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letter, it is quite true, tempted Marmont to make the rash stroke which ruined him; but it also exactly expressed Wellington's purpose. Retreat was the only course possible to him if Marmont stood on his defence till his reinforcements came up.
A glance at the map shows that the Tormes forms a great loop north of Salamanca. Marmont, on the night of July 18, had seized the ford at Huerta, at the crown of the loop, and could move down either bank of the river to Salamanca. Wellington entrenched his third division on the right bank of the river, opposite the ford of Santa Marta, to bar Marmont's advance, but with the bulk of his army crossed the river, and took up a position perpendicular to its course, his extreme right touching, but not occupying, one of a pair of rugged and isolated bills, called the Arapiles. He thus covered Salamanca against Marmont's advance from Huerta, on the left bank of the river.
The two wearied armies watched each other for a day and a half; but Wellington had learned that Marmont's reinforcements from the north would reach him on July 22 or 23, and the British general decided that he must retreat. Still, he hung on, hoping for some chance of a dramatic stroke, and this suddenly offered itself. Marmont had crossed to the left bank of the Tormes, and, on the morning of the 22nd, he suddenly made a leap at the outer of the two hills we have named. The hills were about 500 yards apart, and the British, quick to see the French movement, made a dash at the hill near them. The French, vehement and swift-footed, reached the hill on their side first, seized it, and dashed on to the sister hill, which the slower, but more stubborn, British had half climbed. There was a struggle, fierce, short, and bloodly; but at its close the French and the British held their respective hills, and these two savage splinters of rock formed, so to speak, the menacing heads, from which two great armies threatened each other. But the capture of the French Arapiles gave Marmont a great advantage. It made his right unassailable, and he could swing round from the hill as from a pivot, and strike at the Ciudad Rodrigo road, along which Wellington must retreat. Wellington met the situation thus created by using the English Arapiles as a fixed point, and swinging round his army till his right rested on Aldea Tejada. What had been his first line facing Huerta, thus became bis rear, and the army now looked eastward to meet the wheel of the French left.
The long summer day crept on, both armies grimly watching each other. Wellington had resolved to fall back as soon as night
Marmont, on his part, was fretted to fever by the dread that Wellington would slip out of his hands before his reinforcements came up. The English commissariat wagons were already on the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, and the dust, rising high in the sky, made Marmont believe that Wellington was actually in retreat ; and, taking fire at that thought, he launched his left, consisting of two divisions under Maucune, with fifty guns and some light cavalry, along a ridge of low hills which swept in a curve past Wellington's right towards Salamanca. The two armies, in fact, occupied the opposing crests of an oval-shaped amphitheatre, whose axis, from east to west, was about two miles long, the transverse axis, from north to south, being about a mile and a half; and to the northern tip of this natural amphitheatre the two Arapiles acted, so to speak, as gate-posts.
Marmont's left was now in movement, and its march quickly created a steadily widening gap in the French line of battle. Wellington's keen and soldierly eye instantly detected the flaw in his enemy's tactics. The French left wing was entirely separated from the centre. The fault was flagrant, and, in Napier's terse phrase, Wellington 'fixed it with the stroke of a thunderbolt.' Croker, in his journal, relates a conversation at Strathfieldsaye, many years afterwards, in which Alava, while Wellington was present and listened and smiled at the story, drew a realistic sketch of the manner in which Marmont's unlucky move was detected by the British general :
He (Wellington) had been very busy all the morning, and had not thought of breakfast, and the staff had grown very hungry; at last, however, there was a pause (I think he said about two) near a farmyard surrounded by a wall, where a kind of breakfast was spread on the ground, and the staff alighted and fell to. While they were eating, the Duke rode into the enclosure; he refused to alight, and advised them to make haste; he seemed anxious and on the look-out. At last they persuaded him to take a bit of bread and the leg of a cold roast fowl, which he was eating without knife from his fingers, when suddenly they saw him throw the leg of the fowl far away over his shoulder, and gallop out of the yard, calling to them to follow him. The fact is, he had been waiting to have the French sighted at a certain gap in the hills, and that was to be the signal of a long-meditated and long-suspended attack. 'I knew,' said Alava, with grave drollery, 'that something “very serious" was about to happen when an article 80 precious as the leg of a roast fowl was thus thrown away!'
Wellington, in brief, waited in grim content till Marmont's faulty movement was developed past remedy; then he made his terrible counter-stroke. He fixed Marmont's right to its ground
by making a dash at the French Arapiles; he smote the head of Maucune's columns with the third division brought up at the double from Aldea Tejada, and, at the same moment, he launched at their flank the fifth division. How swift and dramatic was the development of Wellington's attack is best told in Napier's vivid sentences :
A few orders issued from his lips like the incantations of a wizard, and suddenly the dark mass of troops which covered the English Arapiles, as if possessed by some mighty spirit, rushed violently down the interior slope of the mountain and entered the great basin, amidst a storm of bullets which seemed to shear away the whole surface of the earth over which they moved. The fifth division instantly formed on the right of the fourth, connecting the latter with Bradford's Portuguese, who hastened forward at the same time from the right of the army; and the heavy cavalry, galloping up on the right of Bradford, closed this front of battle.
