Details of that engagement

On the evening of the 9th of November, the division received orders
to move during the night, for the purpose of taking up its ground
previously to the attack on the enemy’s position in France, on the
following morning. The whole of the ample store of ready-cut wood, (a
portion of which had been split up by the officers to keep themselves
in exercise,) was piled up, and a monstrous fire kindled, which soon
burst into a tremendous blaze, throwing a bright glare on the distant
objects moving between the trees of the forest. At the usual hour, the
owl began to utter her notes, and continued her cries longer than
heretofore; all which was construed into something ominous by Lieut.
Baillie, a sinewy young Highlander, who, with an eagle’s wings held on
each shoulder, which he had shot with a single ball a few days before,
recited those tragic lines sung by the witches in _Macbeth_, as we
all joined hands and danced around the crackling faggots, and sang in
chorus, which at intervals was intermingled with the screeches of the
aforesaid owl. The flickering and livid glare of the flames, glancing
on the scarlet uniforms, the red sparks flying over the forest, and the
soldiers packing and beating their knapsacks, gave an unusual wildness
to our midnight orgies.

Before striking our tent, we partook of a comfortable breakfast, after
which we each secured a biscuit, of American manufacture: they were
of a peculiar hardness (nearly an inch thick), so much so, that it
required the stamp of an iron heel, or some hard substance, to break
them. An officer jocularly remarked, while placing one of them under
the breast of his jacket, that it might turn a ball,—which actually
occurred.[9]

During the darkness we got under arms, and moved silently under the
north-west side of la Rhune, by a narrow pathway, which had been cut
at that point to facilitate the passage of the troops to the destined
point of attack, within a few hundred yards of the enemy’s outposts.
We had scarcely taken up our ground, when we perceived the flash of a
cannon, fired by the enemy on the high road to Saint Jean de Luz, and
immediately followed by five others from the same spot. The conclusion
was, that these discharges were fired as a signal; for, soon after, we
heard the martial sounds of the French drums beating to arms, over a
great extent of country, _au petit point du jour_: our eyes anxiously
glanced towards the spot, where we expected to see the second brigade
of the division already formed. But nothing seemed to be under the
rough side of the mountain of Siboure, except slabs of rock, when,
all of a sudden, as if by magic, the whole of the fancied rocks were
in motion; and as the haze gradually cleared away, we could see the
soldiers packing the blankets with which they had covered themselves,
having taken up their ground long before us, as they had had a greater
distance to march.

The rising of the sun above the horizon was to be the signal for the
battle of the Nivelle to begin; or, if the weather proved cloudy, the
heavy artillery (which had been dragged with great difficulty through
the pass of Echalar,) were to open on the French occupying a fort,
which had been constructed to block up the break of the ridge of the
Pyrenees leading towards the village of Sare, in France. The sky was
free from clouds, and a sharp cold wind whistled through the barren
and cheerless rocks, whilst all eyes were directed towards the east,
watching the inflamed orb of the sun as he rose to view. Our regiment,
under Major W. Napier, then fixed bayonets, and rapidly moved forward
in column to the assault of the three stone forts on the top of la
Petite la Rhune; two companies rushed forward to skirmish, four formed
into line, and four supported in column. The heavy guns opened at the
puerta de Echalar; part of our brigade moved further to the right; the
second brigade scrambled over the rocks, precipices, and ravines, to
take the enemy in reverse; and the mountain guns fired into the forts
from a ledge of ragged grey rocks.

In a few minutes we reached the summit of the small mountain by a green
slope (not unlike a large breach) within twenty yards of the walls
of the first fort. The soldiers and officers gasped for breath: many
of the former, from the weight of their knapsacks and accoutrements,
staggered and fell, and, before they could recover their limbs, were
pierced with bullets to rise no more; the officers led on in a group
and carried the first fort. The second was then attacked hand to hand,
the French using their bayonets and the butt ends of their pieces; one
of our officers gallantly jumped into the second fort, and a French
soldier thrust a bayonet through his neckhandkerchief, transfixed him
to the wall, and then fired his piece which blew away the officer’s
collar, who jumped up unhurt. Another officer, while clambering up the
wall, received a most tremendous blow on the fingers with the butt-end
of a firelock, which made him glad to drop his hold; and we were so
hard pressed, that one or two of the officers seized the dead soldiers’
firelocks and fought with them. Among others, Sir Andrew Barnard of the
rifle corps joined in this hard fight.

