Chapters XXII to XXIII
SAILS WITH SIR EDWARD PAKENHAM ON THE EXPEDITION AGAINST NEW ORLEANS–REVERSE OF 8TH JANUARY, 1815, AND DEATH OF PAKENHAM–SIR JOHN LAMBERT SUCCEEDS TO THE COMMAND, APPOINTS HARRY SMITH HIS MILITARY SECRETARY, AND WITHDRAWS THE FORCE.
WE soon reached our frigate, and oh, so crowded as she was!–Sir Edward Pakenham and all his Staff, the Commanders of the Engineers and Artillerymen with their Staff, and about thirty passengers! The most of us slept in cots in the steerage. Young D'Este, the real Duke of Sussex,55 was a fund of great amusement, the most gentlemanlike, kind-hearted young fellow possible, affable to a degree, and most unpretending; but he had a thirst for obtaining information, I never beheld before. Consequently he laid himself open to some very peculiar replies to his queries. He proved himself on shore, like all the royal family, a gallant and intrepid soldier, and the best shot with a rifle for a youth that I have almost ever seen. He attached himself passionately to me on board and on shore, and if he ever became Elector of Hanover, I was to have been his Secretary.
We had a very agreeable party of gallant old Peninsular soldiers, and dear Sir Edward was one of the most amusing persons imaginable–a high-minded and chivalrous fellow in every idea, and, to our astonishment, very devoutly inclined; and Major Gibbs, who was afterwards killed on the same day as Sir Edward, was a noble fellow.
The Statira was a noble frigate; she had a full complement of men, and was in crack order, having every individual on board but the individual who had put her in–that Irish Captain Stackpoole, of duelling celebrity, who had very shortly before been shot in the West Indies by a Lieutenant of another ship on whom he saddled a quarrel originating in an occurrence when both were middies. The Lieutenant denied all recollection of it to no purpose. Stackpoole insisted on his going out. The Lieutenant, it was said, had never fired a pistol in his life, but at the first shot Stackpoole fell dead. I never saw a body of officers and men more attached than these were to their last Captain. Every one had some anecdote of his kindness and ability as a seaman. The propensity which cost him his life can be attributed, I am firmly of opinion, to nothing but a strain of insanity upon that particular subject alone. His prowess as a shot with a pistol, it was asserted, was inconceivable, but "the battle is not always to the strong."
On this voyage I had two opportunities of writing to my wife, or, rather, sending her the sheets of a sort of journal which she made me promise to keep. Our Captain, Swaine, a neighbour of mine in Cambridgeshire, was of the old school, and made everything snug at night by shortening sail, to the great amusement of poor Stackpoole's crew, accustomed to carry on night and day. But for this, we should have been off the mouth of the Mississippi at the time when Sir Edward was informed a fleet and his army would rendezvous for an assault on New Orleans. As it was, we did [not] reach the fleet until [25 Dec.] three days after the landing had been effected, and our army under Major-General Sir J. Keane, now Lord Keane (as noble a soldier as our country ever produced) had sustained a sharp night-attack. Stovin, the A.G., had been shot through the neck, and I was at the head of the department.
I never served under a man whose good opinion I was so desirous of having as Sir Edward Pakenham, and proud was I to find I daily succeeded. I was always with him, and usually lay in my cloak in his room. The second day after we reached General Keane [28 Dec.], the army was moved up to reconnoitre the enemy's position, or to attack, if we saw it practicable. I was that day delighted with Sir Edward: he evinced an animation, a knowledge of ground, of his own resources and the strength of the enemy's position, which reminded us of his brother-in-law, our Duke. The Staff were very near the enemy's line, when I saw some riflemen evidently creeping down and not farther off than a hundred yards, and so I very abruptly said, "Ride away, Sir Edward, behind this bank, or you will be shot in a second. By your action you will be recognized as the Commander-in-Chief, and some riflemen are now going to fire." The American riflemen are very slow, though the most excellent shots. My manner was so impressive he came away. As we were returning that evening he called me to him, and said, "You gentlemen of the Craufurd school" (he was very fond of our old Light Division) "are very abrupt and peremptory in your manner to your Generals. Would you have spoken to Craufurd as you did to me to-day?" I said, "Most certainly, for if I had not, and one of us had been killed or wounded, and he became aware I observed what I did when I spoke to you, he would have blown me up as I deserved. He taught us to do so." How my dear friend Sir Edward laughed!
We soon found that, with our present force, the enemy's position was impregnable. A Brigade was, however, daily expected, under Sir J. Lambert. While we were looking out with our telescopes, Sir Edward turned very abruptly to me, and said, "Now for a Light Division [opinion]. What do you say, Smith, as to the practicability of an attack on the enemy's line?" I replied, "His position is strong–his left being on an impracticable morass, his right on the Mississippi; the ground is a dead flat, intersected with ditches which will impede our troops. The enemy has, literally, a breastwork, and plenty of men upon it, and their fire will sweep the plain with unerring precision, causing us great loss; for we can produce no fire, flank or otherwise, to render them uneasy or unsteady. As yet, the enemy has not occupied the opposite bank of the river. He has two armed vessels in the river. We must destroy these as soon as possible, possess the right bank of the Mississippi, enfilade the enemy's position with our fire (the width of the river being only from seven to eight hundred yards), and, so soon as we open a fire from the right bank, we should storm the work in two, three, or more columns." "You Rifle gentlemen have learnt something, I do believe." I did not know at the time whether he said this in jest or not, for he was a most light-hearted fellow; but, when we got back to the house we put up in, he sent for me. He had a plan of the works and position of the enemy before him, and said, "Smith, I entirely [concur] in all you said in the field to-day. In the meanwhile, we must facilitate our communications by roads in our rear, etc. I will erect batteries and destroy the ships, and, when the batteries are complete, they shall open on the enemy. If they can destroy the enemy's defence in any part, or silence the fire of his batteries, the army shall storm at once. Lambert's arrival is very uncertain." I remarked, if Lambert's arrival was so uncertain, we had no alternative, and under any circumstances the ships must be destroyed and batteries erected, whether Lambert's force arrived or not.
