Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


“We drove them back with charged bayonets:” A King’s German Legion Rifleman at Albuera

By Donald E. Graves

Rifleman Friedrich Lindau served with the 2nd Battalion of the King’s German Legion during the Napoleonic Wars. Lindau was illiterate but in old age he told his story to a clergyman who published it as Erinnerungen eines Soldaten aus den Feldzügen der Königlich-deutschen Legion ( Helwing'sche Hofbuchhandlung, Hameln, 1846) On pp. 35-38 is an interesting account of Lindau’s experiences at the battle of Albuera in May 1811. Although there are errors of fact in the account, it gives a good picture of the battle from the point of view of a simple soldier serving in a units whose contribution to the battle is only too often overlooked. The original text was supplied by Michael-Andreas Tanzer (www.kgl.de) and the translation was done by Dianne Graves. Paragraphing has been introduced to improve the flow of the narrative.

Donald E. Graves

"One morning, we got the order to depart; our two light battalions marched off around midday and at ten in the evening reached a big heath near Albuera. We lay down, knapsacks unpacked and rifles in our arms; towards morning, we heard a lot of noise and when day came we saw that we were on the left flank of a large army of English, Spanish and Portuguese troops. Beside the village in front of us stood a 25-foot high tower, where we had an outpost. I crept off to the village to look for food and saw my brother standing on look-out up in the tower, who summoned me to bring him some wine. In a house in the village I found an old man who had not wanted to leave, who complained that his wife had taken all the food with her. Other houses were totally empty, and only in one stable did I find a sheep, which I took with me. When I got back to the tower, my brother told me that I should kill the sheep quickly, hurry back to my company and tell them that the enemy was approaching. I thereupon slit the throat of the sheep and left it lying by the tower so that my brother could skin it. I informed our commander that the enemy was approaching and hurried back to the tower with the adjutant, from where he could observe the enemy on high. He soon came down quickly with my brother, and ordered us to hurry back to our company, taking none of the sheep with us, as the enemy was already in the vicinity. Nevertheless, I cut myself a leg of meat, and dashed back, but hardly had I tied it to my knapsack, than our company advanced to skirmishing.

We advanced through the village and occupied positions on the far side of it, one being a field of thistles eight or nine feet high, in which, virtually unobserved, we advanced to a small river. On the other side of it were enemy skirmishers who fired on us continuously, and behind them stood troops of the line and cavalry. We also fired incessantly, but nevertheless, the enemy penetrated across the river several times and we drove them back with charged bayonets. Soon we heard strong fire to our right along the whole line, and could see the battle had begun.

We had fought for about 1 1/2 hours and lost a lot of people and the enemy even more, and then we had to withdraw because the Portuguese positioned behind us were to take our place. At this point we were under fire from two sides, since the Portuguese, who took us for French, also shot at us until our Oberst Halkett rushed off to the Portuguese and threatened their commander with his sabre; at that moment a ball tore from me my piece of mutton that I had tied to my knapsack several hours earlier, and another went through my canteen. We pulled back through the Portuguese lines and positioned ourselves behind the village, where we at once received orders to resume our earlier position, since the Portuguese had given way before the French.

We fixed our sword bayonets on our rifles and with a "Hurrah", went into the village, which was already occupied by the French. In the beginning they shot at us, but they yielded and retreated, indeed in such a hurry that I alone chased ten Frenchmen out of the ruins of a house and only managed to get my sword-bayonet into the last of them, running him through as he jumped over the wall. The French retreated across the river, we took up our old position again, and the fight lasted until the evening, during which the French kept sending new columns against us, none of which dislodged us from our position, although the field of thistles was so shot up that it was no longer able to conceal us.

Around evening the enemy called over to us -- they were Alsatians and spoke German --  saying that they had had enough for today, they wanted to cease firing, and asked us to do the same. So peace and quiet descended on our flank, but the rain, which had not stopped the entire day, poured down in torrents and in the centre, to the right of us, we heard strong fire continuing and cries of hurrah.  When we noticed the French [watch] bivouac fires in the distance for half an hour when we withdrew to the camp ground of the previous night.

I had to stay to the left of the village on piquet duty, found myself a soft place and lay down, but I did not sleep all night on account of the cold and stormy rain, and an abominable stench close beside me. So I crept stealthily into the village to try and find food; and there heard all at once a soft whimpering. I went in search of it and recognised an officer from our battalion, Hauptmann [Arnold] Heise*, who, with his face full of blood, told me in a feeble voice to shoot him dead. I shuddered at his distress and comforted him, for I liked him, he was a real friend to the soldiers. With kindly words I told him he should be patient and that he would soon feel better, then I put some hay under his head, hurried back to my piquet and lay down once more." 

* Died of wounds at Elvas on 10 July 1811

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2005

 

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