Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

 

 


"Three times the French was take the bridge:" A King's German Legion Officer at Albuera, May 1811

By Donald Graves

In the Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, is a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of military subjects dated between about 1800 and 1820. Included are several letters from serving officers from various theatres of war, including the following letter from an officer in the King's German Legion in Spain in 1811. From the casualty return which he gives for his unit, it can be identified as the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion of Alten's King's German Legion brigade, part of Marshal William Beresford's army. Although the author includes a number of accounts of the treatment of British prisoners by the Polish lancers of the Vistula Legion, it should be remembered that he was not involved in this part of the action and these accounts, although interesting, are hearsay.

Letter from an officer of the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion, King's German Legion

                                                                        Via Alba, in Spain, 27th May [1811]

We reached Olivenca, the day after it was taken; but there was very little to be done there, or we should have been in time; from thence we first accompanied Lord Wellington to reconnoitre Badajoz, and unfortunately a party of ours was surprized by a party of French cavalry, and one Officer and six, or seven men killed, a few wounded, and a Captain, the two Doctors, and above 30 men were taken; the French however left about 60 on the grass. Three days after, we were ordered to bivouaque in a small wood of olive trees, rather more than a mile in front of the town.

Trenches were soon opened, and one battery had commenced a fire on the town from three 24-pounders and a howitzer, which was smartly returned; a sortie was expected from the garrison the first night our fire opened, and we were posted in the rear of the battery and nearest works, in reaching which the General brought us by the side of a hill in front of another battery of the town, which whilst we were in their range (being between two hills) pelted away very decently with heavy shot; luckily not one took effect. I had a narrow escape, as one shot struck very near, but buried itself, had it rebounded I think both myself and horse must have fallen; the dirt flew about us which, with the sudden start (I suppose), was near occasioning a separation between me and my horse.

From this place we received, with most of the troops investing it, very hasty instructions to march towards Valverde, &c. &c. as a strong French force was coming up, and which, on the third day's march, we got a sigh of, at least of their advanced cavalry, and next day came on that desperate and memorable battle which, before this reaches you, will no doubt be fully detailed.

Two or three circumstances, however, attending it most probably will not; and if any part appears like the bounce of a traveller's story, you will, I am sure, on recollection, do me the justice to admit I was not in the habit of, and you may believe me I do not now exaggerate. The conflict, which was generally severe, was more particularly so on the right wing, where the greater part of the British force was posted, near three-fourths of which, I regret to say were either killed or wounded.

Your old regiment, the 66th, was completely cut up, and both their colours taken, they were first broken through; and many, whilst lying on the ground wounded, were pierced through; and many, whilst lying on the ground wounded, were pierced through with the spears of the Polish Uhlans, and who were really guilty of such atrocities that several of our regiments have declared, that if they ever meet with them again they will give no quarter.

In one instance an officer of the 4th dragoons who had fallen into their hands, was, as usual, stripped of his watch and money, of which I suppose he had rather a small stock, as there had been no pay issued for some time, on being asked if that was all, and replying in the affirmative, they deliberate cut off one or both of his ears, I believe both.

Another who had singly brought one of the artillery drivers who had been taken, into the wood, after praising his jacket, desired him to take it off, and exultingly went on with every article, individually, in the same way, except the boots, the feet of which being too small, he said were of no use, he might therefore cut them off, give him the legs, and keep the feet as slippers, and when reduced to this state, without the smallest addition of dress, he told him he should take some mark to his comrades that he had been in their power, and giving him a stab in the back with his lance, bid him go.

During the heat of the action a heavy rain came on, and continued for some hours; but at the time the enemy was completely repulsed on the right, the blood in that quarter was so profuse, that in several places, mingling with the rain, it ran in torrents like blood itself; but recollect, at this moment, it had, within the space of three-quarters of a mile, flowed from the veins of upwards of 8000 men, and exhausted many, the scene may be imagined, but I will not attempt to describe it.

Our battalion did not suffer much comparatively; one Officer and three men only being killed on the spot, and between 30 and 40 wounded. One of our Captains received a shot in the forehead, and the ball is now actually in his throat, He is, however, expected to recover.

The account given by one of our men, of what took place in the part where most of our men were stationed to defend a bridge, is this; -- "Three times the French was take the bridge; three times they must leave it." The fact is, they brought two field-pieces and cavalry three different times to the attack, and got upon the bridge, but were in every instance driven back, and in one they left fifteen behind them.

The next day the enemy began to retreat, and we have followed them thus far; but I do not think we shall go much farther. The cavalry and some Spaniards, who have crossed the country, continue to harass the enemy's rear, and yesterday sent in 200 of the cavalry prisoners; as many more were killed and wounded. I think it probable we shall return to invest Badajoz once more. That place must fall. I hope shortly.     

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2005

 

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