William's Diary ~ Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ~ diary month-by-month ~ June 1808 - January 1809
June 27th 1808 - Embarked at the Cove of Cork on an expedition under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley. (18) We were brigaded under the command of Major-General Ferguson, - the 40th, 36th, and 71st. We remained at anchor until the 12th July, and arrived off Mondego Bay on the 29th July, where we cast anchor. The writer was sent by Colonel Pack on shore to purchase mules. He embarked in a country boat with three Portuguese. The surf is so great in this bay that the natives can with difficulty weather it. Wave succeeded wave, mountains high, and when it approaches the boat the crew abandon their oars and threw themselves flat in the bottom of the boat, invoking the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints in the calendar. After a complete ducking and a terrible fright we got on shore, but found all horses and mules taken off by the French army.

The army disembarked from 1st August to 5th. We received four days rations of beef and biscuits, and marched over a very sandy country. Several of our men died of thirst and were buried where they fell.

August 14th 1808 - Bivouaced at the village of Alcobaça.
August 15th 1808 - Attacked the enemy at the village of Brilos and repulsed them.
August 17th 1808 - The French, under the command of General Laborde, (19) was attacked at the village of Roleia, (20) and were routed by the British army.

August 18th 1808 - Marched to Lourinha and to Vimeira.

On the 19th and 20th halted, and were joined by Brigadier-General Anstruther’s brigade of 2,400 men landed (21) at Maceira on the 19th. The writer was sent by Colonel Pack to receive camp equipage at Maceira on the 20th. On this night Sir Harry Burrard arrived and took the command of the army, but approving of Sir Arthur Wellesley’s arrangement, did not assume it till after the battle next day.

August 21st 1808 - Under arms at daylight, and advanced towards the enemy (about 8 o’clock a.m.), who were posted on the heights opposite us. (22)

Our Brigade was attacked by the French cavalry, which we charged and repulsed, taking six pieces of cannon. (23) They made an effort to retake their artillery, but were routed by the 71st, supported by the 82nd, taking the French General prisoner (General Brenier), by Corporal John M’Kay, 71st Regiment. When sent to the rear he offered M’Kay his gold watch, which he refused, and escorted him in safety to the rear. Next day the General, at an interview with Sir Arthur Wellesley, reported the high spirit of the corporal. His Excellency was pleased in that night’s orders to appoint him Assistant Provost Marshal. He afterwards got a commission in a West India Regiment, where he died, and a gold medal from the Highland Society was given to him. The conduct of our Piper-Major (George Clarke) was worthy of the name of a Highlandman. In the charge where General Brenier was taken he received a musquet ball in the leg. Being unable to advance, he sat down on a rock and played the charge on the pipes to encourage his brave companions. He also got a gold medal from the Highland Society, and was held in high estimation in London, after being discharged from the list Regiment.

Officers killed, wounded, and missing of the 71st Regiment at the Battle of Vimeira on the 21st August, 1808: Captain Jones, slightly; Lieutenant J. D. Pratt, severely; Lieutenant Wm. Hartley, severely; Lieutenant Ralph Dudgeon, severely; Lieutenant A. S. M’Intyre, slightly; Ensign Wm. Campbell, slightly; Acting Adjutant M’Alpin, severely. (24)

N.B. - Mr. M’Alpin was not wounded by the enemy, but fell from a rock on which he was standing.

August 22nd 1808 - Advanced to Torres Vedras, where a line of demarcation was drawn, and the town was to be neutral ground during the negotiations carrying on at Cintra.

September 2nd 1808 - Marched towards Lisbon.

September 3rd 1808 - Proceeded to Mafra, a palace and convent.

September 4th 1808 - Arrived in a plain near Belem; saw the tricolour flag hoisted at the castle.

