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from Almeida, was defended by the guns of that fortress; but his back was on the edge of the ravine, forming the channel of the Coa, and the bridge was more than a mile distant, in the bottom of the chasm.
A stormy night ushered in the 24th of July. The troops, drenched with rain, were under arms before day-light, expecting to retire, when a few pistol shots in front, followed by an order for the cavalry reserves and the guns to advance, gave notice of the enemy's approach; and as the morning cleared, twenty-four thousand French infantry, five thousand cavalry, and thirty pieces of artillery were observed marching beyond the Turones. The British line was immediately contracted and brought under the edge of the ravine; but meanwhile, Ney, who had observed Crawfurd's false disposition, came down with the swoop of an eagle. Four thousand horsemen and a powerful artillery swept the plain. The allied cavalry gave back, and Loison's division coming up at a charging pace, made towards the centre and left of the position.
While the French were thus pouring onward, several ill-judged changes were made on the English side, part of the troops were advanced, others drawn back, and the forty-third most unaccountably placed within an enclosure of solid masonry, at least ten feet high, situated at the left of the road, with but one narrow outlet about half-musket shot down the ravine. While thus imprisoned, the firing in front redoubled, the cavalry, the artillery, and the caçadores successively passed by in retreat, and the sharp clang of the ninety-fifth rifle was heard along the edge of the plain above. A few moments later, and the forty-third would have been surrounded; but that here, as in every other part of this field, the quickness and knowledge of the battalion officers remedied the faults of the general. One minute sufficed to loosen some large stones, a powerful effort burst the enclosure, and the regiment, reformed in column of companies, was the next instant up with the riflemen; there was no room to array the line, no time for any thing but battle, every captain carried off his company as an independent body, and joining as he could with the ninety-fifth or fifty-second, the whole presented a mass of skirmishers, acting in small parties and under no regular command; yet each confident in the courage and discipline of those on his right and left, and all regulating their movements by a common discretion, and keeping together with surprising vigour.
'It is unnecessary to describe the first burst of French soldiers. It is well known with what gallantry the officers lead, with what vehemence the troops follow, and with what a storm of fire they waste a field of battle. At this moment with the advantage of ground and numbers, they were breaking over the edge of the ravine, their guns ranged along the summit, played hotly with grape, and their hussars, galloping over the glacis of Almeida, poured down the road, sabring every thing in their way. Ney, desirous that Montbrun should follow this movement with the whole of the French cavalry, and so cut off the troops from the bridge, sent five officers in succession to urge him on, and so mixed were friends and enemies at the moment, that only a few guns of the fortress durst open, and no courage could have availed against such overwhelming numbers. But Montbrun enjoyed an independent command, and, as the attack was made without Massena's knowledge, he would not stir. Then the British regiments, with singular intelligence and discipline, extricated themselves
from their perilous situation. For falling back slowly, and yet stopping and fighting whenever opportunity offered, they made their way through a rugged country, tangled with vineyards, in despite of their enemies, who were so fierce and eager, that even the horsemen rode in amongst the enclosures, striking at the soldiers as they mounted the walls or scrambled over the rocks.
'As the retreating troops approached the river, they came upon a more open space; but the left wing being harder pressed, and having the shortest distance, arrived while the bridge was still crowded, and some of the right wing distant. Major M'Leod, of the forty-third, seeing this, rallied four companies on a hill just in front of the passage, and was immediately joined by a party of the ninety-fifth, and at the same time, two other companies were posted by brigade-major Rowan, on another hill flanking the road; these posts were thus maintained until the enemy, gathering in great numbers, made a second burst, when the companies fell back. At this moment the right wing of the fifty-second was seen marching towards the bridge, which was still crowded with the passing troops; M'Leod, a very young man, but with a natural genius for war, immediately turned his horse round, called to the troops to follow, and, taking off his cap, rode with a shout towards the enemy. The suddenness of the thing, and the distinguished action of the man, produced the effect he designed; a mob of soldiers rushed after him, cheering and charging as if a whole army had been at their backs, and the enemy's skirmishers, astonished at this unexpected movement, stopped short. Before they could recover from their surprise, the fifty-second crossed the river, and M'Leod, following at full speed, gained the other side also without a disaster.
