THE CAMPAIGN OF WATERLOO
We were tossed about St. George’s Channel for eight days, in the most unhappy way ever experienced, in the evening on the coast of Wales, and morning that of Ireland. We met a vessel at sea who informed us that Napoleon had advanced as far as Lyons.
We got up Channel past Portsmouth, when the wind changed, and we were obliged to put into Portsmouth. During this day a melancholy accident happened. The ship was so crowded that there was scarcely room on deck to contain the men. The day being fine, about twenty got upon some spare yards that were lashed outside the ship, but the cords by which they were lashed, being too slight for such a weight, gave way, and the whole were precipitated into the ocean. The day was calm and the sails were immediately backed, and hen coops and every portable thing that would float thrown overboard, but unfortunately ten perished. One poor fellow, John M’Comie, a good swimmer, attempted to take off his trousers in the water to save another, when he got entangled and sunk to rise no more. We visited the dockyard and works. Captain James Henderson and myself were deputed to order dinner at the ‘George Inn,’ High Street, and among other good things found a turtle, for which they (the innkeepers) made us pay one guinea per head. Before dinner Colonel Reynal and Major L’Estrange joined us.
We sailed for Deal, and sent our heavy baggage on shore, and embarked in fishing smacks for Ostend. The sea ran mountains high, so much so that the smack I was on board of was half under water, and we put back to Dover. Surgeon Stewart, Surgeon Hill, and a few other officers and myself waited on the Commanding Officer, Colonel Dixon, who received us very kindly and kept us for dinner, with Colonel Norcott and family, the Colonel then commanding 2nd Battalion Rifles, stationed then at Deal.
We remained at Deal two days; got fresh provisions for the men and sailed for Ostend, which we made in twelve hours. It was about ten at night when we got to the harbour, and at a certain state of the tide it is dangerous to enter. They have signals, well known to the English smugglers and fishermen, when to enter or when to remain outside the bar. We happened to arrive at the wrong time, and were obliged to remain outside till morning, when we landed and were ordered immediately to Ghent. We embarked on board boats in the evening and proceeded to Bruges, and stopped at the English Hotel, kept by Mr. Carpenter, formerly of Limerick.
Next day we proceeded to Ghent by the canal. We remained here a few days and then marched to Fresne (through Audenarde, etc.), where we remained two days. We were then ordered to Leuse, and were quartered with the 2nd Battalion of the Rifles.
June 14th 1815 - General Adam, who commanded our brigade (consisting of the 52nd, 71st, and 2nd Battalion Rifles), ordered us to be concentrated in villages near a common, to exercise previous to a general route. We were only one night cantoned here, and next morning going to a field day, an Aide-de-Camp came galloping at full speed with orders from General Adam to march direct towards Brussels. A party under Lieutenant Moffat was left behind to pack up the baggage.
June 16th 1815- Marched to Braine L’Alleude. At daylight in the morning of the 17th were ordered to lie down in the streets for an hour. Captain William Grant and the writer of this got into a house, where we found a party of Brunswickers knocking out the heads of several pipes of wine, and after having drunk as much as they chose let the remainder run about the floor. We soon ejected these unwelcome visitors, and the grateful woman of the house provided us with bread and eggs, we not having tasted any kind of victuals for twenty-four hours before. We stretched on a bed and just began to doze asleep, when the bugle sounded to arms, and the men, roused from their hard beds, commenced their march towards the enemy. This day we marched towards Waterloo, and we encamped in a meadow, the enemy preparing in front of us. The army was ordered to retire and our Regiment to remain in advance. The writer was ordered by Colonel Reynell, Commanding Officer, to go to the village of Waterloo to try and procure some rum for the men, and on his return found the Regiment had moved from their position. Night had now set in and the rain pelted down in torrents, so much so that in the course of an hour the face of the country was like a sea. I kept following the Regiment, and expected every moment to overtake them, but at length found myself at the outposts, where I was stopped by a Hanoverian officer, who informed me that I was within a few yards of the enemy’s picquets. I then retraced my steps and came to a stable occupied by General Barnes’ horses. I begged for admittance, but was refused. Not knowing where to turn, I observed a light at a distance and turned my horse’s head towards it, when after wading up to the animal’s belly I came to a very neat cottage and knocked at the door. A mustached Hussar demanded to know in French ‘what I wanted.’ I told him shelter from the rain. He replied that the house was occupied by a Hanoverian General, and that I would not be admitted, but so desperate had I become from fatigue that I rushed past him and drew my horse into the parlour and tied him to a clock. I found the General stretched on straw on one side of the kitchen fire, and his Aide-de-Camp on the other side. On seeing I was a British officer he made no objection to my occupying the centre. The good woman of the house brought my portion of straw, put on more wood, and spread my dripping clothes before the fire. Here I remained till daylight appeared, comparatively comfortable, when I set out in quest of my Regiment, and found them close by in a ploughed field, where they had lain the whole night exposed to the pelting of the heaviest rain I ever experienced.
