Baroness On The Battlefield

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Next morning the cannonade went on again, but from the other side. I suggested that everyone leave the cellar for a while so that I could have it cleaned, because otherwise we would all become sick. My suggestion was carried out, and I got many to help, which was highly necessary for this extensive task; the women and children, afraid to go outside, had polluted the entire cellar. When everybody had gone out, I examined our place of refuge; there were three fine cellars with well-vaulted ceilings. I suggested that the most seriously wounded men be put into one cellar, the women in another, and all the others in the third, which was nearest to the door. I had everything swept thoroughly and fumigated with vinegar, when, just as everyone was about to take his place, renewed, terrific cannon fire created another alarm. Many who had no right to enter threw themselves against the door. My children had already gone down the cellar steps, and we would all have been crushed if God had not given me the strength to keep the crowd back by standing in front of the door with outspread arms; otherwise surely someone would have been injured. Eleven cannon balls flew through the house, and we could distinctly hear them rolling about over our heads. One of the poor soldiers who lay on a table, and was just about to have his leg amputated, had the other leg shot off by one of these balls. His comrades had run away from him, and when they returned they found him scarcely breathing, lying in a corner of the room, where he had rolled himself in his agony. I was more dead than alive, not so much on account of our danger as for the danger that hung over my husband, who kept inquiring how we were and sending me word that he was all right. …

Next morning we started putting things in better order. Major Harnage and his wife and Mrs. Rennels [the wife of an officer who had already been killed] 70 made a room for themselves in one corner by partitioning it off with curtains. They wanted to fix up another corner for me just like it, but I preferred staying near the door so that in case of fire I would be able to get out as quickly as possible. I had some straw put down, laid my bedclothes on it, and slept there with the children, with my serving women not far away. Opposite us there were three English officers who had been wounded, but who were determined, in case of retreat, not to stay behind. One of them was a Captain Green, aide to General Phillips, a very estimable and polite man. All three assured me on oath that in case of a hasty retreat they would not forsake me, but that each of them would take one of my children with him on his horse. One of my husband’s horses stood saddled and ready for me all the time. My husband often wanted to send me to the Americans, in order to put me out of danger, but I told him it would be worse than anything I had had to bear heretofore to be with people to whom I should have to be polite while my husband was fighting them. He promised me, therefore, that I could continue to follow the army. Many a time in the night, however, I was seized with the fear that he had marched away, and I crept out of my cellar to see; when I saw the troops lying by the fire, as the nights had already grown cold, I was able to sleep more tranquilly again. The things which had been entrusted to me for safekeeping also worried me. I had put them all in the front of my corset because I was constantly afraid of losing part of them, and I made up my mind never again to take such a responsibility upon myself. On the third day I found the first opportunity and a moment to change my underclothing when the courtesy of a small corner was allowed me. Meanwhile, my three above-mentioned officers stood sentry not far off. One of these gentlemen could imitate most realistically the mooing of a cow and the bleating of a calf. Whenever my little daughter Frederika cried at night, he made these sounds for her, and she would become quiet again immediately, at which we all had to laugh.

Our cook brought us food, but we had no water, and I was often obliged to quench my thirst with wine and even had to give the children some. Moreover, it was almost the only drink my husband would take. This finally began to worry our faithful Rockel [a servant], who said to me one day, “I fear that the General drinks all this wine because he is afraid of being taken prisoner, and that he is tired of living.” The constant danger which surrounded my husband kept me in continuous anxiety. I was the only one among all the women whose husband had not been either killed or at least wounded, and I often said to myself, “Should I be the only lucky one?"—particularly as my husband was in such great danger day and night. He did not spend a single night in the tent, but lay outside by the sentry’s fire all night long. That, alone, was enough to cause his death, as the nights were so damp and cold.

Because we were badly in need of water, we finally found the wife of one of the soldiers who was brave enough to go to the river to fetch some. This was a thing nobody wanted to risk doing, because the enemy shot every man in the head who went near the river. However, they did not hurt the woman out of respect for her sex, as they told us themselves afterwards.

I tried to divert my mind by busying myself with our wounded. I made tea and coffee for them, for which I received a thousand blessings. Often I shared my dinner with them. One day a Canadian officer came into the cellar, so weak that he could hardly stand up. We finally got it out of him that he was almost starved to death. I was very happy to be able to give him my own dinner, which gave him renewed strength and won me his friendship.