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Gallopers and Figs... Print E-mail
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Monday, 25 August 2008
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Gallopers and Figs...
A second prisoner..

Mémoires du Général Baron de MARBOT
(Ajudante de Campo do Marechal Massena)

1ier Edition 1891  (p. 413)


(translated from the French by A. Carrick)

During our stay at Sobral, I was again witness to a tactic employed by the English, which is of such importance that I believe I should recount it here.  It is often said that thoroughbred horses are useless in war, because they are so scarce, so costly, and that they demand so much care, that it is almost impossible to form a regiment from them, or even a squadron.  Thus the English do not use them in that way on campaign; but they do frequently send lone officers mounted on thoroughbreds, to observe the movements of the army that they have to fight.  These officers penetrate the cantonments of the enemy, cris-cross his line of march, station themselves on the flanks of his columns for days, and all just outside rifle-shot, until they have a precise indication of his number and the direction that he takes.  

French charicature of galloper

From our earliest entry into Portugal, we saw several observers of this kind flying around ourselves.  In vain we tried to give chase by launching after them our best mounted riders.  As soon as the English officer saw them approach, he would set his excellent steed to the gallop, and, nimbly crossing ditches, hedges and even streams, move off with such a rapidity that our horsemen, not being able to follow him, would lose him from view and then catch sight of him some little time later at a distance on the top of some knoll from which,  notebook in hand, he would continue his observations.  This action, which I never saw so well employed as by the English, and which I tried to imitate during the Russia campaign, maybe would have saved Napoleon at Waterloo, for if he had been warned by this means of the arrival of the Prussians...  However that may be, the English "gallopers", which since our crossing the borders of Spain were the despair of the French generals, gained fresh audacity and cunning when we were in front of Sobral.  We would see them coming out of the lines, swift as stags through the vines and the boulders, to examine the locations occupied by our troops...  

But one day, when there had just been a light skirmish between the advance guard of the two parties in which we remained masters of the field, an infantryman who for some time had  spied one of the better mounted and more enterprising of the enemy "gallopers" whose habits he had noticed, feigned death, certain that as soon as his company had moved away, the Englishman would come to visit the small battlefield.  He did come there in fact, and was very unpleasantly surprised to see the supposed corpse raise himself to the firing position, kill his horse with a rifle shot, and, running at him with fixed bayonet, force him to surrender, which he was constrained to do..,

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