Men of a British Army county regiment in the Napoleonic era
This Leonaur Original contains first hand accounts by Richard Bayly and George Elers, officers serving in H. M 12th Regiment of Foot—then the East Suffolk Regiment—at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, supplemented by a concise history of the regiment at that time. By the end of the Seven Years War in the mid 18th century it was Great Britain and not France that would dominate the world stage as a military power. However, before the close of that century a revolution in France swept away the old order and ushered in a new zeal for conquest and eventually the Napoleonic era. This led to renewed enmity between Britain and France. At this time part of the 12th Regiment was engaged in battles to gain control of the French West Indies and with the Duke of York’s infamous and ultimately disastrous campaign in the Low Countries, of which Wellington remarked that its principal value was ‘that it taught what not to do.’ Under the duke’s command the 12th suffered every privation of that severe campaign. By the summer of 1796 the regiment was bound for Southern India. There it took part, against formidable forces, in the siege, assault and taking of Tippoo Sultan’s—the Tiger of Mysore—stronghold at Seringapatam. Members of the regiment were credited with firing the volley that killed the Mysorean leader. This is a vitally interesting book which covers the activities of the men of a British infantry regiment as they campaigned against the far flung colonies of the French and engaged in the conquering of what would become ‘the finest jewel in the Imperial crown’—India.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
After a month’s continual fighting and hardships, a breach was reported practicable on the 3rd of May, and the following day was appointed for the storm. Towards evening the troops selected on this interesting occasion moved slowly down to the trenches, under the command of Baird. For nights and days had the troops suffered from excess of fatigue, up to their knees in water, and exposed to the fierce rays of the sun, fired at and rocketed from every direction, and subjected to continual alarms. We were, therefore, all rejoiced at the speedy prospect of a glorious termination to our incessant sufferings, advancing with all that animation and buoyant spirit so characteristic of British soldiers on the eve of a brilliant attack.
At one o’clock p.m., on the 4th inst., Baird, taking out his watch, exclaimed: “The time has expired!” and leaped on the parapet of the trenches, exclaiming in a loud voice: “Now, my brave boys, follow me!” The enemy were at this moment quietly intent on their culinary preparations for dinner, and we experienced little loss, until we were floundering on the rocky bed of the river, when the men began to fall fast. All who were wounded were inevitably drowned in a second afterwards. One step the water scarcely covered the foot; the next we were plunged headlong into an abyss of fathoms deep. Thus scrambling over, the column at length reached the ascent of the breach, where numerous flankers who had preceded us were lying stretched on their backs, killed and wounded, some of the gallant officers waving their swords and cheering our men on.
We dashed forward, and the top of the breach was soon crowned by our intrepid lads, and the British flag hoisted. But this was for a moment only. A sudden, sweeping fire from the inner wall came like a lightning blast, and exterminated the living mass. Others crowded from behind, and again the flag was planted.
At this time General Baird was discovered on the ramparts. On observing a deep, dry, rocky ditch of sixty feet deep, and an inner wall covered with the troops of the enemy, he exclaimed: “Good God! I did not expect this!” His presence of mind did not desert him; he gave his directions in those cool, decided terms that a great man in the hour of danger and emergency knows so intuitively how to assume, and we were soon charging to the right and left of the breach along the ramparts of the outer wall. In the left attack, Tippoo was himself defending the traverses with the best and bravest of his troops.
This impediment caused a sudden halt, but my gallant friend Woodhall impetuously rushed down a rugged, confined pathway into the ditch, and ascended the second or inner wall, by an equally difficult road, mounted to the summit, followed by his company, the Light Infantry of the 12th. Ere he attained a footing, he had clasped a tuft of grass with his left hand, and was on the point of surmounting the difficulty, when a fierce Mussulman, with a curved, glittering scimitar, made a stroke at his head, which completely cut the bearskin from his helmet, without further injury. Woodhall retaliated, separating the calf of the fellow’s leg from the bone. He fell, and the gallant Light Bob was on the rampart in a moment, surrounded by a host of the enemy, whom, with the assistance of his company, he soon drove before him, thus relieving General Baird and his column on the outer wall from the destructive fire from the interior rampart, thereby saving hundreds of lives.
How far this deviation from orders can be justified may be subject for discussion, but a brave man does not often reflect on consequences, when assured that an energetic movement on his part will probably ensure a certain victory and the preservation of a multitude of his fellow-soldiers. Tippoo finding his troops fired on from the inner ramparts, hastened to the Sallyport. Here Woodhall and his men were already in the interior of the town, prepared for the rencontre, and a sharp firing ensued. The gateway was filled to the very top of the arch with dead and dying. The column under Baird had pursued the flying enemy to the Sallyport, and whilst Woodhall was bayoneting and firing in the front, they were also attacked in the rear. The body of Tippoo was afterwards found amongst this promiscuous heap of slain.