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Wellington’s Lieutenants

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Wellington’s Lieutenants
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Author(s): Alexander Innes Shand
Date Published: 2010/11
Page Count: 304
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-398-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-397-7

The men who stood beside the Great Duke

The Duke of Wellington was indisputably one of the most able military commanders in British history. He was not only a powerful intellect, but also a man of substantial character. In a time of aristocrats, Wellington was an autocrat able to manage powerful men by force of his still greater will and presence; with success came their inevitable respect. To Wellington, delegation failed to come easily and he clearly doubted the wisdom of it as a policy. He insisted on a knowledge of all things that might concern him and was prepared to issue directives on all matters. It is then, unsurprising that he eclipsed his immediate subordinates, senior figures and highly respected commanders in their own right, who were often given little latitude, and were regularly not fully briefed as to Wellington’s strategy and grand tactics; for example, at Waterloo, amid flying shot, the duke terrified his staff by appearing to be the only person in possession of the plan of battle. All this, however, does nothing to diminish the clear contribution many of those closest to the Great Duke made towards the success of his campaigns. While having lessons to learn from Wellington they were more than capable military men—if not actually possessed of quite the same degree of military ‘genius’ as their commander in chief. This book chronicles eight of Wellington’s lieutenants as they fought for him in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. Lord ‘Daddy’ Hill earned his nickname because of his extraordinary concern for the wellbeing of his soldiers; he was Wellington’s most trusted general and was, unusually, given independent command by Wellington. The fiery Craufurd, leader of the Light Division, could always be depended upon to take the fight to the enemy—sometimes whether it was prudent to do so or not. Picton, the hard swearing Welshman was never easy to company but was an essential commander on the field of conflict. Accounts of the campaigns and actions of these notable soldiers are joined in this riveting book by those of Beresford, Lynedoch, Hopetoun, Anglesey and Combermere. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.

On the morning of the 19th he was assailed in three columns. Hill,

supported by cavalry and covered by the spluttering fire of a cloud

of skirmishers, led the attack to the right of the road and pushed it

fiercely. Hard pressed at all points and with both his flanks

menaced, Laborde extricated himself with admirable skill, and,

covered by his cavalry, retired on his second position. That involved

new dispositions on the part of the British. Generals Hill and

Nightingale were ordered to a full frontal attack on those frowning

heights of Zambugeera. It was a trying experience for entering young

troops who had never before fired a shot in anger.<br>
The only approaches to the precipitous faces were by foot tracks

through rugged gullies. The columns, preceded by the skirmishers,

involuntarily deployed, in inevitable disorder, as they worked their

way through the tangled shrubbery that clothed the bottom of the

rocks. Neither general spared himself: the defence was as obstinate

as the assault was determined, but Laborde saw his left and centre

forced back by irresistible pressure. Looking vainly for Loison, who

should have been coming up from the east, he held tenaciously on to

his right, till there too he was compelled to retreat. After an

obstinate defence that did him as much honour as a victory, he left

the road to Torres Vedras open, abandoning three of his guns.

Rifleman Harris, from the private’s point of view, gives a graphic

account of the fierce fighting on the 17th, and of Hill’s composure

at the critical moment.<br>
The 29th Regiment received so terrible a fire that I saw the right

wing almost annihilated, and the colonel (I think his name was

Lennox) lay sprawling among the rest We had ourselves caught it

pretty handsomely, for there was no cover for us and we were rather

too near. The living skirmishers were lying beside heaps of their own

dead, but still we held our own till the battalion regiments came up.

‘Fire and retire!’ is a very good sound, but the Rifles were not fond

of such notes. . . . At the moment a little confusion appeared in the

ranks, I thought. Lord Hill was near at hand and saw it, and I

observed him come galloping up. He put himself at the head of the

regiment and restored it to order in a moment. Pouring a regular and

sharp fire upon the enemy, he galled them in return, and remaining

with the 29th till he brought them to the charge, quickly sent the

foe to the right about. It seemed to me that few men could have

conducted the business with more coolness and quickness of manner

under such a storm of balls as he was exposed to. Indeed I have never

forgotten him from that day.<br>
It was not his first meeting with the general. The day before the

battle he says:—<br>
We were pelting along through the streets of a village, the name of

which I do not think I ever knew. I was in the front and had just

cleared the village when I recollect observing General Hill

(afterwards Lord Hill) and another officer ride up to a house and

give their horses to some of the soldiery to hold. . . I stood

leaning upon my rifle, near the door, when the officer who had

entered with Lord Hill came and called to me. ‘Rifleman,’ handing me

a dollar, ‘go and try if you can get some wine, for we are devilish

thirsty here.<br>
Harris hurried off for the wine, and when he brought it, found

General Hill loosening his sword belt “‘Drink first, rifleman,’ said

he, and I took a good pull at the pipkin and held it to him again. He

looked at it and told me I might drink it all, for it appeared rather

greasy.” Harris honestly handed back the dollar, for in his haste and

the bustle he had not paid for the wine. “Keep the money, my man,”

said Hill, giving a second dollar. “Go back and try if you cannot get

me another draught.” That was “Father Hill” all over, with the

consideration, affability, and free-handedness that won the hearts of

his men.

