« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
CAPTAIN SYNGE'S EXPERIENCES AT
A WAR MEMORY OF A 10TH HUSSAR
It was a summer evening,
Was sitting in the sun. Sixty years ago in the Western wilds of Ireland there lived a certain Colonel Charles Synge, late of the 10th Royal Hussars. It is believed that he only bore the courtesy title of Colonel by virtue of the brevet rank which the son of Erin so readily bestows on anyone who has been connected with the Army. The records of the 10th Hussars show that he left the regiment as a captain on its return from active service in 1814, and there is some ground for supposing that his resignation may have been due to the circumstances which resulted in the admission to that famous regiment of the officers who were known as the 'Elegant Extracts.'
Among the Colonel's papers, which have come into the hands of one of his grandsons who now writes these lines, is a short account of the part he played in the battle of Salamanca, of the wound which he received there, and of the primitive surgical treatment to which the poor fellow was subjected.
The paper has suffered from time and ill usage, the Colonel's handwriting is, as he himself acknowledges, not of the best, and, maybe, his grammar and punctuation are at times faulty (he did not write it for publication), but it is deemed better to publish it in his own words, as the story is graphically told, and is of interest.
Captain Synge at the time of the battle was aide-de-camp to Major-General Pack (afterwards Sir Denis), who commanded a Portuguese Brigade under Marshal Beresford in Wellington's Army.
Some portions of the notes are missing, and some words are illegible.
As often as an anniversary of any great battle, that I was engaged in, comes round, I am asked by one or other to tell them the story of the battle ; this is all fair-but it often results in some who were not present, but who think they have as much right to my gossip as their neighbours, insisting on my telling over again what they had heard only at third handthis is not fair. It happens unfortunately for me that my book of notes, made during the Peninsular War, is so written, or rather scribbled, as to be unintelligible to anybody but myself; so that I cannot save myself by offering them the original, and I am too indolent to write the book out “ fair.”
From the few words which still exist on the rest of the first torn page it appears that the Colonel had set himself a task to write out a certain portion of his notes at the time of each battle's anniversary. “In the course of a year' he might, presumably, complete his work.
It had been clear to many of us young officers for several days, ever since in fact we began to retreat from the neighbourhood of Valladolid, that the Duke had an itching to try his hand at a little “ Tactic." Hitherto he had confined himself to regular "Positions," the attack and defence of which he had maturely considered and planned; but now his judgment decided him to go behind the Coa, and the Army was put in motion for that purpose. He was determined however not to be bullied, his army was in good order, and his numbers not very unequal to those he was immediately opposed to (though he knew reinforcements were gathering for his enemy).'
The torn page cuts us off from the enumeration of Wellington's advantages—the possession of the fortresses, the favourable season, and the improved ‘morale’ of the Portuguese Army. We are plunged now in medias res; the retreat has begun, and the rear guard is engaged.
* They were, however, there before us, and in greater numbers, and drove back our people, several of whom were wounded.
'I was sent to take some reinforcements, but while doing so they were countermanded. Had they continued, it seemed probable the struggle might bring on a general action, and for a moment I believe the Duke, who came up accompanied by Marshal Beresford, had half a mind. I believe the Marshal expressed himself very strongly opposed to it. However, the Duke decided to put the Army in motion again on his original line of retreat.
* To understand in some degree (i.e. as far as is necessary for non-professionals) the nature of the operations that followed, you must suppose the Tormes to be a considerable river making a bend of nearly a right angle just before it reaches Salamanca, at a sinall town called Alba de Tormes. There, there is a considerable bridge guarded by a tête de pont in which were 300 Spaniards of Don Carlos d'Espagne's Corps.
' A mile up the river it is fordable, and from that part of the country a range of heights stretches along towards Portugal. Along the plain, at the foot of and parallel to these heights, lay our retreat.
* The order was to move in two columns parallel to each other, the one along the open plain, the other on the high road. The Cavalry and Horse Artillery, supported by our Brigade, were to cover the retreat. Soon we were all in shape and in motion.
“The enemy appeared to be making considerable exertions by pushing his divisions along the range of heights I described as parallel to our columns in retreat : in the hope, it seemed, of out-flanking us, or perhaps of intercepting our communications with Portugal.
'I happened to be with Headquarters when the Duke dismounted and fixed his telescope on the enemy's operations. It was evident that so numerous a Staff attracted the concentrated fire of the French Artillery, and somebody, I believe Lord Fitzroy, told us to disperse, and not crowd round the Duke. It was at this moment that a shot cut the wrist of his coat. This was at the foot of the enemy's heights and between the rear division of our column next the heights, and our brigade with the Cavalry, who were preparing to act as a Rear Guard. I mention these trifling circumstances because it was precisely at this time that the Duke made up his mind to attack the enemy. He saw that in their anxiety to menace our line of retreat, they had stretched themselves out so much, that if their leading division was attacked, they could not support it before it was beaten in detail.