We succeeded in destroying one ship–we might have destroyed both. We erected several batteries, their defences principally sugar-casks,–for here on the plain, on the banks of the Mississippi, if you dug eight inches, water followed: hence to erect batteries with earth was impracticable, and we had not sufficient sand-bags. The defences of our batteries, therefore, were reported complete on the night of the 31st December. The army was formed into two columns of attack–one threatening the right flank, the other the left, and a party was hid in the reeds in the morass on the enemy's left flank with orders to penetrate, if possible, and disturb the enemy's left.
At daybreak on the 1st of January, 1815, our troops were formed, and our batteries opened. They had not the slightest effect on the enemy. On the contrary, his shot went through the imperfect defence, caused our noble artillerymen great loss, and silenced our batteries. Hence there was no attack, and Sir Edward still more strenuously adhered to the necessity of occupying the right bank of the river. The troops were withdrawn, except such strong picquets as were left to protect the guns in the [batteries].
Poor Sir Edward was much mortified at being obliged to retire the army from a second demonstration and disposition to attack, but there was nothing for it. It came on to rain in the evening, and was both wet and cold. Sir Edward slept in a little house in advance of his usual quarters. He told me to stay with him, and all his Staff to return to the usual house. He said, "Smith, those guns must be brought back; go and do it." I said, "It will require a great many men." "Well," he says, "take 600 from Gibbs's Brigade." Off I started. The soldiers were sulky, and neither the 21st nor the 44th were distinguished for discipline–certainly not of the sort I had been accustomed to. After every exertion I could induce them to make, I saw I had no chance of success–to my mortification, for to return and say to Sir Edward I could not effect it, was as bad as the loss of a leg. However, the night was wearing, and my alternative decided; so I told him as quietly as I could. He saw I was mortified, and said nothing, but jumped up in his cloak, and says, "Be so good as to order my horse, and go on and turn out Gibbs's whole Brigade quietly." They were under arms by the time he arrived, and by dint of exertion and his saying, "I am Sir Edward Pakenham, etc., and Commander-in-Chief," as well as using every expression to induce officers and soldiers to exertion, just as daylight appeared he had completed the task, and the Brigade returned to its ground. As we were riding back Sir Edward said, "You see, Smith, exertion and determination will effect anything." I was cruelly mortified, and said, "Your excitement, your name, your energy, as Commander-in-Chief with a whole Brigade, most certainly has done that which I failed in with 600 men, but I assure you, Sir Edward, I did all I could." His noble heart at once observed my misery. He said, "I admire your mortification; it shows your zeal. Why I barely effected, with all the exertion of the Commander-in-Chief, and, as you say, a Brigade, what I expected you to do with one-fourth of the men!" He might have added, "and I did with some of the guns what you dare not even recommend to me." Oh, how I was comforted! To fall in his estimation would have been worse than death by far.
In a day or two we had information that Lambert's Brigade, the 7th Fusiliers and the 43rd Foot, [had arrived]. Two such Corps would turn the tide of a general action. We were rejoiced! Sir Edward then made preparations to cross the river, and so to widen a little stream as to get the boats into the Mississippi. The story has been too often told to repeat. Lambert's Brigade landed, and, upon a representation made to Sir Edward by Major Sir G. Tylden, who was an Assistant Adjutant-General like myself, but a senior officer (as kind a fellow as ever lived), that, in Stovin's incapacity from his wound, he must be at the head of the Adjutant-General's Department, Sir Edward sent for me. "Smith," he said, "it was my intention you should have remained with me, Tylden with Lambert; but he claims his right as senior officer. You would not wish me to do an unjust thing when the claim is preferred?" I said, with my heart in my mouth, "Certainly not, sir." (I do believe I was more attached to Sir Edward, as a soldier, than I was to John Colborne, if possible.) "You must, therefore, go to Lambert. I will [enter] this arrangement in Orders; but, rely on it, I shall find enough for you and him to do too."
The night of the 7th January, the rivulet (or bayou, as then called) was reported dammed, and the boats above the dam ready for the banks of the Mississippi to be cut. The water within the banks was higher than the level of the water in the bayou, consequently so much water must be let into the bayou as to provide for the level. In the meanwhile, the enemy had not been asleep. They had been apprised of our operations to establish ourselves on the right bank; they had landed the guns from the second ship (which we ought to have destroyed), and were respectably in possession of that which we must turn them out of. Sir Edward Pakenham went to inspect the bayou, the boats, etc. I heard him say to the engineer, "Are you satisfied the dam will bear the weight of water which will be upon it when the banks of the river are cut?" He said, "Perfectly." "I should be far more so if a second dam was constructed." The engineer was positive. After dark the banks were cut, the dam went as Sir Edward seemed to anticipate, and the delay in repairing it prevented the boats being got into the river in time for the troops under Colonel Thornton of the 85th to reach their ground and make a simultaneous attack with the main body, according to the plan arranged. Sir John Lambert's Brigade, the élite 7th Fusiliers and 43rd, were in reserve. Sir Edward said, "Those fellows would storm anything, but, indeed, so will the others, and when we are in New Orleans, I can depend upon Lambert's Reserve." We were all formed in three columns [8 Jan.], about 6000 British soldiers and some sailors: a column under Colonel Renny of the 21st were destined to proceed on the banks of the river and right of the enemy, and carry a powerful battery which enfiladed the whole position: General Keane's Brigade was to assail the enemy's right-central position: General Gibbs's Brigade to attack well upon the enemy's left: General Lambert's Brigade to be in reserve nearer Gibbs's Brigade than Keane's.
