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be hardly less disastrous than a defeat, and was determined to fight only when he could destroy his enemy. He was content with barring Marmont's advance, day after day, by positions skilfully taken up, until on June 29 the forts surrendered. Marmont then fell back in sullen wrath to the Duero, holding the northern bank of it from Tordesillas to Toro--a distance of less than fourteen miles—there to await the reinforcements pressing to join him. Wellington followed him in the expectation that either the difficulties of gathering supplies would compel Marmont to fall back, or his impatient and eager genius would make him attempt some rash stroke.
Marmont, however, was a tactician of the first order. His troops were hardy and quick of foot. The country, a series of open rolling downs seamed with shallow rivers, lent itself to rapid movements, and was perfectly familiar to him; and he commenced a series of swift movements in which, again and again, he out-marched and out-generalled Wellington. His aim, in brief, was to march round Wellington's flank, and strike at the Ciudad Rodrigo road on his rear, which formed his only line of retreat to Portugal. And the feints and movements on his part to accomplish, and on Wellington's part to prevent, this, form one of the most brilliant chapters of tactics in the history of war. The movements of the armies resembled the quick and gleaming thrusts and parries of two accomplished fencers engaged in fierce and close duel ; or, to vary the figure, the armies circled round and dashed at each other with breathless attack and recoil, like two hawks in mid-air, swooping, in close curves, round each other with ruffled feathers and angry claws. There is no space here to tell the story of this struggle, which lasted more than a week, and in which the weapons were not so much bayonet and sabre, as the brains of the general and the legs of the soldier. But some of the picturesque incidents yielded by that struggle in generalship are worth describing.
Marmont, on July 16, made a show of crossing the Duero at Toro, and so marching past Wellington's left to Salamanca. Wellington moved to his left to block this road, but yet, as a precaution, left the fourth and light divisions and Anson's cavalry, under Sir Stapleton Cotton, on the Trabancos, so as to guard against any advance past his right from Tordesillas. As soon as Marmont saw the bulk of the British forces drawn to his right, he countermarched his troops, pressed on at the utmost speed
back to Tordesillas, crossed the Duero there without pause, and came sweeping down past Wellington's right towards Salamanca. Some of his men actually marched forty miles, some fifty, without a halt!
It was a brilliant stroke of generalship, and on the evening of the 17th Cotton, with two divisions and some cavalry, was, without support, in the presence of the whole French army. Cotton had the obstinate courage that grows yet more stubborn in actual combat, characteristic of his race, and he clung to his position. In the deep folds of the treeless downs the full strength of the French was hidden, and Cotton, with cheerful confidence, drove back the skirmishers as they crossed the stream. But the columns of the French became denser, their fire heavier ; and soon the deep roar of heavy guns was added to the sharp crackle of musketry.
It was early morning, and the black masses of powder-smoke mingled with the light mists rising from the river. Here is a vivid battle-picture, taken from Napier :
The cannonade became heavy, and the spectacle surprisingly beautiful, for the lighter smoke and mist, mingling and curling in fantastic pillars, formed a huge and glittering dome tinged with many colours by the rising sun; and through the grosser vapour below the restless horsemen were seen or lost, as the fume thickened from the rapid play of the artillery, while the bluff head of land beyond the Trabancos, covered with French troops, appeared by an optical deception close at hand, dilated to the size of a mountain, and crowned with gigantic soldiers, who were continually breaking off and sliding down into the fight. Suddenly a dismounted English cavalry officer stalked from the midst of the smoke towards the line of infantry; his gait was peculiarly rigid, and he appeared to hold a bloody bandkerchief to his heart; but that which seemed a cloth was a broad and dreadful wound; a bullet had entirely effaced the flesh from his left shoulder and breast, and carried away part of his ribs, his heart was bared, and its movement plainly discerned. It was a piteous and yet a noble sight; for his countenance, though ghastly, was firm, his step scarcely indicated weakness, and his voice never faltered. This unyielding man's name was Williams; he died a short distance from the field of battle-it was said, in the arms of bis son, a youth of fourteen, who had followed his father to the Peninsula in hopes of obtaining a commission, for they were not in affluent circumstances.
By seven o'clock Wellington, accompanied by Beresford, drawn by the sound of the firing, had reached the scene of the conflict, and was almost at once in great personal peril.
A couple of squadrons of French cavalry, gallantly led by their officer, swept down the further bank of the river, splashed through the current, and galloped up the steep slope beyond. As they reached the crest, disordered and breathless, they found themselves confronted with a squadron of British dragoons. The
Frenchmen were heavy cavalry, splendidly mounted, in gay uniform, with high fur caps. Their officer halted his men within a hundred yards of the British cavalry, which was in skirmishing order, held his sword high in air, and, with a shout of Vive l'Empereur! En avant, Français !' dashed on the British, who were swept away in a moment by the rush of the heavier horses of the French. The whole mass, French and British, struggling together, and smiting furiously at each other, went tumbling down the reverse slope.
In the valley below were two guns, covered by some infantry pickets and another squadron of light cavalry; and without a pause the French officer dashed on these, his men following, and swept through them like a whirlwind, the artillerymen stooping, with heads bent, spurring their horses to save their guns, while the Frenchmen slashed at them with their sabres. Wellington and Beresford were caught in the mêlée; and Maxwell tells how he saw the British general as he crossed the ford' with his straight sword drawn, at full speed, and smiling. • At this moment a squadron of heavy British dragoons rode at the furious French swordsmen, and the latter were destroyed almost to a man; but
their invincible leader,' says Napier, 'assaulted by three enemies at once, struck one dead from his horse, and, with surprising exertions, saved himself from the other two, though they rode hewing at him from each side for a quarter of a mile.'
