Scarcely
could the well-earned badges of the regiments be discerned ;
yet their lacerated condition, caused by the numberless
wounds which they received in battle, gave martial dignity
to their appearance and animated every British breast
with national pride. The review being terminated, a
signal was given for each corps to proceed to that spot of
ground which they were destined to open. The whole moved



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26o 1 PROCEED TO BADAJ02. [Ch.

off. All the bands by one accord played the same tane,
whicli was cheered with shonts that bore ominoiis import
and appeared to shake Badajoz to its foundation. The
mnsic played was the animating national Irish air, St.
Patrick's Day, when the shamrock was proudly clustered
with the laurel ; and indeed, though these two shrubs are
not reckoned of the same family by proud collectors in
the Cabinet, veterans hold them to be closely allied in
the field. Never was St. Patrick's day more loudly
cheered or by stouter hearts, and never was the music
more nobly accompanied nor with more warlike bass ; for
all the troops echoed the inspiring national air as proudly
they marched to their ground. PhilUpon maintained an
incessant fire of cannon, roared forth in proud defiance
from the destined fortress ; and Badajoz being now
invested on both sides of the Guadiana, the operations of
the siege were eagerly pressed forward.

Od the 19th, during the completion of the Ist parallel,
a sortie was made by the besieged soon after mid-day.
Fifteen hundred of their infiintry, screened by the ravelin
San Roque, formed between that opening and the Picurina
or smaU redoubt. They immediately pressed forward and
gained the works before our men could seize their arms,
while at the same time a party of cavalry, about fifty, the
only horsemen in the fortress, got in rear of the parallel.
The conftision was great at the first onset. Those on guard
and the working men were driven out of the trenches, and
the cavalry sabred many in the depdts at the rear ; but the
mischief being quickly discovered was soon remedied.
The Guards being reinforced immediately rallied and drove
the enemy out of the works at the point of the bayonet,
when many lives were lost. A part of the embankment
was thrown into the trenches, and the enemy carried away



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XXIIL] CAPTURE OF FORT PICURINA. 261

almost all the entrenching tools found in the parallel*
We lost one hundred and fifty men in killed and wounded
during this attack.

The siege was now carried on without interruption,
nothwithstanding the severity of the weather, which
frequently filled the trenches with water ; and so great
was the fall of rain on the 22nd that the pontoon bridge
¥ras carried away by the Guadiana overflowing its banks,
and the flying bridges over that river could scarcely be
worked. This threatened a failure of the siege, from
the difficulty, of supplying the troops with provisions f^nd
the impossibility of bringing the guns and ammunition
across. Fortunately for the attack of the fortress how-
ever the disaster was remedied by the river falling within
its banks.

The morning of the 25th was ushered in by saluting
the garrison with twenty-eight pieces of cannon, opened
from six different batteries ; and in the evening Fort
Picnrina was stormed, gallantly carried and permanently
retained. The enemy made a sortie on the night of the
29th, on the right bank of the Guadiana against General
Hamilton's division, who invested the fortress on that
side ; they were driven back with loss, and on this occasion
the besiegers had no casualties.

On the last day of March twenty-six pieces of ordnance
from the 2nd Parallel opened their fire against Fort
Trinidad and the flank of the protecting bastion, Santa
Maria. This fire continued incessantly, aided by an
additional battery of six guns, which also opened from
the 2nd Parallel on the morning of April 4th against
the ravelin of San Roque. On the evening of the 5th
Trinidad, Santa Maria and the ravelin of San Roque were
breached.



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262 I PROCEED TO BADAJOZ. [Ch.