About half an hour before daylight, while I was with General Lambert's column, standing ready, Sir Edward Pakenham sent for me. I was soon with him. He was greatly agitated. "Smith, most Commanders-in-Chief have many difficulties to contend with, but surely none like mine. The dam, as you heard me say it would, gave way, and Thornton's people will be of no use whatever to the general attack." I said, "So impressed have you ever been, so obvious is it in every military point of view, we should possess the right bank of the river, and thus enfilade and divert the attention of the enemy; there is still time before daylight to retire the columns now. We are under the enemy's fire so soon as discovered." He says, "This may be, but I have twice deferred the attack. We are strong in numbers now comparatively. It will cost more men, and the assault must be made." I again urged delay. While we were talking, the streaks of daylight began to appear, although the morning was dull, close, and heavy, the clouds almost touching the ground. He said, "Smith, order the rocket to be fired." I again ventured to plead the cause of delay. He said, and very justly, "It is now too late: the columns would be visible to the enemy before they could move out of fire, and would lose more men than it is to be hoped they will in the attack. Fire the rocket, I say, and go to Lambert." This was done. I had reached Lambert just as the stillness of death and anticipation (for I really believe the enemy was aware of our proximity to their position) [was broken by the firing of the rocket]. The rocket was hardly in the air before a rush of our troops was met by the most murderous and destructive fire of all arms ever poured upon column. Sir Edward Pakenham galloped past me with all his Staff, saying, "That's a terrific fire, Lambert." I knew nothing of my General then, except that he was a most gentlemanlike, amiable fellow, and I had seen him lead his Brigade at Toulouse in the order of a review of his Household Troops in Hyde Park.56 I said, "In twenty-five minutes, General, you will command the Army. Sir Edward Pakenham will be wounded and incapable, or killed. The troops do not get on a step. He will be at the head of the first Brigade he comes to, and what I say will occur." A few seconds verified my words. Tylden came wildly up to tell the melancholy truth, saying, "Sir Edward Pakenham is killed. You command the Army, and your Brigade must move on immediately." I said, "If Sir Edward Pakenham is killed, Sir John Lambert commands, and will judge of what is to be done." I saw the attack had irretrievably failed. The troops were beat back, and going at a tolerable pace too; so much so, I thought the enemy had made a sortie in pursuit, as so overpowering a superiority of numbers would have induced the French to do. "May I order your Brigade, sir, to form line to cover a most irregular retreat, to apply no other term to it, until you see what has actually occurred to the attacking columns?" He assented, and sent me and other Staff Officers in different directions to ascertain our condition. It was (summed up in few words) that every attack had failed; the Commander-in-Chief and General Gibbs and Colonel Renny killed; General Keane, most severely wounded; and the columns literally destroyed. The column for the right bank were seen to be still in their boats, and not the slightest impression had been made on the enemy.
Never since Buenos Ayres had I witnessed a reverse, and the sight to our eyes, which had looked on victory so often, was appalling indeed. Lambert desired me, and every Staff Officer he could get hold of; to go and reform the troops, no very easy matter in some cases. However, far to the rear, they (or, rather, what were left) were formed up, Sir John meanwhile wondering whether, under all the circumstances, he ought to attack. He very judiciously saw that was impossible, and he withdrew the troops from under a most murderous fire of round shot. Soon after this we heard the attack on the right bank, which succeeded easily enough. The extent of our loss was ascertained: one-third.
The Admirals came to the outlying picquet-house with faces as long as a flying jib: a sort of Council of War was held. I had been among the troops to find out how the pluck of our soldiers [stood]. Those who had received such an awful beating and been so destroyed were far from desirous to storm again. The 7th and 43rd, whose loss had been trifling, were ready for any thing, but their veteran and experienced eyes told them affairs were desperate. One Admiral, Coddrington, whose duty as Captain of the Field was to have seen it supplied with provisions, said, "The troops must attack or the whole will be starved." I rather saucily said, "Kill plenty more, Admiral; fewer rations will be required." A variety of opinions were agitated. I could observe what was passing in Sir J. Lambert's mind by the two or three remarks he made. So up I jumped, and said, "General, the army are in no state to renew the attack. If success now attended so desperate an attempt, we should have no troops to occupy New Orleans; our success even would defeat our object, and, to take an extreme view, which every soldier is bound to do, our whole army might be the sacrifice of so injudicious an assault." A thick fog was coming on. I said, "We know the enemy are three times our number. They will endeavour immediately to cut off our troops on the right bank, and we may expect an attack in our front. The fog favours us, and Thornton's people ought to be brought back and brought into our line. The army is secure, and no farther disaster is to be apprehended." The General was fully of my opinion, as was every officer of experience. I think my noble friend, "fighting MacDougall," was the only one for a new fight. That able officer, Sir A. Dickson, was sent to retire Thornton, and, thanks to the fog, he succeeded in doing so unmolested, though, at the very time our people were crossing the river, a powerful body of the enemy (as I had supposed they would) were crossing to dislodge Thornton; and the woods on the right bank so favoured their species of warfare, that Thornton would have met the fate he did at Bladensburg but for Lambert's cool judgment. This was my view of the position then, and it is now.
The number of wounded was three times what the Inspector-General Robb was told to calculate on, but never did officer meet the difficulties of his position with greater energy, or display greater resources within himself. He was ably assisted in the arrangements of boats, etc., by that able sailor, Admiral Malcolm, and I firmly assert not a wounded soldier was neglected.
