Late on the third day the second rider from Estaban arrived with the latest news on the French column. Little had changed at this early stage but Thomas was surprised to learn the French column was only making about ten miles a day; this was a little less than he thought they would do until he sat down with the others to talk it over.
After working out the time needed to break camp for 27,000 troops and Officers then the long columns of infantry forming up to march; it seemed that the total mileage was very close to true. The watchers had seen that the French Officers had insisted on stopping for lunch before moving on again and that the French then stopped early in the afternoon so the night camp had time to set up before dark.
Thomas know knew that time was on his side and set about the second part of their plan. Smithson's maps now came into their own as they all looked over the details of the surrounding countryside. The newly arrived Lieutenant Perrin and his red coats were a little put out when asked for their jackets and shako's but; once it was all explained to them in detail, they readily agreed and changed into the spare and older jackets of Thomas's force although without the sash or the black flat crowned hats.
The third day had been spent by the carpenters and engineers in setting up the final stage of the deception along the stone wall; it took time and practice before they were happy but the effects looked good. The final loading of the massed muskets would be done when the French were close enough to attack the wall and then the trap would close.
The next five days were spent building the small walls up on the sides of the hills they had selected while Lorenco and his Platoon went to find the right places for their own form of battle; they would be used as a running skirmish line when the time came. Lieutenant Croxley was also busy and spending long hours setting up his eight batteries in positions of advantage in a long line at the top of the ridge that overlooked the plain where the redoubt was built. Croxley's newly arrived rockets were already being formed into small groups; their job was to attack the night camps and then break away to reform later the next day.
There was also a plan for later at night after the rockets had done their job in disrupting the French sleep; to this end Thomas had Tommy Perrin, Carmelo and himself reform the three companies of drummers, those left behind were not drummers and would have their own part to play.
The new plan that was totally unknown to Marshal Beresford; was for the 1st Battalion to take the fight to the French well before they made it to the dummy wall just outside Olivenca on the open plains. For the newcomer Lieutenant Oliver Perrin the things the drummers were doing seemed almost incomprehensible; he had never seen any army set up to fight like these men and boys were doing; it flew in the face of everything he had ever been taught about warfare.
The plans Thomas and his friends had thought out would create a running battle both during the day and at night; he knew that with the numbers he had they would not do a great deal of damage to such a large French force but at least they would disrupt them and tired soldiers did not fight as well as rested ones and; if they got the chance to damage much of the supply and baggage train then even better.
Every ridge or hill they had marked for use had to have an escape route and there was to be no standing and fighting against such superior numbers; again they were going to use what they knew was a tried and true system of hit and run whether they did a lot or no damage; the end result was to be the same; disrupt; disorganise and deceive the enemy.
Thomas knew that Beresford had sent them all out here to die or at best be captured so his own men had a better chance to defeat Marshal Soult; Thomas was not going to just lie down and take it. Thomas was well aware he was going to lose men, of that there was little doubt. What they were about to do did not make it easy for everyone to escape the sheer numbers against them no matter how cunning they were or how well they planned.
Thomas had decided to make the first attacks on the French Column around the 12th of May and then keep up the pressure as best he could with the time remaining. Thomas and his friends had decided they would not enter the main battle with Beresford's troops. They had not been told to do so and Thomas had decided along with the others that their part of Beresford's plan would be over once the French overran the wall; they would then make their escape back towards Elvas and send a rider to ask for orders from the Viscount.
By the 12th of May Thomas and his men all knew their places as they watched the vanguard of the French appear in the distance; Estaban's riders and messages had been accurate and it would only be a short time before the shot would fly and the powder burn in the sultry heat of the Spanish summer.
Thomas and his men stayed hidden high on the ridges as they watched the French Officers call for a halt for lunch. As the raised cloud of dust began to settle and the French soldiers looked for their food and drink in the heat of the day; Thomas gave the signal for Estaban who had been well to the rear of the column, to make his first attack.
The signal was done with the means of waving a copy of El Toro's battle flag from a high point above the resting column; this was to be the start of days of running skirmishes. Estaban had his full company of musket wielding riders suddenly break from their cover and charge at the rear of the column that encompassed the supply and baggage wagons.
It did not take long for chaos to rein as the wildly riding attackers got among the wagons and caused havoc as they fired from horseback and the men who only wanted to rest before taking to the long road once again. Estaban did not overstay his welcome; as soon as there looked to be a counter attack from some nearby lancers; Estaban called for the retreat and led his riders back the way they had come and to finally disappear into the wilderness of the ridges and gullies.
The lancers tried as best they could but could not close the distance with the riders on the white horses. On the odd occasion that they got close enough; the riders would suddenly stop, spin their horses almost on their hind legs and fire off two volleys from the backs of their mounts then turn about and ride off at speed once again.
For the French lancers it was not only frustrating but expensive in the terms of man power. After being turned on three times the lancers called a halt and turned back towards the column; the smoke rising from damaged wagons only went to fuel their anger even more.
When the lancers returned to the column it was to see most of the troops at stand-to as they tried to look for threats on either side of their line of march; it did not take long before they had more of their day disrupted; it came in the form of sharpshooters who were hidden high above them and were shooting down into the column with remarkable accuracy.
The French Officers who now had their midday meal interrupted decided to send out small patrols to kill of capture the sharpshooters above them; it was to be harder than they thought. As soon as a patrol closed on the last place a shooter was seen, they would only find an empty space although it was marked with strangely shaped paper cylinders with the tops chewed off; it was just another mystery for them to try to solve.
The sniping from long distance continued and the shooters kept disappearing as soon as a patrol started up the ridge towards them; for the French it was frustrating and; after an hour of continual interruptions, the Officers called for the march to continue; their lunch forgotten even though they had far more superior numbers that turned out to be useless against a more mobile enemy.
