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Journal of an Army Surgeon in the Peninsular War

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Journal of an Army Surgeon in the Peninsular War
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Author(s): Charles Boutflower
Date Published: 2009/03
Page Count: 184
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-629-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-630-4

A surgeons view of the war in Iberia

Charles Boutflower was the son of a Yorkshire vicar born in 1782. He studied surgery at the University of Edinburgh and joined the 40th Regiment of Foot—then a Somerset regiment—in 1801 as an assistant surgeon. He served with that regiment in the West Indies, South America and thereafter during the Peninsular War against Napoleon's invading French armies. It is from his time in Spain that his Journal is particularly drawn. Although Boutflower was a medical man his writings are well rounded and comprehensive giving the reader much insight into the campaigns he experienced, scenes of the battlefield and his own perspective on the course of the war in general. Boutflower was promoted to surgeon in 1812 and took his place on Sir Rowland Hill's staff. This is a valuable contribution the our understanding of the war Wellington's Army fought and will be much appreciated by students and casual readers alike.

5th. Both breaches were considered practicable last night, and it was generally apprehended that the storm would take place. There is no doubt that the assault will be made either this evening or before daylight tomorrow morning. Everything is ready. The town has not been summoned, and it is supposed will not; it is said that Lord Wellington is unwilling to subject himself to an insolent reply. <br>
The assault will be made by the three divisions that have been employed during the siege; viz. the Light, 3rd, and 4th; the Light Division are to storm the small breach, the 4th the large one and the 3rd are to escalade the castle walls.<br>
All idea or probability of an early visit from Soult or Marmont appears at an end; the former it is said left Seville with his army in this direction, but again retrograded after two days march. Marmont is reported to have actually invested Rodrigo; he is without heavy artillery to commence a regular siege, but is supposed to found his hopes of again getting possession of the place from its not being provisioned sufficiently; should this actually be the case, it would seem absolutely necessary that we should again go to the north for the purpose of raising the blockade.<br>
10th. The period that has elapsed since the last date has been a truly eventful one, and will certainly long hold a place in the recollection of those who have witnessed it and yet survive. The assault did not take place on the night of the 5th, as was fully expected. Orders for the attack were actually issued when about five in the evening they were countermanded. A third breach was determined upon, which was effected in the course of the following day; the attack was then ordered to take place at ten o’clock the same night (6th). <br>
One breach was given to the Light Division, two to the 4th. The 3rd were ordered to scale the walls of the castle, and a brigade of the 5th to escalade the walls of the town near the Olivenza Gate. At the appointed hour the troops moved to their respective posts, when a scene of horror at once dreadful and sublime presented itself. There was no moon but the stars afforded just sufficient light to enable the men to find their respective destinations. On their being discovered by the enemy, a fire so tremendous opened on them, that the oldest military men present declare that they never witnessed anything that could be at all compared to it. <br>
The explosions from the several mines the enemy had prepared were indescribably awful, but certainly furnished a coup d’oeil such as I never expect or indeed wish again to witness. The access to the breach was most difficult from the counter-carp not having been blown in; it was necessary to descend into the ditch by means of ladders; on reaching it, it was found full of water, and in some places it was so deep that the men were drowned in it; on gaining the summit of the breach, obstacles the most insurmountable presented themselves; chevaux de frise made of swords were placed the whole length in the rear of the breach, and further in the rear trenches upon trenches were cut; repeated attempts were made to get in but our people were as constantly repelled, with the most horrible loss. <br>
The escalades were at length successful, which so much attracted the enemy’s attention from the breaches, that the men were enabled to get in, and the garrison was surrounded. In the meantime the Governor (Philippon) had fled to St. Christoval, but finding it impossible to make any effectual resistance he surrendered at discretion. The usual humanity of the English, was eminently displayed on this occasion, not a French soldier was put to the sword, though according to the laws of war we should have been justified in putting every soul to death.<br>
It was about one o’clock on the morning of the 7th when our people got possession of the place. For the space of three hours, they had been exposed to the destructive fire I have before stated; our loss was in consequence most melancholy, not less I believe than three thousand eight hundred killed and wounded besides at least two hundred and fifty officers; in my regiment, twenty four officers marched off from the camp ground, of which number only six escaped. Notwithstanding the extent of our loss, the taking of Badajos is considered as one of the most important events of the Peninsula; it is of infinite consequence to the Spaniards, and it insures the safety of Portugal.
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