'No sooner was it decided to attack than orders were given that the two columns of divisions should form two lines, facing the heights. Our leading Division, the 3rd, now became the right of our front line, and was ordered to move at once to attack the enemy's leading Division; and to overthrow it, if possible, before it could receive support. This operation could not have been confided to better hands. Sir Edward Pakenham, whom I knew very well, and who was always particularly kind to me, had hitherto been acting as Assistant Adjutant-General, which did not at all suit his taste or ambition to distinguish himself in command of a Corps; but, whenever he mentioned his wish to the Duke, his brother-in-law, he only got snubbed for his pains and advised to stay as he was. Now, however, owing to the absence of Sir Thomas Picton, he was placed in command of the 3rd Division. He commenced his attack with his right Brigade, in which were both battalions of the Fifth Regiment, and while he was giving them their orders he addressed a few words to them; this was the first time he had command of a Division, and he looked now to the Fifth Regiment for a character."
His character was in safe hands, and was soon made, for nothing could surpass the brilliancy of the whole operation, The leading Brigade of the enemy had made the best disposition in their power to meet Pakenham, but "he would not be denied," went bang at them, and knocked them over or rolled them up whenever they attempted to rally. Even when their Cavalry tried to stop “the Fifth,” they threw back only one of their wings and received them with the other in line; and, after a moment's destructive firing, actually moved on against the Cavalry in that shape. So complete was the overthrow, and 80 excited were the victors, that Mr. Bolton, carrying both colours of the Fifth (the officer who carried the other having fallen in the last charge), was moving so fast that Pakenham rode up to him and said, “If I cannot stop the Fifth from doing too much, I must only cut down the officer carrying the colours ! ”
I left my General only for a moment, and was tempted to remain longer than I intended just to see what the Duke would do, and had galloped towards our advance (now becoming our right), when I met the Prince of Orange coming from it. He too was galloping, but halloed out as he passed, “Oh, Synge, it is to be a fight after all. Pakenham is to begin on the right. Hurrah!” This made me pull up. I felt I was out of bounds and turned to retrace my steps to my own General. Anybody else would have blown me up for leaving him, but he always spoiled me, and I am ashamed to say I often presumed on his forbearance to go larking when our own Corps was inactive.
He told me that he had that moment received his orders, which were to remain where he was in observation of the “lesser Arapiles,” which were now to be a point d'appui for the enemy's right. They were very awkwardly situated for us, as they were in the rear of the left of our Divisions as they moved to assail the heights opposite to their respective fronts.
'It happened that Marshal Marmont's army extended unequally along the heights, by which, as I said before, he weakened his left. Consequently he was more massed on his right, and Sir Lowry Cole with our extreme left Division, the Fourth, whose part it was to assault that portion of the position (for which purpose he passed us by), found more than he could do. We saw, that, having ascended the heights he was being ronghly handled and after some time, though fighting desperately, he was losing ground.
* The orders Sir Denis Pack had received were discretionary. He was to watch and mark the Arapiles, and not to let any
of the enemy come down from it to molest the flank or rear of our left Division (Cole's). He was to exercise his own judgment, and if he saw a favourable opportunity, he was authorised to try and carry the Hill of the Arapiles. As soon as he communicated to me the orders the Duke had given him, he said, “I think the best thing I can do is to form my Corps as if we were going to storm the Hill, and then remain quiet until we see what will happen.” He did so immediately, intending to attack it as if he was storming a fortress. A party of about one hundred men of the 4th Cacadores under Major Fearon were to form the advance, or storming party, and were ordered to gain as much ground up the Hill as the enemy would let them, and then lie down. Two companies of Grenadiers of the 16th, and two companies of the Grenadiers of the 1st were formed as a support for the storming party, and the command given to Sir Niel Campbell. The remainder of the battalion of the 4th Cacadores were to steal up the sides of the Hill and to cover themselves as best they could. Sir Niel Campbell's four hundred Grenadiers were in line; in rear of his right, in column, was the First Regiment under Sir Noel Hill (my dearest friend), while in rear of his left, also in column, was the 16th under Colonel Pizarro. The whole, thus formed, lay down, while my General and I kept a sharp look-out at our friends on the hill, and also on Cole's Division, which we soon perceived was overmatched. In a short time Sir Denis received a message from Cole to send him some assistance.
'There appeared to Sir Denis Pack, and also to myself, to be so fierce a struggle just at this moment between Sir Lowry Cole's Division and the enemy, that it must be over, one way or the other, in a few minutes--long before we could get to his support, which at the shortest time would have been half an hour. He explained to the Aide-de-Camp who brought the message what the Duke's orders were, and that, if we moved to try to get to Sir Lowry, the fellows on the Arapiles would be down on our flank and rear before we got half way. In this dilemma he decided on rushing on the instant to try to carry our own hill, very properly arguing that if we succeeded we should soon be with Cole, and if we failed our attack must have the effect of preventing those on the Arapiles from detaching any men to add to Sir Lowry's difficulties. In a moment all the commanding officers were under weigh. As the General and I were riding to Major Fearon's storming party, he remarked that both on the right and left of the point of direction which the storming party were taking there appeared better openings to get to the top, and he added, “I wish I had divided Fearon's party into two and sent half towards each of the openings, but