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With the Guards Across the Pyrenees

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With the Guards Across the Pyrenees
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Author(s): Robert Batty
Date Published: 08/2007
Page Count: 184
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-287-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-288-7

From Spain across the mountains into Southern France

The author of this account, a young subaltern of the British First Foot Guards, joined Wellingtons Army in the closing stages of the war with Napoleon's French Army in the Iberian peninsula. Now the fighting would take place in the mountains and passes of the great mountain barrier that stood between the allies and the homelands of their enemy Batty's narrative concerns the campaign in the western Pyrenees from the perspective of the left wing of the army in which he served. The investment of San Sebastian is followed by the crossings of the Bidassoa and the Nivelle as Wellington's force begins its inexorable advance and the French plan their stubborn retreat and defence against the coming invasion of the southern provinces of their own nation. Batty describes the broad disposition of the opposing armies, the detail of that which affects his own brigade and his personal experiences together with characterisations of familiar figures such as Maitland of the Guards, Colborne, Alten and many others. The narrative concludes with the battles for Bayonne and Toulouse which led to Napoleon's abdication and the First Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.

As soon as it was sufficiently dark to prevent any change of position which might be made by our troops from being discernible by the enemy, the first division, under Major-General Howard, relieved the fifth division, the latter forming in second line, on the same ground that the first had occupied. The two brigades of Guards occupied the line in front of Barouillet. The second brigade, consisting of the Coldstream and Third Guards, under Major-General Stopford, were on the left, in front of the mayor’s house. The first brigade, consisting of the first and third battalions of the First Guards, under Colonel Maitland, were to the right of the second brigade, on the brow of a hill, separated by a narrow ravine from the height so often contested, and of which the enemy retained possession at night-fall. At this point there is a small farm-house, and the slope of the hill down into the ravine in front is skirted by a remarkably thick coppice-wood; here the picquets of the third battalion were posted. On the right of this house there is another large orchard, which was occupied by the picquets of the first battalion, formed on the high ground a little in rear, under the command of Colonel Askew. The third battalion, under the Hon. Colonel Stuart, was on its left, in rear of the little farm-house just mentioned; a piquet of light infantry, commanded by Captain Lord Saltoun, was stationed at a hut in the wood, upon the left of the first brigade, to keep up communication with Major-General Stopford’s brigade, and guard against any attack along a cross road, which leads from the height occupied by the enemy, to the farm of Barouillet. Lieutenant-Colonel West commanded the picquets of light infantry guarding the extreme right.
With the close of day the rain again began to fall, and the night was so dark that it was difficult to avoid interfering with the enemy’s picquets, when posting the sentries at the bottom of the ravine. Towards morning the weather became more settled, and at sunrise it was beautifully clear. We could now distinguish the heads of the French columns on the ridge opposite to our position. Staff-officers were seen riding about in all directions, and the French drums and trumpets were heard to sound at intervals along their line. There was every appearance of the main body of the enemy being assembled at this point; and it was supposed that it was about to make a fresh attack against the left wing. Much precaution was observed in posting the picquets in the most favourable situations, and in placing strong supports immediately in rear; for this part of the line was lower than that occupied by the enemy, whose position, therefore, in some degree commanded that of the Guards.
The brave Sir Edward Packenham came up to the picquets, and gave some directions to the officers on duty there. About ten o’clock, a strong line of tirailleurs advanced from the crest of the enemy’s position, along the brow of the ravine, in front of the first brigade of Guards. Some artillery had been stationed at the farm-house before described, and on seeing this body of tirailleurs, the officer in command of the guns, imagining that the attack was about to commence, fired at them, and in a moment after the whole line of picquets commenced a hot fire, which was kept up on both sides with great warmth. But no considerable body of the enemy made any advance, and it seemed probable that Marshal Soult, on finding the Allies so fully prepared for an attack, desisted from his intention of trying to force back the left wing.
The Marquess of Wellington had foreseen the enemy’s intentions, and moved the fourth and seventh divisions to the rear of the line occupied by the light division at Arcangues, and that occupied by Major-General Howard, in readiness to afford support, in case of need, at either point, prior to the attack on the 11th. The readiness with which the Field-Marshal foresaw, and provided against Marshal Soult’s manoeuvres, made the enemy’s advantageous position of little real benefit to him. The skirmish was kept up during a great part of the day, and some brave officers and men were killed, and many wounded. The firing opposite the brigade of Major-General Stopford was also briskly kept up during the whole time. Captain Watson, the Adjutant to the Third Guards, was one of the first who fell; he had early in the morning remarked what abundance of laurel grew around the house of Barouillet, to deck the graves of those who should die on the field of glory; and fate struck him off the first. Lieutenant-Colonel Martin, commanding the piquet of the first battalion of the First Guards, was shot whilst giving some directions to those around him in the orchard where his men were stationed; and almost immediately after, Captain Thomson, an officer of the highest promise; also in the first battalion, fell in the act of directing the fire of his men against the French tirailleurs. Several officers were wounded; the total number, however, of killed and wounded in both brigades was below two hundred.
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