Part 3 out of 7
"Thank you, sir; I have the money about me, and I am very much obliged to
you for making the arrangement."
Terence was indeed in funds, for in addition to the ten pounds that had
fallen to him as his share of the prize money, his pay had been almost
untouched from the day he left England, and his father had, on embarking,
added ten pounds to his store.
"I won't want it, Terence," he said; "I have got another twenty pounds by
me, and by the time I get to England I shall have another month's pay to
draw, and shall no doubt be put in a military hospital, where I shall have
no occasion for money till I am out again."
"But I sha'n't want it either, father."
"There is never any saying, lad; it is always useful to have money on a
campaign. You may be in places where the commissariat breaks down
altogether, and you have to depend on what you buy; you may be left behind
wounded, or may be taken prisoner, one never can tell. I shall feel more
comfortable about you if I know that you are well provided with cash,
whatever may happen. My advice is, Terence, get fifteen or twenty pounds
in gold sewn up in your boot; have an extra sole put on, and the money
sewn inside. If it is your bad luck to be taken prisoner, you will find
the money mighty useful in a great many ways."
Terence had followed this advice and had fifteen pounds hidden away,
besides ten that he carried in his pockets; he therefore hurried to the
hut where Lieutenant Andrews was lying. He was slightly acquainted with
him, as he had been Fane's aide-de-camp from the time of landing. The
young lieutenant's servant was standing at the door with a horse ready
saddled and bridled.
"I am very sorry to hear of your injury," he said to the young officer.
"Yes, it is a horrible nuisance," the other replied; "and just as we were
starting, too. There is an end of my campaigning for the present. I should
not have minded if it had been a French ball, but to be merely thrown from
a horse is disgusting."
"I am extremely obliged to you for the horse, Andrews, but I would rather
pay you for it; it is not fair that I should get it for nothing."
"Oh, that is all right! It would be a bother taking it down, and I should
not know what to do with it when I got to Lisbon; it would be a nuisance
altogether, and I am glad to get rid of it. The money is of no consequence
to me one way or the other. I wish you better luck with it than I have
"At any rate here are five pounds for the saddle and bridle," and he put
the money down on the table by the bed.
"That is all right," the other said, without looking at it; "they are well
off my hands, too. I hope the authorities will send me straight on board
ship when I get to Lisbon; my servant will go down with me. If I am kept
there, he will of course stay with me until I sail; if not, he will rejoin
as soon as he has seen me on board. He is a good servant, and I can
recommend him to you; he is rather fond of the bottle, but that is his
only fault as far as I know. He is a countryman of yours, and you will be
able to make allowances for his failing," he added, with a laugh.
There was no time to be lost--the bugles were sounding--so, with a brief
adieu, Terence went out, mounted the horse and rode after the general, who
had just left with his staff, and taken his place at the head of the
column. As he passed his regiment, he stopped for a moment to speak to the
"I heard that you were wanted by the general, Terence," the latter said,
"and I congratulate you on your appointment. I am sorry that you are
leaving us, but, as you will be with the brigade, we shall often see you.
O'Driscol is as savage as a bull at the loss of one of his subalterns.
Well, it is your own luck that you have and another's; drop in this
evening, if you can, and tell us how it was that Fane came to pick you
"It was thanks to you, Colonel. If you remember, you told us at Vigo that
Fane was on board when you went to make your report, and that he and Sir
Arthur's adjutant-general read it over together, and asked you a good many
questions. It was owing to that affair that he thought of me."
"That is good, lad. I thought at the time that more might come of it than
just being mentioned in orders, and I am very glad that it was for that
you got it. At any rate, come in this evening; I want to hear where you
have stolen that horse from, and all about it."
Terence rode off and took his place with his fellow aide-de-camp behind
the two other officers of the staff. He scarcely knew whether to be glad
or sorry, at present, at the change that had so suddenly taken place. It
was gratifying to have been selected as he had been. It was certainly more
pleasant to ride through a campaign than to march; and there would be a
good many more chances of distinguishing himself than there could be as a
regimental officer; while, on the other hand, he would be away from the
circle of his friends and comrades, and should greatly miss the fun and
jollity of the life with them.
"An unfortunate affair this of Andrews," Lieutenant Trevor, his fellow
"Most unfortunate. I little thought when you and he lunched with us two
days since that to-day he would be down with a broken leg and I riding in
his place. Just at present I certainly do not feel very delighted at the
change. You see, from my father being a captain in the regiment, I have
been brought up with it, and to be taken so suddenly away from them seems
a tremendous wrench."
"Yes, I can understand that," the other said. "In my case it is different.
My regiment was not coming out, and of course I was greatly pleased when
the general gave me a chance of going with him. Still, you see, as your
regiment is in the brigade you will still be able to be with it when off
duty, and when the end of the campaign comes you will return to it.
Besides, there are compensations--you will at least get a roof to sleep
under, at any rate nine times out of ten. I don't know how you feel it,
but to me it is no small comfort being on horseback instead of tramping
along these heavy roads on foot. The brigadier is a capital fellow; and
though he does keep us hard at work, at any rate he works hard himself,
and does not send us galloping about with all sorts of trivial messages
that might as well be unsent. Besides, he is always thoughtful and
considerate. Is he related to you in any way?"
"Not at all."
"Then I suppose you had good interest in some way, or else how did he come
to pick you out?"
"It was just a piece of luck," Terence said; "it was because he had heard
my name in connection with a fight the transport I came over in had with
two French privateers."
"Oh, yes, I remember now," the other said; "I had forgotten that the name
was O'Connor. I remember all about it now. He told us the story at Vigo,
and you were put in general orders by Sir Arthur. I know the chief spoke
very highly about your conduct in that affair. It is just like him to
remember it, and to pick you out to take Andrews' place. Well, you fairly
won it, which is more than one can say for most staff appointments, which
are in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the result of pure favouritism
"Well, O'Connor, I am very glad to have you on the staff. You see, it
makes a lot of difference, when there are only two of us, that we should
like each other. I own I have not done anything as yet to get any credit,
for at Vimiera it was just stand up and beat them back, and I had not a
single message to carry, and, of course, at Rolica our brigade was not in
it; but I hope I shall get a turn some day. Then it was your father who
was badly wounded?"
"Yes; I saw him off to England four days ago. I hope that he will be able
to rejoin before long, but it is not certain yet that the wound won't
bring on permanent lameness. I am very anxious about it, especially as he
has now got his step, and it would be awfully hard on him to leave the
service just as he has got field-officer's rank."
"Yes, it would be hard. However, I hope that the sea-voyage and English
air will set him up again."
Presently one of the officers who were in front turned and said: "The
general wishes you to ride back along the line, Mr. Trevor, and report
whether the intervals between the regiments are properly kept, and also as
to how the baggage-waggons are going on."
As Trevor turned to ride back the general cantered on, followed by the
three officers and the four troopers who served as orderlies. Two miles
ahead they came to a bridge across a torrent. The road, always a bad one,
had been completely cut up by the passage of the provision and ammunition
carts going to the front, and was now almost impassable.
"Will you please to ride back, Mr. O'Connor, and request the colonel of
the leading regiment to send on the pioneers and a company of men at the
double to clear the road and make it passable for the waggons."
The work was quickly done. While some men filled up the deep ruts, others
cut down shrubs and bushes growing by the river bank, tied them into
bundles, and put them across the narrow road, and threw earth and stones
upon them, and in half an hour from the order being given the bugle
sounded the advance. The head of the column had been halted just before it
reached the bridge, and the men fell out, many of them running down to the
stream to refill their water-bottles. As the bugle sounded they at once
fell in again, and the column got into motion. General Fane and his staff
remained at the bridge until the waggons had all crossed it.
"It is not much of a job," Fane said. "Of course the four regiments
passing over it flattened the earth well down, but the waggons have cut it
all up again. The first heavy shower will wash all the earth away, and in
a couple of days it will be as bad as before. There are plenty of stones
down in the river, but we have no means of breaking up the large ones, or
of carrying any quantity of small ones. A few hundred sappers and
engineers, with proper tools, would soon go a long way towards making the
road fairly fit for traffic, but nothing can be done without tools and
wheel-barrows, or at least hand-barrows for carrying stones. You see, the
men wanted to use their blankets, but the poor fellows will want them
badly enough before long, and those contractors' goods would go all to
pieces by the time they had carried half a dozen loads of stones. At any
rate, we will content ourselves with making the road passable for our own
waggons, and the troops who come after us must do the same. By the way,
Mr. O'Connor, you have not got your kit yet."
"No, sir; but I have no doubt that it is with the regimental baggage, and
I will get it when we halt to-night."
"Do so," the general said. "Of course it can be carried with ours, but I
should advise you always to take a change of clothes in your valise, and a
blanket strapped on with your greatcoat."
"I have Mr. Andrews' blanket, sir. It was strapped on when I mounted, and
I did not notice it."
"That is all right. The store blankets are very little use for keeping off
rain, but we all provided ourselves with good thick horse-cloths before
leaving England. They are a great deal warmer than blankets, and are
practically water-proof. I have no doubt that Mr. Andrews told his servant
to strap it on as usual."
Many and many a time during the campaign had Terence good reason for
thinking with gratitude of Andrews' kindly thought. His greatcoat, which
like those of all the officers of the regiment, had been made at Athlone,
of good Irish frieze lined with flannel, would stand almost any amount of
rain, but it was not long enough to protect his legs while lying down. But
by rolling himself in the horse-cloth he was able to sleep warm and dry,
when without it he would have been half-frozen, or soaked through with
rain from above and moisture from the ground below. He found that the
brigadier and his staff carried the same amount of baggage as other
officers, the only difference being that the general had a tent for
himself, his assistant-adjutant and quartermaster one between them, while
a third was used as an office-tent in the day, and was occupied by the two
aides-de-camp at night.
The baggage-waggon allotted to them carried the three tents, their scanty
kits, and a box of stationery and official forms, but was mainly laden
with musketry ammunition for the use of the brigade. After marching
eighteen miles the column halted at a small village. The tents were
speedily pitched, rations served out, and fires lighted. The general took
possession of the principal house in the village for the use of himself
and his staff, and the quartermaster-general apportioned the rest of the
houses between the officers of the four battalions. The two aides-de-camp
accompanied the general in his tour of inspection through the camp.
"It will be an hour before dinner is ready," Trevor said, as they returned
to the house, "and you won't be wanted before that. I shall be about if
the chief has any orders to send out. I don't think it is likely that he
will have; he is not given, as some brigadiers are, to worrying; and,
besides, there are the orderlies here to take any routine orders out, so
you can be off if you like."
Terence at once went down to the camp of the Mayo Fusiliers. The officers
were all there, their quartermaster having gone into the village to fix
their respective quarters.
"Hooray, Terence, me boy!" O'Grady shouted, as he came up, "we all
congratulate you. Faith, it is a comfort to see that for once merit has
been recognized. I am sure that there is not a man in the regiment but
would have liked to have given you a cheer as you rode along this morning
just before we started. We shall miss you, but as you will be up and down
all day and can look in of an evening, it won't be as if you had been put
on the staff of another brigade. As to Dicky Ryan, he is altogether down
in the mouth, whether it is regret for your loss or whether it is from
jealousy at seeing you capering about on horseback, while he is tramping
along on foot, is more than I know."
