תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.

13

spreadh artesus in the settlementer," and barkations of old

the Adriat the Sido,

n by the

with very indifferent ships.” We must recollect that the Sidonian colonists spread themselves chiefly along the African shore, and crossed over to Tartessus in Spain by the pillars of Hercules ; Cartago being probably their first settlement in Europe, except Greece. It is sometimes called the “Iron Tower,” and near it, about a mile and a half from the town, one of the embarkations of the English troops took place. On our way to it we saw an old Moorish castle upon a rock, not far from the shore, and northwest of the town. From thence we passed over a wide uncultivated common covered with innumerable land shells, a small and very beautiful species of the common helix; with a great variety of small motley green lizards, and grasshoppers of all hues, chirping and springing about in all directions in the warm sunshine. The Datura Stramonium grows here and there in great luxuriance, and was then in both flower and fruit, and also a small shrubby daphne, with a white flower, and reddish berry. The meadow saffron (colchicum autumnale) flourishes here in great profusion, the hills about the light-house being literally covered with it, and as it is now in full blow, its light pink flowers produce a very gay, lively appearance; and the charming belladonna lily lends its graceful form to beautify nature's verdant carpet. The soil, which is of a light and sandy character, is principally cultivated with Indian corn.

On the morning of the 2nd of October we set forward to view the memorable field of Corunna, accompanied by old George Daboish as our guide. Before we proceed further, we must introduce this personage to our readers. His history is remarkableby birth a Russian—an Italian by descent-married to a Spaniard

-and, although naturalised in Spain, claiming England for his country. Few men in his condition have seen more of what is termed life. He has with truth, “ braved many a rough sea's storm” in his day—and often been the very sport of the element he made his home. At an early age he was bound to the master of an English merchant-man trading to the Black Sea ; out of which he was, shortly after, pressed on board a British man-ofwar; from this he took French leave at Cork, and having travelled across the country for some days, alone and pennyless, he found himself at what he not inaptly calls “the mutiny of Vinegar Hill.” Shortly afterwards he re-entered the merchant service, and some years subsequently was wrecked returning from the West Indies

OLD RUSSIAN GEORGE.

as mate, having suffered unspeakable hardships in an open boat for three weeks, during which time the crew were reduced to the horrible alternative

“ When out they spoke of lots for flesh and blood,

And who should die to be his fellow's food.”

From this state of misery and privation they were providentially rescued by a Kinsale hooker ; to the inhabitants of which place he still retains feelings of the utmost gratitude. He again entered the navy, and immediately after served at the Nile ; was wounded at Trafalgar on board the Bellerophon ; boasts the honour of an acquaintanceship with Nelson, and was present at the execution of Parker, after the mutiny at the Nore. He served in one of the transports in the bay of Corunna at the time of the retreat, and seems perfectly acquainted with all the transactions concerning it. After this he betook himself once more to the merchants' service; soon rose to be a master, and had acquired some wealth, but was again shipwrecked, and he alone of all his crew saved. He was thrown ashore, and beside him lay his ship's compass, the sole remnant of all his earthly possessions. He still preserves it with the greatest veneration, and exhibits it with delight to strangers.

The ocean's greedy wave had robbed him of his home; the rocks and sands had spoliated his wealth ; the drenching spray had damped, but could not quench, that fire of enthusiasm, so characteristic of his calling—till love, all powerful, induced him to resign the fickle element for one of the dark-eyed maids of Corunna. He married, and here, by years of industry and perseverance, he rose to comfort, if not to wealth.

Short-lived was his day of happiness. In the year 1823, when the French bombarded this town, his house, which stands outside the walls, was struck by a random ball, and in the very spot* where he had concealed all his treasure, (some thousands of dollars,) which the French soldiers soon pounced upon, and fearing their vengeance for concealing his property, he had actually to swim for his life to one of the Spanish vessels in the harbour. Still he has weathered the storm, and supports himself in some comfort by the proceeds of a small Posada Secrata, or lodging

* This is still to be seen, and the account is verified by the British Consul.

THE BATTLE-FIELD OF CORUNNA.

15

house. He is now a stout old man of seventy-six-a fine honest tar of the olden days of long queues and wide trowsers ; he has seen much of the world, and, what is rare in his profession, profited by it ; to use his own expression, “a man who travels much seldom dies a fool.” He is also master of most of the European languages, and speaks English well ;-his long yarns of the days of Nelson, and the various scenes in which he had been a partaker, were highly amusing. He is a good ciceroné, and is universally known in Corunna, as “old Russian George.”