As the enemy rushed out of the second fort, a little athletic man with
red hair eagerly followed a French officer; the Frenchman parried two
of his thrusts, but finding his men giving way, he turned suddenly
round and made off, and the soldier, fearing his prey might escape,
hurled his firelock at him; the bayonet flew through the back of his
body, and he fell heavily on his face with the weight of the musket and
the bayonet still sticking in him. Another French officer, who had
shewn a noble example of heroism, stood on the top of the wall with
both his eyes hanging on his cheeks, with his short cloak flapping in
the wind, and not daring to move from his perilous position, lest he
should tumble headlong down the steep precipice of many hundred feet in
depth.

The forts being now carried, I seized the hand of an officer to
congratulate him on his escape; the next instant he was down with a
horrible wound, and a ball grazed my left cheek.

Thus, in ten minutes, six companies assaulted a tremendous post, and
carried three forts at the point of the bayonet. It was one of the best
contested fights I ever saw; but ten officers were killed and wounded,
and nearly a hundred men. General Sir James Kempt, and his gallant
aide-de-camp, the Honourable C. Gore, had urged their horses up the
rocks with hats off, and were cheering us on while carrying the third
fort, when the General was wounded in the wrist of the right arm.

The four companies in support had moved forward at a moderate pace and
in good order, to succour us in case of need; but finding there was
nothing more to be done at this point, and seeing a line of the enemy
in front of a star fort, a few hundred yards distant, they became wild
with impatience to share in the combat, and simultaneously burst into
a run; and it was only by Sir James Kempt’s galloping a-head of them
that he could restrain their ardour. He was well aware the movement of
the second brigade would entirely dispossess the enemy of La Petite la
Rhune without further bloodshed.

From this post we had an admirable view of the fourth and seventh
divisions, who had succeeded in capturing the fort opposite St. Barbe,
and were now debouching on the rugged ground, and bringing up their
right shoulders in succession to form a line of battle in front of the
ridge of Sare. The second, third, and sixth divisions formed the right,
coming down the pass of Maya.

The enemy’s main position convexed in the centre, and extended about
twelve miles, as the bird flew; but a greater distance to march, owing
to the windings of roads, rivulets, and the steep and barren country
lying towards their centre and left. Their right was posted in front
of Saint Jean de Luz, amid fortified chateaux, farm-houses, villages,
woods, and orchards, converted into formidable abattis, and partly
defended by an inundation, and fifty pieces of heavy artillery. Their
centre rested on the rocky heights of La Petite la Rhune, the ridge of
Sare, and adjacent eminences which were crowned with redoubts. Their
left was stationed on the heights of Ainhoue on the right bank of the
Nivelle, which was also strongly entrenched.

The extreme left of our army consisted of the first and fifth
divisions, Lord Alymer’s brigade, a corps of Spaniards, with artillery
and two brigades of cavalry under General Hope[10] to demonstrate and
to guard the high road to Spain, while the centre and left of the army
were employed in more active operations.

The firing and rolling of musketry were now vehement to our right
towards the village of Sare. On the first retreat of the enemy, they
had set fire to some hundreds of huts built of fern and wicker work,
near the rocks of St. Antoine, but soon returned with drums beating the
_pas de charge_, to endeavour to retake them from the Spaniards. The
smoke, however, was so dense, owing to the wind blowing direct in their
faces, that they were forced from the contest, more from the heat of
the flames and downright suffocation than the good management of their
antagonists, who, as usual, plied them with long shots.

As soon as the fourth and seventh divisions were well engaged with the
enemy under General Beresford, aided by the third division moving to
its left, who were combating and driving the enemy up the heights east
of Sare, our division descended from La Petite la Rhune, left in front
for the purpose of attacking the great redoubt in the centre, on the
bare mountain of Esnau, near Ascain. It was defended on all sides by
clouds of skirmishers, engaged with the Caçadores and rifles of our
division. Here Sir Andrew Barnard fell pierced through the body with a
musket-ball amongst the light troops. The rattling of small arms was
incessant and very destructive on the 52nd regiment, under Sir John
Colborne, which suffered a most severe loss while moving round, and to
the rear of the large square redoubt. After some parleying, nearly six
hundred of the 88th French, finding themselves forsaken by their main
body, surrendered prisoners of war; but their commander gave way to the
most bitter invectives.

After nightfall, the flashes of the fire-arms of General Hill’s corps
still brightly sparkled, while driving onwards and making their last
efforts and discharges to decide the victory, and turn the left flank
of the enemy,—which obliged them during the night to evacuate St.
Jean de Luz, and retire to Bayonne, leaving fifty pieces of cannon in
their formidable lines in front of the former place. Field-marshal
Wellington directed the attack of the right of our army against the
left of the French.

