Memoir of Field-Marshal Sir Hew Dalrymple Ross, G. C. B.
With an Appendix by Francis Duncan
Wellington’s galloping guns and the men who served them in war
There are few images of the British Army in battle against the French Army of Napoleon Bonaparte that are more evocative than the Royal Horse Artillery in action. The principal work in this book is the memoir of one of the most renowned RHA officers of the period, Hew Ross who commanded the famous Chestnut Troop. In 1809, Captain Ross’s guns were attached to the legendary Light Division, commanded by the truculent Robert Craufurd, which ensured they were always in the vanguard of the army in Portugal and Spain. The troop fought at the Coa, Bussaco, Pombal, Redhinha, Casal Novo, Sabugal and Fuentes de Onoro. As a major Ross was present at the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo and the siege of Badajoz. As the tide of war went against the French, Ross and his gunners fought at Salamanca, Vitoria and the battles of the Pyrenees to the close of the war. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel and knighted, Ross fought at Waterloo in 1815 and took part in the pursuit to Paris. This Leonaur edition book contains illustrations which were not present in the original text and is enhanced by an essay on the history of the Chestnut Troop, RHA.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
July 10th.—An unfortunate affair occurred, in which Colonel Talbot, of the 14th Light Dragoons, a quartermaster and 9 men were killed and 9 wounded, and 40 horses of the 14th, the hussars, and the 16th, killed or rendered unserviceable in an attempt to surprise a patrol, which “from daily observation was known not to exceed 30 dragoons and 200 infantry.” At the close of the account of this affair given in the journal of this date, Captain Ross concludes a criticism of its management by saying:—“Add to this, the scene of action was a plain, where Horse Artillery could have been used to the greatest advantage, and were not called upon; and that the officers posted in command at the different places were left ignorant of the points from whence they were to look for support.”
The next entry is as follows:—
July 12th.—Sent for by the general in the evening, who enquired if I had got my ammunition, and after some time spoke of the affair of yesterday; said it was unfortunate, and appeared desirous of drawing from me my opinion respecting the use that artillery might have been made of, and hinted that he thought they would not. In answer, I remarked, in such an open country we could move with great facility; upon which he dropt the conversation, and desired me to dine with him tomorrow.
The following extract describes the action of the Coa—the first of the many more serious engagements in which Captain Ross and the “Chestnut Troop” took part:—
July 24th, Thursday.—The night extremely wet. March to our alarm posts at daybreak, and all appearing quiet we return to our quarters, when the enemy advance, and we are ordered to meet them. I join the guns on piquet with two more, sending Jenkinson to the right, on the road to Junça, with the 2nd Division. The enemy advance rapidly, and take possession of a commanding height with their cavalry and two guns, from whence they return the fire which we had opened upon them, but without doing us any mischief from this ground. I am ordered to retire by General Crawfurd. We occupy a rocky height in front of the town for some time, but the French kept beyond our reach, sending their riflemen close up to our position, when General Crawfurd directed me to retire upon the town.
About this time the guns under Captain Jenkinson were ordered from the right to join me at the town, and immediately afterwards the enemy’s columns of cavalry and infantry advanced upon our right, occupying the ground just vacated. They charge the 95th, and endeavour to cut off the 52nd Regiment, which the skilful conduct of Colonel Barclay alone brought off, together with the piquets of the 95th, and one of the 3rd Cacadores. Finding that his right was completely turned, and that there was every prospect of their getting betwixt him and the bridge, General Crawfurd ordered a retreat. Lieut. Bourchier, of the artillery, brought me the order ‘to retire as rapidly as in my power across the bridge, and to get my guns into position on the opposite heights.’
At this time, we had five guns in action, firing upon a heavy column of cavalry moving apparently with the intention of charging us down the Junça road. Our fire was excellent, and broke them two or three times. Upon receiving the order to retire, I instantly sent to desire the quartermaster to move off with the waggons, which were still under the walls of Almeida; for, notwithstanding that I requested General Crawfurd’s leave twice during the morning to send them across the river, he would not permit me to do so.
We were singularly fortunate in getting all the carriages across. One waggon was overset, but by the exertions of M‘Donald and Bourchier, it was got safe off. During the time we were passing down the hill and up the heights on the other side, the enemy kept up an incessant but ineffectual fire upon us. The cavalry followed the artillery and the infantry, standing their ground wherever they could, and giving us time to get off. It was about nine o’clock when we crossed the bridge. The enemy pursued the infantry close down to it, possessing themselves of every wall as our people fled from it, and persevered in their efforts to force the bridge till three o’clock. They succeeded in getting about thirty men over, but they could get no further; when, concealing themselves behind rocks, they kept up a destructive fire.
They brought four guns to bear upon us, but they could not stand our fire, being obliged to shift their ground without firing more than three rounds in any one position they took up, and at last gave it up altogether, leaving us the power of commanding their infantry without interruption. About half-past four or five o’clock the infantry, together with four of my guns, were ordered to march towards Valverde (where the cavalry had been sent on crossing the bridge), leaving two guns along with the infantry piquets above the bridge. At seven o’clock the piquets are drawn in, and the whole division march to Carnathal, leaving cavalry piquets in front at Valverde. . . . The attacking force, Ney’s corps, 24,000 strong.