Reflections on war and warfare: Week 27 (1 – 7 September 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

31 August – 8 September 1813 The sacking and burning of San Sebastián
The town of San Sebastián was capture by assault on 31 August 1813. As the Allied forces entered the town, the French retreated to the security of the castle. As was the case at Badajoz, the victorious soldiers indulged in drunkenness and plunder while their officers attempted to enforce discipline. Meanwhile, fire from the artillery bombardment swept through the streets of the town and after several days only a small number of buildings remained. The castle capitulated on 8 September.

“The state of the town notwithstanding every exertion of General Hay and the staff officers, was such from the drunkenness of our soldiers, and the plundering of all, especially from the Portuguese, that I sent from the place an order for Lord Aylmer’s brigade to come immediately […] and I could not help considering that there is very great risk of misfortune, were the enemy to make a serious attempt against the town.”

MS 61 WP1/376 Letter from Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, 1 September 1813


7 September 1854 The strength of the allied forces in the Crimea
Many of the troops who died in the Crimea did so as a result of disease and 7,000 were lost before the first significant battle of the war in September 1854.

“In these operations everything will depend upon combination as the forces divided are not strong enough to meet the Russians said to be in the Crimea, the French having as usual much exaggerated the numbers they would send out here, and having also lost 7,000 men by disease..”

MS 63 A904/4/35 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 7 September 1854


7 September 1916 The Battle of Guillemont, the Somme
Throughout late July and August 1916, Guillemont, which was on the right flank of the British line and the French Sixth Army boundary, defied repeated British attacks. Another major attack was made in early September, commencing with bombardments on 2 September. The main assault began on 3 September and fighting lasted until 6 September when a major portion of wood was secured.

“We are really having a very good time, the battle goes on day and night in different parts of the line. You can’t imagine how wonderful it is at night – a constant thunder of gun and flashes seem to light up the whole countryside. There are camp fires every as far as the eye can see, so you can understand that we are not yet very close up.”

MS 336 A2097/7/2 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and subsequent wife, Dorothy, 7 September 1916

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