Monday, October 25, 2010

A Secret Mission - 15th March 1813

A small mission near Castalla in eastern Spain in 1813 recounted by Private Ewart of the 27th.

Food for a Sharp Practice scenario I think.

On the 15th, however, orders were given for the light company, the grenadiers, and two battalion companies of the 27th, to stand to their arms soon after night-fall, and to proceed under the guidance of certain spies, on some secret expedition to the front.

We obeyed, of course, and found ourselves, about nine or ten o'clock, paraded under the beams of a full clear moon, and conducted by roads, on which the snow lay thick and firm, we did not know whither. We were in excellent spirits, as is always the case with soldiers when an air of mystery appears to hang over their proceedings; and we trudged along, pleasing ourselves with speculations on what the morrow might bring forth.

And so we penetrated through Bancai, a large straggling village, long before its inhabitants had begun to rouse themselves, the word having been previously passed, not only to keep silence, but to step as lightly as possible while traversing the street. But as the morning came in, our difficulties began to accumulate upon us. Though the nights were very cold, the sun possessed great power, and his rays soon melted the snow which had heretofore supported us; so that we sank at each step deeper and deeper in the mire, and became, by degrees, seriously impeded in our movements.

The consequence was, that, instead of arriving at Biechar, where we were expected to surprise an enemy's plundering-party at dawn, we did not reach the outskirts of the town till the morning was considerably advanced, and were therefore unable to accomplish more than the seizure of fifty-nine mules, all of them laden with booty; for the French, having contrived to obtain intelligence of our approach, retreated in good time to save themselves; and even of their plunder we should have failed to get possession, had we not made extraordinary exertions to push on.

Great was the rejoicing among the Spaniards when we marched into the town; and greater still their amazement when they beheld the use to which our success was turned. Instead of appropriating the booty to himself, and carrying it back to head-quarters, the commanding officer caused the Alcalde to receive the whole into his keeping; and then collected the heads of families by proclamation, into one place, in order that each might identify his own goods, and reclaim them.

I never saw men more strongly affected by sentiments of admiration and gratitude than these poor Spaniards. Some of them went so far as to shed tears; whilst the amount of wine and provisions, which they sought to press upon us, was so abundant, that had we accepted the whole, we should have been in bad plight to execute our homeward march, or indeed to perform any other species of duty. Moreover, they implored us not to leave them. They would submit cheerfully to any amount of requisition, if we would only remain and protect them from the French; but this was out of the question.

Wherefore, having halted about an hour, and taken as much both of bread and wine as sufficed to recruit our exhausted energies without affecting our sobriety, we stood to our arms once more, and fell back to Bancai.

Our movement in advance, though fatiguing enough, had been executed under the excitement of anticipated service; our retrogression, a great deal more toilsome in itself, had no such principle to lighten or sustain it. As the sun's power increased, the roads became more and more heavy, till by and by we plunged at every step ankle deep into the soil. Then followed the breaking of gaiterstraps, then the coming off of shoes, which few had time, and fewer still patience to redeem; for the foot being dragged out, the shoe was left behind, and the mud closed over it irretrievably.

Great, therefore, was the measure of our rejoicing when it was announced that we should not proceed further than Bancai that night, and cordial the expression of our satisfaction when, having been formed up in the market-place, we were desired to go and occupy, each man for himself, the best billet that we could find.

It was my fortune to establish myself, together with the four men of my squad, in the house of an old couple; they either had no provisions of any kind, or judged it expedient not to share them with us. But some Indian corn we did discover in the course of our investigations, and out of that, fried in olive oil, we contrived to make a tolerable supper. Moreover, two of my party, by name Dodd and Crichton, being noted for their skill as foragers in similar situations, contrived, while rummaging up some fagots, with which to feed the fire, to bring to light a cask of excellent old wine. From this we made no scruple of drawing as much as our immediate necessities required ; and filling our canteens, over and above, as a preparation for the morrow. Yet, let me do justice both to myself, and to the light company in general. There was not a drunken man among us ; and when an hour before daylight we mustered next morning under arms, we were all, much to our new captain's satisfaction, sober.

1 comment:

Tony said...

I very much enjoyed this report - thank you for first finding it and then posting it.

I can imagine it being the basis of a number of scenarios.