Indeed, Craufurd, who dealt so sternly with defaulting commissariat

officers, always saw that the rations were regularly served out,

often achieving the apparently impossible. And in that respect his

absence had been sorely felt, for on one occasion, on the march from

Santarem, for four days the division had been literally starving. He

was genuinely touched by the warmth of the welcome. As he rode along

the ranks, his features were wreathed in smiles, and he bowed

repeatedly, raising his hat.<br>
He was rejoicing besides in the prospect of immediate action, after a

winter of restful but irritating inactivity. On the moment he

gathered up the reins he had dropped six months before, grasping the

whole situation intuitively, and before that eventful day was over he

had need of all his promptitude and knowledge of war. Wellington had

accepted battle under unfavourable conditions. His dispositions were

faulty, as he admitted afterwards in conversation; and his line,

covering a distance of seven miles, was dangerously extended to his

right. The French infantry, as compared to his own, was as four to

three, and Masséna was infinitely superior in cavalry.<br>
Yet it was an action in which cavalry was of supreme importance, for

on Wellington’s right flank was a broad plain or plateau commanding

the roads leading to two of the three bridges over the Coa. Masséna

saw the blots and made his arrangements to take advantage of them.

Had it not been for the insubordination of the generals acting under

him, there can be small doubt that he would have succeeded. As it

was, it was chiefly the coolness of Craufurd, the discipline he had

established in his division, and the confidence of his soldiers in

their chief which averted a fatal disaster.<br>
Masséna meant to hold the British left in check with one corps, while

he turned their ill-covered right with the rest of his army,

utilising his 5000 horse, which were opposed by but a fifth of their

number. Thanks to the nature of the ground, there was no concealing

the operations on either side. The French were seen moving off in

masses to their left, supported by Montbrun with all his cavalry. The

British divisions opposite made a corresponding movement, but Houston

with the 7th was already hard pressed when the Light Division and the

cavalry were sent forward to his support.<br>
The 7th, driven from the shelter of a village, was being forced back

into a wood, when Craufurd’s riflemen, skirmishing forward among the

trees, restored the fight. Galloping in loose order through the

village and the wood, the French cavalry had formed up upon the plain

beyond, where Julian Sanchez, the guerrilla chief, had been holding

an eminence on the extreme right. Sanchez retired fighting across the

Tarones, and then Montbrun, who had wasted time in trifling with the

partida, turned the right of the 7th Division and threw his whole

strength on our cavalry. Overwhelmed by weight and numbers, it

yielded to the shock, withdrawing behind the Light Division. Then

Montbrun turned to charge the infantry. The division had time to

throw itself into squares, and escaped almost scathless. The 7th

faced the attack in line, supported by some stone enclosures, and

though it suffered severely, the horsemen were repulsed.<br>
But the battle was going against his centre, and Wellington, in order

to save the day, decided to concentrate on his original positions

round Fuentes. The 7th Division was ordered to cross the Tarones, and

retrace its march to Fresnada on the left bank. Craufurd was to cover

the passage, and then withdraw over the plain, having the cavalry

flanking his right. On that open ground Montbrun, with his 5000 horse

and fifteen field pieces, might well have made sure of his prey. The

plain was covered with a mixed multitude of fugitives—camp followers,

servants, peasants, broken pickets, and soldiers who had lost touch

with their colours—all taken by surprise and in mortal panic. Through

them all, or rather behind them, in martial procession moved

Craufurd’s squares—so many shifting and impregnable fortresses.<br>
Time after time Montbrun’s horsemen swooped down, yet, though they

lacked neither courage nor incentives to action, never venturing an

actual attack. They lacked neither incentives nor support, and had

these squares once been broken, the right wing of the British would

have been rolled up on the centre in hopeless disorder. For the wood

which had been the scene of the earlier struggle was now full of

French skirmishers, and behind it were two entire corps in solid

formation, abstaining mysteriously from joining in the mêlée. The

plain was cleared: Craufurd’s covering squares, retiring still in

their perfect order, closed in upon the right of the 1st Division,

and throwing forward riflemen among the rocks, connected the 1st with

the 7th, which was already safe in Fresnada.<br>
Wellington was once more concentrated, showing the enemy a formidable

front. There was a furious cannonade; the battle raged in and around

Fuentes till nightfall; but the French had waited too long, and could

never force the passage. The unflinching firmness of the Light

Division had retrieved the day and won a doubtful victory. After the

battle the Light Division resumed its former positions. On the 10th

of May, the French commandant of Almeida succeeded in escaping with

the bulk of the garrison, after spiking his guns and blowing up the

bastions. The generals responsible for the blockade were severely

blamed, and various historians have implicated Craufurd in their

censures, but he is clearly exculpated by Napier’s narrative. His

division was only covering the blockading troops. Believed from

anxiety as to the fate of Almeida by its evacuation, the French had

again retired on Salamanca, when Masséna was superseded by

Wellington had hurried south to confront Soult’s menacing operations

in Estremadura, but arrived too late to avert the bloody and useless

battle of Albuera. The Light Division had been left with others to

observe the northern French army; towards the end of May it was

ordered south to the support of Hill, who was facing superior forces

of the enemy. They had passed Sabugal, crossed the Coa, and were

bivouacking in a chestnut wood hard by the scene of their fighting in

18 10, when one of those extraordinary panics occurred which were not

infrequent in the war. There seems to have been no sort of occasion

for it, and it was the more surprising that the veterans of the

division were the watch-dogs of the army, who prided themselves on

being always on the alert, yet never giving false alarms.<br>
At midnight the cry was raised, “The French are upon us.” It might

have come from an uneasy sleeper, awaking from a nightmare. But in a

moment all the regiments were afoot, falling into their ranks and

standing to their arms. One of the riflemen says that the general

shouts of alarm caused a terror that was never felt in battle.
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