Late in the afternoon I was sent to the enemy with a flag of truce, and a letter to General Jackson, with a request to be allowed to bury the dead and bring in the wounded lying between our respective positions. The Americans were not accustomed to the civility of war, like our old associates the French, and I was a long time before I could induce them to receive me. They fired on me with cannon and musketry, which excited my choler somewhat, for a round shot tore away the ground under my right foot, which it would have been a bore indeed to have lost under such circumstances. However, they did receive me at last, and the reply from General Jackson was a very courteous one.
After the delivery of the reply to General Lambert, I was again sent out with a fatigue party–a pretty large one too–with entrenching tools to bury the dead, and some surgeons to examine and bring off the wounded. I was received by a rough fellow–a Colonel Butler, Jackson's Adjutant-General. He had a drawn sword, and no scabbard. I soon saw the man I had to deal with. I outrode the surgeon, and I apologized for keeping him waiting; so he said, "Why now, I calculate as your doctors are tired; they have plenty to do to-day." There was an awful spectacle of dead, dying, and wounded around us. "Do?" says I, "why this is nothing to us Wellington fellows! The next brush we have with you, you shall see how a Brigade of the Peninsular army (arrived yesterday) will serve you fellows out with the bayonet. They will lie piled on one another like round shot, if they will only stand." "Well, I calculate you must get at 'em first." "But," says I, "what do you carry a drawn sword for?" "Because I reckon a scabbard of no use so long as one of you Britishers is on our soil. We don't wish to shoot you, but we must, if you molest our property; we have thrown away the scabbard."
By this time our surgeon had arrived. There were some awful wounds from cannon shot, and I dug an immense hole, and threw nearly two hundred bodies into it. To the credit of the Americans not an article of clothing had been taken from our dead except the shoes. Every body was straightened, and the great toes tied together with a piece of string. A more appalling spectacle cannot well be conceived than this common grave, the bodies hurled in as fast as we could bring them. The Colonel, Butler, was very sulky if I tried to get near the works. This scene was not more than about eighty yards away from them, and, had our fellows rushed on, they would not have lost one half; and victory would have been ours. I may safely say there was not a vital part of man in which I did not observe a mortal wound, in many bodies there were three or four such; some were without heads; there were others, poor fellows, whom I recognized. In this part of America there were many Spaniards and Frenchmen. Several soldiers and officers gathered round me, and I addressed them in their own language. Colonel Butler became furious, but I would not desist for the moment, and said, "The next time we meet, Colonel, I hope to receive you to bury your dead." "Well, I calculate you have been on that duty to-day," he said. God only knows I had, with a heavy heart.It was apparently light enough before him, but the effort was a violent one.
At night it was General Lambert's intention to withdraw his line more out of cannon shot, for we were on a perfect plain, not a mound as cover, and I and D'Este (His Royal Highness, as I used to call him) were sent to bring back Blakeney's Brigade. Blakeney was as anxious a soldier in the dark as he was noble and gallant when he saw his enemy. He would fain induce me to believe I did not know my road. I got all right, though, with the aid of D'Este, who, if the war had lasted, would have made as able a soldier as his ancestor George the Second. I did not regard myself; though, as Marlborough, who was little employed on any retiring duty.
That night I lay down in my cloak, in General Lambert's room, at twelve o'clock, so done that all care or thought was banished in sleep. Before daylight [9 Jan.] I awoke to the horror of the loss of the man I so loved, admired, and esteemed, and to feelings of a soldier under such melancholy circumstances. Those feelings could be but momentary. It was my duty to jump on my horse and see what was going on at our post, which I did, after returning Almighty God thanks. Thence to the hospital to render the Inspector whatever aid he required in orderlies, etc. Robb deserved and received the highest encomiums for the arrangements, which secured every care to our wounded.
In returning from the outposts, I met General Lambert. Upon my assuring him everything was perfectly quiet, he said, "I will now ride to the hospital." "I was just going there, sir, and will ride with you." The General said, "You must have been pretty well done last night, for I did not see you when I lay down." "Yes, I had a long day, but we Light Division fellows are used to it." "Smith, that most amiable man and cool and collected soldier, Secretary Wylly, will take home the dispatches of the melancholy disaster, and of the loss of his General and patron, and I offer for your acceptance my Military Secretaryship." I laughed, and said, "Me, sir! I write the most illegible and detestable scrawl in the world." "You can, therefore," he mildly said, "the more readily decipher mine. Poor Pakenham was much attached to you, and strongly recommended you to me." I had borne up well on my loss before, but I now burst into a flood of tears, with–"God rest his gallant soul." From that moment to the present, dear General Lambert has ever treated me as one of his own family. Our lamented General's remains were put in a cask of spirits and taken home by his Military Secretary, Wylly, who sailed in a few days with dispatches of no ordinary character–a record of lamentable disaster, and anything but honour to our military fame.
It was resolved to re-embark the army, and abandon the idea of further operations against the city of New Orleans, for the enemy had greatly added to his strength in men and works on both banks of the river. This decision was come to although we were expecting reinforcements, the 40th and 27th Regiments, and that noble soldier, Sir Manley Power. The enemy continually cannonaded our position, and caused us some loss. We were obliged, however, to maintain an advance position to cover effectually the embarcation of all the impedimenta, etc., invariably giving out as a ruse that we were only disencumbering ourselves of wounded, sick, etc.
