It is many years since an attempt has been made in England to deal with the general history of the Peninsular War. Several interesting and valuable diaries or memoirs of officers who took part in the great struggle have been published of late, but no writer of the present generation has dared to grapple with the details of the whole of the seven years of campaigning that lie between the Dos Mayo and Toulouse. Napier’s splendid work has held the field for sixty years. Meanwhile an enormous bulk of valuable material has been accumulating in English, French, and Spanish, which has practically remained unutilized. Papers, public and private, are accessible whose existence was not suspected in the ’thirties; an infinite number of autobiographies and reminiscences which have seen the light after fifty or sixty years of repose in some forgotten drawer, have served to fill up many gaps in our knowledge. At least one formal history of the first importance, that of General Arteche y Moro, has been published. I fancy that its eleven volumes are practically unknown in England, yet it is almost as valuable as Toreño’s Guerra de la Independencia in enabling us to understand the purely Spanish side of the war.
I trust therefore that it will not be considered presumptuous for one who has been working for some ten or fifteen years at the original sources to endeavour to summarize in print the results of his investigations; for I believe that even the reader who has already devoted a good deal of attention to the Peninsular War will find a considerable amount of new matter in these pages.
My resolve to take in hand a general history of the struggle was largely influenced by the passing into the hands of All Souls College of the papers of one of its most distinguished fellows, the diplomatist Sir Charles Vaughan. Not only had Vaughan unique opportunities for observing the early years of the Peninsular War, but he turned them to the best account, and placed all his observations on record. I suppose that there was seldom a man who had a greater love for collecting and filing information. His papers contain not only his own diaries and correspondence, but an infinite number of notes made for him by Spanish friends on points which he desired to master, and a vast bulk of pamphlets, proclamations, newspapers, and tables of statistics, carefully bound together in bundles, which (as far as I can see) have not been opened between the day of his death and that on which they passed, by a legacy from his last surviving relative, into the possession of his old college. Vaughan landed at Corunna in September, 1808, in company with Charles Stuart, the first English emissary to the Central Junta. He rode with Stuart to Madrid and Aranjuez, noting everything that he saw, from Roman inscriptions to the views of local Alcaldes and priests on the politics of the day. He contrived to interview many persons of importance—for example, he heard from Cuesta’s own lips of his treasonable plot to overthrow the Junta, and he secured a long conversation with Castaños as to the Capitulation of Baylen, from which I have extracted some wholly new facts as to that event. He then went to Aragon, where he stayed three weeks in the company of the Captain-General Joseph Palafox. Not only did he cross-question Palafox as to all the details of his famous defence of Saragossa, but he induced San Genis (the colonel who conducted the engineering side of the operations) to write him a memorandum, twelve pages long, as to the character and system of his work. Vaughan accompanied Palafox to the front in November, but left the Army of Aragon a day before the battle of Tudela. Hearing of the disaster from the fugitives of Castaños’s army, he resolved to take the news to Madrid. Riding hard for the capital, he crossed the front of Ney’s cavalry at Agreda, but escaped them and came safely through. On arriving at Madrid he was given dispatches for Sir John Moore, and carried them to Salamanca. It was the news which he brought that induced the British general to order his abortive retreat on Portugal. Moore entrusted to him not only his dispatch to Sir David Baird, bidding him retire into Galicia, but letters for Lord Castlereagh, which needed instant conveyance to London. Accordingly Vaughan rode with headlong speed to Baird at Astorga, and from Astorga to Corunna, which he reached eleven days after his start from Tudela. From thence he took ship to England and brought the news of the Spanish disasters to the British Ministry.
Pas de note