Preparations were made to storm the town that night ;
but reports having been made by the engineers that strong
works had been erected for the defence of the two breaches,
particularly in rear of the large one made in the face of
the bastion of Trinidad, where deep retrenchments had
been constmcted and every means resorted to which art
and science oonld devise to prevent an entrance, the attack
was therefore pot off. Many hundred lives were spared,
bat for twenty-fonr hours only. All the guns in the
2nd Parallel were now directed against the curtain of
Trinidad ; and towards the following evening a third breach
appeared ; and the storming of Badajoz was arranged
in the following order for the night of the 6th. The 4th
division under command of Major-General the Honourable
C. Colville, and the light divbion under Lieutenant-Colonel
Barnard, were destined to attack the three breaches opened
in the bastion of Trinidad, Santa Maria and the connecting
curtain. lieutenant-General Picton, with the 3rd or
fighting division, was directed to attack the castle, which,
from the great height of its walls and no breach having
been attempted there, the enemy considered secure against
assault. The ground left vacant by the advance of the
4th and light divisions was to be occupied by the 5th
division, commanded by General Leith, with instructions
to detach his left brigade, under General Walker, to make
a false attack against the works of the fortress near the
Guadiana, as also against the detached work the Pardaleras.
Brigadier-General Power, commanding a Portuguese
brigade on the opposite bank, was ordered to divert by
making false attacks upon a newly formed redoubt called
Mon Coeur, upon Fort St. Cristoval, upon the tcte du pent
and upon I forget what else. With these instructions
the troops moved forward from the entrenchments about



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XXIII.] * NIGHT ATTACK ON BADAJOZ. 263

ten o'clock at night to attack the destined town. The
3rd Division, nnder Picton, preceded the general movement
about a quarter of an honr for the pnrpose of drawing
away the enemy's attention from the openings in the wall,
since these were considered the only really vulnerable
points of the fortress. The 4th and light divisions pushed
gallantly forward against these breaches, and were not
discovered until they had entered the ditch. During their
advance the town was liberally supplied with shells from
our batteries, and the upper parts of the breaches were
continually fired upon by light troops placed upon the
glacis to disperse the enemy and prevent their repairing
the broken defences. This fire was but slightly answered,
until the two divisions mentioned were discovered entering
the ditch, when they were assailed by an awful cannonade,
accompanied by the sharp and incessant chattering of
musketry. Fireballs were shot forth from the fortress,
which illumined the surrounding space and discovered
every subsequent movement.

The dreadful strife now commenced. The thundering
cheer of the British soldiers as they rushed forward through
the outer ditch, together with the appalling roar of all
arms sent forth in defiance from within, was tremendous.
Whenever an instant pause occurred it was filled by the
heartrending shrieks of the trodden-down wounded and
by the lengthened groans of the dying. Three times were
the breaches cleared of Frenchmen, driven off at the point
of the bayonet by gallant British soldiers to the very
summit, when they were by the no less gallant foe each
time driven back, leaving their bravest officers and fore-
most soldiers behind, who, whether killed or wounded,
were tossed down headlong to the foot of the breaches.
Throughout this dreadful conflict our bugles were con-



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264 I PROCEED TO BADAJOZ. [Ch.

tinoally Bonndiog the advance. The cry of ^^ Bravo !
bravo!'* resounded through the ditches and along the
foot of the breaches ; bnt no British cry was heard from
within the walls of Badajoz save that of despair, nttered
by the bravest, who despite cof all obstacles forced their
way into the body of the place, and there through dire
necessity abandoned, groaned forth their last stabbed by
nnnnmbered wounds. Again and again were the breaches
attacked with redoubled fury and defended with equal
pertinacity and stem resolution, seconded by every resource
which science could adopt or ingenuity suggest. Bags
and barrels of gunpowder with short fuses were rolled
down,' which, bursting at the bottom or along the face of
the breaches, destroyed all who advanced. Thousands of
live shells, hand-grenades, fireballs and every species of
destructive combustible were thrown down the breaches
and over the walls into the ditches, which, lighting and
exploding at the same instant, rivalled the lightning and
thunder of heaven. This at intervals was succeeded by an
impenetrable darkness as of the infernal regions. Gallant
foes laughing at death met, fought, bled and rolled upon
earth ; and from the very earth destruction burst, for the
exploding mines cast up friends and foes together, who in
burning torture clashed and shrieked in the air. Partly
burned they fell back into the inundating water, continually
lighted by the incessant bursting of shells. Thus assailed
by opposing elements, they made the horrid scene yet more
horrid by shrieks uttered in wild despair, vainly struggling
against a watery grave with limbs convulsed and quivering
from the consuming fire. The roaring of cannon, the
bursting of shells, the rattle of musketry, the awful
explosion of mines and the flaring sickly blaze of fireballs
seemed not of human invention, bnt rather as if all the



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XXIII.] HELL ON EARTH. 265

elements of natare had greedily combined in the general
havoc, and heaven, earth and hell had nnited for the
destruction alike of devoted Badajoz and of its fnrions
assailants.

