The First Campaign in the Peninsula
1808 - On Sunday morning, the 31st of July, the expedition sailed from St. Helen's, with a fine breeze from the eastward; and on the 19th of August, after a delightful passage across the Bay of Biscay, we made the coast of Portugal. Next day, the army landed at Figueiras, on the Mondego, when Sir John Moore, receiving intelligence that Sir Arthur Wellesley had engaged and beaten the French at Roleia, instantly ordered the whole force to re-embark, whence we proceeded to Peniche. On the 21st, as we were sailing along the coast, we could plainly hear and see the firing at the battle of Vimiera. The sensation it created through the whole fleet was beyond description; what would we have given to have had a share in that glorious day!
On the 24th, the fleet cast anchor in the Bay of Peniche, where we landed, and after a march of three leagues, joined Sir Arthur and his gallant conquerors on their field of victory. This was the most severe day's march we had ever experienced, for very few of us knew what real campaigning was till that moment - the officers had landed with a change of raiment rolled in their cloaks, which was slung across the shoulders, besides carrying three days' provisions in their haversacks, on an August day in Portugal. The men suffered much, having been on board ship since the 28th of April, excepting now and then a run amongst the Swedish rocks.
Sir Harry Burrard, having now taken command of the army, on the 27th Major-general Frazer's division (of whic h the 28th formed part) were ordered to advance from the field of Vimiera. The officers were now greatly relieved, as one car for their light baggage was allowed per regiment. The army advanced by easy marches, and on the 30th encamped at Torres Vedras, whence we continued to advance upon Lisbon. On September the 1st, Sir John Moore obtained the command of the first division, consisting of the following corps -
First Brigade - first battalion,
4th; first battalion, 28th; first battalion, 42nd.
Second Brigade - first battalion, 9th; second battalion, 43rd; second battalion, 52nd; and five companies of the 60th Rifles.
Sir John Hope was removed to the second division, and occupied the height of Benefico, on the banks of the Tagus. During the time we remained there, we had the mortification to see the Russian fleet sail down the Tagus, with their colours flying; we were not aware that a convention had taken place, but had fairly considered them as lawful prizes. On the 16th of September, the first and second divisions encamped on the plains of Queluz, six miles from Lisbon. By this time almost all the French troops had been allowed to embark, by a kind act of the convention, with all their plunder. Everything was now done to have the regiment completed as soon as possible for further service. On the 22nd, the following regimental order appeared -
"As the regiment will be inspected in two or three days, by Lieutenant-general Sir John Moore, Major Browne takes the earliest opportunity of acquainting the captains thereof."
At 7 o'clock AM, on Moday the 26th of September, the 28th regiment, comprising 1100 bayonets, under the command of Major Browne, was reviewed by Lieutenant-general Sir John Moore, on the plains of Queluz, in front of the camp. After going through many movements, Sir John made the most minute inspection of every man present, and expressed his admiration of the whole, but particularly of the grenadier company, which was then composed of 120 of the finest men the United Kingdom could produce. He returned to the right and called Captain (now Sir Frederick) Stovin, and his officers, Lieutenants Kelly, Carroll, and myself, to the front and thanked us in the handsomest manner for the admirable appearance of the men. He told us that they were the finest grenadier company he had ever seen - that they were a pattern to the British army, and he soon hoped to have occasion for their services.
On the 8th of October, the following general order was given out, which put us all in high spirits -
"Lieutenant-general Sir H. Burrard has received his Majesty's commands, to place a large portion of the army in Portugal, under the orders of Sir John Moore, to be employed on a particular service."
The 28th was one of the number. On the 9th we received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march on the shortest notice. The baggage allowed was very little, each captain was allowed forage for one mule for company and self, and the subalterns a mule among them.
On the 14th and two following days, the first brigade, consisting of the 4th, 28th, and 42nd regiments, commenced their march for Spain by the following phases: Santarem, Abrantes, Castello-Branco, and Guarda, where we were cantoned for a few days. On the 10th of November, we left Guarda, and arrived at Cuidad Rodrigo. On the 10th, General Frazer, having again been appointed to the command of the division, gave out an order, part of which is as follows:
"He wished it to be explained to the men, that, on entering the frontiers of a people nobly fighting for their liberty, property, and very existance, with whom it was their good fortune to act against a most implacable enemy, to induce them to conduct themselves in the most orderly and exemplary manner; to accommodate themselves to the customs and manners of the inhabitants; and particularly to submit to such privations, as circumstances and the nature of the country through which they pass, might subject them."
