The Peninsular War, 1812

Wellington's Officers: General Bowes letter to his wife

Eunice Shanahan

These letters graciously have been shared with the Victorian Web by Eunice and Ron Shanahan; they have been taken from their website. The letters give an insight into the daily lives and concerns of 'ordinary' people without whom history would not exist. The letters are a wonderful example of how much history may be gleaned from such sources. This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine. (Reference : History of England - Charles Oman)

The second letter is from General Bowes dated June 9, 1812 Quadrasayas (Portugal) addressed to his wife in Beverley, Yorkshire, so it would seem that she had returned to England, leaving the General on active service in Portugal. He states later in the letter that it is now six months since he left her. Like the letter from his brother-in-law, this letter also has no postal markings, but the writer was trying to get it on the Packet, which would then go through the normal postal channels in England, and so should have received postmarks and charge marks.

"Letter No. 31

My Dearest, Dearest Maria.

I wrote to you from CASTEL BRANCO on the 3rd - No. 30 - on the 4th we were at LOSA (a small place two leagues from CASTEL BRANCO) which you will find on your map, on the 5th we went to SAN MlGUEL, another 2 leagues, which is not on the maps the 6th PEDROGAO, -2 leagues, the 7th to FREMOA, three leagues, both places on the maps - on the 8th to this place, passing thro' SABUGAL and about 2 leagues from it a small village which you will not find."

Note: a league is a unit of measurement, which is not used nowadays it was not a fixed distance, like a mile, but was usually accepted as being three miles. I wonder what maps the General could have obtained to give to his wife so that she could follow the progress of the Army.

"We halt here today, tomorrow we go towards ABERGUIREA near to HdQuarters which at present are at Fuente Guinaldo, but report says that they are to move on the 11th and that we are on that day to cross the Agueda [river] and many think we are to advance upon SALAMANCA from which place it is said the French have withdrawn their fences and stores, but I believe this to be conjecture, that is as far as relates to our movements, tho' from the assembling of the Army it may be fairly supposed we are to advance, but whether with serious intention to endeavour to penetrate into Spain or merely with a view to cause a Junction between Soult and Marmont,and by that means oblige the latter to raise the Seige of Cadiz LORD WELLINGTON only knows - and perhaps he will be guided by circumstances. For my own part, I hardly think we are in force sufficient to attempt more than a diversion in favor of Cadiz. However, the 5th Division to which I now belong is the Rear of the Army, so that we shall probably have the glory if any he acquires and not the risque as other have done before us."

Note: the Army did march on Salamanca and it was a victory for Wellington's Armies.

"Our marching is very tiresome, and more so at present than it is fatiguing for the heat obliges us to begin our marches at two or three oclock in the morning and I am sure my love you will be happy when I tell you that I am well - my wound quite so - now and then a little stiff, but nothing more, indeed I have been very fortunate and take great care of myself. It is surprising to see the tract of country I have marched over since I came to Portugal, however, I am quite tired and you may be assured that I am as anxious to return to you as you are to have me. Lady Augusta Leith I hear is at Lisbon (the wife of another of Wellington's officers) but is tired of it, does not like the place and means to return"

Note: Sir Arthur Wellesley - before he was created Duke of Wellington - with Sir Hew Dalrymple had successfully fought against the French General Junot, who gave up Lisbon and all Portugal in return for being granted a safe passage back to France - The Convention of Cintra. The letter continues:

"It is now long since the one from you, I am sure there must be letters for me in the Country but we have been moving in such various directions that it has not been possible for letters to reach me, indeed I don't know if this will be in time for the Packet, but I send it to Headquarters at venture -- if it is in time so much the better, if not, I have had the happiness of writing to my dearest Maria and to think that my doing so may be the means of contributing to some degree to hers. Col. Ponsonby has just been here and it is by an officer of his Regt who is going to Headquarters that I send my letter, his Brigadier of Cavalry is bivouacked close to us."

