With the 95th (Rifles) During the Napoleonic Wars—Adventures in the Rifle Brigade & Random Shots from a Rifleman
Unabridged, Unedited and Newly Revised—Kincaid's experiences with the famous Rifles
John Kincaid's recollections of his time soldiering under Wellington with the famous green coated riflemen of the 95th are perhaps the most famous accounts by an officer of this corps d'elite on campaign against Napoleon's French Army during the Peninsular War and in the Campaign of 1815 as the Emperor was finally brought to account at Waterloo. His first book, Adventures was well received in his own time which led him—by public demand as it were—to produce a sequel, Random Shots. Both are included in this special Leonaur edition in their full original texts—unlike some editions of Kincaid's works. Kincaid was a personable character, full of fun and well liked by his brother officers of the 95th. Predictably his likeable personality shines through his recollections providing a clear justification for their appeal and popularity. For the historian, Kincaid was, of course the consummate rifleman and his soldiering took him on campaign and onto many of the battlefields of the Peninsular War, over the Pyrenees and into Southern France. His descriptions of the 95th in action are invaluable as his Waterloo memoir. This is a bumper helping of 'Rifleman Green' for every enthusiast to enjoy.
As soon as this was observed by our division, Colonel Barnard advanced with our battalion, and took them in flank with such a furious fire as quickly dislodged them, and thereby opened a passage for these two divisions free of expense, which must otherwise have cost them dearly. What with the rapidity of our movement, the colour of our dress, and our close contact with the enemy, before they would abandon their post, we had the misfortune to be identified with them for some time, by a battery of our own guns, who, not observing the movement, continued to serve it out indiscriminately, and all the while admiring their practice upon us; nor was it until the red coats of the Third Division joined us, that they discovered their mistake.<br>
The battle now commenced in earnest; and this was perhaps the most interesting moment of the whole day. Sir Thomas Graham’s artillery, with the First and Fifth Divisions, began to be heard far to our left, beyond Vittoria. The bridge which we had just cleared, stood so near to a part of the enemy’s position, that the Seventh Division was instantly engaged in close action with them at that point.<br>
On the mountain to our extreme right the action continued to be general and obstinate, though we observed that the enemy were giving ground slowly to Sir Rowland Hill. The passage of the river by our division had turned the enemy’s outpost at the bridge on our right, where we had been engaged in the morning, and they were now retreating, followed by the Fourth Division. The plain between them and Sir Rowland Hill was occupied by the British cavalry, who were now seen filing out of a wood, squadron after squadron, galloping into form as they gradually cleared it. The hills behind were covered with spectators, and the Third and the Light Divisions, covered by our battalion, advanced rapidly upon a formidable hill, in front of the enemy’s centre, which they had neglected to occupy in sufficient force.<br>
In the course of our progress, our men kept picking off the French videttes, who were imprudent enough to hover too near us; and many a horse, bounding along the plain, dragging his late rider by the stirrup-irons, contributed in making it a scene of extraordinary and exhilarating interest.<br>
Old Picton rode at the head of the Third Division, dressed in a blue coat and round hat, and swore as roundly all the way as if he had been wearing two cocked ones. Our battalion soon cleared the hill in question of the enemy’s light troops; but we were pulled up on the opposite side of it by one of their lines, which occupied a wall at the entrance of a village immediately under us.<br>
During the few minutes that we stopped there, while a brigade of the Third Division was deploying into line, two of our companies lost two officers and thirty men, chiefly from the fire of the artillery bearing on the spot from the French position. One of their shells burst immediately under my nose, part of it struck my boot and stirrup-iron, and the rest of it kicked up such a dust about me that my charger refused to obey orders; and while I was spurring and he capering, I heard a voice behind me, which I knew to be Lord Wellington’s, calling out, in a tone of reproof, “Look to keeping your men together, sir!” and though, God knows, I had not the remotest idea that he was within a mile of me at the time, yet so sensible was I that circumstances warranted his supposing that I was a young officer, cutting a caper, by way of bravado, before him, that worlds would not have tempted me to look round at the moment.<br>
The French fled from the wall as soon as they received a volley from a part of the third division, and we instantly dashed down the hill, and charged them through the village, capturing three of their guns; the first, I believe, that were taken that day. They received a reinforcement, and drove us back before our supports could come to our assistance; but, in the scramble of the moment, our men were knowing enough to cut the traces, and carry off the horses, so that when we retook the village, immediately after, the guns still remained in our possession.<br>
The battle now became general along the whole line, and the cannonade was tremendous. At one period we held one side of a wall, near the village, while the French were on the other; so that any person who chose to put his head over from either side, was sure of getting a sword or a bayonet put up his nostrils. This situation was, of course, too good to be of long endurance. The victory, I believe, was never for a moment doubtful. The enemy were so completely out-generalled, and the superiority of our troops was such, that to carry their positions required little more than the time necessary to march to them.<br>
After forcing their centre, the Fourth Division and our own got on the flank and rather in rear of the enemy’s left wing, who were retreating before Sir Rowland Hill, and who, to effect their escape, were now obliged to fly in one confused mass. Had a single regiment of our dragoons been at hand, or even a squadron, to have forced them into shape for a few minutes, we must have taken from ten to twenty thousand prisoners.