Copyright © 2016
Thomas Marking's Artillery and Talavera
Thomas looked out on the scene of the massacre. There was little doubt it could be called anything but a massacre. The anger and fury of both the Portuguese and Spanish boys was only supplemented by his own boys when it came to wanting revenge on the French.
Had it been a time of normal battle, the excesses shown by the boys may not have occurred, but with the stories they had heard from the young boys and teens of Abrantes, there was little to stop them from finishing the fight then and there.
Deep inside Thomas knew it was wrong to have also killed off the wounded but there was also something even deeper that told him to let the boys have their way. If only for this one time.
It was at this time that Thomas realised for the first time that he was becoming harder and perhaps a little inured to the ravages of this war with France. Was he, like Percy had said, becoming no better than the French?
Thomas watched as his small army went about collecting every weapon as well as the jackets of the French troops; he had thought of a plan for those jackets. Thomas saw his friend Carmelo coming towards him. Beside his friend were Carlito and Sergio, they were carrying a small wooden chest between them as they followed Carmelo.
Thomas took note that his friend Carmelo was not moving as freely as he usually did. Had he been wounded in the fight?
There was also now a time to find out the cost of the battle as he saw Sergeant Perrin working his way towards where Thomas was standing.
Carmelo was soon standing before Thomas with a wide smile on his face. Thomas's first concern for his friend was the possible injury he seemed to be carrying.
"Carmelo, I have been so worried about you. Are you wounded? Do you need help?"
"Ah my Patron, I am well. The wound is nothing, just a small stab with a very small French dagger. Tomorrow it will be fine and I will walk without problems."
"What was in the chest Carmelo?"
"Oh that Patron? It is my reward. It is what the French promised me if I brought the great El Toro into their hands. This I accomplished so the reward is mine. Of course Patron, as I am just a servant of the Great El Toro then the reward truly belongs to him."
"Carmelo, what did you do?"
"Patron I did what was needed for El Toro to win the battle. Is it the fault of mine that the French were so afraid of El Toro that they ran away and forgot my reward that was sitting under their bed? It is the spoils of war Patron and they will not miss such a paltry sum."
"How much is it Carmelo?"
"Oh not much Patron, a paltry 10,000 ducats. A just reward for all the Patron's hard fighting."
"10,000 ducats! That's...that's...well I don't know what to say or do."
"Say nothing and do nothing Patron. It is justly yours by right of battle. Now then Patron, what do you wish Carmelo to do with all those French jackets? We also now have many fine horses and more than enough muskets for every boy in your great army. There is also the matter of some new boys that need the help of the great El Toro."
"I think we should just pack everything we can carry and make for Guarda. We will talk this all over more when we are back in the safety of our camp."
"I will get them all moving. The new boys will need some clothes and food, they have not had an easy time under the French yoke."
"Get them anything they need Carmelo but the clothes will have to wait until we are back at camp."
"Yes Patron, it shall be as you ask."
Carmelo left Thomas alone as he went off to see that everything would be ready for them to move. As he moved away, Thomas saw Sergeant Perrin waiting for him.
"Where's Clement? Is he alright?"
"Yes Mister Marking, but he does have a hole in one ear, he forgot to duck once again. One of the boys is putting a small bandage on it for him."
"Did we lose many?"
"Yes, a few. There are four of the new drummers and two of the originals dead and sixteen others with minor wounds but all are able to travel. There is also one of the young boys from the town lost. He was alone and cornered by three Frenchmen. He lit his bomba and waited for the three to come close. Unfortunately they used their bayonets on him and he dropped the bomba and killed all three of them but at the cost of his own life."
"Lay him with our own losses. We will bury him with honours just like ours, it is the least we can do for his bravery."
"Very good Mister Marking, some of the boys are digging the graves now, they will be ready in half an hour. Mister Marking, we don't have anyone to say words over them?"
"There must be someone that can do it, I have no idea what to say."
"I'll ask around. Perhaps one of the recruits knows what to say, there's a number of them that is Welsh. Those boys are a bit religious like."
"Thank you Perrin, see what you can do."
It was almost an hour before everything was packed and ready to move. Thomas called everyone to where the graves had been dug back from the side of the road. Each small grave had a rough cross stuck in the ground. Thomas saw that each cross except one had been adorned with the now familiar red and gold sash that was the mark of El Toro's guerrillas.
Thomas looked at the other grave. Beside it was the wrapped small figure of the boy who had sacrificed himself to kill the three Frenchmen. Thomas looked at the wrapped body and then walked to the bare cross above the grave.
There was a sudden silence as every boy there watched their leader untie his own sash and place it around the cross of the Portuguese boy. For Thomas, the boy was to be treated like a hero and deserved to be recognised as one of their own.
Four boys took the rope that was underneath each of the bodies and to the solemn words spoken by one of the recruits in a lilting voice that Thomas recognised as similar to Private Jones, the seven small wrapped bodies were lowered slowly into the fresh ground.