"If you were not my superior officer, Captain O'Grady, I should make a
personal onslaught on you," Ryan laughed. "You will have to mind how you
behave now, Terence; the brigadier is an awfully good fellow, but he is
pretty strict in matters of discipline."
"I will take care of meself, Dicky, and now that you will have nobody to
help you out of your scrapes, you will have to mind yourself too."
"I am glad that you have got a lift, Terence," Captain O'Driscol said;
"but it is rather hard on me losing a subaltern just as the campaign is
beginning in earnest."
"Menzies likes doing all the work," Terence said, "so it won't make so
much difference to you."
"It would not matter if I was always with my company, Terence, but now,
you see, that I am acting as field-officer to the left wing till your
father rejoins, it makes it awkward."
"I intend to attach Parsons to your company, O'Driscol," the colonel said.
"Terence went off so suddenly this morning that I had no time to think of
it before we marched, but he shall march with your company to-morrow. You
will not mind, I hope, Captain Holland?"
"I shall mind, of course, Colonel; but, as O'Driscol's company has now
really only one officer, of course it cannot be helped, and as Menzies is
the senior lieutenant, I have no doubt that he can manage very well with
Parsons, who is very well up in his work."
"Thank you, Captain Holland; it is the first compliment that you ever paid
me; it is abuse that I am most accustomed to."
"It is thanks to that that you are a decent officer, Parsons," Captain
Holland laughed. "You were the awkwardest young beggar I ever saw when you
first joined, and you have given me no end of trouble in licking you into
shape. How do you think you will like your work, Terence?"
"I think I shall like it very much," the lad replied. "The other
aide-de-camp, Trevor, is a very nice fellow, and every one likes Fane; as
to Major Dowdeswell and Major Errington, I haven't exchanged a word with
either of them, and you know as much about them as I do."
"Errington is a very good fellow, but the other man is very unpopular. He
is always talking about the regulations, as if anyone cared a hang about
the regulations when one is on service."
"I expect that if Fane were not such a good fellow Dowdeswell would make
himself a baste of a nuisance, and be bothering us about pipe-clay and
buttons, and all sorts of rigmarole," O'Grady said; "as if a man would
fight any the better for having his belt white as snow!"
"He would not fight any the better, O'Grady, but the regiment would do
so," the colonel put in. "All these little matters are nothing in
themselves, but still they have a good deal to do with the discipline of
the regiment; there is no doubt that we are not as smart in appearance as
we ought to be, and that the other regiments in the brigade show up better
than we do. It is a matter that must be seen to. I shall inspect the
regiment very carefully before we march to-morrow."
There was a little silence among the group, but a smile stole over several
of the faces. As a rule, the colonel was very lax in small matters of this
kind, but occasionally he thought it necessary to put on an air of
severity, and to insist upon the most rigid accuracy in this respect; but
the fit seldom lasted beyond twenty-four hours, after which things went on
pleasantly again. Some of the officers presently sauntered off to warn the
colour-sergeants that the colonel himself intended to inspect the regiment
closely before marching the next morning, and that the men must be warned
to have their uniforms, belts, and firearms in perfect order.
Terence remained for some little time longer chatting, and then got
possession of his kit, which was carried by Tim Hoolan across to his
"We are all sorry you've left us, yer honour," that worthy said, as he
walked a short distance behind Terence; "the rigiment won't be like itself
widout you. Not that it has been quite the same since you joined us
reg'lar, and have taken to behaving yourself."
"What do you mean, you impudent rascal?" Terence said, with a pretence at
"No offence, yer honour, but faith the games that you and Mr. Ryan and
some of the others used to play, kept the boys alive, and gave mighty
contintment to the regiment."
"I was only a lad then, Hoolan."
"That was so, yer honour, and now you are a man and an officer, it is
natural it should be different."
"Tim Hoolan, you are a humbug," Terence said, laughing.
"Sorra a bit of one, yer honour. I am not saying that you won't grow a bit
more; everyone says what a fine man you will make. But sure ye saved our
wing from being captured, and you would not have us admit that, if it had
not been for a boy, a wing of the Mayo Fusiliers would have been captured
by the French. No, your honour, when we tell that story we spake of one of
our officers who had the idea that saved the _Sea-horse__, and brought
thim two privateer vessels into Vigo."
"Well, Tim, it is only three months since I joined, and I don't suppose I
have changed much in that time; but of course I cannot play tricks now as
I used to do, before I got my commission."
"That is so, yer honour; the rigiment misses your tricks, though they did
bother us a bit. Three times were we turned out at night, under arms, when
we were at Athlone, once on a wet night too, and stood there for two hours
till the colonel found out it was a false alarm, and there was me and Mr.
Ryan, and two or three others as was in the secret, nigh choking ourselves
with laughter, to hear the men cursing and swearing at being called out of
bed. That was a foine time, yer honour."
"Attention, Tim!" Terence said, sharply.
They had now entered the village, and the burst of laughter in which
Hoolan indulged at the thought of the regiment being turned out on a false
alarm was unseemly, as he was accompanying an officer. So Tim straightened
himself up, and then followed in Terence's footsteps with military
precision and stiffness.
"There is a time for all things, Tim," the latter said, as he took the
little portmanteau from him. "It won't do to be laughing like that in
sight of head-quarters. I can't ask you to have a drink now; there is no
drink to be had, but the first time we get a chance I will make it up to
"All right, yer honour! I was wrong entirely, but I could not have helped
it if the commander-in-chief had been standing there."
Terence went up to the attic that he and Trevor shared. There was no
changing for dinner, but after a wash he went below again.
"You are just in time," Trevor said, "and we are in luck. The head man of
the village sent the general a couple of ducks, and they will help out our
rations. I have been foraging, and have got hold of half a dozen bottles
of good wine from the priest.
"We always try to get the best of things in the village, if they will but
part with them. That is an essential part of our duties. To-morrow it will
be your turn."
"But our servants always did that sort of thing," Terence said, in some
"I dare say, O'Connor, but it would not do for the general's servant to be
going about picking up things. No matter what he paid, we should have
tales going about in no time of the shameful extortion practised by our
servants, who under threats compelled the peasantry to sell provisions for
the use of their masters at nominal prices."
"I did not think of that," Terence laughed. "Yes, as the Portuguese have
circulated scores of calumnious lies on less foundation, one cannot be too
particular. I will see what I can do to-morrow."
A FALSE ALARM
The march was continued until the brigade arrived at Almeida, which they
reached on the 7th of November, and Sir John Moore and the head-quarters
staff came up on the following day. All the troops were now assembled at
that place; for Anstruther, by some misconception of orders, had halted
the leading division, instead of, as intended by the general, continuing
his march to Salamanca. The condition of the troops was excellent.
Discipline, which had been somewhat relaxed during the period of
inactivity, was now thoroughly restored. The weather had continued fine,
and the steady exercise had well prepared them for the campaign which was
beginning. Things, however, were in other respects going on unfavourably.
The Junta of Corunna had given the most solemn promises that transport and
everything necessary for the advance of Sir David Baird's force should be
ready by the time that officer arrived. Yet nothing whatever had been
done, and so conscious were the Junta of their shortcomings, that when the
fleet with the troops arrived off the port they refused to allow them to
enter without an order from the central Junta, and fifteen days were
wasted before the troops could disembark. Then it was found that neither
provisions nor transport had been provided, and that nothing whatever was
to be hoped for from the Spanish authorities. Baird was entirely
unprovided with money, and was supplied with L8,000 from Moore's scanty
military chest, while at the very time the British agent, Mr. Frere, was
in Corunna with two millions of dollars for the use of the Spaniards,
which he was squandering, like the other British agents, right and left
among the men who refused to put themselves to the slightest trouble to
further the expedition.
Spain was at this time boasting of the enthusiasm of its armies, and of
the immense force that it had in the field, and succeeded in persuading
the English cabinet and the English people that with the help of a little
money they could alone and unaided drive the French right across the
frontier. The emptiness of this braggadocio, and the utter incapacity of
the Spanish authorities and generals was now speedily exposed, for
Napoleon's newly arrived armies scattered the Spaniards before them like
sheep, and it was only on one or two occasions that anything like severe
fighting took place. Within the space of three weeks there remained of the
great armies of Spain but a few thousand fugitives hanging together
without arms or discipline. Madrid, the centre of this pretended
enthusiasm and patriotism, surrendered after a day's pretence at
resistance, and the whole of the eastern provinces fell, practically
without a blow, into the hands of the invaders.
At present, however, Moore still hoped for some assistance from the
Spaniards. He, like Baird, was crippled for want of money, but determined
not to delay his march, and sent agents to Madrid and other places to make
contracts and raise money; thus while the ministers at home squandered
huge sums on the Spaniards, they left it to their own military commanders
to raise money by means of loans to enable them to march. Never in the
course of the military history of England were her operations so crippled
and foiled by the utter incapacity of her government as in the opening
campaigns of the Peninsular War.
While Baird was vainly trying to obtain transport at Corunna, a
reinforcement of some five thousand Spanish troops under General Romana
landed at San Andero, and, being equipped from the British stores, joined
the Spanish general, Blake, in Biscay. These troops had been raised for
the French service at the time Napoleon's brother Joseph was undisputed
King of Spain. They were stationed in Holland, and when the insurrection
at home broke out, the news of the rising was sent to them, and in
pursuance of a plan agreed upon they suddenly rose, marched down to a port
and embarked in English ships sent to receive them, and were in these
transported to the northern coast of Spain.
Sir David Baird was a man of great energy, and, having succeeded in
borrowing a little more money from Mr. Frere, he started on his march to
join General Moore. He had with great difficulty hired some country carts
at an exorbitant rate, but the number was so small that he was obliged to
send up his force in half-battalions, and so was able to proceed but very
Sir John Moore was still in utter ignorance of the situation in Spain. The
jealousy among the generals, and the disinclination of the central Junta
to appoint any one person to a post that might enable him to interfere
with their intrigues, had combined to prevent the appointment of a
commander-in-chief, and there was no one therefore with whom Sir John
could open negotiations and learn what plans, if any, had been decided
upon for general operations against the advancing enemy.
On the day that Moore arrived at Almeida, Blake was in full flight,
pursued by a French army 50,000 strong, and Napoleon was at Vittoria with
Of these facts he was ignorant, but the letters that he received from Lord
William Bentinck and Colonel Graham, exposing the folly of the Spanish
generals, reached him. On the 11th he crossed the frontier of Spain,
marching to Ciudad-Rodrigo. On that day Blake was finally defeated, and
one of the other armies completely crushed and dispersed. These events
left a large French army free to act against the British. Sir John Moore,
however, did not hear of this until a week later. He knew, however, that
the situation was serious; and after all the reports of Spanish
enthusiasm, he was astonished to find that complete apathy prevailed, that
no effort was made to enroll the population, or even to distribute the
vast quantity of British muskets stored up in the magazines of the cities.
