HC Deb 27 April 1812 vol 22 cc1069-77
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to move the Thanks of the House to the earl of Wellington, and the army under his command——

Lord Milton

spoke to order; he wished to know from the chair, whether this was not a day in which orders took precedence of notices?

The Speaker

said, that questions of thanks to our fleets or armies always were allowed to take precedence of every other business.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

then spoke to the following effect:—Sir, from the opportunity which on former occasions I have had of collecting the sentiments of the House on the course of proceeding with respect to questions similar to that which I am about to submit to their consideration, I agree with you. Sir, that the House will always be disposed to give to them an undoubted priority. It gratifies me, however, to be enabled to assure the noble lord, that in my view of the present subject, it will not be necessary for me to detain the House at any considerable length; anticipating as I do, the unanimous concurrence of all who hear me, in the motion with which I shall have the honour to conclude. Sir, I have so frequently, during the short period of the last eighteen months, had the happiness to submit to this House a motion similar to the present, that I am justified, from my experience on those occasions, in confidently expecting that not a single dissenting voice will be raised against my present proposition. We may differ in opinion. Sir, on the general question of the manner in which the war on the peninsula has been conducted; we may even differ in opinion on the probable effect of the late or of any other splendid achievement of our brave troops—but it is impossible that we should differ in opinion on the able conduct of our general, and on the gallantry of our officers and men, with reference to the recent occurrrence, in which these qualities have been so successfully and so gloriously exhibited. The House will recollect that at no great distance of time antecedent to the late distinguished achievement, the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo took place. Immediately after that capture, lord Wellington meditated the direction of his forces toward" that fortress, the acquisition of which it is now our object to acknowledge. The arrangements for that purpose were made with great expedition by the noble and gallant lord during the time that he kept his head-quarters; and so completely were the enemy deceived by the celerity and the secrecy of those arrangements, that they were evidently unapprized of the intended movement until it was too late for them to entertain any hope that they might be able to collect a force adequate to the defeat of the object which the British army had in view. As soon as his preparations were complete, lord Wellington proceeded to Badajoz. He arrived at Elras on the 11th of March. On the 16th he invested Badajoz. On the 17th he broke ground, and pushed forward his operations with all the rapidity which the utmost exertions of the officers and soldiers of his brave army enabled him to do. The House are in possession of the details immediately subsequent, from the pen of the noble and gallant officer himself; and I am sure that any attempt of mine to re-state them, will but tend to weaken the effect which they are calculated to produce. It appears, however, that the fire from the second parallel opened on the 31st of March; and that practicable breaches having been effected in two of the bastions of the fortress, on the 6th, at night, lord Wellington gave orders to proceed to the storm. The plan on that occasion was, that lieutenant general Picton should attack the castle by escalade with the 3d division—that major Wilson, with a guard from the 4th division, should attack the ravelin of St. Roque; and that the hon. major general Colville at the head of the 4th division, and the light division under lieutenant colonel Barnard, should attack the breaches in the bastions. Lieutenant general Leith, with the left brigade of the division under major general Walker, was to make a false attack upon two of the out-works. This feigned attack was not expected to take effect, but directions were given to turn it into a real attack, if circumstances should prove favourable. At ten o'clock at night, the attack commenced. The exertions of the troops on that occasion were never exceeded. They had to contend against an able general, who commanded a powerful garrison, not exhausted by the casualties and privations of a long siege, but capable of making a determined resistance to their assailants, and prepared by every means to give to that resistance the best chance of success. The conflict continued for above two hours, during which period the enemy resisted with a gallantry which it is due to them to say, was as glorious as that of their assailants. It is undoubtedly true, that the assailants were exposed to infinitely greater danger; but we owe it to the enemy to acknowledge that they de- fended themselves with the utmost spirit and determination, and in such a manner as to produce no inconsiderable effect. While this dreadful conflict was going on in the breaches, general Picton succeeded in his escalade, and established himself in the castle Major Wilson carried the ravelin of St. Roque. Major-general Leith pushed forward major-general Walker's brigade, which converting the feigned into a real attack, and aided by the 38th regiment, and the 15th Portuguese regiment, forced the barrier on the road of Olivença, and escaladed the bastion of St. Vicente. Our troops being thus established in the castle, which commands all the works of the town, and the 4th light division being formed again for the attack of the breaches, all resistance ceased, and at day-light next morning, an unconditional surrender took place. Sir, in calling the attention of the House to these gallant and distinguished exploits, it is impossible for me not to advert to the loss which our brave army sustained. The House must be aware, however, that in the attack by storm of such a fortress as Badajoz, the loss must certainly be severe. The House must also be aware, how important it was to lose no time in the achievement of the object. If we consider the advance of Soult, with a view to attempt the relief of Badajoz, we may easily conceive, that had the assault been delayed, in order to render the breaches more practicable, a much heavier loss might have been sustained by the double effort that would then have been necessary to repel the advancing army on the one hand, and to reduce the fortress on the other. Sir, I shall forbear from dwelling, with particular distinction, on the names of any of the gallant officers who acquitted themselves so nobly in this most brilliant affair, because they are so numerous, the instances of heroic gallantry were so general (as, indeed, the list of casualties but too sufficiently testifies), that it would be in vain for me to attempt to do justice to all, and I am unwilling, by omitting any, to expose myself to the charge of invidiousness. I conceive that the House must be fully impressed with the importance of this operation. What the ultimate result may be, it is impossible accurately to predict; but there is every reason to believe that the British movement towards Badajoz, attracting the notice of marshal Soult, gave to the Spaniards in the south of Spain, the means of approaching Seville, and there can be little doubt but to this circumstance, general Ballasleros is indebted for the opportunity of marching into Seville, in consequence of the destitute state of defence into which it necessarily fell. I repeat, Sir, that it is impossible to anticipate the consequences of all these proceedings, but I feel justified in auguring most favourably from them, and in cherishing the expectation that they will be productive in the south of Spain of events in the highest degree auspicious to the common cause. The House and the country will, I trust, find some consolation for the severe loss which this glorious acquisition has occasioned, in the important effect which it is calculated to produce on the character, and probable result, of the awful contest in which we are engaged. It is but just that we should express the gratitude which we feel to those by whom such great national advantages have been obtained; and I therefore move you, Sir, in the first instance, "That the Thanks of this House be given to general the earl of Wellington, for the great ability and military skill manifested by him in the recent siege of Badajoz, by which that important fortress has been wrested from the possession of the enemy."