Thomas was not looking forward to having to write his report. Not only because of the deaths of young friends but because he found it a long and tedious job. His writing skills had not improved with his promotions.
Thomas was woken from his thoughts by the lilting sound of the boy who had performed the service.
"Excuse me Sir. Do you wish for the names of the dead to be taken?"
"Ahm...yes, can you take them for me, you can read and write I hope?"
"Yes Sir, my mum was a school teacher and my Da is the Minister for our Parish. I have been well taught to read and write Sir."
"Good, then you are just the person I have been looking for. As of now you are promoted to Drum Corporal and will now be my clerk. Get your kit and stay with me as we move back to Guarda; once there I will tell you what I need."
The recruit turned to walk back to get his kit when Thomas called out to him once again.
"What's your name?"
Thomas looked and then just nodded his head. What was it with the Welsh? So far he had met only two of them personally and both were named Jones. He shuddered at the thought of asking any of the others what their names were.
It took another twenty minutes before everyone was lined up for the return march. The newly captured horses were used as pack horse for their return. It would be far faster and they would not have to leave anything behind for the enemy if they came looking for the missing men, as doubtful as that could be.
It took his small army four days to make the new camp at Guarda. The few men of the colour guard were the only ones there to greet them.
For the next five days, the camp was both busy and quiet. Everyone moved as though walking on broken glass, the memories of those they had lost were still too fresh in their young minds.
On the sixth day, Thomas found things slowly returning to normal, or as normal as it could be in these torrid times.
The most important thing was the clothing of all the new boys who had arrived with almost nothing. To this end he asked the women of Guarda if they would sew new clothes for all the waifs and strays. The women took no time in getting started and it was only a matter of a few days before the boys were dressed as well as all the others.
Food was a problem with so many numbers. Thomas's little army now numbered over two hundred. It was also time to try to bring the new boys up to the standard of the originals.
Training was divided among the older boys who now held a rank of some kind. With the language barrier now a thing of old, everyone worked well together and the training became easier as the new recruits from Spain and Portugal became accustomed to the long hard days.
Thomas made little of using the chest of coins for food; the purchase of sheep, goats or beef was all paid for fairly. Vegetables were also bought from the many women who had small gardens all around Guarda.
Thomas knew that soon he would be asked to take his small army and attack south of Talavera to divert French troops from the Generals attack on that town. He had to have his boys ready, he did not like the thought of losing more boys to the French muskets.
It had become a normal start and finish to every day for the massed drums and flutes to perform the Della Guerra; not only was it good practice but it gave everyone an identity with the meaning of their small force.
Thomas did notice that the Spanish boys who played their flutes often had different tones. He decided that as soon as he could he would look for something that would keep the notes all the same. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Thomas thought he had heard of a flute called a Fyfe. It was an old military flute. Perhaps he could find some at the General's camp when he next went there. It was to be sooner than he thought.
The very next morning a messenger arrived to tell Thomas to report to the General's camp as soon as he could get there. It was to be a two day ride and he was accompanied by Carmelo, who was now moving like normal, the four Andalucian boys and six of the originals.
All of them mounted on horses for the hurried ride. If the General had asked for them then it was for a good reason. Now that the French had been ejected from the main part of Portugal, travel was easier and although there were small patrols of French that were more interested in getting back to their own lines, they could still make trouble if given the opportunity.
Before he left Guarda, Thomas was told by the messenger that the General was already on the move and Thomas could expect to find the army somewhere around Plasencia or even as far as Almaraz depending on what the French may or may not be doing to slow him down.
Thomas took the chance and rode back towards Sabugal. He then rode through the pass and on towards Salvatierra where he would cross the Alagon River and try to catch the army before Almaraz. It was to be a two day ride before Thomas and his small group saw the signs of the army moving eastward.
After leaving the Alagon River he began to see signs of small skirmishes where French patrols had tried to slow the English and Spanish advance. Most of the equipment and bodies still lay where they had fallen.
As the evening began to make itself known on the second day, Thomas led his small band through the night pickets after being properly identified and was then guided to where the General had his tents.
Around the tents there was a hive of activity as Thomas and his band dismounted and let their horse be led away. After looking around, Thomas told the few originals to find something to eat while he, Carmelo and Estaban went to see the General.
The English and Spanish camp seemed to cover every foot of space around the central tents. To Thomas's eyes there had to be over 60,000 troops, cavalry and artillery units. Talavera was going to be a larger battle than he had ever seen.
Major Lewis saw Thomas arrive and came out of the largest tent to greet him. He was also introduced to Carmelo and Estaban before they were ushered into the busy scene inside the tent.
Thomas and his friends were still dressed as they always had been, he had not bothered nor thought to change into his British uniform.
At the sight of the young teens, General Wellesley smiled and waved Thomas over to the large table where the many maps of the area had been laid out for inspection. Thomas was almost overwhelmed by the amount of gold braid and high ranking officers gathered around the table.
"Ah...Lieutenant Marking just in time and who do you have with you?"
