Sunday, October 13, 2019

CULLODEN


John Prebble, Culloden [1746]
New York: Atheneum, 1962, pp. 20-21

        The Age of Reason may have wished its armies would behave like Hectors, and every man may indeed, as Johnson claimed, have thought meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, but the reality of life was not that imagined by the Patriot Muses of The Gentleman’s Magazine. It was dirty, depraved and despised. All men preyed on the soldier, and in his turn he robbed and bullied them. To his colonel he was frequently a toy, to be dressed in bizarre and fanciful uniforms that must have given battle an added horror. He stood on a no-man’s-land outside the law, its victim and its guardian. When called to support it during civil riots he risked death by shooting if he refused, and trial for murder by the civil authority if he obeyed. The whip, the nine-tail cat with knots of precise size, kept him in order, and his wife or his woman could be disciplined by the whirligig. In this chair she was strapped and spun through the air until she suffered the vomiting sensations of sea-sickness. A solder who asked permission to marry a doxy who had loyally followed him through a campaign, risked a hundred lashes for impertinence. Flogging was notoriously commonplace. Almost every day’s entry in the Order Books contains the names of one, two, or three men sentenced to the lash, receiving anything from the minimum of twenty-five strokes to the maximum of three thousand. Men boasted their endurance of the cat. A drummer bragged that he had received twenty-six thousand lashes in fourteen years, and his officers agreed, with admiration, that four thousand of them had been given between the February of one year and the February of the next. Life for the foot-soldier was punctuated by the lash and the pox. Battle came almost as a relief. It was often his only discharge in a war.


        For his sixpence a day he was expected to march from a town where innkeepers had either refused to serve him, or had robbed him when drunk, to eat a breakfast of dry bread and water, to watch his officers indulge in chivalrous courtesies with enemy officers while the lines closed, and then to endure a murderous exchange of musketry or grape at one hundred paces. “We ought to returne thanks to God,” wrote a sergeant of Foot from Flanders, “for preserving us in ye many dangers we haue from time to time been exposed unto...” But thanking God was not always easy when His mercy was hard to find...

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