« ForrigeFortsett »
6 could be more fallacious than the appearance of the breach. Notwithstanding its great extent, there was but one point where it was possible to enter, and that only by single files. All the inside of the wall to the right of the curtain formed a perpendicular scarp of at least 20 feet to the level of the streets, so that the narrow ridge of the curtain itself, formed by the breaching of its end and front, was the only accessible point. During the suspension of the preparations for the siege, the enemy had prepared every means of defence that art could devise, so that great numbers of men were covered by intrenchments and traverses in the hornwork, on the ramparts, and inside of the town opposite the breach, ready to form a most destructive fire of musketry on both flanks of the approach to the top of the narrow ridge of the curtain. No man outlived the attempt to gain the ridge. So severe and continuous a fire was kept up on the way to the breach, that orders were sent to remove the dead and dying, which prevented the progress of the troops. Under these desperate circumstances, Graham adopted the bold resolution of ordering the guns to be turned against the curtain. A heavy fire was immediately opened upon it, passing only a few feet above the heads of our own troops, and kept up with unexampled precision of practice. Meanwhile Snodgrass’ Portuguese gallantly forded the Urumea near its mouth, and got possession of the small breach on the river face.
It was determined to renew the attack. Once more the troops were ordered to ascend and brave every hazard to gain the ridge ; an attack was also made on the hornwork. Just as the men reached the breach, the fire of the artillery occasioned the explosion of a quantity of cartridges, behind one of the traverses of the curtain, which threw the French into considerable confusion. The narrow pass was gained and kept; hats were waved from the terre plein of the curtain, the troops rushed forward, and drove the enemy down the steep flight of steps near the great gate leading from the works into the town. At the same time a detachment which occupied the right of the breach, forced the barricades on the top of the narrow line-wall, and entered some houses near it. In many places scaling ladders were needed, before the men could get down. The assailants now effected a lodgment on the summit of the breach, and the troops impetuously pushed forwards. The French dead lay heaped upon each other between a round tower and the right breach. The contest was still continued from barricades in the streets, and musketry from the houses ; but between four and five in the afternoon, the French were driven from their last defences into the castle. By this time several parts of the town were on fire, and to add to the horrors of the scene, the vindictive enemy fired shells into it. About three in the afternoon, the day, which had been very sultry, became suddenly cold ; the sky was over-cast, and with the blended gloom of the rain and the smoke, gave the appearance of a dusky evening; but the darkness of night was fearfully lighted by the flames of the burning town.
A dreadful storm of thunder, rain, and wind ensued ; and man's wrath rendered it more dreadful than the elements. Many officers had fallen, and the few that remained, could not restrain the headlong fury, and license of the men, many of whom, their passions heated by the terrible assault, raged like demons. The spectacle was terrific; for as the garrison of the castle fired down the streets, the
flames raged and the falling ruins crashed, the soldiery, mad with intoxication, were plundering the houses, and the frequent explosions of fire-arms, showed that a fearful work was going on.
Several days elapsed before order was restored, during which the town presented an awful scene. The few remaining inhabitants seemed stupified with horror ; they had suffered so much that they looked with apathy on all around them, and scarcely moved, even when the crash of a falling house made the captors run. The bodies of English, Portuguese, and French soldiers lay heaped on each other, so determined had the one side attacked, and the other maintained its ground. Many of the assailants lay dead on the roofs of the houses near the breach. The bodies were thrown into the mines and other excavations, and there covered over so as to be out of sight, but so hastily and slightly that the air far and near was tainted ; fires were kindled in the breaches, to consume those that could not be otherwise disposed of. In the assault, 2,000 men and officers had fallen ; Sir Richard Fletcher, commanding engineer, an officer of great ability, was killed. Generals Leith, Oswald, and Robinson, severely wounded.
Preparations were now made to reduce the castle, but the operations of the besiegers were retarded by the necessity of quenching the flames which had spread through the whole town. On the 9th September, 59 pieces of artillery opened on the castle with such terrible effect, that in a few hours the white flag was hoisted on the Murador battery ; and the garrison, amounting to 1,800 effective men, and 500 sick and wounded, surrendered prisoners of
Soult made an attempt to relieve St. Sebastian, on
the very day upon which the British carried it. The chief strength of the covering army consisted of 8,000 Spanish troops, under General Frere. Two French divisions forded the Bidassoa in front of their line, ascending confidently the strong heights; the Spaniards stood steady, and when their column had nearly gained the summit, made such a strong bayonet charge, that the French broke, fled down the hill, and crossed the Bidassoa with such precipitation, that many were drowned by missing the ford. But having laid down a pontoon bridge, with 15,000 men they made a general attack on the heights of San Marcial. As the enemy came on, Lord Wellington rode along the Spanish line, and was received with loud and repeated vivas. The French got a second bayonet charge, fled for their lives, and were again driven in panic across the river ; the bridgesunk with the pressure, and many with it, to rise no more, Lord Wellington spoke in the highest terms of the conduct of the Spaniards on these occasions.
During the ineffectual attempt to reach St. Sebastian by the high road, strong columns of the enemy having forded the river, strived to turn the right flank, and gain the one which lay near it. As the heights there were not judged tenable, the Portuguese, and Inglis' brigades retired to a lofty and steep ridge near the convent of St. Antonia. No sooner did the French perceive this than they lost hope of gaining the position ; but as the heavy rains during the day had rendered the fords impassable, they attacked Skerret's brigade on two points, in order to gain the bridge of Bera, and ultimately succeeded in effecting a passage by it, though exposed to a severe fire, which caused much loss. The defeats sustained in these attempts were peculiarly mortifying to the French military pride as the Spanish troops mainly had been opposed to them,
After the fall of St. Sebastian, nearly a month elapsed before Lord Wellington could commence his movemen's on the frontier-for he could not assume the defensive till Pampeluna surrendered. But that he might do this with greater advantage when the proper season arrived, he resolved to deprive the enemy of an advanced position on the right of the Bidassoa, the key of which was the strong mountain of La Rhime, before the pass of Vera. Mont La Rhime had been already remarkable by having been the object of a severe contest in 1794, because its summit served as a watchtower which commanded the whole country between the Pyrenees and Bayonne. On its top was a hermitage which the French had converted into a military post ; repeated attempts were made to storm it, but it was found impossible to scale the rock on which it stands. The enemy held it that night, together with a rock on the mountain-range to the right of the Spaniards. When the fog cleared up next morning, Lord Wellington reconnoitred it, and perceived that it was least difficult of access on the right, and that an advantageous attack might be made at the same time on the enemy's works before the camp of Sarre. The rock was accordingly attacked and taken by Don Pedro de Gison, who also gained an intrenchment upon a hill which protected the right of the camp ; the French evacuated all their works, to protect the approaches to the latter ; these were forthwith occupied, and a battery fixed on the rock of the hermitage. Night put a stop to further operations, and the French took advantage of the darkness to retire.