"These are my friends who I rely on General, they are also something I would like to discuss with you if it be your pleasure?"
"As soon as we are finished here Lieutenant, we will talk over what you have in mind. Now then, do you remember General Cuesta and I am sure you remember General's Martino and Livorno?"
"Yes Sir." Thomas snapped to attention and saluted the three officers before greeting them each in their own language.
"Now then Lieutenant, before we get into pleasantries, I have a task for you and your Corps. It's not going to be easy and you may end up losing men over it. Come over here so you can see the map clearly."
Thomas moved up between the other officers. Those English Officers not familiar with him were loathe to move away to give him space but his smaller size let him get as close as he needed to be amid a few grumbles.
"We will be at Almaraz early tomorrow, how long will it take to have your corps in place at Arzobispo?"
"With everything it will take us about four days General; if we leave behind our guns we can make it in three."
"I see, well tomorrow is the 18th of July. I plan to be at Talavera no later than the 26th or 27th. Can you be in place by then to harass the French reinforcements that are in that area?"
"Yes Sir, we will be there even a little earlier if you wish."
"Earlier would be a great help, say, the 25th?"
"Yes Sir, we will attack the French there on the 25th, if that is what you need."
"If you can do that it will ease the pressure on our army and may even stop them from their skirmishing if they have to turn back and try to stop you. Now then Lieutenant, how many can you put in the field. I seem to remember you had 120 Drummers and few servants last time we met."
"We have just over two hundred now General. Many of the Portuguese teens and boys have joined us along with some more Spanish boys."
"Is there anything you need for them?"
"There are a few things we need Sir."
"Good, then get with Major Lewis. He will see that you have the orders for everything you need. Your little troop of misfits may be the only thing between us taking Talavera and losing the battle altogether. Major Lewis?"
"See that the Lieutenant has everything he needs. Now then what did you want concerning these two boys Lieutenant?"
"This is my friend Carmelo. He has been watching over the Portuguese boys and helping in many other ways. This is Estaban who has led the Spanish boys and both have been beyond helpful in every endeavour. I would like permission to have them promoted to the rank of Lieutenant so they can be recognised for their bravery and duty to our flag, Sir."
General Wellesley turned to the Spanish and Portuguese officers.
"Gentlemen what do you think?"
General Cuesta was the first to speak just as Thomas heard another officer enter the tent but stay in the background.
"General Wellesley, how could we not agree to El Toro's request? Is it not his work behind the French lines that has brought us to this place today? I say yes, the boys should have their rank."
Both Livorno and Martino nodded in agreement.
"Then General Cuesta, as they are your people, perhaps you will do the honours."
General Cuesta smiled and then turned to Estaban.
"I will need your full name young man." General Cuesta spoke in Spanish and Thomas watched as Estaban straightened up as though on parade.
"I am Estaban Colosio of Andalucia, General."
"Colosio? Are you the son of Don Manuel Colosio? The breeder of the finest fighting bulls in Andalucia?"
Thomas saw the blush on Estaban's face. It was the first time he had seen any reaction of this kind on the older teens face.
"Then Estaban Colosio, with the authority vested in me I promote you to Lieutenant in the Spanish army. Your first orders are that you will consider yourself transferred to the army of the Patron El Toro for the duration of the war."
"Thank you Sir. I swear I will not let the people of Spain down."
"I am sure you won't Lieutenant. Now then." The General turned to look at Carmelo.
"You are Carmelo...?"
There was a sudden silence in the tent as everyone watched Carmelo become very agitated as he looked around for some kind of help. From the back of the crowd of officers came a familiar voice to Thomas.
"Sharpe Senor General. His name is Carmelo Sharpe. He is my son."
The tent was totally silent as Carmelo's father was revealed for all to see. Now Thomas began to understand the looks between the two when they met and why Sharpe and O'Malley were always around and concerned with their welfare.
The General gave Sharpe a small bow and a smile then turned back to Carmelo.
"Carmelo Sharpe, with the authority vested in me I hereby promote you to the rank of Lieutenant in the Spanish army. Your first orders are the same as Lieutenant Colosio and I hope you will continue to assist the Patron El Toro in the defeat of the French invaders."
Thomas could see the bright blush on Carmelo's face as he replied to the General.
"Thank you General Cuesta, I shall do all I can for the Patron as he has done for us."
General Wellesley smiled as he looked around the officers in the tent. That Major Sharpe had admitted to having a son that no one knew about, even though all knew he had had a Spanish wife before the war... it was still a shock for most.
"Now Lieutenant Marking, is there anything else we can do for you?"
"Yes Sir if it pleases you."
"And that is?"
"I would like to fly both the Andalucian flag and the Portuguese flag with our battle colours Sir. Added to that I would like to recommend that Midshipman Scully be also promoted to Lieutenant. His knowledge of cannon and tactics has been invaluable for us."
"I thought you already had your flag Lieutenant?"