During the rest of that first day the attacks continued when the column least expected them; sometimes it was from the sharpshooters and other times it was a brazen attack on the wagons.
Late in the afternoon and with the French troops tired and hungry from their long day; the Officers set out large roaming patrols while the camp was set up; once complete the patrols were called in and heavy pickets set up to guard the camp during the night time hours.
The ghostly enemy had suddenly disappeared as the French set up their camp and; as darkness closed in and the small cooking fires along with the larger ones used by the pickets began to sparkle in the growing darkness; many of the French began to relax. Everyone knew that attacking in the dark just was not done; it was too easy to make a mistake and kill one of your own.
With full darkness around them, the camp settled down to finally eating a meal; before even the first mouth full was taken; high above them in the darkness of the ridge tops to the east came the echoing sound of massed drums. For many of the French troops it was now a familiar sound; they had heard the beat before and it usually meant the notorious rebel El Toro was near and that could only mean problems for them all.
After nearly half an hour the drums to the east stopped; as the French breathed a sigh of relief they turned back to their long awaited meal. Their meal was soon interrupted by another loud beating of the drums from the west and, again continued into the night. The pickets were now getting very nervous; they had all heard stories about night guards disappearing or being killed during darkness.
This time the drums continued well into the night without let up. The continual sound of the drums began to work on the nerves of some of the less experienced guards; the occasional shot fired into the darkness as jumpy guards mistook shadows for the enemy showed how tense they all were.
While the French Officers dearly wanted to send out patrols to stop the drums; they well knew it could be that they were sending their men into a trap and so sat and tried their best to ignore the continuous beat that throbbed into every part of the camp. Late into the night and the French finally breathed a sigh of relief as the western drums drew to a close and silence finally reined around the camp; it was not to last.
It was nearing midnight and the drums had not been heard for more than an hour; the camp was settling down for a well earned rest when a number of the pickets saw what they at first thought were the trails of shooting stars high in the night sky.
It took the pickets a few second to realise they were not shooting stars but something far worse as the first rockets exploded above the tent filled camp. The resulting chaos of the small balls of flame falling into the closely packed camp soon had men scrambling to save their equipment as a few of the bone dry tents caught light and began to burn.
At the edge of the camp, where the cavalry was set up, the neighing of frightened horses soon filled the darkness as their riders tried desperately to calm them down before they all broke loose and the cavalry was set afoot.
The rockets were fired wildly into the camp and, although many did little damage; their appearance helped to instil more fear into the thousands of soldiers who now lost more sleep as the rockets exploded and threatened to set the camp afire. It took more than an hour after the last rocket was fired for the Officers to bring calm to the camp.
The few tents set alight by the rockets were soon put out although they were all but lost; the final count being a dozen destroyed and a further ten almost unusable. The grumbling in the camp was almost audible to those hiding out in the darkness as they waited for the troops to settle once again. When the camp had finally returned to some semblance of order and the men were once again settling their head to sleep; to the north the sound of massed drums started once again.
For more than an hour the drums echoed in the still night air; for the troops it was almost impossible to get any rest as the drums filled the night with the beat of the Della Guerra. At around two of the clock in the AM. The north drums grew silent and the tired French troops drew a breath in the silence, they could finally get some rest before they had to break camp once again and march all day towards the enemy.
The camp had grown quiet as the disturbances of earlier seemed forgotten and the noise of snoring could be heard throughout the camp; the pickets had even relaxed a little as they were now double the normal number and had little doubt the enemy would be foolhardy enough to try to attack the camp with their increased numbers.
Towards the rear of the encampment, the wagons were under the protection of roving patrols; every hour the wagons were checked and the horse lines were kept under constant watch even though the men on the pickets were tired and wanted their long awaited sleep. It was in the quiet of the early morning and the boredom of guard duty was setting in when the next problem arose with the huge sound of explosions in the wagon lines.
As five wagons disintegrated from the explosions which were added to by two of the wagons being filled with gun powder; the camp came awake in chaos once again. Officers and men ran around shouting orders as they tried to work out what and how the attack had happened; no one saw the six small figures disappearing into the night through the gap in the picket line where nine guards lay dead with their throats cut cleanly from ear to ear.
For the French camp it was almost a relief to see the eastern sky begin to brighten; there was now no way for the enemy ghosts to attack them without being seen well before they could do any damage. The tension in the camp was high as the Officers tried to work out what had happened. For all the trouble caused during the night they had yet to even see one of the attackers in the flesh.
When the force was finally able to take to the road once again the moral of the men could be felt by all those around; while their numbers offered a certain security and the bright clear sky gave them a feeling of security; the events of the previous night had still unsettled many of the younger men who had not yet seen battle.
It was noticeable that even the Officers were more testy than normal and the lack of sleep only exerbated the tension running through the column; there was a long day ahead and the lack of sleep would only make it that more difficult.
From a high point among a small copse of trees lay Thomas with Carmelo and the ten man guard. They all lay well hidden from the long column of the French army and Thomas had his small spy glass out and watching the movements closely. The column was slowly winding its way along the dirt roadway and had just started to follow a gentle bend in the road when the sky came alive with the fiery rockets of the night before only this time there were far more of them and the bright sky seemed full of the long smoking trails.
The column almost halted as the rockets seemed to head towards the massed guns of the artillery; they could not do much damage to the moving guns but the horses were another matter. As the first of the rockets exploded above the guns and their small fiery balls began to fall among the now very nervous horses and riders, from the left came musket fire from a large number of skirmishers.
The musket fire quickly ceased as soon as the Officers sent men in their direction and the patrols found nothing but the small paper cylinders lying on the ground once again. The rockets had caused many of the horses to panic and the artillery gunners had their hands full trying to calm them down and get back in formation. None of the men knew how many rockets had been fired but the number was put somewhere between twenty and thirty and; once again there was no sign of the men when the cavalry went in search of the men who had fired them.