The question being put from the chair,

Lord Milton

rose to set himself right with the House. When he got up before, his intention was by no means to oppose the vote of thanks.

General Tarleton

was of opinion that this last exploit of lord Wellington had done great honour to himself and the British army. Under all the circumstances, he believed that no general in the universe but himself would have attempted the capture of Badajoz; and that no troops in the universe but British, would have succeeded in that attempt.

Colonel Dillon

was a little apprehensive that the results in the south of Spain expected from the capture of Badajoz might not come to pass so easily as was expected.

Sir Joseph Yorke

did not think that the motion went far enough in rewarding the illustrious commander of the army in Spain. He was of opinion, that the highest dignity the country had to bestow would fall short of rewarding his merits. Why should not the gallant commander have a marshall's staff, and be put at the head of the military administration of the country?

General Mathew

said, that he scarcely ever offered himself to the House with more pleasure than on the present occa- sion, concurring as he did for the first time, and probably for the last, with the right hon. gentleman who made the motion. He had also to offer his humble thanks to the right hon. gentleman the Speaker, for permitting him to speak on this occasion; a permission, by the bye, which he was unfortunate enough to be unable to obtain during a late important debate, when he was most anxious to deliver his sentiments. He repeated that he was most happy to concur in the present motion of the right hon. gentleman, because it was a grateful duty to add his weak praises to the general voice of applause, because nothing could give him more pleasure than to speak the eulogy of many dear friends and countrymen who had fallen on this glorious occasion. He agreed with the gallant admiral that the motion did not go far enough. He would not attempt to recapitulate the exploits, or to count the glories of lord Wellington: they were known to his country—they were felt by Europe—they were bright before the world, and would retain a splendour lasting to all time. It was sufficient to say, that he had been victorious wherever honour and his country called him; and that, like Marlborough, he had never been beaten. To no general was lord Wellington second, and almost all had he surpassed. Was it not therefore right, that this conspicuous man,—this man so gifted by nature, and so favoured by fortune—should by his country be pre-eminently distinguished? Was it not right that his gallant array, of whom he was not more the commander, than the father and the friend, should through him be magnificently rewarded? To this army, which so adored and idolized their "commander, the country owed much; and how could that debt better be discharged than by dignifying to the utmost extent that commander? He would recommend the same measures to be adopted towards lord Wellington, as had been taken with respect to lord Nelson. The navy felt itself identified with lord Nelson; and the army would, he was sure, feel itself raised by every elevation of their chief. It was a source of considerable satisfaction to himself, that about 20 years ago, he had served in the same regiment with lord Wellington; and the noble lord had since gained no victory in which he did not sympathise, nor gathered a laurel for his brow which he did not delight to see him wear. But there was a trait in the character of lord Wellington which ought not to be hidden from the public sight. When he quitted his military pursuits, and retired to his native country in a civil capacity, it was highly to his honour to say, that though he differed in politics from the majority of his countrymen, he was universally beloved. The frankness of his disposition, and the openness of his heart, recommended him to the unsophisticated simplicity and the generous feelings of his countrymen; and when he gave up his civil situation, it ought to be remembered, that he did not load himself with sinecures as the price of his services,—that he had no 1,500l. a year bestowed upon him,—that he never got places abolished while others possessed them, and afterwards had these places re-established for the purpose of filling them himself. It ought to be remembered, that he did none of these things; but be knew a Secretary of Ireland who was not altogether so scrupulous,—a Secretary whose whole life had been a scene of political servility;—a Secretary, who—

