June 2013. The Museo de Armeria de Alava, Vitoria, Spain, during the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria and the diary of William Gavin.
My great, great, great great grandfather William Gavin saw action at the Battle of Vitoria as a member of the 71st Highland Regiment. He was present at the death of Colonel Henry Cadogan and in his diary wrote:
June 20th 1813
We bivouacked and marched early on the 21st towards Vittoria. I was riding with my brave Colonel when he turned round to his private servant and said, ‘John, did you ever see a battle?’ John replied in, the negative. ‘Well, my good fellow’ said he, ‘you will have a view of one directly.’ Being senior officer of the brigade, the command developed on him, this day, and he might have remained with the 50th and 92nd when the word was given ‘1st advance,’ but my brave commander, wherever danger was always foremost, preferred heading his own regiment, which was ordered to the heights to join Morillo’s Spanish corps in order to attack a strong French force drawn up in a very commanding situation. The men were ordered to advance in double quick time. I took the liberty of saying to the Colonel that I thought he ought to remain with the main body of the brigade as he had the command of the whole. His reply was, ‘We will have a dash at these rascals first.’ On our coming up near the enemy they opened a tremendous fire from the rocks above and killed a great number. The noble Colonel still urging his men forward, we had to make our way through trees and underwood, and, obliged to dismount off our horses. I was leading my white Andalusian horse in company with Paymaster M’Kenzie, who had a black one, tugging through the bushes, when my charger, being very conspicuous, attracted the notice of about ten French chasseurs who were placed on a rock immediately over us, and by way of amusement commenced a regular fire on us as at a target. Old M’Kenzie cried out, ‘Gavin, you are damned bad company,’ and scampered off as fast as the bushes would permit him. The French now began to retreat from rock to rock, still keeping up destructive fire on us, our men falling right and left. Our Colonel (who was mounted on a favourite chestnut English charger) whose eye was everywhere, perceived a French column trying to out-flank Captain Hall’s company, and turning round on his horse to give orders for another company to reinforce them, received a ball in the small of the back from a French chasseur of the 40th Regiment Legére. (52) I came up at this moment and he said, ‘Gavin, I’m wounded, remain with me, and try to get the Surgeon.’ I assisted him off his horse, laid him on the ground and put a dead soldier’s knapsack under his head, and went in search of the Surgeon Logan. He was employed in dressing Captain Richards, who received a musquet ball in the leg. As soon as he had bandaged it up we proceeded to the Colonel, who was bleeding profusely. He examined the wound, then took me aside and pronounced it mortal. The ball penetrated to the abdomen and lodged near the surface of the skin. Our band (not being fighting men) were employed in action to carry the wounded to the surgeon. At each corner of their blankets a hole was worked, through which two poles were run, which formed an easy litter and was borne by four of them. I detained four of the stoutest of them to carry my worthy friend to a spring waggon in the plain, but he refused to have himself moved, and when I represented to him that I feared he should go to England he said, ‘We settle these scoundrels first.’ The height where he received his wound commanded a full view of the plain where the two hostile armies were engaged. He wished to be brought nearer to the edge of the precipice that he might have a better view of the line. He asked where was Lord Wellington. I pointed him out surrounded by his staff; he then said, ‘Where is Sir Thomas Picton’s division, it ought to be the extreme left.’ I directed his attention to what I thought was the left, when he peevishly answered ‘No, he is not yet engaged.’ The wind from the plain was piercing cold, and I begged to allow me to remove him, but he said ‘Let me remain, I trust in God that this will be a glorious day for England.’ At this time French prisoners were coming in fast, and, among others a fierce-looking Colonel of the 40th Chasseurs. The arms of the killed and wounded were scattered over the field, and having only the four band men and myself, I was apprehensive they would arm themselves and make their escape, but luckily a few of the 92nd Grenadiers came up, whom I detained as a guard. The battle was raging all this time. A village in the plain was taken and retaken several times. (53) My brave Colonel was every moment getting weaker, and about four o’clock p.m. breathed his last, his faithful servant, John, and myself supporting him. I then got him placed in the band’s blanket to have him taken down to the disputed village that was now in our possession, but the precipice was so great that they could not keep their feet. We then put him across his second charger, and with great difficulty brought him to the village. I had him brought to the best looking house; but the owner refused to admit a dead man into his house. What with grief for my loss and hunger (not having tasted food since the day before) I set to work and gave the old Hildalgo such a thrashing as he will remember all the days of his life, and was glad to offer me the best room in the house. Here I left the remains of the bravest soldier and best man that ever wore a red coat, and my sincere friend.