The cavalry units only found burnt circles on the top of the ridges when they finally tracked down where the terror had come from; of the men who had fired them there was again no sign. The Officers were now getting angry as their plans were being delayed by the interference of ghosts; it was not what they had planned and time was running short to make Albuera in time to push the English out of Spain and ease the pressure on Massena's front.
The column had only made eight miles that day and the Officers called a halt in mid afternoon; it was time they changed their plans and began to look at ways to slow the attacks by the Rebel El Toro. That the plans of the Rebel were to delay the army there was little doubt; why! was another unanswered question that they had to work on.
The camp was set up and there were no further attacks during the rest of the day; with all of the troops on full alert and almost jumping at every shadow, the Officers wanted time for them to calm before putting them against the forces of Marshal Beresford who was waiting for them only days away.
Once the marquee of Marshal Soult was fully erected, he sent word for all of the commanders to join him for an urgent meeting. Marshall Soult watched as his Divisional Commanders assembled in his tent. Not only were his French Officers of the Armee du Midi present but all of his allies as well. The 4th Army was made up of the Spanish allies and included the Vanguard Division under General Jose de Lardizabal, the 3rd Division under General Francisco Ballesteros and the 4th Division under General Jose Zayas. The Spanish cavalry was represented by Brigadier General Loy.
The 5th Army from Spain was commanded by General Francisco Castanos which included two Brigades, one of infantry under General Carlos de Espana and the cavalry under Brigadier General Penne-Villemur. Castanos also had a small battery of four pounder guns.
Marshal Soult looked over his own French Officers to make sure they were all present. The 5th Corps d' Armee was commanded by General de Division Jean-Baptiste Girard which had two Divisions of infantry which totalled over 8,000 men, one Division which they called the Independent Brigade with a total of over 10,000 men. Soult's Cavalry was under the command of General de Division Latour Maubourg with over 4,000 men made up with Chasseurs, Dragoons and Lancers.
Marshal Soult's Artillery numbered 48 guns and over 1,200 men. Marshal Soult had no doubt in his mind he could push the bumbling Beresford from his position in Albuera with the force he had under his command; the only thing he had to worry about was the continual attacks by the Rebel; the last thing he wanted was for his men to be tired before they even saw battle. He had to find a way to stop the hit and run attacks by the one they called El Toro.
Once the Marshal had called for silence he set about discussing their problem with the unorthodox attacks by the Rebels. His main problem was how to protect such a huge column while on the march. As Marshal Soult saw it there was only one way; he would have to form a protective force around the men at the centre.
With his mind made up, Marshal Soult began to give the new orders of march. The 1st Murcia Regiment would be used to cover their front with every man being used as Skirmishers and would take station at least five hundred yards ahead of the main column. His next order was for the 4th Dragoons to take station on the left flank at one hundred yards and the 26th Dragoons to cover on the right flank.
Marshal Soult thought that the cover guards would keep the sharpshooters well out of range of his Infantry at the centre. With the losses he had so far suffered in the supply and baggage wagons, he detailed the 1st Vistulan Lancers with the 27th Chasseur a Cheval as an extra cover at the rear to protect their much needed wagons.
As the Senior Cavalry Officer, General de Division Latour Maubourg was given the enviable task of watching their rear. With his guns under threat, Marshal Soult ordered them right into the centre of the column where they would have more protection and be less likely to come under direct attack.
That night, as the Armee du Midi was settling down with the hope that they would get a good night's rest; the drums started once again and continued well into the late hours as the position of the enemy drummers once again changed from place to place but always allowing just enough time for the troops to drift off to sleep before starting up from another direction.
Even just after two days and nights of attack the troops and Officers were becoming testy with the continual lack of sleep. Pickets were dozing off when they should have been alert and this led to a small number dying at their posts from night raiders. The wagons were now closer in to the main camp and well surrounded by the mass of Cavalry. Roving patrols of other Cavalry kept up a continual watch on the outer edge of the camp but they could not locate the drummers.
In the early hours of the morning; when everyone was at their lowest, the next attack of rockets occurred; while they did far less damage than the first night, the disruption only added to the tension of lost sleep and it would sometimes only be a single word that would set the troops arguing or fighting in the lines.
When the dawn finally rose, Marshal Soult; like everyone in the camp; was bleary eyed and even more testy than usual; the lack of sleep was catching up and he had no real answer to his problem.
Marshal Soult's final orders were for a much earlier start even though he could almost hear the grumbling from the troops as they got ready to march; he had to make up the time lost so there would be no midday break and the column would press forward at all cost. It was the 14th of May and he wanted Beresford under his guns within the next few days or his compatriot Marshal Massena would be under too much pressure and could lose their foothold in Portugal.
Little did Marshal Soult know but he was already too late but word had not as yet reached him although he would have pushed on regardless. His plan was to cut off Viscount Wellington's ability to take the North or move too far into Spain and his battle with Beresford would cement his hold on the border.
Marshal Soult was not really concerned with his losses, they had been minimal at best but it was the continued sniping of his men that unsettled them all. His losses only accounted for forty five dead and some thirty eight wounded; it was nothing when compared to his overall numbers and he still had confidence he could take Albuera from Beresford.
Marshal Soult pushed his men hard as they moved north and it was not until early afternoon he received a message from his vanguard; there was an English redoubt across their line of advance and it would have to be cleared before they could continue. Under heavy guard, Marshal Soult rode forward with most of his Officers; he wanted to see the redoubt for himself before making a decision on its future.
As the Marshal rode forward; Thomas watched from his hiding place above the long column; with the new arrangement of the enemy it was more difficult for him to make close in attacks but the need for harassment now turned to Croxley's guns which were set high on the left side of the open plain.