In consequence of untoward disasters, which occarred at
the very onset by the troops being falsely led, their numbers
were seriously diminished and their compact formation
disorganised. The third or last opening in the curtain was
never attempted, although this breach was the most prac-
ticable, as it had been made only a few hours before, and
thus there had been no time to strengthen its defences.
Owing to this ruinous mistake, the harassed and depressed
troops failed in their repeated attacks.



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CHAPTER XXIV.

AT BADAJOZ.

A T length the bagles of the 4th and light divisions
-^-^ sounded the recall. At this moment General Bowes,
whom I accompanied in the early part of the fight, being
severely wounded, and his aide-de-camp, my old comrade
and brother officer Captain Johnson, 28th Regiment, being
killed, as I had no duty to perform (my regiment not
being present), I attended the general as he was borne to
his tent. He enquired anxiously about poor Johnson, his
relative, not being aware that this gallant officer received
his death-shot while he was being carried to the rear in
consequence of a wound which he had received when
cheering on a column to one of the breaches.

Having seen the general safely lodged, I galloped off
to where Lord Wellington had taken his station. This
was easily discerned by means of two fireballs shot out
from the fortress at the conmiencement of the attack,
which continued to bum brilliantly along the water-cut
which divided the 3rd from the other divisions. Near
the end of this channel, behind a rising mound, were Lord
Wellington and his personal staff, screened from the
enemy's direct fire, but within range of shells. One of
his staff sat down by his side with a candle to enable the
general to read and write all his communications and
orders relative to the passing events. I stood not far

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Ch.XXIV.] WELLINGTON AT BADAJOZ. 267

from his lordship. Bnt dae respect prevented any of as
bystanders from approaching so near as to enable ns to
ascertain the import of the reports which he waB continn-
ally receiving ; yet it was very evident that the information
which they conveyed was far from flattering ; and the recall
on the bagles was again and again repeated. Bnt abont
half-past eleven o'clock an officer rode np at fnll speed on
a horse covered with foam, and announced the joyful tidings
that General Picton had made a lodgment within the
castle by escalade, and had withdrawn the troops from the
trenches to enable him to maintain his dearly purchased
hold. Lord Wellington was evidently delighted, but
exclaimed, " What 1 abandon the trenches ? " and ordered
two regiments of the 5th Division instantly to replace
those withdrawn. I waited to hear no more, but, admiring
the prompt genius which immediately provided for every
contingency, I mounted my horse. I was immediately
surrounded by a host of Spaniards, thousands of whom,
of all ages and sexes, had been collecting at this point
for some time from the neighbouring towns and villages
to witness the storming and enjoy the brilliant spectacle,
wherein thousands of men, women and children, in-
cluding those of their own country, were to be shot,
bayoneted or bldwn to atoms. Notwithstanding the
hundreds of beautiful females who closely pressed round
and even clung to me for information, I merely exclaimed
in a loud voice that Badajoz was taken and then made the
best of my way to the walls of the castle ; their height
was rather forbidding, and an enfilading fire still continued.
The ladders were warm and slippery with blood and brains
of many a gallant soldier, who but a few moments pre-
viously mounted them with undaunted pride, to be dashed
down from their top and lie broken in death at their foot.



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268 AT BADAJOZ. [Ch.

As soon as General Picton had arrived at the walls he
instantly ordered them to be escaladed, frightful as was
their height. Ladder after ladder failed to be placed
against the walls, their determined bearers being killed.
But Picton, who never did anything by halves or hesita-
tingly, instead of parsimoniously sending small parties
forward and waiting to hear of their extinction before
fresh support was furnished, boldly marched his whole
division to the foot of the walls ; and thus, without loss
of time, by immediately supplying the place of the fallen,
he at length succeeded in rearing one ladder. Then having
his reserves close at hand, scarcely was a man shot off
when an equally brave successor filled his place ; and in
this manner those who mounted that one ladder at length
made a lodgment. This being firmly established, the fire
from within slackened ; many ladders were soon reared
and the whole of the 3rd Division entered the castle.
The Connaught Bangers were said to be the first within the
wall. In consequence of some misconduct, General Picton
had changed the name " Bangers " to " Bobbers.'* After
the storming of the castle a private of the corps called
out half-drunken to the general, " Are we the * Connaught
Bobbers * now ? " " No," answered Picton ; " you are
the * Connaught Heroes.'"