As the regiments passed the bridge, they planted themselves in loose order on the side of the mountain. The artillery drew up on the summit, and the cavalry were disposed in parties on the roads to the right, because two miles higher up the stream there were fords, and beyond them the bridge of Castello Bom, and it was to be apprehended that, while the sixth corps was in front, the reserves, and a division of the eighth corps, then on the Agueda, might pass at those places and get between the division and Celerico. The river was, however, rising fast from the rains, and it was impossible to retreat farther.
The French skirmishers, swarming on the right, opened a biting fire, which was returned as bitterly; the artillery on both sides played across the ravine, the sounds were repeated by numberless echoes, and the smoke rising slowly, resolved itself into an immense arch, spanning the whole chasm, and sparkling with the whirling fuzes of the flying shells. The enemy gathered fast and thickly; his columns were discovered forming behind the high rocks, and a dragoon was seen to try the depth of the stream above, but two shots from the fifty-second killed horse and man, and the carcases floating between the hostile bands, showed that the river was impassable. The monotonous tones of a French drum were then heard, and, in another instant, the head of a noble column was at the long narrow bridge. A drummer, and an officer in a splendid uniform, leaped forward together, and the whole rushed on with loud cries. The depth of the ravine at first deceived the soldiers' aim, and two thirds of the passage was won ere an English shot had brought down an enemy; yet a few paces onwards the line of death was traced, and the whole of the leading
French section fell as one man! Still the gallant column pressed forward, but no foot could pass that terrible line; the killed and wounded rolled together, until the heap rose nearly even with the parapet, and the living mass behind melted away rather than gave back.
The shouts of the British now rose loudly, but they were confidently answered; and, in half an hour, a second column, more numerous than the first, again crowded the bridge. This time, however, the range was better judged, and ere half the distance was won, the multitude was again torn, shattered, dispersed, and slain; ten or twelve men only succeeded in crossing, and took shelter under the rocks at the brink of the river. The skirmishing was renewed, and a French surgeon coming down to the very foot of the bridge, waved his handkerchief, and commenced dressing the wounded under the hottest fire; nor was his appeal unheeded: every musket turned from him, although his still undaunted countrymen were preparing for a third attempt. The impossibility of forcing the passage was, however, become too apparent, and this last effort, made with feeble numbers and less energy, failed almost as soon as it commenced.'-vol. iii. pp. 287-292.
This affair was soon after followed by the third invasion of Portugal, expressly ordered by Napoleon, the prudence of whose plans is warmly vindicated by Colonel Napier. The instructions of that great warrior were however but feebly seconded by his marshals, who, from personal envy, or other causes, were almost always at variance with each other. The Duke of Wellington had also his difficulties to encounter; if his general officers were usually more obedient than those of the French Emperor, it was by no means uniformly the case. He held no practical controul whatever over the Spanish armies, and although those of Portugal were infinitely better disciplined, they were not always to be depended upon. He had moreover to contend against the open opposition, for open and manly it was at all times, of the Parliamentary antagonists of the ministers, and against the dark intrigues and vindictive deep rooted hostility of the Souza faction at Lisbon. He had not yet acquired that moral elevation, which victory gives to a military chieftain; and so little was known of his real plans at the time when he established the celebrated lines of Torres Vedras, that not only the French generals, but the Spanish and Portuguese people, the opposition at home, and even the ministers, looked upon them as merely intended to cover his retreat and departure from Portugal, threatened now, as every body apprehended, for the last time. So prevalent was this conviction, that an officer of engineers arrived at this period at Lisbon, with a letter of instructions in his pocket from Lord Liverpool, (which at the time was unknown to Wellington) beginning thus:-" As it is probable that the army will embark in September.'
Nor was this probability unreasonably looked to, for it would appear that such an event was most likely to have taken place, if Massena had acted cordially with Ney and Regnier, and had not lost, by unaccountable delays, much precious time immediately
before the well remembered battle of Busaco;-the results of which, though very far from being so decisive as they were at first generally thought, had at least this good fortune about them, that they dissipated the gloom which prevailed in England, and inspired the army with brighter hopes than they had hitherto ventured to entertain. We see at once from Napier's description of this murderous contest, the immense advantage which an eye witness historian possesses over the writer who collects his information from documents. After a clear and picturesque sketch of the rugged mountainous scene of fight, and of the movement of the enemy on the night before it took place-a night on which 'none but veterans could have slept, for the weather was calm and fine, and the dark mountain masses, rising on either side, were crowned with innumerable fires, around which more than a hundred thousand brave men were gathered,' the author introduces us amidst the hostile columns, sets before us in such distinct points of view the prowess of the combatants on either side, their changes of position, their desperate struggles for superior ground, that we almost hear the pealing of the cannon and musketry, and the shouts of the furious multitude.