Thomas and Croxley had both agreed that the chances of saving their guns once the enemy had been dealt a blow was very slim and Croxley acknowledged he may have to spike his guns before making his escape; with the numbers below they would all have to be on their toes. At the redoubt, Lieutenant Oliver Perrin was putting the finishing touches to their ruse; he would then lead his men up into the heights and then make his break for the waiting Marshal Beresford's camp outside Albuera.
When Oliver Perrin got the message from Thomas; he and his men set about filling the larger cans with water and preparing to pull the small plug at the base. The water would drip slowly into the can below and; when it was almost full the weight would pull the string attached to the triggers of the many muskets tight and fire them at the approaching French.
The same set up had been made for the six swivel guns that also stood behind the wall; it was hoped that from a distance the poles that were now dressed in red jackets and the darker blue of the French uniforms that had been buttoned to the collar to hide the white facings and would look more like the black jackets of the El Toro's men. .The topping off with the Shako's and some spare black hats would also help to make it look as though the redoubt was well manned.
The main worry for Thomas was that the French would use their guns and just destroy the rough redoubt and for this reason he had tried to target their guns when they were on the march and their munitions wagons during the night. It was hoped that the loss of powder would force the French into using Infantry instead of the guns as they would be needed when the French met Beresford at Albuera.
Thomas and his friends watched the core of the French Officers move forward to inspect the redoubt and held their breathes as they Watched the famed Marshal Soult inspect the fortifications further along the wide plain. Even though Thomas knew the redoubt was a ploy; from where he lay in the undergrowth with his spy glass to his eye; the redoubt did indeed look real and well manned; he only hoped it would also fool the watching French Officers.
Thomas had pulled all his men back from the French camp just after the last volleys of rockets and they were now all concealed on the high ground on both sides of the wide plain and watching the men below. It was not long before they saw the culmination of the plan come true. Marshal Soult did not need much time to see how ineffective the redoubt would be against his numbers; wanting to preserve his artillery for the assault on Beresford's lines; Marshal Soult decided to have his Infantry and Cavalry clear the road ahead. The attack would also relieve some of the built up tension his men were now suffering from.
Lieutenant Oliver Perrin watched from his hiding place behind the stone wall; all of his Company were waiting for his order to pull the bungs on the water cans and then escape to the rear and make for Beresford's lines once the final act was completed. Lieutenant Perrin only had one wish and that was for Marshal Soult to not use his guns; if he was wrong then there was very little likelihood of any of them escaping their own trap.
Marshal Soult saw the redoubt and sent out his orders; the Infantry would attack in force with Cavalry coming in from both sides once the Infantry had started to make headway across the front. From what the Marshal could see, the redoubt was held only by a few English red coats that could not have numbered much more than a Company and they were assisted by Irregulars that looked to be dressed mainly in black and numbered not much more than another Company. At best the Marshal though his men would be facing not more than a few hundred troops.
There was one more factor that made the Marshal want to crush the redoubt; it was the red and gold banner flying on the flag pole just behind the wall and the black bulls head on the banner only leant more determination to his desires. They had the great El Toro trapped in an open valley with no support; it was time to end the legend of the Rebel leader and his men once and for all.
Croxley had all his sixteen guns along the top of the ridge bordering the plain; they were placed behind hastily made wicker barbicans and then disguised with brush to hide their location. It was now accepted that they would probably lose their guns as the ridge slope was not too steep for fast moving cavalry to charge them. Lined up below the guns and running across the front were low stone walls that had been hastily erected by the men under the eyes of the engineers; these were only about two feet high but would be enough protection for the many boys and men hiding behind them.
The walls were tired one behind the other and tracked almost to the top of the ridge; anyone attacking from below would be met with a withering fire from above and then the defenders would retreat back behind the next line to do the same all over again. The leap frogging would mean the attackers would have to clamber over each wall in the face of the fire from above; it was hoped it would be a costly exercise for the French.
Croxley would open fire with his guns at almost the full extent of their range as the plain below was wide and open and there was really no place for the boys on foot to take on the might of the French Army. The one remaining problem were the French guns; if it came to a battle of the guns then Croxley had the edge with his larger pieces but the French had the numbers and that could be a deciding factor when the time came.
It took little time for Marshal Soult to call up the 1st Division; he would use both Brigades numbering over 4,000 men to crumble the redoubt into dust. After giving the order for the 1st Division to form up for the attack; Marshal Soult sent orders for the 14th Dragoons to charge the left flank of the redoubt with the 17th attacking the right.
Lieutenant Oliver Perrin saw the Infantry forming up for the attack; he quickly gave the order to pull the bungs on the water cans and then led his men out the back and away from the stone wall; it was hoped that the French would see the fleeing men and think they were deserting the redoubt; it was hoped it would convince the Marshal to push forward with all haste and into the muskets and swivel guns that were waiting for them.
On seeing men fleeing from the redoubt; Marshal Soult gave the order to advance even though some of the units were not fully in position. The Infantry began its steady advance towards the waiting defenders as the two formations of the Cavalry began their slow advance which would soon become a full on charge once the Infantry was closer and under the muskets of the defenders.
As the large concentration of Infantry got to the halfway mark; Marshal Soult was suddenly made aware not everything was as it seemed; from above and to his left flank came the roar of field guns and the sound of heavy shot flying through the air soon had his full attention. Marshal Soult had just been about to order his own guns ready in case they were needed to breech the redoubt but now the sound of the heavy guns made him change his plans.
Marshal Soult ordered all his guns to turn to the ridge while at the same time calling for the 1st Vistulan Lancers, the 27th Chasseur a Cheval and the 4th Spanish Chasseur a Cheval to turn to the left flank and charge the guns on the rise; he did not want to waste his Infantry trying to attack up hill at guns that were well set and defended; at this stage he had little or no idea of the number of men and boys hiding behind the low stone walls that ran across the hill side.
