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Fort l'Ecluse 1815

Letter from private Sébastien BEAUSEIGNEUR of the 12th Light Cavalry Regiment to his father (April 1815):

My dear father,

I have arrived at Fort l'Ecluse last Thursday just before midday. This fort is in such a state that we have spent hours moving stuff about and cleaning the different rooms in order to make it a more suitable place to live in.

The garrison has about 36 soldiers organised into 4 squads. But prior to this number, we had to work with only 2 temporary squads (1st Provisional Squad was made up of members of 1st and 3rd Squad whilst 2nd Provisional Squad was made up of men from the 2nd and 4th Squads). I was with 1st Provisional Squad when we had to patrol at the old artillery battery position at the village of Collonges. We didn't spot any enemy forces during this patrol. In the afternoon, we were in charge of incorporating and registering the different detachements that were arriving at the fort.

On the Friday night, some shots were fired. At first, we thought that these were from an Austrian attack but it was actually some drunk soldiers that were messing with their weapons. The fort commander was furious and the soldiers were sent to the guard-room to spend an awful night on the cold stone floor. After that, the rest of the night was quiet. The cold and humidity in this fort at this time of the year is very noticeable, even during the day. I had to sleep with my greatcoat as well as my blankets and that wasn't all that great either.

On Saturday, we were very much on permanent duty. Every two hours, each squad was either on guard duty, cleaning/food duty, patrol duty or work duty. I didn't find the guard duty that painfull as our squads had alot of soldiers so most rested in the guard-room whilst three sentries were posted at each gate and at the officiers' quarters. Our squad did not get the opportunity to be on work duty but others did that service instead.

1st and 2nd Squads, whilst on a patrol, came across the advancing Austrian army. We were at that time on guard duty when they returned with the enemy hot on their tails. The alarm was sounded and we fired afew shots before raising the draw bridge and rejoining our squad who were firing on the enemy from the caponiers. The enemy realised that he would not be able to take the fort quickly so withdrew and strated siege opertaions. Lieutenant Tincelin, our commander, then attempted a sortie with a squad to distrupt them. This worked and we managed to install a line of gabions infront of the fort and men of the 10th Light Infantry were ordered to man it.

A few hours later, when our squad was in the middle of being relieved of guard-duty by the 2nd Squad, the Austrians again attacked. Sergeant-Major Leydet led us out of the fort to help the men on the gabion line resist the Austrians whilst 2nd Squad took position in the caponiers. The Austrians were repulsed but not without distrubing our gabion line and then using it to protect themselves from our shots! No matter, Lieutenant Tincelin had come up with a plan to trap some of their soldiers and wanted to direct the action himself. The plan was to give the enemy an impression that we had withdrawn into the fort's keep and thereby making some enter the fort. Meanwhile, a small group of soldiers would then close the gates behind them and trap them inside! The plan did not exactly work according to plan as the Austrians that did get inside spotted our ruse and tried to get out. Luckily, after afew shots and a bayonet charge, they threw their weapons to the floor and surrendered.

We now had five prisoners, that were interrogated by the officiers and senior NCOs. The language barrier was a real problem as they were Hungarians and we didn't speak that language. They did speak some German and Grenadier Tardy in our squad spoke that language so we managed to get by that way. We were in charge of stripping them of their equipement and weapons. We were quite happy to find a bottle of eau de vie in one of the packs!

Our squad then had to go back on guard-duty but the atmosphere was more festive thanks to our small victory. We also knew that the NCOs and the officers were too busy with the prisoners to take any notice of us so we un-corked a bottle of wine and ate some food together. We were only distrubed when we had to intervene at the tavern to put an end to a fight between two soldiers, but by the time we got there, it was all over...

On Sunday, we had our weekly parade and inspection. The officers also wanted to inspect our rooms which took a long time and, since we were all standing at attention in the cold, was not the most pleasant of experiences. Fusiliers Tardy and Figo, after getting into an argument, got into a fight. The intervention of the sergeants and sergeant-major, after throwing in a few punches of their own, soon calmed the men down and re-established order. Afterwards, we were made to drill in the courtyard.

Please kiss mother for me and reassure her that despite the cold of this place, I am doing well..

Your devouted son,

Sébastien

A new detachement of soldiers is arriving...

...and are noted in the log book of the guard-room.

The surgeon-major gives the detachement a clean bill of health...

...the soldiers can now install their straw beds. The corporal and a man of his choice occupy the bed.

The fort commander inspects the tavern...

...whilst the NCOs get their reports ready.

The soldiers are busy eating lunch in their common room.

Work squads are organised...

...in order to continue installing siege defences.

The Austrian army has started it's siege operations.

From time to time, it is necessary to keep the enemy at bay with fire...

...or with steel.

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