Mr. R. Ward

here called the hon. general to order; and insisted, that in deviating to the abuse of any member, he was departing from the motion before the House.

General Mathew

acknowledged he had been a little out of order. All he had to say further, and indeed it was for that he rose, was, that he considered the motion did not go far enough. His opinions were those of the gallant admiral.

Mr. Whitshed Keene

spoke in favour of the motion. and dwelt particularly on the merits of lord Wellington in the commissariat department of his army.

The motion was agreed to nem. con.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

then moved, "That the Thanks of this House be given to lieut.-general sir William Carr Beresford, K. B., lieut.-gen. James Leith, lieut.-general Thomas Picton, major-gen. the hon. Charles Stewart, major-general the hon. Charles Colville, major-general Barnard ford Bowes, major-general Andrew Hay, major-general George Townshend Walker, and major-general James Kempt, and likewise to brigadier-general William Maundy Harvey, brigadier-general Champlemond, and brigadier-general Manley Power, of the Portuguese service, for their distinguished exertions during the recent siege of Badajoz, which was so gloriously terminated by the successful assault of that important fortress in the night of the 6th instant."

Mr. C. W. Wynn

did not rise for the purpose of disturbing the unanimity of the vote upon this occasion. He wished merely to remark, that a practice had been lately, since the battle of Talavera, adopted, of not publishing the list of killed and wounded officers sufficiently early after receiving the dispatches. He conceived it was only necessary to state this circumstance to have it redressed. The general opinion, he believed, was, that the publication of the Extraordinary Gazette was purposely postponed to a late hour, to prevent its being copied into the evening papers. However it might happen, in his opinion the list of killed and wounded officers should be immediately struck off, at least as soon after receiving the dispatch as possible, that those persons who had relations in the engagement might receive the earliest information of their fate. On the late occasion the Extraordinary Gazette was published at so late an hour that many persons could not send it by the post that evening.

Lord Castlereagh

said he would make every enquiry into the circumstance mentioned by the hon. and learned gentleman, It was, in his opinion, desirable that the lists of killed and wounded officers should be made out with all possible accuracy, which necessarily required some considerable time.

Mr. Giles

observed, that the Gazette was ill the hands of many persons in public offices so early as half past two and three o'clock: the public, however, had great difficulty in getting it at seven o'clock. Some unaccountable delay must have taken place in the publication.

Sir Mark Wood

believed, that the list of killed and wounded was made up long before the printing of the Gazette, he had seen that list in a public room at twelve o'clock of the night on which the dispatches arrived. This circumstance, however, was probably not generally known.

Sir. W. W. Wynn

observed, that the list was published only in one evening paper; the Pilot.

The thanks were than carried, nem. con.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

next moved the Thanks of the House to the officers of the British and Portuguese forces, which was also carried nem. con.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, in rising to move That the House did highly approve and acknowledge the zeal, bravery, discipline, and humanity displayed by the non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army under lord Wellington, he could not help taking notice of one circumstance which had taken place, as well at the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, as on the late occasion, and that was the small number of killed and wounded of the enemy, and the great number of prisoners. He confessed, it did appear to him a distinguished circumstance in proof of the humanity, as well as bravery of our army, that after so bloody and obstinate a resistance, so small a number of the enemy should be killed, while upwards of 4,000 prisoners were taken.

The motion was agreed to nem. con.