The first and most decisive blow of the great fight was struck by the third division. These were Picton's men ; but that brave soldier was absent through sickness, and the division was under the command of Pakenham, Wellington's brother-in-law, a soldier of the finest fighting quality. Wellington gave his orders in person to Pakenham. “Do you see those fellows on the hill, Pakenham ?' he said, pointing to where Maucune's columns were now showing. 'Move on with your division, and drive them to the d-'! Pakenham saluted, and there are two versions of his reply. 'I will, my lord, by G-' is the reply put in his mouth by Robinson in his “Life of Picton.' Napier's version of the reply is ‘Yes, if you will give me a grasp of that all-conquering hand. The first version is needlessly profane, the second is tumid and un-British; but about the intelligence and fire with which Pakenham carried out his orders there is no doubt. Wellington himself watched the division as it deployed into column and moved fiercely to attack--an attack which was described by an eye-witness as 'not only the most spirited, but the most perfect thing of its kind ever seen.' 'Did you ever see a man,' said Wellington to his staff, 'who understood his orders better than Pakenham ?'
Pakenham's columns, as they drew near the French, swung into line, the companies bringing forward their right shoulders at a run as they marched, and with bent heads and levelled bayonets, but not yet firing a shot, pressed sternly on the French, who, expecting to look down on the Ciudad Rodrigo road crowded with a retreating enemy, instead suddenly found themselves threatened by swiftly moving lines of steady infantry,
glittering from end to end with shining bayonets at the charge. But the French were hardy veterans, and broke instantly into an angry fire of musketry. Their guns, too, swung round and poured a tempest of grape on the steady British lines.
These never wavered or halted. The gaps in their front were filled instantly. On they came, their disciplined tread sounding louder and nearer, till they burst into dreadful and fast-following volleys, and the French were swept away as with the blast of a whirlwind. The French officers were gallant men, and did desperate acts to keep their men steady. The colonel of a French regiment, for example, snatched a musket from a grenadier, ran forward a few yards, and shot Major Murphy, in command of the 88th or Connaught Rangers, who was in advance of his men. One of the 88th in return shot the Frenchman dead; but Murphy's horse galloped wildly across the front of the regiment, dragging his dead rider, whose foot was entangled in the stirrup, with him.
The sight kindled the 88th to madness. The line began to sway forward with the eager fury of the men; and Pakenham, who rode near, shouted to Wallace, who commanded the brigade, to let them loose.' The word of command ran down the line, repeated from officer to officer; the bayonets fell as with one impulse to the level; and, let loose,' the men with a stern deep shout dashed at the enemy. Amid the smoke of the French line a single officer could be seen lingering to fire the last gun. But, crushed as though smitten with a tempest of aërolites, the French columns broke in hopeless flight. The French cavalry rode at the flanks of the victorious British, and for a few minutes horsemen and footmen were mingled in desperate fight. The French cavalry, however, was quickly driven off; and, steadily moving on its dreadful path, the third division smote with its fire the second line of the French, while the fifth division was pouring its volleys at the same moment into the French flank.
Then came one of the most memorable cavalry charges in the history of war. The heavy brigade—the 3rd and 4th dragoons, and the 5th dragoon guards—under Le Marchant, and Anson's light cavalry, found the opportunity of a decisive attack. The squadrons were launched at speed. Then came a dramatic spectacle :
While Pakenham, bearing onward with a conquering violence, was closing on their flank, and the fifth division advancing with a storm of fire on their front, the interval between the two attacks was suddenly filled with a whirling cloud of dust, moving swiftly forward and carrying within its womb the trampling
sound of a charging multitude. As it passed the left of the third division, Le Marchant's heavy horsemen, flanked by Anson's light cavalry, broke forth from it at full speed, and the next instant 1,200 French infantry, though formed in several lines, were trampled down with a terrible clamour and disturbance. Bewildered and blinded, they cast away their arms and ran through the openings of the British squadrons, stooping and demanding quarter ; while the dragoons, big men on big horses, rode onwards, smiting with their long glittering swords in uncon. trollable power; and the third division followed at speed, shouting as the French masses fell in succession before this dreadful charge.
The charging cavalry struck first the 66th regiment of the French, formed in a sort of column of half battalions, thus presenting six successive lines which broke into a heavy musketry fire as the cavalry dashed on their front. Over these the British horsemen rode at a gallop, simply trampling them out of existence. A second battalion of six hundred was served in the same fashion. Onward swept the eager horsemen. By this time the open trees, under which the British cavalry was galloping, grew closer, and the front of the charging line was greatly broken. A solid French brigade, which stood in the shelter of the trees, poured a stream of fire into the galloping squadrons, and scores of saddles were emptied. Yet the stubborn horsemen kept on, and crushed to fragments this, the third body they had encountered; and Lord Edward Somerset, with a single squadron, seeing beyond him a battery of five guns, swept on in his attack and captured them. This memorable charge destroyed Maucune's three divisions, as a military body, and captured five guns and 2,000 prisoners. But Le Marchant himself, perhaps the best cavalry leader in the British army, had fallen, and the three regiments of the heavy brigade at nightfall could muster only three squadrons.
One curious incident marked the cavalry charge. Captain Mackie of the 88th, who acted as aide-de-camp to Wallace, the commander of the brigade, was, about this stage of the battle, feported as 'missing.' No one had seen him fall, but he had disappeared. Some half-hour later he reappeared through the smoke from the enemy's front covered with dust and blood, his horse stumbling from fatigue, and nothing left of his sword but the hilt. As the English cavalry swept past the 88th, on their great charge, Mackie's Highland blood had kindled to flame; he galloped to the flank of the cavalry, shared in the tumult and rapture of their mad ride, and, when it was over, returned to his regiment in the fashion we have described.
It was five o'clock when Pakenham attacked, and before six o'clock Marmont had been carried disabled off the field ; his suc