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British Colonial Wars

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  • The Siege of Quebec 1759
    • Unerring in his choice of men, Pitt had marked Wolfe in 1758, when, at the head of his mobile light infantry, he had done so much to bring about the surrender and fall of Louisbourg.  When the young Colonel returned to England he was already a popular hero, but evading any public demonstration, he quietly rejoined his regiment at Salisbury.  Soon he received his orders from Pitt.  Quebec, the stronghold of the French in Canada - on which Wolfe had wished to dash after Louisbourg - must be captured, and with it America.  In modest confidence Wolfe accepted his chance of glory in the words "A greater part than I wished or desired".  The time had come when the incapacity of the British Generals could be no longer endured, and the people were delighted with Pitt's choice of a young leader, neither "rich in votes" nor "related to a Duke".  Yet for appearance sake the new commander was allowed only local rank of Major-General.  In February 1759 Wolfe, under the convoy of Admiral Saunders, sailed from Spithead with stores and a small number of troops; it being designed that his land force should be drawn from the American garrisons.  Eventually, only 8,500 men gathered at Louisbourg, but every man spick, span, and fit, save Wolfe himself, who, though he frequently said "spirit will carry a man through anything", was a martyr to ill health.  Immediately the St Lawrence was open to navigation the troopships set sail, and after many feats of seamanship anchored off the island of Orleans.  In front lay the six mile ridge to the east of Quebec, forming the camp of Montcalm, who had at least 16,000 men available for the defence of the city, which seemed impregnable on all sides.  The early capture of Point Levis - an eminence opposite Quebec - enabled Wolfe to bombard the city, but after eight weeks of effort he was no nearer getting inside it.  At length he decided to attempt one of the most audacious feats in the history of sieges.  Discovering that just westward of the city there was a winding path from the shore up the precipitous cliffs, he determined to set his troops the apparently impossible task of reaching Quebec by this risky course.  In the stillness of night, broken only by his own recital of Gray's "Elegy", Wolfe with his men was borne up the river.  Twice they were challenged from the cliffs, and on each occasion a Highland officer replied in perfect French that they were friendly convoys of provisions.  In the meantime Montcalm was distracted by the fear of a night attack on his camp to the east, so furious was the firing from the batteries and guns.  After incredible physical feats Wolfe and his whole force of 4,300 men swarmed up the difficult ascent, and at six o'clock in the morning the astounded French saw their foes on the plains of Abraham.  Montcalm hastened to the attack, and by ten o'clock was ready to give battle.  Notwithstanding the impetuous advance of the French, firing rapidly as they came along, Wolfe's men obeyed his orders not to volley until at a distance of forty paces.  The result was terrible.  Through the rents in the French ranks the English charged with sword and bayonet, and the day was won, but in the hour of victory the heroic Wolfe was shot down.  "See! they run!" shouted one of his officers.  "Who run?" said Wolfe, and on being told, gasped "I now die in peace!"  The capture of Quebec sealed the fate of the French in America, and Wolfe died, in the words of Pitt, "at the moment when his fame began." (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Pondicherry, 1761 and 1778
    • In the great struggle for military supremacy in India the province on the Coromandel coast known as the Carnatic played a notable part.  Its extent was some 500 miles from North to South, and about 100 miles inland, and on its seaboard lay the English and French settlements.  Madras City was the centre of British influence; Pondicherry - lying 53 miles to the South - that of the French.  The earlier years of European activity in the Great Peninsula were a period of peaceful commercial enterprise and rivalry, but the course of events led gradually yet inevitably to a duel for dominion which closed only with the total disappearance of the French Indian Empire.  Pondicherry figured with unenviable frequency in the varying fortunes of the flight.  As early as 1748 the town withstood a siege of 50 days at the hands of Admiral Boscawen, and on the retirement of the British its bold and ambitious Governer, Dupleix, set to work to accomplish his dream of a French Empire in the Deccan.  Without regard to the political situation in Europe, English and French intrigued, campaigned, and fought on in India; reinforcements were sent out in considerable numbers; and Clive, the "heaven born General", carved an imperishable name with his sword.  In 1761 Eyre Coote besieged Pondicherry at the head of 3,500 British soldiers and 7,000 Sepoys.  Although the garrison numbered only 1,500 French and native troops under the Count de Lally, it made a stout resistance, until starvation compelled submission and the place was levelled to the ground.  Two years later the Peace of Paris restored it to its former owners, and in time the fortifications were completely restored, but the French power in India was irretrievably broken.  When, in 1778, the Governemnt of Paris openly espoused the cause of the revolted North American Colonies the flame of war was fanned into new vigour in the East, and once again Pondicherry became the object of attack.  Sir Hector Munro conducted the siege.  Under the gallant Bellecombe the garrison held out for ten weeks, but in the month of October further resistance was impossible and the town capitulated.  The French were allowed to march out with all the honours of war.  The troubled history of Pondicherry did not end here, for in 1783 it was restored to France, obly to fall once more into the hands of the English ten years later.  At the general settlement of 1816 it reverted yet again to the French ownership, and remains today a peaceful and flourishing trading centre, almost the only remnant of a great hope. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Ballinamuck, 1798
    • "Ninety eight" marked the close of a tragic and sanguinary chapter in Ireland's history.  For upwards of thirty years the unhappy country had been the theatre of discontent and lawlessness.  Unspeakable horrors were enacted by the disaffected and the Government alike.  In 1796 the Directory at Paris, responding to the appeals of Wolfe Tone and the other physical force leaders, despatched a formidable fleet carrying 15,000 picked troops, under General Hoche, to the coast of Munster.  Once again the elements were against our invaders, and a furious gale swept the squadron back to Brest.  The two following years were passed amid terrible acts of indiscriminate vengeance.  In 1798, just when Lord Cornwallis, the new Viceroy, was beginning with a firm but merciful hand to restore order, and, with order, hope, the French Government renewed their attempt.  General Humbert, with 1,000 men, a few guns, and a considerable stand of arms, sailed from Rochelle towards the middle of August, and anchored in Killala Bay on the 22nd of the month.  It was arranged that General Hardi, who was at Brest with some 3,000 men, should follow as quickly as possible.  Humbert could not afford to wait for the reinforcements as everything depended upon the celerity and unexpectedness of his advance.  Capturing Killala, he armed the peasantry, who crowded to welcome him, and advanced to Ballina at the head of about 800 French soldiers and a mob of undisciplined Irish.  General Lake was ordered to meet him at Castlebar, where some 3,000 or 4,000 men, mostly Irish Militia, and several guns were assembled.  Although outnumbered, Humbert decided to attack, and, owing to the treacherous flight of the Kilkenny and Longford Militia, captured the position.  Lake retreated to Tuam, abandoning his guns.  Cornwallis, hurrying up with the troops of the Dublin garrison, joined him.  Humbert moved eastward to Sligo.  The half armed peasants flocked to his standard in increasing numbers, but General Hardi failed to arrive.  On reaching the Shannon the little French force crossed the river at Ballintra, with Lake close behind them and Cornwallis advancing in a parallel line from the South West.  Recognising the hopelessness of his position, Humbert faced his pursuers at Ballinamuck, but, finding himself surrounded by 20,000 men, surrendered at discretion.  The Irish insurgents immediately dispersed, only to undergo a pitiless punishment. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Aboukir, 1801
