PENINSULAR WAR and WATERLOO. Series of letters and journals by Major George Simmons of the 95th Rifles (Light Division), describing six campaigns fought in the Peninsula under Sir Arthur Wellesley (Earl and Duke of Wellington), 1809-1815
Lot 199
Sold for £ 4,375 (US$ 6,108) inc. premium

Lot Details
Series of letters and journals by Major George Simmons of the 95th Rifles (Light Division), describing six campaigns fought in the Peninsula under Sir Arthur Wellesley (Earl and Duke of Wellington), including the actions at Ciudad Roderigo, Badajoz, Salamanca and Vittoria, being wounded three times, most severely in his final encounter at Waterloo: "About 3 o'Clock in the Afternoon the whole Army moved into position in front of Waterloo. The Enemy in parties reconnoitred & was answered with the music of our Cannon till dark. The night was very bad the field where we were was all Mud I got a bundle of straw to lay upon. An old blanket I covered with thick clayey mud & covered myself with it which prevented the rain from passing through & kept me tolerably warm. At day light the weather cleared. The Men commenced cleaning their Arms & preparing for the tremendous contest. We were soon convinced that the french were forming to give us battle & had no doubt but Napoleon himself was there. Many old warriors who had fought were proud of being pitted with Our gallant Chief against Buonaparte & the flower of France. About Eleven o'Clock in the Morning The Enemy commenced a heavy cannonade upon our line which was as spiritedly returned from us. The 1st Brigade of our Divisions occupied the extreme left of the line. The 1st 95th upon the Chausser to Charleroi from Brussels 32nd 79th & 28th the left under the Command of Sir J Kempt, Sir D Park the 2nd Brigade. Sir Thos Pickton commanded the Division. Our Brigade formed columns & from being much exposed to the Enemys Guns suffered severely. About 1 o'Clock the Enemys Guns were moved near etc we knew the attack must soon commence under cover of the Guns 4 Columns now made their appearance amounting to 20,000 Men they moved steadily towards us. We formed a sort of line & commenced a terrible fire upon them which was returned very spiritedly advancing at the same time within a few Yards. At this time I was a little in front of our line & hearing the word charge I looked back at our line & received a ball which broke two of my ribs near the back bone went through my liver & lodged in my breast. I fell senseless in the mud & some minutes after found our fellows & the Enemy hotly engaged near me. Two Men dragged me away to the farm of Mont St Jean a little to the rear where Mr Robson extracted from my breast a musket ball"; comprising nearly thirty autograph letters signed, mostly written from the Peninsula and bearing post-marked address panels, generally addressed to his family in England but also to his brother, similarly serving with the army in the Peninsula, plus five journals, three kept in the field (famously in his hat-band for ease of reference but with consequent wear) and two written up by him from these three and the letters in about 1820 (these forming the basis of the published version, see note below), over 200 pages, the journals with wear resulting from their unconventional style of storage, as already noted, the letters with some staining and splitting where folded, but overall in good and attractive condition, folio, quarto and small quarto, Iberian Peninsula and Low Countries, 1809-1815


  • 'PROUD OF BEING PITTED WITH OUR GALLANT CHIEF AGAINST THE BUONAPARTE & THE FLOWER OF FRANCE' – A FAMOUS ACCOUNT OF THE PENINSULAR WAR AND WATERLOO. These letters and journals were published as A British Rifle Man: The Journals and Correspondence of Major George Simmons, Rifle Brigade, during the Peninsular War & Campaign of Waterloo , edited by William Willoughby Cole Verner (1899), a volume which has frequently been reprinted and forms a staple of the literature of the Peninsular War and Rifle Brigade. In Verner's assessment; 'The letters in this volume are truthful accounts, written from many a bivouac and battlefield in Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium, of the daily experiences of a young British officer taking his part in the great wars which were the main cause of Napoleon's downfall'; they reveal his views of the military situation of the moment, his opinions of his chiefs and contemporaries, and his anxieties about the welfare of family. They also possess additional interest, since they are written by an officer who belonged to a regiment which saw more fighting in the Peninsula than any other in the British Army. The Rifle Brigade formed part of the famous Light Division which was perpetually in the forefront of the battle and was the only regiment of British soldiers armed with the then newly introduced the rifle, as opposed to the smooth-bore musket carried by the rest of the infantry.

    In addition to the journal account quoted above two further letters describe his experiences at Waterloo. One, written from Brussels and dated 21 July 1815, is mainly devoted to his wound, but the other, undated but appearing to date from 1 July from what one can discern of the postmark, and similarly from Brussels, echoes the journal's account. The hand is less steady than normal; nor is it completely coherent: "Through the blessings of Almighty God I am at last enabled to give You some account of myself what I never expected to be able to do in this world. On the 16th of June after passing a long tranquillity in this place Our Division marched at 4 in the Morning. We moved forward 20 Miles & gave the French battle. A more bloody or obstinately contested thing had seldom ever been seen this convinced me The French would fight for Buonaparte. The Darkness of the Night on separated us. 17th The Day was passed principally in reconnoitring & squibbing at one another nothing done of consequence. Towards noon retired to a possession. The rain fell in torrents & continued raining all the Night. Our Cavalry & the French had some charging & sabering each other. 18th The French seemed to be very busy moving immense columns about Noon he commenced a Cannonade from I dare say 150 pieces of Cannon – which was soon answered by us. Immense columns in imposing masses now moved towards us. O, if you could have seen the proud & fierce appearance of the British at that tremendous moment. There was not One Eye but beamed with joy. The outset was terrible after four hours exposure to it I received a dangerous wound which laid me amongst many others in the Mud most of the Men with me were killed so it was some time before any Officer noticed me & not until I had been trampled over many times".
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  1. Luke Batterham
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