Page images
PDF
EPUB

Let us now quote a case less startling, but more common, and sufficiently painful. I was taken ill,' says a British officer, in the beginning of August, 1813, but continued with the regiment, in the hope of getting better, until we arrived near Madrid. I was then very ill, and had become so weak, that I frequently fainted when endeavoring to mount my horse. The surgeon at last ordered me into the rear; and with much difficulty I reached Salamanca in a cart, almost breathing my last. Here I lay, and grew worse, till I was reduced to a mere skeleton, and had been given over more than once, when our army arrived with the French at their heels, and every preparation was made to evacuate Salamanca, and remove the sick further to the rear. Unfortunately I was too ill to be removed, and my surgeon recommended me by all means to make up my mind to be taken prisoner; for, said he, you have no other alternative but to be taken by the enemy, or run the risk of losing your life by being removed ; adding coolly, that I should surely die before they could get me over the bridge on the outside of the town. I might have died inside the town for him, as I saw him no more. The cannonading had already commenced ; the French cavalry had forded the river, and got round our flanks; and I, the only officer in the place, was left to get away as I could.

"I now thought it time to take the miserable alternative proposed by the surgeon; for the place was already given up to plunder. Unable to stir, I was lying in the most dreadful state of suspense, expecting every moment to see a Frenchman pounce in upon me, when an officer of my own regiment, to my great surprise, rushed into my room, determined to rescue me. He hurried me away, wrapped in a blanket, upon the back of a rifleman, and got me put into a cart, and conveyed over the bridge. On we travelled through the night, the army in full retreat, and the French in close pursuit, the weather miserably wet and cold, and the roads so drenched that it was up to the middle in mud. The effort, however, was fruitless to me ; for the animals were killed, and I fell into the hands of the enemy, who knocked the cart from under me, sabred the men, and dragged me into the middle of the road, stripped me of my clothes, which they tore into shreds, and, turning me over with their sabres, plundered me of what little I had left, tearing a gold ring from my finger, and leaving me naked to perish with cold and hunger.

In this miserable state I lay two days and nights, with no mortal near me except the dead, one of whom lay with his head upon my legs, having died in that position during the night, and I was too weak to remove his body, or even to raise myself up. Still I continued to exist, which I attribute to some rum which a humane Frenchman allowed me to drink from his canteen. The whole of the next day, I saw no living soul; and there I still lay on the road half-famished. The day following, an escort of French dragoons came up with some prisoners, among whom was a soldier of my own company. He recognized me, and so earnestly

#merni ten fall down froxa mere exhaustion, they were instantly Fotod, ne future only awakened their derision; and, when AHO XX, that we intupled than in pitema accents to give us

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

despatched by a dreadful blow from the butt-end of a musket. When we reached Cordova again, the infuriated populace rushed like tigers upon us, plucked individuals here and there from the ranks, and literally cut them to pieces, and then gazed with savage exultation on their convulsive, agonizing throes!

We were next marched toward the coast; but our numbers thinned rapidly. Fatigue and insufficient provision rendered many incapable of renewing their march after a night's halt; and dawn exhibited to us the stiffened limbs of such as death had released from their sufferings. The survivors were gaunt and emaciated; and frequently would a poor fellow drop down in the extreinity of weariness and despair. No effort was made to relieve these sullerers; but they were either left behind to perish, or bayonetted on the spot.

• At length we arrived at St. Lucar, and were thrown, some of us into prison-ships, and others into stinking casements. The extremity of our anguish now exceeded all powers of description. With scarce strength to crawl to our detestable dungeons, many reached them only to lie down, and die broken-hearted. Unwholesome and distasteful bread, about four ounces of horsebeans, and a little rancid oil, formed the materials of our wretched fare,--80 wretched as to be refused in many cases by men fainting with weariness and famished with hunger.

From St. Lucar we were sent to Cadiz, some on foot, and others by water. I was among the latter; and, as soon as we had got on board the vessels, we were counted like so many cattle driven into their stables. Each place of rest was made to contain six men; and, when once laid upon our backs, we had no room to change our position right or left, and the pestilential effluvia, arising from so many bodies thus huddled together, was extremely offensive, and rendered the atmosphere of the ship quite putrid. Vermin were generated by thousands; and such was the climax of my wretchedness and disgust, that I earnestly implored the intervention of the destroying angel; and a great many of my companions, harassed by the unrelenting severity of our masters, sought refuge from their misery by plunging into the sea.

Nor did our changes stop here. From Cadiz we were sent to Majorca, and thence to the desolate island of Cabrera, where we were reduced for a time to the necessity of feeding on grass, and even on the dust of the earth. A great many died; and we immediately buried them in the sea, under the horrible apprehension, that the presence of their bodies would rouse within us the savage longings of the cannibal. A cuirassier was actually killed for this purpose by a Pole, who confessed he had done the same to two others of his comrades.'

