Saturday, May 11

«note-book in hand, at the top of some hillock» (Memoirs of Baron de Marbot)

   DURING our stay at Sobral(de Monte Agraço)I saw another artifice employed by the English, and one of sufficient importance to be worth noting. It is often said that thoroughbred horses are of no use in war, because their price is so high and they require so much care that it would be almost impossible to provide a squadron, much more a regiment, with them. Nor indeed do the English use them on campaign; but they have a habit of sending single officers, mounted on fast thoroughbreds, to watch the movements of a hostile army. These officers get within the enemy's cantonments, cross his line of march, keep for days on the flanks of his columns, always just out of range, till they can form a clear idea of his number and the direction of his march.
   After our entry into Portugal, we frequently saw observers of this kind flitting round us. It was vain to give chase to them, even with the best-mounted horsemen. The moment the English officer saw any such approach he would set spurs to his steed, and nimbly clearing ditches, hedges, even brooks, he would make off at such speed that our men soon lost sight of him, and perhaps saw him soon after a league further on, note-book in hand, at the top of some hillock, continuing his observations.
   This practice, which I never saw anyone employ like the English, and which I tried to imitate during the Russian campaign, might perhaps have saved Napoleon at Waterloo by affording him a warning of the arrival of the Prussians. Anyhow, these English 'runners', who were the despair of the French general from the moment we left Spain, increased in boldness and cunning as soon as we were in front of Sobral. One could see them come out of the lines and race with the speed of stags through the vines and over the rocks to inspect the positions occupied by our troops.

- The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot - Volume II - Chapter XV

large bodies of men were seen in the valley...

  The loss of the British at Talavera, in killed and wounded, was scarcely less than 5000. The two French armies of Victor and Soult were coming up, by forced marches, to cut off the retreat of the british to Portugal. Cuesta would neither march nor fight, and Wellington, more embarrassed than assisted by his stubborn ally, threw himself behind the Tagus. 
Spain, now left to itself, was instantly overrun by the French, and Wellington, with the eye of genius, saw where the true defence of Portugal was to be made, and, with the heart of a hero, resolved to defend it to the last. In February, 1810, he commenced the design of arming the line of Torres Vedras.

 The battle of Busaco, on the 27th of September (1810), followed, which cost the French about 5000 men. On the retreat of the army, the light division and a squadron of the Legion remained on the heights of Busaco, to observe the French movements. 

 Early in the morning, large bodies of men were seen in the valley, and the squadron were sent down to ascertain what they were. They found them to be peasants of the surrounding country, who, infuriated by the rapine of the French, had come evidently for the purpose of cutting the throats of all whom they found alive on the field. They had now between three and four hundred wounded men in their hands, abandoned by the extraordinary inhumanity of Massena, and expecting to be massacred every moment. The sight of the hussars gave them new hope; they implored their protection; and the honest Germans, procuring some litters, conveyed them from the field to a neighboring convent, where they were taken care of by the monks.

lying sick in a village

In September, 1811, Marmont, at the head of 54,000 infantry and 5000 horses, marched to raise the blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo. The cavalry action at El Bodón was a conspicuous affair.
The position was a rocky ridge, intersected by strong defiles, held by three squadrons of the hussars, two of the llth, and the 5th regiment, with some guns, the whole under the command of General Victor Alten. The French, under General Montbrun, amounting to two thousand cavalry, followed by infantry and guns, rapidly advanced in three columns against the front and flanks of the position. (...)

In the retreat towards (Ciudad) Rodrigo, on the 15th of November, Victor Alten's cavalry forming the rear-guard, consisting of but six squadrons, the French came on with their old superiority of number, and attacked him with fourteen squadrons. 

 An instance of intrepidity and intelligence of one of the hussars which occurred here, deserves to be recorded. Colonel Waters, well known as one of the most distinguished officers of the British staff, lying sick in a village through which the rear squadron of hussars passed on the retreat, Captain Aly, commanding the squadron, well aware of the loss which the army would sustain by the Colonel's capture, sent a brave soldier, named Etherott, to try to bring him off; the squadron passed on, while the hussar, going to the Colonel's quarters, took him out of his bed, dressed him, got his horse ready, and leading him from the village, made an attempt to join the squadron; but the French had already intercepted their march, and no resource remained but that of making a long detour.
  The Colonel's illness prevented his riding fast, and by the time they reached a village where the hussar expected to find a ford, the French were already at their heels. No ford could be found, and they were obliged to swim their horses over the stream. The enemy were now every where round them, and the Colonel, much exhausted by his fatigue, was unable to go further, and was obliged to be hidden for an entire day, during which the hussar watched him.
 At length this anxious journey was recommenced; but it was not till after several days' travel, and crossing several rivers, during which time they were in perpetual hazard of falling into the hands of the French patrols, that the brave hussar brought his charge in safety to headquarters.

Thursday, May 9

Sir John William Waters

Sir John Waters
by William Salter
oil on canvas, 1834-1840
21 in. x 17 in. (535 mm x 430 mm)
Bequeathed by W.D. Mackenzie, 1950
NPG 3765
© National Portrait Gallery, London