Bugler 'Bill' Green and his officer Harry Smith tell their stories of fighting Napoleon's army in Spain The 95th, Wellington's famous green sharpshooter regiment was unusual in that it prompted several of its officers and men to write their memoirs of the war in the Peninsula against the French. These two very different men give us their experiences of campaigning and battles often played out within short steps of each other. This book contains two fascinating & engaging accounts of shared experiences and contrasting perspectives.
At daylight we were served out with fresh ammunition, good and dry, and it was well for us we could have it, for our paymaster, early on the 24th began to muster the regiment, but could only finish two companies before the French were upon us. We had bad ground to form a line upon, and it was found necessary to move over the river, where there was a good position for artillery and infantry.
My company was an out-lying picquet, and we had to remain. We were formed into four sections; the French infantry were in line. They were so near to us that we could discern their features. They were not twenty paces from us when our officer gave the word “right about face!” As soon as we obeyed his order, we were surrounded by a troop of French hussars; they had come from behind a hill, and our company only 80 men, were thus hemmed in by horse and foot, and were all made prisoners.
Their infantry did not fire, if they had they would have killed their own hussars, who were cutting us down with their swords. Some of us fired, and thus lowered some of them. It was a great field, and very bad ground to make our retreat. There was an enclosure near us of a stone wall and a pair of gates. We made our retreat through the gates, as the hussars were cutting at us with their swords. We were so jammed up at the gateway, that they took 40 prisoners, rank and file.
The pay-sergeant, who had the company’s books, and three lieutenants, (two of these officers were brothers, the present Sir Harry Smith, and his brother Thomas,) five men, and a sergeant, were wounded in making for the bridge, where the light division had crossed the river. I carried a poor fellow on my back about half a mile, who had a musket ball through his thigh. An artillery officer, on horseback, was near the bridge; he said to me:
“Is that lad wounded?”
I said “Yes sir.”
“Put him behind me on the horse;” but seeing him bleeding very much, he said “I will dismount; he shall have the saddle!”
We put him on, and I was glad to be relieved from my burden.
Our troops had a good position on high ground, and there were some stone walls for shelter. We made loop-holes as we had done before. The French made a charge to come over the bridge three different times but were prevented. It was warm work! Here poor Captain Cray, Lieutenant Riley, and the Hon. Aberthnot, were all killed and buried in one grave, with their clothes on, and without coffins!In the early morning of the 24th of July (I was on picquet with Leach and my Company that night) the enemy moved forward with 40,000 men. Our force, one Brigade of Horse Artillery, three Regiments of cavalry, five of infantry, were ordered by the Duke to remain as long as possible on the right bank of the Coa, where there was a bridge over the river on the road from Almeida into Portugal to Celerico and Pinhel, posting ourselves between the fortress and the bridge, so as to pass over so soon as the enemy advanced in force. In place of doing this, Craufurd took up a position to our right of Almeida, and but for Colonel Beckwith our whole force would have been sacrificed. Fortunately a heavy rain had fallen, which made the Coa impassable except by the bridge, which was in our possession, and the enemy concentrated his force in one rush for the bridge [24 July].
During the Peninsular War there never was a more severe contest. The 43rd lost 17 officers and 150 men, my Regiment 10 officers and 140 men. When we passed the bridge my section was the rear-guard of the whole, and in a rush to drive back the enemy (with whom we were frequently absolutely mixed), my brother Tom and I were both severely wounded, and a Major Macleod, a noble fellow, afterwards killed at Badajos, put me on his horse, or I should have been taken.