I was sent in, also, with a flag of truce to propose an exchange of prisoners. Two Companies of the 21st Regiment and many of our Riflemen had crowned the works, and, not being supported by the rush of the column, of course were taken prisoners. (It was all very well to victimize57 old Mullins58; the fascines, ladders, etc., could have been supplied by one word which I will not name59, or how could these two Companies have mounted the works?) Similarly we had several men of theirs taken the night the enemy attacked General Keane.60
In the negotiations for this exchange I was always met by a Mr. Lushington, General Jackson's Military Secretary, a perfect gentleman, and a very able man. He was well known in London, having been Under Secretary of the Legation. I never had to deal with a more liberal and clear-headed man. His education had not been military, however, and in conversation, by questions, etc., I always induced him to believe we had no intention of abandoning our attempts. On the afternoon when our prisoners were mutually delivered, I said, "We shall soon meet in New Orleans, and after that in London." He was evidently impressed with the idea that we meant to attack again, and I led him to the supposition that a night attack would succeed best. We parted excellent friends, and shook hands, and many notes of courtesy passed between us afterwards.
So soon as it was dark [18 Jan.] our troops began to move off and about twelve o'clock all were well off the ground, and the picquets were retired. As we were so engaged, the enemy heard us, and in a moment opened a fire along their line, evidently under the belief that our night attack was actually about to be made. We retired, up to our necks in mud, through a swamp to our boats, and the troops and stores, etc. were all embarked in three days without interruption, or any attempt whatever, on the part of the enemy.
Thus ended the second awful disaster in America it had been my lot to be associated with–Buenos Ayres and New Orleans. In the circumstances of both, many military errors may be traced. But in the case of Buenos Ayres, Whitelock is more abused than he merits. General Leveson-Gower was the great culprit; an overbearing, disobedient man, whose first disobedience, like Adam's, entailed the misfortune. He was ordered, when advancing on Buenos Ayres, not to engage the enemy before it was invested. He did engage, beat them, and might, in the melée have possessed the city. That he neglected, and he ought to have been dismissed our service, probably with greater justice than Whitelock, whose orders were wantonly disobeyed, and the Church of San Domingo shamefully surrendered. Had it been held, as it might, it would have enabled Whitelock, from the base of his other success, to have made an attempt either to rescue the force in San Domingo, or again to have moved against the city. Whitelock's plan of attack was injudicious, too many columns, no weight and ensemble, and when he knew the city was fortified at every street, he should have effected regular lodgments and pushed forward from their base. The troops behaved most gallantly.
Poor dear Sir Edward Pakenham, a hero, a soldier, a man of ability in every sense of the word, had to contend with every imaginable difficulty, starting with the most unwise and difficult position in which he found the Army. By perseverance, determination, and that gallant bearing which so insures confidence, he overcame all but one, which he never anticipated, a check to the advance of British soldiers when they ought to have rushed forward. There was no want of example on the part of officers. The fire, I admit, was the most murderous I ever beheld before or since; still two Companies were successful in the assault, and had our heaviest column rushed forward in place of halting to fire under a fire fifty times superior, our national honour would not have been tarnished, but have gained fresh lustre, and one of the ablest generals England ever produced saved to his country and his friends.
In General Lambert's dispatches he was good enough to mention me.61
CAPTURE OF FORT BOWYER–DISEMBARCATION ON ILE DAUPHINE–END OF THE AMERICAN WAR–VISIT TO HAVANA AND RETURN–VOYAGE TO ENGLAND–NEWS OF NAPOLEON'S RETURN TO POWER–HARRY SMITH AT HIS HOME AT WHITTLESEY.
AFTER the Army was somewhat refreshed, an attempt on Mobile was resolved on, for which purpose the fleet went down to the mouth of Mobile Bay. Here there was a wooden fort of some strength, Fort Bowyer, which some time previously had sunk one of two small craft of our men-of-war which were attempting to silence it. It was necessary that this fort should be reduced in order to open the passage of the bay. It was erected on a narrow neck of land easily invested, and required only a part of the army to besiege it. It was regularly approached, and when our breaching batteries were prepared to burn or blow it to the devil, I was sent to summon it to surrender. The Americans have no particular respect for flags of truce, and all my Rifle education was required to protect myself from being rifled and to procure a reception of my flag. After some little time I was received, and, upon my particular request, admitted into the fort, to the presence of Major Lawrence, who commanded, with five Companies, I think, of the 2nd Regiment. I kept a sharp look-out on the defences, etc., which would not have resisted our fire an hour. The Major was as civil as a vulgar fellow can be. I gave him my version of his position and cheered him on the ability he had displayed. He said, "Well, now, I calculate you are not far out in your reckoning. What do you advise me to do? You, I suppose, are one of Wellington's men, and understand the rules in these cases." "This," I said, "belongs to the rule that the weakest goes to the wall, and if you do not surrender at discretion in one hour, we, being the stronger, will blow up the fort and burn your wooden walls about your ears. All I can say is, you have done your duty to your country, and no soldier can do more, or resist the overpowering force of circumstances." "Well, if you were in my situation, you would surrender, would you?" "Yes, to be sure." "Well, go and tell your General I will surrender to-morrow at this hour, provided I am allowed to march out with my arms and ground them outside the fort." "No," I said, "I will take no such message back. My General, in humanity, offers you terms such as he can alone accept, and the blood of your soldiers be on your own head." He said, "Well, now, don't be hasty." I could see the Major had some hidden object in view. I said, therefore, "Now, I tell you what message I will carry to my General. You open the gates, and one of our Companies will take possession of it immediately, and a body of troops shall move up close to its support; then you may remain inside the fort until to-morrow at this hour and ground your arms on the glacis." I took out pen and ink, wrote down my proposition, and said; "There, now, sign directly and I go." He was very obstinate, and I rose to go, when he said, "Well, now, you are hard upon me in distress." "The devil I am," I said. "We might have blown you into the water, as you did our craft, without a summons. Good-bye." "Well, then, give me the pen. If I must, so be it;" and he signed. His terms were accepted, and the 4th Light Company took possession of the gate, with orders to rush in in case of alarm. A supporting column of four hundred men were bivouacked close at hand with the same orders, while every precaution was taken, so that, if any descent were made from Mobile, we should be prepared, for, by the Major's manner and look under his eyebrows, I could see there was no little cunning in his composition. We afterwards learned that a force was embarked at Mobile, and was to have made a descent that very night, but the wind prevented them. We were, however, perfectly prepared, and Fort Bowyer was ours.