At night some companies of our division were pushed into a valley on
picquet; and at nine we observed the heather of the camp had caught
fire, illuminating the country for miles around, while the men and
animals were seen gliding about, representing a sort of phantasmagoria.
By degrees the fire reached the base of the hill and ignited a small
forest; and two hours after midnight we were encompassed with a sheet
of flames, crackling and whizzing with terrific violence; and the heat
was so overpowering that we were glad to cross a rivulet, to save
ourselves from being consumed by this conflagration. To add to our
night’s misery, my companion was groaning from excessive pain caused by
the rap over the knuckles given him while we were storming the forts.

At ten o’clock on the following day our division edged off to the right
and crossed the Nivelle by a small stone bridge near St. Pé. The whole
army moved forward in three columns, the right marching upon Souraide
and Espelette and taking post on the left bank of the Nive, at Cambo,
Ustaritz, and the vicinity, to watch the enemy on the right bank of
that river; the centre on Arrauntz and Arbonne, and the left crossing
the Nivelle at the town and vicinity of Saint Jean de Luz, and
advancing through Guethary on Bidart, eight miles from Bayonne. In the
afternoon it came on to rain, while we were marching through _le bois
de St. Pé_. The roads were very deep, and we passed the night shivering
and wallowing in the grass and mud of a saturated plantation.

The head quarters of the general-in-chief were now established at
Saint Jean de Luz, an old town situated on the right bank of the river
Nivelle, and within a few hundred yards of the sea coast. Through
this town the high road runs from Spain to Bayonne, the latter place
being strongly fortified and situated at the junction of the Nive with
the Adour. The enemy occupied the farm-houses and villas three miles
in front of the fortress. A morass, which was only passable at two
places covered an entrenched camp which was within cannon shot of the
ramparts of Bayonne. The left of our army fronted the enemy, forming a
line amidst chateaux, farm-houses, woods, heaths, plantations, hedges,
swamps and ditches, as far as the sea-coast, the right being thrown
back towards Ustaritz and Cambo, facing the French who lined the
right bank of the Nive, as far as St. Jean Pied de Port. With the sea
therefore on our left, the river Adour and Bayonne in our front, the
river Nive on our right, and the lofty mountains of the Pyrenees at
our backs—it may fairly be said that the army were in a _cul de sac_.
The great strength of this frontier seems, particularly during the
winter, hardly to be understood; for beyond the river Nive many rapid
rivers cut across, and intersect the muddy country and clayey roads, so
as to make offensive operations very difficult.

The advanced posts of our first brigade were in a church behind the
village of Arcangues, at a château two hundred yards east of it, and
at a cottage half a mile further to the right, situated close to a
lake, on the other side of which was the château of Chenie, on a rising
ground, and enclosed by the small plantation of Berriots, through which
a road runs towards Ustaritz. The second brigade prolonged their line
towards a deep valley which separated them from the fifth division,
holding the plateau, in the neighbourhood of a château on the high road
to Bayonne, six or seven miles in front of St. Jean de Luz.

On the 23rd of November, it was deemed advisable to make some
alteration in our line of posts; accordingly our first brigade formed
at the château behind the village of Arcangues, and four companies
of our regiment advanced to execute the mission entrusted to them;
but, being led on by too great ardor, we came in front of a large
farm-house, strongly entrenched near Bassussarry. Here the musketry
was plied on both sides with unusual vivacity. Having pushed through a
small plantation to our left of the fortified house, we found ourselves
within twenty yards of it. A brave soldier sprang forward before he
could be restrained, and, levelling his piece, cried out, “I have been
at the storming of Rodrigo, Badajoz, and Saint Sebastian; there is no
ball made for me[11].” As soon as he had fired, he fell dead, pierced
with numerous bullets through his head and body.