    • When Nelson shattered the French in the Bay of Aboukir he foresaw, as his despatches showed, that the army of Buonaparte in Egypt was land locked.  Such a great naval historian as Captain Mahan has dwelt on this fact; hence the weightiness that is implied in the term "Sea-power".  Buonaparte, having made an unsuccessful attempt, after traversing the Palestine desert, to effect the siege of Acre, defended by Sir Sidney Smith, was obliged to anticipate the retreat from Moscow, and wearily trudge back to Egypt.  Next his ambitious stake for Empire recalled him to France, and he left Egypt hurriedly and the army of occupation to its fate.  Eventually the British Government, alive to the fruits of Nelson's victory, despatched Sir Ralph Abercormby to dislodge the imprisoned French battalions and to capture the covetable land of Egypt.  In March 1801, Abercromby, with Smith of Acre, and Moore, afterwards of Corunna, was prepared to disembark on the shore affronting the castle of Aboukir.  The whole thing was a plunge into the unknown.  The General had no maps, no clues of military topography.  Everything depended upon his imperturbable coolness, and on that intrepid and resourceful spirit and action of the men in his command.  Wolfe had taken Quebec; why should not Abercromby take Egypt?  The blood of heroes ran hot in the veins of Englishmen.  And it runs still.  Thus although every Frenchman was entrenched, and every cannon posted, there was no flinching.  In the early morning every man for the landing was in his position in his boat.  In the fury of the cannonade three boats were sunk, but a fair number out of the 180 men involved were saved.  The captain of this enterprise of seamanship was Alexander Cochrane, of the famous family of Dundonald.  Eventually the troops plunged through the surf, with bayonets fixed and flags flying, and dashed up the steep sandhills.  The 42nd Highlanders, rapidly clambering up, raced up to the French defenders, and closed with bayonet and butt-end.  In the meantime the French cavalry had courageously ridden into the sea and cut down many of the close packed troops in the landing boats.  Again, too, squadrons charged into the ranks of the alert invaders, but they were repulsed with heavy casualties.  Nothing could stop the fearless headway of the dauntless infantry, seamen and marines.  General Moore was the life and soul of this wondrous attack, which, however, caused him the loss of nearly 700 killed and wounded.  The affair was almost as acrobatic as that of Quebec, and the Frenchmen had a quick awakening from their experiences of native troops.  In a few hours after the original order for landing, the scattered enemy was in headlong retreat on the road to Alexandria, upon which, as will presently be shown, the elated English eagerly prepared to advance. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Alexandria or Canopus, 1801
    • After the heroic landing of the English at Aboukir, the decisive defeat of the French defenders, and their scurry back to their stronghold at Alexandria, Sir Ralph Abercromby's crowning effort of his life as a soldier had to be put forth.  It was meet that in this triumphant labour he should be seconded by the heroic energies of his own countrymen.  As will be seen the 92nd Highlanders and the 90th Regiment of Perthshire Light Infantry did much towards the ousting of the French from Egypt.  These regiments, with the 40th Foot as cover, formed the first order of attack upon the enemy drawn up at Mandora in front of the French position on the sandhills stretching between Alexandria and the lake of Aboukir.  With characteristic elan these devoted regiments advanced eagerly against the foe, and although raked by grape shot, rushed to the mouths of the guns and straightway captured them, cutting down their valiant defenders to a man.  Shortly after this, General Abercromby had his horse shot under him and was rescued by the Perthsires.  In the meantime great difficulty had been felt by the seamen and marines in their attempts to drag the guns through the loose sand.  Added to this the English had their first experience of a mirage, and the plain on the right of the enemy appeared to be a vast lake.  At this juncture Abercromby momentarily despaired, and proceeded to await the advance of heavy guns from the ships with which to defend his captured ground.  This halt enabled the French commander, General Menou, to increase his forces to nearly 14,000 men.  It also encouraged him to attack the reckless invaders.  Accordingly on the 21st March, at that hour before day break termed by Caesar prima luce, Menou ordered his arms to advance, and drive the British into the lake.  But there was no surprise, as Abercromby had his men ready.  First the pickets were driven in, and the enemy came on with a mighty rush.  The 42nd Highlanders and the Welsh Fusiliers met them nobly, and after a few rounds of volley firing hurled themselves at the enemy with the bayonet.  Next the French "Invincibles" tore down to the attack in the horrid darkness of smoke, only to find themselves in a lane of Highlanders, who mercilessly slew them.  Quite 700 of the French heroes fell and the survivors were glad to deliver their standard to Major Stirling of the 42nd.  Feeling victory within his grasp, Abercromby shouted "My brave Highlanders, remember our country, remember your forefathers!"  Incited by this appeal the Scots went madly to the attack.  As a last effort Menou called on his cavalry to make a final charge.  On they came under Brigadier Roize, only to be thoroughly broken and impaled.  Not till then was it noticed that Abercromby was mortally wounded.  He had been ubiquitous in the fight, and at one stage was engaged in a hand to hand struggle with two dragoons.  When his wound was at length insupportable he lay down in agony, and amid the tears and shouts of his followers was taken on board the "Foudroyant" where he died.  Fourteen hundred British and 3,000 French represented the loss that day.  Closely following on this signal victory succeeded the surrender of the French at Cairo, and their evacuation of Egypt. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805
    • "God gave us victory, but Nelson died".  In this pregnant sentence is written the pride and grief of a nation.  When England took upon herself the task of overthrowing the world power of Napoleon, she was fortunate in having at her call not only brave men but leaders of unflinching courage and skill and resource.  Among these the most famous is Nelson.  He it was who swept the French from the seas and established the supremacy of Great Britain upon the waters.  Nelson met the allied fleet off Trafalgar with an inferior force.  He had only twenty five sail of the line and four frigates to oppose to their thirty three ships and seven frigates - the eyes of the fleet as he named these ocean scouts.  Yet he never for a moment doubted the issue, and declared that he would not be content with fewer than twenty captures, an estimate that was absolutely accurate.  The enemy's fleet was skillfully disposed, but the superior skill and daring of the British Admiral quickly reduced these advantages.  Having flown the signal "England expects every man this day to do his duty", Nelson exclaimed: "Now I can do no more.  We must trust in the Great Disposer of all things and to the justice of our cause.  I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty."  Handled with that skill which comes from long experience, the British ships advanced over the rough sea and breaking through the enemy's lines held them in deadly conflict.  The struggle was long and bitter.  The Victory went into action with colours flying and speedily became shrouded in smoke and so interlocked with the British Temeraire, the French Redoubtable, and the Spanish four decker, Santissima Trinidad, that her big guns were worked with difficulty.  The fighting was at terribly close quarters.  A deadly fusillade swept the decks of the flag ships, and Nelson, a conspicuous figure in admiral's uniform, with stars and medals on his breast, fell mortally wounded by a shot from the mizzen top of the Redoubtable.  The man who fired the fatal shot did not live to glory in his deed.  Two midshipmen - the only officers left on the poop - avenged the death of their chief and their country's irreparable loss.  The victory was complete.  Twenty ships struck their colours, but some were so disabled that they sank in the gale, while others drifted ashore.  Four only of the prizes were saved.  Alva, the Spanish admiral, died of his wounds, and the French Admiral, Villeneuve, was brought to England a prisoner. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Corunna, 1809
