To Spain, Portugal and India on campaign with the British Army
The author of this interesting Peninsular War account was a medical man attached to the 66th Regiment of Foot—the Berkshire Regiment. Walter Henry originally wrote his memoirs as two substantial volumes which covered all of his twenty nine year career in the army and which prominently featured a long account—filling most of the second volume—about his time in Canada. From Henry’s perspective he was, of course, writing his memoirs irrespective of where he found himself, whereas from the perspective of posterity he has become one of the few voices which remain to us concerning pivotal periods of history and warfare. The Leonaur editors believe that readers prefer books concentrating on, where possible, a single subject area and so they have taken the decision to remove the latter part of Henry’s writings from this edition. We trust readers will agree that this makes for a far more focussed and accessible text. We join Henry as a very young ‘medico,’ complete with a hat sporting an enormous black feather, as he embarks on his adventures in Portugal and Spain and takes us entertainingly through the Peninsular campaign, over the Pyrenees and into the South of France and the close of the Napoleonic Wars. Henry was not present at Waterloo, instead he received orders that sent him to India where he experienced—and as a consequence has left us a valuable and rare first hand account of—the war in Nepal against the formidable Ghurkhas who would one day become such a stalwart component of the British Army. This edition of Walter Henry’s military adventures concludes as he is about to board ship which will take him to Canada after a stay on St Helena, at that time the final prison of Napoleon. This book has also been published under the title Events of Military Life.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Morillo’s Spaniards had seized the bridge and crossed before the British, and we now heard a little firing beginning on the heights on our right; said to be the scene of a victory gained by our Black Prince, and hence called “los montagnos Inglezez.” By and bye the firing thickened—we passed one or two dead bodies of French soldiers on the road, and the whole column moved towards the table land above the river in compact order.<br>
When we reached the top a grand and spirit-stirring spectacle met our view. We saw the extensive line of the whole French army posted on a range of heights about two miles off, in order of battle, with Vittoria in the centre. The position appeared to be nearly four miles in length—the greater part of the troops were in column—some in line; and the artillery was disposed in batteries on the most commanding points. Numbers of mounted officers were moving about slowly from one part of the field to another.<br>
This was the first time I had seen a powerful army prepared for battle; and the sensation was exciting, exhilarating and intoxicating! I was young and ardent, and felt strong emotions in anticipating the approaching combat and the probable discomfiture of those imposing masses. I longed to join in the struggle and “throw physic to the dogs.”<br>
When our division had advanced along the high road to Vittoria, within long cannon-range of the enemy’s position, we were ordered into a field to the right, and then halted. The word was then given, “With ball-cartridge prime and load!” In the meantime Sir Rowland Hill and a large staff, including the staff-surgeon and myself, rode forward to a small height whence there was a better view; but the crowd of mounted officers having attracted a shot from one of the enemy’s nearest batteries, the greater part of us were ordered away, and only Sir Rowland and two or three of the senior officers remained.<br>
Soon after this the brigade of Colonel O’Callaghan, consisting of the 28th, 34th and 39th regiments, attacked the village of Subijana d’Aliva, and having there suffered a heavy loss, I was ordered to the assistance of their surgeons.<br>
We collected the wounded in a little hollow, out of the direct line of fire, but within half musket-shot—unpacked our panniers and proceeded to our work. This Brigade had, I believe, between four and five hundred men put hors de combat in the course of an hour; so, we were fully employed. A stray cannon-shot from a distant battery would drop among us occasionally, by way of a hint to inculcate expeditious surgery. After one of these unpleasant visitors had made its appearance, a young chirurgeon of my acquaintance, who is still living, became so nervous that although half through his amputation of a poor fellow’s thigh, he dropped the knife, and I was obliged to finish. At my suggestion he lay down on the grass, took a little brandy, and soon recovered and did good service the whole day. Spring wagons were in attendance, in which we placed our patients and sent them to Puebla, the nearest town, where Dr. McGrigor, then at the head of the medical department of the army, had made the most judicious arrangements for their reception and comfort.<br>
When we had attended to all the wounded of this brigade that we could find; including a large proportion of officers—several of the latter hit mortally—a message came to the staff-surgeon from the heights on our left; for a long time the scene of a bloody struggle: that there were a large number of wounded, and that they required more medical aid. There the 50th, 71st and 92nd regiments had been sent early in the day to assist Morillo and his Spaniards; but, strong reinforcements having joined the enemy on the hill, those gallant corps were hardly pressed and suffered great loss. I was again detached and ordered up the hill on this urgent requisition.<br>
I had been so entirely occupied, professionally, for three hours, that I was quite in the dark as to the state of the engagement; except that, latterly, the sound of the firing appeared louder and closer than at the beginning. As I rode up to the higher ground, therefore, I endeavoured to see how matters stood, but I could make out no more than that some heavy firing both of artillery and musketry was beginning on the French right: the relative situations of their force and ours, as far as I could observe, was the same as before. I was pleased to hear the firing on their right, as I knew it was occasioned by our left wing coming into play.