This was _indeed_ a skirmish; for in a very short time we lost ninety
men killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. A brave young officer[12]
seeing things going hard (and hearing the advance sounded) rushed
across a field to our left, sword in hand, and, outstripping the
company, when close to the enemy, who were formed behind a ditch, was
shot through the head, and tumbled into it a lifeless corpse. The
officer commanding the company jumped into it, and caught him in his
arms; twenty soldiers had also followed and tried to clamber the wet
clayey bank, but could neither do that nor extricate themselves from
this awkward position. Overwhelmed by numbers, they were obliged to
surrender themselves prisoners, as well as the commander[13] of the
company, whose uniform was streaming with blood, while he was still
supporting the dead lieutenant in his arms. We also were so near the
enemy that I was obliged to give orders, in an under tone, for the men
to cease firing, as the French threw twenty bullets to one. Fortunately
the small trees were so thickly set, they could not distinguish us,
and ceased firing, but we could distinctly see them leaning carelessly
over a wall. While they were chattering away, I passed the word to
our soldiers who were lying concealed amongst the small trees, and
underwood, that when I should hold up my pocket handkerchief as a
signal, a volley was to be fired. This took full effect.

A sergeant of ours was lying on his breast, and had scarcely taken
his fusee from the level, when a ball passed in at the centre of his
forehead. He instantly rolled on his back, groaned heavily, and kicked
out his legs, covering the spot with a liquid stream of blood. Sir
James Kempt, ever first in the fight and last out of it, having taken
his station at a house within musket-range, had now ordered a bugler to
sound the “retire,” after two hours’ fighting; and it was quite time,
for all the companies engaged had sustained a sad loss in killed and
_hors de combat_.

Now came the difficulty—and how to get away without being seen.
Fortunately we found a pathway shrouded by small trees, which we
passed by single files, without uttering a word. On clearing it,
to say that we did not feel glad would be a piece of unnecessary
affectation. The men were covered with mud and sweat, and their faces
and hands blackened by the biting of cartridges; and scarcely a round
of ammunition remained in the pouches. The sergeant, who had been
rather dragged than carried out of the wood, was lying on his back and
still alive, with his eyes closed, perfectly black, and swelled up as
large as a couple of cricket balls; he was frothing at the mouth, and
presenting a horrible sight. The balls were again whizzing past our
ears, and while spreading the blanket out of his knapsack over his
trembling and agitated body, one of the soldiers said “He cannot live
long,” when, strange to relate, he raised his arm and waved a pocket
handkerchief crimsoned with gore which he held in his hand!

An officer full of ardor came forward from the regiment to cover some
of the skirmishers on the left; but he was soon shot through the leg,
and the sergeant major into the bargain. The latter was a fine comely
handsome man of about fourteen stone weight, who was now mounted on a
soldier’s back with his sword drawn, swearing all the oaths he could
muster; and the sight was so ludicrous, that we were all convulsed with
laughter, to see the two heroes, who had come quite fresh to cover our
retreat, carried off the field in so droll a manner,—while now and
then a stray bullet whistled through the air, by way of a hint that it
was no joke.

Our line of picquets was now advanced; which, I am quite confident,
might have been accomplished without a shot being fired. In the evening
we returned to the village of Arbonne with keen appetites, and heartily
glad to wash the dirt and mire from off our hands and faces.

[Footnote 9: A musket-ball perforated the biscuit, which caused the
bullet, after passing under the fleshy part of the breast, and round
the ribs, to glance off and pierce quite through the thick part of the
left arm.]

[Footnote 10: General Graham having gone to Holland, to take the
command of a separate British force in that country.]

[Footnote 11: This man, made use of similar expressions, while storming
the forts on the 10th of November.]

[Footnote 12: This is the officer who repeated the tragic lines in
Macbeth, while dancing round the fire the night before the battle of
the Nivelle, thirteen days before.]

[Footnote 13: He was made prisoner while travelling through France on
his way to Verdun, his carriage was surrounded by a party of Cossacks,
who were going to pike him, when he luckily made himself understood;
then being conducted to the allied army, he was most kindly treated and
instantly liberated.]

The weather continued variable, intermixed with cold winds, sleet, and
heavy rains. However, as we were pretty well housed, the hardships of
other campaigns ceased, for we had no longer fatiguing marches, the
rations were regularly served out, and, as long as our money lasted,
the hordes of congregated suttlers at Saint Jean de Luz supplied us
in abundance with every article of domestic comfort. When on picquet,
our time was occupied chattering with the peasantry, a sort of
_demi-basque_ tribe. They had no decided costume: the females twisted
striped handkerchiefs of various patterns round their heads according
to the French custom, and wore wooden shoes or _sabots_,—an article
well adapted to keep out the mud in the execrable roads of this country.