    • Sir John Moore is one of the few soldiers who have won lasting fame by the conduct of a retreat.  When he was sent to arrest the victorious march of Napoleon through the Peninsula he foretold failure.  Despite many difficulties he succeeded in baffling the greatest military genius that the world has known, and in lowering the prestige of triumphant arms.  With twenty thousand fighting men he invaded a country overrun by three hundred thousand veterans, and, meeting with no support from the Spaniards, struck boldly at Bonaparte's communications.  The audacity of this strategy drew from Napoleon the admission that Moore was the only foe worthy of his steel.  With characteristic energy Bonaparte abandoned his plan of campaign and set out in pursuit, but rumour of an alliance between Russia and Austria sent him in hot haste to Paris.  Soult was left behind to drive the British into the sea.  Undismayed by the overwhelming force with which he was threatened, Moore prepared to meet the French.  But prudence prevailed.  Madrid had capitulated without striking a blow, and the Spanish legions had melted into shadows.  Eluding the snares set for him by the perfidy of persons in high places and warned by the treacherous folly of the British representative, Moore made up his mind to fall back upon the coast.  His force was so reduced that he had to post his men on an inferior range of hills commanded by the artillery fire of the enemy.  But advantage of position and superior numbers were of no avail against the gallantry of the British.  By a skillful move Moore managed to outflank the left of the French columns sent to crush the infantry under Baird.  Centre and left became engaged and a furious fight swept along the line.  Hill and valley re-echoed with the din of battle.  Moore was in the forefront of the conflict near the village of Elvina, against which the assault was fiercest.  Here a cannon shot struck him on the left breast, shattering the shoulder to pieces, breaking the ribs over the heart and tearing the muscles to shreds.  Thrown violently from his horse he gave no sign of the terrible nature of his wound, but fixed his gaze steadily on the troops.  Only when he saw the thin red line advancing did he suffer himself to be carried to the rear.  The hilt of his sword had entered the wound and an officer of his staff would have removed it.  "It is as well as it is", said the dying soldier, "I had rather it should go out of the field with me".  Moore died as he had always wished to die.  "I hope my country will do me justice", were among his last words.  And England had reason to be satisfied, for by his skill, his foresight, and his bravery, he saved her army from destruction, and arrested the blow that Napoleon aimed at the conquest of Spain. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Fuentes D'Onoro, 1811
    • "War, however adorned by splendid strokes of skill, is commonly a series of errors and accidents".  According to the rules of the game, Wellington ought to have been annihilated at Fuentes D'Onoro.  Error and discord among the staff of Massena, not less than the gallantry of British soldiers, gave us the victory.  The blockade of Almeida formed no part of Wellington's plan for driving the French out of the Peninsula.  Yet, having invested the town, his warlike spirit could not resist the temptation to oppose Massena when he marched to its relief with a force greatly superior in number and equipment.  Fuentes D'Onoro, a village on the banks of the river Duas Casas, was the key to the position, and the French made two attempts to seize it.  In the first assault five battalions were driven from the streets and took refuge on the higher ground.  But the French did not remain long in possession.  A furious charge sent them headlong over the river.  On the following day Massena renewed the attack with forty thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry.  His design was to hold in check the left of the extended line of  the British and Portuguese and to turn the right.  At the first shock the enemy's cavalry drove in our outguards and cut off Ramsay's battery of horse artillery.  The crisis seemed desperate when there suddenly occurred one of those incidents that make war glorious.  Napier describes it in words of unrivalled vigour and picturesqueness.  "The multitude became violently agitated; an English shout pealed high and clear; the mass was rent asunder, and Norman Ramsay burst forth sword in hand at the head of his battery; his horses breathing fire stretched like greyhounds along the plain; the guns bounded behind them like things of no weight, and the mounted gunners followed close, with heads bent low and pointed weapons, in desperate career".  Many gallant deeds were wrought that day by friend and foe alike.  Again and again Montbrun hovered about Craufurd's squares but the solid rampart of bayonets held him back.  Meanwhile Drouet assailed the village with such fury that Wellington was compelled to concentrate.  All day the battle raged among the houses and along the banks of the stream and night found the lower part of Fuentes D'Onoro abandoned by both combatants.  Each claimed the victory, but the fact remains that Massena did not relieve Almeida and that he was recalled soon afterward. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Siege of Badajos, 1812
    • The storming of Badajos is one of the most lurid incodents in the Peninsular War.  Five thousanf officers and men fell in the siege, and of these three thousand five hundred were slain in the assault.  For some days the dauntless garrison of French, Hessians, and Spaniards withstood the battering of siege guns and sallied forth to harass the men who were compassing their destruction with sap and rifle.  Not even when the bastion of Picurina was taken with terrible carnage did their brave leader Phillipon lose heart.  Wellington, fearing the approach of Soult with a relieving army, ordered an assault, and the British columns, divided into storming and firing parties, advanced against the fortress from which they had been twice driven with slaughter.  The silence of the night was broken only by the deep voiced sentinels who proclaimed from the ramparts that all was well in Badajos.  The rattle of musketry roused the garrison and soon the heavens were rent with deafening shouts, the clash of pike and bayonet, the roar of bursting mines, the crash of falling ladders and the shrieks and groans of the dying.  Again and again the British strove with scaling ladders to secure a foothold in the castle and on the walls.  Again and again the forlorn hopes dashed into the breaches only to be rolled back in hideous ruin.  At last the castle was won, but ramparts and breaches were still crowded with dark resolute figures and glittering arms.  The explosion of a mine tore to fragments the storming parties.  Heroic men dashed into their places, many to be drowned in the deep ditch, others to be impaled on sword blades fixed to ponderous beams, some to be shot and mangled with grenade and powder barrel.  But death and dauntless courage were in vain.  The assault had failed.  At midnight Wellington ordered his men to reform for a second attack.  An opening was found at last and, the ramparts gained, half a battalion entered the town while others pushed along the walls towards the breach.  The streets were empty though brilliantly illuminated and the murmur of voices floated through latticed windows.  It seemed as if some dire enchantment had fallen upon the doomed city.  Deep thunders rolled from the ramparts where the French still stood at bay.  But the end was mercifully at hand.  The breaches could no longer be defended and the assailants poured through to complete the victory, and to mar it with scenes of violence and rapine.  Phillipon, though wounded, succeeded in entering San Christoval with a few hundred soldiers but surrendered next morning.  The storming of Badajos will long be memorable for deeds of almost incredible valour and as an example of the awful power that the British army bears with it. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Vittoria, 1813
