Adventures of a Soldier, Written – Himself – Edward Costello

To give a young gentleman right education, The army’s the only good school in the nation. SWIFT. Introduction of myself to the reader—To the service—Who would not be a Soldier?—A recruit— Wilkie—Cupid’s Row-dow—The service endangered by another—Arrival at Liverpool—I am made prisoner, but not by the French—Recaptured by our sergeant—Lichfield round-house—St. Paul’s—I join my regiment, and the regiment joins us—Great numbers of rank and file burnt alive. IT has ever been the fashion in story telling to begin, I believe, with the birth of the hero, and as I do not forget, for a moment, that I am my own, I can only modestly say with young Norval I am, … … … of parentage obscure Who nought can boast, but my desire to be A soldier. I was born at the town of Mount Mellick, Queen’s County, Ireland, on the 26th October, 1788. When I was seven years old my father removed to Dublin, where he had been appointed to the situation of tide waiter. As soon as I became a good sized youth, my father bound me apprentice to a cabinet-maker, in King William Street, in the aforesaid city; but urged by a roving and restless spirit, I soon grew tired of my occupation, which I left on morning early “without beat of drum.” I next went to live with an uncle, a shoemaker, who employed several men to work in his business. Among these was an old soldier, who had lost a leg, fighting under Sir Ralph Abercrombie, in Egypt. From this old blade, I think it was, I first acquired that martial ardour that so frequently infects young men in time of war. There was, indeed, no resisting the old pensioner’s description of glory. I became red hot for a soldier’s life, and although rejected as too young for the regulars, I “listed,” as it is technically called, in the Dublin Militia on the 17th of June, 1806. At the latter end of the following year, our regiment was stationed at Londonderry, in the north of Ireland, where I volunteered into the 95th, since made the “Rifle Brigade.” It was rather singular, but I remember I was the only volunteer from the regiment who joined the rifles.

After receiving my bounty of the eighteen guineas (£4 of which were deducted for my kit, which I was to have on joining), the sum allowed at that time to those who volunteered from the militia, I took the mail coach for Dublin, where I found a recruiting party of my new regiment, consisting of one sergeant, a corporal and six privates. I must say I felt highly delighted with the smart appearance of the men, as well as with their green uniform. The sergeant proposed that I should remain in Dublin, being as it were, almost a native of that city, from which circumstance he thought I might materially assist in raising recruits. Recruiting, on the pay of a private soldier, is anything but pleasant, and particularly if he be confined to the mere shilling a-day, doled out to him once a-week, for he not unfrequently spends it all the first night he receives it. I myself had woefully experienced this, having been frequently for days without food, through my irregularities and my unwillingness to acquaint my friends that I was so near them. I was crawling about one day in this manner, heartily tired of my first sample of military life, garbed in an old green jacket of the sergeant’s, when I was accosted by a smart young fellow. After eyeing me rather shrewdly from head to foot for several seconds, “I say, green boy,” said he, “do you belong to the Croppies? D—— me, but I like your dress. What bounty do you give?” “Eighteen guineas,” replied I. “Come then,” said he, “tip us a shilling. I’m your man.

” Unfortunately for me, I had not a farthing, for I had eaten nothing for that and the whole of the previous day. However, knowing that we received two pounds for every recruit, I hurried into a public-house near at hand, and requested of the landlord to lend me a shilling, telling him the use for which I wanted it. This he very kindly did, and I handed it over to the recruit, who, chucking it instantly on the counter, called for the worth of it in whiskey. While we remained drinking, the sergeant, whom I had sent for, arrived, and supplying us with money, the recruit passed the doctor and was sworn in for our corps. His name was Wilkie, he was an Englishman; his father having been sent for from Manchester to superintend a glass manufactory in Dublin, accounted for his being here. He was a fine young fellow of about five feet eight inches in height, and possessed all the genuine elements of a soldier, that is, was quarrelsome, generous and brave, of which qualities he gave us a specimen the evening he enlisted, by quilting a pair of coal-heavers. After a few days, he introduced me to his family, consisting of his parents and a sister, a remarkably pretty girl of about seventeen. Had war not claimed me with her iron grasp as her proselyte, I, no doubt, should have interwoven my destinies with the silken web of Cupid, who, very naturally, when my youth and early passions are considered, for I was but nineteen, tapped me very seriously on the shoulder. I, however, went on recruiting, and the two pounds I received for enlisting Wilkie, I handed over to my landlady in advance for future food, which my last misfortune had taught me to value. This precaution, as is generally the case, was now no longer necessary, for in a short time after, we enlisted so many recruits, that money became very plentiful, and I was enabled to get coloured clothes.