On the 9th of December the army was put in motion, and the second
division forded the river near Cambo, with little opposition from the
enemy. Our division advanced against the French in front of Bassussary,
and drove in some of their picquets; while the left under General
Hope advanced on the road leading from St. Jean de Luz, nearly up
to the entrenched camp in front of Bayonne. During the whole day a
good deal of desultory skirmishing took place, and our army formed a
sort of half-circle, the river Nive cutting through the right centre,
which made the distance from right to left at least twenty miles, by
roads scarcely passable. Towards evening the left of the army retired
to their former line of picquets, and the main body to Saint Jean
de Luz and its environs; but our division kept its ground more than
half a mile in front of the village of Arcangues. The enemy seemed
determined not to quit the fortified house near the little bridge,
or Pont d’Urdains, and as we passed north of it, we had overlooked
its enclosure, occupied by a French brigade, congregated in a noisy
assemblage, while their rations were served out. Apprehensive that
the sight of the loaves and wine casks might excite us to desperate
expedients, one or two hundred of the enemy’s tirailleurs extended
themselves, and advanced, without much firing, to clear the ground.

After dark our sentinels were withdrawn, for the purpose of taking post
on our original picquet ground. The company I commanded held a small
promontory, or tongue of land, which jutted out considerably beyond all
the other line of picquets; and, without doubt, was a most precarious
post, as neither flank was secure: and the sentinels were planted on a
half-circle, to shield the main body of the picquet. Notwithstanding
the ground was so disadvantageous, it was necessary to hold it, as it
commanded the debouché of the road from Bayonne by Bassussary. During
the night we heard confused sounds, like the rumbling of artillery,
intermixed with a good deal of hallooing and barking of dogs; but two
hours before daybreak all the sounds died away, and every thing was
hushed and tranquil. The suspicion, however, of the field officer of
the picquets was awakened, and he ordered me to feel my way towards
the house of Oyhenart usually held by the French, to ascertain whether
they had taken up the ground from which they had been driven on the
previous day. Four soldiers accompanied me, but, as good luck would
have it, I could not pass the abattis, composed of trees, which had
been cut down to stop up the broad road, and to cover our picquet-house.

We then crossed into a field, and, stealing along close to the right
of the road, as cautiously as possible, waited the French sentinels’
well-known _qui vive_. Suddenly I felt the serjeant pulling at the
skirts of my jacket, (for I had thrown off my cloak as an incumbrance,)
and he whispered me to cast my eyes to the left, where I saw about
a dozen Frenchmen, within six yards of us, gliding along the road
towards our _abattis_, I think, without shoes, for they did not make
the least noise. A small hedge screened us; the serjeant was about to
fire, but I put his fusee down with my hand, and we all squatted in
the mud, anxiously awaiting the result. Time hung on leaden wings,
and they were almost entangled in the branches of the felled trees
before our sentry discovered and challenged them; but not being
quite certain of the cause of the slight noise, he did not fire, and
presently these grey-coated phantom-looking figures came running past
us, with noiseless footsteps: we then made good haste back, having
been, according to our calculation, within ten or twelve yards of their
sentry, who was usually planted behind a hedge which flanked their
picquet-house, distant from ours two hundred yards.

At daybreak, on the 10th December, we perceived the advance of the
enemy within one hundred yards of our picquet, loitering about as
usual, without any outward display of any thing extraordinary going
on, or any signs indicating that they were about to assume offensive
movements. At eight o’clock, Sir James Kempt came to my picquet-house,
and, having seated himself by the fire, the assembled party consisted
of Lieut. Col. Beckwith (a staff officer) of the Rifle Corps, Lieut.
Col. William Napier, Major Sir John Tylden, Lieut. Maclean[14], and
the Honorable C. Monck, of our regiment, who all entered into an
indifferent conversation, without contemplating that an attack was
meditated by the enemy. Lieut. Col. Napier remarked, that he thought
the French loiterers seemed very busy, which induced us to approach the
window, which commanded a full view of the enemy’s picquet-house, and
having looked at them some time, without seeing the cause of alarm,
some of the party burst into a loud laugh, and declared that it was
only Napier’s fancy; but he still persisted, and would not give up
his point, saying, that he had seen them very often before, in a like
manner, walking off by ones and twos, to assemble at given points,
before making some rapid and simultaneous assault; and, sure enough,
before the expiration of half an hour, these ones and twos increased
considerably all along the hedges.

Although Sir James Kempt was always on the alert, (no general could
be more so,) still he persisted that nothing would take place, and
ordered the first brigade to return to its quarters at Arbonne, a
distance of more than two miles, and over a very bad road. Lieut.-Col.
Beckwith remarked, that he now agreed that the French seemed to be
eyeing the post, and advised Sir James to rescind the order, as it
would be better to conceal the troops, and to wait until the enemy
should develope their intentions. The field-officer rode off to warn
the other companies in advance to be in readiness. These were formed
disadvantageously, on a gentle concave acclivity, which could not be
helped, from the nature and shape of the country.

