The Week in History, Issue 4.

This Week we have three battles, as reported by participants and by historians of later times.

5 March (1811) Battle of Barrosa. 6 March (1836) The Battle of the Alamo. 8 March (1808): Battle of Aboukir, also known as the landing of Aboukir. 

First Eagle. 

Sir Thomas Graham commanded the British forces operating in defence of Cadiz. Supported by his Spanish allies, he conducted a daring attack on French positions outside of the city at Barrosa and it was here the first Imperial Eagle taken in combat by the British was taken.

“No sooner had the skirmishers come in than the whole line moved forward ; and from the nature of the case the first collision occurred between the second battalion of the 8th and the British Eighty-seventh. Both held their fire until they came within close range, when they exchanged a volley which, since the Eighty-seventh could discharge at least thrice as many bullets as the 8th, was necessarily more destructive to the latter. The Eighty- seventh continued its advance, but the French would not await them ; and the column, turning tail in disorder, surged aside upon its first battalion, which had doubtless suffered also from the volley, and stood with it helpless and paralysed, a choking mass of panic-stricken men. Then it was that Graham who was leading the Coldstreamers on foot, his horse having been
shot under him, struck up their muskets and shouted, ” Men ! cease firing and charge.” Guards and Eighty-seventh at once dashed forward, and in an instant were in the thick of the defeated battalions. Gough was smitten with so great pity for the unfortunate Frenchmen that he could not bring himself to touch one of them ; but his soldiers were troubled with no such compunction. They were Irishmen out for a fight ; they had suffered some loss when halted under fire ; and the enemy, who outnumbered them by at least three to two, were turning their backs. They leaped into the crowd with their bayonets, and made unsparing havoc of the 8th, breaking them up in all directions in the revelry of slaughter. Beyond all doubt the Sixty-seventh on the left flank of the French and the Coldstream on the right were not behind the Irish ; and the carnage was frightful. The eagle of the 8th was the centre of a desperate struggle.some men of the Eighty-seventh dashing furiously at the colour-party, who on their side made a noble defence. March 5. Finally the trophy was torn from the French by Sergeant Masterson, and borne away by him in triumph.”

Fortescue: History of the British Army.

The British Invasion of Egypt.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, it seemed like a logical course for the British to do likewise, especially after the French fleet was defeated at the Nile. Lead by the popular General Abercromby, the job of defeating the French army of the Orient could not be achieved getting ashore. It would be a early 19th century D-Day.

“Upon the 7th March the wind abated, and the weather promising well, orders were given in the afternoon for the troops of the reserve, Brigade of Guards and two regiments of Major-General Coote’s Brigade, to get into the flat boats and launches at two in the morning. As the ships which contained them were all troopships, and were anchored six or seven miles from the shore, two small vessels were anchored in the evening near the shore ; the one to mark the right of the landing, the other an intermediate point on the same line ; the boats, as they received the troops, were directed to rendezvous alongside these two vessels, where the captains of men-of-war who, under Captain Cochrane, had the direction of the landing, arranged the
boats of their respective divisions in accordance with an order previously settled, which was that of Brigades, of Regiments, and of Companies, agreeable to the order of battle of the army. The troops of the second landing were removed in the evening from the large ships outside to others drawing a less draught of water. These anchored further in for the purpose of supporting the first disembarkation more expeditiously.

Soon after daylight the majority of the boats were at the rendezvous, but it took a considerable time to arrange them. I was in the boat with Captain Cochrane, and the reserve upon the right was directed upon the centre of the high sandhill. The rest of the boats were to dress by them. The high sandhill commanded the ground on each side ; it was the left flank of the enemy’s position or it was his centre. In either case it was desirable to possess it, and I was determined to gain it with the regiments of the right of the reserve as soon as possible. Just as the signal was about to be made for the boats to advance, General Hope came to me from Sir Ralph, who was with Lord Keith on one of the bomb- vessels, to say that if the fire from the enemy was so great that the men could not bear it he would make the signal to retire, and therefore desired Captain Cochrane and me to look occasionally to the ship he was in. General Hope then said that Sir Ralph wished to know if I was still of the same opinion with respect to the pomt of landing on the right, or if I did not think it would be better to extend a little more that way towards the bottom of the hill, as the latter appeared to be very steep in front. I said that I did not think a change necessary ; that the steepness was not such as to prevent our ascending and was therefore rather favourable.

