Fire & Retire !

First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.

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

(How the British stormed Aray del Molinos)

Aray del Molinos.

General Sir Rowland Hill. We remained, says Sergeant Robertson, writing of the year 1811, in winter quarters till the 4th of March, when the French broke up from Santarem, and went into the north of Portugal. On their march they committed the most wanton outrages and cruelty, destroying everything that came in their way. At Bombal they ham-stringed every beast of burden in the place, so that the poor creatures were rendered quite useless.

As our advanced guard and the rear guard of the French army were in contact every day, frequent skirmishes occurred, in which there were some lives lost. The Portuguese peasantry stripped the dead and wounded naked, after which they collected the bodies of men and horses into heaps and burned them to ashes without distinction.

We again began to feel the effects of a forced march. Our Commissary was not provided with the means of transport to keep us in provisions, and we had nothing to live upon but cattle, which were killed as they were needed.

For fourteen days we did not taste a bit of bread - nothing but beef without salt. One day, as an especial favour we got two ounce of rice per man. Indeed so hard pressed were we at this time, that the women were known to pick up the unbroken corn that fell from the horses and eat it. While we were enduring all these priva- tions. Lord Wellington gave the Commissary-General his thanks in general orders for his attention in getting forward supplies !

After arriving on the frontiers of Spain, we went into cantonments. A few days afterwards the bread that we should have received on our march at length reached us; but being newly baked when it was packed up, it was quite unfit for use.

However we did not need it now for there was a market in the place and every thing that we wanted could be got in abundance. We remained here till the ist of May 18th, when the French showed a disposition to relieve Almeida and passed the Aguada for that purpose.

We turned out and lay under arms till the evening, when we marched to cover the fortress. On the 2nd, we formed line and on the 3rd the light companies and the French riflemen exchanged some shots, by which we had two killed and five wounded. The 4th was spent in the marching and the countermarching of the different columns to their positions with occasionally the exchange of a few shots, without much injury being done on either side.

On the morning of the 5th we were again badly off for provisions and had to be supplied from the haversacks of the Scots Guards with what they could spare out of their own allowance. About eight o'clock the French began to push forward their left in strong columns on perceiving which we wheeled into line to receive them.

The place which we occupied was the boundary line between Spain and Portugal on a road that connects the two countries. The 50th and 71st were taken to the left, while our picquet, the light company, and what remained were left to cover and protect the artillery which were stationed in a temporary battery near the right, on a piece of rising ground. When the firins: commenced that part of the 92nd posted here was formed into a line by itself a little in advance, and on the extreme right, to cover the artillery in position.

We were ordered to lie down to be out of danger from the enemy's shot as much as possible. A body of French cavalry made an attempt to charge and take the guns from the artillery, when we started up and gave them a few rounds which made them wheel to the right about. They repeated this several times but with as little success as at first.

The French did us considerable damage with their shells which were now beginning to fall thick and fast about us. One of them burst among the company to which I belonged when we were in the act of lying down and killed and wounded four of our men, while another fell among a different company and killed an officer and eleven men.

While this was going on another attempt was made by the enemy to carry off our guns, but all their efforts were unavailing; tor so firmly did we maintain our ground, and so well directed was our fire, that they were compelled to retire with considerable loss. We still retained our position and took every precaution lest they should renew the attack in the morning.

Our precautions however, proved useless, for the next morning not a French soldier was to be seen. We had lost thirty killed on the spot, besides a great number who died of their wounds on the following two days.

We then broke up and went into cantonments, where we remained until the 26th, when we were ordered to march and pass the Tagus, from which we were distant about five days' journey. As it was intended that the whole army should cross to assist General Beresford, we started off at five o'clock in the evening and marched two days and nights before we halted.

A great many of the men were quite done up and unable to come forward; and as Soult had withdrawn from Badajoz, we were allowed to rest for a day. All the army of the north was ordered back to its old cantonments, with the exception of our brigade, which was ordered to join the second division of the army under the command of General Hill, on the south side of the Tagus.

We marched by easy stages till we reached Albuera, where we made an attempt to relieve Badajoz. When we came to this place the Spaniards had set the fields on fire by which the wounded were severely burned before we could get them conveyed away. It being in the month of June, every thing was scorched with the drought, and the flames spread rapidly in all directions.

