ARRIVAL at Cork - Correspondence with his brother -Sails for Portugal, with an expedition under Sir Arthur Wellesley - Battle of Roleia - Description of Vimeira - Battle of VimeiraIt was on the 25th December 1807, after an absence of seventeen months from Britain, that I landed at the Cove of Cork in Ireland. A thrill of joy ran through my whole body, and prompted a fervid inward ejaculation to God, who had sustained me through so many dangers, and brought me to a place where I might hear if my parents had pardoned me, or if my misconduct had shortened the period of their lives. The uncertainty of this embittered all my thoughts, and gave additional weight to all my fatigues. How differently did the joy of our return act upon my fellow-soldiers! - to them it was a night of riot and dissipation. Immediately on our arrival, our regiment was marched to Middleton Barracks, where we remained one month; during which time I wrote to my father, and sent him the amount of the ten doubloons I had received from the good priest. In the course of post I received the following letter, enclosed in one from my brother. It had been returned to them by the post-office at the Isle of Wight.
- Behaviour of the peasants after the battle.
- Behaviour of the peasants after the battle.
"Edinburgh, 5th August, 1806.
"DEAR THOMAS, "We received your letter from the Isle of Wight, which gave us much pleasure. I do not mean to add to your sorrows by any reflection upon what is past, as you are now sensible of your former faults, and the cruelty of your desertion. Let it be a lesson to you in future. It had nearly been our deaths. Your mother, brothers, and myself, searched in every quarter that night you left us; but it pleased God we should not find you. Had we only known you were alive, we would have been happy. We praise God you are safe, and send you our forgivness and blessings. The money you have sent, we mean to assist to purchase your discharge, if you will leave the army and come to us again. You say you have made a vow to remain seven years. It was rash to do so, if you have vowed solemnly. Write us on receipt of this, that I may know what course to pursue. "YOUR LOVING PARENT."
"Edinburgh, 5th January 1808."DEAR BROTHER, "We received your letter with joy. It has relieved our minds from much uneasiness; but, alas! he who would have rejoiced most, is no more. My heart bleeds for you, on receipt of this; but, on no account, I beseech you, think your going away caused his death. You know he had been long badly, before you left us; and it pleased God to take him to his reward, shortly after your departure. He received your letter two days before his death. He was, at the time, propped up in bed. It was a beautiful forenoon. William and myself were at his bedside; Jean and our dear mother each held a hand. Our father said in his usual manner, "My dear children, I feel the time at hand, in which I am to bid adieu to this scene of troubles. I would go to my final abode content and happy, would it please God to let me hear of Thomas; if dead, that our ashes might mingle together; if alive, to convey to him my pardon and blessings; for ere now, I feel conscious he mourns for his faults." As he spoke, your letter arrived. He opened it himself; and, as he read, his face beamed with joy, and the tears ran down his cheeks "Gallant, unfortunate boy, may God bless and forgive you, as I do." He gave me the letter to read to my mother, aloud. While I read it, he seemed to pray fervently. He then desired me to write to you, as he would dictate. This letter was returned to us again. I now send it to you under cover of this. Your mother is well, and sends you her blessings; but wishes you to leave the army, and come home. The money you sent just now, and the five pounds before, will purchase your discharge. Send us the happy intelligence you will do so. I remain, "YOUR LOVING BROTHER."
On receipt of this letter, I became unfit to do or think on any thing but the fatal effects of my folly. I fell into a lowness of spirits, that continued with me until my arrival in Spain; when the fatigue and hardship I was forced to undergo, roused me from my lethargy.
I was now more determined to remain with the army, to punish myself, than ever. This I wrote to my brother, and desired him to make my mother as comfortable as possible with the money I had sent.
We remained only one month in Middleton barracks, when we were again marched to Cork barracks, where I remained until the 27th June 1808, when I was embarked with, the troops on an expedition under Sir Arthur Wellesley, consisting of nine regiments of infantry.
We remained at anchor until the 12th July, when we set sail for the coast of Portugal, where we arrived on the 29th July, at Mondego Bay.
We began to disembark on the 1st of August. The weather was so rough and stormy, that we were not all landed until the 5th. On our leaving the ships, each man got four pound of biscuit, and four pound of salt beef cooked on board. We marched, for twelve miles, up to the knees in sand, which caused us to suffer much from thirst; for the marching made it rise and cover us. We lost four men of our regiment, who died of thirst. We buried them where they fell. At night we came to our camp ground, in a wood, where we found plenty of water, to us more acceptable than any thing besides on earth. We here built large huts, and remained four days.
We again commenced our march alongst the coast, towards Lisbon. In our advance, we found all the villages deserted, except by the old and destitute, who cared not what became of them.
On the 13th, there was a small skirmish between the French and our cavalry, after which the French retired. On the 14th, we reached a village called Alcobaco, which the French had left the night before. Here were a great many wine stores, that had been broken open by the French. In a large wine cask, we found a French soldier, drowned, with all his accoutrements.