June 18th 1815
- The sun rose beautifully.
) The artillery of both armies had commenced the work of death. The men were ordered to dry their clothes and accoutrements and put their firelocks in order, and the writer was sent with a party to a farm house, to seize on all the cattle that could be found about it. This was soon performed. Cows, bullocks, pigs, sheep and fowls were put into requisition and brought to camp. Butchers set to work, fires made by pulling down houses for the wood, camp kettles hung on, and everything in a fair way for cooking, when the word ‘fall in’ put everything to the route. Men accoutring, cannon roaring, bugles sounding and drums beating, which put a stop, to our cooking for that day. Our Brigade were ordered to advance to the brow of a hill and lie down in column. A brigade of the enemy’s artillery got our range and annoyed us very much. One shot made an avenue from the first company to the tenth, which killed and wounded sixty men. During this period, not being attached to any company, I rode down the line to the left, to where Sir Thomas Picton was stationed, and came up just as he received his mortal wound. About two o’clock a squadron of the enemy’s cavalry charged down on us, when the General ordered us to form square, which was instantly performed, and soon repulsed them. We were several times attacked in our advance by the enemy’s cavalry. At one time we had only the front of the square formed when a squadron charged us, but we soon had it complete, with Lord Wellington in the centre. In the confusion my hat fell off, and on recovering it put it on front part to the back, and wore it like this for the remainder of the day, not knowing it was so. In this charge Ensign Todd was killed, also Lieutenant Elwes mortally wounded. Lieutenant Lawe, who acted as adjutant to the left wing, and was mounted, was hit by a cannon ball, which passed through the calf of his right leg, through the horse’s body, and wounded his left leg.
The enemy began to retreat about seven in the evening. We followed them to Nivelles and took a great number of cannon. The road was actually blocked up with cannon and wagons deserted by the French.
We bivouacked this night outside the village, up to our knees in mud.
Our loss during the day was:- 3 officers killed, 7 wounded; 24 rank and file killed, 160 wounded; 3 missing - loss of 71st at Waterloo.
Officers killed and wounded:- Brevet-Major L’Estrange (Aide-de-Camp to General Pack), Lieutenant Elwes, Ensign Todd - killed; Lieutenant-Colonel Reynell, Major Jones, Captain Read, Captain Campbell, Captain Barallier, Lieutenant Lawe, Lieutenant ------- - ; - wounded. (65)
June 19th 1815 - We remained on our ground and received half allowance of rum. The whole face of the country was covered with the wreck of the French army. Three of our Regiment in search of plunder opened an ammunition wagon filled with cartridges. On finding it of so little value they let the iron-bound cover suddenly fall, by which a spark emitted and communicated to the powder, and blew the unfortunate men to atoms. Corporal Sims, who had served with us at the Cape of Good Hope, Corunna, and all the battles in the Peninsula, and escaped the dreadful slaughter of the day before, was shot by a drummer, who playfully presented a French firelock at him, which he picked up from the field of battle, not knowing it was loaded. On the field lay a wounded French officer, who applied to me to assist him. I requested of a few Belgian boors, who were stripping the dead, to carry him to a farmhouse in sight, to which they consented on my taking charge of their heap of spoil till their return. They placed him on two muskets, and four of them took him off. As soon as I saw them near the house I abandoned my charge, and in a second their heap of plunder disappeared.
June 20th 1815 - Marched to Bavay. All the officers and many privates mounted on the French cavalry horses.
June 21st 1815
- To Le Cateau, famous for a victory gained by the Duke of York over the French Republican army in 1794.
) Here I witnessed a heart rending scene. Captain Pidgeon, Lieutenant Long, and myself, got into a farmer’s house, whose sole riches consisted of about three acres of hops, then luxuriantly creeping to near the tops of the poles. A brigade of Belgians was bivouacked outside the enclosure, and commenced taking away the poles for fuel. The owner entreated of us to try our interest in protecting his all, and we placed sentries at different parts to prevent the plunder, and succeeded in ejecting them off the ground, but their commanding officer, on hearing that his men could not procure fuel, ordered the whole brigade into the enclosure, and in a second not a vestige of all the hops remained, poles carried off and hops trampled to the ground.