    • Vittoria is a notable example of patient strategy and valour.  King Joseph, seeing no escape from the impetuous pursuit of Wellington, designed to give battle on the plains of Burgos.  Driven back in confusion, he resolved to make a stand at Vittoria.  The position was strong and well chosen.  A chain of mountains guarded the left, a rapid river protected the right, and from the centre rose heights that commanded the plain.  Here the French, with seventy thousand veterans and one hundred and fifty guns, prepared to arrest the progress of the victorious British General.  Wellington's force was ninety thousand, but he was weak in cavalry and artillery.  Day dawned in rain and mist as the allies moved forward in three divisions with Wellington in the centre.  Hill carried with a brilliant rush the heights on which the enemy's left rested, while Graham assaulted the right flank and the passage of the river was forced with such rapidity that the allies were able to seize commanding ground before the French were aware of their purpose.  Victory swept along the line and the road to France was threatened by the Spanish division.  Seeing his flanks in danger and his front seriously menaced, Joseph Bonaparte gave the order to retire.  A few regiments gallantly held their ground and opposed a desperate resistance to the advancing foe.  Guns thundered in front of them and a deadly storm of shot and shell was hurled upon their flanks until they too broke and fled.  Pressing on with relentless vigour Wellington caught the enemy in the midst of his dispositions for retreat.  The ground was difficult and broken, guns shook the hills and filled the plain with fire and smoke, and a cloud of skirmishers disputed every step.  With feet bruised against the stumps of trees the British advanced upon the routed enemy, rallying to the standards as their officers planted them on each succeeding ridge.  Enveloped in the fog of war the French made good their retreat, but only with terrible slaughter and the loss of all their stores and plunder.  One hundred and fifty guns, two million rounds of ammunition and one million pounds of coined money fell into the hands of the victors.  King Joseph escaped in disguise and the power of Napoleon in Spain was broken.  The victory had important political consequences, for it strengthened the courage of Russia and Prussia to resist the aggressions of Napoleon, whose downfall may be dated from the Peninsular Campaign of 1812. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Toulouse, 1814
    • Anxious to wipe out the disgrace of repeated defeat and to vindicate the honour of the French arms, Marshal Soult fought the battle of Toulouse although peace had been already declared on the abdication of Napoleon.  The city was defended by an ancient wall and surrounded on three sides by the great canal of Languedoc and the river Garonne.  From the fourth side rose a range of hills on which the French had built five redoubts connected with the town by entrenchments.  The position looked impregnable and could be taken only by frontal attack.  Wellington did not shrink from the enterprise.  While General Picton held the enemy in check on the road to Paris, the Spaniards assaulted the redoubts, leaving the centre and right to the British.  Covered by a heavy cannonade and flanked by clouds of cavalry, the enemy swept down like a torrent that threatened to overwhelm the advancing allies.  At the head of this avalanche rode generals and field officers waving their hats and urging their men with shouts to which the Highland Brigade replied with ringing cheers.  The onset was furious but our gallant soldiers met the enemy at the charge and sweeping over the crest of the hill captured the redoubt that had covered the attack.  Four other forts remained, and the order came to carry them at the point of the bayonet.  Without waiting for their comrades who were toiling up the hill, part of the 42nd regiment dashed towards the batteries from which issued a devastating storm of shot and shell.  Of five hundred men in this gallant charge only ninety reached the redoubts, from which the French fled in hopeless confusion.  Soult knew that the possession of these fortresses must decide the issue, and made a desperate effort to regain them.  Rallying his men he led them back in person and was repulsed with great slaughter.  "Ah, these are brave soldiers", exclaimed the French Marshal, "I put them to the proof on that day.  I led the attack myself".  The city being now at the mercy of the allies, Soult marched out that evening, and next morning it was learned that eight thousand men had spilt their blood in vein, for peace had been declared some days before, and Louis XVII was on the throne of the usurper.  Soult is suspected of having known this, though the allies were in ignorance.  Toulouse was the last battle fought in this phase of the Napoleonic was, and will long be memorable for the gallantry displayed by French and British alike. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Allies Before Paris, 1814
    • Paris has witnessed many a scene of blood and has withstood many a siege.  Yet never in her chequered history has the fair city faced such fearful odds as in that month of March when one hundred thousand picked soldiers of Europe stood without her gates.  Napoleon was hurrying to the rescue with seventy thousand veterans, and the citizens, rejecting all overtures of peace, resolved to hold out to the last.  Their army was in a deplorable condition and so reduced that seventy battalions could muster not more than eight thousand rank and file, and the defenders numbered in all only thirty five thousand.  Sad at heart, yet not altogether without hope, they took up their posts along that formidable line of heights which command the approaches to the city.  The struggle was fiercest around Belleville, for that fort was the key to the position, and the honour of assailing it was given to the Russains.  So fierce was the resistance that the issue was long in the balance.  Fifteen hundred Russians fell before reinforcements arrived and the brave defenders were driven back.  Not less obstinate was the defence of Villette and La Chapelle, against which the Prussians threw themselves in vain till the soldiers of the Czar came to their rescue.  Finally the order was given for an attack along the whole line.  In one vast concave that stretched from Charenton on the left to Neuilly on the right the Allies moved on the doomed city.  With the courage of despair the French strove to arrest this torrent, but on it swept with irresistible fury to the very gates of Paris.  Shattered and broken the brave remnant of the defenders sought refuge within the walls while the rays of the sun gilded that six mile circle of steel which held the city in its pitiless grasp.  Seeing that further resistance was hopeless, and desiring to avoid the horrors of an assault, the French Marshals surrendered.  Meanwhile Napoleon was straining every nerve to reach the capital in time.  Urging forward his carriage until he was almost without escort, he learned when within sight of the victors' watchfires that Paris had fallen, and that he had begun his pursuit of the enemy too late.  With the fall of Paris ended nearly twenty two years of rapine and bloodshed that had reduced Europe to a shambles and shaken to its foundation the social system of almost every civilised country. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Quatre Bras, 1815
    • Napoleon's object was to divide the British and Prussian armies in order that he might fall upon them separately.  How nearly he succeeded is told in the story of Ligny and Quatre Bras.  At these points were the allies under Wellington and Blucher with an interval of eighteen miles between.  Napoleon determined that thus they should remain until he had annihilated them.  Turning upon the Prussians at Ligny, he routed Blucher and forced him back.  But Marshal Ney was not so successful with the British and this masterly stroke failed.  At the junction of the roads that lead to Brussels, on which the French were advancing, stood some scattered buildings.  Here the battle of Quatre Bras was fought, for this humble farm was the strategic point on which rested the peace of Europe and the overthrow of Napoleon.  The struggle was long and desperate and had Ney attacked earlier and with vigour he might have made himself master of the situation.  Trusting to his superiority in cavalry and artillery the French leader hurled his full force against the British battalions, each of which bore in turn the shock of an army.  So furious was the assault that the Cuirassiers rode upon the solid lines of bayonets with shouts of "Down with the English! No Quarter!"  Picton's division coming on to the field in hot haste found the not very valorous Belgians retiring in confusion before the enemy.  Without halt or pause the Black Watch dashed forward to the rescue, forcing a path through a field of rye that rose to the tops of their bonnets.  The pursuit of the French was suddenly checked, but the gallant Highlanders had pushed on too far, and, mistaking the French Lancers for Brunswickers, were roughly handled, few escaping death or wounds.  Rallying they formed in line with other regiments to receive and to repulse another charge of Cuirassiers who fell upon their shattered ranks with heavy horse and steel armour.  The fight had lasted an hour before Wellington came upon the scene and ordered the Gordons to charge.  Cameron, their leader, was mortally wounded, but he "heard the wild hurrah of conquest ere he fell".  Nothing could resist the general advance, and Ney was unable to secure the position on which so much seemed to depend.  But the advantage, dearly bought, had to be abandoned, for Blucher had fallen back and Wellington had no choice but to follow in order that the allies might no longer be exposed to separate attack.  Waterloo was the immediate consequence of this retirement. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, 1815.