The general arrived at Salamanca with 4,000 British infantry. The French
cavalry were at Valladolid, but three marches distant. On the 18th more
troops had arrived, and on the 23d 12,000 infantry and six guns were at
Salamanca. But Moore now knew of the defeat of Blake, and that the French
army that had crushed him was free to advance against Salamanca. But he
did not yet know of the utter dispersal of the Asturian army, or that the
two armies of Castanos and Palafox were also defeated and scattered beyond
any attempt at rallying, and that their conquerors were also free to march
against him. Although ignorant of the force with which Napoleon had
entered Spain, and having no idea of its enormous strength, he knew that
it could not be less than 80,000 men, and that it could be joined by at
least 30,000 more.
His position was indeed a desperate one. Baird was still twenty marches
distant, his cavalry and artillery still far away. It would require
another five days to bring the rear of his own army to Salamanca, as only
a small portion could come forward each day, owing to want of transport;
and yet, while in this position of imminent danger, the Spanish
authorities, through Mr. Frere and other agents, were violently urging an
advance to Madrid.
General Moore was indeed in a position of imminent danger; but the lying
reports as to the strength of the Spanish army induced him for a moment to
make preparations for such a movement. When, however, he learned the utter
overthrow and dispersal of the whole of the Spanish armies, he saw that
nothing remained but to fall back, if possible, upon Portugal.
It was necessary, however, that he should remain at Salamanca until Hope
should arrive with the guns, and the army be in a position to show a front
to the enemy. Instructions had been previously sent to Hope to march to
the Escurial. Hope had endeavoured to find a road across the mountains of
Ciudad-Rodrigo, but the road was so bad that he dared not venture upon it,
as the number of horses was barely sufficient to drag the guns and
ammunition waggons along a good road. He therefore kept on his way until
he reached the Escurial; but after advancing three days farther towards
Madrid, he heard of the utter defeat of the Spaniards and the flight of
their armies. His cavalry outposts brought in word that more than 4,000
cavalry were but twelve miles away, and that other French troops were at
Segovia and other places. The prospect of his making his way to join Sir
John Moore seemed well-nigh hopeless; but, with admirable skill and
resolution, Hope succeeded in eluding some of his foes, in checking others
by destroying or defending bridges, and finally joined the main force
without the loss of any of the important convoy of guns and ammunition
that he was escorting.
The satisfaction of the troops at the arrival of the force that had been
regarded as lost was unbounded. Hitherto, unprovided as they were with
artillery and cavalry, they could have fought only under such
disadvantages as would render defeat almost inevitable, for an enemy could
have pounded them with artillery from a distance beyond their musket
range, and they could have made no effectual reply whatever. His cavalry
could have circled round them, cut their communications, and charged down
on their lines in flank and rear while engaged with his infantry. Now
every man felt that once again he formed part of an army, and that that
army could be relied upon to beat any other of equal numbers.
Terence had enjoyed the march to Salamanca. The fine weather had broken
up, and heavy rains had often fallen, but his thick coat kept him dry
except in the steadiest downpours; while on one or two occasions only the
general and his staff had failed to find quarters available. As they
proceeded they gradually closed up with the troops forming a part of the
same division, and at Almeida came under the command of General Fraser,
whose division was made complete by their arrival. Up to this point the
young aide-de-camp's duties had been confined solely to the work of the
brigade--to seeing that the regiments kept their proper distances, that
none of the waggons loitered behind, and that the roads were repaired,
where absolutely necessary, for the baggage to pass.
In the afternoon he generally rode forward with Major Errington, the
quartermaster-general of the brigade, to examine the place fixed upon for
the halt, to apportion the ground between the regiments, and ascertain the
accommodation to be obtained in the village. Two orderlies accompanied
them, each carrying a bundle of light rods. With these the ground was
marked off, a card with the name of the regiment being inserted in a slit
at the end of the rod; the village was then divided in four quarters for
the accommodation of the officers. But beyond fixing the name of each
regiment to the part assigned to it, no attempt was made to allot any
special quarters to individual officers, this being left for the
regimental quartermaster to do on the arrival of the troops.
When the column came up Terence led each regiment to the spot marked off,
and directed the baggage-waggons to their respective places. While he was
doing this, Trevor, with the orderlies, saw the head-quarters baggage
carried to the house chosen for the general's use, and that the place was
made as comfortable as might be, and then endeavoured to add to the
rations by purchases in the village. Fane himself always remained with the
troops until the tents were erected, and they were under cover, the
rations distributed, and the fires lighted. The latter operation was often
delayed by the necessity of fetching wood from a distance, the wood in the
immediate neighbourhood having been cut down and burned either by the
French on their advance, or by the British regiments ahead.
He then went to his quarters, where he received the reports of the
medical, commissariat, and transport officers, wrote a report of the state
of the road and the obstacles that he had encountered, and sent it back by
an orderly to the officer commanding the six guns which were following a
day's march behind him. These had been brought along with great labour, it
being often necessary to take them off their carriages and carry them up
or down difficult places, while the men were frequently compelled to
harness themselves to ropes and aid the horses to drag the guns and
waggons through the deep mud. Between the arrival of the troops and dinner
Terence had his time to himself, and generally spent it with his regiment.
"Never did I see such a country, Terence," O'Grady complained to him one
day. "Go where you will in ould Oirland, you can always get a jugful of
poteen, a potful of 'taties, and a rasher of bacon; and if it is a
village, a fowl and eggs. Here there are not even spirits or wine; as for
a chicken, I have not seen the feather of one since we started, and I
don't believe the peasants would know an egg if they saw it."
"Nonsense, O'Grady! If we were to go off the main road we should be able
to buy all these things, barring the poteen, and maybe the potatoes, but
you could get plenty of onions instead. You must remember that the French
army came along here, and I expect they must have eaten nearly everything
up on their way, and you may be sure that Anstruther's brigade gleaned all
they left. As we marched from the Mondego we found the villagers well
supplied--better a good deal than places of the same size would be in
Ireland--except at our first halting-place."
"I own that, although Hoolan sometimes fails to add to our rations, we
have not been so badly off, Terence. He goes out with two or three more of
the boys directly we halt, laving the other servants to get the tents
ready, and he generally brings us half a dozen fish, sometimes a dozen,
that he has got out of the stream.
"He is an old hand, is Tim, and if he can't get them for dinner he gets
them for breakfast. He catches them with night-lines and snares, and all
sorts of poaching tricks. I know he bought a bag with four or five pounds
of lime at Torres Vedras, and managed to smuggle it away in the regimental
baggage. I asked him what it was for, and the rascal tipped me a wink, as
much as to say, Don't ask no questions, master; and I believe that he
drops a handful into a likely pool when he comes across one. I have never
dared to ask him, for my conscience would not let me countenance such an
unsportsmanlike way of getting round the fish."
"I don't think that there is much harm in it under the present
circumstances," Terence laughed. "It is not sport, but it is food. I am
afraid, Tim, that you must have been poaching a good deal at home or you
would never have thought of buying lime before starting on this march."
"I would scorn to take in an Oirish fish, yer honour!" Hoolan said,
indignantly. "But it seems to me that as the people here are trating us
in just as blackguardly a manner as they can, shure it is the least we can
do to catch their fish any way we can, just to pay them off."
"Well, looking at it in that light, Tim, I will say no more against the
practice. I don't think I could bring myself to lime even Portuguese
water, but my conscience would not trouble me at eating fish that had been
caught by somebody else."
"I will bear it in mind, yer honour, and next time we come on a good pool
a dish of fine fish shall be left at your quarters, but yer honour must
not mintion to the gineral where you got them from. Maybe his conscience
in the matter of ateing limed fish would be more tender than your own, and
it might get me into trouble."
"I will take care about that, Tim; at any rate, I will try and manufacture
two or three hooks, and when we halt for a day will try and do a little
fishing on my own account."
"I will make you two or three, Mr. O'Connor. I made a couple for Mr. Ryan,
and he caught two beauties yesterday evening."
"Thank you, Hoolan. Fond as I am of fishing, I wonder it did not strike me
before. I can make a line by plaiting some office string, with twisted
horse-hair instead of gut."
"I expect that that is just what Mr. Ryan did, yer honour. I heard the
adjutant using powerful language this morning because he could not find a
ball of twine."
After this Terence generally managed to get an hour's fishing before the
evening twilight had quite faded away; and by the aid of a long rod cut on
the river bank, a line manufactured by himself, and Hoolan's hook baited
with worms, he generally contrived to catch enough fish to supplement the
ordinary fare at the following morning's breakfast.
"This is a welcome surprise, Trevor," the brigadier said the first time
the fish appeared at table. "I thought I smelt fish frying, but I felt
sure I must be mistaken. Where on earth did you get them from?"
"It is not my doing, General, but O'Connor's. I was as much surprised as
yourself when I saw Burke squatting over the fire frying three fine fish.
I asked him where he had stolen them. He told me that Mr. O'Connor brought
them in at eight o'clock yesterday evening."
"Where did you get them from, O'Connor?"
"I caught them in the stream that we crossed half a mile back, sir. I
found a likely pool a few hundred yards down it, and an hour's work there
gave me those three fish. They stopped biting as soon as it got dark."
"What did you catch them with?"
Terence explained the nature of his tackle.
"Capital! You have certainly given us a very pleasant change of food, and
I hope that you will continue the practice whenever there is a chance."
"There ought often to be one, General. We cross half a dozen little
mountain streams every day, and the villages are generally built close to
one. I don't suppose I should have thought of it, if I had not found that
some of the men of my regiment have been supplying the mess with them. I
hope to do better in future, for going over the ground where some of the
troops in front of us have bivouacked I came upon some white feathers
blowing about, and I shall try to tie a fly. That ought to be a good deal
more killing than a worm when the light begins to fade."
"You have been a fisherman, then, at home?"
"Yes, sir; I did a good deal of fishing round Athlone, and was taught to
tie my own flies. I wish I had a packet of hooks--the two one of our
fellows made for me are well enough for worms, but they are rather clumsy
"I used to be fond of fishing myself," Fane said; "but I have always
bought my tackle, and I doubt whether I should make much hand at it, if
left to my own devices. We are not likely to be able to get any hooks till
we get to Almeida, but I should think you would find some there."
"I shall be able to get some wire to make them with, no doubt, sir."
"I fancy after we have left Almeida you won't find many opportunities of
fishing, O'Connor. We shall have other work on hand then, and shall, I
hope, be able to buy what we want; at any rate, we shall have as good a
chance of doing so as others, while along this road there is nothing to be
had for love or money, and the peasants would no doubt be glad to sell us
anything they have, but they are living on black bread themselves; and,
indeed, the greater part have moved away to less-frequented places. No
doubt they will come back again as soon as we have all passed, but how
long they will be allowed to live in peace and quietness is more than I
can say. As long as it is only our troops who come along they have nothing
much to complain of, for they can sell everything they have to dispose of
at prices they never dreamt of before; but they complain bitterly of the
French, who ate their fruit and drank their wine, killed their pigs and
fowls, appropriated their cattle and horses, and they thought themselves
lucky to escape with their lives. You see there are very few men about
here; they have all gone off to join one or other of the Portuguese
"I fancy these Portuguese fellows will turn out useful some day, General,"
Major Errington said. "They are stout fellows, and though I don't think
the townspeople would be of any good, the peasantry ought to make good
soldiers if they were well drilled and led."