The low walls had been built to look like terracing that could be used by a farmer for plantings and; while not common they had been seen before when the land did not provide a stable place to plant crops.
Thomas and his half Battalion on the right hill watched with trepidation as the French guns began to turn towards Croxley's position and prepare to unlimber in preparation to return fire but; they were not his main concern. Thomas watched almost in horror as three large formations of Lancers turned towards the ridge where Croxley had his guns set.
They had hoped the French would send in Infantry but the sight of light Cavalry was another matter entirely and Thomas could do little from his own position except hope Croxley would get his men out of there before the Cavalry struck.
Behind Thomas were the thirty rocket frames; each had an extra man carrying one of the canvas back packs with four rockets; it was time to use them and hope they would distract the French long enough for Croxley to get his own men off the ridge and away to safety.
Thomas turned around and gave the order for the rockets to be fired at the massed ranks of French troops below them; his own men were also lying behind the low stone walls as those on the other side of the plain. Watching with care, Thomas saw the first rockets streak into the air; they all knew they would have to leave the frames behind if they wanted to escape what was to come and so Thomas ordered every rocket to be used.
The afternoon sky became streaked with the smoke trails of the many rockets as those firing them worked fast to reload and send off the next volley. With the air filled with the smoking rockets Thomas saw something he hoped would not happen. Instead of the French Marshall ordering some of his infantry to attack the new threat; he sent orders to another cavalry unit to take the heights and destroy the rockets.
Thomas gulped as he saw the number of the cavalry and knew for sure he was going to lose men no matter what he did; if they ran too early they could be easily overtaken by the cavalry and put to the slaughter; if he left it too late then the same result would be achieved, he had to time this right.
Below him and coming faster and faster were the Cavalry of the 2nd and 10th Hussars as well as the 21st Chasseur a Cheval; it was a total of more than 800 men and Thomas had only four hundred although they were well protected by the low walls and would follow the same leap frog retreat as Croxley's men would. The one thing he had on his side was the rough rising ground of the hill and the need for the Cavalry to jump each wall as they came to it which should give them a good chance to fire on them when the horses were trying for the walls.
On the plain below, Thomas just had time to look to the redoubt; the sight of Lieutenant Perrin escaping from the rear with his men was a good sign and the appearance of Estaban and his riders coming from the ravine on the left to cover Perrin's withdrawal was a heartening sight but now he had problems of his own as the Cavalry drew closer.
On the plain below the Infantry had now advanced to within fifty yards of the redoubt wall when the first scattering of musket fire was heard. It had not been possible to have all the muskets fire together in volley form as the cans had different amounts of water in them and some of the holes were slightly larger than others. The effect of the first few shots only went to spur on the Infantry even as the number of shots increased and; as the Infantry drew even closer to their objective, the louder blast of the six swivel guns filled with grape shot could be heard.
Estaban sat his horse with his men just far enough behind the wall so that the fast galloping Cavalry could not reach them too early; it was going to be his job to fire then run and hope the Cavalry would take after them and not the fast disappearing Lieutenant Perrin and his running Company whom had now made it to the top of the hill behind them; from there they could quickly disappear into the many ravines and gullies and then finally make their way back to Albuera.
Croxley's guns opened fire on the long columns of Infantry as they tried to push forward and help those attacking the redoubt. He had just fired their first salvo when he saw the French guns begin to take station below his hill top; it was time to turn his guns to the new threat. As Croxley began to fire on the French gun positions; his first ranging shot were noted by Marshal Soult.
With the knowledge of a good commander, Marshal Soult sent orders for his guns to retreat to a safer area; he had need of them at Albuera and the chances of losing many of them in this small attack did not warrant the risk. It was easy to see that the heavier guns of the Rebels would have a distinct advantage if he left his own guns in place and they tried to trade shots with the better positioned Rebels.
Lieutenant Croxley swore loudly as he saw the French guns pull away without unlimbering; it was time to turn his guns on the freshly charging Cavalry before they got too close and under the angle he would be most effective. The guns were told to load Canister and lower their barrels at the charging Cavalry; it was now going to be a battle of fast moving cavalry and the hidden men and guns on the slopes.
On the other side of the wide valley Thomas watched as the French guns were turned around and ran for safety as his own guns turned towards the mass of charging Cavalry. Thomas's own men were now also in the line of fire from the Charging Cavalry sent to his position. Behind Thomas was the final low wall, each side of the valley had three low stone walls stretching for most of the width of the hill. Thomas was standing behind the second wall and Carmelo had charge of the men behind the first.
After Carmelo had fired his two volleys, his men would retreat back behind Thomas and his men to take station behind the third wall. After firing his own volleys Thomas and his troops would retire back to the third wall and add numbers to the volleys. It was planned that, when the French cleared the second wall the men would fire their volleys and then retreat back to the very top of the hill and set ranks there for a final round of volleys before trying to escape down the rear of the hill before the French could get in too close.
Time seemed to stand still as everything happened at the same time; had it been anyone other than Marshal Soult a Commander may have been overwhelmed by everything going on at the same time. Marshal Soult was considered by many to be one of the best field Commanders in Napoleon's army; second only to Marshal Ney himself; it was one of the reasons Napoleon had given the hardest tasks to him.
As Marshal Soult watched his Infantry and Cavalry charge the redoubt and he saw what appeared to be rather ineffectual and broken volleys of musket fire from behind the wall; he also kept one eye on all of his advancing Cavalry brigades as they charged towards the hill tops on the left and right flanks; the heavy guns on his left were his main concern and the fact his Cavalry would have to clear three terraced gardens would slow them a little but he had confidence they would soon be among the guns and silence them once and for all.