    • Napoleon was now to measure himself against Wellington, and British Soldiers who, in the words of his officers, were "very devils to fight".  They met at Waterloo, and Europe watched, with tremulous anxiety, a contest that was to give peace, or to put her under the heel of the Conqueror.  A range of hills, backed by a forest, offered an admirable position for the army that was to oppose Napoleon's advance on Brussels.  The British, exhausted by the fight at Quatre Bras, had lain on the battlefield in darkness and rain.  Blucher, with his Prussians, who had been repulsed at Ligny, was marching to the scene of action, but was delayed by the bad state of the roads and the weariness of his men.  Confident that his ally would arrive in time, Wellington made his dispositions.  The force under his command was deficient in cavalry and artillery, and with the infantry were only twelve thousand veterans.  The rest were raw militia who had never been under fire, and eighteen thousand Belgians - "the worst army ever brought together", so their leader himself described it.  The ridge which the British lined in grim silence extended on a font of two miles.  The right wing rested on a ravine, and between the right and centre lay the house and farm of Hougoumont, while immediately in front was the farm house known as La Haye Sainte.  Covering the left was the farm of La Haye - an important position held by the Scottish and the Hanoverians.  The French looked down from the opposing heights little more than a mile distant.  With flags flying and bands playing the inspiriting Marseillaise, they were an imposing and picturesque array of martial power.  Napoleon had disposed his army in six parallel lines - two of infantry in front, two of cuirassiers in gleaming breast plates, and two of heavy cavalry, with the infantry of the guard in reserve.  From the hill of Rossome the Emperor looked on the scene of his last battle, while Wellington, mounting his famous charger "Copenhagen" made final preparations to resist the impending assault.  The scene and the character of the leaders engaged were worthy of momentous issue to be decided.  Over the heights occupied by the British was a hushed silence and nothing was seen save a few guns and outposts.  Before them in full and open view lay the war worn veterans of France - the heroes of Austerlitz and Wagram - waiting the signal that was to launch them against their stubborn foes and to bring them death or glory. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • La Haye Sainte, 1815
    • The battle began with an assault on Hougoumont, from which Wellington had withdrawn the Dutch-Belgians an hour before.  "The mere name of Napoleon", he remarked, "had beaten them before they fired a shot".  To hold this position was of supreme importance, for its occupation by the French would have laid open the British right and have made the heights untenable.  Column after column, led by Prince Jerome in person, assailed the buildings, but Byng's brigade held fast amid fire and shell.  While Hougoumont was being fiercely contested, the French opened a heavy cannonade along the front and hurled against it heavy masses of cavalry and columns of infantry in close formation.  But the allies stood firm, and horse and foot dashed in vain against the solid squares of steel.  Despairing of Hougoumont, Napoleon directed a vigorous attack on the left, but was repulsed by the Highlanders who fought like titans.  One more position was open to assault - the farm of La Haye Sainte, almost in the centre of the allies' front.  If the Emperor could seize this point he might hope not only to cut off all means of escape but to prevent any junction with the Prussians.  To Marshal Ney was entrusted this perilous enterprise.  A division of cavalry, under the celebrated Kellermann, poured through the gap between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte.  Eighteen thousand footmen - the flower of the French army - swept into the valley with Ney at their head.  Seventy four guns bounded forward to within seven hundred yards of the allied lines and the heights shook and smoked and flamed under their deadly storm.  The Belgians did not wait to receive the attack, at the sight of this advancing avalanche they turned and fled.  But the gallant Picton was at hand with two British Brigades - three thousand men all told.  Drawn up in two deep lines they turned grimly upon the foe.  "A volley, a charge!" were Picton's last words, and with a wild hurrah the glittering line of steel pressed onward.  Reeling under the shock the French had no time to recover before the Union brigade of cavalry - the Royals, the Scots Greys, and the Inniskillins - were upon them like a whirlwind leaving death and wounds in its wake.  On they swept up to the cannon's mouth, sabring the gunners and capturing the seventy four field pieces with which Marshal Ney had sought to cover his advance.  But the pursuit was carried too far and a charge of French lancers threatened to retrieve the disaster to their country's arms.  Then the Household Brigade threw themselves upon the steel clad lines and the flower of French cavalry, shattered and broken, fell before the shock.  La Haye Sainte was saved. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Victory at Waterloo
    • Napoleon, baffled but undaunted, had still resources enought to make Wellington pray for night or Blucher.  Toiling forward through treacherous swamps the Prussians appeared on the distant horizon and the Emperor knew that he must make the supreme effort now or never.  Once more the cavalry moved down the slope of the hill and formed for a charge on the British right and centre.  Squadron upon squadron of gleaming helmets and breast plates rode on with dauntless courage and drove back the gunners who opposed their onrush.  But the steel tipped squares were as rocks against which the waves descended in vain.  For a moment it seemed as though the fortune of Napoleon was again in the ascendent.  La Haye Sainte, so heroically defended, was taken, and the Emperor saw that the moment had come to put forth his whole strength.  Summoning his Old Guard of tried veterans, whose motto was "Death before surrender", he placed them nder Ney's command, and bidding them "God speed", watched them descend the hill and advance against the British right.  Shot and shell tore through their ranks yet they moved on steadily, Ney leading on foot, for his horse had been shot under him.  Nearer and nearer they drew to the slope on which the British lay silent and watchful.  Then there rang out - clear and true on the storm rocked air the cry that will thrill through the ages, "Up Guaerds and at them!"  It was Wellington's voice, and, like bloodhounds freed from the leash, the Guards sprang to their feet.  One volley and then a charge!  What power on earth could resist them!  Napoleon's veterans broke up and fled.  A second column of the Imperial Guard strove to renew the attack, and its fate was not less pitiless.  But Napoleon was not yet beaten.  Rallying his stricken Guards he prepared for another assault.  Wellington, however, had determined to take the offensive and gave the order for a general advance.  Up sprang his soldiers, following hard on the heels of the Iron Duke who went forward heedless of danger.  "Never mind", was his answer to remonstrance, "The battle is won and my life is no consequence now".  Yes, the battle was won and Europe was freed from the shadow of military despotism.  Before that terrible onset the French army was shattered and fled in confusion that swept with it the gallant remnant of the Old Guard.  Napoleon would have chosen death on the field, had not Soult seized his bridle with the words : "Sire, have not the enemy had luck enough".  The Prussians arrived in time to take up the pursuit and to add despair to panic.  At La Haye Sainte, consecrated by the blood of heroic French and British, Blucher met and congratulated the victor of Waterloo. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Battle of Alma, 1854