Lieut.-Col. Beckwith alone remained, and, before he rode off, walked
round the sentinels with me, as I was ordered to defend the post,
should the enemy come on, to oblige them fully to develope their
intentions. Shortly after this, one of the sentinels stationed on the
most rising ground, turned his back to the French and beckoned me. On
my reaching his post, he informed me that he had seen a mountain-gun
brought on a mule’s back, and placed behind a bush. In a few minutes
the Duke of Dalmatia, with about forty staff officers, came within
point-blank range of my picquet to reconnoitre the ground. During this
interval, I fancied that I could hear the buzz of voices behind a
small hillock, and, on clambering a fruit-tree near my picquet-house,
I could just descry a column of the enemy lying down, in readiness to
pounce on us. There being no longer any doubt that they were about to
attack, I instantly mounted my horse, (leaving the company in charge
of the next senior officer,) and rode at full speed in search of the
general, whom I met within a quarter of a mile, and told him there
would be a general action fought that day, and there was no time to be
lost. Sir James Kempt ordered me to send a mounted officer from the
picquet to Gen. Baron C. Alten, and to be sure not to begin the firing
until the very last moment. He sent also the greater part of another
company to my assistance. In two or three minutes after I had returned
to the picquet, some French soldiers, headed by an officer, issued from
behind the hedges, and moved round our left flank, within one hundred
yards. The officer naturally thought we should fire at him; therefore,
to feign indifference, he placed his telescope to his eye, looked
carelessly about in all directions, and made a bow to us. Further to
the left, we could also see a body of French cavalry debouching from
the small thicket of la Bourdique, three miles distant, near the great
Bayonne road.

The French soldiers, witnessing our civility to their small party, were
determined not to be outdone in _politesse_, and called out to our
sentinels to retire, in French and Spanish. At half-past nine o’clock,
A. M., the enemy’s skirmishers, in groups, came forward in a careless
manner, talking to each other, and good-naturedly allowed our sentinels
to retire without firing on them. They imagined, from their superiority
of numbers, to gain this post by a _coup de main_; and the more
effectually by this means to surprise, if possible, the whole line of
outposts. However, when they were within twenty yards of our abattis,
I said, “Now fire away.”[15] The first discharge did great execution.
These were the first shots fired, and the beginning of the battle of
the _Nive_. The enemy then debouched from behind the thickets in
crowds; our flanks were turned right and left, and the brisk French
voltigeurs rushed impetuously forward, (covered by two mountain-guns,)
blowing their trumpets, and shouting “_En avant, en avant Français;
vive l’Empereur!_”

The atmosphere was clouded, and the bright flashing and pelting of
musketry sprang up with amazing rapidity. One of our companies, having
held its ground too long in front of the village of Arcangues, was
surrounded. The officer commanding it, asked the soldiers if they would
charge to the rear, and they rushed into the village with such a loud
huzza, that an officer commanding a French regiment was so surprised at
their sudden appearance, as to halt the column for a few moments; and
the fugitives sprang across the single street and escaped.

Two battalions of the rifle corps being formed in columns of grand
divisions, or single companies, behind the various houses, developed
their skirmishers in admirable order, and fought in and round the
scattered houses of Chau with great skill. So close was the combat,
that Lieut. Hopwood and a serjeant of the rifle corps, were both shot
through the head by a single Frenchman putting the muzzle of his piece
quite close to them, while they were engaged with others in front.

In the meantime the whole of our picquets now ceased firing and
retired leisurely, unengaged, took their station with the rest of the
regiment, and formed in a churchyard, on our main position, more than
half a mile behind the village of Arcangues,[16] a sort of neutral
post for reserve picquets; but the village was not entrenched, was not
intended to be defended, and formed no part of our main position, owing
to the ground on both flanks of it being badly adapted for defence. The
isolated church and the château called Arcangues, have been the cause
of those numerous mistakes made relatively to the distant village of
that name being the supposed scene of a severe conflict. The rest of
the brigade already lined the breastwork of a château, two hundred
yards to the right.

After a protracted struggle the rifle corps retired, and formed on
the position marked out for defence, but left a number of skirmishers
behind some stone walls, at the bottom of the slope, from which the
enemy could never dislodge them, owing to our overpowering fire from
the high ground.

