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Such an experience would have reduced many commanders to a state bordering on despair; it was otherwise with LieutenantGeneral, local General, the Marquis of Wellington, as he ranked in the official records of the winter of 1812. And as my mind dwelt on that story of effort, while I listened to the measured tread of corps after corps moving with the firm step of men with a great past, and a still greater future, pouring along, I turned to the volume of the letters and despatches of this Honorary General to find the cause of his success. It is recorded in his correspondence of the winter of 1812-1813 for all who care to study it.
As I read it on the banks of the Bayas the hills parted right and left, and, looking toward the setting sun across the plains of Old Castile, I could see the master mind at work, poring over maps, appreciating every past success and every reverse as if he were analysing the dispositions of officers on a staff tour, and recording his sense of the right and the wrong. Two hundred odd miles of distance did not prevent my recognising the excellent maps with which he and his staff were provided. They are the same as those picked up by a soldier friend of mine recently in Bournemouth, for eighteenpence, in the original campaign case in which they were issued. Warre refers to them in his 'Letters from the Peninsula 'compiled by Nantiat and published by Fadan, • pasted on canvas and in strong cases.' What conclusion did '' the commander arrive at ? Read his letters, particularly one to Marshal Beresford ; read not only what he wrote, but read between the lines what he thought, and you can sum up the working of his mind. It appears to run thus : ‘Both Moore and I tried the Salamanca line, it is too frontal and too exposed on both flanks; I tried the Talavera line, it is too circuitous and again the protection of my flanks is an anxious matter. On both these lines I have achieved great tactical successes, yet they have not brought realisation of my object. What remains ?' Watch the pen point travelling over the Northern sections !! He has found the solution ; he is going to attempt the conquest not alone of the French armies but of Nature! If he can overcome the latter he will surely vanquish the foe. Yes ! he is about to pin his faith to a most audacious plan, based upon conquering topographical difficulties in order to defeat his human adversary. So he turns from his maps to write his letter to Marshal Beresford dated April 14, 1813, and there you can see his conclusion. His whole plan, daring and marked by the highest strategy, stands VOL, XXXIV.-NO, 204, N.S
revealed. He will move north a force of all arms and, swinging eastwards, outmaneuvre his opponent Joseph of Spain, turn that commander's right on the Douro and simply force him to continual retreat by dominant and persistent strategy.
In all military history there are few better examples of the triumph of strategy, based upon conditions apparently so impossible as to be unworthy of the consideration of an adversary.
I have met many Continental soldiers who admit without reserve that Wellington was a great tactician; I have met few who will recognise him as a great strategist. But I have never found any who deny him the latter title when the story of this great flank movement from the Portuguese frontier to the Pyrenees has been laid before them chapter and verse.
So it is owing to this poring over maps that this vast host is streaming into the valley past me! Yes! and any man among them will tell you the story in a momentary halt if your ear is tuned to catch spirit voices a century old. Listen! 'He told us off in two great forces, sir ; forty-five thousand of us, cavalry, artillery, and infantry, went through the Tras os Montes ; steep as warehouse stairs ; we swept round like the blade of a sickle, our point always well round the rear of the enemy's right, five cavalry brigades, six infantry divisions, guns and pontoons, through a country no man would think it possible to pass. And I would not have thought it possible had I not seen it done, sir. And he kept some 30,000 under his own hand and brought them up against Joseph on the Douro as if he were trying to push him back with a sickle handle. The manœuvre seemed so clumsy, it deceived the Frenchman; it was what we call a feint, sir. And then be gradually brought the sickle handle northwards over the Douro, united it with our sickle blade, and with his master hand started to reap. As the French saw the sickle and realised all that it meant they retired. Three or four times they stood behind rivers : each time his hand tightened on the sickle handle, one sweep and again they were off. At the last, after we left Burgos-horse, foot and artillery-we moved to our left up the Santander road. We crossed the upper waters of the Ebro at San Martin del Rojo and Puente Arenas. We found the banks and defiles uncontested although they are naturally very strong, the road along the river being cut through the rock in many places where a thousand men might have stopped us, and here we are. And may Scotland give us more such men as Sir Thomas Graham is my prayer, sir, Round
about seventy and a lion at that, for he brought us along through
The story has been truly told you. Turn the right, and turn the
years, the dream of British policy is in process of realisation, and the expulsion of the French from the Kingdom of Spain is on the verge of accomplishment.
The presence of two Spanish officers, who now joined me, brought my mind back from the imaginative reconstruction of history, to a detailed consideration of the field and the dispositions made by the French and British commanders.
