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absence of General Hill, which had been stationed on the left bank of the Tagus, had received orders accordingly. In the mean time the Portuguese Militia were to keep possession of Coimbra and blow
the bridge over the Mondego : fleets with supplies of provisions and ammunition sailed from the Tagus for that river and the Douro, to meet our army as it passed.
Marshal Beresford's corps was preparing to act, and Lord Wellington had nearly reached the Mondego, when tidings came that Badajos had been surrendered to the French army, through the treachery or imbecility of its governor, on the 11th, and that Marshal Soult (thus relieved from the siege) was preparing to advance upon Lisbon by the open and level country of Alentejo. The 4th Division which had advanced with us as far as Condexa, and two regiments of cavalry now marched to join the 2nd Division, and the whole under the command of Sir William Carr Beresford, advanced towards Elvas, to meet Marshal Soult, who upon their approach retired towards Seville, leaving a French garrison in Badajos, under the command of a General named Phillippon. This was (no doubt) a severe check to the views of Lord Wellington. The bridge, however, at Coimbra, was destroyed, and the French (shut out from that town) were obliged to cross the river higher up---from this circumstance, our troops came up with them, and a severe skirmish took place on the 12th near Condexa, where they concealed one of their eagles, which was afterwards found and sent to England. Marshal Massena himself was near falling a prisoner at the passage of a little river. Continuing their retreat, however, by Pinhances, and Celorico, and availing themselves of the numerous strong positions which every day's march presented, they passed the mountains of Guarda, and their advanced guard reached the Coa on the 1st day of April.
March 10th. Sunday. It was not until this morning that we left Villa Franca, under directions to proceed as far as Thomar, and there wait for further orders. We passed through Cartaxo early in the afternoon, then traversed a very extensive heath, and just as it was getting dark came to the causeway leading up to Santarem, near which spot
were several dead men lying in the road, and a small village completely in ruins. We reached Santarem about 9 o'clock at night, where a large building was still burning. I understood it to have been the French hospital, and therefore might possibly have been destroyed to prevent infection. Santarem is divided into two parts, viz. the high and low town: having to descend into the latter, it was 10 o'clock before we could get our horses into a stable where a party of drivers or muleteers had kindled a fire : unable to obtain billets we were obliged to remain there ourselves in a very comfortless condition, our baggage not having arrived.
11th. The servants coming up with the baggage, we got a cup of chocolate and some biscuit, drew our rations, and leaving Santarem, put up this night in a stable at Golegoa, where we lighted a fire to dry our clothes, which had got wet from the rivers we had to ford in our route.
12th. We moved from Golegoa soon after day-break, and early in the day reached Thomar, where we got possession of a house, and finding two sofas in one of the rooms, they served us for beds. We remained at Thomar three days, during which I suffered very severely from rheumatism, insomuch that I was afraid I should be obliged to give up and go to the rear. It is totally impossible to describe the picture of desolation and distress which this unhappy country exhibited. In Thomar, a town of considerable magnitude, whole streets appeared deserted, and we found scarcely any inhabitants, saving a few poor people, who unable to escape to Lisbon at the general desertion on the approach of the
enemy, had concealed themselves in the mountains off the road, and even these had in many instances (during this sorrowful winter) been subject to the incursions of foraging parties from the enemy's camps and cantonments in the plain, who never failed to treat them with the greatest brutality and cruelty, often maiming and not unfrequently wantonly killing even women and children: so enraged were they at the failure of their enterprize; to which the general desertion of their homes by the inhabitants had so much contributed. Indeed the Portuguese might well compare the French troops to so
many famished wolves, for such was their distress, that during the last two months they had in some positions been reduced to a scanty allowance of horse-flesh and Indian corn-flour, and sustained privations under which an English army would have been completely disorganized, if not destroyed. When the inhabitants of this part of the country quitted their homes and fled to Lisbon or the mountains, they naturally carried with them such part of their property and furniture as they were able to remove, and that remaining, which might serve for food to either men or horses or in any way facilitate the operations of the enemy (at the suggese tion of Lord Wellington), they destroyed, so that the French in the first instance had to march as it were through a desert, and then subsist in it in face of a bold and formidable enemy: thus subjected to daily sufferings and privations, they were exasperated to the very last degree against the English General who had suggested and the inhabitants who had executed what they termed so barbarous and unnatural a measure, proposed and urged on the part of Lord Wellington as a choice of evils,