"That is a very large if," Fane laughed. "I see no signs of any leader,
and unless we could lend them a few hundred non-commissioned officers I
don't see where their drill instructors are to come from. Still, I have
more hope of them than I have of the Spaniards. Those men under Trant were
never tried much under fire, but they certainly improved in discipline
very much in the short time they were with us. If we could but get rid of
all the Portuguese authorities and take the people in hand ourselves, we
ought to be able to turn out fifty thousand good fighting troops in the
course of a few months, but so long as things go on as they are I see no
hope of any efficient aid from them."
At Almeida Terence managed to procure some hooks. They were clumsily made,
but greatly superior to anything that he could turn out himself. He was
also able to procure some strong lines, but the use of flies seemed to be
altogether unknown. However, during his stay he made half a dozen
different patterns, and with these in a small tin box and a coil of line
stowed away at the bottom of one of his holsters, he felt that if
opportunity should occur he ought to be able to have fair sport. He had
suffered a good deal during the heavy rains, which came on occasionally,
from the fact that his infantry cloak was not ample enough to cover his
legs when riding. He was fortunate enough here to be able to buy a pair of
long riding-boots, and with these and a pair of thick canvas trousers,
made by one of the regimental tailors, and coming down just below the
knee, he felt that in future he could defy the rain.
At Salamanca there were far better opportunities of the officers
supplementing their outfits. Landing on the Mondego early in August, they
had made provision against the heat, but had brought no outfit at all
suited for wear in winter, and all seized the opportunity of providing
themselves with warm under-garments, had linings sewn into greatcoats, and
otherwise prepared for the cold which would shortly set in. The greater
part of the troops were here quartered in the convents and other extensive
buildings, and as Fane's brigade was one of the first to arrive they
enjoyed a short period of well-earned rest. Terence had by this time
picked up a good deal of Portuguese, and was able to make himself pretty
well understood by the Spanish shopkeepers. He, as well as the other
officers, was astonished and disgusted at the lethargy that prevailed
when, as all now knew, the great Spanish armies were scattered to the
winds, and large bodies of French troops were advancing in all directions
to crush out the last spark of resistance.
The officers of the Mayo Fusiliers had established a mess, and Terence
often dined there. He was always eagerly questioned as to what was going
to be done.
"I can assure you, O'Grady," he said, one day, "that aides-de-camp are not
admitted to the confidence of the officer commanding-in-chief. I know no
more as to Sir John's intentions than the youngest drummer-boy. I suppose
that everything will depend upon the weather, and whether General Hope,
with the artillery and cavalry, manages to join us. If he does, I suppose
we shall fight a battle before we fall back. If he does not, I suppose we
shall have to fall back without fighting, if the French will let us."
"I wish, Terence, you would give these lazy Spaniards a good fright, just
as you gave the people at Athlone. Faith, I would give a couple of months'
pay to see them regularly scared."
"If I were not on the staff I might try it, O'Grady, but it would never do
for me to try such a thing now."
Dick Ryan, who was standing by, winked significantly, and in a short time
he and Terence were talking eagerly together in a corner of the room.
"Who is to know you are a staff-officer, Terence?" the latter urged.
"Isn't it an infantry uniform that you are wearing? and ain't there
hundreds of infantry officers here? It was good fun at Athlone, but I
don't think that many of them believed there was any real danger. It would
be altogether different here; they are scared enough as it is, though they
walk about with their cloaks wrapped round them and pretend to be mighty
"Let us come and talk it over outside, Dick. It did not much matter before
if it had been discovered we had a hand in it. Of course the colonel would
have given us a wigging, but at heart he would have been as pleased at the
joke as any of us. But it is a different affair here."
Going out, they continued their talk and arranged their plans. Late the
following night two English officers rushed suddenly into a drinking-shop
close to the gate through which the road to Valladolid passed.
"The French! the French!" one exclaimed. "Run for your lives and give the
The men all leapt to their feet, rushed out tumultuously, and scattered
through the streets, shouting at the top of their voices: "The French are
coming! the French are coming! Get up, or you will all be murdered in your
The alarm spread like wildfire, and Terence and Ryan made their way back,
by the shortest line, to the room where most of the officers were still
sitting, smoking and chatting.
"Any news, O'Connor?" the colonel asked.
"Nothing that I have heard of, Colonel. I thought I would drop in for a
cigar before turning in."
A few minutes later Tim Hoolan entered.
"There is a shindy in the town, your honour," he said to the colonel.
"Meself does not know what it is about; but they are hallooing and bawling
fit to kill themselves."
One of the officers went to the window and threw it up.
"Hoolan is right, Colonel; there is something the matter. There--" he
broke off as a church bell pealed out with loud and rapid strokes.
"That is the alarm, sure enough!" the colonel exclaimed. "Be off at once,
gentlemen, and get the men up and under arms."
"I must be off to the general's quarters!" Terence exclaimed, hastily
putting on his greatcoat again.
"The divil fly away with them," O'Grady grumbled, as he hastily finished
the glass before him; "sorrow a bit of peace can I get at all, at all, in
this bastely country."
Terence hurried away to his quarters. A score of church bells were now
pealing out the alarm. From every house men and women rushed out
panic-stricken, and eagerly questioned each other. All sorts of wild
reports were circulated.
"The British outposts have been driven in; the Valladolid gate has been
captured; Napoleon himself, with his whole army, is pouring into the
The shrieks of frightened women added to the din, above which the British
bugles calling the troops to arms could be heard in various quarters of
"Oh, here you are, Mr. O'Connor!" General Fane exclaimed, as he hurried
in. "Mr. Trevor has just started for the convent; he may be intercepted,
and therefore do you carry the same message; the brigade is to get under
arms at once, and to remain in readiness for action until I arrive. From
what I can gather from these frightened fools, the French have already
entered the town. If the convent is attacked, it is to be defended until
the last. I am going to head-quarters for orders."
A good deal alarmed at the consequences of the tumult that he and Dick
Ryan had excited, Terence made his way through the streets at a run; his
progress, however, was impeded by the crowd, many of whom seized him as he
passed and implored him to tell them the news. He observed that not a
weapon was to be seen among the crowd; evidently resistance was absolutely
unthought of. Trevor had reached the convent before him. The four
regiments had already gathered there under arms.
"Have you any orders, Mr. O'Connor?" Colonel Corcoran asked, eagerly, for
the Mayo Fusiliers happened to be formed up next the gate of the convent.
"No, sir; only to repeat those brought by Mr. Trevor, as the general
thought that he might be intercepted on the way. The troops are to remain
here in readiness until he arrives. If attacked, they are to hold the
convent until the last."
"Have you seen any signs of the French?"
"None, whatever, Colonel."
"Did you hear any firing?"
"No, sir; but there was such an uproar--what with the church bells,
everyone shouting, and the women screaming--that I don't suppose I should
have heard it unless it had been quite close."
"We thought we heard musketry," the colonel replied, "but it might have
been only fancy. There is such a hullabaloo in the city that we might not
have heard the fire of small-arms, but I think that we must have heard
In ten minutes Fane with his staff galloped in. "The brigade will march
down towards the Valladolid gate," he said. "If you encounter any enemies,
Colonel Corcoran you will at once occupy the houses on both sides of the
street and open fire upon them from the windows and roofs; the other
regiments will charge them. At present," he went on, as the colonel gave
the order for the regiment to march, "we can obtain no information as to
the cause of this uproar. An officer rode in, just as I was starting, from
Anstruther's force, encamped outside the walls, asking for orders, and
reporting that his outposts have seen no signs of the enemy. I believe it
is a false alarm after all, and we are marching rather to reassure the
populace than with any idea of meeting the enemy."
The troops marched rapidly through the streets, making their way without
ceremony through the terrified crowd. They had gone but a short distance
when the bells of the churches one by one ceased their clamour, and a hush
succeeded the din that had before prevailed. When the head of the column
reached the gate, they saw Sir John Moore and his staff sitting there on
horseback. Fane rode up to him for orders.
"It is, as I fancied, wholly a false alarm," the general said. "How it
could have started I have no idea. I have had another report from
Anstruther; all is quiet at the outposts, and there is no sign whatever of
the enemy. There is nothing to do but to march the troops back to
barracks. However, I am not sorry, for possibly the scare may wake the
authorities up to the necessity of taking some steps for the protection of
Terence rode back with General Fane to his quarters.
"I cannot make out," Trevor said, as they went, "how the scare can have
begun; everything was quiet enough. I was just thinking of turning in when
we heard a shouting in the streets. In three minutes the whole town seemed
to have gone mad, and I made sure that the French must be upon us; but I
could not make out how they could have done so without our outposts giving
the alarm. Where were you when it began?"
"I was in the mess-room of the Mayos, when one of the servants ran in to
say that there was a row. Directly afterwards the alarm-bells began to
ring, the colonel at once gave orders for the regiment to be got under
arms, and I ran back to the general for orders; and I must have passed you
somewhere on the road. Did you ever see such cowards as these Spaniards?
Though there are arms enough in the town for every man to bear a
musket--and certainly the greater portion of them have weapons of some
sort or other--I did not see a man with arms of any kind in his hand."
"I noticed the same thing," Trevor said. "It is disgusting. It was evident
that the sole thought that possessed them was as to their own wretched
lives. I have no doubt that, if they could have had their will, they would
have disarmed all our troops, in order that no resistance whatever should
be offered. And yet only yesterday the fellows were all bragging about
their patriotism, and the bravery that would be shown should the French
make their appearance. It makes one sick to be fighting for such people."
The following afternoon Terence went up to the convent.
"Well, O'Connor, have you heard how it all began?" the colonel asked, as
he went into the mess-room.
"No one seems to know at all, Colonel. The authorities are making
inquiries, but, as far as I have heard, nothing has taken place to account
"It reminds me," the colonel said, shutting one eye and looking fixedly at
Terence, "of a certain affair that took place at Athlone."
"I was thinking the same myself," Terence replied, quietly, "only the
scare was a good deal greater here than it was there; besides, a good many
of the townspeople in Athlone did turn out with guns in their hands,
whereas here, I believe every man in the town hid his gun in his bed
before running out."
"I always suspected you of having a hand in that matter, Terence."
"Did you, Colonel?" Terence said, in a tone of surprise. "Well, as,
fortunately, I was sitting here when this row began, you cannot suspect me
"I don't know; you and Ryan came in together, which was suspicious in
itself, and it was not two minutes after you had come in that the rumpus
began. Just give me a wink, lad, if you had a finger in the matter. You
know you are safe with me; besides, ain't you a staff-officer now, and
outside my jurisdiction altogether?"
"Well, Colonel, a wink does not cost anything," Terence said, "so here is
He exchanged a wink with the colonel, who burst into a fit of laughter so
loud that he startled all the other officers, who at once came up to hear
"It is just a little story that Terence has been telling me," the colonel
said, when he had recovered his breath, "about the scare last night, and
how a young woman, with next to nothing on her, threw her arms round his
neck and begged him to save her. The poor young fellow blushed up to his
eyelids with the shame of it in the public streets!"
O'Grady asked no questions, but presently whispered to Terence: "Faith, ye
did it well, me boy."
"Did what well, O'Grady?"