No kindness or skill can avert suffering from the victims of war. "For ten days after the sea-fight of Trafalgar, men were employed in bringing the wounded ashore ; and spectacles were

hourly exhibited at the wharves, and through the streets, sufficient · to shock .every heart not yet hardened to scenes of blood and human suffering. When by the carelessness of the boatmen, or the surging of the sea, the boats struck against the stone piers, a horrid cry, piercing the very soul, arose from the mangled wretches on board. Nor was the scene less affecting on the tops of the pier, where the wounded were being carried away to the hospitals in every shape of misery, whilst crowds of Spaniards either assisted, or looked on with signs of horror. Meanwhile their companions who had escaped unhurt, walked up and down with folded arms and down-cast eyes, whilst women sat on heaps of arms, broken furniture and baggage, with their heads bent between their knees. I had no inclination to follow the litters of the wounded ; yet I learned that every hospital in Cadiz was already full, and the convents and churches were appropriated to the remainder.'

Sir Charles Bell, the eminent surgeon who was present in the hospitals after the battle of Waterloo, says “the wounded French continued to be brought in for several days; and the British soldiers who had in the morning been moved by the piteous cries of those they carried, I saw in the evening so hardened by the repetition of the scene, and by fatigue, as to become indifferent to the sufferings they occasioned.

"It was now the thirteenth day after the battle. It is impossible to conceive the sufferings of men rudely carried at such a period of their wounds. When I first entered the hospital, these Frenchmen had been roused and excited in a degree quite extraordinary ; and in the glance of their eyes there was a character of fierceness which I never expected to witness in the human countenance. On the second day, the temporary excitement had subsided; and, turn which way I might, I encountered every form of entreaty from those whose condition left no need of words to stir coinpassion. “ Surgeon Major, oh, how I suffer! Dress my wounds—do dress my wounds !-Doctor, cut off my leg! Oh! I suffer too much!” And when these entreaties were unavailing, you might hear in a weak, inward voice of despair, “I shall die- I am a dead man!”,

The following sketch from a British officer in Portugal will help us still further to conceive the horrors of a hospital. “I entered the town of Mirando Cervo about dusk. It had been a black, grim, gloomy sort of day. Huge masses of clouds lay motionless on the sky; and then they would break up suddenly as with a whirlwind, and roll off in the red and bloody distance. I felt myself in a strange sort of excitement; my imagination got the better of all my other faculties; and, while walking out in the principal street, I met a woman, an old haggard-looking wretch, who had in her hollow eyes an unaccountable expression of cruelty, a glance like that of madness; but her deportment was quiet and rational, and, though clad in squallidness, she was evidently of the middle rank in society. Without being questioned, she told me in broken English, I should find comfortable accommodations in an old convent at some distance in a grove of cork-trees, pointing to them with her long, shrivelled hand and arm, and giving a sort of hysterical laugh.

"I followed her advice, anticipating no danger or adventure ; yet the wild eyes, and the still wilder voice of the old crone so powerfully affected me, that I walked, in a sort of muse, up a pretty long flight of steps, and found myself standing at the entrance to the cloisters of the convent. A strange sight now burst upon my view! Before me lay and sat more than a hundred dead bodies, all of them apparently in the very attitude or posture in which they had died. I gazed at them a minute or more before I knew that they were all corpses; and a desperate courage then enabled me to look steadfastly at the scene before me. The bodies were mostly clothed in mats, and rags, and tattered great coats; some of them were merely wrapt round about with girdles composed of straw; and two or three were perfectly naked. Every face had a different expression, but all painful, horrid, agonized, bloodless. Many glazed eyes were wide open; and perhaps this was the most shocking thing in the whole spectacleso many eyes that saw not, all seemingly fixed upon different objects; some cast up to heaven, some looking straight forward, and others with the white orbs turned round, and deep sunk in their sockets. It was a sort of hospital; and these wretched beings, nearly all desperately wounded, had been stripped by their comrades, and left there either dead, or to die.

This ghastly sight I had begun to view with some composure, when I saw, at the remotest part of the hospital, a gigantic figure sitting, all covered with blood, and almost naked, upon a rude bedstead, with his back leaning against the wall, and his eyes fixed directly on mine. I first thought him alive, and shuddered ; but he was stone dead! In his last agonies he had bitten his under lip almost entirely off, and his long black beard was drenched in clotted gore, that likewise lay in large blots upon his shaggy bosom. One of his hands had convulsively grasped the woodwork of the bedstead, and crushed it in the grasp. I recognized the corpse. He was a sergeant in a grenadier regiment, and had, during the retreat, been distinguished for acts of savage valor. One day he killed with his own hand Harry Warburton, the righthand man of my own company, perhaps the most powerful man in the British army. There sat the giant frozen to death. I went up to him, and, raising his brawny arm, it fell down again with a hollow sound against the bloody side of the corpse.

My eyes unconsciously wandered along the walls. They were covered with grotesque figures and caricatures of the English, absolutely drawn in blood! Horrid blasphemies, and the most shocking obscenities in the shape of songs, were in like manner written there. I observed two books lying on the floor, and picked them up. One was full of the most hideous obscenity ; the other was the Bible! It is impossible to tell the horror produced in me by this circumstance. The books dropt from my hand, and fell on the breast of one of the bodies-it was a woman's breast! Yes, a woman had lived and died in such a place as this! What had been in that now still, death-cold heart, perhaps only a few hours

« PreviousContinue »