"That is our battle flag Sir, as we have many new additions from both Spain and Portugal in our corps, I would like your permission to fly their colours."
"Permission granted Lieutenant."
"Thank you Sir."
"Now as far as the Midshipman goes, I will notify the Navy but I think you can tell him with assurity about his promotion when you get back to camp. Is there anything else Lieutenant?"
"No Sir, if I may be dismissed I will get started on moving the corps to attack Arzobispo."
"You are dismissed Lieutenant, and good luck we are relying on your support."
Thomas saluted the assembled officers and along with his two friends, left the tent to find the others and leave in all haste for the others waiting at Guarda. Before he could leave he had to get with Major Lewis and finalise needed supplies. Thomas hoped he could find a wagon or two for the extra equipment he would need for such a large scale attack on Arzobispo.
The procurement of a wagon proved far easier than he thought it would be. It also amused Thomas that some of Mister Sharpe's sharp tongue seemed to have rubbed off on him when he gave his demands to the same Quartermaster Sergeant for his wagon and supplies.
It was after midnight when Thomas left the newly promoted Lieutenant Estaban along with four of the originals to bring the heavily loaded wagon with their supplies of powder, shot and weapons for his small army.
Thomas led the others out of the main camp at a fast trot, he hoped to be able to ride hard until they made the camp at Guarda before noon on the second day.
With luck, Thomas hoped he would have his boys ready to move by the time the new wagon arrived at the place he had sighted for the new camp outside Arzobispo. He saw it as a waste of effort to have the wagon travel all the way back to Guarda just to be turned around and back to the new camp site.
By the morning of the 22nd July, Thomas had all his boys ready at the new camp. As they all planned for the attacks on Arzobispo, he sent out a number of the younger boys to infiltrate the town and then report back to him before the 25th July. His final plans would then be made and they would start their rolling attacks on the supply trains and troops.
Dawn 22nd July
In the town of Arzobispo the morning call to arms echoed throughout the town. The French troops grumbled and groaned at the start of another day on the road. Arzobispo had become the staging area for the reinforcements sent by Marshal Soult to defend Talavera. That the English and its allies were going to attack at that point there was little doubt.
Marshal Soult was well to the South East and so had to leave the battle up to General Joseph until he could make the march to help them. It would place him late at the battlefield and he could only pray they would not start any attacks before his arrival on the 30th.
The awakening troops rose to the sound of a young boy playing a flute as he sat in his rags at the centre of the town square. It was a normal sight in many of the defeated towns of Spain. The young boys were often seen in the towns and were mainly ignored, waifs and strays were just another part of war.
The young boy sat near the dry fountain as he played his mournful tune. His face was dirty and his bare feet were in broken sandals. There was an air of desperation on the young face as he played. At the boys dirty feet sat a battered tin bowl to collect any odd coins or food thrown his way.
Near the old stone gateway leading into the town sat another dirty boy. He was singing in his young voice but the effort was plain to see as he asked for charity. His grime laden hands held out in supplication at the passing soldiers and the odd townsfolk.
Among the soldiers lines was another boy, he did not look in as bad a shape as the others and his obviously Gypsy heritage showed through his slightly dirty clothing. The Gypsy went among the soldiers tents doing small tricks with balls and skittles as he gathered a few coins for his meal. Many of the soldiers were amused at the performance and continued to encourage the boy to do better as they threw a copper coin at his feet.
There was a light heartedness in the camp as the soldiers of France readied for another days hard marching. The boys and their entertainment helped with the soldiers moral and so the Officers let the boys be as they performed their games.
Not all of the soldiers appreciated the entertainment and the two boys inside the town had to suffer small abuses as some of the more angry soldiers lashed out with a boot or open hand at the waifs.
For three days the soldiers and reinforcements travelled through Arzobispo. Each unit staying overnight and then moving on. The three waifs were lucky enough to make a few coins to keep them in food even at the cost of a few bruises or derisive comments from the French.
General Wellesley called for his officers. He had decided to leave the easy march on the main road and bypass Arzobispo to the north. It would mean a harder march over the plains and small tracks but would avoid the incoming reinforcements of the French. It would also mean he would not be in sight of Talavera before the 26th of July but he wanted to leave Arzobispo to the machinations of his little guerrilla army and the inventive hands of the young Lieutenant.
It took less than half an hour to issue his change to the marching orders, there were surprised looks on the Officers faces as they heard the new orders.
West of Arzobispo
Thomas sat with the newly washed and fed boys that had returned from Arzobispo. As they each gave their report while eating the first real meal in three days, Thomas began to put together a plan to cause problems for the reinforcements heading towards Talavera.
By late afternoon, Thomas and his newly promoted Officers sat around the large table in front of his tent as they went over the small boy's reports and marked places on the rough map they had of the area.
It was finally decided that Thomas, Estaban, Carmelo and Scully would all go and see for themselves what they would be facing and if they could make a better plan.
At first light on the 26th, Thomas and his friends looked down on the town of Arzobispo and the hive of activity as the next reinforcements of the French got ready to move north to Talavera.
