Accompanying Histories of the Campaign and Regiment in the Period by Eric Sheppard and William Cope
Rifle green to America
Relations between the British Empire and its former—rebellious—colony in America were understandably strained in the half century following the War of Independence. While the British Army struggled with the Emperor of the French in Spain, open hostility broke out on the new nations border with British Canada. As Britain's war apparently drew to a close in the South of France upon Napoleon's abdication experienced regiments from Wellington's Peninsula Army were detailed to sail across the Atlantic to join the struggle. Among them were elements of the 95th—the famous green-jacketed riflemen. Fortunately for posterity two of those soldiers, Harry Smith and William Surtees, elected to write accounts of their experiences. Leonaur has included these two essential accounts in this volume, together with an account of the doings of the 95th in America and a general overview of the war, to give modern readers an insight into the latter stages of this Napoleonic period war, from a rifleman's perspective, up to and beyond the catastrophic battle before New Orleans that concluded hostilities. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
The troops of course dispersed in some measure, leaving their fires, which had too well served as a direction for the fire of this terrible schooner. But the time was not far distant when we should have other enemies to encounter; for by the time the schooner had fired a dozen broadsides, a noise was heard in our front; and just at this moment an American was brought in by a man from Captain Hallen’s post, who had foolishly come right into the centre of his picquet, and asking if they could tell him which way the regulars had gone. This showed that he was a young soldier, who did not know our troops from his own; but it also showed that the regulars which he was seeking could not be far distant; consequently, everything was got ready to give them the best reception possible; but as the people we had heard in front of the post where I then was appeared to be rather to our right, I feared lest they might get unawares upon the company of the 85th, which was stationed in the farm behind us.<br>
I consequently set off with all dispatch to give them timely warning, but when I arrived there, I could not find the officers, nor could I see where the picquet was posted; I therefore thought they must be on the alert at the bottom of the garden, which lay in the direction in which we heard the noise; and meeting here an officer and several of our men, who had moved in this direction, from the fire of the schooner, I told him I was certain that Hallen would be shortly most vigorously attacked, from the information I had learnt respecting the regulars, and advised him to collect all the men he could, and proceed forth- with to reinforce him at the advance. This he instantly did, and it was well, for by this time the firing had commenced in volleys at that post.<br>
I then returned to the picquet-house, where I had previously dined, and found the officer was going round his sentries; but as the firing was going briskly on at Hallen’s post, I expected every moment to be attacked here, and began, in the absence of the officer, to post the men as advantageously as the nature of the ground would admit.<br>
The house stood on a little path, or bye-road, running across the country, from the river towards the wood, and which, before he could get into, the enemy would have to clamber over a railing which lay on the side from which they were advancing. On the hither side of the road was a ditch, with a hedge, almost the only one to be met with, and a little copse of small trees. Into this copse I put the men, extending them along the inside of the hedge, which would not only keep them from the view of the enemy, but be some little protection from their fire, and would leave them the more at liberty to retreat when overpowered by numbers, as it was certain they must shortly be.<br>
But all my labour was in vain, for when Forbes came from visiting his sentries, he did not approve of my disposition, but took them all out, and formed them on the open road, without any cover, and with a hedge and ditch in their rear, both of which they would be compelled to pass the moment the enemy pressed upon him. I felt annoyed, not only at his want of courtesy to me, but that he would thus expose his men to almost certain destruction, without being able to effect anything against the enemy, or at all check his advance. I accordingly left him in a huff, and went again to try to find the picquet of the 85th in the house behind us.<br>
I was determined to make a more close and thorough search than I had done before, and for this purpose went over the gates, &c. into the yard behind, when lo, I found myself within a yard or two of a strong body of the enemy, which had got into the garden at the lower end, and were just advancing to the house. I crouched down, and hid in the best manner I could, and luckily was enabled to creep off without their discovering who I was. Just as I reached the outer gate, I found a sergeant of ours there, to whom I said, we must set off with all possible speed; and accordingly we both took to our heels, and ran like heroes; the noise of which brought the fire of twenty or thirty rifles after us, but luckily without effect.<br>
I now made the best of my way towards where I judged the main body of our people were, on the great road, in order to inform Colonel Thornton of what I had seen, of this column of the enemy having got possession of the house and garden I had just left, and by doing which they had nearly separated the advance picquet from the main body. He said he had sent two companies of ours, and two of the 85th, to the house immediately in the rear of this I speak of, and in a short time afterwards they and the Americans came into close contact, for they immediately commenced firing; and where as strange a description of fighting took place as is perhaps on record.<br>
The enemy soon discovered from some men, whom they had unfortunately taken, what the regiments were that were opposed to them—and with all that cunning which the Yankees are famed for, instantly turned it to the best account—for in several places they advanced in bodies, crying out at the same time, “Come on, my brave 85th!” or “My brave 95th!” and thus induced several of our small detached parties to go over the rails to them, supposing they were some of our own people, when of course they were instantly made prisoners. This ruse did not always succeed, however, for some of the parties turning restive on their hands, refused to surrender, and thus a fight hand to hand took place, and in which they generally had the worst of it.<br>
On one occasion of this kind our people made a body of them prisoners. The men and officers being requested to lay down their arms, the officer, after surrendering, when he saw there were not many of our people, drew a sort of dirk or knife, and made a stab at the officer of ours who had taken him. We instantly cried out to the men near him, one of whom took up his rifle and shot the villain through the body. They had before this time brought two of their regular battalions close in front of our advance, which did not consist of more than 100 men, and were pouring in dreadful volleys into that small but gallant detachment; but even in this they showed themselves young soldiers, for they formed up the two battalions in line at about forty or fifty yards in distance from the post, and gave the words “ready—present—fire,” with all the precision of a field-day; but being so near, of course every word was heard by our people, who, at the critical moment, always took care to cleave as close to the ground as possible, by which they escaped most of their shot.