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The Royal Artillery at War With Napoleon During the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, 1808-15

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The Royal Artillery at War With Napoleon During the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, 1808-15
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Francis Duncan & John H Lewis (editor)
Date Published: 2020/08
Page Count: 284
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-891-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-890-7

Wellington’s guns and their gunners

Published in 1879, Major Duncan’s (of the Royal Artillery) ‘History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery’ in two large volumes was, in its time, an exceptional and highly detailed examination of the gunners and guns of the British Army. From 17th century, when his history, written with indisputable authority begins, he considers formation, administration, equipment and campaigns up to the later in 19th century. This Leonaur book, created from the larger work for those students and readers of military history who are particularly concerned with the period, focuses entirely on the activities of the Field Artillery and the Royal Horse Artillery during the wars against Napoleonic France. The narrative covers in detail the activities of the British gunners on battlefields and sieges of the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain and during the Waterloo Campaign of 1815. This unique edition has been enhanced with illustrations not present in the original version of the text.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

In the attack on Hougomont, the battery which most distinguished itself was the famous old I Troop—later D Battery, B Brigade, R.H.A.—under Major R. Bull, whose Peninsular history rivals that of the Chestnut Troop. It was armed with howitzers; and cleared the wood in front of Hougomont of the French troops,—firing shell with wonderful accuracy over the heads of the English Infantry; an operation so delicate, as to make the duke remark to Sir Augustus Frazer, who ordered it, that he hoped he was not undertaking too much. (Letters.) But Sir Augustus said that he could depend on the troop; and the event proved that he was right: for after ten minutes’ firing, the French were driven out of the wood. Webber Smith’s troop was also hotly engaged during this first attack, and suffered during the day very severely, not merely—as all did—from the French skirmishers, but also from having been on one occasion enfiladed by one of Prince Jerome’s batteries.
Captain Bolton’s field brigade, which was to have so great glory at a critical period in the day, was in action at the first attack on Hougomont; and when subsequently moved more to the centre of the Allied line, its place to the left of Hougomont was taken by Norman Ramsay’s troop. It has already been mentioned that the first shot fired by the Allied artillery at Waterloo was fired by Captain Sandham’s brigade. This was in reply to the first attack on Hougomont; and during the day no fewer than 1100 rounds of ammunition were fired by this single brigade. (Many of the guns at Waterloo actually became unserviceable from incessant firing.)
Although beyond the province of this work to enter into the Infantry details of the battle, it must yet be said that, even in a day when the British Infantry showed a valour and endurance which have never been surpassed, their defence of Hougomont shines with especial lustre. Knowing its value, as strengthening the right of his line, the duke had taken precautions on the previous night by loopholing the walls to render its defence more practicable. Although set on fire, and attacked repeatedly by superior numbers, it was never lost; its defenders showing a tenacity and courage, unexampled almost in the annals of war.
In the second act of the drama—the first attack on La Haye Sainte—Captain Whinyates’s troop and Major Rogers’ field brigade were first engaged; and it is important to remember, with a view to the argument, which is to come, that it was during this act that the artillery of the reserve was brought up. (Vide Appendix A.) Sir Hew Ross’s and Major Beane’s troops suffered at this time great loss. Among the officers alone, Major Beane was killed, and both 2nd captains and two subalterns wounded.
The third act, the charges of the French cavalry, will be fully discussed in the argument, which will be found in the Appendix. Suffice it to say, at present, that they were preceded by clouds of skirmishers, and by a tremendous artillery fire; and that at no period of the day were the losses among the artillery more severe. Among those who fell then was Norman Ramsay; and it was the lot of his dearest friend to witness and to tell the circumstances. Sir Augustus Frazer wrote:
“In a momentary lull of the fire, I buried my friend Ramsay, from whose body I took the portrait of his wife, which he always carried next his heart. Not a man assisted at the funeral who did not shed tears. Hardly had I cut from his head the hair which I enclose, and laid his yet warm body in the grave, when our convulsive sobs were stifled by the necessity of returning to renew the struggle.” (Letters.)
Two days later, (Nivelle, 20 June, 1815) the same hand wrote:
Now that the stern feelings of the day have given way to the return of better ones, I feel with the bitterness of anguish not to be described, the loss of my friend Ramsay. Nor for this friend alone, but for many others, though less dear than poor Norman.
And yet again, writing from Paris, dated 6 July, 1815, Sir A. Frazer said:
“I cannot get Ramsay out of my head; such generosity, such romantic self-devotion as his, are not common.”
It was written of Ramsay, “Sibi satis vixit,—non patriæ;” and it is difficult to conceive a nobler eulogy. A man who never tampered with temptation, but trampled on it instead—he left behind him the story of a life, which is a model for his successors in the corps to imitate. There is a Waterloo going on daily in a soldier’s life: his enemies are more skilled than Napoleon—they are as relentless as death: they come dressed in many garbs, but their names are sloth, ignorance, and vice; and the weapon by which alone they can be overcome is an earnest and conscientious performance of duty. This weapon must be grasped most firmly, and wielded most mercilessly, when the duties to be performed are monotonous or uninviting; but its unfailing use, even through a life of uninteresting routine, will earn for the soldier, when the night comes, the same words as were spoken of Norman Ramsay, “Satis sibi vixit,—non patriæ.”
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