Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the book, Forlorn Hope, by James Mace. Enjoy!
- Paperback: 108 pages
- Publisher: Createspace (March 28, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1475108672
- ISBN-13: 978-1475108675
In the spring of 1812, the British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, Earl of Wellington, has driven the French from Portugal. With Napoleon obsessed by the invasion of Russia, Wellington turns toward Spain. The way is barred by two fortresses, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz. When Ciudad Rodrigo collapses after a short siege, Wellington prepares to break the fortress of Badajoz, the most formidable stronghold in Europe.
Lieutenant James Webster is in mourning following the loss of his wife, and he volunteers to command the small group that will lead the assault. Second in command is Sergeant Thomas Davis; recently diagnosed with a fatal illness, he prefers a valiant death in battle. Breaches have been blown into the walls of the southern bastions, Trinidad and Santa Maria, and here Wellington will unleash the 4th and Light Divisions, while launching diversionary assaults on the northern San Vincente bastion, as well as the Badajoz castle. Together with one hundred volunteers, the Forlorn Hope, Webster and Davis will storm the breach.
Chapter One – Someone Has to Go First
5 April 1812
Sir Arthur Wellesley, Earl (later Duke) of Wellington
“Someone has to go first.”
This was my official explanation to the colonel when he asked me why in God’s name I would submit my name for the Forlorn Hope. Early this morning, I was selected by lottery to lead the one hundred volunteers of the 4th Division that will attempt to gain a foothold in the Trinidad bastion before the first wave attacks. Though numerous officers submitted their names, the colonel said he always felt I had more sense than to ask for an assignment that almost certainly means death or serious injury. He was particularly befuddled that I put in my request the day before the assault.
It was only after much prodding, not to mention threats of reprimand, that I confessed my actual reasons for volunteering. The colonel immediately became supportive of my decision and agreed that someone does have to go first. The difficulty now will be explaining myself to Daniel; who though my captain, has been more of a friend than a commanding officer over the last three years. In a sign of true friendship, I suspect he will shed the tears I cannot when I tell him the news regarding my beloved Amy.
Our cannon have successfully blown two breaches and I will lead the Forlorn Hope into the one called Trinidad. I heard that young Lieutenant Harvest was selected to go into the Santa Maria breach; a good career move, provided we both live. And if not, God willing, I will be with Amy again.
Tonight or the next day death will come in all its beautiful brutality.
Lieutenant James Henry Webster
5 April 1812
The deafening thunder of cannon startled the young officer out of his thoughts.
“I thought they said the breach was practicable,” he grunted to himself. “Why the devil are they still firing?” As much as the heavy siege guns had been firing over the previous two weeks, it was a wonder that their crews weren’t completely deaf. In all, twenty thousand heavy cannonballs had been launched into the stubborn walls of the city. Just getting the siege guns and ammunition to Badajoz had been a feat of logistics. Wellington had ordered thousands of Portuguese militiamen to each carry a single twenty-four pound cannonball in his pack. Though there had been much grumbling over this, it saved on having to procure additional wagons, plus it left Wellington’s British troops available to fight.
The young officer stepped out of his tent and into the afternoon sun. Though the light blinded him for a moment, he was grateful to finally see the sun once more. For weeks it had been pouring rain on the besiegers of Badajoz. The ground was still saturated, the grass downtrodden by the rain and the footfalls of thousands of men and horses, and turned into a mire of mud and detritus. Frowning, he looked down on his highly polished boots and thought of what they would look like by the end of the day. The young man threw on his red frock coat, with its single epaulette denoting his rank as a lieutenant.
His name was James Henry Webster. Twenty-four years of age, he had served as an officer in Wellington’s army since the landing in Portugal, nearly four years prior. The youngest of six sons, he had few prospects in life, despite his family’s wealth. Oddly enough, none of his older brothers wore the King’s uniform. So when James expressed a desire to serve with the expeditionary force being sent to Portugal, his father had been enthusiastic in helping him attain his commission. Insisting that his son would only serve in the best regiments, his father had purchased his commission into the 1st Foot Guards and sent him on his way, ‘To either die for King George or to live in the glory of victory’.
Despite his father’s protestations, James had married his childhood love, Amy, soon after his commissioning. They had but three weeks together before his regiment was sent to Portugal with Wellington, who at the time was simply Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley.