It was now eight o’clock ; the enemy had for two hours been spectators of our movements, and we could see them drawn up with their cannon to oppose us. Some gunboats proceeded to engage their attention ; the signal from Captain Cochrane’s boat was made to advance ; we were fired upon from fifteen pieces of artillery as soon as we were within reach, first with round shot, afterwards with grape, and at last by the infantry. The boats continued to row in steadily, and the sailors and soldiers occasionally huzza’ed. Numbers were killed and wounded, and some boats were sunk. The fire of grape-shot and musketry was really most severe. As soon as the boats touched the land the officers and men sprang out, formed on the beach, and landed. I then ascended the sandhill with the Grenadiers and Light Infantry of the 40th, 23rd, and 28th Regiments in Iine. They never offered to fire until they had gained the summit, where they charged the French, drove them, and took four pieces of cannon, with part of their horses. We followed them, they firing as they retired to the border of a plain, where I halted in favourable ground until I could perceive what was being done upon the left, where a heavy fire of musketry was still kept up. Brigadier-General Oakes with the 43rd, 58th Regiments, and the Corsican Rangers, which composed the left of the reserve, landed to the left of the sandhill. They found the enemy ready to receive them. They formed expeditiously, were attacked by both infantry and cavalry, both of which they repulsed, and they also followed them into the plain, taking three pieces of artillery. The Guards, who should have been upon the left of the reserve, as well as some of the regiments of General Coote’s Brigade, got into some confusion on landing and were at first in the rear of the 42nd and 58th; but, as these regiments advanced, the others fell into their place on the left. The want of cavalry or of artillery (for it was some time before that which landed could be dragged through the sand) prevented us from pursuing further and destroying the
enemy. They made good their retreat, though with considerable loss. Ours amounted to 600 killed and wounded, of which the reserve lost 400. The enemy had had eight days to assemble and to prepare ; the ground was extremely favourable for defence. Our attempt was daring, and executed by the troops with the greatest intrepidity and coolness. In the course of the afternoon the rest of the army landed, and the whole moved forward a couple of miles. The Castle of Aboukir was blocked. An attempt was made to summon it ; but they fired upon Lieutenant- Colonel Murray and declined every communication. Sir Ralph directed that some heavy artillery should be landed to fire upon it.”

The diary of Sir John Moore Volume 2.

The Fall of the Alamo.

Santa Anna was in Texas to put down a rebellion. To him, the best way to do that was to show no mercy and win quick and decisive victories which would dishearten the rebels. The Garrison of the Alamo mission in San Antonio had been besieged for 13 days. The Mexicans had defeated nearby garrisons and no help was going to come from the main army. Even so they were not expecting to be attacked before the enemy had broken down the walls.

“On the 3d of March Gen. Tolza arrived. The greatest activity prevailed in every department. The plan of assault was formed and communicated to the commanders of corps, and others, on the 5th. On the same day ammunition, scaling ladders, etc, were distributed. Everything was made ready for the storming. During the night troops were placed in position About three o’clock on the morning of the 6th the battalion Matamoros was marched to a point near the river, and above the Alamo. In their rear were two thousand men under Gen. Cos. Gen. Castrillon commanded this part of the army. Gen. Tolza’s command held the ground below the Alamo. Gen. Santa Anna spent the night in the work near the Alamo. The troops were to march to the attack when the bugler at headquarters sounded the advance.  The bugle was sounded at 4 o’clock a. m., March 6, 1836. The troops of Gen. Castrillon moved in silence. They reached the fort, planted scaling ladders, and commenced ascending, some mounted on the shoulders of others. A terrible fire belched from the interior. Men fell from the scaling ladders by the score, many pierced through the head by balls, others felled by clubbed guns. The dead and wounded covered the ground. After half an hour of fierce conflict, after the sacrifice of many lives, the column of Gen. Castrillon succeeded in making a lodgment in the upper part of the Alamo to the northeast. It was a sort of outwork. I think it is now used as a lot or courtyard. This seeming advantage was a mere prelude to the desperate struggle which ensued.
The doors of the Alamo building were barricaded by bags of sand as high as the neck of a man ; the windows also. On the top of the roofs of the different apartments were rows of sand bags to cover the beseiged. Our troops, inspired by success, continued the attack with energy and boldness. The Texians fought like devils. It was at short range — muzzle to muzzle, hand to hand, musket and rifle, bayonet and bowie knife — all were mingled in confusion. Here a squad of Mexicans, there a Texian or two. The crash of firearms, the shouts of defiance, the cries of the dying and wounded, made
a din almost infernal. The Texians defended desperately every inch of the fort — overpowered by numbers, they would be forced to abandon a room. They would rally in the next, and defend it until further resistance became impossible. Gen. Tolza’s command forced an entrance at the door of the
church building. He met the same determined resistrnce without and within. He won by force of numbers and a great sacrifice of life. There was a long room on the ground floor. It was darkened. Here the fight was bloody. It proved to be the hospital. A detachment of which I had command had captured a piece of artillery. It was placed near the door of the hospital, doubly charged with grape and canister, and fired twice. We entered and found the corpses of fifteen Texians. On the outside we afterward found
forty-two dead Mexicans. On the top of the church building I saw eleven Texians. They had some small pieces of artillery and were firing on the cavalry and on those engaged in making the escalade. Their ammunition was exhausted, and they were loading with pieces of iron and nails. The captured piece was placed in a position to reach them, doubly charged, and fired with so much effect that they ceased working their pieces.”

Testimony of Sergeant Becerra from the “Origin and fall of the Alamo, March 6, 1836.”

See you again for another adventure in Historyland. Josh.


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