There seemed to be an air of urgency in the French troop's movements. Thomas knew they were close to the time of the battle and was looking for a way to disrupt their line of supply. As they were about to return to their own camp in the late afternoon hours, Thomas saw a small unit of artillery arrive at the edges of the town. There was also the usual large contingents of troops but the artillery seemed to want to stay just out of the town on their own.
Thomas called for his friends to wait as he watched the artillery troop settle down for their rest. Something deep in the back of Thomas's mind stirred as he looked at the troop of artillery. Turning to Lieutenant Scully, he asked, "Could you use those if we could get them?"
"A gun is a gun Mister Marking. You get them I will use them."
Thomas nodded and then told his friends to pull back and return to camp. He would tell them what he was thinking once they were safe from prying eyes.
As darkness fell, Thomas gave the order to set out. Carmelo was to lead twenty of the younger Spanish and Portuguese boys in a silent raid on the artillery unit. Sergeant Lorenco took his small group of Sharpshooters off to the east of Arzobispo where they would set up to disrupt the pickets of the infantry units.
Thomas led a group of thirty drummers off to the South where they would also work on disrupting the sleep of the troops by using their drums to keep the soldiers awake most of the night with their incessant playing.
The remainder of his small force would stay in the camp to break it down and prepare for the next day which would be the final part of his plan if the night force was able to fulfil its objectives.
Inside Arzobispo the night became a time the soldiers of Napoleon hoped they would never have again. To the South of the town there came an incessant drumming that disturbed the sleep of most of the troops. Skirmishers were sent out into the night to find and destroy the drummers but. Not only did the drums not stop, but many of the skirmishers never returned to report what had happened.
To the East, those troops on picket duty came under fire from the dark. Every time a troop was sent to find them, the shooting would come from somewhere else and the troops would have to be recalled and then sent out in another direction only to have other pickets shot from another place.
As the troops grew more tired from the continual attacks and loss of sleep, tempers grew shorter and small fights started in the lines. When told to go on picket duty, some of the troops flatly refused and caused even more problems for their Officers.
When dawn finally broke and the random attacks ceased, the French Officer and troops were only too glad to leave the town of Arzobispo. It had been a nightmare and the losses turned out to be far more than at first thought.
The Captain in charge of the small unit of artillery found he had lost seven men to the night raiders. His pickets had had their throats cut in a most brutal of ways but that was not all he had to contend with.
When he was called to form up his gunners by the Senior Officer, he was to find his guns and equipment had been sabotaged by unknown invaders. When his men went to hitch the horses to the gun carriages, they found broken and missing tack.
Pins had been removed from axels, leather traces had been cut or were missing altogether. Towing hitches for the carriages had been taken and others had been damaged and yet not a sound had been heard by any of the artillerymen as they tried to sleep through the continuous drumming of the night.
The Captain had to report to the Colonel that they would be late as they had to repair or replace equipment. The Captain told the Colonel he would not be ready to move before midday but would drive his men hard to catch up as soon as he could.
The Colonel was now in such a furious state of mind he left with a sharp retort to make sure the artillery was at Talavera before mid afternoon, it would be sorely needed by then.
Two hours later and the Captain was beginning to see the end of his troubles. Most pieces had been repaired or replaced and he was almost ready to form up his troop and leave for the heights of Talavera. Another hour and they would be underway.
Unknown to the artillery unit, every move was being watched by two hundred pairs of young but hidden eyes. As the sun rose almost to its zenith, the Captain gave the order to form the guns for travel. The horses were brought forward and they began to attach them to the guns and carriages in readiness for their move forward.
It was during a lull in the noise of preparation that the artillery troops first heard what they thought were the distant rumbles of heavy guns. It was either that or thunder coming from a clear sky. It boded ill that the battle of Talavera seemed to have already started and the unit was still trapped in Arzobispo.
Urgency became the order of the day as the men were pushed hard to get their guns hooked up and the horses ready to move. The Captain rode along his unit of artillery on a last inspection. Each gun carriage was hooked up and the six horses were ready to move towards the battle.
The Captain was a little upset that not all of his gunners were there as those who had been lost on picket duty meant there were gaps on either the horses or the carriages; some of the guns would have to be worked with a man short.
As he was about to give the order to advance, the Captain looked down the open road in front of him. His mouth stayed open as he saw what appeared to be a solitary small figure standing not fifty paces in front of him.
The young man stood alone but with a certain confidence as he looked at the long train of ten guns. He carried a short musket in his hands and it was directed towards the Captain. As the Captain only carried a pair of horse pistols he knew he was outranged and his own troops carried no arms at all except for their sabres.
The Captain gave thought to charge the small figure and ride him down until he heard a shout from behind from his men mounted on the horses and carriages.
Turning around in his saddle, the Captain looked behind. What he saw brought a sudden shiver down his spine. On both sides of the road and aiming muskets at his virtually unarmed men stood over two hundred armed rebels all with their muskets aimed directly at his men.
