From the forgotten journal of Sergeant D. Robertson:
(How the British stormed Aray del Molinos)
Aray del Molinos. (1811)
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
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
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
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
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.