A new version of a very rare text of the Coldstream Guards at War
The Campaign in the Low Countries is rarely covered in books concerning the experiences of the British Army. It was fought against the armies of Revolutionary France at a time when Napoleon was still a junior officer. It has been overshadowed by the war in Spain and the Waterloo Campaign—probably because it was a military disaster for the allied armies—and popular history is inclined to dwell on the victories of Wellington that followed. Many a soldier would look back upon this campaign as 'the one that taught us what NOT to do'. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating episode in British military history and this book—written by a very active participant—brings it vibrantly to life. Robert Brown was a highly literate other rank in the Coldstream Guards. He recorded his experiences in riveting detail and left us with a view of warfare in the late eighteenth century which is both entertaining and essential as a prelude to the experiences of soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars which would shortly follow. Brown's text, originally presented in the archaic style of 1795, has been substantially reworked by Frederick Llewellyn making it easily accessible for the contemporary reader for the first time. A short summary of the campaign is also included to give Brown's narrative context.
25th July—This afternoon a number of men was ordered for the purpose of storming the out-works of the town this evening. The British infantry furnished 300 men, viz. 150 from the brigade of guards, and 150 from the brigade of the line, under the command of Major-General Abercrombie. We were ordered to be in readiness at the centre communication, at Marley, in the evening. It was pre-concerted to spring three mines, and immediately after the springing of the last, the troops were to begin the attack.<br>
Accordingly in the evening the first mine was sprung, then the second, and third, with the space of eight minutes between each. Immediately on the springing of the third, the troops being ready, rushed in with the utmost impetuosity, jumping over the palisadoes, and through the breaches the mines had made, like the rushing of a flood, and carried all before them at the point of the bayonet. The enemy made a stout resistance, but were forced to leave us in possession of their works.<br>
There was a great number killed on both sides, but the brigade of guards suffered but little; yet we have to regret the loss of Capt. Tollemache, killed, and Captain Warde of the same regiment wounded. An officer of the 14th regiment was killed.
The 1st regiment had one rank and file killed, one sergeant, and three rank and file wounded. Coldstream, two rank and file wounded. Third regiment, one sergeant, and one rank and file wounded.<br>
His Royal Highness expressed the greatest satisfaction with the conduct of the officers and men employed on this expedition.<br>
26th July—This day the enemy fired very little; we suppose last night’s work has somewhat humbled their pride. We had a grenadier of the 1st regiment killed this day, and three of the 3rd wounded, one of which died next day. The 1st regiment had one wounded.<br>
Very late this night a flag of truce was sent in to the governor, with a summons to surrender, or otherwise threatening to storm the town. The firing immediately ceased on both sides.<br><br>
27th July—Not a gun had been fired on either side this day; it is said the governor has a certain time allowed to consider of his final answer.<br>
Nine deserters came over to us this day, and an officer, who says the enemy are beginning to disagree among themselves, so that of course they must soon surrender. One of the deserters who speaks a little English, says, that on our storming their out-works, they were thrown into the greatest confusion imaginable. No firing this night. <br><br>
28th July—This morning about’ six o’clock, a flag of truce was sent from head quarters to require General Ferrand’s final answer; but before they reached the town, they met a general of the French, accompanied by three officers, a sergeant, and a trumpeter, who were sent from the town to settle the terms of the capitulation.<br>
Accordingly the terms were agreed upon, and this evening a detachment from the British infantry, consisting of 400 men, under the command of Colonel Sir James Duff, took possession of the outer gate of Valenciennes, leading to Cambray.
All quiet this night.<br>