The second brigade was now sharply engaged, having been in echelon to
our left and obliquely to the rear, following the undulating nature of
the ground. The plateau of Arcangues and Bassussarry being gained by
the enemy, now became the pivot of the French marshal’s operations,
which enabled his right wing to attack the fifth division, on the high
road to St. Jean de Luz, where there was some very hard fighting, in
front of the batteries; and it was some hours before the first division
and Lord Aylmer’s brigade could come to their assistance, these troops
having been peaceably in their quarters, and far to the rear, when this
sudden irruption took place. The enemy’s attack ceased opposite to us,
with the exception of a firing of artillery within about a thousand
yards, which continued to play into the churchyard, and knocked about
the tombstones during the greater part of the day. In one spot a small
green mound was carried away, and also the lid of an infant’s coffin,
leaving the putrid remains of the child exposed to view. However, we
kept up an incessant discharge of small-arms, which so annoyed the
French gunners, that, during the latter part of the day, they ceased to
molest us. The walls of the stone church were cannon-proof; I saw many
balls break large pieces out of the edifice, and fall harmlessly on
the sod.

The assembled enemy on the neighbouring heights seemed now to meditate
an assault. Two companies lined the interior of the building, the
windows of which were surrounded with wooden galleries; water was
taken into the church, and a strong traverse was erected opposite the
door, so that, if by any accident the enemy had attacked and gained
possession of it, the fire from the galleries would have driven them
out again.

The rest of the battalion were stationed behind a stone-wall, which
encircled the churchyard, and in reserve behind the edifice, ready to
make a charge of bayonets should the enemy succeed in breaking through
this enclosure. Their advance were stationed behind a house, within two
hundred yards of us, covered by their cannon at the brow of the hill,
while we only possessed two mountain three-pounders, which were placed
to the left of the church, to fire down a narrow lane which threatened
our left flank. For some days previously, trifling working parties
had been employed, of twenty or thirty men, in cutting down a small
plantation in front of the church, which was so intersected by the
trees entangled together, that the enemy never could have penetrated
them; but the other entrenchments consisted of a few shovels of earth,
negligently thrown up, which the French voltigeurs might have hopped
over; and as for flank defences, they seemed not to have been thought of.

At about one o’clock, P. M., the fourth division came to our support,
and crowned a hill six hundred yards behind the château occupied by the
rifle corps.

During the night the whole of our regiment were hard at work, in
throwing up a formidable battery in front of the churchyard, and
before morning it was finished, with embrasures, regular _épaulements_,
(filled up with small bushes, to make the enemy believe that it was a
masked battery,) and traverses. Both our flanks were secured by felled
trees, strewed about, and even at the back of the burial-ground, which
was now impregnable against any sudden assault; nor do I believe six
thousand men could have taken it. So much for the ingenuity of infantry
soldiers, with their spades, shovels, pickaxes, bill-hooks, and
hatchets.

On the 11th, it was supposed that the Duke of Dalmatia intended
to break the centre, by advancing against the church and château,
(commonly called Arcangues); accordingly General Hope detached the
right part of his force nearer to the left of our division; but the
enemy again attacked, and obliged him to resume his original ground,
where there was a good deal of firing, and many brave men fell on
both sides, without any decided result. During this day, although the
French advance was quite close to us, there was no firing; and we
industriously profited by every moment of tranquillity to strengthen
our position. At this juncture, two battalions of Nassau troops
deserted into the British lines.

On the 12th, a fusillade on the left continued the greater part of
the day; every now and then there was a cessation of small-arms;
then a sudden rush and burst of firing, and so on. On calling the
roll in the afternoon, a dozen men of our regiment were missing, and
an officer being sent with a patrole to a small house enclosed in
an apple-orchard, he found the enemy’s soldiers and our men mixed
together, in a room full of apples. The French soldiers, considering
themselves prisoners, brought forth the whole of their apples as a
peace offering to the officer, who merely pointed to the door, from
whence they effected their escape; while, on the other hand, the
culprits belonging to us were brought back, with downcast heads, and
their haversacks crammed with apples.

In the evening the enemy formed a strong mass of troops, within
cannon range, and in front of our second brigade, but made no further
movement; while those opposite to us were employed in throwing up
the earth, as if to construct batteries. During the night, some of
the rifle corps on picquet, being close to the French, observed, by
the reflection of a bright fire, about thirty stand of the enemy’s
firelocks piled in front of their picquet-house, which the rifles
determined to possess themselves of, and darted forward with such
rapidity that the French sentinel had only time to discharge his piece
and run away. The rest of the picquet bolted the front, and escaped,
without arms, by the back door.