While we remained in Dublin, I became a constant visitor at the house of Wilkie’s father, and the young lady I have alluded to, not disapproving of my advances, a serious attachment followed. But my stay threatened to be speedily terminated, as the sergeant and his party received orders to join his regiment immediately, then at Colchester, Mars and Cupid beat to arms, and placed me in the predicament of the donkey betwixt the hay stacks. I became bewildered as to which to take, both being, as it were, necessary to the calls of my nature. At last, the time for parting arrived, which took place after a little private snivelling and simpering, and the usual vows of eternal fidelity, passion and remembrance—which last I have kept to this day. She and her mother accompanied Wilkie and myself towards the Pigeon House, Ringsend, and in something more than twenty-four hours, we found ourselves cheek by jowl with the quays of Liverpool. It was past midnight when we cast anchor. We were ordered to remain on board; but Wilkie’s and my own anxiety to see the place took advantage of a loop hole in the waterman’s pocket, and we got ashore in our coloured clothes; from the lateness of the hour, however, we were obliged to take lodgings in a cellar. We had not been long settled and asleep below stairs, before I was awoke by the bright glare of a bull’s eye lanthorn staring me full in the face, and some five or six rough sailors all armed to the teeth, standing before us. The first thing they did was to feel our hands, which, finding to be rather soft, one remarked to the other, that we had never been sailors, though nevertheless they took us as lawful prey. Wilkie, at first, wanted to fight with them, but was persuaded by half a dozen bull dogs, and some cutlasses to walk quietly to the tender, in which we most probably should have taken a voyage, but, for one thing, we had been sea-sick and were sick of the sea, and on being examined by the officer on board the next morning, we gladly sent for our sergeant, who, claiming us, accordingly, we were liberated.

Our party continued their march, and Wilkie, whom for more reasons than one I was growing exceedingly attached to, was always my companion and many a scrape he got me into. He was continually in hot water; on several occasions and particularly at Lichfield where we were caged, for kicking up disturbances amongst some Irish recruits in which, however, I supported my friend, we were detained for want of means to pay for the damage done to a public-house, the scene of riot. Sergeant Crooks (for that was our sergeant’s name) had not unfortunately the means to satisfy this demand, having nothing but the men’s bare allowance to carry us to London. Meanwhile, we remained in the cage, which was in a very conspicuous part of the market-place. The fact of an Irishman being there, seemed to have aroused all the little brats and blackguards of the neighbourhood, (my countrymen were not so plentifully scattered then as they are now), and every minute of the day we were annoyed by, “I say Paddy, Hilloa Paddy, which way does the bull run?” Taking both of us for Irish, the young devils kept twirling their fingers on their noses, even through the bars of the cage. The poor sergeant, who was a mild good fellow, arranged matters, after all, with the magistrates; the money was to be sent to the injured parties as soon as we joined the regiment, and deducted from our pay—which was done accordingly. Wilkie, however, continued his pranks, and once while in London when on a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, stopped the pendulum of the clock, and set the bells ringing; for this we were again imprisoned, but escaped this time, by paying a fine of five shillings for being drunk, after which nothing occurred till we arrived at Colchester. Here I joined the 1st battalion, then under the command of Colonel Beckwith, afterwards known as General Sir Sidney Beckwith, and was attached to Captain Glass’s company. Shortly after my arrival, the regiment was ordered to Spain, the campaign having then commenced.

But not being perfect in my exercises, I was left behind as depôt, until time and practice had made me a greater proficient in Light Infantry duty. Although this was a necessary consequence to a mere recruit, at that time, I felt not a little mortification at being prevented sharing in the glory, which I believed the regiment about to reap. As it was, however, I had no great reason to complain. I became an adept in my drill, and a tolerable shot along with some other recruits, before the regiment returned. This took place in the month of January, 1809, at Hythe, where we were at that time stationed, the depôt having moved from Colchester. The Rifle regiment, it is well known, had distinguished itself, and had suffered severely, especially in the retreat to Corunna under the gallant Moore. From thence, they had embarked for England, where, on their landing, they presented a most deplorable sight. The appearance of the men was squalid and miserable in the extreme. There was scarcely a man amongst them, who had not lost some of his appointments, and many, owing to the horrors of that celebrated retreat, were even without rifles. Their clothing, too, was in tatters, and in such an absolute state of filth as to swarm with vermin.

New clothing was immediately served out and the old ordered to be burnt, which order was put into execution at the back of our barracks amid the jests of the men, who congratulated each other on thus getting effectually rid of those myriads of enemies, that had proved such a source of personal discomfort to them abroad.


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