On the right flank, Marshal Soult could only see the three stone terraces that looked to be undefended but, at the top of the low hill stood a four man Colour Guard protecting the four flags of the Rebels. Marshal Soult could not believe anyone would be so inexperienced as to have his Colours undefended but he pushed the thought aside; he was after all, only fighting a group of Rebels and they would not truly know what the Colours meant to real soldier.
Thomas and Carmelo had four hundred men divided between them which included all of the Originals and the rest were made up of the Axillaries. As the massed Cavalry closed in on Carmelo's position behind the first wall; he gave the order for half the men to stand and fire by volley. As the first men fired their second barrel they all turned and ran for the second wall which they cleared and then continued on to the third wall to take station there until joined by the others.
As the first men retreated, Carmelo called for the second half to stand and fire by volley; the Cavalry were at the full extent of the shooters range when the first volley was fired and the number of men and horses that fell at that first surprise volley had the French Cavalry slow their charge and some of their lines were becoming broken as the second volley hit them
Carmelo finished his second barrel and called for the retreat back to the third wall which now left Thomas and his two hundred as the next firing line. Once Carmelo and his remaining men had cleared their wall and were heading for the last one; Thomas called for half his men to stand and fire. It became a repeat of Carmelo's volleys even as the first rank of Cavalry made it to the first wall.
The terrain now helped Thomas and his men as he had hoped; the up-slope and the low wall was just enough to put many of the Cavalry off their pace and most of the horses could only stumble over the low wall to be met with another volley of withering fire from the second wall.
For Marshal Soult it was a new experience to be under fire from what had all the appearances of being nothing more than terraced gardens; that the Rebels had managed to hide behind the low walls until his men could not hope to retreat gave Marshal Soult pause for thought; perhaps the Rebel leader was not as inexperienced as he had first thought.
Marshal Soult looked to his left flank and saw that his Cavalry had also fallen for the same trap and they were now under attack from the massed volleys of once hidden troops but at least they were now well under the guns and could no longer be targeted with Canister. As the Marshal watched he saw the men suddenly appear from behind the low wall and begin to take down his Cavalry. After the first volleys from the first wall were fired and the men retreated up the hill to the third wall; Marshal Soult saw the problem his Cavalry now had with clearing the low walls while on the slope of a hill and under intense fire from above.
The Marshal was not pleased when he saw the main thrust of his charge slowed by the wall; for his Cavalry it would now be a broken line and the impact of a full charge was now lost, only his superior numbers and the mobility of his Cavalry could now make the difference.
As Lieutenant Croxley watched the French Cavalry begin to clear the first wall under the heavy fire of the men behind the second wall; he thought it was now time to make one of the hardest decisions any gunner could ever make; when or if he should prepare to spike his guns. There was no way he could save them from being taken by the French and so he did not want to leave them in a usable condition to be turned on themselves at a later date.
The valley was now a scene of powder smoke and the yells and screams of both the wounded and terrified horses. Men were yelling out in anger and fear as the Cavalry continued to force their way upwards against a very stubborn resistance; that their enemy were made up of a large number of very young teens and boys was overlooked by those trying to get within killing distance.
The cacophony of the battle filled the valley from side to side and the heavy pall of powder smoke was choking those in its midst but they all had to fight on or die. The French Cavalry on both sides of the valley had now made it to the second wall and the defenders were all back behind the third and starting to fire concentrated volleys into the stumbling horsemen below them.
The same system of volleys was continued by Thomas and his men; a hundred would fire volleys from both barrels and then retreat to the next position where they would quickly reload and set their line to await for the others to join them. In Thomas case they would reassemble for the last stand volleys at the top of the hill when the French reached the third wall and then disappear down the back of the hill and into the narrow gullies that were hidden there; it was their best defence against Cavalry.
On the hill top above Thomas stood the Colour Guard who would take the final stand with their Commander before retreating to the gullies. The final volleys from Thomas men would be a single massed volley from both barrels by all four hundred at the same time; they hope the shock would make the French pause long enough for them to make their escape.
For Lieutenant Croxley it was a similar situation; once all the men were back behind the barbicans which they would use for the last cover, Croxley would make his final decision about spiking his guns; it would not take long for a single man on each gun to pound the steel spike into the primer hole of the gun and render it useless to anyone wanting to reuse it at a later date.
As Marshal Soult watched his hard pressed Cavalry attempting to take the ridge tops, a messenger suddenly appeared from the direction of the redoubt; he barely took notice of the man as he knew that the redoubt had been easily overcome and some of the Cavalry had gone ahead to hunt down the escaping men; his main concern was to keep the main body of his army marching towards Albuera and time was short; he had already been delayed nearly four hours by the Rebels.
Marshal Soult sighed as he realised he would have to push the army through most of the night to make up valuable time he did not have to spare; he knew it was imperative that he confronted Beresford no later than the 16th if he wanted to catch Wellington by surprise to the north.
When the young Captain handed the message to the Marshal he quickly read it and then looked at the Captain with disbelief.
"Is this true Captain?"
"Yes Sir, the redoubt was a ruse Sir. The men we saw were only wooden crosses with uniforms draped over them and the muskets were fired by an ingenious system of water cans and string; there were no soldiers manning the redoubt Sir"
The Marshall pause for only a few seconds, he had been outwitted by lowly Rebels and the whole battle had been designed to slow his advance towards Albuera. Marshal Soult began to feel the fury growing in his belly as he shouted his next orders to the stunned Officers around him.
"Get the column on the move as fast as they can; there will be no stopping tonight; I want them outside Albuera before nightfall tomorrow."
The Officers around the Marshal jumped to do his bidding; they all knew what could happen if they displeased him at this stage of the campaign, only one Officer had the sense to ask the next question.
"Sir what about the Cavalry attack on the heights and the dead and wounded?"
Before the Marshall could reply the distant sound of a solitary bugle could be heard over the thunder of the running battles on the sides of the valley; after listening for a minute the Marshal turned to the Officer and said.