The confusion in the castle was awful all night long.
AH the gates had been built up but one, and that narrowed
to the width of two men. On this straight gate a terrible
fire was directed from outside and in. The 3rd Division
first fired on the French and, when they had gone,
continued to fire on their own comrades of the 5th Division,
who had entered the town on the opposite side by escalading
the bastion of San Yincente. This capture was opposed as
fiercely and made as bravely as that of the castle. The



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XXIV.] MEETING OF THE 3iU> AND 6th DIVISIONS. 269

Srd Division having taken the castle about half-past eleven,
Picton received orders to maintain it nntil break of
day, when he was to sallj forth with two thousand men
and fall on the rear of the breaches, which it was intended
should again be attacked bj the 4th and light Divisions.
The party who carried the ladders of the 5th Division
lost their way and did not come up until after eleven
o'clock, which necessarily made General Leith an hour late
in his attack on the bastion of San Yincente, so that before
he entered the town the castle was in possession of the
3rd Division. The enemy who defended the breaches
being no longer attacked in front, turned all their force
against the 5th Division as they advanced from their captured
bastion along the ramparts. As soon as General Walker's
brigade of this division gained the interior of the fortress,
they moved forward along the ramparts, driving everything
before them until they arrived not far from the breach
in the Santa Maria bastion ; here the enemy had a gun
placed, and as the British troops advanced a French gunner
lit a port fire. Startled at the sudden and unexpected
light, some of the foremost British soldiers cried out,
^< A mine, a mine I " These words passing to the rear, the
whole of the troops fell into disorder, and such was the
panic caused by this ridiculous mistake that the brave
example and utmost exertions of the officers could not
prevail upon the men to advance. The enemy, perceiving
the hesitation, pushed boldly forward to the charge, and
drove the British back to the bastion of San Yincente, where
they had entered. Here a battalion in reserve had been
formed, who, in their turn rushing forward to the charge,
bayoneted or made prisoner every Frenchman they met,
pursuing those who turned as far as the breaches. The
3rd and 5th Divisions interchanged many shots, each



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270 AT BADAJOZ. [Ch.

ignorant of the other's snccesa and consequent position;
and both divisions continued to fire at the breaches, so
that had the 4th and light divisions made another attack
many must have fallen bj the fire of both divisions of their
comrades.

From both within and without, as has been said, a
constant fire was kept up at the narrow and only entrance
to the castle. This entrance was defended by a massive
door, nearly two feet thick, which was riddled throughout ;
and had the 3rd Division sallied forth during the confusion
and darkness, they must have come in contact with the
5th Division, when no doubt many more lives would
have been lost before they recognised each other. This
was fortunately prevented by Picton being ordered to
remain in the castle until morning.

The scenes in the castle that night were of a most deplor-
able and terrific nature : murders, robberies and every
species of debauchery and obscenity were seen, notwithstand-
ing the exertions of the officers to prevent them. Phillipon
expecting that, even though he should lose the town, he
would be able to retain the castle at least for some days,
had had all the live cattle of the garrison driven in there.
The howling of dogs, the crowing of cocks, the penetrating
cackle of thousands of geese, the mournful bleating of
sheep, the furious bellowing of wounded oxen maddened
by being continually goaded and shot at and ferociously
charging through the streets, were mixed with accompani-
ments loudly trumpeted forth by mules and donkeys and
always by the deep and hollow baying of the large
Spanish half-wolves, half-bloodhounds which guarded the
whole. Add to this the shrill screaming of affrighted
children, the piercing shrieks of frantic women, the groans
of the wounded, the savage and discordant yells of



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XXIV.] SURRENDER OF PHILLIPON. 271

drnnkards firing at everything and in all directions, and
the continued roll of musketry kept up in error on the
shattered gateway ; and you may imagine an uproar such
as one would think could issue only from the regions of
Pluto ; and this din was maintained throughout the night.

Towards morning the firing ceased ; and the 4th and
light divisions passed through the breaches over the



Online LibraryRobert BlakeneyA boy in the Peninsular war; the services, adventures and experiences of Robert Blakeney, subaltern in the 28th regiment; → online text (page 20 of 29)