On the morning of the 17th, we were under arms an hour before day. Half an hour after sunrise, we observed the enemy in a wood. We received orders to retreat. Having fallen back about two miles, we struck to the right, in order to come upon their flank, whilst the 9th, 29th, and 5th battalion of the 60th, attacked them in front. They had a very strong position on a hill. The 29th advanced up the hill, not perceiving an ambush of the enemy, which they had placed on each side of the road. As soon as the 29th was right between them, they gave a volley, which killed, or wounded, every man in the grenadier company, except seven. Unmindful of their loss, they drove on, and carried the intrenchments. The engagement lasted until about four o'clock, when the enemy gave way. We continued the pursuit, till darkness put a stop to it. The 71st had only one man killed and one wounded. We were manoeuvring all day, to turn their flank; so that our fatigue was excessive, though our loss was but small. This was the battle of Roleia, a small town at the entrance of a hilly part of the country.
We marched the whole of the 18th and 19th without meeting any resistance. On the 19th, we encamped at the village of Vimeira, and took up a position alongst a range of mountains.
On the 20th, we marched out of our position to cover the disembarkation of four regiments, under General Anstruther. We saw a few French cavalry, who kept manoeuvring, but did not offer to attack us.
On the 21st, we were all under arms an hour before day-break. After remaining some time we were dismissed, with orders to parade again at 10 o'clock, to attend divine service for this was a Sabbath morning. How unlike the Sabbaths I was wont to enjoy! Had it not been for the situation in which I had placed myself, I could have enjoyed it much.Vimeira is situated in a lovely valley, through which the small river Maceira winds, adding beauty to one of the sweetest scenes, surrounded on all sides by mountains and the sea, from which the village is distant about three miles. There is a deep ravine that parts the heights, over which the Lourinha road passes. We were posted on these mountains, and had a complete view of the valley below.
I here, for a time, indulged in one of the most pleasing reveries I had enjoyed since I left home. I was seated upon the side of a mountain, admiring the beauties beneath. I thought of home: Arthur's Seat, and the level between it and the sea, all stole over my imagination. I became lost in contemplation, and was happy for a time.
Soon my day-dream broke, and vanished from my sight. The bustle around was great. There was no trace of a day of rest. Many were washing their linen in the river, others cleaning their firelocks; every man was engaged in some employment. In the midst of our preparation for divine service, the French columns began to make their appearance on the opposite hills. "To arms, to arms!" was beat, at half-past eight o'clock. Every thing was packed up as soon as possible, and left on the camp ground.
We marched out two miles, to meet the enemy, formed line, and lay under cover of a hill, for about an hour, until they came to us. We gave them one volley, and three cheers - three distinct cheers. Then all was as still as death. They came upon us, crying and shouting, to the very point of our bayonets. Our awful silence and determined advance they could not stand. They put about, and fled without much resistance. At this charge we took thirteen guns, and one General.
We advanced into a hollow, and formed again: then returned in file, from the right in companies, to the rear. The French came down upon us again. We gave them another specimen of a charge, as effectual as our first, and pursued them three miles.
In our first charge, I felt my mind waver; a breathless sensation came over me. The silence was appalling. I looked alongst the line: It was enough to assure me. The steady determined scowl of my companions assured my heart, and gave me determination. How unlike the noisy advance of the French! It was in this second charge, our piper, George Clark, was wounded in the groin. We remained at our advance, until sunset; then retired to our camp ground. The ground was so unequal, that I saw little of this battle, which forced the French to evacuate Portugal.
On my return from the pursuit at Monte Video, the birds of prey were devouring the slain. Here I beheld a sight, for the first time, even more horrible; the peasantry prowling about, more ferocious than the beasts and birds of prey, finishing the work of death, and carrying away whatever they thought worthy of their grasp. Avarice and revenge were the causes of these horrors. No fallen Frenchman, that showed the least signs of life, was spared. They even seemed pleased with mangling the bodies. When light failed them, they kindled a great fire, and remained around it all night, shouting like as many savages. My sickened fancy felt the same as if it were witnessing a feast of cannibals.
Next morning we perceived a column of the enemy upon the sand-hills. We were all in arms to receive them, but it turned out to be a flag of truce. We returned to our old camp ground, where we remained three days, during the time the terms of a capitulation were arranging.
We then got orders to march to Lisbon.
On our arrival there, the French flag was flying on all the batteries and forts. We were encamped outside of the town; and marched in our guards, next day, to take possession, and relieve all the French guards. At the same time the French flag was hauled down, and we hoisted, in its stead, the Portuguese standard.
We remained in camp until the day the French were to embark. We were then marched in, to protect them from the inhabitants but, notwithstanding all we could do, it was not in our power to hinder some of their sick from being murdered. The Portuguese were so much enraged at our interference in behalf of the French, that it was unsafe for two or three soldiers to be seen alone. The French had given the Portuguese much cause to hate them; and the latter are not a people who can quickly forgive an injury, or let slip any means of revenge, however base.
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