The Captains shoulders slumped as he saw what was facing him. Yes, he could play the hero and charge forward into certain death, but he was not that foolhardy. He and his men were outgunned and outnumbered. The Captain lifted his hands in surrender, he was not to see the battle of Talavera.
The Captain carefully lifted his pistols and dropped them on the road as the young figure walked towards him. Another boy joined the young man and called in very rough French, "Captain, if you would get off your horse and surrender your guns you will all be made prisoners and not harmed. Refuse and you will all die here and now."
The Captain had come to the decision well before the demand and carefully dismounted and stood with his hands held high before calling for his men to do the same.
Thomas and Carmelo strode up to the Captain and Carmelo continued the conversation.
"Captain you are now the captive of El Toro. He will abide by the rules of war if you and your men will disrobe your uniforms and then we will leave you in the capable hands of the towns people of Arzobispo. El Toro has left instruction with the people that you are to be treated well as long as you do not try to escape."
The Captain, although not sure why the young men and boys wanted their uniforms, never the less gave the order much to the embarrassment of many of the gunners.
With the troops standing in only their under clothes, Thomas soon had their hands tied and they were led back towards the centre of town where they would be held by the townspeople. It was now time to set the rest of his plan in action.
Lorenco had each horse mounted by a boy and three more sitting on the top of the gun carriages. They were all dressed in the uniforms of the French gunners. One of Lieutenant Scully's boys was on each of the carriages. They would see that the other less experienced boys would set up the guns when needed.
From the hidden pack horses that were brought out of hiding. Thomas gave the order for the rest of his small army to change their attire, they would all run in their normal pace with the guns towards Talavera. With luck they would be there early the following morning.
Thomas hoped they would be in time. The distant sound of battle had raged on as they took the artillery from the French and could still be heard faintly in the distance.
The pace of the horses was kept down to that of the boys on foot although that was a far better pace than most troops would have been able to keep up for the distance they had to travel to the battle.
As the sun sank on the first day of the battle of Talavera, the ten guns were still a short way off but Thomas called for them to find a good place to camp for the night. They were a lot closer to the battle site now and could hear a lessening of the fire although there were still sporadic shots fired as pickets and skirmishers continued to snipe at their opposition in the dark.
In a strange way Thomas was thankful that the battle was still going and yet he felt a deep fear of what he was leading his boys into on the following morning. He only hoped his devious plan would be of some effect for the English army as they battled the mass of French still holding the heights outside Talavera.
Thomas set this own pickets. He did not think they were in any immediate danger but it was better to be safe than sorry. It was a long night and most of the time was spent by Lieutenant Scully to train the boys he would have to use on the guns as to their workings. It was not ideal and more training was really needed but Scully hoped the boys enthusiasm may make up for their lack of skill.
As dawn broke on the 28th July, Thomas lay behind cover with his young Officers to look down onto the battle field. Even after the men who worked as surgeons and helpers had cleared away most of the bodies of the dead and wounded, the field still looked bad. It was very obvious the battle on the previous day had been brutal and bloody.
Thomas was out to the left and rear flank east of the English positions. To his front he could see the French army holding the heights to the east of Talavera where the English held the heights to the west and south.
It appeared that General Wellesley had taken his usual stance as a defensive position. His army had been in some very hard fighting as the more than 70,000 French had charged his lines but the General's lines had held but with great losses.
The French had a large advantage on the left flank of the English lines where as the centre and right flank were almost identical but had also seen most of the previous day's fighting and losses.
As Thomas watched in the strengthening light, he saw what looked to be a number of large forces gathering well to the left of the General's position but out of sight of the English forces.
Thomas had seen enough. It was time to change his original plan of giving the guns to the General and take a chance on his own. Thomas left the heights and made his way back to where his little force waited for him. Breakfast had been hurried and everyone was waiting for him to return.
As Thomas ate his own sparse breakfast, he reported what he had seen and his revised plan. While there were a few doubtful looks not a single boy wanted to be anywhere else on that fateful day.
Thomas had Jones write a short message and then called for Diego. At once the boy mounted his white Andalucian and he left at a gallop. Estaban had a number of boys quickly unload the long train of pack mules and then started to reload them with new items. Once done he sent Estaban off at a fast pace towards the English lines with ten loaded mules and a number of the boys.
Lieutenant Scully was busy with more of the boys at the guns. He only hoped they had learned enough on their quick lessons the night before. After checking his unit he gave the order to move out and the rattle of the ten guns was heard as Thomas watched the remainder getting ready.
Once the last of his little army was as ready as they would ever be, Thomas took the lead and led them towards where he hoped they would do the most good.
Thomas' boys had only been moving for a little over half an hour when they heard the large guns of both the French and the English open up on the morning of the second day of the battle of Talavera. He prayed they would not be too late to help and that his plan would prove to be of some use.