Meanwhile Marmont, having discovered how small was the force opposed to him, crossed the Trabancos, and pushed on straight for the Guareña. If he could throw himself across it before the British, Wellington would be cut off from Salamanca.
Ten miles of dusty soil had to be crossed under a blazing sun and at high speed. The troops that could march fastest would win. And, urged by their officers to the utmost exertions, the rival columns pressed on.
one of the strangest scenes ever witnessed in war, and only Napier's resonant prose can do justice to it:
The British retired in three columns, the light division being between the fifth division and the French, close to the latter, the cavalry on the flanks and rear. The air was extremely sultry, the dust roze in clouds, and the close order of the troops was rendered very oppressive by a siroc wind; but where the light division marched the military spectacle was strange and grand. Hostile columns of infantry, only half musket-shot from each other, were marching impetuously towards a common goal, the officers on each side pointing forward with their swords, or touching their caps and waving their hands in courtesy,
while the German cavalry, huge men on huge horses, rode between in a close compact body, as if to prevent a collision: at times the loud tones of command to hasten the march were heard passing from the front to the rear on both sides, and now and then the rush of French bullets came sweeping over the columns, whose violent pace was continually accelerated.
Thus moving for ten miles, yet keeping the most perfect order, both parties approached the Guareña, and the enemy, seeing the light division, although more in their power than the others, was yet outstripping them in the march, increased the fire of their guns and menaced an attack with infantry: the German cavalry instantly drew close round, the column plunged suddenly into a hollow dip of ground on the left, and ten minutes after the head of the division was in ihe stream of the Guareña between Osmo and Castrillo. The fifth division entered it at the same time higher up on the left, and the fourth division passed on the right. The soldiers of the light division, tormented with thirst, yet long used to their enemy's mode of warfare, drank as they marched ; those of the fifth division, less experienced, stopped a few moments, and on the instant forty French guns, gathering on the heights above, sent a tempest of bullets amongst them. So nicely timed was the operation.
Maxwell describes the scene as the river was reached. "A buzz,' he says, 'ran through the ranks that water was at hand; and the soldiers were impelled forward with eyes staring and mouths open ; and when within fifty yards of the stream a general rush was made.
The French general had accomplished much. He had crossed a great river, surprised Wellington's right, and driven it back for ten miles. Nevertheless, a glance at the map shows how Wellington bad thwarted the attempt to sweep past his flank and get between him and Salamanca. Marmont's troops, too, had been marching for two days and nights, and were exhausted, and a brief pause followed. The two great hosts bivouacked on the opposite slopes of a narrow valley, and the outposts were placed 80 near each other that, to quote Maxwell, 'the fixed sentinels almost received the secret whispers of each other's watch!'
On the morning of the 20th, Marmont was moving again. His light-footed battalions, while the stars were yet burning in the Spanish night skies, were pushing past Wellington's right up the Guareña. Parallel lines of hills, with a very narrow and shallow valley betwixt, run curving to the south-west towards the Tormes, on which river stands Salamanca; and along the crest of the outer range Marmont pushed at fiercest speed. On the inner ridge, and within easy musket-shot, marched the British, the eager columns trying to head each other. Wherever the ground favoured the movement, the guns on either side wheeled round, and smote the hostile flank opposite them with grape and round
shot. But the dusty panting soldiers, with sloping muskets and shoulders thrown forward, never halted; while, to quote Napier, 'the officers, like gallant gentlemen, who bore no malice and knew no fear, made their military recognitions, and the horsemen on each side watched with eager eyes for an opening to charge.' At one point the swiftly moving lines, for a moment, so to speak, jostled, and two dust-covered brigades on either side clashed fiercely together. The British, however—a brigade of the fourth division-swung round, poured in a deadly volley, charged home with bayonet, dashed their opponents into mere fragments, then wheeled back, and pressed on their scarcely interrupted march.
In this day's operations, however, Marmont won. He outmarched and outflanked the British, and when night fell his dusty and exhausted soldiers held the ford of Huerta on the Tormes. He had nothing to do but to keep that position till his reinforcements reached him, then Salamanca and Wellington's line of retreat to Portugal lay under his stroke. The night set in wild and stormy. Rain fell with tropical violence. The hill-slopes were slippery with a thousand rills; a furious thunderstorm broke over the valley, where the tired armies, in great confusion, were trying to take up their positions. The peals of thunder were so deep and echoing, that a whole troop of British cavalry horses, familiar with the roar of artillery, broke loose in terror, and galloped riderless into the French camp.
Hundreds of frightened horses, too, dashed through the British lines, and were mistaken for charges of French cavalry. Never was a wilder
But, through it all, the soldiers of the immortal light division 'were seen by the fiery gleams to step from the river to the bank, and pursue their march, amid this astounding turmoil, in close and beautiful order, defying alike the storm and the enemy.'
Wellington recognised that in this strife of tactics Marmont had won; but he clung with iron tenacity to his position, in the hope that the Frenchman, instead of waiting till his reinforcements came up and made a battle hopeless, might attempt a rash stroke on his own account. But he wrote a letter to the Spanish general, Castaños, saying he must retreat. The orderly carrying the letter was captured by the French, and his despatch, falling into Marmont's hands, tempted him to his doom. The French insisted afterwards that this letter was a subtle ruse de guerre on Wellington's part. It was written to trick Marmont, not to inform Castaños; and its capture was part of the trick.