On the 13th, in the morning, it was found that the French Marshal had
disappeared from our front, and during the night had again marched in
a half-circle through Bayonne, for the purpose of attacking the second
division before sufficient support or assistance could be given them,
finding the three previous days’ fighting and demonstrations had failed
to force the lines, or oblige Field Marshal Wellington to withdraw his
right flank from the right bank of the Nive.

The sixth and third divisions supported the right of the army; the
fourth division the centre; and the seventh the left centre: these
four divisions being in reserve, and occasionally in motion towards
those points threatened.

The company I commanded was again for outpost duty, at the identical
spot which we had been driven from. We relieved a company of the
rifle corps which had felt its way, _au point du jour_, to our old
picquet-house. The officer whom I relieved, in a merry mood, bade
us good morning, and pointed, at the same time, towards the French
infantry, with knapsacks on, bayonets fixed, and aided by a squadron
of hussars. The old _abattis_ had been entirely removed, and as it was
quite uncertain at what moment the enemy might make a forward movement,
I ordered another abattis to be constructed at the turn of the road;
and I never saw the men work with better humour. In a few minutes a
sufficient number of trees were cut down, and collected, to stop any
sudden ebullition of the cavalry; it would have been any thing but
agreeable to be attacked on both flanks, while the dragoons charged up
the road.

This little defence was barely finished, when some straggling shots
took place in front of General Hill’s corps, occupying a concave
position of about four miles in extent, between the rivers Adour
and Nive; the right centre occupying the village of St. Jean vieux
Monguerre. The day was fine, and in a short time the white smoke
ascended in clouds, amidst peals of musketry, and the rapid and
well-served artillery. The battle was well contested on both sides,
and there was no break in the musketry. Both bodies fought as if this
struggle was to wind up, in brilliant style, the battle of the Nive.
As fast as the grape-shot mowed down, and split the enemy’s columns,
they again closed up, and strenuously endeavoured to break through the
brave lines of the second division, who repulsed all their attacks, and
crowned the day by forcing the enemy into their entrenchments with such
decision, that they no more resumed the offensive, nor was the army
further disturbed by petty affairs.

The right of the French army now confined itself to the usual outposts
in front of Bayonne; its right centre extended on the right of the
Adour to Port de Lanne, and its left flank on the right bank of the
river Bidouze, and their cavalry filled up the intermediate country as
far as the small fortress of Saint Jean Pied de Port, which position
embraced our army, and formed two sides of a square,—our right face
being on the river Joyeuse, and supported by the light cavalry.

Various acts of complaisance now passed between the vanguards of the
hostile armies. A lady from Bayonne, with a skipping poodle dog, one
day came to see _les habits rouges of les Anglais_; and while she was
going through those little elegancies, so peculiarly characteristic
of the French, the poodle dog came towards us, and from an over
officiousness, some of the French soldiers whistled to keep it within
bounds, which so frightened the little creature, that at full speed it
entered our lines, and crouched at our feet. Without a moment’s delay
we sent it back by a soldier to its anxious mistress, who was highly
delighted, and with her own delicate hand presented a goblet of wine to
the man, who, with an unceremonious nod, quaffed the delicious beverage
to the dregs, touched his cap, and rejoined us, with a pipe in his
mouth and a store of tobacco,—the latter having been presented to him
by the French soldiers.

With the exception of a trifling change of quarters, and a few other
occurrences, the year closed without any thing to interrupt our
little Christmas festivities, which were always kept in due form. On
Christmas-day I was on picquet, but we partook of the usual fare, and
some mulled wine, with as much tranquillity as if afar removed from
hostile alarms. Just before dark, while passing a corporal’s picquet,
an officer and myself stood for a few minutes, to contemplate a poor
woman, who had brought her little pudding, and her child, from her
distant quarters, to partake of it with her husband, by the side of a
small fire kindled under a tree.

[Footnote 14: Now Captain Maclean.]

[Footnote 15: Probably such a word of command may astonish _some
adjutant-major_, but I give it as it occurred: in rough ground, in
rough times, and in a rough country, such expedients are resorted to in
war.]

[Footnote 16: On assembling in the churchyard behind Arcangues, an
athletic soldier of this company being without his knapsack, told
us, that while passing through the village three French soldiers had
surrounded him, and one had hold of his collar; but he throwing his
knapsack on the ground, knocked one man down, and the others seized his
knapsack, and by this means he effected his escape.]

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