The Officers of England were all assembled as the first guns opened up on the French lines. They were quickly answered by the French and the second day of the battle commenced with the roar and smoke of the cannons.
The Senior Officers looked out over the plains below. There were still many bodies lying on the plain after the slaughter of the first day and there would be many more by the end of this one.
The main concentration of the French was to the front. The bulk of their troops were assembled in solid formations as they got ready to advance across the plain when the guns had done their job of softening the English lines.
Far to the right of the English lines were the Spanish. They were tasked with holding the line into Talavera and the French were using only one brigade under Sebastiani's orders. Far to the rear was Joseph as he held his last reserves at Casa De Salinas.
The main thrust was again against the English at the centre. The French knew that, if they could break the English lines then the Spanish would collapse and they would have a victory and take Talavera for its vital position on the river Targus.
Orders were sent out by Joseph for General Ruffin to send a couple of brigades to the far left flank of the English lines and attack there. With luck they would roll up the English left flank and take the day.
Ruffin had his heavy guns mounted high on the Cerro De Cascajal, to his east were the main lines of General Victor who held most of the troops that would attack the English centre.
While his guns fired on the English front, Ruffin sent a brigade of nearly three thousand men far off to the right. They would cross the small river of Portina and then form up on the northern plain to attack the undefended left flank of the English almost unopposed.
On the heights of Cerro De Medellin, Wellesley watched his guns return fire. Deep inside he had a feeling this day would decide it all. Wellesley had been given reports that Marshal Soult was coming from the south east and he needed to finish this battle before the heavy reinforcements arrived.
Wellesley was now committed to his path. Everything he had was holding the centre and his reserves had been used to plug the holes from the losses of the previous day. A small shudder went through Wellesley as he realised that if the French called up more reinforcements, he would be down to using cooks and clerks to hold his lines.
Wellesley had sent a message to Cuesta in the hope he could use some of his men to hold the centre. As yet he had had no reply. The attacks on the right flank where the Spanish held were far lighter and Wellesley could see no reason why Cuesta did not send men.
Major Lewis was looking out over the entire field with his spy glass when he caught a faint movement to the far left. It was a white horse with a rider galloping as though the devil himself was after him. The horse was coming directly towards them and from the south and east.
Major Lewis quickly recognised the white horse. It could only be one of Lieutenant Marking's boys. Major Lewis quickly pointed the rider out to the stern looking General Wellesley. One glance and Wellesley shouted to his colour guard, "Colour Sergeant, when that rider gets here let him trough without hindrance."
The Sergeant snapped to attention and saluted as he called back, "Yes Sir."
As the rider drew closer, it was plain to see he was from Lieutenant Marking. The Spanish dress was topped off with the usual boot knife and musket over the back, the young rider also had a large pistol tucked into his red and gold waits sash. His flat black hat was lying on his back and held by the chin strap as it bounced in the wind of the horses fast pace.
The Sergeant waved the young rider through as the Generals watched. The horse came to a sudden halt as it almost sat on its haunches to stop from ploughing directly into the group of waiting officer.
The rider was dismounted while the horse was still moving and the boy's short legs were at pace as he came towards the officers loudly yelling in Spanish.
Major Lewis, who had now learnt a little of the language was able to put enough together to translate for the other Officers.
"General, his name is Diego and he is asking for you and has a message from the Lieutenant."
General Wellesley nodded and called for the boy as he held out his hand for the message the boy was waving.
Wellesley took the rough paper and thanked the young teen. Diego bowed his thanks and turned back towards his panting horse. He had to get back to help his Patron and had been told not to wait for an answer.
Before Wellesley even got to open the message the Teen was again galloping out of the camp and towards some far off place to their east.
Wellesley quickly opened and read the message. For the first time any of the Officers could remember, they saw the General pale as he read the message. After taking a deep breath, Wellesley turned to Major Lewis.
"Major, what do we have in reserve?"
"Nothing Sir unless you count the cooks and scullery boys."
Wellesley held his breath as he began to look at what options he might have. There seemed to be very few. For the first time in his life Wellesley had the faintest of doubts as to holding his position at Talavera.
Wellesley's officers waited patiently as the General ran through his options, as few as they were. With a final deep sigh, Wellesley began to give orders. He only hoped it would be enough.
"Take the colour guard and scour the camp for every man and boy. I don't care if they are cooks, scullery boys, clerks or boot cleaners. Get them a jacket, musket, powder and ball and take them to cover the left flank. Use whatever means you need to get them there. If there are any dissenters then shoot them but I want every man and boy on that line. You can also check the infirmary for any wounded that can still fight. God help us it may even then not be enough but you must do your best Major.
Major Lewis saluted and ran off as he called the full colour guard to him. Wellesley watched as Major Lewis, along with the full colour guard turned back towards the camp area just behind the front lines. Wellesley turned back to the front, taking his long spy glass out he began to scan the area he had been told was where the French would appear from.