I now followed the army who were pursuing the French, and came to Vittoria weary and hungry. The houses were all barricaded and scarcely a soul in the street. I met a priest and begged a little bread from him. He shrugged up his shoulders and replied that he had none to-day, but that if I called tomorrow he would supply me. I pitched him to the D—-l (Devil? S.G.) and a little further on I encountered a man with a more generous mind, who gave me a little bread and wine. On the outside of town was all Joseph’s private and the army’s baggage, scattered in the greatest confusion, hundreds of coaches and wagons loaded, with money only a few days arrived from France, and above two hundred pieces of cannon. The whole of the 18th Light Dragoons and some of the Guards remained to plunder, for which conduct the promotion of the 18th was stopped for three years. Cases of claret and brandy casks with their heads stove in were in every direction. I got an empty claret bottle filled with brandy, and rode on after the army late in the evening. The country for miles was covered with upset ammunition wagons, guns, etc., etc., abandoned by the French. On the way overtook a drummer and private of the 39th Regiment, who had remained behind to plunder, and mounted them on two immense artillery mules belonging to the French armies. Night was fast approaching, and the whole country as far as the eye could reach was covered with the fires of the army. I made a fruitless effort to find out our brigade, and about twelve o’clock at night got into a church – horse, mules, and the two 39th men. They immediately set to breaking up the pews, and in a short time made a blazing fire. They had by some chance got a quarter of mutton, which they promised to give me part of, provided I shared my brandy bottle with them, which I readily agreed to, and whilst they were cooking and dividing their plunder put the horse’s bridle over my arm and laid myself up against the altar and fell fast asleep, being weary and hungry, not having tasted food (with the exception of the little bread and wine in Vittoria) for upwards of thirty- six hours. Day soon broke, and I found Lord Hill’s lodging and reported Colonel Cadogan’s death to him. He sent Colonel Churchill with me to camp, and ordered Captain William Grant to the village I had left his corpse in, and had him buried in the garden of the Spaniard’s house in the village.
We had killed in officers: – The Hon. Lieutenant-Colonel Cadogan, Captain H. T. Hall, Lieutenant H. Fox, Lieutenant C. M’Kenzie, Lieutenant John Commeline, and Lieutenant C. T. Cox – killed; Lieutenant A. Duff, Lieutenant Loftus Richards, Lieutenant W. E. Lorrane, Colonel Cother, Captain Reed, Captain J. Pidgeon, Captain Wm. A. Grant, Lieutenant John M’Intyre, and Ensign Norman Campell – wounded.
Note. – The official list is as follows: – Killed – Lieutenant Colonel Hon. H. Cadogan, Captain Hall, Lieutenant C. M’Kenzie, Lieutenant Fox (wounded, since died), Lieutenant Cox (wounded and missing). Wounded – Brevet – Lieutenant-Colonel Cother, Captains Reed, Pidgeon, Grant, Lieutenants Duff, Richards, Torriano, M’Intyre, Campbell, Commeline; also 41 men killed and 260 wounded. The difference is that Commeline is given wounded not killed, and that the name Torriano appears instead of Lorrane. The army list shows that the former is the correct name, the error presumably comes from a slip in copying the name by Gavin or the scribe who worked after him.
Photographs taken at the Museo de Armeria de Alava