Fire & Retire !

First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.

Rifle men in action. A British rifle man: the journals and correspondence of Major George Simmons, Rifle brigade.
A British rifle man.
The journals and correspondence of
Major George Simmons, Rifle brigade,
during the Peninsular war and
the campaign of Waterloo.

Journal - Chapter 1.

25th May-15th July 1809.

May 25th. The 1st Battalion 95th Regiment had been under orders to embark at a moment's notice for some days.

A Sudden Order

The order arrived last night, and at two o'clock this morning the Battalion was formed in the Barrack Square, consisting of 1000 as fine young fellows as were ever collected to fight their country's battles. For my part, my heart was as light as a feather when we marched off; and, if I may judge from appearances, every person had the same feelings. We entered Dover about six o'clock and marched through it. The windows were crowded with inhabitants; some greeted us, but in general the women seemed sorry to see us depart, knowing well that numbers must never return to their native land again.

The Battalion embarked in three transports. Fortune, Malabar, and Laurel, and sailed immediately for the Downs, where we came to anchor. The 1st Battalion 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry joined us here, which with ourselves formed a Light Brigade, under the command of Major-General Robert Craufurd, who took post on board the Nymph frigate, 44 guns, commanded by the Honourable Captain Percy, and also the Kangaroo sloop of war under his command. Foul winds and sometimes very stormy until 3rd June. June

The Commodore hoisted the signal for sailing at daylight. The fleet got under weigh towards evening and stood down the Channel.

Saw the Isle of Wight at daylight; we neared it 4th and anchored at St. Helens.

The weather very squally. The fleet weighed and 5th moved close to Cowes, where we were detained by contrary winds for six days.

The wind seeming to become favourable, the fleet nth was put once more nito motion, but provmg a false alarm, we brought up opposite Yarmouth, and were again detained with foul winds until the 18th.

June 18th. Yesterday a boat upset coming to our ship, the Fortune, from the Commodore's, and a young midshipman and one sailor met with a watery grave. The midshipman was coming to invite Captain Pakenham to dinner. Our fleet sailed now in good earnest with a fair wind, passed the Needles, and bid adieu to the shores of Old England.

June 24th. Saw land ahead at daybreak, which was found to be Cabo Prior, near Coruna in Spain; weathered Cape Finisterre. At noon the Commodore chased a strange sail; it proved to be a Spanish brig, and being a friend she was allowed to proceed.

June 25th. Sailed along the coast of Portugal, passed the mouth of the Douro at 4 p.m.

June 26th. The Kangaroo took her departure for England.

June 27th. Passed through the inner passage of the Berlengas, having previously taken on board a Portuguese pilot. The Berlengas are a cluster of small rocky islands; on the largest of them the Portuguese have established a battery.

June 28th. Saw the Rock of Lisbon at daybreak. It is a bold mountain, whose sombre front overhangs the sea. About noon we entered the Tagus, and our fleet came to anchor close to Lisbon, which from the sea appeared a most magnificent place indeed. On landing the charm ceased, as the streets are exceedingly filthy. The quays are built of stone, and very good along the river.

The Citadel is on a commanding eminence in the town, from whence in every direction you may observe churches, monasteries, convents, etc. The most magnificent church is that of S. Roche, The French, under Junot, robbed this church of many valuables, but the priests were fortunate enough to save some things by hiding them from the grasp of these rapacious plunderers. We remained on board for four days waiting for orders.

A number of Portuguese and transport boats came alongside each ship for the purpose of conveying us up the Tagus. The tide began to flow about midnight; we entered the boats and proceeded up the river. The boats were crowded with men and we rowed on slowly up the river, anxious for the approach of day, which at last arrived. The men were tugging at the oars all day, and occasionally the boats ran upon banks of sand.

July 3rd. At dusk we arrived at the village of Vallada, July where we halted, and for the first time in my life I was treated with a bivouac. Hungry, wet, and cold, and without any covering, we lay down by the side of the river. I put one hand in my pocket and the other in my bosom, and lay shivering and thinking of the glorious life of a soldier until I fell fast asleep.

July 4th. We fell in at daylight. I found the dew had wet me through, but the sun soon made his appearance and dried me.

Marched into the town of Santarem, and halted two days until the whole of the Brigade and the baggage animals purchased in Lisbon arrived. The town is surrounded with hills that are covered with innumerable olive-trees, a great source of wealth to the inhabitants. The place has a most respectable appearance, the ground very fertile, and plenty of wine, grapes, oranges, and vegetables of every description in the greatest abundance. I made my way immediately with many hungry fellows to a bodega. Breakfast was instantly produced, but the quantity of each article did not at all agree with our ideas of a breakfast, so that we were continually calling out for more of this thing and the other in broken Portuguese, which bothered the landlord so much that he took to his heels and we saw no more of him. I got a billet upon a blacksmith, and found his family very kind. They brought me fruit, wine, and cakes, but, as I do not understand one word of the language properly, everything was done by signs.

July 5th. I went on guard as supernumerary with Lieutenant Macleod at a convent. At night I had lain down on a marble slab near the men, when a monk requested me to rise and follow him. He led me upstairs and into a large apartment, where a number of his brotherhood were assembled, and soon had the table filled with rich food, plenty of fruits, and good wines in abundance. I passed a few hours very agreeably with these hospitable monks, who all appeared, from their roundity of body, to pay more attention to feeding than praying.

July 7th. This morning at daylight I left the hospitable blacksmith, who filled my calabash with wine and my haversack with food. I slung these across my shoulder and marched to Goleg^o, which is a small town on the banks of the Tagus.

July 8th. Marched to Punhete and Tancos. The former town stands on the junction of the Zezere and Tagus, and the latter on the Tagus. In the river is an island with an old castle in ruins named Almorel; I paid it a visit.

March through Portugal.

A bridge of boats enabled us to pass the Zezere near Punhete.

July 9th. A short sultry march brought us to Abrantes, which being an hospital station, there was no room for us in the town. We crossed the river over a bridge of boats, and took up our bivouac.

Abrantes is a town of some importance, with a citadel and fortifications round it. Marshal Junot took his title as Duke of Abrantes from it.

July 11th. Marched to Gaviao; weather exceedingly hot.

July 12th. Marched over an uninteresting and hilly country to Niza, which has a wall all round it in ruins, and the remains of an old Moorish castle in tolerable preservation. One observes on entering the town that several storks have built their nests near the gateway, which the inhabitants seem to be very careful of preserving, as they say that good luck attends those who are fortunate enough to be honoured by these birds building their nests in their grounds or upon their houses.

July 13th. Marched to Villa Velha, and crossed the Tagus over a bridge of boats, and bivouacked upon the opposite bank. The scenery at this place is very bold and romantic indeed, particularly by the pass. The country round has a barren appearance, except that portion covered with the gum cistus. The village is poor and miserable enough.

July 14th. Marched to Sarnadas, a miserable place.

July 15th. Marched to Castello Branco; halted two days in this town, which has many good houses in it. The Bishop's house and gardens are superior to any other. The small river Ocreza runs close to the town.

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Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.

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Updated: 21st November, 2011.
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