During the early days in Portugal, James had served as one of two lieutenants within his company; the other being a young man named Daniel Roberts, who was a few years older than James and from a far more influential family. When their captain was killed at Talavera almost four years before, Daniel was promoted into the position. The young officer who acquired his lieutenancy lost a leg at Fuentes de Onoro the previous May and since then had not been replaced. In addition to the officers, a company had over one hundred other ranks, including five non-commissioned officers consisting of two sergeants and three corporals. As companies within the Foot Guards were often larger than in other units, Captain Daniels had received permission to promote two additional privates to corporal.
Eight line companies, each commanded by a captain, made up a battalion, with an additional company of grenadiers, as well as a light company of skirmishers. The battalion was commanded by a lieutenant colonel, along with two majors. The majors would each take command of a ‘wing’ consisting of several companies during battle, taking their orders from the lieutenant colonel. The number of battalions within a regiment varied considerably. Many regiments consisted of a single battalion; others, such as the 88th Foot, also known as the Connaught Rangers, had two battalions. Conversely, the enormous 60th Foot had seven battalions, one of which was entirely made up of elite riflemen who wore green jackets instead of red and carried Baker rifles instead of muskets. James’ own regiment of the 1st Foot Guards consisted of three battalions.
Amy had insisted on accompanying James, as she felt it was her duty to see to his needs. Officers were allowed to bring their wives, provided their commanding officers approved. As neither Daniel Roberts nor their previous captain had been married, Amy was the only officer’s wife within the company, though there were others within the battalion. Up to six wives of the other ranks from each company were authorized to join their husbands on campaign. They were placed on the company roles, given a half-share of rations, and also subject to the same camp discipline as their spouses. This dispensation of allowing wives on campaign had little to do with compassion, but was a matter of practicality. Spouses of the rankers would provide laundry, mending of uniforms, as well as care for the sick and wounded. As a significant number of the men were married, selection for those carried on the company roles was done by lottery. Wives not selected were still permitted to travel with their husbands. However, they were not authorized a ration and, therefore, had to be cared for at their own expense.
Despite her lack of years and having lived a privileged existence, Amy endured the hardships of campaign with much dignity and perseverance. The wives of the other ranks adored her, despite the vast difference in class. Though she was younger than most, her education and social status made her a type of mother figure amongst the company wives. She even went as far as to help those who were pregnant when it came time to give birth. The British army understood that by allowing wives on campaign, children had to be accounted for as well. A child born to a British soldier whose wife was on the roles was authorized a quarter rations per day.
While childbirth was not uncommon on campaign, it was still very arduous, with mother and child sometimes succumbing. So when it was discovered that Amy was with child, James had compiled all his money together to buy her transport back to England. He did not wish for his wife to endure the inherent risks that came from carrying and then delivering a child in the Spanish wilderness. A few of his friends had loaned him money to help Amy return home, including Lieutenant Harvest. That was eight months ago, and Amy had been at least six weeks along when she left. James had heard no word from her and was deeply concerned.
Early on the morning of 4 April, James finally received word from home. The letter was not from his wife, like he’d hoped, but rather from his sister, Angela. In the brief span that it took to read the short letter, his entire life came crashing down.
It is with a mixture of both joy and terrible sadness that I write to you. Amy had a very hard confinement and the last few days sapped most of her strength. She bore you a beautiful baby girl, but regrettably succumbed to complications and died soon after. Your daughter is doing well. Since you had left no guidance on a name, I decided to call her Amy, after her mother. Father said you would approve. My heart breaks at the loss of your wife, but take comfort in knowing that she is with God and your daughter is well loved. She will be waiting for you, as we all will.
Your loving sister,
The letter was dated a month prior and did not say exactly when James’ daughter was born or when he lost his wife. It was incomprehensible to him, being a father. He had never seen his daughter, and she was unknowable to him. And now that he had been selected for the Forlorn Hope, most likely he would never see her. He was still in shock over the news and hoped he would be spared from the pending despair until the assault. He reasoned that he had not broken down in tears, perhaps, because he would most likely be dead himself and therefore reunited with his love. It would be a tragedy for his daughter to lose both her parents, but he took solace in the knowledge that his family would care for her. It was difficult to give her any real thought or emotion, as she did not even seem real to him.
“Lieutenant Webster!” The shout of his commanding officer caught his attention and gave him a much-needed distraction.
James turned and saluted. “Yes, sir.”