It was not long before Wellesley's worst fears were realised. In the distance he saw the beginning of the French build up for the attack on his left flank. Wellesley even gulped as he saw the numbers building. His hopes on holding the left were now in serious doubt as the blue coats of the French continued to fill the far northern end of the plain on his left.
Major Lewis and the colour guard spent little time rounding up every able bodied man or boy. Even the overweight Quartermaster was pressed into service, much to his dislike and fear. He had not signed up to actually fight a battle, his job was to count buttons and balls.
Wellesley watched as his rag tag army of boys and men began to form up on his far left under the heavy hands of the Colour Sergeant and the pistol filled hand of Major Lewis. It was going to be a very thin red line that tried to hold back the thousands of French soldiers who were now forming up shoulder to shoulder in readiness for the advance on the weakened left of the English.
Below and to his front, Wellesley saw the centre was again under heavy attack. The plain was now covered in a thick mist of powder smoke and the cries of the wounded could be heard even above the crash of guns and muskets.
Wellesley looked back to his left. This time what he saw almost made him bow his head, it seemed Talavera was not to be his. It would be a fateful day and he did not like the look of how it was going to be once the left was rolled up.
It was a strange quirk of battle that far on the left Wellesley heard the faint shouts of glee from the French lines as a sight that sent chills down the General's spine. His spy glass shook as he watched new arrivals on the left. It seemed the esteemed Lieutenant had not been able to halt the reinforcements from Arzobispo. His left was now in dire trouble.
Wellesley watched as a troop of ten French artillery took up station on a rise that overlooked his left flank and the plains below.
Wellesley watched as the twenty pound guns were raced into position. There was something strange so he watched even closer. That the artillery was French there was no denying, the blue and white jackets along with the feathered shako's soon proved that, but it was the way the gunners were performing that gave the General a little hope. Gone was the usual precision of French artillery, the guns and horses were just not quite up to the mark of the French.
As Wellesley watched it suddenly came to him, the French were scraping the bottom of the barrel. They had put raw recruits into the battle as a last effort. It was the only answer he could come up with as he watched the ten guns being set up in line on top of the rise.
Although the gunners were raw recruits, there was little doubt they would make a real problem for his thin red line of defenders and he had nothing to counter them. His men would have to take it and do the best they could. The battle for the centre was now so hard that he could not even pull a single cavalry troop from its place. The day was on a knifes edge and he was still looking at the collapse of his left flank.
As he watched, Wellesley saw something else that gave him pause. Just appearing from the direction of Arzobispo came another French force. They were moving at a forced march towards where the guns were now almost set up. His heart began to sink as he watched the new arrivals disappear behind the rise where the guns now stood.
Wellesley could now only watch and pray. Far across the northern plain the French were now formed up and ready for the advance at the thin line of red coats holding the English left. It must have seemed futile that the English would try to hold a flank with no more than a few hundred men against the might of two full Brigades of seasoned French troops. But theirs was not to reason why, they were there to teach the arrogant English what it was to face off against the best of the French army.
The troops were lined up shoulder to shoulder as normal. Their solid ranks would soon march right over the thin red line they could see holding the rise in the distance. That they now had the added help of their gunners was even better, it would be an easy slaughter and a great win for the Emperors armies.
As Wellesley watched and hoped for the best, one of his Colonel's called to him and then pointed to the left flank where the Major had set his thin red line.
"Sir look, just behind our line."
Wellesley turned and lowered his glass as he looked along the left. Just appearing around the end of the ridge he saw a mass of riders pushing pack mules at a fast pace towards the Major's line. The sight of at least four white horses gave him cause to take a deep breath. The Lieutenant had not forgotten them.
As he watched, General Wellesley could not believe his eyes. The forty or so riders were pulling up next to the Major where he stood at the far left of his thin line of defenders. One of the riders jumped from his horse and saluted the Major before speaking and then he turned back to his large group and began to give orders.
Behind Wellesley he could hear the voices of his own Officers as they tried to work out what was going on. For Wellesley it was of little doubt, the Lieutenant had sent help even though it seemed to be small in number he could only hope the boy had something else up his sleeve or they were truly lost.
Wellesley's eyebrows shot up as he watched the newcomers begin to unload the mules. After unloading one mule near the Major, it and another set off for the far right flank and stopped to unload there. It was not long before there was a hum of chatter as the group of Officers watched two small brass cannon being set up at each end of the line.
Other mules had been taken to the front of the line and were now spread out along the front as each mule was unloaded of its burden, the Officers watched as three teens began to set up swivel guns evenly spaced along the front.
Next they were to see six young looking men take positions further to the front in a skirmish line. It was obvious they were sharpshooters and would target the French Officers and Senior NCO's.
Wellesley sighed, it was not a lot but they would certainly do damage to the now advancing French lines. The French were now at the centre of the plain. It would be only a matter of time before they reached the lines and the fighting would begin. Why the artillery had not yet opened up on his men he could not understand, perhaps it was just the inexperience of the raw recruits that slowed them down but he held little hope once they did start to fire on his lines.
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