Page images




War is a tissue of woes; and its real nature, its inevitable effects, we may see in its treatment not only of its victims, but of its own agents when disqualified by fatigue, disease or wounds for continuing their work of death and devastation.

It is hardly possible, during the progress of a war, to make comfortable provisions for the diseased; and even in a time of peace, the condition of a sick soldier would be regarded by most persons as quite beyond endurance. A surgeon perhaps may come to his barrack with occasional prescriptions, and a messmate administer the medicine; but no wife, no mother, no sister is there to watch by his rude hammock, or his pallet of straw, nor a welltrained, sympathizing nurse to soothe his pains, and cheer his drooping, anguished spirits.

But look at the treatment of such sufferers in a time of war. • There was nothing,' says an English soldier in Spain, 'to sustain our famished bodies, or to shelter us, when fatigued or sick, from the rain and snow. The road was one line of bloody footmarks from the sore feet of the men; and along its sides lay the dead and the dying. Too weak to drag the sick and wounded any farther in the wagons, we now left them to perish in the snow. Even Donald, the hardy Highlander, who had long been barefooted and lame like myself, at length lay down to die. For two days he had been almost blind, and unable, from a severe cold, to hold up his head. We sat down together; not a word escaped our lips. We looked around, then at each other, and closed our eyes. We felt there was no hope. We would have given in charge a farewell to our friends; but who was to carry it? Not far from us, there were, here and there, above thirty in the same situation with ourselves; and nothing but groans mingled with execrations, was to be heard between the pauses of the wind.'

I was sent,' says the same sufferer in another place, 'to Braeburnlees, where I remained eight weeks very ill indeed. All the time I was in the hospital, my soul was oppressed with the distresses of my fellow-sufferers, and shocked at the conduct of the hospital men. Often have I seen them fighting over the expiring bodies of the patients, their eyes not yet closed in death, for articles of apparel that two had seized at once; mingling their curses and oaths with the dying groans and prayers of the poor sufferers. How dreadful the thought that my turn might come next! There was none to comfort, none to give even a drink of water with a


P. T.

pleasant countenance. At length I recovered sufficiently to write, and longed to tell my mother where I was, that I might hear from her. I crawled along the wall of the hospital towards the door to see if I could find one more convalescent than myself, to bring me paper and pen; I could not trust the hospital men with the money. One great inducement to this difficult exertion, was to see the face of heaven, and breathe the pure air once more. Feebly, and with anxious joy, I pushed open the door.' Dreadful sight! There lay Donald, my only, my long-tried friend, upon a barrow, to be carried into the dead-room, his face uncovered, and part of his body naked. The light forsook my eyes, I became dreadfully sick, and fell senseless upon the body; and after my recovery from the swoon, my mind was for some time either vacant or confused, and it was long before I could open a door without an involuntary shudder.'

Take from the same writer a specimen of the treatment that war gives its wounded servants. "We then marched off, leaving our wounded, whose cries were piercing; but we could not help them. Numbers followed us, crawling on their hands and knees, and filling the air with their groans. Many who could not even crawl after us, held out their hands, supplicating to be taken with us. We tore ourselves from them, and hurried away; for we could not bear the sight. On we struggled through a dark and stormy night, carrying the wounded officers in blankets on our shoulders; but such of the wounded soldiers as had been able still to keep up with us, made the heart bleed at their cries.'

Nor is this a solitary case, or one unusually severe. In the late wars of Europe, multitudes of the sick were abandoned to their fate in camps suddenly forced by the enemy; in their rapid marches, vast numbers, enfeebled by disease, or exhausted with fatigue, sank down by the road-side to perish without succor or sympathy; and sometimes thousands were left on the battle-field, day after day, amid the stench of putrefying carcasses, without food or drink, with no shelter froin the weather, and no protection against the voracity of ravening wolves and vultures. During the far-famed campaign of Napoleon in Russia, little attention was paid to the sick, the wounded, or those who became from any other cause unable to take care of themselves. The eighty thousand victims on the fatal field of Borodino, were for the most part left where they fell; and Labaume, glancing at that scene on his return with the French from Moscow, says, “the carcasses of men and horses still covered the plain, intermingled with garments stained with blood, and bones gnawed by the dogs, and birds of prey." While marching over the field of battle, they found one poor fellow stretched upon the ground, with both his legs broken, yet still alive! Wounded on the day of the great batile, he had remained in that condition nearly two months, living on bits of bread found among the dead bodies, on grass and roots, lying by night in the carcasses of dead horses, and dressing his wounds with their flesh!

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

[ocr errors]

begged the Frenchmen to let him and three others remove me to a village three or four leagues distant, that they finally consented. Wrapt in a blanket, I was conveyed on their shoulders almost in a state of insensibility, except when roused by the inhumanity of the three soldiers, who several times tumbled me into the mud in the most unfeeling manner, swearing I was dead, and they would carry me no farther; but, my ritle comrade threatening them if they dared to leave me, they carried me to a village which had been plundered by the troops, and deserted by the inhabitants. Starvation now stared me in the face; for the escort, having laid me inside a hut, proceeded with their prisoners to Salamanca, whither I begged in vain they would take me to save me from dying with hunger. They refused to let any of their prisoners stay with me, or even carry me farther, as I was a mere skeleton; and they left me in this deserted village, destitute of both food and covering

"Still I survived ; but my sufferings from hunger were indescribable, having only a pittance of horse-flesh and acorns to subsist on for nearly a month in the depth of winter; and during all this time, I lay in an old, half-unroofed barn, to which the Spaniards, on their return to the village, had carried me, without giving me a morsel of food, but telling me I might lie there and die. So I certainly should, had I not been found by an English soldier who had escaped from the hands of the enemy, and accidentally took shelter in my quarters. The poor fellow found me in a state of starvation, and, taking me on his back to the village, craved food for me from door to door; but the inhuman Spaniards shut their doors in our face, and refused me both shelter and food. However, my fellow-sufferer found a dead horse, and supplied me with that food and acorns, which I then thought very dainty, and devoured them with greediness.

We will now turn the tables by showing how French prisoners in Spain were treated by their captors. On our road to Cordova, says one of these victims, "we met some of our comrades who had just been taken prisoners by the Spaniards. What a sight! Their eyes were put out, their tongues cut off, their fingers split up, and sundry parts of their bodies stabbed !—We took the city, but were afterwards obliged to capitulate ; and no sooner had we grounded our arms, than the Spaniards broke in upon us, and murdered our defenceless people in cold blood. The victims of this treachery met death under every variety of torture; some were pierced with numberless stabs, and others taken and burnt alive; in short, all the horrors of Cordova were revived, and put in execution against

Nor was the fate of the survivors much preferable ; for famine soon stared us in the face, and we thought starvation inevitable. The pangs of hunger so overcame even the horror of our brutal oppressors, that we implored them in piteous accents to give us food. Our petitions only awakened their derision; and, when several men fell down from mere exhaustion, they were instantly


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 extremity of weariness and despair. No effort was made to relieve these suferers; 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 hy 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 aš the wharves, and through the streets, sufficient to shock every heart not yet hardened to scenes of blood and

« PreviousContinue »