An Unknown Sergeant of the Scots Greys

Extract From Waterloo Archive Volume 1 By Gareth Glover

Brussels 25 June 1815

Dear wife,

I am happy through the help of God Almighty to have it in my power to send you a few lines to inform you I am in life, Blessed be God for it, as it is a great miracle to me dear Mary. I will give you a description of our glorious battle, gained over Bonaparte and his French army, the British cavalry was all lying in quarters about 30 or 40 English miles from where the battle was fought. Bonaparte showed that he was ready to advance on the 15th, in the afternoon orders were sent to all regiments to march in the middle of the night, which we did at 2 o’clock a.m. on the 16th, marched all day and arrived in the field of battle by seven o’clock p.m. the same day. As soon as Boney knew of the arrival of the British cavalry he retired into a wood behind his lines for that night. Dear Mary about the 4 last miles of our march, that evening we could not get along the road for killed and wounded of the British infantry, Boney gained the day, and our poor fellows were all cut to pieces, on account of the Duke of Wellington having no cavalry, and very little artillery, the British lost the day which gave the French a good heart. The brunt of the battle fell on the Foot Guards and the poor Scotch Highlanders who were sadly cut up. We encamped for that night amongst a field of wheat where the wounded men lay, believe me dear Mary, the cries of those poor creatures to God Almighty to take them out of this world frightened the horses, I will leave you to judge whether [we?] could sleep or rest, every man praying to God [for?] morning light to get at those French murderers, as I can call them by no other thing. They have steel jackets like women’s stays, so if you cannot cut their heads, arms, thighs or legs, you cannot hurt them. At last the long looked for hour of four o’clock of the 17th arrived, the trumpet sounded to mount our horses, and a beautiful sight it was to see 16 regiments of British cavalry and six troops of horse artillery all formed in one great plain with the Duke of Wellington in front putting defiance to Bonaparte for his victory the day before. Our brigade consisting of the Royal Inniskilling and Greys under Major General Sir William Ponsonby was ordered down to the wood to decoy them out of it. We had to dismount in a field of rye till about 12 o’clock noon, then they came out in great force as if every man would have been killed in a moment, we wheeled about quite cool and they played their cannon upon us for miles all that way the Earl of Uxbridge told us to turn round and wave our swords and huzzah till we came to a village, which we galloped through. The 1st Life Guards and the 7th Hussars were there in ambush and met the French sword in hand in the village and destroyed two regiments, still their object seemed our brigade, we formed on an open country with [tear in sheet] in our rear where our artillery were [forming?] batteries and preparing for action. We had to face them 2 hours to keep them in play, and stop their progress till our artillery were ready, at that time I did not see one British foot soldier or artillery man for two hours, indeed none but our three regiments acted. We thought it was the Duke’s intention to have us all killed, but thanks be to God, it was done for good, for he is a brave soldier and an experienced general. We were ordered to retire, as soon as we got over the hill, there was all our artillery, all in readiness with their cannon, which mowed the French like grass. We were ordered back to a high ground to rest and there saw the French killed in thousands by our artillery and they dropped fighting. We had a clover field for the horses but nothing was the men’s portion and of all the terrible days and nights of rain I ever saw, that was worse than any of them. Sunday 18th, being a fine morning we made our fires of wood and dried ourselves, a foraging party was sent out and brought in bread and gin, every man had half a lb of bread and half a pint of gin which was all we tasted for three days dear Mary, we ate it very greedily but sorrow to tell you that in 2 hours after many thousands were lying weltering in their blood and in human shape. About 11 o’clock a.m. Boney brought up his whole force, the Duke of Wellington made the attack, terrible was the sight, the roar of the cannon was [constant?], men & horses killed and wounded and cannon balls flying by twenties in all directions and we got to the glorious spot where the Scotch Greys gained a name which will be an honour to their grand children. When we came up the foot fell back, then we were within 20 yards of them, then with sword in hand every one killing another, so awful was the sight that it could be compared to nothing but the day of judgement. God forgive me for such an expression dear Mary, I was the orderly sergeant so I was covering my captain and while he was engaged with a lancer a spearman came up to run him through, I struck the man and wounded him and saved my captain’s life, he immediately made a push at me but I struck at him again and just as the spear was entering my breast I cut his arm off. When I was galloping off a rifleman shot my poor horse in the head which killed him on the spot, he fell (poor fellow) and me under him, there I was prisoner but the Frenchman thinking it too much trouble to draw me from under the horse or perhaps thought I had no money left me, so I made the best of my way into a wood and came to Brussels that night. The colonel has placed me to take care of the wounded horses, my comrade Sergeant Ewart took one of the French eagles, Sergeant Thom Stoddart has lost one arm, Sergeant Hayward both hands, indeed we are sadly cut up, not quite so bad as was thought at first, my Captain Payne was not hurt, he helped the lieutenant colonel out of the field when he was wounded and slept in Brussels two or three days, he sent for me, told me if he lived to get to England he would do something handsome for me that will do me good in my old days. He is a gentleman of his word and has got plenty so no more at present but remain your loving husband till death.

About the author

Gareth Glover

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