    • Forty years of peace ended on the banks of the Alma where the Russians waited to oppose the advance of the French and British on Sebastopol.  Entrenched on the heights, with the river in front, Prince Mentschikoff believed the position to be impregnable.  And he had reason for the faith that was in him, seeing that the precipitous ridge was strengthened with forts and earthworks and defended by one hundred guns and twelve thousand men.  To take such a position by assault seemed impossible, but those were days when all things were possible to British soldiers.  The plan of attack was simple and hazardous.  The French were to seize the heights on the enemy's left, leaving the British to force the right and centre as soon as the assault on the left had developed.  Long and weary were these moments of anticipation during which our artillery wrought great devastation, while our infantry lay upon the ground impatient and eager for action.  At last Lord Raglan uttered the word of command and the thin red line dashed into the river under a storm of shot and shell.  Then began one of the most bloody and determined struggles in the annals of war.  Slain by scores and checked again and again our gallant fellows never shrank or fell back.  Sir George Brown, leading the light division in a charge up the hill, came to the aid of the hard pressed brigades in the centre under Evans, Pennefather and Adams.  On the left the Highlanders and the Guards were advancing as if on parade, encouraged by the voice and example of their leader, the Duke of Cambridge.  But gallantry seemed unavailing against such fearful odds and the day might have ended in disaster but for the mistake made by the Russian General.  Not content with his advantage as defender, Prince Mentschikoff must needs assume the offensive and send forward an army of infantry to drive back the assailants.  This was Lord Raglan's opportunity and he seized it with characteristic energy and promptitude.  The guns opened a terrible fire on the dense masses of footmen who wavered and broke over the crest of the hill.  Another moment and Sir Colin Campbell, with his Highlanders, was in possession of the enemy's guns, and the guards had rushed the position on the right.  Well might Lord Raglan exclaim, "Look how the Guards and Highlanders advance!"  All attempts to rally the Russians failed.  Their flight was hastened by their own guns which the victors turned upon the fugitives, and after two hours' hard fighting the Heights of Alma were added to the glories of the British Arms. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Charge of the Heavy Brigade
    • "Remember there is no retreat, men, you must die where you stand".  To these words of their leader, Sir Colin Campbell, the gallant 93rd made answer "Ay, ay Sir Colin, we'll do it".  Five hundred and fifty against twenty four thousand and Balaclava to defend - the sole means of communication with the fleet and the one source of supplies!  Suddenly in the valley below appeared the Russians driving the Turks before them.  On the crest of the last hillock they saw the thin red line of Scots and halted in wonderment.  Then they came on and men and horses rolled over under the shock or fled in dismay.  Re-forming in the valley the Russians turned upon the Heavy Brigade under Scarlett.  Three hundred sabres were drawn to meet them and Scots Greys and Inniskillens rode forward at a gallop.  Straight for the centre of this terrible line they went and, as lightning flashed through a black cloud, they pierced the dark mass of Muscovites.  Scarlet and green and blue and grey - glint of steel and spark of lance - a wild chaos, and Greys and redcoats were engulfed in the broken ranks of the enemy.  Through the first line they won their desperate way, more like devils than men they fought, cutting down the Russians like sheep.  A second deep line was in front, but on they dashed, undismayed, with diminished numbers.  To those who looked on, breathless, it seemed as if the two regiments must be overwhelmed and wiped out.  But the audacity and fierceness of the charge told.  "We were into them" wrote Lord Lucan, "and the devil could not get us away from them".  Three more regiments remained - the Royals and the 4th and 5th Dragoon Guards.  To them came the word of command, and, with a cheer that echoed the wild thoughts of every man, they threw themselves upon the disordered ranks of the enemy.  "We flung ourselves into the very heart of the Muscovites", are the words of one who took part in this fight of heroes : "Now we were lost in their ranks - anon in little bands battling - now in good order together, now in and out, until the whole Heavies on the spot plunged into the forming body of the enemy and helped us to end the fight."  Not until the Russians had fled, leaving behind a plain covered with dead, did the Heavy Brigade stay their hand or listen to the bugle call "Rally".  Lord Raglan and his staff were spectators of this heroic combat.  Well might Colin Campbell say : "Gallant Greys, I am sixty one years old, but if I were young again I should be proud to be in your ranks." (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • The Battle of Inkerman, 1854
    • The siege of Sebastopol teemed with tragic episodes and Inkerman was one of the most tragic of them.  As Henry Russell says, "The Battle of Inkerman admits no description.  It was a series of dreadful deeds of daring, of sanguinary hand to hand fights, of despairing rallies, of desperate assaults in glens and valleys, in brushwood glades and remote dells, hidden from all human eyes."  The besiegers were themselves threatened with investment, and once more it was necessary to defend, at all costs, the communication with the sea.  Worn out by continual fighting, half starved and exposed to the severities of a Russian winter, the British faced the enemy reinforced by fifty thousand men.  The attack was sudden and fierce, and the Muscovites were at last confident that they would drive the invaders into the sea.  Under cover of darkness they stole out of the city and in silence approached the British right.  A shot from a surprised picket was the first warning, and the soldiers sprang from their sleep into a hand to hand fight against overwhelming numbers.  Shoulder to shoulder they stood firm and resolute while the Russian batteries hurled death among them.  A detachment charged up the hill to a redoubt in possession of the enemy.  Again and again they were repulsed and again and again they came on until this little fort had about it a rampart of dead.  The Duke of Cambridge led the Guards to the assault and a few hundred Coldstreamers held the redoubt against six thousand.  They fought till the ground was wet with blood, and ammunition was exhausted.  Then clubbing rifles they burts through the enemy's ranks and regained the Household Brigade.  Cathcart's division advanced over the body of their leader, pierced by a bullet as he gave the word of command.  With the courage of despair the Russians fought, meeting heroism with heroism.  Their reserves seemed inexhaustible.  No sooner was one regiment destroyed than anotherappeared.  And so the struggle went on - the bloodiest in history.  It looked as though the sheer weight and numbers of the enemy must prevail.  But Canrobert was at hand.  With Zouaves, infantry, and artillery he assailed the flanks of the Russians, till with a wail of despair they broke and fled, leaving us the victory and our heaped up slain. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854
