Thomas Garrety was a young Irishman, homeless with his widowed mother and his siblings he came to the conclusion that the only future for him lay in enlisting in the British Army. At the age of just fourteen years old, he joined the 43rd Regiment of Foot-a light infantry regiment. Soon he was engaged in the campaign against the Danes at Copenhagen, though this was merely a prelude to years of hard campaigning ahead. Soon Garrety found himself embarked for war-torn Spain arriving in time to join in with the retreat to Corunna under Moore and in the naval evacuation that concluded it. After a brief respite he was posted back to the Peninsula-under the command of the Duke of Wellington-and there he took part in many of the most famous battles and assaults of the campaign against Napoleon's French-including the horror that was Badajoz. as part of the 'Division' as its justifiably proud members termed themselves. Although he later reformed-becoming a Colour Sergeant, Garrety was a hard fighting, hard drinking soldier and his recollections of close combat make compulsive reading. Garrety's narrative-originally published anonymously-has been substantially re-interpreted by the Leonaur editors presenting it in its most accessible form for the modern reader.
Falling back slowly, and yet stopping and fighting whenever opportunity offered, they made their way through a rugged country, tangled with vineyards, in despite of the enemy, who was so fierce and eager, that even the horsemen rode in among the enclosures, striking at us, as we mounted the walls, or scrambled over the rocks.<br>
Just then, I found myself within pistol-shot of the enemy, while my passage was checked by a deep chasm or ravine: as not a moment was to be lost, I contrived to mount to the edge, and, having gained the opposite side, put myself in a crouching position, and managed to slide down the steep and slippery descent without injury. On approaching the river, a more open space presented itself; but the left wing being harder pressed, and having the shortest distance, the bridge was so crowded as to be impassable: here therefore we made a stand.<br>
The post was maintained until the enemy, gathering in great numbers, made a second burst, when the companies fell back. At this moment the right wing of the 52nd was seen marching towards the bridge, which was still crowded with the passing troops, when McLeod, a very young man, immediately turned his horse round, called to the troops to follow, and, taking off his cap, rode with a shout towards the enemy. The suddenness of the thing, and the distinguished action of the man, produced the effect he designed we all rushed after him, cheering and charging as if a whole army were behind to sustain us; the enemy’s skirmishers, amazed at this unexpected movement, were directly checked.<br>
The conflict was tremendous: thrice we repulsed the enemy at the point of the bayonet. McLeod was in the hottest of the battle, and a ball passed through the collar of his coat; still he was to be seen with a pistol in his right hand, among the last to retire. At length the bugle sounded for retreat: just then, my left-hand man, one of the stoutest in the regiment, was hit by a musket shot,—he threw his head back, and was instantly dead. I fired at the fellow who shot my comrade; and before I could reload, my pay-sergeant, Thomas, received a ball in the thigh, and earnestly implored me to carry him away. As the enemy was not far off, such a load was by no means desirable: but he was my friend; I therefore took him up; and though several shots were directed to us, they all missed, and I was able, though encumbered with such weight, to carry him safely over the bridge. At length the assistance of another soldier was procured: we then carried the wounded man between us, when he was placed on a car. He returned me sincere thanks, and, what was just then much better, gave me his canteen, out of which I was permitted to take a draught of rum: how refreshing it was, can be fully known only to myself.
As the regiments passed the bridge, they planted themselves in loose order on the side of the mountain; the artillery drew up on the summit, and the cavalry were disposed in parties on the roads to the right, because two miles higher up the stream there were fords, and beyond them the bridge of Castello Bom. The French skirmishers, swarming on the right bank, opened a biting fire, which was returned as bitterly the artillery on both sides played across the ravine, the sounds were repeated by numberless echoes; and the smoke, rising slowly, resolved itself into an immense arch, sparkling with the whirling phases of the flying shells.<br>
The enemy despatched a Dragoon to try the depth of the stream above; but two shots from the 52nd killed man and horse, and the carcasses floating down the river discovered that it was impassable. The monotonous tones of a French drum were than heard; and in another second the head of a column was at the long narrow bridge. A drummer, and an officer in splendid uniform, leaped forward together, and the whole rushed on with loud cries. The depth of the ravine at first deceived the soldiers’ aim on our side, and two-thirds of the passage were won before an English shot had brought down an enemy. A few paces onward the line of death was traced, and the whole of the leading French section fell as one man.
Still the gallant column pressed forward, but no foot could pass that terrible line: the killed and wounded rolled together, until the heap rose nearly to a level with the parapet. Our shouts now rose loudly, but they were confidently answered; and in half an hour a second column, more numerous than the first, again crowded the bridge. This time the range was better judged, and ere half the distance was passed, the multitude was again torn, shattered, dispersed, and slain: ten or twelve men only succeeded in crossing, and took shelter under the rocks at the brink of the river.<br>
The skirmishing was renewed, and a French surgeon, coming down to the very foot of the bridge, waved his handkerchief, and commenced dressing the wounded under the hottest fire: the appeal was heard; every musket turned from him, although his still undaunted countrymen were preparing for a third attempt. This last effort was comparatively feeble, and soon failed. The combat was nevertheless continued by the French, as a point of honour to cover the escape of those who had passed the bridge, and by the English from ignorance of their object.
One of the enemy’s guns was dismantled; a powder magazine blew up; and many continued to fall on both sides till four o’clock, when a heavy rain caused a momentary cessation of fire: the men among the rocks returned unmolested to their own party, the fight ceased, and we retired behind the Pinkel river. On our side upwards of three hundred were killed or wounded. The French lost more than a thousand men.