"There is your answer. Send orders to the rear of the column for the surgeon to take care of the wounded and use any wagons he can to carry off the dead."
"And the Rebels Sir?"
"Leave them, they are no longer a threat to our advance and they have taken a beating from our Cavalry; we won't be seeing them again anytime soon."
The young Officer ran off to relay the Marshals orders and to get the column back on the advance; there was still the spectre of a much large battle ahead.
On the left flank Croxley watched the advancing Cavalry reach the third and last wall; he could not delay any longer.
"Gunners Mates! Spike the guns then join the firing line."
The order had given Croxley a lump in his throat as it would to any dedicated gunner but he could not allow the guns to fall into French hands. The first volley rang out and the heavy smell of burnt powder filled his nostrils as a very strange sounded echoed out over the battle field; for a brief moment Croxley could not make heads nor tails of it until he saw the reaction of the Cavalry only thirty yards below his position.
On the right flank of the valley, Thomas was the last line to fire their volley as the Cavalry drew closer to the third wall; it was time to retreat back to his waiting men where the massed volley of the four hundred would slow the struggling Cavalry even further. As Thomas began to withdraw with his men some of the Cavalry broke through on his left flank and it had now become hand to hand fighting as they tried to retreat in some semblance of order; the extra mobility of the men on foot made it easier to evade most of the Cavalrymen but there were still losses and the sounds of those suffering from wounds could be heard above the general noise of battle.
As Thomas drew backwards he saw a solitary small figure stand up on top of the hill and lift something to his lips; it was Maketja and he was holding his old battered bugle that he had carried everywhere he went and kept in his pack; the notes that issued were new to Thomas but they evidently meant something to the Cavalry that were pressing them hard.
Maketja had seen how hard the French were pressing his Patron; he had to do something but could not think of what it was. It was a stray pistol shot from one of the Dragoons that hit Maketja in the left arm that seemed to jolt his memory as he was spun to the ground and the warm blood began to run down his thin arm. Maketja struggled to his feet and staggered to where his black pack lay behind the firing line; how the thought had come to him he would never be able to explain but it was the only thing he could think of.
Maketja opened his pack and took the rough soiled cloth covered bundle out and unrolled it; his old battered bugle dropped into his hands and he turned back to the hill top as the pain in his arms grew but he pushed it aside until he was standing alone just to the left of the rest of the waiting men.
Maketja coughed and spit heavily as he cleared his throat and licked his lips in readiness to play the only tune he knew the Cavalry would never question. As the first blaring notes rang out over the loud sounds of battle there seemed to be a moment of pause. Fortunately it was the French Cavalry that recognised the notes and even though they were within killing range of the detested Rebels it was the one trumpet call they would never dare ignore.
Maketja put all his heart and soul into the bugle call; if this failed then there was a good chance they would all die right on this hill top. The sounds of the Marshals Recall rang out over the valley and the effect was immediate and decisive.
As the tune played loudly the Cavalrymen replied instantly and turned the heads of their mounts for the valley below; it was not theirs to question why the Marshall had recalled them and; even with the loud cheers of the Rebels sounding in their ears and their own desire to finish what they had started could not stop them from retreating as ordered.
Thomas had to duck to the right as one of the Cavalrymen rushed past him and swung with his sabre; Thomas did not go unharmed as the tip of the blade sliced into his thigh and caused him to stumble; as it turned out it may have just saved his life as a heavy Dragoon lifted his pistol and fired almost point blank at the small figure that was just to his right.
Thomas looked up in shock as he felt a numbing thump to his upper chest and his left arm refused to move as he found himself spinning towards the stony round. A sharp burning sensation filled his chest and he had trouble catching his breath as a strange grey mist began to cover his eyes and his thoughts became muddled as he tried to work out what had happened.
In the fogginess of his mind he heard loud shouts and a voice that he was sure should be familiar as it echoed in his head.
"They shot the Captain! You two get him out of here and you four go with them for protection; kill anyone you don't recognise. Get him to Mister Jervis now; come on you bloody fools, get moving."
Thomas felt the hardness of the ground as he hit it; he still did not understand what had happened. Through the fog that was covering his mind he felt two pairs of hands lifting him and then a floating sensation as he was moved; it was the last thing he would remember as the blackness moved in and the smells and sounds of battle receded from his head.
Somewhere in the last vestiges of his conscious mind Thomas thought that he had done his best; he had survived for more than three years but now it looked as though fate had finally caught up with him; it was the last thought he had as he drifted into the blackness.
If the French thought they had no more problems with the black clothed Rebels then they were about to be disabused of the idea. It took very little time for the information that their Patron had been badly wounded with a shot to the chest; he could be dead within minutes or even hours as it was said to be a very serious wound. With the Cavalry retreating as fast as they could there came a silence in the massed ranks of the 1st Battalion; what happened next was as though a switch had been hit and everyone on the right flank began to move as though tied together with the same string.
As Thomas's limp and pale body was carried over the hill, every man and boy left checked to see their musket was reloaded and then slung them over the back and produced their pistol in one hand and reached for the horn handled knife with the other. There was not a word spoken as the long black clothed line moved down the hill where only moments ago the massed French Cavalry had been trying to kill them.
Craven Morgan looked about and saw where Croxley had been killed by three Lancers as he tried to defend the left flank of the barbicans and the young defenders who had been holding it. As he looked over the wide valley, he saw the line of the 1st Battalion begin to move down the hill towards where the French wounded lay; the musket on their backs and the glint of bare knife blades told him what was about to happen.
Craven was no fool and he knew something bad must have happened for the others to be so intent on dispatching ever Frenchman they could find; his own feelings now came into play as he also gave the order that no Frenchman was to leave the hill alive; he was instantly obeyed by all those who remained on the hill; they had all lost friends this day and the French were about to pay for it.