Ross's guns were worked with incredible quickness, yet their range was palpably contracted every round, and the enemy's shot came singing up in a sharper key, until the skirmishers, breathless and begrimed with powder, rushed over the edge of the ascent, when the artillery suddenly drew back, and the victorious cries of the French were heard within a few yards of the summit. Crawfurd, who standing alone on one of the rocks, had been intently watching the progress of the attack, then turned, and in a quick shrill tone desired the two regiments in reserve to charge. The next moment a horrid shout startled the French column, and eighteen hundred British bayonets went sparkling over the brow of the hill. Yet so truly brave and hardy were the leaders of the enemy, that each man of the first section raised his musket, and two officers and ten soldiers fell before them. Not a Frenchman had missed his mark! They could do no more! The head of their column was violently overturned and driven upon the rear, both flanks were lapped over by the English wings, and three terrible discharges at five yards' distance completed the route. In a few minutes a long train of carcasses and broken arms indicated the line of retreat.' -vol. iii. pp. 332, 333.
Who that reads these sentences does not see before him the skirmishers breathless and begrimed with powder,' who does not see Crawfurd standing alone on the rock, like a wolf on the look out for prey, and hearing his quick shrill command to the charge, then follow that forest of bayonets as they go 'sparkling over the brow of the hill?' Nor is this appalling picture of human slaughter without its relief. After the battle was over, a little occurrence took place, which is thus tastefully brought into the painting by Colonel Napier, as if to shew, that even in such an hour, and in such a scene, these desperate combatants were still men, and had all the feelings of men beneath their blood-stained regimentals.
Meanwhile an affecting incident, strongly contrasting with the savage character of the preceding events, added to the interest of the day. A poor orphan Portuguese girl, about seventeen years of age, and very handsome, was seen coming down the mountain and driving an ass, loaded with all her property, through the midst of the French army. She had abandoned her dwelling in obedience to the proclamation, and now passed over the field of battle with a childish simplicity, totally unconscious of her perilous situation, and scarcely understanding which were the hostile, and which the friendly troops, for no man on either side was so brutal as to molest her.'-vol. iii. p. 334.
The proclamation here alluded to, was one that had been issued by the English general and the Portuguese regency, for laying waste every part of the country which was likely to fall into the power of the enemy. This dreadful mandate formed as necessary a part of the plan for the defence of Portugal, as the lines of Torres Vedras; and we may easily conceive the horrors with which its execution, though partial, was attended. Mothers with children of all ages; the sick, the old, the bedridden, and even lunatics went or were carried forth; the most part, with little hope and less help, to journey for days in company with contending armies.' This was not all. Upon the approach of the French to Coimbra, the light division of our troops marched hastily through the city, in order to gain the defiles of Condeixa, which commence at the end of the bridge. Immediately
' all the inhabitants who had not before quitted the place rushed out, each with what could be caught up in the hand, and driving before them a number of animals loaded with sick people or children. At the entrance to the bridge, the press was so great that the troops halted for a few moments, just under the prison; the jailor had fled with the keys, the prisoners, crowding to the windows, were endeavouring to tear down the bars with their hands, and even with their teeth, and bellowing in the most frantic manner, while the bitter lamentations of the multitude increased, and the pistol-shots of cavalry, engaged at the ford below, were distinctly heard.'
Colonel Napier's description of the celebrated lines of Torres Vedras, is so lucid and free from technicality, that any reader may easily understand the great military objects which they were so well and so successfully calculated to accomplish. It is sufficient for us here to notice, that they comprised fifty miles of fortification, and one hundred and fifty forts, and that they were defended by six hundred pieces of artillery. Massena upon approaching them, and examining them every where, like a bull going round the arena to see where he might hope to leap over the barrier, found that they were utterly impregnable. Nevertheless, the state of affairs now became extremely critical. The army and a great part of the fugitive population being compressed within a few leagues of country, found the greatest difficulty in procuring subsistence. The most desponding letters were written home by several officers, especially by Generals Charles Stewart and Spencer.