John Cooper enlisted as a soldier and was from a family of soldiers. In the Peninsular he often met his brother, who served in another regiment. John was clearly a good soldier, because he rose steadily in rank throughout his seven years of service. His story is told simply and directly and yet, in the manner of the best writers, he conveys to his readers a spectrum of detail, action and atmosphere that really bring the Peninsular and South of France campaigns to life from the perspective of an ordinary man serving in the ranks. At the First Restoration Cooper was dispatched to America, where he fought at the ill-fated Battle of New Orleans. Unlike most memoirists of the period Cooper thought to leave future generations excellent descriptions of uniform, kit, camp and other details of the British soldiers and regiments of the Napoleonic Wars.
At nine p.m. on the 6th the orders were, 'pile knapsacks by companies,' 'fall in, and move off silently.' The night was dark, the town was still, while our batteries kept thundering away at the breach.
When our men had approached within 300 yards of the ditch, up went a fire ball. This showed the crowded state of the ramparts, and the bright arms of our approaching columns. Those men who carried grass bags to fill up the ditch, and ladders for escalading the walls, were now hurried forward. Instantly the whole rampart was in a blaze; mortars, cannon, and muskets, roared and rattled unceasingly. Mines ever and anon blew up with horrid noise. To add to this horrible din, there were the sounding of bugles, the rattling of drums, and the shouting of the combatants. Through a tremendous fire our men rushed to the top of the glacis, down the ladders, and up the breach. But entrance was impossible, for across the horrid gap the enemy had placed, in spite of our fire, a strong beam full of sword blades, etc., forming a cheveaux de frise, behind which, intrenched, stood many ranks of soldiers, whose fire swept the breach from end to end. Besides, the top of the parapet was covered with shells, stones, sand bags, and logs of wood, etc., ready to be thrown into the ditch. As the breaches could not be forced, and as our men kept pouring down the ladders, the whole ditch was soon filled with a dense mass which could neither advance nor retreat. Upon these the enemy threw the missiles from the parapet, with a continuous fire of musketry and round shot. My comrade was killed while descending a ladder. Some men went further to the right, and jumped into that part of the ditch that was filled with water, and were drowned.
While this murderous strife was going on in the ditch, two false attacks were made on the flanks of the city, and both these succeeded. Nearly at the same time the 3rd Division scaled the castle and got into the rear of the breaches. The enemy seeing this, retreated through the town and across the bridge into Fort Christoval. The garrison, numbering about 4,000, surrendered next morning, laid down their arms outside the walls, and were marched off prisoners.
As soon as the French had left the breach, the beam was removed, and our maddened fellows rushed into the town by thousands. Wine stores were broken open, and horrible scenes commenced. All order ceased. Plunder was the order of the night. Some got loaded with plate, etc.; then beastly drunk; and lastly, were robbed by others. This lasted until the second day after.
Next morning the numerous wounded were collected. The churches were so crowded that many were sent to Elvas. I was sent with several French wounded to a church in the city. This edifice was filledónay, crammed with groaning and dying men. The same day, I was made serjeant. Death had made room enough: for our regiment had lost 230 officers and men, killed and wounded. As the siege had only lasted twenty days, the French were too late, as at Roderigo.
During this third siege, one of our company, named John Fletcher, a wicked, brawling fellow, lost his life in the trenches in a peculiarly awful way. Being irritated during the wet weather by almost incessant fatigue, he wished, with a dreadful oath, that when he again entered the trenches his head might be knocked off his shoulders. His head was actually blown off next day in the trenches. At the same time, a tall serjeant of ours was struck by a cannon shot in the breast and doubled up.
April 13th. We left Badajoz, and reached Aronches, where, becoming ill, I was left behind charged with the care of six sick men, and ordered to bring them on to Portalegre. How was that to be done? They were sitting on the road unable to walk. Much baggage was passing; but not one of the Spanish muleteers would take up my poor feverish men. I grew desperate. An empty car came up; I ordered my men to get into it, but the driver would not stop. I threw their knapsacks into the car; he threw them out again. Enraged, I drew my bayonet, took it by the small end, and swinging round, gave him such a blow on the mouth with the heavy end as stunned him. Then I got them on the car, and he drove on, holding his mouth as if he had got the tic. Afterwards, having got a mule or two, I got them all safely to Portalegre.While under the hill, the enemy dropped shells very plentifully over it, killing and wounding several. A corporal, six feet three inches high, was struck on the breast and killed by the splinter of a shell while holding the Colonel's horse.
A violent attack was first made by our men on the enemy's left flank, which was posted on a craggy height. The contest was long and severe; but at length they were driven from the hill. Their left being now turned and rolled up, a general advance was made. We marched across a flat covered with our splendid cavalry into a wood of fir trees. Now the great tug of battle became fiercer, and the cannonading was tremendous and continuous, so that the musketry, which was also incessant, was lost in the horrid din caused by perhaps 200 pieces of artillery. The smoke, the hissing of balls and shells, and the rush of cavalry and flying artillery, with occasional hurrahs, formed an indescribable uproar. We debouched from the wood, and formed line in front of the light brigade, among whom I saw my brother, about fifty yards behind me. We nodded; and while doing so, a ball ploughed up the earth before him. On my right a ball tore a man's knapsack from his back, but did not kill him. Through a fine field of ripe wheat we advanced in line covered by a squadron of the Life Guards, and began to surround the French centre. Here the smoke was so dense that we could hardly distinguish friends from foes. After passing a fence, an officer galloped past our company and shouted, "We have taken forty pieces of artillery down there". This quickened our steps and pulses. A minute or two pass and Wellington with his staff gallops to a hill in our front and orders up six pieces of artillery, which instantly began blazing away at the enemy who were now in full and hasty retreat, Wellington in the mean time glassing the total route of the foe with great earnestness.