September 5th 1808 - Sent by the Commanding Officer to Cintra, to purchase a pipe of wine, and when brought to camp, the cart driver got so alarmed that he threw down the wine and scampered off without waiting for payment. It was given to Sergeant Urquhart to serve out to the men. (Memo. The wine merchant was never paid for it, and D. B. received the proceeds.)

We encamped after the embarkation of the French troops at Campo de Rico, till the 8th October, when an order was issued to place a large proportion of the army under the command of Sir John Moore, to be employed on a separate service in Spain.

Our Division was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir John Hope, and consisted of the following regiments, viz.:-

Rifle Brigade - 2 companies.

36th, 71st, 92nd, and 5 companies. 60th - Brigadier-General Catlin Crawford.

2nd and 6th Regiments - Brigadier-General Ackland.

5th, 32nd, and 91st - Major-General Hill. (25)

This Division was ordered to go by the main road, through Badajos, Talavera de la Reyna, and by the great road to Madrid, the other roads being impassable for Artillery. (26)

October 27th 1808 - Marched from Lisbon by Sacavem and Santarem to Abrantes, where we remained a fortnight quartered in the old castle of the Marquis of Abrantes. From thence to Campo Mayor, a fortified frontier town of Portugal. Marched from thence and entered Badajos, a fortified Spanish town. Halted here for a few days.

We continued our march to the Escurial, a palace and monastry belonging to the King of Spain. This church and mausoleum, where the Royal family of Spain are buried, is the richest in the world. Halted here three days. Continued our march to Guadarama, a fortified pass in the mountains of that name, and strongly fortified by the Spaniards, and in their possession. Here information was received that the French army were on their march from Valladolid to prevent our junction with Sir John Moore, then at Salamanca. Next to Avila, which we entered by torchlight. Next night, we bivouacked in an olive wood. The frost was intense this night, so much so that the men’s hair was frozen to the ground (the army then having long hair). Next day we were obliged to bury six pieces of cannon, the horses being unable to proceed from fatigue. (27) Arrived at Alba de Tormes, quartered here for a few days, and were inspected by Sir John Moore.

December 16th 1808 - Marched to Toro; the weather dreadful, the whole face of the country covered with snow. In this town the troops committed dreadful depredations.
December 19th 1808 - Marched to Villalpando.
December 20th 1808 - To Villalor. Nearly petrified with cold, the frost being very severe for the last week.
December 21st 1808 - Marched to Villada, and was joined by General Baird’s army from Corunna.
December 22nd 1808 - General orders to the army to hold itself in readiness to march tomorrow. The French under Marshal Soult at Saldana and Carrion, about one league from this, sixteen thousand strong - our army not more than twelve thousand. (28) The cavalry under Lord Paget had frequent skirmishes with the enemy the last two days.
December 23rd 1808 - Under arms from five till seven o’clock a.m.; a most bitter cold morning. This evening got under arms, with an intention to attack the enemy at daylight next morning, and marched about two leagues in a most bitter frost, when the order was given to the right about, in consequence of Sir John Moore receiving intelligence of the French having received a strong reinforcement.
December 24th 1808 - At ten o’clock at night the General beat, and in an hour we were in full retreat on the road to Mayorga.
December 25th - Christmas Day 1808 - We were routed out at four in the morning and marched to Valderas.
December 26th 1808 - Moved on the road to the city of Benavente, and was stationed in the Castle of the Duchess of Benavente. Here we were joined by the 82nd and part of the 3rd Buffs from Oporto, who brought a supply of blankets and shoes, which were all destroyed instead of distributed to the army, that was perishing with cold and barefoot. Here we remained for the 27th - This day a party of French cavalry crossed the river Esla and attacked a party of the 18th Dragoons, under the command of Colonel Otway, but were repulsed by that gallant corps and driven across the river with loss and the capture of the French General Lefevre. (29)
December 28th 1808 - Marched to Alejos, a miserable village. Raining torrents the whole day. Bonaparte left the army this day for Madrid. This day we passed about four hundred wretched beings, part of Castanos’ (30) army, the misery of them is beyond description.
December 29th 1808 - Marched to La Baneza. Now our miseries began to thicken. No food, nearly naked, the worst of roads, and dreadful weather.