"You need not tell me about it, Terence. I was expecting it. Didn't I
spake to ye the day before about it, and didn't I feel sure that something
would come of it? When that row began last night, I looked at you hard and
saw you wink at that young spalpeen, Dicky Ryan; and sure all the time
that we were standing there, formed up, I well-nigh burst the buttons off
me coatee in holding in me laughter, when everyone else was full of
"'Are you ill, O'Grady?' the colonel said, for I had to sit meself down on
some steps and rock meself to and fro to aise meself. 'Is it sick ye are?'
'A sudden pain has saised me, Colonel,' says I, 'but I will be all right
in a minute.' 'Take a dram out of me flask,' says he; something must have
gone wrong wid ye.' I took a drink--"
"That I may be sure you did," Terence interrupted.
"--And thin told him that I felt better; but as we marched down through
the crowd and saw the fright of the men, and the women screaming in their
night-gowns at the windows, faith, I well-nigh choked."
"Have you spoken to Ryan about this absurd suspicion, O'Grady?"
"I spoke to him, but I might as well have spoke to a brick wall. Divil a
thing could I get out of him. How did you manage it at all, lad?"
"How could I manage it?" Terence said, indignantly. "No, no, O'Grady; I
know you did make some remark about that scare at Athlone, and said it
would be fun to have one here. I was a little shocked at hearing such a
thing from, as you often say, a superior officer, and it certainly appears
to me that it was you who first broached the idea. So I have much more
right to feel a suspicion that you had a hand in the carrying of it out
than for you to suspect me."
"Well, Terence," O'Grady said, in an insinuating way, "I won't ask you any
questions now, and maybe some day when you have marched away from this
place, you will tell me the ins and outs of the business."
"Maybe, O'Grady, and perhaps you will also confess to me how you managed
to bring the scare about."
"Go along wid you, Terence, it is yourself knows better than anyone else
that I had nothing to do with it, and I will never forgive you until you
make a clean breast of it to me."
"We shall see about it," Terence laughed. "Anyhow, if you allude to the
subject again, I shall feel it my duty to inform the colonel of my reasons
for suspecting that you were concerned in spreading those false reports
"It was first-rate, wasn't it?" Dick Ryan said, as he joined Terence, when
the latter left the mess-room.
"It was good fun, Dicky; but I tell you, for a time I was quite as much
scared as anyone else. I never thought that it would have gone quite so
far. When it came to all the troops turning out, and Sir John and
everyone, I felt that there would be an awful row if we were ever found
"It was splendid, Terence. I knew that we could not be found out when we
had not told a soul. Did you ever see such a funk as the Spaniards were
all in, and after all their bragging and the airs that they had given
themselves. Our men were so savage at their cowardice, that I believe they
would have liked nothing better than an order to pitch into them. And
didn't the women yell and howl? It is the best lark we have ever had."
"It is good fun to look back at, Dicky, but I shall be glad when we are
out of this. The Spanish authorities are making all sorts of inquiries,
and I have no doubt that they will get hold of some of the men in that
wine-shop, and it will come out that two British officers started the
"What if it did?" Ryan said. "There were only two wretched candles burning
in the place, and they could not have got a fair sight at us, and indeed
they all jumped up and bolted the moment we spoke. I will bet that there
is not one among them who would be able to swear to us though we were
standing before him; and I have no doubt if they were questioned every man
would give a different account of what we were like. I have no fear that
they will ever find us out. Still, I shall be glad when we are out of this
old place. Not because I am afraid about our share in that business being
discovered, but we have been here nearly a fortnight now, and as we know
there is a strong French force within ten miles of us, I think that it is
about time that the fun began. You don't think that we are going to
retreat, do you?"
"I don't know any more about it than you do, Dicky; but I feel absolutely
sure that we shall retreat. I don't see anything else for us to do. Every
day fresh news comes in about the strength of the French, and as the
Spanish resistance is now pretty well over, and Madrid has fallen, they
will all be free to march against us; and even when Hope has joined us we
shall only be about 20,000 strong, and they have, at the least, ten times
that force. I thing we shall be mighty lucky if we get back across the
frontier into Portugal before they are all on us."
Sir John Moore, however, was not disposed to retire without doing
something for the cause of Spain. The French armies had not yet penetrated
into the southern provinces, and he nobly resolved to make a movement that
would draw the whole strength of the French towards him, and give time for
the Spaniards in the south to gather the remains of their armies together
and organize a resistance to the French advance. In view of the number and
strength of the enemy, no more heroic resolution was ever taken by a
military commander, and it was all the more to be admired, inasmuch as he
could hope to win no victory that would cover himself and his army with
glory, no success that would satisfy the public at home, and at best he
could but hope, after long, fatiguing, and dangerous marches, to effect
his retreat from the overwhelming forces that would be hurled against him.
While remaining at Salamanca, Sir John, foreseeing that a retreat into
Portugal must be finally carried out, took steps to have magazines
established on two of the principal routes to the coast, that a choice
might be left open to him by which to retire when he had accomplished his
main object of diverting the great French wave of invasion from the south.
On the 11th of December the march began, and for the next ten days the
army advanced farther and farther into the country. So far Moore had only
Soult's army opposing his advance towards Burgos, and it might be possible
to strike a heavy blow at that general before Napoleon, who was convinced
that the British must fall back into Portugal if they had not already
begun to do so, should come up. He had been solemnly assured that he
should be joined by Romana with 14,000 picked men, but that general had
with him but 5,000 peasants, who were in such a miserable condition that
when the British reached the spot where the junction was to be effected,
he was ashamed to show them, and marched away into Leon.
The British, in order to obtain forage, were obliged to move along several
lines of route. Sir David Baird's division joined them as they advanced,
and when they reached the Carrion their effective force amounted to 23,583
men, with sixty pieces of artillery. On the French side, Soult had--on
hearing of the British advance to the north-east, by which, if successful,
they would cut the French lines of communication between Madrid and the
frontier--called up all his detached troops, and wrote to the governor of
Burgos to divert to his assistance all troops coming along the road from
France, whatever their destination might be.
On the 21st Lord Paget, with the 10th and 15th Hussars, surprised a French
cavalry force at Sahagun, and ordered the 15th to turn their position and
endeavour to cut them off. When with the 10th Hussars Lord Paget arrived
in the rear of the village, he found six hundred French dragoons drawn up
and ready to attack him. He at once charged and broke them and pursued
them for some distance. Twenty were killed, thirteen officers and 154 men
taken prisoners. On the 23d, Soult had concentrated his forces at the town
of Carrion, and that night the British troops were got in motion to attack
them, the two forces being about even in numbers; but scarcely had he
moved forward when reports, both from Romana and his own spies, reached
Sir John Moore to the effect that his march had achieved the object with
which it was undertaken. Orders had been sent by Napoleon for the whole of
the French armies to move at once against the British, while he himself,
with the troops at Madrid, 70,000 strong, had started by forced marches to
fall upon him.
The instant Moore received this information he arrested the forward
movement of his troops. His object had been attained. The French invasion
of the south was arrested, and time given to the Spaniards. There was
nothing now but to fall back with all speed. It was well indeed that he
did not carry out his intention of attacking Soult. The latter had that
day received orders from the emperor not to give battle, but to fall back,
and so tempt Moore to pursue, in which case his line of retreat would have
been intercepted and his army irretrievably lost.
The order to retreat was an unwelcome one indeed to the troops. For twelve
days they had marched through deep snow and suffered fatigues, privations,
and hardships. That evening they had expected to be repaid for their
exertions by a battle and a victory on the following morning, and the
order to retreat, coming at such a moment, was a bitter disappointment
They were, of course, ignorant of the reasons for this sudden change, and
the officers shared the discontent of the troops, a feeling that largely
accounted for the disorders and losses that took place during the retreat.
Napoleon led his troops north with his usual impetuosity. The deep snow
choked the passes through the mountains. The generals, after twelve hours
of labour, reported the roads impracticable, but Napoleon placed himself
at the head of the column, and, amidst a storm of snow and driving hail,
led them over the mountain. With tremendous efforts he reached Desillas on
the 26th; while Houssaye entered Valladolid on the same day, and Ney, with
the 6th corps, arrived at Rio Seco.
Full of hope that he had caught the British, the emperor pushed on towards
Barras, only to find that he was twelve hours too late. Moore had, the
instant he received the news, sent back the heavy baggage with the main
body of infantry, himself following more slowly with the light brigade and
cavalry, the latter at times pushing parties up to the enemy's line and
skirmishing with his outposts to prevent Soult from suspecting that the
army had retreated. On the 26th the whole army, moving by different
routes, approached the river Esla, which they crossed in a thick fog,
which greatly hindered the operation. A brigade remained on the left bank
to protect the passage, for the enemy's cavalry were already close at
hand, and Soult was hotly pressing in pursuit.
A strong body of horse belonging to the emperor's army intercepted Lord
Paget near Mayorga, but two squadrons of the 10th Hussars charged up the
rising ground on which they had posted themselves, and, notwithstanding
their disadvantage in numbers and position, killed twenty and took a
hundred prisoners. Moore made but a short pause on the Esla, for that
position could be turned by the forces advancing from the south. He
waited, therefore, only until he could clear out his magazines, collect
his stragglers, and send forward his baggage. He ordered the bridge by
which the army had crossed to be broken down, and left Crawford to perform
Short as the retreat had been, it had already sufficed to damage most
seriously the morale of the army. The splendid discipline and order that
had been shown during the advance was now gone; many of the regimental
officers altogether neglected their duties, and the troops were
insubordinate. Great numbers straggled, plundered the villages, and
committed excesses of all sorts, and already the general had been forced
to issue an order reproaching the army for its conduct, and appealing to
the honour of the soldiers to second his efforts. Valiant in battle,
capable of the greatest efforts on the march, hardy in enduring fatigue
and the inclemency of weather, the British soldier always deteriorates
rapidly when his back is turned to the enemy. Confident in his bravery,
regarding victory as assured, he is unable to understand the necessity for
retreat, and considers himself degraded by being ordered to retire, and
regards prudence on the part of his general as equivalent to cowardice.
The armies of Wellington deteriorated with the same rapidity as this
force, when upon two occasions it was necessary to retreat when threatened
by overwhelming forces; and yet, however disorganized, the British soldier
recovers his discipline the instant he is attacked, and fiercely turns
upon his pursuers. At the bridge across the Esla two privates of the 3d
gave an example of splendid courage and determination. It was night. Some
of the baggage was still on the farther bank, and the two men were posted
as sentries beyond the bridge, their orders being that if an enemy
appeared, one should fire and then run back to the bridge and shout to
warn the guard whether the enemy were in force or not. The other was to
maintain his post as long as possible.
[Illustration: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, TERENCE? WE WOULD HAVE THRASHED THEM OUT
OF THEIR BOOTS IN NO TIME]
During the night the light cavalry of the imperial guard rode down.