    • History has no finer example of romantic courage and devotion than the charge of the Six Hundred.  How it came about is a mystery.  Some one had blundered - that is the only explanation.  When Lord Lucan received the order he put the question, "where are we to advance?"  Captain Nolan. who was the bearer of General Avery's commands, pointed to the Russian army posted behind thirty heavy guns, and Lord Lucan reluctantly ordered Lord Cardigan to advance with the Light Brigade.  Greater discipline and daring no men have shown, than this handful of horsemen who rode into the valley of death.  Before them stretched a plain one and a half miles long, and beyond it lay the Russian Army with their heavy artillery in front and on both flanks.  To cross that plain meant death, swift and terrible.  But the Light Brigade shrank not from the attempt.  The morning sun gleamed on lance and sabre as the troopers closed ranks and turned their faces toward the enemy.  They rode forward in two lines, regardless of the guns that raked them from a redoubt on the right.  On they swept proudly - the flower of three Kingdoms.  "Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, volleyed and thundered," yet they rode on.  Shot and shell tore through the ranks, but the gaps were filled with never a halt.  Nearer and nearer they came to the enemy, and darker and denser grew the shadow of death pierced by the lightning of cannon.  Thick and fast they fell, but still they rode on, Lord Cardigan leading with drawn sword like a Paladin of old.  Above the din of battle was heard Lord George Paget's cry "Now, my brave lads, for Old England!  Conquer or die!"  With a cheer, that was the death knell of many a brave fellow, they threw themselves upon the gaping muzzles of the guns, sabring the gunners as they stood.  Then on again, their desperate course unchecked by the mass of Russian cavalry through which they rode with blood and wounds in their train.  A column of infantry was scattered like chaff before a whirlwind, and then came the order to retire.  Out of the valley of death rode not two hundred.  Once again they had to run the gauntlet of cannon to right, and left, and rear.  Nor was that all.  Cavalry charged them on the flank, but the 8th Hussars arrested this movement, heading straight for the enemy until friend and foe were a struggling heap on which the Russians turned their remorseless guns.  "Men! it is a mad brained trick, but no fault of mine", exclaimed Lord Cardigan.  Of the six hundred and seventy three, only one hundred and ninety five came back to the British lines.  Of one hundred and twelve Light Dragoons - the 13th - only ten remained in the saddle after the charge, and of the 17th Lancers only thirty four. (extract from British Battles 1898)
  • Campaign in China, 1860
    • Chin has had many lessons, but none have been lasting.  One of the severest was the retribution that followed the outrage on a British envoy sent under escort to secure the ratification of the treaty of Tienstin.  Ten thousand British and five thousand French troops landed near the famous Taku Forts.  Advancing through dreary marshes across which was a single path that a resolute enemy might have held against all odds, the allies found themselves face to face with a horde of Tartar cavalry.  For a time they endured our artillery fire, and then dividing threatened a flank attack.  But arrows and spears and matchlocks were of no avail against western arms, and the fierce horsemen fled to the shelter of the forts.  Against these sullen and silent walls the assault was directed.  The embrasures were masked and not a soldier was to be seen on the ramparts.  Sir James Hope Grant offered to accept the capitulation of the forts on terms, but his overtures were rejected with insolence and the bombardment began.  The first breach was large enough to admit one man, and that was enough, for the storming party pressed through in single file and drove the garrison before it.  Resistance was in vain.  At sight of their comrades hurled pell-mell through the embrasures into ditches of mud and banks of pointed bamboo stakes, the soldiers in the second fort gave in without a struggle, and the contest was over.  The country on the banks of the Peiho as far as Tienstin surrendered unconditionally, and news came from Pekin that the Emperor was ready to concede our demands.  But this was merely a ruse to inveigle our envoy, and his escort, into the interior where they might be disposed of easily.  The plot was discovered, and the allies continued their march on the capital.  Reduced by sickness and by the necessity of protecting their communications the force did not exceed three thousand five hundred.  Clouds of Tartar horsemen harassed the advance, and thirty thousand Chinese soldiers lay across the path in an entrenched position.  The fight with these was short and sharp, yet victory did not open the way to Pekin.  It was necessary to await the arrival of reinforcements and of the heavy siege train that was to batter down the walls of the city - walls thirty feet high, protected by towers and defended by one hundred thousand men.  The Chinese, however, had no wish to see the effect of artillery.  The summer palace was quickly in the hands of the allies, and was soon looted of its treasures and ornaments.  The imperial family had fled and the Emperor's domestic goods were sold under the walls of his palace by the "despicable barbarians" whom he had threatened to drive into the sea.  One of the city gates was surrendered, and the French marched through with colours flying and drums beating.  The prisoners were released, many of them showing signs of the inhuman treatment to which they had been subjected.  The late Lord Loch was one of these.  He had been carried about the country and exhibited in a cage.  Lord Wolseley stopped five carts containing the bodies of murdered Europeans, and Pekin would undoubtedly have been sacked had not a pledge been given.  Lord Elgin, however, ordered the summer palace to be destroyed, and it was with infinite satisfaction the soldiers gave to the flames the famous abode of the Chinese Emperor.
  • The Abyssinian War, 1868
    • Few wars have sprung from causes so insignificant as those that involved us in the was with Abyssinia.  The neglect of the British Government to reply to a despatch, in which Theodore stated his reasons for dismissing our representative, so incensed the Emperor that he threw several of our countrymen into prison.  To rescue them and to teach this ambitious African potentate a lesson, Napier was sent with a punitive force of nineteen thousand men.  When the news came to Theodore he exclaimed "By the power of God I will meet them and if I do not beat them call me a woman".  He had an army of one hundred and fifty thousand fighting men and a country that offered many natural defences against an invader.  Happily for the success of the expedition Theodore's power was on the wane.  His overtaxed subjects had risen in rebellion in many districts and his soldiers were deserting in considerable numbers.  The neighbouring tribes against whom the Emperor had waged ruthless war were prompt to assist in his overthrow.  The King of Tigre came to the British camp with a large following and was welcomed by Napier, who expressed his pleasure at finding a Christian King in the heart of Africa.  The task to be accomplished was to march thirty two thousand men, including transport and followers, with ten thousand baggage animals, through four hundred miles of mountainous country that had never been traversed by civilised soldiers since hill and valley echoed with the trumpets and atabals of the Persians in the sixth century.  Napier followed in the tracks of Ptolemy and came across some traces of that old world adventure.  The difficulties were enormous, for guns and transport had to be hauled along the face of hills where a single false step would have hurled man and horse into fathomless depths.  Tumbling and stumbling over a sea of hills, now along smooth slippery rocks, now ascending steep paths covered with loose boulders, crashing through dense bush, Napier was often content with a march of nine miles in one day.  Two hundred mules and camels died every week and there were often as many as fourteen hundred disabled animals at one time.  Each footman was compelled to carry fifty five pounds weight in addition to his equipment, so that his toil was excessive.  But British patience and endurance knew no limit and in due course the expeditionary force arrived at Dildee, twenty five miles from Magdala, where Theodore was prepared to give battle.  From this point it was necessary to make a detour of sixty miles in order to reach the enemy.  So many an great were the obstacles encountered in this Switzerland of Africa that Napier's successful and brilliant march must have made it an axiom of war that no country is impracticable to a determined and resourceful army.