December 30th 1808 - Before daylight we were in motion, and in about three leagues reached Astorga, and expected to halt for the night, but the arrival of five thousand Spaniards of the Marquis de la Romana’s army rendered this impossible. The confusion in the town beggars description. The motley groups of half naked half armed Spaniards, with the way-worn dispirited English, mules, bullock-waggons, artillery, etc., which crowded the streets rendered it quite impossible. The writer of this went to a Convent, which was converted into an hospital, and saw in the course of a few minutes no less than forty dead bodies carried out for interment. Astorga is a very ancient city, surrounded by a very thick wall with many towers, and a most beautiful town clock.

We left Astorga about three o’clock p.m. and marched to the small village of Combarros, where, with difficulty, I persuaded a man to sell me a miserable mulch cow, which we immediately slaughtered and fed upon.

December 31st 1808 - Started two hours before daylight, a very hard frost, and marched over a very high chain of mountains covered with snow. The army had neither bread or wine for the two preceding days, and our sufferings were extreme. At the end of the five leagues we reached Bembibre.
January lst 1809 - Marched to Villa Franca. This day was employed in destroying stores and a brigade of brass guns. This day we had to clamber up steep mountains covered with snow; the mules and oxen unable to carry their burdens were either shot or left to perish in the snow. Stores of every kind were tumbled down the mountain side, with many casks of dollars. (31) On this mountain, Mrs. Cahill, our Colonel’s servant, was delivered of a fine boy, her bed the snow. On the summit of the mountain a private of the 92nd lay down in the snow determined to end his hardships in death. Colonel Pack requested the writer to give him his mule, to carry him to the next village, with which he complied, but the return he got for his humanity was to have his mule tied to a tree in the village, and after searching till one o’clock next morning found him by a miracle. Lieutenant John Graham and myself got this night into a kiln and found plenty of chestnuts, on which we made a sumptuous repast. The village where we passed the night is called Doncos.
January 2nd 1809 - To Sobradellos.
January 3rd 1809 - To Constantino.
January 4th 1809 - Marched to Lugo under torrents of rain. Our sufferings were indeed pitiable. Orders were given to send off the baggage and sick to Corunna and to halt the army. The men were to be completed to sixty rounds of ammunition each. The writer and Adjutant Anderson were ordered to proceed to a magazine about two miles from town, to get the complement of our regiment, on which occasion (our tempers were so soured by fatigue and hunger) that we drew our swords and actually commenced a regular combat, when some friends interfered and effected a reconciliation. In this town I got into the house of a priest with Lieutenant John Graham. A soldier of the 18th Dragoons entered and demanded provisions, when Mr. Graham, remonstrating with the violence of his conduct, he deliberately drew out his pistol and discharged it at Mr. Graham, but fortunately missed him. We made him prisoner and lodged him with the main guard, but in the confusion than ensued the affair was forgotten. To such a state of insubordination had the army been reduced that the soldiers paid not the least respect to their officers.
January 5th 1809 - This evening two companies of our regiment with a part of the army were engaged with the enemy’s advanced guard. The dragoons were employed in shooting horses unable to proceed from want of shoes and fatigue.
January 6th 1809 - Some sharp skirmishing with the enemy, who were repulsed with loss. (32)
January 7th 1809 - They again renewed the attack, but were again repulsed.
January 8th 1809 - The two armies in view of each other but neither seemed inclined to engage. At 7 o’clock we increased our fires and marched on the road to Corunna for the whole of a dreadful rainy night.
January 9th 1809 - We reached Betanzos. On the way bags of biscuits; casks of port; and barrels of rum were placed on the road; sent from Corunna, and the waggons returned for a further supply. The rum caused the death of hundreds. The heads of the casks were knocked in, and the men drank to such excess that they (many of them) lay down to rise no more. In Betanzos, though the men were literally starving, their want of sleep and fatigue were such that it was impossible to rouse them to receive their rations. On arrival at this town they threw themselves down in the streets and market house until the bugles sounded in the morning to commence the march. Of our brigade, which, at the commencement of the retreat, consisted of 2500 men, not more than 150 marched in with the colours, and they, barefoot, covered with old blankets, and many without arms. (33) It was grievous to see sons of noblemen trudging along barefoot through the mud, and half naked.
January 10th 1809 - Marched to a small village and broke down a bridge over a river; (34) the French close at our heels.

