Wasn't That a Party! Saint Patrick's Day 1813
The winter of 1813 saw the British army stationed along the Portuguese - Spanish waiting for the coming of the next campaign. The previous year saw a string of successes unlike any they had known before. They had captured the key fortress cities of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, destroyed the strategic French bridgehead at Almaraz, decimated a French army at Salamanca, and liberated Madrid. After being stalled by a poorly planned siege of Burgos, the British and they allies were forced to make a disastrous retreat back to Portugal when the French were able to combine their forces in Spain and take the offensive.
Although the British discipline collapsed in many instances and casualties were very heavy by the end of 1812, within a few months things had changed. Recruits filled depleted ranks, worn equipment was replaced, and new units were arriving daily. The British army was at its peak! Confidence was high and almost every soldier believed that the coming year would be decisive.
The 88th Infantry Regiment was an Irish Regiment known as the Connaught Rangers. The regimental officers celebrated their "founding" day on 17 March, which is Saint Patrick's Day; Saint Patrick being the patron saint of Ireland. The officers decided to celebrate the day in style and planned a large feast. The guests of honor would be their brigade commander, Colonel Keene, and his staff.
Lieutenant William Grattan was given the important task of procuring food for the celebration. Two days before the feast, he departed for the town of Vizeu, about 15 miles away from their billets. He had with him, 50 Portuguese dollars (approximately 10 British pounds) to buy the food; two enlisted soldiers; and two mules. At the market they found a variety of birds and fish, plus other things to furnish their table. Grattan wanted to enjoy himself a bit in the town and sent his two servants back on their own. This almost proved his undoing.
On his way back, it became dark and he got lost. He had heard rumors that the area abounded with wolves. After stopping at a village to ask for directions, he was left with two choices. He could stay in the village and for certain be "half-devoured by fleas, a commodity with which... their houses were amply stocked" or he could take his chances with the wolves. After leaving the village, a howling began and soon he was being chased by a pack of wolves. "Two of them attacked my mule behind, while the other made a spring at her throat, and the remainder were coming rapidly into the field of battle." Surrounded by 15 wolves, Grattan felt that discretion was the better part of valor and put his spurs to the mule and rode as fast as possible. Needless to say, he made it home alive!
Grattan also arranged to have special wine for the feast. His friend was serving with a Portuguese regiment, which was billeted in a convent. His friend convinced the priests to send them their best wine.
The band playing "Oh the Roast Beef of Old England" announced a little after 5:00 p.m. it was time for dinner. The fifty officers sat down and soon the toasts began. The order in which the toasts were given and the music, which accompanied them, were:
Once the toasts were made, the feasting began. The main courses included mullet, chicken, beef, mutton, and a Lamego ham. The wine was described as of the best quality.
The celebration went well without any major incidents. The regimental surgeon, Doctor O'Reilly however was so drunk that he walked off the end of the veranda and landed face down fifteen feet below. Fortunately the ground was so wet that he sustained no injuries. There was an exact impression of his features in the mud the next morning!
Two months later, the British army began moving once again. The soldiers were right in their confidence. By early fall they had crushed the combined French Armies at Vitoria, won numerous battles in the Pyrenees, captured the key French fortresses at Pamplona and San Sebastian, and drove the French from most of Spain. By December they were bivouacking in France. Four months later the long war was over.
Daniel, . Journal of an Officer in the Commissariat Department of the Army Ken Trotman: Cambridge; 1997.
Leach, Jonathan. Rough Sketches of the Life of an Old Soldier Ken Trotman: Cambridge; 1986.
Oman, Charles. A History of the Peninsular War Vol. 6; AMS Press: Oxford; 1980.
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