Carmelo took command of the right flank and led the men down towards the valley floor. The valley was almost six hundred yards wide at this point and the main road ran through the centre so was almost three hundred yards away as he led the men in their need for revenge. As they came across one of their own wounded; Carmelo would detail some of the men to help them back up the hill to the Surgeon; the dead they would carry back once there were no more French left behind.
On the roadway below the last of the fighting French troops were disappearing towards Albuera and the first of the wagons were beginning to appear from the south; their Cavalry escorts looked in shock and horror at the scene on each side of the battle field; before they could respond to the sight on the hill sides, the Senior Surgeon called for them to halt.
At the base of the opposing hill side on the right they saw a young man dressed all in black and holding a dirty white flag tied to the end of his sabre; behind the young man stood more than four hundred men with a strange double barrelled musket in their hands and held at the ready. With a glance to the left the Senior Surgeon noted that his left flank was also covered by similar troops; it was not the time to get careless or there would be another massacre in the valley.
The Senior Surgeon used his rank to calm the Cavalrymen in his escort; if they wanted to recover their wounded and dead they would have to accept the offered truce that the white flag implied; he called for a similar white cloth and; accompanied with two other young Officers, rode towards the youngster on his right. At the halfway point between the road and the hillside the Surgeon stopped and dismounted as he saw a small unit of six come towards him with the young man in the lead.
The Surgeon Major waited until the young man had stopped close to him; he had never seen one so young that had such a look of anger on his young features; the blood splattered figures with the young man only hinted at some terrible bloodletting; the fact the others with the young man were not much older than he was with some of them being even younger only went to confuse the Major further.
The Surgeon Major was suddenly shocked as the young looking Spaniard spoke in almost flawless French.
"I am Don Carmelo Grey; Colonel of the Spanish Irregulars and Second in Command of the forces of the Patron Don Thomasino also called El Toro. Why have you halted your wagons here?"
"Colonel, I am Surgeon Major Trudeaux; I have been ordered by Marshal Soult to collect our wounded and dead and transport them on to our lines. We do not want cause an unnecessary fight and are only here for our men."
"Major you may collect your men after we have left; if your Cavalry or any other member of your force attempt to interfere we will shoot. Once we have collected our own wounded and dead we will stay at the top of the hill and you may advance to collect those who belong to you. Major! A warning. Should we see any of your men reach for a weapon or attempt to remove any equipment we will open fire. If you agree with these conditions you and your troop will remain unharmed."
"Agreed, Colonel; I will hold the men back until you have cleared those who belong to you as long as you will show us the same respect."
"We will respect your position Major but heed my warning; there are things that have happened here that you have no knowledge of and, if you wish to obtain your objective then it would be in your interest to follow our demands."
"As long as you honour ours Colonel."
While the small group had been talking; one of the boys from the right flank had made the short run across the valley well out of range of the French and carried a message from Carmelo to Croxley; they did not know that Lieutenant Croxley had fallen and Craven had taken his place. At the meeting place the two gave a small bow and parted to return to their own men. For the next half hour Carmelo on one side and Craven Morgan on the other, set about reclaiming their dead and wounded before returning to the top of the hill with all their men and taking station above the watch the French come forward to claim their own. The Battalion at the top of the hill knew the French would not find any wounded on the hillside.
Lieutenant Jervis was busy as he tended the wounded, some helped by their friends and others limping and staggering on their own. One glance around told Jervis this was the worst they had ever been and the dead were still being laid to rest outside his temporary hospital; the arrival of the limp form of Thomas soon had the young man with the blood covered white coat on high alert.
One look at Thomas and Jervis knew he was in trouble; the wound was very serious and there was a very good chance their Patron would not see the day out but he had to try his best; he knew he would never forgive himself if he did not try to repair the damage to the young man who had been the back bone of the Battalion even though it looked to be almost hopeless. Jervis wiped away the tear that threatened to fall and got to work.
Marshal Soult had called his Brigade Officers to his side as they rode north; the troops were being pushed hard in an attempt to make up the time they had lost in the valley. Marshal Soult's first question brought vacant stares from his Officers.
"Who ordered the Marshals Recall?"
Marshal Soult watched as his Officers shook their heads in denial; it seemed no one had actually ordered the withdrawal so how or why had it been done.
"Well Gentlemen someone must have ordered it; the English could not know how to do it and as you all heard, it was not the General Recall but the Marshals Recall; only a French bugler would know the difference. So Gentlemen who was it?"
Again the Officers all shook their heads; it was to become one of those mysteries that were never answered. With no reply the Marshal continued.
"Gentlemen you will inform your Officers that they will push the men through the night. There will only be stops for a fast meal and, in the morning there will be a stop for three hours so the men can rest. You will have the men at Albuera before nightfall tomorrow."
With nothing more to be discussed the Officers broke away to carry the orders to their men; the troops were not going to be happy but then it was not the first time they had been asked to do a forced march before a battle and it would probably not be the last time.
Had Marshal Soult known what the outcome of the battle for Albuera would be, he may well have slowed his advance. While the battle was eventually inconclusive his losses and those of the bumbling and indecisive Beresford would force them to both retreat from the battle even though Marshal Soult sent in the largest ever Infantry charge in the history of the peninsular war.
The bloodletting on that fateful day would cause a halt in fighting for some time to come; the fact that Marshal Soult was also informed of the loss Massena suffered at Fuentes de Onoro more than ten days earlier only made it more difficult for his tired men to finish off the English. Unknown to both sides his retreat from Albuera would signal the turning point of their war but that was not to be thought about until the first battle at Ciudad Rodrigo in the middle of January 1812; until then there would only be the raids of the Irregular units behind the French lines.
It was never noticed that a certain Rebel's presence was not seen in any of the attacks leading up to the opening of the Spring Battles and for the first time in a number of years the winter season was less active than at any other time during the campaign.
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