The next day [12 Feb.] the Major marched out and grounded his arms. He was himself received very kindly on board the Tonnant, and his officers were disposed of in the Fleet. The fellows looked very like French soldiers, for their uniforms were the same, and much of the same cut as to buttons, belts, and pipe-clay.
In a few days after the capture of this fort the Brazen sloop-of-war arrived with dispatches [14 Feb.] The preliminaries of peace were signed, and only awaited the ratification of the President, and until this was or was not effected, hostilities were to cease. We were all happy enough, for we Peninsular soldiers saw that neither fame nor any military distinction could be acquired in this species of milito-nautico-guerilla-plundering-warfare. I got a letter from my dear wife, who was in health and composure, with my family all in love with her, and praying of course for my safe return, which she anticipated would not be delayed, as peace was certain. I for my part was very ready to return, and I thanked Almighty God from my heart that such fair prospects were again before me, after such another series of wonderful escapes.
Pending the ratification, it was resolved to disembark the whole army on a large island at the entrance of Mobile Bay, called Isle Dauphine.62 This was done. At first we had great difficulty in getting anything like fresh provisions; but, as the sea abounded with fish, each regiment rigged out a net, and obtained a plentiful supply. Then our biscuit ran short. We had abundance of flour, but this began to act on the men and produce dysentery. The want of ovens alone prevented our making bread. This subject engrossed my attention for a whole day, but on awakening one morning a sort of vision dictated to me, "There are plenty of oyster-shells, and there is sand. Burn the former and make mortar, and construct ovens." So I sent on board to Admiral Malcolm to send me a lot of hoops of barrels by way of a framework for my arch. There was plenty of wood, the shells were burning, the mortar soon made, my arch constructed, and by three o'clock there was a slow fire in a very good oven on the ground. The baker was summoned, and the paste was made, ready to bake at daylight. The Admiral, dear Malcolm, and our Generals were invited to breakfast, but I did not tell even Sir John Lambert why I had asked a breakfast-party. He only laughed and said, "I wish I could give them a good one!" Oh, the anxiety with which I and my baker watched the progress of our exertions! We heard the men-of-war's bells strike eight o'clock. My breakfast-party was assembled. I had an unusual quantity of salt beef and biscuit on the table, the party was ready to fall to, when in I marched at the head of a column of loaves and rolls, all piping hot and as light as bread should be. The astonishment of the Admiral was beyond all belief, and he uttered a volley of monosyllables at the idea of a soldier inventing anything. Oh, how we laughed and ate new bread, which we hadn't seen for some time! At first the Admiral thought I must have induced his steward to bake me the bread as a joke, when I turned to Sir John and said, "Now, sir, by this time to-morrow every Company shall have three ovens, and every man his pound and a half of bread." I had sent for the Quartermasters of Corps; some started difficulties, but I soon removed them. One said, "Where are we to get all the hoops?" This was, I admit, a puzzle. I proposed to make the arch for the mortar of wood, when a very quick fellow, Hogan, Quartermaster of the Fusiliers, said, "I have it: make a bank of sand, plaster over it; make your oven; when complete, scratch the sand out." In a camp everything gets wind, and Harry Smith's ovens were soon in operation all over the island. There were plenty of workmen, and the morrow produced the bread.
The officers erected a theatre, and we had great fun in various demi-savage ways. Bell, the Quartermaster-General, dear noble fellow, arrived, and a Major Cooper, and, of some importance to me, my stray portmanteau. I was half asleep one morning, rather later than usual, having been writing the greater part of the night, when I heard old West say, "Sir, sir." "What's the matter?" "Thank the Lord, you're alive." "What do you mean, you old ass?" "Why, a navigator has been going round and round your tent all night; here's a regular road about the tent." He meant an alligator, of which there were a great many on the island. The young ones our soldiers used to eat. I tasted a bit once; the meat was white, and the flavour like coarsely-fed pork.
In this very tent I was writing some very important documents for my General; the sandflies had now begun to be very troublesome, and that day they were positively painful. I ever hated tobacco, but a thought struck me, a good volume of smoke would keep the little devils off me. I called my orderly, a soldier of the 43rd, and told old West, who chawed a pound a day at least, to give him plenty of tobacco, and he was to make what smoke he could, for of two evils this was by far the least. The old Peninsular soldiers off parade were all perfectly at home with their officers, and he puffed away for a long time while I was writing, he being under my table. After a time he put his head out with a knowing look, and said, "If you please, sir, this is drier work than in front of Salamanca, where water was not to be had, and what's more, no grog neither." I desired West to bring him both rum and water. "Now, your honour, if you can write as long as I can smoke, you'll write the history of the world, and I will kill all the midges."
The ratification at length arrived [5 March], and the army was prepared to embark. Sir John Lambert, Baynes his Aide-de-camp, and I were to go home in the Brazen sloop-of-war, with a Captain Stirling, now Sir James, who was ultimately the founder of the Swan River Settlement. A more perfect gentleman or active sailor never existed: we have been faithful friends ever since. As many wounded as the Brazen could carry were embarked, and we weighed with one of our noble men-of-war.