Jackson, one of the sentries, fired and ran back to give the alarm. He was
overtaken, and received over a dozen sabre cuts; nevertheless he staggered
on until he reached the bridge, and gave the signal. Walton, the other
sentry, with equal resolution stood his ground and wounded several of his
assailants, who, as they drew off, left him unhurt, although his cap,
knapsack, belt, and musket were cut in over twenty places, and his bayonet
Terence O'Connor's duties had been light enough during the advance, but
during the three days of the retreat to the Esla he had been incessantly
occupied. He and Trevor had both been directed to ride backwards and
forwards along the line of the brigade to see that there was no straggling
in the ranks, and that the baggage carts in the rear kept close up. The
task was no easy one, and was unpleasant as well as hard. Many of the
officers plodded sulkily along, paying no attention whatever to their men,
allowing them to straggle as they chose; and they were obliged to report
several of the worst cases to the brigadier. With the Mayo Fusiliers they
had less trouble than with others. Terence had, when he joined them at
their first halt after the retreat began, found them as angry and
discontented as the rest at the unexpected order, and was at once assailed
with questions and complaints.
He listened to them quietly, and then said:
"Of course, if you all prefer a French prison to a few days' hard
marching, you have good reason to grumble at being baulked in your wishes;
that is all I have to say about it."
"What do you mean, Terence?" O'Grady asked, angrily. "Soult's force was
not stronger than ours, at least so we heard; and if it had been it would
make no difference, we would have thrashed them out of their boots in no
"I dare say we should, O'Grady, and what then?"
"Well, I don't know what then," O'Grady said, after a moment's silence;
"that would have been the general's business."
"Quite so; and so is this. There you would have been with perhaps a couple
of thousand wounded and as many French prisoners, and Napoleon with 60,000
men or so, and Ney with as many more, and Houssaye with his cavalry
division, all in your rear cutting you off from the sea. What would have
been your course then?"
A general silence fell upon the officers.
"Is that so?" the colonel asked at last.
"That is so," Terence said, gravely. "All these and other troops are
marching night and day to intercept us. It is no question of fighting now.
Victory over Soult, so far from being of any use, would only have burdened
us with wounded and prisoners, and even a day's delay would be absolutely
fatal. As it is, it is a question whether we shall have time to get back
to the coast before they are all posted in our front. Every hour is of the
greatest importance. You all know that we have talked over lots of times
how dangerous our position is. General Fane told us, when the orders to
retreat were issued, that he believed the peril to be even more imminent
than we thought. We all know when we marched north from Salamanca, that,
without a single Spaniard to back us, all that could be hoped for was to
aid Saragossa and Seville and Cadiz to gather the levies in the south and
prepare for defence, and that erelong we should have any number of enemies
upon us. That is what has precisely happened, and now there is grumbling
because the object has been attained, and that you are not allowed to
fight a battle that, whether won or lost, would equally ruin us."
"Sure ye are right," O'Grady said, warmly, "and we are a set of omadhouns.
You have sense in your head, Terence, and there is no gainsaying you. I
was grumbling more than the rest of them, but I won't grumble any more.
Still, I suppose that there is no harm in hoping we shall have just a bit
of fighting before we get back to Portugal."
"We shall be lucky if we don't have a good deal of fighting, O'Grady, and
against odds that will satisfy even you. As to Portugal, there is no
chance of our getting there. Ney will certainly cut that road, and the
emperor will, most likely, also do so, as you can see for yourself on the
"Divil a map have I ever looked at since I was at school," O'Grady said.
"Then if we can't get back to Portugal, where shall we get to?"
"To one of the northern seaports; of course, I don't know which has been
decided upon; I don't suppose the general himself has settled that yet. It
must depend upon the roads and the movements of the enemy, and whether
there is a defensible position near the port that we can hold in case the
fleet and transports cannot be got there by the time we arrive."
"Faith, Terence, ye're a walking encyclopeydia. You have got the matter at
your finger ends."
"I don't pretend to know any more than anyone else," Terence said, with a
laugh. "But of course I hear matters talked over at the brigade mess. I
don't think that Fane knows more of the general's absolute plans than you
do. I dare say the divisional generals know, but it would not go further.
Still, as Fane and Errington and Dowdeswell know something about war
besides the absolute fighting, they can form some idea as to the plans
that will be adopted."
"Well, Terence," the colonel said, "I didn't think the time was coming so
soon when I was going to be instructed by your father's son, but I will
own that you have made me feel that I have begun campaigning too late in
life, and that you have given me a lesson."
"I did not mean to do that, Colonel," Terence said, a good deal abashed.
"It was O'Grady I was chiefly speaking to."
"Your supeyrior officer!" O'Grady murmured.
"My superior officer, certainly," Terence went on, with a smile; "but who,
having, as he says, never looked at a map since he left school--while I
have naturally studied one every evening since we started from Torres
Vedras--can therefore know no more about the situation than does Tim
Hoolan. But I certainly never intended my remarks to apply to you,
"They hit the mark all the same, lad, and the shame is mine and not yours.
I think you have done us all good. One doesn't care when one is retreating
for a good reason, but when one marches for twelve days to meet an enemy,
and then, when just close to him, one turns one's back and runs away, it
is enough to disgust an Englishman, let alone an Irishman. Well, boys, now
we see it is all right, we will do our duty as well on the retreat as we
did on the advance, and divil a grumble shall there be in my hearing."
From that moment, therefore, the Mayo Fusiliers were an example to the
brigade. Any grumble in the ranks was met with a cheerful "Whist, boys! do
you think that you know the general's business better than he does
himself? It is plenty of fighting you are likely to get before you have
done, never fear. Now is the time, boys, to get the regiment a good name.
The general knows that we can fight. Now let him see that we can wait
patiently till we get another chance. Remember, the better temper you are
in, the less you will feel the cold."
So, laughing and joking, and occasionally breaking into a song, the Mayo
Fusiliers pushed steadily forward, and the colonel that evening
congratulated the men that not one had fallen out.
"Keep that up, boys," he said. "It will be a proud day for me when we get
to our journey's end, wherever that may be, to be able to say to the
brigadier: 'Except those who have been killed by the enemy, here is my
regiment just as it was when it started from the Carrion--not a man has
fallen out, not a man has straggled away, not a man has made a baste of
himself and was unfit to fall in the next morning.' I know them," he said
to O'Driscol, as the regiment was dismissed from parade. "They will not
fall out, they will not straggle, but if they come to a place where wine's
in plenty, they will make bastes of themselves; and after all," he added,
"after the work they have gone through, who is to blame them?"
At the halt the next evening at Bembibre the colonel's forebodings that
the men could not be trusted where liquor was plentiful were happily not
verified. There were immense wine-vaults in the town. These were broken
open, and were speedily crowded by disbanded Spaniards, soldiers,
camp-followers, muleteers, women and children--the latter taking refuge
there from the terrible cold. The rear-guard, to which the Mayo regiment
had been attached the evening before, found that Baird's division had gone
on, but that vast numbers of drunken soldiers had been left behind.
General Moore was himself with the rear-guard, and the utmost efforts were
made to induce the drunkards to rejoin their regiments. He himself
appealed to the troops, instructing the commanders of the different
regiments to say that he relied implicitly upon the soldiers to do their
duty. The French might at any moment be up, and every man must be in his
ranks. No men were to fall out or to enter any wine-house or cellar, but
each should have at once a pint of wine served out to him, and as much
more before they marched in the morning.
After the colonel read out this order, he supplemented it by saying, "Now,
boys, the credit of the regiment is at stake. It is a big honour that has
been paid you in choosing you to join the rear-guard, and you have got to
show that you deserve it. As soon as it can be drawn, you will have your
pint of wine each, which will be enough to warm your fingers and toes.
Wait here in the ranks till you have drunk your wine and eaten some of the
bread in your haversacks, and by that time I will see what I can do for
you. You will have another pint before starting; but mind, though I hope
there isn't a mother's son who would bring discredit on the regiment, I
warn you that I shall give the officers instructions to shoot down any man
who wanders from the ranks in search of liquor. The French may be here in
half an hour after we have started, and it is better to be shot than to be
sabred by a French dragoon, which will happen surely enough to every baste
who has drunk too much to go on with the troops."
Only a few murmurs were heard at the conclusion of the speech.
"Now, gentlemen," the colonel said, "will half a dozen of you see to the
wine. Get hold of some of those fellows loafing about there and make them
roll out as many barrels as will supply a pint to every man in the
regiment, ourselves as well as the men. O'Grady, take Lieutenant Horton
and Mr. Haldane and two sergeants with you. Here is my purse. Go through
the town and get some bread and anything else in the way of food that you
can lay your hands upon. And, if you can, above all things get some
O'Grady's search was for a time unsuccessful, as the soldiers and
camp-followers had already broken into the shops and stores. In an
unfrequented street, however, they came across a large building. He
knocked at the door with the hilt of his sword. It was opened after a time
by an old man.
"What house is this?"
"It is a tobacco factory," he replied.
"Be jabers, we have come to the right place. I want about half a ton of
it. We are not robbers, and I will pay for what we take." Then another
idea struck him. "Wait a moment, I will be back again in no time. Horton,
do you stay here and take charge of the men. I am going back to the
He found on reaching the regiment that the men were already drinking their
wine and eating their bread.
"I am afraid I shall never keep them, O'Grady," the colonel said,
mournfully. "It is scarcely in human nature to see men straggling about as
full as they can hold, and know that there is liquor to be had for taking
it and not to go for it."
"It is all right, Colonel. I know that we can never keep the men if we
turn them into the houses to sleep; but I have found a big building that
will hold the whole regiment, and the best of it is that it is a tobacco
factory. I expect it is run by the authorities of the place, and as we are
doing what we can for them, they need not grudge us what we take; and
faith, the boys will be quiet and contented enough, so that they do but
get enough to keep their pipes going, and know that they will march in the
morning with a bit in their knapsacks."
"The very thing, O'Grady! Pass the word for the regiment to fall in the
instant they have finished their meal."
It was not long before they were ready, and in a few minutes, guided by
O'Grady, the head of the regiment reached the building.
"Who is the owner of this place?" the colonel asked the old man, who, with
a lantern in his hand, was still standing at the door.
"The Central Junta of the Province has of late taken it, your Excellency."
"Good! Then we will be the guests of the Central Junta of the Province for
the night." Then he raised his voice, "Boys, here is a warm lodging for
you for the night, and tobacco galore for your pipes; and, for those who
haven't got them, cigars. Just wait until I have got some lights, and then
file inside in good order."
There was no difficulty about this, for the factory was in winter worked
long after dark set in. In a very few minutes the place was lighted up
from end to end. The troops were then marched in and divided amongst the
"Now, boys, tell the men to smoke a couple of pipes, and then to lie down
to sleep. In the morning each man can put as much tobacco into his
knapsack and pockets as they will hold, and when we halt they can give
some of it away to regiments that have not been as lucky as themselves."
The men sat down in the highest state of satisfaction. Boxes of cigars
were broken open, and in a couple of minutes almost every man and officer
in the regiment had one alight in his mouth. There were few, however, who
got beyond one cigar; the warmth of the place after their long march in
the snow speedily had its effect, and in half an hour silence reigned in
the factory, save for a murmur of voices in one of the lower rooms where
the officers were located.
"O'Grady, you are a broth of a boy," the colonel said. "The men have
scarce had a smoke for the last week, and it will do them a world of good.
We have got them all under one roof, and there is no fear that anyone will
want to get out, and they will fall in in the morning as fresh as paint.
