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Sergeant Nicol

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Sergeant Nicol
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Daniel Nicol
Date Published: 06/2007
Page Count: 180
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-232-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-231-3

Unique documentation from a rare Napoleonic first-hand account

This book—the first hand experiences of an ordinary British soldier of the Napoleonic era—is a Leonaur original. It has never been available in book form before and as part of an obscure collection of manuscript material, out of print for almost a century, it is unlikely to be familiar to most modern readers. This is the well-written account of Daniel Nicol, a Scot and soldier of the Gordon Highlanders. Nicol provides us with fascinating details about his transportation through the Mediterranean and the complex activities of the Royal Navy. He then takes us on a thrilling journey through the little reported 1801 campaign in Egypt, from the opposed landing at Aboukir to the gallant action of his regiment at Mandorra—where the battle is described in detail. After intense campaigning in the desert, Nicol’s narrative turns to the campaign in Spain where he fought at the battle of Talavera. The final part of this book covers the author’s capture and imprisonment by the French and provides invaluable insights into the experiences of a prisoner of war in the Napoleonic epoch. A rare find!

On the morning of the 13th our regiment formed the advanced guard on the left, and the 90th on the right. We got a little rum served out and began our march, leaving our knapsacks with a guard. Before we had gone far our light company which was in front fell in with the enemy’s picquets and a skirmishing began. The light company was reinforced several times and drove in the enemy’s outposts. The ground over which we marched was covered with thick bushes until we approached a rising ground on which the French were drawn up in order of battle. Our regiment kept to the side of the lake, the 90th was on our right, and the army followed us in two lines. The armed boats from the fleet had kept pace on the lake with the left of the army, but the water was now so shallow they could proceed with us no farther. We had a nine pounder field piece and a howitzer along with us; but very little ammunition for them.
As soon as the 90th had cleared the broken ground and began to ascend the height, a heavy body of cavalry advanced to charge them. The 90th formed in line, but before their line could get formed on the left the cavalry was close on them. We thought it was all over with the 90th but they stood firm, and when the cavalry were about to strike at them they opened their fire; it ran from right to left like a rattling peal of thunder. By this well-timed volley they saved themselves most gallantly, and the cavalry being so near, not more than 20 yards distant, it proved most destructive to them. Of those that wheeled past the left of the 90th few returned, and many horses were seen galloping with empty saddles.<br>
During this transaction which was all over in a few seconds, our regiment made a pause, but on the retreat of the cavalry we again advanced. The enemy then began to open their artillery upon us from the heights but we still pressed on and they, seeing we were considerably in front of the army, formed the resolution of cutting us off before we could obtain assistance from the main body. When we saw their intention we halted, formed five companies in line and extended the other companies in rear of the bushes on the left towards the lake. We kept at them with our two guns until the last shot of ammunition was fired when they were drawn off to the rear.<br>
Our situation was one of great danger. The enemy in front was advancing in a line formed like the blade of a scythe, the curved point towards the lake and that part was cavalry, said to be the dromedary corps. It seemed as if they meant to turn our left and get into our rear, while they attacked us in front, and, getting round our right, they would thus have surrounded us and made us prisoners or have destroyed us at once as we were not above 500 strong and every minute were getting fewer. The enemy had some fieldpieces in front which were making sad havoc among us, every shot sweeping down some of our men. Our commanding officer ordered us not to fire but to stand firm until we could see their feet as they advanced from the hollow in front of us. When the order to fire was given, like magic it dispelled the gloom from our countenances and everyone did his duty manfully. We encouraged one another, firing and at the same time praying, for soldiers do pray and that very fervently on occasions of this kind and, I believe, serious thoughts were with most of us, even the most profligate.<br>
Our first fire caused the enemy in front of us to halt; and they kept firing on us; this we were not slow in returning, the smoke soon making us almost invisible to each other.
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