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Gentlemen in Red

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Gentlemen in Red
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Author(s): John Dobbs<br>Robert Knowles
Date Published: 2008/06
Page Count: 176
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-479-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-480-5

Two of Wellington's officers tell their stories of war

This book contains personal accounts giving the perspectives of two young British officers of infantry during the Peninsular War in Spain against Napoleon's French forces. Each account is comparatively short and they have been published in a single volume by Leonaur not only because they represent aspects of common experience, but also to provide readers with essential texts of the Napoleonic Wars in a cost effective way. John Dobbs was an officer in the 51st Foot and shared the experience of campaigning with the famous Light Division. Here is the storming of Badajoz in all its appalling detail as well as fascinating details of the campaign that led to the fall of San Sebastian and the invasion of France. Young Robert Knowles was an officer in the 7th—the Royal Fusiliers. He was clearly a particularly bold and courageous soldier and through his letters we share his personal view of the conflict. These are vital additions to every library of the Peninsular War and will be appreciated by students and casual readers alike.

Arriving at Badajos on the 17th of March, 1812, we broke ground after nightfall; A heavy fall of rain, high wind, and the nature of the ground, which was a deep bed of clay, prevented the enemy in Fort Pecurina from hearing or seeing us, although only about one hundred and sixty yards distant. At Ciudad Rodrigo, the surface being gravel, every blow of the pickaxe was heard, and the sparks of fire from the gravel were seen; at Badajos, on the other hand, the constant rain caused the trenches to become beds of mud.<br>
The enemy’s shell’s at Rodrigo were more destructive than at Badajos, the surface being hard, the shells did not sink into the ground, consequently fell in all directions, while at Badajos, they sank into the clay, and you could lie quite close to them without danger, the splinters flying upwards. To persons who have not read on the subject it may be well to state that, in every battery there is a person on the look out, who calls out at every discharge from the enemy, ball or shell, as it may be; when the former each person covers himself behind the parapet; if the latter, it was watched as it took its course through the air till it fell; if close, you fell flat on the ground, till it exploded; if at a distance, you had to take your chance.<br>
We had, however, the advantage of being within half an hour’s march of our tents; but even the tents in heavy rain were anything but comfortable, and besides, were within range of the enemy’s guns. Our camp was to the left of the inundation, which ran between our trenches and the town.<br>
In the storming of Fort Pecurina, which was done by the 3rd Division, and some of our Division, Captain Madden of the 52nd, (who had been out shooting, and had a shooting jacket on) followed the stormers into the fort. Here he became exposed to the fire of both sides, as neither could tell what he was; however he escaped unhurt. He was under the impression that he was invulnerable, but unfortunately for his theory, he was killed in storming the breaches on the last night of the siege. His brother of the 43rd was supposed to be mortally wounded in the same attack. On this occasion, for the first time, I heard a complaint of the want of the Sacred Scriptures; there was not a copy to be found amongst us. I am happy to say, that in this respect the state of things is altered.<br>
On the opening of one of our first counter-batteries, I happened to be in the covering party, and occupied a trench in its front, running parallel to the battery; the enemy opened a tremendous fire on it, and in a short time dismounted several guns and disabled others. On this a message came to us requesting that we would endeavour to stop the enemy’s fire. Accordingly we opened fire on their embrasures, and the effect of the fire was such, that in about twenty minutes they had to stop them with gabions. Some of the shots struck the sides and glanced right and left—others went right through the centre, so that the gunners could not stand to their guns. I do not remember our distance from the walls, but the trench ran along the front of the batteries, about fifty yards nearer to the walls.