An account of a young Scottish soldier at war in Spain
Joseph Donaldson was so desperate for adventure as a child that he ran away to sea. He soon discovered his mistake and joined the army instead. He was soon sent to Portugal with the Scots Brigade to fight the French Army during the war in the Peninsula. He has left us a well written, rare and invaluable account of his time with a regiment which would soon disappear from the Army List, and an essential book for those interested in the British Army at war with Napoleon. Donaldson was involved in many of the famous engagements of the campaign and his book is filled with interesting detail about the actions and the regiments which took part, as well as many entertaining anecdotes of combat and life on the march and in camp. Comrades and enemies are drawn in realistic detail to draw the reader through every page.
No other part of the line had as yet been attacked by the French; they seemed bent on taking the village of Fuentes in the first place, as a “stepping-stone,” and the main body of each army lay looking at each other. Finding that the force they had sent down, great as it was, could not keep possession of the place, they sent forward two strong bodies of fresh troops to retake it, one of which, composed of the Irish legion, dressed in red uniform, was at first taken for a British regiment, and they had time to form up, and give us a volley before the mistake was discovered. The village was now vigorously attacked by the enemy at two points, and with such a superior force, that in spite of the unparalleled bravery of our troops, they were driven back contesting every inch of the ground. <BR>
On our retreat through the village, we were met by the 71st regiment, cheering, led on by Colonel Cadogan; which had been detached from the line to our support. The chase was now turned, and although the French were obstinately intent on keeping their ground, and so eager, that many of their cavalry had entered the town, and rushed furiously down the streets, all their efforts were in vain: nothing could withstand the charge of the gallant 71st; and in a short time, in spite of all resistance, they cleared the village. This regiment during the Peninsular War, was always remarkable for its gallantry. The brave Cadogan well knew the art of rendering his men invincible; he knew that the courage of the British soldier is best called forth by associating it with his country, and he also knew how to time the few words which produced such magical effects. We were now once more in possession of the place, but our loss, as well as that of the French, had been very great.<BR>
In particular places of the village, where a stand had been made, or the shot brought to bear, the slaughter had been immense, which was the case near the river, and at the small chapel on our side of the town; among the rest lay one poor fellow of the 88th light company, who had been severely wounded, and seemed to suffer excruciating agony, for he begged of those who passed him to put him out of torture. Although from the nature of his wound there was no possibility of his surviving, yet none felt inclined to comply with his request, until a German of the 60th rifle battalion, after hesitating a few moments, raised his rifle, and putting the muzzle of it to his head fired the contents of it through it. Whether this deed deserved praise or blame, I leave others to determine.<BR>
The French, enraged at being thus baffled in all their attempts to take the town, sent forward a force composed of the very flower of their army; but they gained only a temporary advantage, for being reinforced by the 79th regiment, although the contest remained doubtful until night, we remained in possession of it, with the exception of a few houses on the rise of the hill at the French side.<BR>
The light brigade of our division was now withdrawn, and the 71st and 79th regiments remained as a picket in it during the night; next morning it was again occupied as before.
On the fourth, both sides were busily employed burying the dead and bringing in the wounded; French and English promiscuously mixed, and assisted each other in that melancholy duty as if they had been intimate friends. So far did this friendship extend, that two of our lads who spoke French, went up that night after dark to the enemy’s picket, and having conversed and drank wine with them, returned unmolested to their company. During this day the French generals reconnoitred our position, and next morning, (the 5th) they made a movement to their left with two strong columns; this caused a corresponding movement in our line, and it was scarcely made, when they attacked our right, composed of the seventh division, with all their cavalry, and succeeded in turning it; but they were gallantly met by some squadrons of our dragoons, and repulsed. Their columns of infantry still continued to advance on the same point, and were much galled by the heavy fire kept up on them by the seventh division; but in consequence of this movement, our communication with Sabugal was abandoned for a stronger position, and our army was now formed in two lines, the light division and cavalry in reserve; this manoeuvre paralysed their attack on our line, and their efforts were now chiefly confined to partial cannonading, and some charges with their cavalry, which were received and repulsed by the pickets of the first division in one instance; but as they were falling back, they did not perceive the charge of a different body in time to form, and many of them were killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. Colonel Hill, who commanded the pickets, was among the latter; the 42nd regiment also, under Lord Blantyre, gallantly repulsed another charge made by the enemy’s cavalry. The French then attempted to push a strong body of light infantry down the ravine to the right of the first division, but they were driven back by some companies of the guards and 95th rifles.<BR>
While on the right this was going on, the village of Fuentes was again attacked by a body of the Imperial Guard, and, as on the third, the village was taken and retaken several times. At one time they had brought down such an overwhelming force, that our troops were fairly beat out of the town, and the French formed close column between it and us; some guns which were posted on the rise in front of our line, having opened upon them, made them change their ground; and the 88th regiment (Connaught Rangers) being detached from our division, led on by the heroic General McKinnon (who commanded our right brigade,) charged them furiously, and drove them back through the village with great slaughter.