January 11th 1809 - Entered Corunna, and were stationed in the suburbs of St. Lucia. The fleet not yet arrived from Vigo.

January 12th 1809 - Employed in sending the sick and women on board.

January 13th 1809 - The French made their appearance on the other side of the River Mero, and took up a position at the village of Pedrillo.

January 14th 1809 - The French commenced a cannonade on our lines, but were forced to retire by the fire of our Artillery. This day an immense magazine of powder and arms was blown up by us, to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. Though four miles from Corunna, the shock was so great that it shattered every pane of glass in the town, and shook the earth and houses like an earthquake. A few men were killed by the explosion. (35)

At two in the afternoon, the long-looked-for fleet arrived. Great activity in embarking guns, horses, and ammunition. We this day took up a position about two miles from the town.

January 15th 1809 - The enemy received a strong reinforcement, and took up a more forward position, and attacked our advanced guards, but were steadily opposed by our troops, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie of the 5th, who was killed, and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Napier, of the 92nd, who also lost his life. (36) Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholls of the 14th then took the command, who caused the enemy to retreat. Still the embarkation of what little stores remained was going on, and hundreds of beautiful horses shot on the beach, and hundreds of mules running about without owners. General orders given out to prepare for embarkation.

This evening I embarked a pipe of Malaga wine, in charge of Robert Murray, the paymaster’s servant, and never saw it afterwards.

January 16th 1809 - The enemy attacked us from the heights they occupied; our brigade was on the extreme left and partially engaged. The brigade of Lord William Bentick and Major-General Paget’s division bore the brunt of the action. I met Sir John Moore galloping his horse out of Corunna, with all the ardour of a great commander, at two o’clock this day. He was killed in a short time afterwards.

Lieutenant Augustus M’Kenzie was the officer of the 71st left to keep a fire up to deceive the enemy during our embarkation, which took place at ten o’clock this night. The captains of the transports were ordered to hoist a lantern in the rigging of their mainmast, to announce their admission of the poor soldiers, and when complete to lower it; but they lowered the light before they had half their complement, so the people were bundled into whatever ships they could get alongside of, so that scarcely standing room was in some of them, while others were half empty.

I got on board a transport where parts of fourteen regiments were huddled together, and as soon as daylight appeared the French discovered our retreat, and the embarkation that took place under cover of the night. They brought their guns to bear on the shipping from the heights of St. Lucia. The masters of the transports immediately cut their cables, and in the confusion four transports ran aground and were abandoned. In one was Mr. Carey, a Commissary that we picked up at Buenos Ayres, and who had amassed during the campaign an immense sum of gold and silver. When making his way in a boat from one of the wrecked transports, a ball from one of the French guns pierced the boat’s bottom, when poor Paddy Carey and his ill-got wealth went to the bottom of Corunna Bay.

In eight days we arrived at Spithead, (37) and were there transferred into other transports and sent round to Ramsgate, where we disembarked and marched to Ashford, in Kent, after being fully equipped, and being made a Regiment of Light Infantry.

From Ashford we marched to Brabourne Lees, a temporary wooden barracks, erected on a large common, and were brigaded with the 68th and 85th Light Infantry Regiments, under the command of Baron de Rottenburg.