  • Capture of Magdala, 1868
    • At last Magdala appeared like a great ship with sails outspread upon a billowy sea of mountains.  The spirits of our men rose at sight of the impregnable rock.  East and west, far as the eye could reach stretched precipitous cliffs, and in their midst frowned the mighty fort.  Tents covered the plateau above, and down the winding track rolled a torrent of horsemen.  They met in the plain - five thousand brave barbarians against the trained bands of England, armed for the first time with breech loading rifles.  Again and again the Abyssinians dashed upon the unflinching lines until, rent and torn, the fled in dismay.  Theodore saw that his hour had come, and sought to make terms.  The European prisoners were released and sent to the British camp.  But the Emperor refused to surrender Magdala and Napier was resolved upon its capture.  Theodore was confident that it could not be carried by assault, so strong were the natural defences and the number of the guns worked by German captives.  The lower hills from which the rock sprang were fortified, and must be taken before Magdala itself could be assailed.  Most of the approaches seemed inaccessible, and a handful of men might have swept an army out of the path by hurling stones and rocks down the sides of the mountain.  But the sortie of his bravest soldiers had weakened the long line of defence and several points were exposed.  In seven days the lower hills - Fahla and Salamgi - yielded, and thirty thousand men, women and children marched into the plain driving before them great flocks of sheep and many donkeys laden with stores.  These strongholds were soon occupied, and preparations were made for an attack on the rock itself.  Salvoes of rockets were hurled among the guns a thousand feet above.  Artillery battered at the gate and under cover of the shells a party of sappers moved forward to clear the way.  A mine was sprung and this obstacle was shattered into fragments, disclosing a narrow flight of stone steps with another gate.  This also was destroyed and the advance began.  A dozen men toiling up the steep ascent came upon a score of guns which the Emperor had failed to get into the fort and had abandoned in haste.  Once through the second gate and Magdala lay at our mercy.  The Abyssinians had thrown away their arms and received us with offers of peace.  Upon the tended plateau beyond lay the body of Theodore.  He would not live to be "called a woman" and had taken his own life.  Within the fortress were many native prisoners in chains and the corpses of over three hundred captives whom the savage Emperor had put to death before the eyes of the Europeans.  Having reduced the fort to a blackened and desolate rock, Napier retraced his steps to the Red Sea.  Thus ended an expedition which Lord Beaconsfield compared to the advance of Cortez into the heart of Mexico.  The capture of Magdala was in itself a notable feat of arms, but the march through this wild and mountainous country was an even greater proof of the determination and endurance of our soldiers, who were animated by the knowledge that upon their efforts depended the lives of their countrymen and the honour of their race.
  • Occupation of Coomassie, 1873 - 74
    • For two centuries the British flag has waved over the Gold Coast, and generations of men have faced death and disease to secure it among our possessions.  Time after time we have defended it against the inroads of savages, of whom the most formidable were the Ashantis.  In 1873 an army of these warlike barbarians marched towards the coast, burning, plundering, and murdering, until they came within twelve miles of Cape Coast Castle.  Hastily collecting a body of armed men, the Glovernor, Colonel Harley, went out against the enemy and defeated them with slaughter.  But the danger was only arrested and later in the year Lord Wolseley was sent with a well equipped force to vindicate the authority of the Crown and to punish King Koffee.  The theatre of these operations was a jungle so dense that the sun never dried the reeking earth.  Through this deadly and almost impenetrable forest, with its rank undergrowth, our soldiers had to work their way, often in single file.  Concealed in the bush lurked the enemy, crafty and brave, and directed by a chief of remarkable courage and ability.  It was like fighting an unseen foe in the twilight, and made great demands on the steadiness and self confidence of every individual.  But each man felt himself more than a match for twenty savages armed with flint locks that fired slugs and stones which were harmless beyond fifty yards range.  The first real stand was at Amoaful, where for five hours our men crept through the dark brush, firing into an invisible enemy.  From that point there was no organised resistance, though scattered parties continued to oppose our progress.  The Black Watch led the way to Coomassie, never halting nor wavering until they came in sight of the rocky eminence on which lay the capital, encircled by a deep forest.  Lord Gifford was the first to enter this charnel house, for though the streets were broad and clean, and shaded by beautiful banyan trees, they reeked with the stench of human sacrifice.  Coomassie was indeed a metropolis of murder.  The chief occupation of the king and delight of the people was to witness the slaughter of slaves and captives, and many had been slain in order to propitiate the gods.  King Koffee had fled, leaving behind a large number of prisoners chained to heavy logs and the kraal in which lived his three thousand three hundred and three wives.  Lord Wolseley offered to spare the city if he would return and submit, but the King escaped into the interior whither he knew we would not care to follow.  It was accordingly determined to destroy his capital in order to leave behind a visible mark of our vengeance upon a government the most atrocious that ever existed on the face of the earth.  The destruction of the city proved a fatal blow to the power of the Ashantis as a nation.
  • Battle of Ulundi, 1879
    • Cetewayo, installed in power by the British, immediately became fired with the ambition of conquest.  The Zulus, over whom he ruled, are a martial race, and he had no difficulty in making them a nation of soldiers.  Their raids into Natal rendered it necessary to organise a punitive expedition, and three British columns marched into Zululand by different routes.  Success was not always on our side.  At Isandula, on January 22nd, the British camp was surprised and attacked by fifteen thousand warriors, and we suffered heavily.  The heroic defence of Rorke's Drift was on the same day, and on the 24th, Sir Evelyn Wood won a victory at Inkanyana.  In Mach a convoy was cut to pieces near Intombi River and Prince Napoleon was killed, but in July the battle of Ulundi broke the power of the Zulu nationand sent Cetewayo a captive to London.  Ulundi was the king's kraal and lay in an amphitheatre of hills flanked by two great military kraals.  Upon this position the British advanced in hollow square.  Halting within a mile of the kraal this imposing force offered battle.  Before them were ranged thirty thousand dauntless savages armed with assegais, rifles, and oval shields of stout ox hide.  Lord Chelmsford's object was to draw them on to the square and a score of mounted irregulars were accordingly sent forward.  The lure was a success.  Enraged at the taunts of this handful of men, the Zulus began to advance.  The morning sun gleamed on bayonet and assegai as the enemy came on, extending their formation so that they might envelop and crush the square.  Like the waves of a troubled sea, they rolled across the plain, chanting their war song until the air reverberated with that wild weird music which none having heard can ever forget.  A tempest of lead and iron received them, and the shriek of shell mingled with their death cry.  If for a moment they wavered of fell back it was only to come on once more with fierce and dauntless stride.  But courage was vain against that quadruple line of steel, to approach which was certain death.  One chief, more daring or more skilled than the rest, dashed his warriors upon the right rear angle of the square and threatened a hand to hand fight - bayonet against assegai.  But the guns were soon at work and rolled them back under a storm of shrapnel.  At last the savage hordes began to waver.  "Go at them, Lowe," was the order, and Drury-Lowe led his lancers out of the square at a gallop.  An ambush checked their charge and emptied many a saddle.  Another moment and lance and sabre pierced and rent the black mass.  Yet the fight went on until the King's Dragoons and a flying column advanced and drove the stubborn remnant of the enemy into the hills and gave Ulundi to the flames.  From this blow the Zulus, once the masters of South Africa, have never recovered.
  • The Battle of Futtehabad, 1879

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