(The March to Burgos)
We continued our march towards Burgos, says Sergt.
Robertson in his narrative, and when we came to Toro, we
met with a party ot dragoons belonging to the army under
the command of Sir David Baird, that had landed at Corunna.
They had, in a skirmish with the French, taken four waggons
laden with cotton which were proceeding under a strong escort.
We proceeded on our route till we reached Villada. On a
party of sergeants of which I made one entering the place to
draw billets for the men, we found that it was occupied by a
patrole of French dragoons.
There being about half-a-dozen
of us, and not a single firelock amongst us we felt rather
nonplussed. We proceeded somewhat warily, however, and
discovered the French regaling themselves in a wine-house,
having their horses tied at the door.
A thought immediately
struck us, that if we could make a seizure of the horses we
could easily secure the men. Being market-day in the town
there were a great many people in it; but the Spaniards, not
knowing whether we were French or not, all was quiet on their part.
All went on smoothly till we reached the tavern
door and had the bridles in our hands. The dragoons when
too late discharged a few shots at us, but without effect when
we rushed in and disarmed them and made them prisoners.
The French patrole consisted of a corporal and five privates.
When the Spaniards saw what we had done they seemed
frantic with joy, and would have given us anything in the
market. One of them, on seeing that I had no gloves, and
that my hands were cold went to a merchant and bought me
The army at length came up to us, very much fatigued on
account of the state of the roads, which were very heavy and
deeply covered with snow. We were ordered to clean
ourselves as we were to halt here for some time; but all of
a sudden, on the evening of the same day 24th December, we
were ordered to fall in for marching.
By eight o'clock we
were all outside the town and formed in columns expecting to
be engaged by morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night,
but the cold was so severe that we could not sit down so we
kept walking about till daybreak.
Every heart beat high with
the thought that we were to measure arms with the great
Napoleon. The notion entertained by the British army was,
that the great victories gained by him had been over raw and
undisciplined troops; and we ardently wished to see how a
British force would act when opposed to a French one under
Every man felt confident of his own prowess
when compared with a French soldier's, and nothing was more
earnestly wished than an opportunity of engaging, and an
order for battle.
But judge of our surprise and disappointment
when, about twelve o'clock at night, a staff officer
delivered an order from Sir John Moore that we were to go
into cantonment and prepare to proceed to England.
And now the horrors of retreat were depicted before our mind's
eye in all their dark colouring; - the weather extremely cold,
the roads broken and heavy, and the men badly off for shoes,
with a distance of some hundred miles from the nearest place
where we could find shipping. All ranks called out to stop
and fight and not to run away (as we termed it), which would
be a disgrace to the British army.
We commenced our retreat on Christmas forenoon at
eleven o'clock, and arrived at Mayerga after nightfall. To
add to our mortification the inhabitants had barricaded the
doors and windows and would not let any of us in.
At this season of the year, and the ground being covered with snow,
we thought this treatment very bad. We then had recourse
to another method of effecting an ingress, by breaking down
everything that opposed our entrance, and from this circumstance
arose all the disasters that subsequently befel us on our
retreat; for the news was at the next village before us, and so
on all the way.
We came to Valdross, the town appeared to
be deserted. We were put into a convent for the night, and
sentinels were posted at the entrances to keep the men from
On coming to Bounevento, we were all put into a convent
where we had to lie on the stair or any place where we
could find room. The following day the army continued
I was left behind to try and procure some
blankets and shoes for the men; but scarcely had our army
cleared the town, when the French appeared on the other side
of the river. Our rear and baggage guards turned out and
marched to a plain outside the town to receive them.
When they came on, our dragoons showed that, though retreating, it
was not from fear.
Having got a supply of shoes, I proceeded after the
division and came up to it at the end of the stage. This
night we were quartered in a miserable little village and had
very bad weather.
Through accident, or from a spirit of
wanton mischief on the part of some of our grenadier company
a house was set on fire, the flames of which communicating with
the other houses, the whole village was burned down not leaving
a single building with a roof on it in the place.
As the French were close upon us there was not time to discover the
perpetrators of the mischief and bring them to punishment.
The road during this day's march was in a very bad state;
and on coming up to some of the divisions that preceded us,
we found that they had been obliged to destroy a quantity of
the stores among which was a cask of rum, the head having
been stove in.
A young man of the name of Bruce belonging
to the 92nd, was drowned in it; in consequence of his
inebriated state he had fallen in headlong, and before he could
be extricated was quite dead.
We arrived this night at a large village of the name of
Benbevera and were put into quarters. In almost every house
we found some of the Spanish soldiers either dying or dead.
The house in which I was lodged contained four dead bodies
which had to be removed to the street before we could get
accommodation for sleeping. There were two of our men who
died here next morning of a fever; their remains were buried
by their comrades in the ruins of an old house.
Upon the first of January 1809, we proceeded towards
Villafranca. While on the road, a few Spanish peasants stole
some ammunition from the cartridge-boxes of several of the
52nd. When captured they were severely flogged by orders of
Marshal Beresford, and made to pay a dollar for every round
of cartridge missing.
When we came to Villafranca, all the
spare ammunition was thrown into the river and every thing
that could be wanted was destroyed. This was truly the most
disagreeable new-year's day that I ever spent.
At this time we were enduring all the miseries of retreat; - our clothes
were fallinor off our backs and our shoes worn to the welts.
From the officer down to the private, we were overrun with
vermin, bearing alike the extremities of hunger and cold, and
forming altogether a combination of sufferings sufficient to
appal the stoutest heart and break down the strongest constitution.
As we had a good position, we wished to make a
stand here; but Sir John Moore did not think it proper to
risk an engagement with such a superior enemy.
Here we were put into a large inn, and it was the lot of the 92nd to get
the stables, which turned out to be the most comfortable
lodgings we had during the campaign, although we had nothing
but the soil of the stables for our beds.
Indeed, so comfortably
did we find ourselves quartered, that next morning, when
called upon to march, it required all the authority of the
officers to get the men to move. After all, we were forced to
leave two of them behind, who were unable to proceed from
fatigue and privation.
This morning our real unmitigated hardships may be said
to have begun in earnest, compared with which every thing
before was but child's play.
The army had now commenced
to ascend the Gallican mountains. Here there had once been
a good road but it was so destroyed by the heavy rains, and
cut up with the carriages that had gone over it, that we could
not go a step without sinking to the knees in mud.
The first who stuck on the road was the Paymaster-General of the
army. He had brought his lady with him out to Spain, and
had got for her convenience a four-wheeled carriage, which was
drawn by two fine English horses.
We often envied them
when we saw how easily they moved along; and they were at
times somewhat troublesome to us, as we had to open out to
the right and left to let them pass - not a pleasant matter for
poor fellows worn out with the want of food and clothing.
Here at last, the vehicle stuck fast, all the efforts made to
extricate it proving abortive, and it had to be left where it was.
This circumstance may give the readers of this narrative
some idea of the state of the roads over which we had to make
our way; of it those who have not seen any but the smooth
macadamised highways of Britain can form no adequate
The snow was now falling very thick and the cold was
intense. Having progressed a little farther, we came up to a
brigade of artillery which had to be destroyed and the horses
shot, it not having been able to proceed owing to the
impassable state of the road.
The next part of the wreck of the
army were the carts containing the money which we had to
make away with, rather than let them fall into the hands of the enemy.
The horses were shot and the casks with the
money rolled down the side of the hill, which is very steep
and high, having at the bottom a deep and woody ravine.
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.