(46) Probably early in March 1813 - I WAITED next day on Colonel Cadogan, who took me to see his brother, Major The Honourable Edward Cadogan, in old Bond Street.
He was confined to his room by a severe fit of ague, and the Colonel requested that I should call on him daily and keep up his spirits, which I did during my stay in London. In a few days the Major took me to see General (S.G. Denis) Pack in Bury Street, who was confined to his room by a wound received in Portugal. The General received me in the most friendly manner, and expressed a wish to see me often. My worthy friend the Honourable Colonel Cadogan about this time got intimation that he would be arrested for a large sum that he had become security for the member for Dover*. He sent for me and communicated in confidence his situation, and that he would start for Suffolk next morning, and that should any person make enquiries about him to say he was still in town; but that on a certain day he would return to my lodgings to breakfast. He was punctual and arrived at the appointed time, and remained with me for four days, during the greater part of which he was closeted with the Honourable and Rev. Gerrard (S.G. Actually Gerald) Wellesly, brother to the Duke of Wellington. (47) On the fifth day I took a seat for himself and servant under the assumed name of Hamilton in the mail for Falmouth. Previous to his setting out we dined together at the White Horse Cellar, Pickadilly. The Colonel left me many commands to execute for him, and orders to proceed to Portsmouth with as little delay as possible and embark for Portugal.
*According to Gareth Glover in his edition of The Diary of William Gavin "There were two members of Parliament for Dover, Sir John Jackson and Sir Charles Jenkinson 10th Baronet"
In a few days took the coach for Portsmouth and embarked with several officers on their way to join their respective regiments. On landing at Lisbon I waited on Colonel Cadogan at the Ambassadors, Sir Chas. Stuart, * where I received orders to proceed to join the Regiment, who were in winter quarters at Bejar in Spain. We remained here till the month of May, the men messing with the inhabitants in the most friendly way, and living as if they belonged to the family. Potatoes were more plentiful here than anywhere I have seen, with the exception of Ireland. It is a walled town, with a great cloth manufactory, which was forced to supply clothing for a French regiment annually, gratis.
* S.G. I suggest this should read "the Ambassador's, Sir Chas. Stuart" i.e. Sir Charles Stuart, 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay who was Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1810-1814
On the 6th May we marched to join the main army, which was concentrated in the neighbourhood. We commenced our march through Spain, passed the Ebro, (48) through a most delightful country in the direction of Vittoria, where King Joseph had his headquarters.
* Obituary of Colonel Cother from the Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review, Volume 43 -1855
Obituary of Lieut Colonel Cother, C.B. Jan. 24. At Gloucester, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Cother, C.B. He entered the army in Feb. 1800, as Ensign in the 71 st Foot, became a Lieutenant in the following July, and Captain in March, 1803. In 1806 he covered the landing of the force under Sir David Baird at the Cape of Good Hope, and was present in the general action of Blue Berg, and in all the operations that took place until the surrender of the colony. He covered the advance of the forces under Gen. Beresford at the reduction of the River Plate, and was engaged in several affairs in the vicinity of Buenos Ayres. On the surrender of that place he was taken prisoner, together with his whole force, and was marched nearly a thousand miles into the interior. In 1808 he commanded in Portugal the light companies of the brigade under General Ferguson at the battles of Roleia and Vimiera, and was afterwards at Corunna. In 1811 he was again in Portugal, and was at Arroyo dc Molinos when General Guerard was captured. Having commanded the storming parties at the taking of the forts of Almarez, on the Tagus, he obtained the brevet of Lieut.-Colonel June 19, 1812. He led the 71st at the battle of Vittoria, and there received three musket balls through his clothes and in his saddle and was wounded by a fourth. He subsequently passed seventeen years in Ceylon, and commanded in the Eastern provinces in the Kandian country during the rebellion of 1818 : having been appointed to the Lieut.-Colonelcy of the 71st in Oct. 1814, and exchanged to the 83rd in Oct. 1816. He was placed on half-pay at the reduction of the 83rd Foot. Lieut.-Colonel Cother was nominated a Companion of the Bath Dec 8, 1815, and was decorated with a gold medal for Vittoria and the silver war medal.