Note: the British Post Office ran a Packet from Lisbon to Falmouth, but despite the number of troops in the field and the length of time of the battles, there were no distinctive postmarks for the military mail at this time. The General then turns his attention to events happening in England and continues :-

"We are all very anxious to know who is to be Mr Percival's [sic]successor and what is likely to be the result on the Regiment of the late intercourse with France - I most cordially wish for P'eau, as I really think the country requires it."

Note: Mr Percival [Spencer Perceval] was the Prime Minister of England who was shot by a lunatic in 1812. He was succeeded by Robert Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool. Both of these men were reported to be men of mediocre talent and narrow minds but obstinate, and they held the hard line of war with France through thick and thin to defeat Napoleon - the Ogre of Corsica - so the Regiment was committed to a continuation of the Peninsular War.

"I hope my love your spirits are better and that you will move a little from Beverley, I am sure that altho' at first the idea of moving will appear tiresome, you will find the change of scene beneficial. If it was not for you, I should not take half the care of myself that I do, and you must repay me in kind. In this, it is now above six months since I left you and we have done a great deal since we parted, but I trust happiness is still in store for us, it appears to me an age.

As we may for some time be out of reach of the regular Post and marching about, you must not be uneasy if a Packet arrives without a letter but you know that I will not willingly allow an opportunity of writing to escape me. I am quite grateful to you for writing so frequently, I must now finish by sending my love to all, I must write a few lines to Tim and I have only a quarter of an hour - pray tell my sisters I want to hear from them how you are, and excuse my not writing to them.

Always bear in mind how necessary it is for you to take care of yourself, may God bless my Dearest, Dearest Maria and believe me my love, your kind, faithfull, affectionate Foord Bowes.

P.S. How are the horses, Dolly says she means to buy a horse - mine are totally well and my mules indifferent with almost constant sore backs, you cannot imagine how very troublesome it is carrying about baggage and stores for nothing. The Ladies, the Courts, Poultry we never see - again, once more your affect. Bowes."

I find it very touching that a man of this rank and stature should be gentle and considerate in his letters to his wife. It is hardly the accepted image of a tough gruff unsentimental soldier.

I have been contacted recently by John A. Hall, who has further information about Captain Johnson's death. Mr Hall is the author of A History of the Peninsular War vol. VIII, The Biographical Dictionary of British Officers Killed and Wounded, 1808-1814 (Greenhill Books, 1998)." ISBN 1-85367-315-3. He wrote:- You may know already all about Major-General Barnard Foord Bowes, how he died of his wounds after leading a storming party at the forts at Salamanca. Here is something about General Bowes for you, that may be of interest (p.69 of my book, by the way):

Obituary, The Gentleman's Magazine, Oct. 1812 p.404:

"Major-general Foord Bowes. From Gibraltar he volunteered his services originally in the cause of Spain, and at the battle of Vimiera he received the public thanks. When again second in command at Gibraltar, he petitioned for leave to act under Lord Wellington, to which the Commander-in-chief assented; and, leaving his family, he went to Spain.

At the storming of Badajoz he was wounded in two places, shot through the thigh and bayoneted, and had his aide-de-camp, Capt. Johnson, killed by his side. On recovering from his wounds, after a severe confinement, he again went forward; and, at the storming of Fort St. Cayetano, where he headed his brigade (so eager was he that all should go right) he was amongst the first wounded. Taken from the field to have his wound dressed, he heard his men were repulsed; on which, instantly returning to cheer and push them forward, he was shot; and thus has fallen an officer, who, on every possible occasion, sought service, and was only too forward to distinguish himself."

Register of Dead Officers: "Killed at Salamanca, 23 June 1812."

So this letter in my possession, was written 12 days before he died, and he did not manage to get back home to his wife Maria. I wonder if any of their descendants are still alive.


For a really good site about the military situation in Europe during the Peninsular and Napoleonic wars, see Anne Woodley's page Regency - Military OR for specific information about the battles of Badajoz and Cuidad Rogrigo, go directly to her pages :-

Badajoz
Cuidad Rodrigo

For information about the 95th Rifle Brigade,visit Sue Law's page, "Short Barrels and Long Bumpers", a homage to the 95th Rifles.

If you are a GB postal history collector, contact us here



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Last modified 24 March 2007