Adventures With the Connaught Rangers 1809-1814
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ADVENTURES WITH THE
While engaged during the last ten years in the task ofmastering the original authorities of the history of theNapoleonic wars, I have had to peruse many scores of diaries,autobiographies, and reminiscences of the British militaryand naval officers who were engaged in the great struggle.They vary, of course, in interest and importance, in literaryvalue, and in the power of vivid presentation of events. Butthey have this in common, that they are almost all verydifficult to procure. Very few of them have been reprinted;indeed, I believe that the books of Lord Dundonald, SirJohn Kincaid, Gleig, John Shipp, and Colonel Mercer arewellnigh the only ones which have passed through a secondedition. Yet there are many others which contain matterof the highest interest, not only for the historical studentbut for every intelligent reader. From these I have made aselection of ten or a dozen which seem to me well worthrepublishing.
Among these is the present volume—the reminiscencesof a subaltern of the Connaught Rangers, the old 88th.William Grattan was one of the well-known Dublin familyof that name—a first-cousin of Thomas Colley Grattan thenovelist, and a distant kinsman of Henry Grattan the statesman;he joined the regiment as ensign on July 6,vi1809. He went out to the 1st Battalion, and reached it onthe Caya late in 1809; he served with it till the spring of1813, when he went home on leave, having obtained hislieutenancy on April 12, 1812. Thus he was for more thanfour years continuously with the colours, and saw Busaco,Fuentes d’Oñoro, El Bodon, the storms of Ciudad Rodrigoand Badajoz, Salamanca, and the disastrous retreat fromBurgos. He was only off duty for a few weeks in 1812, inconsequence of a wound received at Badajoz. In the ranksof the 3rd Division—the “Fighting Division” as he isproud to call it—he saw a greater portion of the war thanmost of his contemporaries, though he missed Vittoria andthe invasion of France which followed.
Grattan as an author had two great merits. He had avery considerable talent for describing battles--indeed someof his chapters would not have disgraced the pen of WilliamNapier. Of the many memoirs which I have read, I thinkthat his is on the whole the most graphic and picturesque ingiving the details of actual conflict. His accounts of FuentesD’Oñoro, Salamanca, and above all of the storm and sack ofCiudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, are admirable. The readerwill find in them precisely the touches that make the picturelive. His second virtue is a lively sense of humour. TheConnaught Rangers were the most Irish of all Irish regiments,and the “boys that took the world aisy,” as Grattan callsthem, were as strange a set to manage as ever tried an officer’stemper. “I cannot bring myself to think them, as manydid, a parcel of devils,” writes Grattan; “neither will I by anymanner of means try to pass them off for so many saints”(pp. 128–129); but whether good or bad, they were alwaysamusing. For the exploits of Ody Brophy and Dan Carsons,of Darby Rooney and Barney Mackguekin, I must refer theviireader to the book itself. Their doings, as recorded by themuch-tried commander of their company, explain clearlyenough Sir Thomas Picton’s addiction to drum-head court-martials,and Lord Wellington’s occasional bursts of plainand drastic language. But no one with any sense of theludicrous can profess any very lasting feeling of indignationagainst these merry if unscrupulous rascals.
1. See, for example, his remarks on the 88th to Sir James M’Grigor,on page 259 of the latter’s autobiography.
It is clearly from the domestic annals of the 88th thatCharles Lever drew the greater part of the good storieswhich made the fortune of Charles O’Malley. The readerwill find many of the characters of that excellent romanceappearing as actual historical personages in Grattan, notablythe eccentric surgeon Maurice Quill, whose fame was so greatthroughout the British army that the novelist did not eventake the trouble to change his name. His colleague Dr.O’Reily was almost as great an original. Many of thehumours of Mickey Free seem to be drawn directly from thedoings of Grattan’s servant Dan Carsons. Comparing the“real thing” with the work of fiction, one is driven to concludethat much of what was regarded as rollicking inventionon Lever’s part, was only a photographic reproductionof anecdotes that he had heard from old soldiers of theConnaught Rangers.
Military diaries are often disappointing from one of twocauses. Either the author slips into second-hand and second-ratenarratives of parts of the campaign which he did nothimself witness—things which he had better have left tothe professed historian—or he fails to give us those smalltraits of the daily life of the regiment which are needed tomake us realise the actualities of war. Grattan sometimesviiifalls into the first-named fault, but never into the latter.He seems to have had an instinctive knowledge of whatfuture generations would want to know concerning the oldPeninsular army—its trials in the matter of pay, food, andclothing, its shifts and devices, its views of life and death.If any one wishes to know why Sir Thomas Picton was unpopular,or what the private and the subaltern thoughtabout Lord Wellington, they will find what they seek inthese pages. Nowhere else have I seen the psychology ofthe stormers of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz dealt with insuch a convincing fashion; let the reader note in particularpages 144–5 and 193–4.