June 19th 1813 - We heard firing in our front and were ordered to pile arms. An Aide-de-Camp sent forward to know from what it proceeded. On his return he informed us that an action had taken place between a division of the French army and ours, (49) in which the former was defeated with great loss. They were on the march to join their headquarters at Vittoria. We resumed our march. Our route lay close to the field of battle, which was covered with killed and wounded. The Colonel and myself rode to the spot to view the carnage, when he said, ‘Gavin, you know how badly off the men are for salt and tobacco; take a sergeant’s guard with you and go to Salta * (50) a town about three leagues off, and try and get a supply.’ I was setting off for the Regiment to get my guard, when he called me back and said ‘Now, you are well mounted, and as many French stragglers are about the woods, you may make your escape when the soldiers could not, therefore I think you had better go alone.’ This was pretty comfort for me to go three leagues through a wooded country where I could not see ten yards before me, and that thick with retreating armed Frenchmen. On parting with my good Colonel, he shook me by the hand and laughingly bid me ‘take care of the Frenchmen.’ The road I had to traverse was through a thick olive and cork wood, and ran zig-zag, that scarcely in any place was there a straight line of ten paces, and every minute there was pop-pop from musquetry to the right, left, and front, between the peasantry and the straggling French. I kept a good round pace until I came to an acute angle, when to my dismay I was within a few yards of a French soldier, armed and accoutred, with his bayonet fixed. To advance was death, and to retreat was disgraceful and dangerous, as many more might be in my rear. On hearing the noise of my horse’s hoofs he turned shortly round and came to the present, and asked in Spanish who I was. I replied, as well as fear allowed me, that I belonged to the English army, when he cried out ‘Amigo’ (friend). He turned out to be a Spanish peasant, who had been to the field of battle, and stripped a French soldier, and put on his clothes, knapsack, arms, and accoutrements, etc. I parted with my amigo? right glad he turned out to be so. He gave directions as to my road, and informed me that a short way further I would come to a village, where the Alcade would provide a guide for my further advance through the woods, I soon overtook another Spaniard, who told me he was just then after killing two Frenchmen. I asked him how he could perform that by himself. He said that they lay down under a rock and fell asleep, and he got to the top and rolled a large stone which crushed them to death. The Spaniards held them in such detestation that they exulted in the greatest barbarities.*According to Gareth Glover in his edition of The Diary of William Gavin "Salinas de Anana is still a major salt works."
On my arrival in the village I was directed to the Alcade’s, and on enquiring for him, two mustachioed, whiskerified Hussars ran down from a left in the most menacing manner and enquired what I wanted. I took them for Frenchmen and thought it was all over with me, when to my great relief, on looking at their buttons, I found they belonged to the Catalonian Hussars. I got my guide to the next village, and by way of precaution sent him in to reconnoitre lest some of the enemy were in it, which proved not to be the case. On my way through the street two Spaniards seized the reins of my bridle on each side of my horse, and arrested me as a flying Frenchman. I protested that I was an Englishman (they never having seen one before), and that I was on my way to Salta for supplies for the British army, but all my protestations were vain. I opened my great coat and displayed my scarlet jacket as a proof, but no, it would not do. By this time the whole population were collected, and a council of war held whether I was to be hanged or shot. The former they preferred, as they considered a Frenchman unworthy of going out of the world by so honourable a death as shooting. I was in this hopeful pickle when a hoary-headed blacksmith made his way up to the crowd. His opinion seemed to have great weight with the populace, and a profound silence ensued while he was interrogating me as to my business in that remote part of the world, etc., etc. When I told him my story he shook his head, and turning to the people he said, ‘I believe the senor,’ and as a further proof, laying hold of my sash, said, ‘The French don’t wear things of this kind.’ On this avowal of the sage I was immediately liberated and a guide provided to the next village. As usual I sent him in before, and there found a lieutenant of Morillo’s Corps collecting provisions. I waited on him and told him I was going to Salta. He kindly sent a soldier with me, it being about two miles off, and invited me to dinner on my return. After loading two mules with tobacco and salt, I was preparing to return to my friendly lieutenant, when the church bells commenced ringing the alarm, and men, women and children all crowded to the square. Salta is built on a rock that was once fortified, the only remains of its former strength are the walls and an old gate. On the side next the great road leading to the City of Vittoria it is very steep. The cause of the alarm was the approach of about twenty French Dragoons who came round an angle of the rock, slowly moving on the road towards the town, which they supposed to be the advanced guard of a greater force. The old gate was barricaded with carts, etc., and I being the only military man in the town, and an Englishman to boot, they surrounded me begging for instructions how to defend the town. I was as much puzzled as themselves, and wished myself a thousand times in my camp among my friends; but as fortune still preserved me, the whole French force consisted in those we took for the advance guard of part of an army, and were some of the fugitives of the preceding battle making their way to a fort close by that the French still held possession of. Having loaded my mules I took leave of my Salta friends and returned to my Spanish officer, who waited dinner for me till five o’clock, though their usual hour is twelve. After making a hearty dinner on the kidneys of the sheep which he got killed for his men, he gave me a soldier as an escort, and night overtook us on the ground where the battle (51) was fought. There was only one solitary house, and it was filled with wounded French and English. This house was so full of wounded and attendants that I took up my quarters in the stable, across the door of which I stretched myself to guard the muleteer, in order that if he attempted to make his escape he should walk over my body. A thing very frequent among that class of people was decamping in the night, mules, baggage and all. On the return through the village of my worthy blacksmith, he exultingly proclaimed my return to the inhabitants as he had foretold, and took me to the priest’s, where I was very kindly entertained. Next day about two o’clock I joined my Regiment in camp, and related my adventures to the Colonel, who I thought would crack his sides laughing at my adventure with the blacksmith, etc., and called all the officers to make me repeat it again. My worthy friend, little did I think that next day he would be numbered with the dead!