Captain Daniel Roberts ignored it, his face flush with worry. “I heard you were selected for the Forlorn Hope.”
He then knew why Daniel was vexed. The two were close in age and over the last four years had become firm friends. They had fought together at Vimeiro and Talavera, where Daniel was promoted to captain. Both knew the pending assault on Badajoz would be terrible; far worse than what they had seen at Ciudad Rodrigo, less than four months prior.
“Damn it, man,” Daniel cursed, shaking his head. “I heard Benedict Harvest drew the other breach. You know you’ve all gone completely mad.”
“It is a great risk,” James conceded, “but a momentous opportunity. We are but a few years apart in age, and yet my career prospects are few. You have patronage and money. I have barely enough to hold on to my commission. Unless I do something heroic or somehow gain a patron, I daresay I will still be languishing as a lieutenant when you’re a colonel. By leading the Forlorn Hope into Badajoz, I, too, may be given a company command.”
“That’s not the only reason,” Daniel said solemnly.
James’ face twitched. “You heard about Amy. How? I have not told anyone.”
“John Cooke had gone to see you,” Daniel explained. “He was about to enter your tent when he heard you talking. He thought there was somebody in there with you, but then remembered that you tend to read your letters aloud. I am sorry for your loss.” He put a comforting hand on his James’ shoulder. There was already the trace of a tear in his eye; the ones he would shed that his friend could not.
“I do not blame you for volunteering for the Forlorn Hope,” the captain continued. “I know more than a dozen officers threw their names into the lot.”
“Many reasoned that we’re all dead anyway,” James observed. “So we may as well take a chance at glory; or in the least, expedite our inevitable demise. You know we all stand a significant chance of falling.”
“I know,” Daniel conceded. “But at least when I go in, I will have the entire regiment with over four thousand men with me. The Forlorn Hope has but a hundred. Your only mission is to get a foothold into the breach and pray you’re not already dead when the first wave assaults. And as an officer, every frog gunner is going to be aiming for your head.”
Casualties amongst officers on both sides were always exceedingly high. Differing hats and stark contrasts in uniforms drew a disproportionate amount of enemy fire to the officers. It was for this reason many elected to forgo their traditional bicorn hats in favour of the stovepipe shakos worn by the other ranks. James had elected to keep his bicorn, figuring he should look the part of a proper officer, if and when he should fall.
“Well,” James reasoned, “if they’re all aiming for my head, at least I’ll die quickly.”
“I’ll miss you, James,” Daniel said, ignoring his subaltern’s dark humour. “Many of the lads were both proud and saddened to hear you were selected.”
“Why would they be saddened?” James asked.
“You’ve been a good officer to them,” the captain answered. “You’ve got just enough education and class to be a proper officer, without being a total aristocratic snob like Old Nosey.”
James chuckled at the nickname the men used for Wellington, given his prominent nose. Wellington was very much aware of the name, though far from being offended, he found the moniker flattering. The rankers had a number of names for him, and he for them; none of which were remotely affectionate. This was a sharp contrast to one of Wellington’s most dependable generals, Sir Rowland Hill, whose men called him ‘daddy’.
“A snob he may be,” James replied, “But he’s an effective snob.”
The commander-in-chief was a difficult man to like. He was short with his officers and disdainful towards the men in the ranks. Though while the army bore no love for him, like they did for ‘Daddy’ Hill, what he did have was their undying respect. Thus far, he had been the only commanding general in all of Europe that proved able to stand up to Napoleon’s unstoppable juggernaut. He had taken a ragtag army, brought up from the very dregs of society, and turned them into a highly-skilled and iron-disciplined fighting force. He had also given them something that had been denied every major army that dared to stand against Napoleon, and that was victory. Since landing in Portugal and engaging the French at the first major battles of the campaign at Rolica and Vimeiro, Wellington had decisively defeated Napoleon’s best generals time and again, with troops who were far less experienced and almost always outnumbered. He had done the unthinkable and driven the French for Portugal, yet for whatever reason, Napoleon largely continued to ignore him. Perhaps he reckoned that despite the efforts of Spanish insurrectionists to tie up the French army, once Wellington did get into Spain, he’d be horribly outnumbered and easily swept aside. Or maybe he simply assumed that the British and their allies would never be able to break the French hold on Badajoz and, thereby, never even make it into Spain.
Reprinted with permission from Forlorn Hope by James Mace. © 2012 by Createspace