As soon as the word was given, we sailed to the Havannah for fresh provisions. We spent a merry week there, when Stirling and I were inseparable. We were all fêted at the house of a Mr. Drake, nominally a wealthy merchant, but actually in every respect a prince. I never saw a man live so superbly. He put carriages at our disposal; one for Sir John Lambert, and one for me and Stirling. He was married to a Spanish woman, a very ladylike person, who played and sang beautifully. I could speak Spanish perfectly, and the compatriot connexion I told her and her maiden sisters of made us friends at once. My spare time, however, was spent in the house of the Governor, Assuduco, who had a daughter so like my wife in age, figure, etc., and speaking English about as much as she could, I was never so much amused as in her society; and my wife and she corresponded afterwards. We stayed in the Havannah a week, and the public drives brought us all back again to the Prado of Madrid. Although the beauty of the ladies of the capital was wanting, the costumes were equally elegant.
The celebrated Woodville, the cigar manufacturer, asked us to a public breakfast at his house, four or five miles out of the city. He was about six feet two, as powerful a man as I ever saw; his hair in profusion, but as white as snow; the picture of health, with a voice like thunder. He was rough, but hospitable, and after breakfast showed us the various processes of his manufactory, and the number of hands each went through. "Now," says he, "Sir John, I have another sight to show you, which few men can boast of." With his fingers in his mouth, he gave a whistle as loud as a bugle, when out ran from every direction a lot of children, of a variety of shades of colour, all looking happy and healthy. Not one appeared above twelve or thirteen. "Ah," he said, "report says, and I believe it, they are every one of them my children." "Count them," he said to me. I did; there were forty-one. I thought Stirling and I would have died of laughing. Sir John Lambert, one of the most amiable and moral men in the world, said so mildly, "A very large family indeed, Mr. Woodville," that it set Stirling and me off again, and the old patriarch joined in the laugh, with, "Ah, the seed of Abraham would people the earth indeed, if every one of his descendants could show my family."
After a week of great amusement we sailed from Havana. The harbour and entrance are perfectly beautiful: the works most formidable, but the Spaniards would not let us inside. Sailing into the harbour is like entering a large gateway; the sails are almost within reach of the Moro rock, and there is a swell setting into the harbour, which gives the ship a motion, as if every wave would dash her on the Moro.
In the Gulf of Florida we encountered a most terrific gale, wind and current at variance, and oh, such a sea! We lay to for forty-eight hours; we could not cook, and the main deck was flooded. Sir John and I never got out of our cots: he perfectly good-humoured on all occasions, and always convincing himself, and endeavouring to convince us that the gale was abating. The third morning Stirling came to my cot. "Come, turn out; you will see how I manage my craft. I am going to make sail, and our lubberly cut may set us on our beam-ends or sink us altogether." A delightful prospect, indeed. He was and is a noble seaman, all animation and he was so clear and decided in his orders! Sail was made amid waves mountains high, and the Brazen, as impudent a craft as ever spurned the mighty billows, so beautifully was she managed and steered, rode over or evaded seas apparently overwhelming; and Stirling, in the pride of his sailor's heart, says, "There, now, what would you give to be a sailor?" It really was a sight worth looking at–a little bit of human construction stemming and resisting the power of the mighty deep.
As we neared the mouth of the British Channel, we had, of course, the usual thick weather, when a strange sail was reported. It was now blowing a fresh breeze; in a few minutes we spoke her, but did not make her haul her main-topsail, being a bit of a merchantman. Stirling hailed as we shot past. "Where are you from?" "Portsmouth." "Any news?" "No, none." The ship was almost out of sight, when we heard, "Ho! Bonaparter's back again on the throne of France." Such a hurrah as I set up, tossing my hat over my head! "I will be a Lieutenant-Colonel yet before the year's out!" Sir John Lambert said, "Really, Smith, you are so vivacious! How is it possible? It cannot be." He had such faith in the arrangements of our government, he wouldn't believe it. I said, "Depend upon it, it's truth; a beast like that skipper never could have invented it, when he did not even regard it as news: 'No, no news; only Bonaparte's back again on the throne of France.' Depend on it, it's true." "No, Smith, no." Stirling believed it, and oh, how he carried on! We were soon at Spithead, when all the men-of-war, the bustle, the general appearance, told us, before we could either see telegraphic communication or speak any one, where "Bonaparter" was.
We anchored about three o'clock, went on shore immediately, and shortly after were at dinner in the George. Old West had brought from the Havannah two pups of little white curly dogs, a dog and bitch, which he said were "a present for missus." They are very much esteemed in England, these Havana lapdogs; not much in my way.
The charm of novelty which I experienced on my former visit to England after seven years absence, was much worn off; and I thought of nothing but home. Sir John and I started for London in a chaise at night, and got only as far as Guildford. I soon found our rate of progression would not do, and I asked his leave to set off home. At that time he was not aware of all my tale. I never saw his affectionate heart angry before; he positively scolded me, and said, "I will report our arrival; write to me, that I may know your address, for I shall most probably very soon want you again." My wife and Sir John were afterwards the greatest friends.
So Mr. West and I got a chaise, and off we started, and got to London on a Sunday, the most melancholy place on that day on earth. I drove to my old lodgings, where I had last parted from my wife. They could assure me she was well, as she had very lately ordered a new riding-habit. So I ordered a post-chaise and ran from Panton Square to Weeks' in the Haymarket, and bought a superb dressing-case and a heavy gold chain; I had brought a lot of Spanish books from the Havannah. So on this occasion I did not return to my home naked and penniless, as from Coruña.