I have to confess that in various parts of this reprint Ihave used the Editor’s license to delete a certain amount ofthe author’s original manuscript. Grattan had two besettingsins considered as a literary man. The first was one to whichI have already made allusion. Not unfrequently he quittedhis autobiographical narrative, and inserted long paragraphsconcerning parts of the war of which he had no personalknowledge, e.g. about the movements of Hill’s corps inEstremadura, or of the Spaniards in remote corners of thePeninsula. These, as is natural, are often full of inaccuracies:sometimes (and this is a worse fault) they turn outto be taken almost verbatim from formal histories, suchas those of Colonel Jones and Lord Londonderry. In oneplace I found thirty lines which were practically identicalwith a passage in Napier. In all cases these relate to partsof the war which did not come under Grattan’s own eyes: Ihave therefore ventured to omit them.
Grattan’s other weakness was a tendency to fly off at atangent in the middle of a piece of interesting narrative, inorder to controvert the statements of writers with whom heixdisagreed. He had one special foe—Robinson, the biographerof Sir Thomas Picton, on whom he wasted many an objurgatoryparagraph. These small controversial points, onwhich he turns aside, break the thread of his discourse in themost hopeless fashion, and are now of little interest. I haveoften, though not always, thought it well to leave out suchdivagations. At the end of the work, in a similar fashion,a long criticism on a certain speech of the Duke of Wellingtonin the House of Lords has been omitted. It deals withthe story of the long-delayed issue of the war-medal for thePeninsula. The whole point of Grattan’s remarks (causticbut well justified in most respects) was removed when themedal was at last actually distributed, a few months after hehad made his complaint.
The present volume stops short at the end of the Peninsularwar. Grattan’s pen travelled farther. Encouraged bythe success of his first book, he issued two supplementaryvolumes: these are of very inferior interest, being mainlyconcerned with the doings of the 88th in their early campaigns,before the author had joined them. There is muchabout Buenos Ayres, the Low Countries, and Talavera. Therest is composed of amusing but very rambling reminiscencesof garrison life in Canada in 1814, and in France in 1815–1816,and of character sketches of some of Grattan’s contemporaries,such as the unfortunate Simon Fairfield, concerningwhom the reader will find certain information on pages130–1 and 324 of this reprint. The whole of these twovolumes consists of mere disjecta membra, much inferior ininterest to the first two which the author had produced.
Grattan’s military service, which had begun in 1808,ended in 1817, in consequence of the enormous reductionsin the effective of the army which were carried out after thexevacuation of France began. His name last appears amongcombatant officers in the army list for March 1817, themonth in which the 88th was reduced from two battalionsto one, and many of its officers placed upon half pay.But he lived for thirty years longer, frequently descendinginto print in the United Service Journal, to controvertthose who seemed to him to undervalue the servicesof the 88th or the old 3rd Division. In 1836 we find himresiding at New Abbey, Kilcullen, and issuing a Vindicationof the Connaught Rangers, which seemed so convincing tothe officers of his old regiment, that they presented him witha present of plate to the value of 200 guineas “as a mark oftheir personal esteem and regard, and also in token of theirwarm admiration of his triumphant vindication of his gallantregiment from the attacks of the biographer [Robinson] ofthe late Sir Thomas Picton.” In 1847 he published the twovolumes from which the present reprint is taken. In thefollowing year he received his long-deserved Peninsular Medal.His last appearance in print was the publication of thetwo supplementary volumes of Anecdotes and Reminiscences,mentioned above, in the spring of 1853.
Oxford, November 1902.
THE OFFICERS OF THE 88TH
Grattan’s Memoirs cannot be fully understood without alist of the comrades whom he is perpetually mentioning inthe narrative. I therefore append the names of the officersof the 88th from the Army List of 1809–10. I have addedto each of those who were killed or wounded during the wara note specifying the casualty. No less than 49 of the103 names bear this addition!
- Richard Vandeleur, died at Campo Mayor, 5.11.09.
- Daniel Colquhun.
- John Silver, killed at Busaco, 27.9.10.