Half an hour before bugle-call three or four of you had best turn out with
a dozen men, and roll up enough barrels from the vaults to give them the
drink promised to them, before starting. Who will volunteer?"
Half a dozen officers at once offered to go, and a captain and three
lieutenants were told off for the work.
"They know how to make cigars, if they don't know anything else," Captain
O'Driscol said; "this is a first-rate weed."
"So it ought to be by the brand," another officer said. "I took the two
boxes from a cupboard that was locked up. There are a dozen more like
them, and I thought it was as well to take them out; they are at present
under the table. I have no doubt that they are real Havannas, and have
probably been got for some grandee or other."
"He will have to do without them," O'Grady said, calmly, as he lighted his
second cigar; "they are too good for any Spaniard under the sun. And,
moreover, if we did not take them you may be sure that the French would
have them to-morrow, and I should say that the Central Junta of the
Province will be mighty pleased to know that the tobacco was smoked by
their allies instead of by the French."
"I don't suppose that they will care much about it one way or another,"
O'Driscol remarked; "their pockets are so full of English gold that the
loss of a few tons of tobacco won't affect them much. I enjoy my cigar
immensely, and have the satisfaction of knowing that for once I have got
something out of a Spaniard--it is the first thing since I landed."
"Well, boys, we had better be off to sleep," the colonel said. "I am so
sleepy that I can hardly keep my eyes open, and you ought to be worse, for
you have tramped well-nigh forty miles to-day. See that the sentry at the
door keeps awake, Captain Humphrey; you are officer of the day; upon my
word I am sorry for you. Tell him he can light up if he likes, but if he
sees an officer coming round he must get rid of it. Mind the sentries are
changed regularly, for I expect that we shall sleep so soundly that if all
the bugles in the place were sounding an alarm we should not hear them."
"All right, Colonel! I have got Sergeant Jackson in charge of the reliefs
in the passage outside, and I think that I can depend upon him, but I will
tell him to wake me up whenever he changes the sentries. I don't say I
shall turn out myself, but as long as he calls me I shall know that he is
awake, and that it is all right. I had better tell him to call you half an
hour before bugle-call, Sullivan, so that you can wake the others and get
the wine here; he mustn't be a minute after the half-hour. Thank goodness,
we don't have to furnish the outposts to-night."
In ten minutes all were asleep on the floor, wrapped in their greatcoats,
the officer of the day taking his place next the door so that he could be
roused easily. Every hour one or other of the two non-commissioned
officers in charge of the guard in the passage opened the door a few
inches and said softly, "I am relieving the sentries, sir;" and each time
the officer murmured assent.
Sullivan was called at the appointed time, got up, and stretched himself,
"I don't believe that I have been asleep ten minutes."
On going out into the passage, however, where a light was burning, his
watch told him that it was indeed time to be moving. He woke the others,
and with the men went down to the cellars. Here the scene of confusion was
great; drunken men lay thickly about the floor, others sat, cup in hand,
talking, or singing snatches of song, Spanish or English. Hastily picking
out enough unbroken casks for the purpose, he set the men to carry them up
to the street, and they were then rolled along to the factory. Just as
they reached the door the bugle-call sounded; the men were soon on their
feet, refreshed by a good night's sleep. The casks were broached, and the
wine served out.
"It is awful, Colonel," Sullivan said. "There will be hundreds of men left
behind. There must have been over that number in the cellar I went into,
and there are a dozen others in the town. I never saw such a disgusting
Scarcely had they finished when the assemble sounded, and the regiment at
once fell-in outside the factory, every man with knapsack and haversack
bulging out with tobacco. They then joined the rest of the troops in the
main street. General Moore had made a vain attempt to rouse the besotted
men. A few of those least overcome joined the rear-guard, but the greater
number were too drunk to listen to orders, or even to the warning that the
French would be into the town as soon as the troops marched out.
As the confusion in the streets increased from the pouring out from the
houses and cellars of the camp-followers--women and children, together
with men less drunk than their comrades, but still unable to walk
steadily--who filled the air with shouts and drunken execrations, Colonel
Corcoran rode along the line.
"Just look at that, boys," he said. "Isn't it better for you to be
standing here like dacent men, ready to do your duty, than to be rolling
about in a state like those drunken blackguards, for the sake of half an
hour's pleasure? Sure it is enough to make every mother's son of you swear
off liquor till ye get home again. When the French get inside the town
there is not one of the drunken bastes that won't be either killed or
marched away a thousand miles to a French prison, and all for half an
The lesson was indeed a striking one, and careless as many of the men
were, it brought home to them with greater force than ever before in their
lives, not only the folly but the degradation of drunkenness. A few
minutes later, General Moore, who was riding up and down the line,
inspecting the condition of the men in each regiment, came along.
"Your men look very well, Colonel," he said, as he reached the Fusiliers.
"How many are you short of your number?"
"Not a man, General; I am happy to say that there was not a single one
that did not answer when his name was called."
"That is good, indeed," the general said, warmly. "I am happy to say that
all the regiments of the rear-guard have turned out well, and shown
themselves worthy of the trust reposed in them; none, however, can give so
good a report as you have done. I selected your regiment to strengthen
this division from the excellent order that I observed you kept along the
line of march, and I am glad indeed that it has shown itself so worthy of
the honour. March your regiment across to the side of the street, let the
others pass you, and fall in at the rear of the column. I shall give the
Mayo Fusiliers the post of honour, as a mark of my warm approbation for
the manner in which they have turned out."
Scarcely had the troops left the town when the French cavalry poured in.
Now that it was too late, the sense of danger penetrated the brains of the
revellers, and the mob of disbanded Spanish and British soldiers and
camp-followers poured out from the cellars. Few of the soldiers had the
sense even to bring up their muskets. Most of those who did so were too
drunk to use them, and the French troopers rode through the mob, sabring
them right and left, and trampling them under foot, and then, riding
forward without a pause, set out in pursuit of the retiring columns. As
they came clattering along the road the colonel ordered the last two
companies to halt, and when the head of the squadron was within fifty
yards of them, and the troopers were beginning to check their horses, a
heavy volley was poured in, which sent them to the right-about as fast as
they had come, and emptied a score of saddles. Then the two companies
formed fours again, and went on at the double until they reached the rear
of the column.
All day the French cavalry menaced the retreat, until Lord Paget came back
with a regiment of hussars and drove them back in confusion, pursuing them
a couple of miles, with the view of discovering whether they were followed
by infantry. Such, however, was not the case, and the column was not
further molested until they reached Cacabolos, where they were halted. The
rest of the army had moved on, the troops committing excesses similar to
those that had taken place at Bembibre, and plundering the shops and
The division marched over a deep stream crossed by a stone bridge, and
took up their ground on a lofty ridge, the ascent being broken by
vineyards and stone walls. Four hundred men of the rifles and as many
cavalry were posted on a hill two miles beyond the river to watch the
roads. They had scarcely taken their post when the enemy were seen
approaching, preceded by six or eight squadrons of cavalry. The rifles
were at once withdrawn, and the cavalry, believing that the whole French
army was advancing, presently followed them, and, riding fast, came up to
the infantry just as they were crossing the bridge.
Before all the infantry were over the French cavalry came down at a
furious gallop, and for a time all was confusion. Then the rifles,
throwing themselves among the vineyards and behind the walls, opened a
heavy fire. The French general in command of the cavalry was killed, with
a number of his troops, and the rest of the cavalry fell back. A regiment
of light infantry had followed them across the bridge, and two companies
of the 52d and as many of the Mayo regiment went down the hill and
reinforced the rifles. A sharp fight ensued until the main body of the
French infantry approached the bridge. A battery of artillery opened upon
them, and seeing the strength of the British division, and believing that
the whole army was before him, Soult called back his troops. The
voltigeurs retired across the bridge again, and the fight came to an end.
Between two and three hundred men had been killed or wounded.
As soon as night came on the British force resumed its march, leaving two
companies of the rifles as piquets at the bridge. The French crossed again
in the night, but after some fighting, fell back again without having been
able to ascertain whether the main body of the defenders of the position
were still there. Later on the rifles fell back, and at daybreak rejoined
the main body of the rear-guard, which had reached Becerrea, eighteen
miles away. Here General Moore received the report from the engineers he
had sent to examine the harbours, and they reported in favour of Corunna,
which possessed facilities for defence which were lacking at Vigo.
Accordingly he sent off orders to the fleet, which was lying at the latter
port, to sail at once for Corunna, and directed the various divisions of
the army to move on that town.
The rear-guard passed the day without moving, enjoying a welcome rest
after the thirty-six miles they had covered the day before. By this march
they had gained a long start of the enemy and had in the evening reached
the town the division before them had quitted that morning. The scene as
they marched along was a painful one. Every day added to the numbers of
the stragglers. The excesses in drink exhausted the strength of the troops
far more than did the fatigue of the marches. Their shoes were worn out;
many of them limped along with rags tied round their feet. Even more
painful than the sight of these dejected and worn-out men was that of the
camp-followers. These, in addition to their terrible hardships and
fatigue, were worn out with hunger, and almost famished. Numbers of them
died by the roadside, others still crawled on in silent misery.
Nothing could be done to aid these poor creatures. The troops themselves
were insufficiently fed, for the evil conduct of the soldiers who first
marched through the towns defeated all the efforts of the commissariat;
for they had broken into the bakers' shops and so maltreated the
inhabitants that the people fled in terror, and no bread could be obtained
for the use of the divisions in the rear. Towards evening the next day the
reserve approached Constantina. The French were now close upon their rear.
A bridge over a river had to be crossed to reach the town, and as there
was a hill within a pistol-shot of the river, from which the French
artillery could sweep the bridge, Sir John Moore placed the riflemen and
artillery on it. The enemy, believing that he intended to give battle,
halted, and before their preparations could be made the troops were across
the bridge, and were joined by the artillery, which had retired at full
The French advanced and endeavoured to take the bridge. General Paget,
however, held the post with two regiments of cavalry, and then fell back
to Lugo, where the whole army was now assembled. The next day Sir John
Moore issued an order strongly condemning the conduct of the troops, and
stating that he intended to give battle to the enemy. The news effected an
instant transformation. The stragglers who had left their regiments and
entered the town by twos and threes at once rejoined their corps. Fifteen
hundred men had been lost during the retreat, of whom the number killed
formed but a small proportion. But the army still amounted to its former
strength, as it was here joined by two fresh battalions, who had been left
at Lugo by General Baird on his march from the coast. The force therefore
numbered 19,000 men; for it had been weakened by some 4,000 of the light
troops having, early in the retreat, been directed towards other ports, in
order to lessen as far as possible the strain on the commissariat.
The position was a strong one, and when Soult at mid-day came up at the
head of 12,000 men he saw at once that until his whole force arrived he
could not venture to attack it. Like the British, his troops had suffered
severely from the long marches, and many had dropped behind altogether.
Uncertain whether he had the whole of the British before him, he sent a
battery of artillery and some cavalry forward; when the former opened
fire, they were immediately silenced by a reply from fifteen pieces. Then
he made an attack upon the right, but was sharply repulsed with a loss of
from three to four hundred men; and, convinced now that Moore was ready to
give battle with his whole force, he drew off.