I got to Waltham Cross about twelve o'clock. I soon found a pair of horses was far too slow for my galloping ideas; so I got four, and we galloped along then as fast as I could wish. I rattled away to the Falcon Inn in my native place, Whittlesea; for I dare not drive to my father's house. I sent quietly for him, and he was with me in a moment. The people were in church as I drove past. My wife was there, so as yet she was safe from any sudden alarm. She and my sisters took a walk after church, when servants were sent in every direction in search of them, with orders quietly to say that my father wanted my sisters. A fool of a fellow being the first to find them, and delighted with his prowess, ran up, shouting, "Come home directly; a gentleman has come in a chaise-and-four"–who, he did not know. My poor wife, as he named no one, immediately believed some one had arrived to say I was killed, and down she fell senseless. My sisters soon restored her, and they ran home, to their delight, into my arms. My wife and I were never again separated,63 though many an eventful scene was in store and at hand for us.
We were now all happiness. During my few months' absence nothing had occurred to damp their contentment; so we all blessed God Almighty that I had again been protected in such awful situations both by land and sea, while so many families had to grieve for the loss of their dearest relatives. Pug and Tiny recognized me. I heard from Sir John Lambert that he was to be employed with the army assembling at Brussels under the Duke, that I had better be prepared to join him at a few hours' notice, that my position near him would require horses. I knew that "Major of Brigade" was the berth intended for me. My wife was to accompany me again to the war, but nothing affected us when united; the word "separation" away, all was smooth. All was now excitement, joy, hope and animation, and preparation of riding-habits, tents, canteens, etc., my sisters thinking of all sorts of things for my wife's comfort, which we could as well have carried as our parish church. My youngest brother but one, Charles, was to go with me to join the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, as a Volunteer,64 and his departure added to the excitement. I never was more happy in all my life; not a thought of the future (though God knows we had enough before us), for my wife was going and all the agony of parting was spared.
ST. MARY'S, WHITTLESEY.
From a photograph by A. Gray, Whittlesey, 1900. [Opposite p. 260.
I immediately set to work to buy a real good stud. Two horses I bought at Newmarket, and two in my native place; and as Tiny the faithful was voted too old, as was the mare I had with me in Spain and Washington, I bought for my wife, from a brother, a mare of great celebrity, bred by my father, a perfect horse for a lady who was an equestrian artist.
In a few days I had a kind letter from Sir John Lambert, saying I was appointed his Major of Brigade; and as he was to proceed to Ghent in Flanders, recommending me, being in Cambridgeshire, to proceed viâ Harwich for Ostend, as I must find my own passage unless I went on a transport. West was therefore despatched with my four horses viâ Newmarket for Harwich, and I intended so to start as to be there the day my horses would arrive.
The evening before we started, my father, wife, sisters, myself, and brothers had a long ride. On returning, at the end of the town, there was a new stiff rail, with a ditch on each side. I was riding my dear old mare, that had been at Washington, etc., and off whose back poor Lindsay had been killed;65 she was an elegant fencer, and as bold as in battle. I said to my sisters, "I will have one more leap on my war-horse." I rode her at it. Whether she had grown old, or did not measure her leap, I don't know, but over she rolled. One of my legs was across the new and narrow ditch, her shoulder right upon it; I could not pull it from under her. I expected every moment, if she struggled, to feel my leg broken, and there was an end to my Brigade Majorship! I passed a hand down, until I got short hold of the curb, and gave her a snatch with all my force. She made an effort, and I drew my leg out, more faint than subsequently in the most sanguinary conflict of the whole war. I never felt more grateful for an escape.
55 Augustus Frederick (b. 1794), only son of Augustus Frederick; Duke of Sussex (son of George III.), by his marriage with Lady Augusta Murray. The two children of this marriage, when disinherited by the Royal Marriage Act, took the name D'Este.
56 Sir J. Lambert was always in the Guards, and prided himself on being Adjutant of the Grenadier Guards, as his eldest son now is.–H.G.S. (1844).
57 i.e. make a scapegoat of.
58 Colonel Mullins was blamed for not having the ladders and fascines ready.
60 After that attack I have always been of opinion that General Keane should have occupied the narrow neck of land behind the deep ditch which ran across from the river to the morass, and was afterwards (but then not at all) so strongly fortified by the enemy. I admit there were many, very many objections, but I still maintain there were more important reasons for its occupation, since our Army had been shoved into such a position, for, to begin from the beginning, it ought never to have gone there.–H. G. S.
61 "From MAJOR-GENERAL LAMBERT to EARL BATHURST.
"His Majesty's Ship Tonnant, off Chandeleur's Island,
"January 28, 1815.
"Major Smith, of the 95th Regiment, now acting as Military Secretary, is so well known for his zeal and talents, that I can with great truth say that I think he possesses every qualification to render him hereafter one of the brightest ornaments of his profession."
62 Cope's order of events (p. 192) is as follows: Disembarcation of troops on Ile Dauphine, Feb. 8; surrender of Fort Bowyer, Feb.11; arrival of news of the preliminaries of peace, Feb.14. According to the text, the disembarcation on Ile Dauphine would appear to have followed the peace-news. There is no inconsistency, however. Only one Brigade (the 4th, 21st, and 44th Regiments) was employed in reducing Fort Bowyer. This Brigade disembarked on Ile Dauphine after the capture of the Fort, the rest of the army having disembarked previously.
63 They were separated for a great part of a year during the Kafir War, 1835. Perhaps he is thinking especially of separation by sea.
64 "During the Peninsular War, and how long before I know not, it was very occasionally permitted to young men who had difficulty in getting a commission, with the consent of the commanding officer, to join some regiment on service before the enemy. In action the Volunteer acted as a private soldier, carrying his musket and wearing his cross-belts like any other man. After a campaign or two, or after having distinguished himself at the storming of some town or fortress, he would probably obtain a commission. He messed with the officers of the company to which he was attached. His dress was the same as that of an officer, except that, instead of wings or epaulettes, he wore shoulder-straps of silver or gold, to confine the cross-belts."–W. Leeke, Lord Seaton's Regiment at Waterloo (1866), vol. i. p. 6.
65 See p. 151.