I now followed the army who were pursuing the French, and came to Vittoria weary and hungry. The houses were all barricaded and scarcely a soul in the street. I met a priest and begged a little bread from him. He shrugged up his shoulders and replied that he had none to-day, but that if I called tomorrow he would supply me. I pitched him to the D----l, (Devil? S.G.) and a little further on I encountered a man with a more generous mind, who gave me a little bread and wine. On the outside of town was all Joseph’s private and the army’s baggage, scattered in the greatest confusion, hundreds of coaches and wagons loaded, with money only a few days arrived from France, and above two hundred pieces of cannon. The whole of the 18th Light Dragoons and some of the Guards remained to plunder, for which conduct the promotion of the 18th was stopped for three years. Cases of claret and brandy casks with their heads stove in were in every direction. I got an empty claret bottle filled with brandy, and rode on after the army late in the evening. The country for miles was covered with upset ammunition wagons, guns, etc., etc., abandoned by the French. On the way overtook a drummer and private of the 39th Regiment, who had remained behind to plunder, and mounted them on two immense artillery mules belonging to the French armies. Night was fast approaching, and the whole country as far as the eye could reach was covered with the fires of the army. I made a fruitless effort to find out our brigade, and about twelve o’clock at night got into a church - horse, mules, and the two 39th men. They immediately set to breaking up the pews, and in a short time made a blazing fire. They had by some chance got a quarter of mutton, which they promised to give me part of, provided I shared my brandy bottle with them, which I readily agreed to, and whilst they were cooking and dividing their plunder put the horse’s bridle over my arm and laid myself up against the altar and fell fast asleep, being weary and hungry, not having tasted food (with the exception of the little bread and wine in Vittoria) for upwards of thirty- six hours. Day soon broke, and I found Lord Hill’s lodging and reported Colonel Cadogan’s death to him. He sent Colonel Churchill with me to camp, and ordered Captain William Grant to the village I had left his corpse in, and had him buried in the garden of the Spaniard’s house in the village.
We had killed in officers: - The Hon. Lieutenant-Colonel Cadogan, Captain H. T. Hall, Lieutenant H. Fox, Lieutenant C. M’Kenzie, Lieutenant John Commeline, and Lieutenant C. T. Cox - killed; Lieutenant A. Duff, Lieutenant Loftus Richards, Lieutenant W. E. Lorrane, Colonel Cother, Captain Reed, Captain J. Pidgeon, Captain Wm. A. Grant, Lieutenant John M’Intyre, and Ensign Norman Campell - wounded.
Note. - The official list is as follows: - Killed - Lieutenant Colonel Hon. H. Cadogan, Captain Hall, Lieutenant C. M’Kenzie, Lieutenant Fox (wounded, since died), Lieutenant Cox (wounded and missing). Wounded - Brevet - Lieutenant-Colonel Cother, Captains Reed, Pidgeon, Grant, Lieutenants Duff, Richards, Torriano, M’Intyre, Campbell, Commeline; also 41 men killed and 260 wounded. The difference is that Commeline is given wounded not killed, and that the name Torriano appears instead of Lorrane. The army list shows that the former is the correct name, the error presumably comes from a slip in copying the name by Gavin or the scribe who worked after him.
A circumstance occurred this day that decided the fate of Sir Nathaniel Peacock. In the heat of the action he went about a mile to the rear in pretence of getting ammunition, which was getting scarce with the men. I was ordered by General Barnes to bring up a brigade of mules loaded with ball cartridge, when to my surprise I found Sir Natt licking away at the muleteers of another division, to bring them forward. On my informing him of his mistake, he replied he did not care a damn; he would take the first he met, when unluckily at that moment Lord Wellington and Lord Hill (59) came galloping up, and seeing a commander of a regiment that was engaged with the enemy, fighting with harmless muleteers, Lord Wellington asked him why he was not with his regiment, and pointed out where they were engaged. His excuse was that they wanted ammunition. He was ordered to join the conflict, which he did very reluctantly. By this time the 50th and 92nd were withdrawn to a hill out of range of shot, and General Barnes wounded, who commanded our brigade. As soon as the gallant Sir Natt heard it he set spurs to his horse and galloped off to the main body of the brigade and was soon out of danger. A bullet passed through part of his trousers without injuring him, but he made the surgeon return him among the wounded. It was a saying through the Regiment that it was not a mortal wound that a tailor could cure.
A strange presentiment of death occurred the day before the battle. Lieutenant James Henderson of our Regiment was within a few doors of my billet, and I called on him to take a walk to see Lieutenant Lawe, who was at some distance from us. I found him roasting a fowl and turning the spit himself. He seemed very low-spirited, but I got him out. We had to pass through a wood, and when we got about the middle of it he stopped of a sudden and said, ‘Gavin, I am not sick, yet I have a strange feel about me; I must go back to my billet.’ I endeavoured to laugh him out of it, but it would not do. He went back, and early next day he was no more. He was a fine young man, and the delight of the Regiment. He was shot through the heart.
When the action was nearly over and only straggling shots from both parties, Lieutenant William Campbell and myself were standing looking over a quickset hedge at some French soldiers firing random shots, when a ball hit him in the forehead, and he never spoke more.
* Printed as ‘Mont-de-Mars-an grounded’ in the 1921 printed version of William’s book.