The next day both armies remained in their positions. Soult had been
joined by Laborde's division, and had 17,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and
50 guns; the English had 16,000 infantry, 1,800 cavalry, and 40 guns. The
French made no movement to attack, and the British troops were furious at
the delay. Soult, however, was waiting until Ney, who was advancing by
another road, should threaten the British flank or cut the line of
retreat. Moore, finding that Soult would not fight alone, and knowing that
Ney was approaching, gave the order for the army to leave its position
after nightfall and march for Corunna. He exhorted them to keep good
order, and to make the effort which would be the last demanded from them.
It was indeed impossible for him to remain at Lugo, even if Ney had not
been close at hand, for there was not another day's supply of bread in the
He took every precaution for securing that no errors should take place as
to the route to be followed in the dark, for the ground behind the
position was intersected by stone walls and a number of intricate lanes.
To mark the right tracks, bundles of straw were placed at intervals along
the line, and officers appointed to guide the columns. All these
precautions, however, were brought to naught by the ill-fortune that had
dogged the general along the whole line of retreat. A tremendous storm of
wind and rain set in, the night was pitch dark, the bundles of straw were
whirled away by the wind, and when the army silently left their post at
ten o'clock at night, the task before them was a difficult one indeed. All
the columns lost their way, and one division alone recovered the main
road; the other two wandered about all night, buffeted by the wind,
drenched by the rain, disheartened and weary.
Some regiments entered what shelters they could find, the men soon
scattered to plunder, stragglers fell out in hundreds, and at daybreak the
remnants of the two divisions were still in Lugo. The moment the light
afforded means of recovering their position, the columns resumed their
march, the road behind them being thickly dotted by stragglers. The
rearguard, commanded by the general himself, covered the rear, but
fortunately the enemy did not come up until evening; but so numerous were
the stragglers that when the French cavalry charged, they mustered in
sufficient force to repel their attack, a proof that it was not so much
fatigue as insubordination that caused them to lag behind. The rear-guard
halted a few miles short of Friol and passed the night there, which
enabled the disorganized army to rest and re-form. The loss during this
unfortunate march was greater than that of all the former part of the
retreat, added to all the losses in action and during the advance.
The next day the army halted, as the French had not come up in sufficient
numbers to give battle, and on the following day marched in good order
into Corunna, where, to the bitter disappointment of the general, the
fleet had not yet arrived. At the time, Sir John Moore was blamed by the
ignorant for having worn out his troops by the length of the marches; but
the accusation was altogether unfounded, as is proved by the fact that the
rear-guard--upon whom the full brunt of the fighting had fallen, who had
frequently been under arms all night in the snow, had always to throw out
very strong outposts to prevent surprises, and had marched eighty miles in
two days, had suffered far more than the other troops, owing to the fact
that the food supply intended for all had been several times wasted and
destroyed by the excesses of those who had preceded them--yet who, when
they reached Corunna, had a much smaller number missing from their ranks
than was the case with the three other divisions.
After all the exertions that had been made, and the extraordinary success
with which the general had carried his force through a host of enemies,
all his calculations were baffled by the contrary winds that delayed the
arrival of the fleet, and it remained but to surrender or fight a battle,
which, if won, might yet enable the army to embark. Sir John did not even
for a moment contemplate the former alternative. The troops on arriving
were at once quartered in the town. The inhabitants here, who had so
sullenly held aloof from Baird's force on its arrival, and had refused to
give him the slightest aid, now evinced a spirit of patriotism seldom
exhibited by the Spaniards, save in their defence of Saragossa, and on a
few other occasions.
Although aware that the army intended, if possible, to embark, and that
the French on entering might punish them for any aid given to it, they
cheerfully aided the troops in removing the cannon from the sea-face and
in strengthening the defences on the land side. Provisions in ample
quantity were forthcoming, and in twenty-four hours the army, knowing that
at last they were to engage the foe who had for the last fortnight hunted
them so perseveringly, recovered its confidence and discipline. This was
aided by the fact that Corunna had large magazines of arms and ammunition,
which had been sent out fifteen months before, from England, and were
still lying there, although Spain was clamouring for arms for its newly
To the soldiers this supply was invaluable. Their muskets were so rusted
with the almost constant downfall of rain and snow of the past month as to
be almost unserviceable, and these were at once exchanged for new arms.
The cartridge-boxes were re-filled with fresh ammunition, an abundant
store served out for the guns, and, after all this, two magazines
containing four thousand barrels of powder remained. These had been
erected on a hill, three miles from the town, and were blown up so that
they should not fall into the hands of the enemy. The explosion was a
terrible one, and was felt for many miles round. The water in the harbour
was so agitated that the shipping rolled as if in a storm, and many
persons who had gone out to witness the explosion were killed by falling
The ground on which the battle was to take place was unfit for the
operations of cavalry. The greater portion of the horses were hopelessly
foundered, partly from the effects of fatigue, partly from want of shoes;
for although a supply of these had been issued on starting, no hammers or
nails had been sent, and the shoes were therefore useless. It would in any
case have been impossible to ship all these animals, and accordingly, as a
measure of mercy, the greater portion of them were shot. Three days were
permitted Moore to make his arrangements, for it took that time for Soult
to bring up his weary troops and place them in a position to give battle.
Their position was a lofty ridge which commanded that upon which Sir John
Moore now placed his troops, covering the town. On the right of the French
ridge there was another eminence upon which Soult had placed eleven heavy
On the evening of the 14th there was an exchange of artillery fire, but it
led to nothing. That afternoon the sails of the long-expected fleet were
made out, and just at nightfall it entered the harbour. The dismounted
cavalry, the sick, the remaining horses, and fifty guns were embarked,
nine guns only being kept on shore for action. On the 15th Soult occupied
himself in completing his preparations. Getting his great guns on to the
rocks on his left, he attacked and drove from an advanced position some
companies of the 5th Regiment, and posted his mass of cavalry so as to
threaten the British right, and even menace its retreat to the town from
the position it held. Had the battle been delayed another day, Sir John
Moore had made every preparation for embarking the rest of his troops
rather than await a battle in which even victory would be worthless, for
Ney's corps would soon be up. The French, however, did not afford him an
opportunity of thus retiring.
Terence O'Connor speedily paid a visit to his regiment at Corunna, for he
had, of course, accompanied Fane's brigade during the retreat. He was
delighted to find that there had been only a few trifling casualties among
the officers, and that the regiment itself, although it had lost some men
in the fighting that had taken place, had not left a single straggler
behind, a circumstance that was mentioned with the warmest commendation by
General Paget in his report of the doings of the rear-guard.
"I was awfully afraid that it would have been quite the other way,"
Terence said. "I know how all the three other divisions suffered, though
they were never pressed by the enemy, and had not a shadow of excuse for
"You did not know us, me boy," O'Grady said. "I tell ye, the men were
splendid. I expect if we had been with the others we should have behaved
just as badly; but being chosen for the rear-guard put our boys all on
their mettle, and every man felt that the honour of the regiment depended
on his good conduct. Then, too, we were lucky in lighting on a big store
of tobacco, and tobacco is as good as food and drink. The men gave a lot
away to the other regiments, and yet had enough to last them until we got
"Then they were not above doing a little plundering," Terence laughed.
"Plunder is it!" O'Grady repeated, indignantly. "It was a righteous
action, for the factory belonged to the Central Junta of the Province, and
it was just stripping the French of their booty to carry it away. Faith,
it was the most meritorious action of the campaign."
"Have you got a good cigar left, O'Grady?"
"Oh, you have taken to smoking, have you?"
"I was obliged to, to keep my nose warm. On the march, Fane and the major
and Errington all smoked, and they looked so comfortable and contented
that I felt it was my duty to keep them company."
"I have just two left, Terence, so we will smoke them together, and I have
got a bottle of dacent spirits. Think of that, me boy; thirty-two days
without spirits! They will never believe me when I go home and tell 'em I
went without it for thirty-two mortal days."
"Well, you have had wine, O'Grady."
"It's poor stuff by the side of the cratur, still I am not saying that it
wasn't a help. But it was cold comfort, Terence, a mighty cold comfort."
"You are looking well on it, anyhow. And how is the wound?"
"Och, I have nigh forgot I ever had one, save when it comes to ateing. Tim
has to cut my food up for me, and I never sit down to a male without
wishing bad cess to the French. When we get back I will have a patent
machine for holding a fork fixed on somehow. It goes against me grain to
have me food cut up as if I was a baby; if it wasn't for that I should not
miss my hand one way or the other. In fact, on the march it has been a
comfort that I have only had five fingers to freeze, instead of ten. There
is a compensation in all things. So we are going to fight them at last?
There is no chance of the fleet coming to take us off before that, I
hope?" he asked, anxiously, "for we should all break our hearts if we were
obliged to go without a fight."
"I don't think there is any chance of that, O'Grady, though I should be
very glad if there were. I am not afraid of the fighting, but we certainly
sha'n't win without heavy loss, and every life will be thrown away, seeing
that we shall, after all, have to embark when the battle is over. Ney,
with 50,000 men, is only two or three marches away.
"Well, Dicky, how do you do?" he asked, as Ryan came up.
"I am well enough, Mr. Staff Officer. I needn't ask after yourself, for
you have been riding comfortably about, while we have been marched right
off our legs. Forty miles a day, Terence, and over such roads as they have
in this country; it is just cruelty to animals."
"I would rather have been with you, Dicky, than see to the horrible
confusion that has been going on. Why, as soon as the day's march was over
we had to set to work to go about trying to keep order. A dozen times I
have been nearly shot by drunken rascals whom I was trying to get to
return to their corps. Worse still, it was heartrending to see the misery
of the starving women and camp-followers. I would rather have been on
outpost duty, with Soult's cavalry hovering round, ready to charge at any
"It is all very well to say that, Terence!" O'Grady exclaimed. "But wait
until you try it a bit, my boy. I had five nights of it, and that widout a
drop of whisky to cheer me. It was enough to have made Samson weep, let
alone a man with only one hand, and a sword to hold in it, and a bad could
in his head. It was enough to take the heart out of any man entoirely, and
if it hadn't been for the credit of the regiment, I could often have sat
down on a stone and blubbered. It is mighty hard for a man to keep up his
spirits when he feels the mortal heat in him oozing out all over, and his
fingers so cold that it is only by looking that one knows one has got a
sword in them, and you don't know whether you are standing on your feet or
on your knee-bones, and feel as if your legs don't belong to you, but are
the property of some poor chap who has been kilt twenty-four hours before.
Och, it was a terrible time! and a captain's pay is too small for it, if
it was not for the divarsion of a scrimmage now and then!"
"How about an ensign's pay?" Ryan laughed. "I think that on such work as
we have had, O'Grady, the pay of all the officers, from the colonel down,
ought to be put together and equally divided."
"I cannot say whether I should approve the plan, Ryan, until I have made
an intricate calculation, which, now I am comfortable at last, would be a
sin and a shame to ask me brain to go through; but as my present idea is
that I should be a loser, I may say that your scheme is a bad one, and not
to say grossly disrespectful to the colonel, to put his value down as only
equal to that of a slip of a lad like yourself. Boys nowadays have no
respect for their supeyrior officers. There is Terence, who is not sixteen