The galloping guns in the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign
Based on the experiences of Wellington’s commander of horse artillery, Augustus Simon Frazer, these highly informative letters were written while he was on campaign against Napoleon’s forces during the Peninsular War in Spain and the Waterloo Campaign in 1815. Born the son of an officer of engineers in Dunkirk in 1776, Frazer was gazetted as a second lieutenant into the Royal Artillery in 1793. By early 1794 he was campaigning in Flanders under the Duke of York where he was promoted and took part in several engagements including Tournai and Boxtel. By 1799 he had joined the Royal Horse Artillery and promoted again was once more back in the Low Countries. In 1807, then a captain, Frazer joined the ill-fated expedition to Buenos Aires. Although his military service had been thus far in poorly performing campaigns, Frazer had become a skilful commander of artillery and so in 1811, he joined the army under Wellington in the Iberian peninsula. He served with distinction at Salamanca, Osma, Burgos, Vitoria, San Sebastian, during the Pyrenees engagements and at Bayonne where he was wounded. At the end of the Peninsular War he returned to England a Lieutenant-Colonel. Napoleon’s last great gamble for power in 1815 brought Frazer back to the battlefield in Belgium commanding the Royal Horse Artillery. Attached to Wellington’s headquarters he saw action at Quatre Bras. During the Battle of Waterloo the horse artillery performed brilliantly in the vicinity of Hougoumont. Frazer’s letters offer the reader the immediacy of reportage from a military eyewitness and are an essential component of every library of the warfare of the Napoleonic period. This special Leonaur edition contains illustrations and maps not present in original versions of the text.
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In a former letter to you I endeavoured to bring down our operations to the 25th February inclusive; since which their interest has been increased tenfold, and we have fought a general action, the result of which has been as glorious as important. I will begin with the first movement of the army, and endeavour to follow its operations in such a manner as will enable you, by a reference to the map, to partake in the interests of our movements.
They commenced by Sir R. Hill’s corps turning the Aran and marching upon St. Palais, whilst the third, and fourth, and seventh divisions, threatened the positions the enemy had taken up successively upon the banks of that river and the Bidouze.
At St. Palais there are two bridges over two branches of the Bidouze, both of which the enemy was preparing to destroy when Sir R. Hill’s corps arrived, and found about two divisions of the enemy in position; but Lord Wellington’s movements were too rapid for them, and he attacked and drove them through the town at the point of the bayonet, and preserved almost entire those most important passages over the Bidouze, the result of which was of course the immediate abandonment of its banks.
Soult then concentrated his army, and took up a position upon the right bank of the Gave d’Oléron, covering his front with that formidable river, having his right upon the Adour, and his left upon a strong height near Sauveterre.
Lord Wellington consequently collected his force and threatened the enemy’s position in front with the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh divisions, whilst the light division and Hill’s corps passed it by turning the Gave de Mauléon by a ford at Navas, and the Gave d’Oléron in the same way at Villenave; and towards the evening we were in full march for Orthes.
On the morning of the 25th the enemy were seen retiring in all directions, and we pushed on to the commanding heights beyond Orthes, whilst the remaining divisions of the army crossed the river and closed up.
It had been determined that the passage of the Pau should be effected by Marshal Beresford on the morning of the 26th at Peyrehorade with the third, fourth, and seventh divisions, and at Depart and Biron above Orthes by the right division and Sir R. Hill’s corps; and that the sixth division should push through the town, if possible, and establish the communication between the right and left columns.
Sir Thomas Picton having observed a ford at Berenx, he was desired to cross there; and a flank movement was made by the light and sixth divisions to support him, Sir R. Hill also moving to his left to take our place.
Early on the morning of the 27th, therefore, the third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and light divisions of infantry, Colonel Vivian’s and Lord Edward Somerset’s brigades of cavalry, Ross’s and Gardiner’s troops of horse artillery, and Maxwell’s, Sympher’s, Turner’s, and Michell’s batteries had crossed the river, over which a pontoon bridge had been established during the night. The enemy was soon discovered to be in a position with his right upon a strong height near the villages of St. Marie and St. Boés, and his left covering Orthes and the fords between Depart and Biron.
The fourth division, supported by the seventh, commenced the attack on the enemy’s right; the light division was on their right, the third and sixth to the right of them, and Sir R. Hill was directed to force the passage of the river, and establish a communication with us.
It was evident that the enemy’s whole army was there; and he boldly and confidently offered us battle. We accepted the offer, and moved rapidly on: and about midday both armies were closely engaged along their whole line. The contest was severe, but never doubtful; and at the date of this letter, the passages of the Adour and Midou in tranquillity, the capture of six pieces of artillery and 2000 prisoners, and the seizure of the enemy’s immense magazines at Mont de Marsan and Dax, sufficiently attest the glorious and important victory we have gained, and which I conceive to be second to no one which has hitherto crowned the persevering efforts of the British Army.
We have of course been daily engaged in pursuit, and now occupy Aire, Cazeres, Barcelone, Grenade, and Mont de Marsan; and though we are not in possession of Bordeaux, yet as the enemy have uncovered it, we may consider it as in our power.
The enormities and depredations committed by the French Army are equal to any they were ever guilty of in Spain and Portugal, and they retire with the just curses and execrations of their countrymen, who hail us in every town and village as their deliverers. You will, I am sure, be glad to hear that all the General officers speak in high terms of the services of Ross’s and Gardiner’s troops, as also of poor Sympher’s brigade: twice had we the eighteen guns in line, and never did I see better practice; nor will you be sorry to learn that we had not a man or horse touched; and I believe that Gardiner was as fortunate. Poor Sympher’s brigade, which we were close to nearly the whole day, suffered severely; and long shall I regret the loss of its commander, who was so justly esteemed in private and valued in public life.—Adieu.