Officers were recommended to wear the Spanish cockade in their hats, as a mark of respect for that nation; and red cloth ones were provided by the commissariat department for the men. The foregoing order had an excellent effect upon the men, and their conduct was exemplary.
On the 13th November we left Cuidad Rodrigo, and arrived at Salamanca on the 16th, when we found the following general order had just been given out by Sir J. Moore:
"Head-quarters, Salamanca, 16th Nov. 1808.
The following order was written with a view to be circulated to the troops, on their entering Spain. By some accident it was not received by the different generals to whom it was sent. The Commander of the Forces, although from the reports he had received, he has every reasons to be satisfied with the conduct of the troops, thinks it proper, however, still to be issued:"
"Head-quarters, Lisbon, 25th October 1808.
The Commander of the Forces trusts that the troops entering Spain, will feel with him, how much it is for their honour and advantage to maintain the high opinion, and cherish the good will, which that brave and high-spirited people entertain towards the British nation. The troops on their march will generally be quartered upon their inhabitants. The Spaniards are a brave and orderly people, extremely sober, and warm in their temper, and easily offended by any insult or disrespect which is offered them.
They are greatful to the British, and will receive the troops with kindness and cordiality. This, the General hopes, will be net by equal kindness, on the part of the soldiers, and that they will endeavour to accommodate themselves to their manners, be orderly in their quarters, and not shock them with intemperance; a people worthy of their attachment, and whose efforts they are come to support, to free them from French bondage, and establish their national glory and independence.
Upon entering Spain, as a compliment to the Spanish nation, the army will wear the red cockade, in addition to their own. Commanding officers will order them to be provided to non-commissioned officers and soldiers, and the expence will be paid by the Commissary General.
H. Clinton, A.G."
Retreat To Corunna
On the 28th of November, the 28th regiment was again put in the post of honour, as will appear by an extract from the general orders.
The following changes will take place in the brigading of the army - The 28th and 91st regiments will form a brigade, to compose a part of the reserve of the army, under the command of Major-General the Hon. E. Paget. Brigadier-General Disney will for the present assume the command of the brigade composed of the 28th and 91st regiments."
By a general order of the 1st of December, the reserve was composed as follows:
20th regiment, 1st battalion
52d - Brig-gen. Anstruther
1st battalion 28th regt., 1st battalion 91st regt., 1st battalion 95th regt. - Brig-gen. Disney.
At 7 o'clock, on the morning of the 11th of December, the reserve, with Captain Carthew's brigade of artillery, left Salamanca, the other British divisions following in succession. Although the ground was covered with snow, we were all most anxious to advance, and leave our comfortable quarters, little thinking of the privations and hardships we were soon doomed to undergo. We arrived at Toro on the 12th, where we were delighted to meet Lord Paget's brigade of hussars, the 7th, 15th, and the 18th, who had advanced from Astorga. Their appearence was magnificent, and they soon proved their superiority over the cavalry of the enemy.
The band of the 7th hussars played us into Toro, by order of Lieutenant-Colonel (now Lieutenant-general) Sir Hussey Vivian, that gallant officer having formerly served in the 28th regiment, while our Lieutenant-colonel (Belson) had once been in the 7th hussars.
It was a singular occurrence, and truly honourable to the noble family of the Pagets - the meeting of the two brothers - each commanding the advance guard of the two British armies. On the same day we arrived at Toro, Brigadier-general Stewart made a gallant attack on a party of French cavalry and infantry posted in the village of Rueda, with a party of the 18th hussars. The enemy were completely surprised, the whole of them either being killed or taken prisoners. This was the first affair between the British and the French in Spain.
On the 16th, the reserve moved to Pueblo Douro, and on the 17th to Villapando. On the 19th, the reserve moved with the advance guard of hussars. We reached Santarbas on the 20th, and Grajal del Campo on the 21st. Upon another gallant attack being made on a large force of the French cavalry, by Lord Paget, at Sahagun, in which they were cut to pieces, Sir John Moore gave out the following order:
The different attacks made
by parties of cavalry upon those of the enemy, on the march, have
given them an opportunity to display a spirit, and to assume a
tone of superiority, which does them credit, and which the Commander
of the Forces hopes will be supported upon more important issues.