The enemy made several attempts to cross, but old Alister Cameron, Captain in the Rifle Brigade, had posted his Company in a ruined house which commanded the bridge, and mainly contributed to prevent the passage of the enemy, who made some brilliant attempts. The bridge was literally piled with their dead and they made breastworks of the bodies. On this day, on going to the rear wounded, I first made the acquaintance of my dear friend Will Havelock, afterwards my whipper-in, who was joining the 43rd fresh from England, with smart chako and jacket. I had a ball lodged in my ankle-joint, a most painful wound. We were sent to Pinhel, where the 3rd Division was seven leagues from the action Sir Thomas Picton treated us wounded like princes.In ascending the breach, I got on a ravelin at the head of the 43rd and 52nd, moving in column together. Colborne pulled me down again, and up the right breach we ascended. I saw the great breach, stormed by the 3rd Division, was ably defended, and a line behind a work which, as soon as we rushed along the ramparts, we could enfilade. I seized a Company of the 43rd and rushed on the flank, and opened a fire which destroyed every man behind the works. My conduct caused great annoyance to the Captain, Duffy, with whom I had some very high words; but the Company obeyed me, and then ran on with poor Uniacke’s Company to meet the 3rd Division, or rather clear the ramparts to aid them, when the horrid explosion took place which killed General Mackinnon of the 3rd division on the spot and many soldiers, awfully scorching others. I and Uniacke were much scorched, but some splinters of an ammunition chest lacerated him and caused his death three days after the storm. Tom, my brother, was not hurt.
I shall never forget the concussion when it struck me, throwing me back many feet into a lot of charged fuses of shells, which in the confusion I took for shells. But a gallant fellow, a Sergeant MacCurrie, 52nd Regiment, soon put me right, and prevented me leaping into the ditch. My cocked hat was blown away, my clothes all singed; however the sergeant, a noble fellow, lent me a catskin forage-cap, and on we rushed to meet the 3rd Division, which we soon did. It was headed by a great, big thundering Grenadier of the 88th, a Lieutenant Stewart, and one of his men seized me by the throat as if I were a kitten, crying out, “You French —.” Luckily, he left me room in the windpipe to d— his eyes, or the bayonet would have been through me in a moment.As we neared the enemy, Colborne’s brilliant eye saw they were going to hold it, for it was a closed work, and he says, “Smith, they do not mean to go until fairly driven out; come, let us get off our horses.”
I was just mounted on a beautiful thoroughbred mare, my “Old Chap” horse being somewhat done, and I really believed anything like fighting was all over. I said nothing, but sat still, and on we went with a hurrah which we meant should succeed, but which the garrison intended should do no such thing. My horse was struck within twenty yards of the ditch, and I turned her round so that I might jump off, placing her between me and the fire, which was very hot. As I was jumping off; another shot struck her, and she fell upon me with a crash, which I thought had squeezed me as flat as a thread-paper, her blood, like a fountain, pouring into my face.
The 52nd were not beat back, but swerved from the redoubt into a ravine, for they could not carry it. While lying under my horse, I saw one of the enemy jump on the parapet of the works in an undaunted manner and in defiance of our attack, when suddenly he started straight up into the air, really a considerable height, and fell headlong into the ditch. A ball had struck him in the forehead, I suppose -- the fire of our skirmishers was very heavy on the redoubt. Our whole army was actually passing to the rear of the redoubt. Colborne, in the most gallant manner, jumped on his horse, rode up to the ditch under the fire of the enemy, which, however, slackened as he loudly summoned the garrison to surrender.
The French officer, equally plucky, said, “Retire, sir, or I will shoot you!” Colborne deliberately addressed the men.
“If a shot is fired, now that you are surrounded by our army, we will put every man to the sword.”
By this time I succeeded in getting some soldiers, by calling to them, to drag me from under my horse, when they exclaimed, “Well, d— my eyes if our old Brigade-Major is killed, after all.”
“Come, pull away,” I said; “I am not even wounded, only squeezed.”
“Why, you are as bloody as a butcher.”
I ran to Colborne just as he had finished his speech. He took a little bit of paper out, wrote on it, “I surrender unconditionally,” and gave it to me to give the French officer, who laughed at the state of blood I was in. He signed it, and Colborne sent me to the Duke.
When I rode up (on a horse just lent me), his Grace says, “Who are you?”
“The Brigade-Major, 2nd Rifle Brigade.”
“Hullo, Smith, are you badly wounded?”
“Not at all, sir; it is my horse’s blood.”
“Well.” I gave him the paper. “Tell Colborne I approve.”