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With the ‘Old & Bold’ 1795 to 1818

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Author(s): Charles Steevens
Date Published: 2010/04
Page Count: 128
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-163-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-164-5

The military experiences of an infantry officer on many campaigns

The author of this book had the distinction of belonging to a regiment which saw active service in several campaigns and theatres during the war with Revolutionary, Consulate and Imperial France. This is particularly interesting for students of the period because the amount of material which encompasses these subjects is necessarily less than those, both contemporary and works of history, which concern the larger campaigns of the period. With Steevens and the 20th—The ‘Old and Bold’—we experience the campaigns of a Napoleonic period British Regiment which would one day become the Lancashire Fusiliers. The disastrous Flanders campaign is followed here by the expedition to foil Bonaparte’s adventure into Egypt. An expedition to Italy joins the French and the 20th at the intriguing Battle of Maida. Service in the Peninsula under Moore draws the author to the privations of retreat and the Battle of Corunna and sea-borne evacuation. Next came the pestilential Walcheren Expedition in which more were killed by disease than by bullets. Steevens final service took him back to the Peninsular War under Wellington where he and the 20th experienced Vittoria, Roncesvalles, Sauroren, The Nive and Nivelle and the campaign into the South of France over the Pyrenees and the abdication of an Emperor. Available in soft cover and hard cover for collectors.

At the expiration of four days we returned to Messina harbour, quitted our boats, and on the 3rd of July (1806) we embarked in transports and immediately set sail for the rest of the army. We anchored in the Bay of St. Euphemia early on the morning of the 4th; while we lay at anchor the Admiral, Sir Sydney Smith, hailed the ships, saying it was General Stuart’s intention to attack the enemy that very morning.<br>
Without waiting for orders, our gallant chief, Colonel Ross, gave directions for the regiment to disembark soon after daylight. General Stuart had landed with a small army a few days previously and they were now engaged, for we could hear the firing and see the smoke; we therefore cheerfully obeyed the order and landed forthwith, after filling our haversacks and canteens, for officers as well as men carried their three days’ provisions, and their blankets and change of linen. In landing, the boats had to go through a great deal of surf, and the men spoilt all their cartridges, but having some casks of ammunition in the boats, we soon replenished their pouches, and immediately hurried across the country, through woods and marshes, in the direction whence the music of cannon and musketry was heard, and we reached our little army just at the. very: nick of time, for we came through a wood upon the left of the British line, which the French cavalry were trying to turn.<br>
We immediately formed, and they attempted to charge us to turn our left; but Colonel Ross threw back the left wing of the old 20th, that they might not get round our flank; and, after giving them a few shots, they relinquished the attempt; for a long time, however, they kept hovering about us, and made us change our position several times; but we were always ready to receive them. The enemy’s infantry suffered severely in this action, called the Battle of Maida, but their cavalry seemed afraid to engage, though we had none of that arm. <br>
Our army consisted of about 4000 men, and the French had between 7000 and 8000 in this engagement, including some hundreds of cavalry. The French were in a strong position on a hill, but their commander, General Regnier, fancied he could easily drive us into the sea; he therefore left his position, attacked our army, and got well thrashed; for the number of French killed, wounded, and prisoners amounted to nearly our whole force; the field of battle the next morning was a scene awful to behold, dead and wounded lying together by hundreds.<br>
The Light Infantry Battalion, (composed of ten light companies from several regiments, including that of the 20th under Captain Murdoch McLean,) commanded by Colonel Kempt, was on the right of the line, and was very warmly engaged with the enemy, particularly with the French Regiment Le Premier Leger, which was nearly annihilated by a charge of our Light Infantry Battalion and suffered great loss, as acknowledged by one of the French officers who was taken prisoner. In this bloody combat these two regiments advanced towards each other, without firing, until they came within pistol shot; our Light Battalion then gave them a volley, and the commanding officer (Kempt), seizing a favourable opportunity, charged and routed them most completely.<br>
In this gallant struggle poor Captain McLean of the 20th was mortally wounded, and did not survive five minutes; we were most attached friends, having been brother officers for ten years, and had passed many happy years in each other’s society; there was but one day’s difference in our ages: I greatly regretted his loss, and so did many others, as he was much liked in the old regiment: he was a brave fellow, and, I believe, lost his life by his gallantry. It was after the French left had been thus thoroughly beaten, that they tried to bring up their right to turn the British left, but, as previously described, the opportune arrival of the old 20th frustrated this attempt.<br>
It was very remarkable that, considering the large number of officers who fell on the side of the enemy, the British had but one officer (Captain McClean) killed in the field on this day; there were many officers and men wounded, and many men killed, but nothing in comparison with what the French lost. Major Powlett, who was attached to the Light Infantry Battalion, was very severely wounded.<br>
So terminated the glorious Battle of Maida; we did not pursue the enemy on their retreating, as our force was too weak, and, besides, it was not our policy to do so; but we bivouacked not far from the scene of action.