Cooke wrote three volumes of his military memoirs which originally embraced his service in America and the War of 1812 and which also included contributions from other authors. This book brings together Cooke's writings detailing his service with the 43rd Light Infantry as it fought Napoleon's French Army as a part of the famous Light Division. The author's narrative now cohesively records his experiences in a linear form for the first time, beginning with his enrolment in the army, to the Walcheren Expedition and onwards to his campaigns in Iberia. Here we join him in every engagement from the assault on Cuidad Rodrigo to the fall of Toulouse and the occupation of France leading to the First Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Leonaur's editors have created an exceptional first hand account of the experience of warfare from the perspective of a Light Division officer in the Peninsular War. Cooke is an able author with a fine eye for description and his attention to detail will particularly interest those who study the military dress of this period. This is an indispensable book which will be a new and invaluable addition to the library of every student of Napoleonic history.
On the 19th, at mid-day, the firing from the town was very heavy; everyone in the best position for security, which it was not difficult to obtain, as the trenches were well advanced, but everybody cried “Keep down,” for which truly there was no occasion.
Notwithstanding this cry, Israel Wild, (I have often been told, from undoubted authority, that this soldier was one of the first who entered the small breach at Rodrigo, and whose Stentorian voice rose above the din of arms,) and another man of our regiment, who was afterwards killed, (a splendid soldier,) got on the top of the trench. I caught hold of Israel’s jacket, to pull him down, but he turned round, and said, in a most furious manner, “We know what we are about;” then looking forward for a moment, shouted, with an oath, that the French were coming on, and instantly sprung out of the trench like a tiger, following his Comrade, just such another fine fellow.
Two or three French dragoons at that instant fired their pistols into the trenches, having approached within a few yards without being perceived. We had just entered the mouth of the first parallel, and all joined in a simultaneous attack on the enemy’s infantry, without regard to trenches or anything else. The French being beaten out of the advanced lines, retired and formed line under the castle, having two field-pieces on their left flank. I cannot say how they entered the town, there was so much smoke covering them, when near the walls. General Philippon knew his business well. Fourteen hundred men came out—two battalions.
We had quite abandoned the trenches, and approached near to the castle. I perceived two soldiers of another division, who were stretched close to where I stood: one was quite dead, a round shot having passed through his body; the other had lost a leg, his eyelids were closed, and lie was apparently dead. An adventurous Portuguese began to disencumber him of his clothes. The poor soldier opened his eyes and looked in the most imploring manner, while the villain had him by the belts, lifting him up. I gave the humane Portuguese a blow with the back of my sabre, that laid him prostrate for a time, by the side of the soldier he was stripping.
I know not what became of the wounded man, as my attention was attracted by an extraordinary circumstance. I saw a heavy shot hopping along, till it struck a soldier on the hip; down he went, motionless. I felt confident that the wounded man was not dead, and begged that some of his comrades would carry him off to the rear, (we were now retiring under a heavy cannonade); my words were at first unheeded, but two soldiers, at the risk of their lives, rushed back, and brought him in, or he, with many others, would have been starved to death, between our lines and the ramparts of the town. His hip was only grazed, and his clothes untorn; but, of course, he was unable to walk, and seemed to feel much pain, for he groaned heavily.
The sortie took place about a quarter after twelve; (military time, quite correct;) we were filing into the trenches. The day was fine, and the time well selected by the governor, as he concluded that the front parallel would be vacant while the relief was coming in; but there was an order against that.
The trenches were very extensive. The weather again became bad, and our right battery was silenced; but when the great breaching battery was completed, it fired salvos, which the enemy returned in a similar manner from a battery just under the castle gate, on a commanding situation. One morning, at daylight, the enemy brought a light gun out of the town to enfilade the right of the front parallel; but as the relief came in at the time, I do not know the sequel of it.
At break of day on the 18th, a few shots were exchanged to our right; the firing increased, and the cheering might be distinctly heard at intervals as the sun rose above the horizon.
Our dragoons became visible while retiring before the enemy’s horse and light artillery, which at intervals were blazing away. The scene was sublime and beautiful. An officer said to me, “There will be a row this day; however, we had better get our breakfast, as God knows when we shall have any thing to eat, unless we take advantage of the present moment.” The tea service being laid out, and a stubble fire kindled, to warm the bottom of the kettle, we suddenly espied some squadrons of French heavy dragoons in a valley to our right, pushing for the main road at full trot.
An absurd and ludicrous scene now took place. The crockery was thrown into the hampers; also the kettle, half filled with hot water; another officer, who had come to déjeune with us, from the rear, all the while vociferating, “God bless me! you will not desert my mule and hampers; they are worth four hundred dollars.” In fact, to get off seemed impossible; the company, however, formed column of sections, and fixed bayonets, fully determined to cover the old mule, who went off with a rare clatter, and we after him, in double quick time.
The enemy were now within two hundred yards of us, brandishing their swords, and calling out, when they suddenly drew up on seeing some of our cavalry hovering on their right flank. A rivulet, with steep banks, ran parallel with the road; but we soon found a ford, where we drew up, intending to dispute the passage. The right brigade of our division had moved forward, and had deployed to the succour of our dragoons first engaged, about half a mile to our right. Soon after this, two squadrons of our light dragoons formed on a rising ground, two hundred yards from us, with two pieces of horse artillery on their right, when about an equal number of French heavy cavalry, handsomely dressed, with large fur caps, made rapidly towards them, our guns throwing round shot at them during their advance. When they had arrived within one hundred yards of our squadrons, they drew up to get wind, our dragoons remaining stationary*.
A French officer, the chef d’escadron, advanced and invited our people to charge, to beguile a few moments, while his squadrons obtained a little breathing time. He then held his sword on high, crying aloud, “Vive l’Empereur! en avant, Français!” and rushed on single-handed, followed by his men, and overthrowing our light dragoons.