October 9 1812: A Soldier's Life

On October 9, 1182, Private William Wheeler, serving in the British army on the Iberian Peninsula, writes to his family. He is now at a Camp near Almos, Spain. His camp is close to the Castle of Burgos, which is under siege by a Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese army led by Wellington. The siege is not going well. Wheeler begins his letter in a self-consciously literary style:    
What a chequered life is a soldier's on active service. One moment seeking the bubble reputation at the cannon's mouth. The next courting some fair unknown damsel, sometimes scorched alive with heat, then almost frozen to death on some snowy mountain, at one time the inmate of a palace, then for months, the sky is his only covering. Hunting the enemy like a greyhound, and in return as often being hunted by the enemy. These thoughts naturally arise when from the midst of ease and plenty, we find ourselves transported as it were by magic, close to the enemy in another part of the country, at a distance of  three hundred miles. Such is our case at present.
I have not many days got my last off my hands when we commenced our march for Vallidolid, the advanced post of the enemy. On our arrival they retired on Burgos and we followed them. Our route lay through a country abounding in vineyards, every night we encamped in some vineyard, and as the grapes were ripe for the harvest we had our fill. A days march from Burgos, the road ran between two hills, this caused some skirmishing. On the hills the enemy had some cannon, but before they had done any mischief the appearance of our division soon made them withdraw the guns; at Burgos the enemy left a garrison in the castle. The 1st Division and General Pack's Portuguese Brigade are besieging it, and we are encamped within sight.
Burgos has turned out a tougher job than was first expected. The castle is an old Moorish building, strong by nature and much improved by art; a breach was made in the wall and on the 4th inst. an attempt to carry the place by storm was tried,  but I am sorry to say, was a failure. The several attacks were conducted with great spirit. I never before witnessed such a scene without sharing it. We were encamped about a league from the castle and could see the whole; you might talk of your grand galas at Sydney Carton, the greatest body of fire ever discharged there is no more to be compared to this night storm when the rush light is to the sun.
After this we marches and passed Burgos, encamped near Almos, about two leagues in advance of Burgos; we have several times been visited by the enemy's fedets (vedettes) but nothing of importance has occurred. The bombardment is kept up night and day in good earnest. A few days since I have been prevailed on to take charge of the battery mule but as I never had anything to do with horses I do not expect I shall keep this is the situation long, the more particularly as I do not like it.
William Wheeler, Private Wheeler: The Letters  of a Soldier of the 51st Light Infantry during the Peninsular War & at Waterloo (Leonaur, 2009), pages 85-86

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