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With the “Thirty-Second” in the Peninsular and Other Campaigns

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With the “Thirty-Second” in the Peninsular and Other Campaigns
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Author(s): Harry Ross-Lewin
Date Published: 2009/08
Page Count: 252
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-257-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-258-1

A British infantry officer of Wellington's Army

Harry Ross-Lewin is yet another of that small band of British soldiers of the Napoleonic era who wrote a memoir of his military service and in so doing left for posterity an invaluable volume of source material including his experiences of camp, campaign and battlefield, as well insightful perspectives on the campaigns of which he was part. Like Wellington himself, Ross-Lewin came from a family of Anglo-Irish aristocrats. It was then perhaps inevitable he would enter the militia and subsequently transfer into the regular army. This was time of great military adventure and opportunity. Ross-Lewin saw the siege and fall of Copenhagen, took part in the battles Roleia and Vimiera, the assault on Flushing and the storming of the Salamanca forts where he was severely wounded. His Peninsular War continued with the unsuccessful siege of Burgos and the retreat that followed, Badajos and the battle of Orthes as the campaign rolled through the Pyrenees to its conclusion in Southern France and Napoleon's abdication. The 32nd were called to battle once again for the Belgian Campaign of 1815 as Napoleon sought to regain the imperial crown as part of Kempt's 8th Brigade. The brigade was heavily engaged at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo itself sustaining over 1300 casualties. This is a riveting and essential first hand account of the sharp end of Napoleonic warfare and no enthusiast of the period will wish it to be absent from their library. Available in softcover and hardback with dust jacket.

The action now became very general. Columns of French infantry and cavalry, preceded by a formidable artillery, moved from every point, advanced up the slope, and precipitated themselves on the centre regiments of our army. The light troops that were in front of our line were driven in rapidly by the advancing enemy, the foreign cavalry that were to have supported them breaking and galloping off in all directions; but our regiments in square resisted the onset with the utmost intrepidity.<br>
The enemy had advanced their artillery on the right side of the Brussels road to within one hundred and fifty paces of the crest of the hill, and every discharge made sad gaps in our squares. This was a most trying time for the young Hanoverian levies; nevertheless they stood firm. I have since heard their own officers say, that during the whole day they never evinced any disposition to give way, but that, at first, when openings were made in their squares by the enemy’s artillery, there was some hesitation before they were filled up, as the men fancied that the shot would always strike at the same spot; however, when the officers explained to them the absurdity of this notion, they readily closed the breach.<br>
Our artillery also made dreadful havoc in the ranks of the enemy in all their advances, yet the cuirassiers would ride up to the very muzzles, and at one time had possession of a great part of our guns, although they could not remove them, the limbers being in the rear. Whenever the cuirassiers found it necessary to retire our artillerymen advanced from the squares in which they had been compelled to take refuge, and renewed their fire. There were intervals during the day, in which we of the left wing had time to look about us; and it became a source of surprise to many that the French officers should be permitted to ride between the squares, as we saw them, while an immense column of our cavalry stood unemployed in the rear.<br>
After making the most desperate efforts in other parts of the field, and especially at Hougoumont, the enemy turned their attention principally to the left and left centre. A strong body of French infantry advanced against the left wing,2 and pressed on to the lane. Sir Thomas Picton instantly placed himself at the head of his division to meet the attack, crossed the lane, and charged the French, who, firing a volley, faced about and retired. Here, I must say that, upon the advance of the enemy, I observed some of our light troops fall back rather too soon.<br>
The attack cost us a gallant leader, for Sir Thomas Picton received a ball through his right temple, and fell dead from his horse. His body was borne off the ground by two grenadiers of the 32nd regiment, and not, as painters incorrectly have it in their representations of this sad scene, by Highlanders. During the charge a French officer seized a stand of colours belonging to the above-mentioned corps, but he was instantly run through the body by a sergeant’s pike, as well as by the sword of the ensign who held the colour. And after the attack was repulsed two Frenchwomen were found dead on the field. I saw one of them; she was dressed in a nankeen jacket and trousers, and had been killed by a ball which had passed through her head.<br>
Our troops pursued the retiring column down the slope, and would inevitably have closed with them, had they not begun to fire, and thereby retarded their advance. However, a good account was given of this column shortly after; for Sir William Ponsonby’s brigade, consisting of the Royals, the Scotch Greys, and the Enniskillen dragoons, galloped in at the corner of the field, and took more than 2000 of them prisoners, driving them out on the road. The dragoons also captured two eagles, one belonging to the 45th and the other to the 105th French regiments of Infantry. The prisoners were at once marched off to Brussels, where their appearance served to convince the inhabitants of the falsehood of the reports spread by the runaway Belgians, who had declared that the battle was lost, our army nearly cut to pieces, and the speedy entry of the victorious French inevitable.
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