Fire & Retire !

First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.

Battles and Sieges.
From the forgotten journal of Sergeant D. Robertson:


What the Gordons did ... the Lead-Up.
(Part 1)

Sir Thomas Picton. Sergeant Robertson in his Journal says:
On the 26th of January 1815, we marched to Cork again with the intention of embarking for Scotland but, owing to certain circumstances we were detained until the 1st of May when, instead of embarking for our native country, we were ordered off to Belgium again to take up our quarters in the tented field.

We weighed anchor on the 3rd and on the 8th landed at Ostend and disembarked next day. We halted here and got three days' rations served out which we managed to get cooked.

In the evening we embarked on board the boats on the canal and proceeded to Ghent, where we arrived on the iith at daybreak.

It happened to be the weekly market day when we landed, and none of us ever saw such a sight before. The day was beautiful, and the people were coming in boats from all directions to the centre of the city, which caused great stir and bustle; and to add to the effect of the scene, we were disembarked at the large market-place.

If the novelty of what we saw made an impression on our minds, the Belgians were no less surprised at our strange appearance as, I believe, none of them had ever seen any clad in the Highland garb before.

We were all regularly billeted upon the inhabitants without distinction, and were civilly used by them. In a few days we were joined by the Royal Scots, 42nd, and 79th, and were pleased at meeting with so many Scotchmen, more especially those brave fellows with whom we had fought side by side in Egypt and Denmark, at Corunna, Pontes, and Vittoria; among the Pyrenees, at Bayonne and Toulouse: " Brothers in arms, but rivals in renown."

We remained in Ghent till the 28th of the month, without the occurrence of anything worthy of notice, when we marched to Brussels, where the Duke of Wellington had his head-quarters, and were put in divisions under the command of Sir Thomas Picton, Sir James Kempt, and Sir Denis Pack.

When we came to Alast, half way between Ghent and Brussels, we found the Duke de Berri commanding a body of French troops that adhered to the Bourbon cause. Almost all the officers had served in the French army in Spain, and some of them had been in Egypt.

The latter upon seeing the Highland regiments, immediately came running to meet us, and asked very kindly " If they had not seen us before ? "

When we answered in the affirmative, they went and told the Duke, who expressed his happiness to have such supporters to aid the cause of his house.

On our arrival at Brussels we were billeted throughout the city The 28th, 32nd, 34th, 95th, and two battalions of the Hanoverian militia joined us here, which were paraded in brigade every second day.

While here we had a grand review, which was attended by all the resident Belgian and English nobility. Recruiting for the Belgian army was going on with great activity, and hundreds daily marched to the different depots. They were mostly all good-looking young fellows and had a very soldier-like appearance.

We were now served with four days' bread, and supplied with camp kettles, bill hooks and everything necessary for a campaign, which according to all accounts was fast approaching.

The inhabitants, like those of Ghent, were very civil and kind to us, and we in turn were the same to them. We were kept in a state of alarm for some days from reports that appeared in the Belgian papers to the effect that the French troops were moving on to the frontiers.

In order to avoid being taken unawares, the orderly sergeants were desired to take a list of the men's quarters, with the names of the streets, and the numbers of the houses.

It was also arranged that every company and regiment should be billeted in the same or the adjacent streets to prevent confusion if called out at a moment's warning.

On the evening of the 15th of June, the sergeants on duty were all in the orderly room till ten o'clock at night; and no orders having been issued, we went home to our quarters.

I had newly lain down in bed when the bugle sounded the alarm, the drums beat to arms, bagpipes played and all was in commotion, thus stunning the drowsy ear of night by all kinds of martial music sounding in every street.

Upon hearing this, sergeants and corporals ran to the quarters of their respective parties to turn them out. I went to the quarter-master for bread and four days' allowance was given out of the store, which was soon distributed among the men, every one getting his share and speedily falling into rank.

So regular and orderly was the affair gone about, that we were ready to march in half an hour after the first sound of the bugle.

Colonel Cameron had that day been invested with the Order of the Bath by the title of Sir John Cameron of Fassifearn and was present at a splendid ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, daughter of the seventh Duke of Gordon who was brother to the Marquis of Huntly.

She had invited some sergeants of the 92nd to show the company especially the Belgians, the Highland reel and sword dance, which they did.

When the alarm sounded, the Duke of Wellington was quickly at our head and we commenced our march at daybreak, leaving the city by the Lamour gates, followed by the inhabitants to whom we gave three farewell cheers.

When we had got a few miles from Brussels we entered a wood, the trees of which were remarkably tall, and although the road was very wide it was wet and soft, as the sun did not strike upon it to make it dry.

During our march we had several times to diverge to the right and left, to avoid the bad parts of the road. When we had got a good way into the wood we met a number of waggons conveying Prussian soldiers who had been wounded the day before, who told us that the French were driving all before them, and that we were greatly needed.

As we were too apt to entertain bad opinions, we suspected treachery on the part of the foreigners, and that we should have to retreat; for we did not credit much what the Prussians told us of the affair.

We continued our route until we came to the skirt of the wood, into which we were marched, and ordered to lie down and rest ourselves for two hours, but not to kindle any fires, and on no account to move out of our places.

We lay down and slept for some time, when the Duke of Wellington and his staff rode by, which made us move, but we were not called upon to march. While lying here we were joined by a great many Hanoverians and Brunswickers, all of whom were formed up in the wood.

When we emerged into open ground, we found ourselves at the village of Waterloo. About eleven o'clock we fell in and marched on.

The day was oppressively warm and the road very dusty. We moved on slowly till we reached the village of Geneppe, where the inhabitants had large tubs filled with water standing at the doors, ready for us, of which we stood in great need.

They told us that a French patrole had been there that morning. We had hardly got out of the town when we heard the sound of cannon at no great distance which proceeded from the place where the conflict was going on between the French and the Belgians.

The sound had a stimulating effect upon us; for so eager were we to enter the field of action, that we felt as fresh as if we had newly started. In fact we were all anxious to assist the poor Belgians, who were but young soldiers, and consequently little experienced in military affairs.

" Forward," was now the word that ran through all the ranks; but the Colonel had more discretion, and would not allow us to run, lest we should exhaust ourselves before the time.

He issued peremptory orders that every man should keep his rank as if on parade, and not march above three miles an hour. The firing seemed to be coming nearer as we approached a farm and public-house, called Quatre Bras.

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Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.

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Updated: 1st August, 2011.
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