A rare eyewitness account of a British infantry officer with Wellington
This book is a first rate eyewitness narrative of the Peninsular War written by a regimental officer of the British Army. In 1807 Charles Leslie made his way to Iberia to serve with his regiment—H. M. 29th Foot (the Worcestershire Regiment)—and begin a life of campaigning against Napoleon’s invading French Army. Travelling via Gibraltar and Cadiz, his first experience of the battlefield came at Rolica in 1808, followed by the Battle of Vimieiro. After a skirmish at Grijo the regiment crossed the Douro into Portugal. Return to Spanish soil saw Leslie engaged in the Battle of Talavera where the 29th performed brilliantly charging uphill and displacing the French; Leslie was wounded in the leg in this action. The regiment went on to fight in the bloody affair that was the Battle of Albuera in 1811 and Leslie’s account of it makes riveting reading. As Wellington gained the advantage in Spain, the 29th joined him in his drive across the Pyrenees into the South of France and the battles that led to the abdication of the French emperor in 1814. In 1813 Leslie transferred to the 60th Rifles, and after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars served in Canada. This episode of Leslie’s career up to 1832—together with a small section of anecdotes—concludes a highly interesting memoir. This essential volume, originally published in 1897 and rare on the antiquarian market, enhances the Leonaur collection of books on the military history of the Napoleonic era and will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of any student of the period.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
In the after part of the day I was sent in command of a detachment consisting of a strong party of the 29th Regiment, and a party of the German hussars. My orders were to escort and protect the French fatigue parties employed in conveying the sick and wounded men from the different hospitals to the wharves for embarkation. This was a service of rather a difficult nature. The mob was very audacious, frequently pelting us, both foe and friend, with dirt and stones, and often threatening to use violence, notwithstanding that one portion of the cavalry were in advance to clear the way, and another covered the rear, while the infantry marched in files on each side. The whole formed an extensive procession, as each sick litter required four men as bearers. I was under the necessity of making at times demonstrations of using force to keep the mob at a distance. I had to make several trips, owing to the hospitals being in different parts of the city. In the evening, when all the sick were safely conveyed to the boats, the French fatigue parties all assembled at the Estrella Convent, which had been the principal general hospital. They put on their accoutrements, primed, loaded, and fixed bayonets. One of the sous-officiers asked me how I wished them formed. I told him to form them in column of subdivision at quarter distance, and to keep well together during the march. When we were about to move off, the director-general of hospitals came to thank me for the trouble I had taken, and for affording our protection to the sick. He requested my permission to give my men a glass of wine. I opened the ranks, and faced them inwards. He began and gave each man to right and left as the steward went down a small jug of wine, and excellent port it was.<br>I then disposed my party to conduct the French fatigue parties to the wharf. The Portuguese seemed quite lost in amazement when they beheld a British officer marching at the head of an armed body of Frenchmen. We formed rather a formidable appearance, and no one ventured to molest us, so we escorted them to the boats in safety. I observed numbers of poor fellows lying on the wharf, who had been fired at by the Portuguese from windows, or hit with stones as they passed. Indeed, it was not safe for any Frenchman to appear, unless guarded by the English, The French soldiers’ wives, however, made a good fight of it through the crowd. I heard some of them tell the mob:<br>“You shall pay for these outrages; our victorious armies will return again, and we will wash our hands in Portuguese blood,” at the same time suiting their actions to their words.<br>Several of the French officers felt so grateful for the protection which we had afforded them, that they made presents of their horses to some of our officers. Our regiment was most anxious to recover Black Jack, our gallant colonel’s charger. A communication was made to General Delaborde that any sum he chose to name would be paid for him if he would part with him. The general, in the handsomest manner possible, sent the horse back to us as a present to the regiment, and said that he was happy to have it in his power to gratify a corps which had displayed such determined gallantry against him.<br>After the urgent duties of this eventful day were all over, we had expected some respite. We, however, received orders to remain in the square in front of the arsenal all night, with instructions that no person was to quit it, or to go into a house. A proprietor of a large house begged us to take shelter in his porte-cochere, and for our accommodation he placed on the ground several fine new mattresses, which, he said, the French officers had left in his house. On these we took our rest by turns, as we relieved one another of duty every two hours. Next morning a message came from a French general, begging that these mattresses might he given up to him, as they were his property. We afterwards learned that they were all made of the finest cotton, which he had taken somewhere, and had it made up in this form to get it away. This, however, was a small matter compared with the plunder of church plate, of the palaces, libraries, and royal museum, and of the public arsenals. The Portuguese were indignant, with some reason, at the Convention of Cintra, when they saw that the French were allowed to quit Portugal in so peaceful a manner with all their plunder.<br>