The heights of Corunna are about four miles from the town ; the tract of intervening ground is very uneven, and thrown into a succession of mounds and small enclosures, intersected in every direction by dirty lanes, the banks of which rise, in many instances, high above the head ; while the deep and narrow bridle-paths admit of only two passengers abreast. You proceed, eastward, along the Madrid road, for about two miles ; when turning to the right into one of the deep lanes, you traverse these miserable tracts for another mile and a half, until you reach a range of secondary hills, distant about half a mile from the summits of the heights. On the former of these was posted the British line ;* its right resting upon one of the by-roads leading to Elvina, and its extreme left stretching downwards to the great Madrid road; while, on the heights above, and commanding a point blank range of their opponents, stood the French at the time of the engagement. At a farm-house situated some way down the hill, on the edge of a pine wood, and to the right of Elvina, was planted the battery which proved so destructive to our troops.

The hamlet of Elvina, from which the enemy was driven, is a wretched collection of about ten or a dozen scattered houses, at which three or four ways meet. It is a filthy sunken hole-its only attraction, at present, being a small antique church, of Saracenic architecture, a few hundred yards to the left of the village ; its door and windows with their deeply groined arches having the impost, ornamented on the left side, with a rudely carved ram's head, bearing the crescent on the forehead. Near this the most trying part of the contest took place, and, beside one of the walls that surround it, Major (now Sir Charles) Napier, when in advance

* See Moore's History of the Campaign, and Napier's Peninsular War.

16

REVIEW OF THE ACTION.

of his men, and severely wounded, was timely rescued from the bayonets of several French soldiers by the generosity of one of their drummers, for which Napoleon justly conferred on him the order of the legion of honour. Beyond the church the road turns to the left, with high fences on both sides, but still greatly exposed to the French battery which was planted on the hill in front and a little to the right. Here, at a sudden turn of the lane, about one hundred yards from the church, is pointed out the spot where fell one of the ablest of British soldiers—the immortal Moore.

The farm-house is still in existence at the angle of the pine wood, to which bis attention was directed, when a cannon-shot carried away the greater part of the shoulder-joint.

We erected a small cairn of stones on the sad spot ; and then directing our course by the farm-house, from the battery of which came the principal assault, we gained the heights occupied by the enemy's lines ; and certainly it was a position of extraordinary strength and advantage, commanding a view of not only the whole extent towards the town, but of the inland country to a great distance. And here it may be asked, why did Moore abandon those very heights, which he held till a day or two before the French took possession of them? The conclusive answer is this; that although it be granted, that he could have retained his position as long as his supplies lasted, even against a very superior force, yet having only 15,000 men, a number quite inadequate to completely defend the whole extent of heights, and having on his right a great expanse of open country, he would have ensured the destruction of his own army, by rendering his wings liable to be turned. Again, it may be inquired, why, having left this vantage ground, did he not throw his army into the town, a tolerably fortified place ?—for this reason ; that, independent of his being still liable to an attack on the walls, guns could in many places be brought to the water's edge, especially near to fort St. Lucia, (as was done on the next day,) and the embarkation greatly embarrassed, or completely prevented. And then it must be remembered, that Moore had already determined on removing the British army from Spain.

Corunna, as seen from this point, presents the apex of a triangle, of which the French lines formed the base, while the British kept them at bay in the centre. Had the the transports arrived from Vigo, as was expected, on our men reaching this on the 13th,

THE RETREAT.

17 every thing could have been gotten safely on board before the arrival of the main body of the enemy, as we were two days' march a-head, and so Soult have been outwitted; his plan having evidently been to keep harassing us on the march, and deferring the attack until the moment of embarkation. As it was, the delay served to add lustre to the British arms, and to restore whatever of order and discipline might have been wanting among the troops, from the extreme hardships of so long a forced march. The French were completely repulsed at every point, and with considerable loss—but, alas! the victory was purchased with the blood of its noble hero.

The question of the retreat has been ably and successfully discussed by many historians, but by none more than by him from whose justly celebrated and accurately correct work, I make the following extract :

“ Thus ended the retreat of Corunna, a transaction which, up to this day, has called forth as much of falsehood and malignity as servile and interested writers could offer to the unprincipled leaders of a base faction, but which posterity will regard as a genuine example of ability and patriotism.”

I would not have been thus explicit upon a subject so often and so ably handled by men of superior talent and military experience, and who were present at the scene they describe, were it not for the opinions sometimes expressed in society at home when speaking of the Retreat of Corunna, and the recent opinion of a naval author, who having occasion, in his character of historian, to conduct the British fleet into the harbour of Corunna, (where they ought to have been long before,) is pleased to criticize the retreat as “conducted with ruinous haste and precipitation,” comparing it with “that through Holland in 1794–5,” and blaming Sir John Moore for not giving battle to the enemy, as thereby “the deaths of eight thousand British soldiers (who perished in the retreat) would in all probability have cost the enemy a much greater number !"* although he states, in a previous paragraph, that the enemy was “pressing upon him, but constantly refusing battle until he reached

* The following general return, extracted from the Special Regimental Reports, contains the whole number of non-commissioned officers and men,

« הקודםהמשך »