We noted the ground where Lowry Cole, with the ever gallant Fourth Division' (to quote a despatch) shepherded the rear guard of Joseph's forces into the basin of Vittoria. Then climbing the hill above Morillas and gaining the ground whence (Fraser in his Peninsular letters tells us) Wellington and his staff on the morn of battle viewed the field, we noted first the French disposition, then
Before us, looking eastward, lay the valley of Vittoria, stretching
In any English works I have seen, Hermandad appears as the
its use, checking off the ground on the Spanish maps. These admirably portray the famous valley, which at the western entry, near Nanclares, is some 1700 feet above sea-level, gradually rising at the Salvatierra, or eastern end, to 1950 feet at Allegria, the town of Vittoria lying midway between the two.
The view is singularly beautiful. Hills cluster round watchfully as if Nature wishes to guard these quiet villagers from the vulgar intrusion of the outer world. On the west the Sierras of Badaya and Arrato, rising to a height of some 1800 feet above the field of battle, form a miniature mountain range closely resembling in formation the Glen Imaal hills of County Wicklow. The eastern slopes, as they fall towards the valley, are clothed in every shade of green, the dark tint of the prickly ilex forming a rich background to the more delicate shades of beech and chestnut. Here and there the wild juniper, the broom, and the gorse flourish joyously on the poorer soils which their more luxurious brethren despise, light sandy strips brighten the foreground, while rocks, greyed by ages of exposure, give splashes of motionless yet dignified monotone to the general scheme of colour.
So it is on the south, except that here, where the Montes de Vittoria stretch away to the Alto del Alve, the grey of the rock is more marked and the verdure of tree and shrub more sparse and scattered
To the north the lesser heights of Durana, covered with thick undergrowth, fully vindicate the choice of hare and partridge in making it their home. In the eastern distance the Pyrenees tower aloft, pushing rugged and jumbled peaks directly upwards towards the sky, with a fearless disregard of Heaven's clouds and an atter neglect of symmetrical art.
The valley itself is curiously peaceful and old-world in character. The Zadorra winds along its northern and western borders, dreamily wandering between low flat banks lined with willow and bulrush, until it finds its peaceful passage to the Ebro narrowed by a steepsided rocky defile opposite Villodas; then, rousing itself and angrily protesting, it passes on its journey. Across the valley, from the Zadorra on the north to the lower foothills of the Montes de Vittoria on the south, Englishman's Hill stands boldly out, s long hog back formation with lesser ridges running parallel eastward of it, irregularly furrowing the face of anxious Nature just as mental strain traces tortuously parallel lines on the forehead of man.
Forward and west of the northern spur of Englishman's Hill stands Tres Puentes, an isolated natural bastion dropping perpendicularly on one face into the Zadorra, an impudent little inland imitation of Gibraltar-the three bridges whence it derives its name clustering round its base. From the two Gamarras, north of Vittoria, to Nanclares at the western entrance of the valley, the winding river is crossed by seven stout bridges in all, one of which runs to seven arches. In the eastern background the spires of Vittoria rise with a minaret-like appearance that make the town look semi-Moorish in the evening haze, while dotted here and there, on hill-slope and valley, are small Basque hamlets in each of which the church is a conspicuous feature.
No one can appreciate properly what the British soldier achieved on that midsummer's day, a century ago, unless he realises the peculiar topographical difficulties of the area.
Wellington with his seventy thousand odd men lay along the river Bayas, deployed over a front of some seven miles and separated from his adversary's position by the high hills which I have mentioned. Such was the sweep of these hills that on the British right a gap of some four miles separated the two armies, an interval which increased to six miles at the centre, further widening to full eight miles at the British left.
The French forces, which consisted of eight divisions, and according to the latest researches amounted to some sixty thousand men, were massed in the valley, occupying a series of positions astride the Royal Road from Madrid to Bayonne, the security of which great artery was vital to them ; for it was their main line of communication. Behind them lay Vittoria which had for long been their great frontier depot, and which now was literally packed with stores and impedimenta, and with the plunder of the Peninsula.
Five principal roads meet at Vittoria, radiating evenly like star-points, viz. the Madrid, Bilbao, Bayonne, Salvatierra, and Logrono roads, and four of them in one way or another served Joseph's somewhat nebulous strategic ideas.
From Bilbao in the north he hoped that Foy with one division would come to his assistance, from Logrono south of him he trusted that Clausel would push up with his four divisions, while in the event of being forced to retire, which by his dispositions he clearly anticipated, he hoped to save his immense park of baggage and treasure of every kind by the Bayonne and Salvatierra roads, the latter leading to the fortress of Pampeluna, whence two good roads bifurcated to France over the Pyrenees; one via the Puerto de