We remained only a week here, when we had to raise the siege of Badajoz and retire into Portugal, where we took up our ground in rear of the fortifications of Elvas and at Torea de Morea. The French made different sallies at Badajoz on purpose to keep us in alarm, but did not effect anything of consequence, except taking a picquet of the 11th dragoons.

In this camp we remained till the 21st of July, when we went into quarters in a village in the rear of our position. Our brigade and a Portuguese one occupied Barbeo, a neat little place, in which a market was held every day we were there.

On the 1st September we marched to Portalegra, in which city the whole division was quartered. We moved from Portalegra on the 22nd October, leaving the women, sick, and baggage behind, and took the road to Albuquerque, in Spain, and thence to Aray del Malina, where a considerable body of the French was assembled, under the command of Generals Gerard and Le Brune, and the Duke de Amburgo.

On our march we were joined by a number of Spanish troops of a very unsoldierlike appearance, being habited in the old Spanish costume fashionable in the days of Pizzaro and Don Quixote. They were called the Estramadura Legion and were under the command of General Downie.

On the evening of the 27th, we had approached so near the French that we durst not kindle fires; and as it rained exceedingly heavy, we were drenched to the skin. By the neglect of the Commissary, we were again without supplies of bread for three days.

Under a torrent of rain we started off before daylight, and marched on till we came to a hill a little way from the town, where the divisions were told off to their respective posts. The storming of the town was assigned to our brigade, while the cavalry and the other brigades were to occupy a wood which lay on the right of the town between the French and the main road, and to intercept the enemy in case they should attempt to move off in that direction.

When all the dispositions for the attack were made, we received the signal to advance, which was done in profound silence. As the 92nd was the junior regiment it was placed in the centre, having to keep the highway with orders to proceed to the market square and if not interrupted, to go on to the other side of the town.

The 50th was to take the right of the town, go round by the suburbs and meet us; while the 71st was to take the left and go on to an olive grove, and be ready to act as circumstances might require. The rain was falling on us in abundance when we advanced to the town.

When the 71st reached the olive grove, they found a body of French cavalry in it. The dragoons were engaged at the time feeding their horses, and before thev were aware of what was going on, the 71st had got hold of the bridles and secured them.

By this time we had entered one of the streets and were proceeding along, when the French taken by surprise, came out to see what was the matter.

The 92nd kept moving on, the pipers playing "Hey Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet," till we came to a court were there were two horses standing: at a door with a groom beside them. Aroused by the sound of the bagpipes, the Duke de Armburgo came out in a half-naked state, when a sergeant of the 92nd seized him by the arms and made him prisoner. The Duke made some resistance, but the sergeant applying the point of his sword, compelled him to move forward.

By this time a number of the French assembled and threw themselves across the head of the street along which we were marching and commenced firing upon us. Owing to the narrowness of the street, and the compact way in which we were at the time, their shot told with deadly effect.

Our front section dashed forward at a rapid pace and quickly dislodged them. The greatest uproar and confusion now prevailed in the town, and the work of death was going on at a fearful rate.

The 71st moved down to our assistance while the 50th secured all the passages to the town and captured the French artillery. Our artillery could not be brought into play although we stood much in need of its aid. We now pushed our way through the suburbs and cleared the town of the enemy.

They afterwards formed in a field and fired down a lane upon us, by which twenty-three of our men were killed and a great number of officers and men were wounded, among whom were Colonel Cameron, Major Dunbar, and also Captains MacDonald and MacPherson.

The French were formed in two columns when we surrounded them and made them prisoners, - a number of stragglers escaping, among whom was General Gerard. The capture included two entire regiments (the 34th and 40th) with banners, etc., but one of the eagles was got off by some means or other.

After placing a guard over the two regiments we gave chase to the fugitives and our guns being now brought up we made great havoc among them. We pursued them up a hill, where a great many of them, overcome by fatigue, were not able to get out of the way; all of these we took prisoners.

There were taken General Le Brune, a Commissary-General, a Major-General and a great many subordinate officers. Along with the artillery, we also captured the military chest, which contained a large sum of money, and a chest belonging to a mason lodge with all the jewels and paraphernalia belonging to the order of masonry. There were also a great many horses and mules which were sold, and the proceeds divided amongst the captors.

In fact everything fell into our hands. We halted all night in a wood about two leagues from the town, on the road to Morida, where double allowance of soft bread and spirits was served out to us.

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Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.

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Updated: 11 July, 2011.
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