June 22nd 1815 - Passed through Ham and got on the great road from Calais to Paris. Louis XVIII passed this day with his Garde de Corps, a vast number of carriages and emigrants. The Prussians, being in advance, wherever they passed everything was laid waste.
June 23rd 1815
- Marched early in the morning. Lieutenant Long, Lieutenant Moorhead, and myself deviated from the line of march to a large farm on one side of the road to get breakfast, but we were rather late, as the Prussians were there before us, everything bearing testimony of the havoc of war - furniture, grain, in short, everything both inside and outside of this most extensive farmyard and house were dilapidated. A fowl house happened to escape those prying plunderers, filled with fowl of all descriptions, but Long, who had a good nose, discovered it and set to work with his sabre. In a short time he decapitated dozens of them, during the time the maids were boiling a pot full of eggs for us. After finishing our repast, each of us took as many fowls as would fit on the necks of the horses, and Long, to make a good thing of it, folded a dead goose up in his greatcoat behind him on the horse. A general order was given out a few days before that neither officer nor soldier should fall out of the line of march. The lane from the farmer’s house to the high road opened on an extensive plain, and the army was then two or three miles in advance. Sir Henry Clinton, who commanded our division, and was a perfect martinet, we descried at a distance - well known by the Cock of his Hat. Apprehensive of the breach of the order, we set spurs to our horses, and took different directions over the plain, but he unfortunately selected Long to pursue. Long made a good run, but Sir Henry being better mounted soon overtook him, and in the race the head of the goose protruded from the folds of the greatcoat and kept dangling as the horse moved. Sir Henry enquired ‘why he was not with his regiment.’ Long replied that he had ‘stopped a few moments to purchase a few fowls for dinner,’ but the General told him ‘that were it not for the gallant corps he belonged to he would have tried him by a drum-head court martial.’
Nothing particular occurred until our arrival at Argenteuil, a beautiful village on the River Seine, where Lord Wellington received a dispatch from Marshall Blucher that he was in possession of St. Cloud. Long, as usual, was on the look out. He selected a superb mansion, where a Prussian major had a sentry placed to guard it as his quarters. Long instantly assumed a look of importance and ordered him to quit the premises as he wanted the house for his General. The sentry obeyed and left the house. Our army was bivouacked outside the town. The whole of the male population had fled to Paris and only the lady of the house and an old female were its inmates. In a moment Long had the heads off four ducks, and a piece of bacon on the fire. He demanded the key of the cellar, descended with his servant, and returned with between two and three dozen claret. The lady of the house got so alarmed that she left him all to himself and got shelter with some neighbours.
When everything was put in order he came to camp and told Moorhead, Winterscale, (67) and myself that dinner would be on the table at five o’clock, which we punctually attended and made a superb meal. After the cloth was removed it was proposed to see if anything valuable could be discovered on the premises, but nothing met our eyes but a fine horse, saddle and bridle in the stable. It was agreed that as Moorhead was the only pedestrian of the party he was best entitled to it, he being too lazy to take one at Waterloo, where hundreds were for the taking. He accordingly had him removed to camp, and we, after a glorious night, went to sleep.
Next morning we made a good breakfast and sallied forth to the camp to see what was going on. The Engineers were laying a Pontoon bridge across the Seine. Lord Wellington was sitting on a beam of timber answering a dispatch from Marshal Blucher when, to our utter dismay, we saw our landlady approach him. We got into camp as soon as possible, in hopes that in the crowd she would not recognise us, and Moorhead set the horse at liberty, who scampered home quite delighted to get from among the red coats. Luckily for us it was curiosity that induced the lady to approach his Lordship, not to complain of Long and his companions.
On the 7th of July we entered Paris and encamped in the Champs Elyses, in front of the Palace of the Tuilleries, with the 52nd and 2nd Batt. Rifles. The rest of the army we bivouacked in Saint Denis, Mont Martre, Bois de Boulogne, Mont Rouge, etc., etc. We remained in Paris till ----------, and marched to Versailles, where I left the regiment on the 27th December, 1815, and the regiment marched for the frontiers of Belgium. From Paris I took the dilligence for Calais and landed in England on the 2nd January, 1816, remained a few weeks in London, came to Limerick, and took Fishers Lodge, O’Brien’s Bridge, where I now am, thank God, in good health.