S is for Commissary Schaumann

Augustus Ludolf Friedrich Schaumann (1778-1840) was a citizen of Hanover who served in the British Army during the Peninsular War. His ambition was to serve with the King’s German Legion but he began and ended elsewhere.

The English edition of his diary was published in 1924 translated by Anthony Mario Ludovici, famous and notorious by turns in his own lifetime, completely forgotten in ours. More about him later. Ludovici’s book was an abridgement of Kreutz- und Querzüge a two volume work published in 1921 by Schaumann’s grandson, Conrad von Holleuffer. Von Holleuffer, in his turn, had boiled down nine quarto volumes of manuscript “written in Hanover in our small house at number 363 Georgen-Platz, in December, 1827” by Schaumann who based them, he wrote, on diaries “dotted down at odd moments, while I was on the march, in bivouac, or on the foaming sea.” But – sad to relate – “a good deal of my diaries has been obliterated and rendered illegible by the hand of time, and large portions of them have been destroyed by Spanish and Portuguese rats and other vermin; but with the help of my memory and by reference to my commissariat records, I have endeavoured to fill the gaps….” He hoped to enlighten his beloved relatives. Anyone who writes a blog doesn’t need to enlarge on that one.

I like to think these are some of the vermin responsible for eating Schaumann’s diaries. It’s fortunate they laid off the commissariat records. Perhaps they found them indigestible. Back to 1921 and Colonel Conrad von Holleuffer, late of the Imperial German Army, currently unemployed. Only an optimist would have expected a huge demand for a war memoir in war-weary Germany. Holleuffer, too, was motivated by familial piety. Also an absence of anything better to do with his time. Boredom, I suspect, deserves more credit than it gets as a motivator in human affairs.

And so to Anthony M Ludovici (1882-1971) who in 1924 put Schaumann in front of a British audience. Somewhat desperately, in his preface, Ludovici remarks that Oman in Wellington’s Army had noted only five memoirs concerned with transport or the commissariat. Room for one more then. Next he falls back on a tried and trusted reason for publishing any military diary of any kind at any time, it “throws much light upon the men and methods of the British Army.” Putting feeble excuses like this on one side, it’s clear someone must have leant on him to translate the book. Most likely the someone is von Holleuffer who knew Ludovici before the First World War when the latter spent several years in Germany building himself a reputation as a Nietszche scholar.

Schaumann’s diary is an aberration in the list of Ludovici’s publications. After his various Nietszche publications before the First World War he wrote A Defence of Artistocracy in 1915. This set the tone for his life’s work. “I have long been an opponent and critic of Christianity, democracy, and anarchy in art and literature,” he wrote. Amongst his other targets were socialism, liberalism, feminism and Marxism. He went off the rails in the 1930s when, like so many men and women of the right, he fell under Hitler’s spell. Some of his earlier books are half way respectable. No such excuses can be made for his books on eugenics and the dangers of miscegenation. Even MI6 (the oxymoron to the power of six) woke up eventually to the dangers of continuing to employ him, sacking him in August 1940.

And so to Schaumann. 1808 found him in Gothenburg working as a clerk after eleven years of failing to satisfy the demands of his father. He failed in the Hanoverian army and then in the Hanoverian post office. Next he trained as a clerk, picking up skills in double entry book keeping that were to stand him in good stead later. He put up with four years of paternal disapproval before going overseas to Holland, England and finally Sweden. Then he took advantage of the British expedition to Sweden to board a crowded ship for London where he hoped to join other Hanoverian volunteers in the German Legion formed in 1803 after the King of England, George III, was deposed as Elector of Hanover by Napoleon. Initially they wouldn’t have him. He had to go cap in hand to the Commissary Department at the Treasury. He whinges about these tedious misfortunes over the first two hundred pages of Kreutz- und Querzüge. Wisely Ludovici scraps the lot, electing to start with his hero about to set foot in Portugal, “At about ten o’clock on Sunday morning the 28th August, 1808, we were given the signal to land.”

So who is the thirty year old Schaumann? A skilled artist for one thing who landed portmanteau in hand. Not over-modest as the self portrait at the start of this blog suggests. Free in offering his own opinions – on page 92 he tells General Beresford how to use a map, “remarking that if he took a number of pins and dipped their heads in red, black, green or blue sealing wax, or used any other means for distinguishing them, and then stuck them into the maps, he would find that a very clear and pleasant way of indicating the position of the enemy’s army and our own….” Philosophical (but an honest reporter) when rebuffed – “I don’t want your advice, sir; mind your own business, and take yourself off this instant!” Surprisingly perhaps, popular amongst fellow officers of the King’s German Legion, many of whom he knows from back home. A lover of Iberian women whose hearts and reputations he breaks with gay abandon throughout the book. And above all a success at last: he is able to deposit £150 with the army agents after a year’s service, and in 1812 when he has a depot to command for five weeks, he adds a further £700 to his savings, noting on 24th October 1812 “All things considered, I had done very well here, for one of the trifling advantages of a depot of this sort was that, without being able to reproach myself with the smallest suspicion of bribery, dishonesty or corruption, I was nevertheless able at the end of the short time I had spent here, to remit over £700 to England to be invested in four and a half per cent stock.” With the income from his investments and the half pay of a deputy assistant commissary general paid regularly until his death, Schaumann had no need to work after 1815. He acted as bursar to a Lutheran foundation in Hanover but that was all.

The figure above is taken from Christopher Chilcott’s unpublished PhD thesis Maintaining the British Army which you can find on line. Many of these duties hardly concerned the commissaries in the Peninsula and certainly not one as junior as Schaumann. Still it gives an idea of the range of what he needed to know when he was working at head office in Lisbon as he did twice during his years of service. Mostly he worked in the field and became something of a specialist in feeding cavalry men and cavalry horses. From 1809 onwards he was regimental commissary to the 14th, 20th and 16th Light Dragoons, the 4th Dragoons and the 18th Hussars. He is not mentioned in any of the early histories of these regiments which says something about how British cavalry officers thought of commissary officers, men who were tainted by a necessary connection to trade. Schaumann returned the compliment, comparing them unfavourably with their German counterparts. During Moore’s retreat to Corunna he notes, “It is strange but true, that Englishmen would rather starve than trouble themselves about cooking; that is why it is so hard to be an English commissar; for the men, together with their officers, are like young ravens – they only know how to open their mouths to be fed. Not so the German.” His attitude hardens. By 1810 he is writing, “The English soldier looks upon his horse as a machine, as an incubus, which is the cause of all his exertions and punishments. He ill-treats it. And even when forage lies within his reach, he will not, of his own accord, lift a finger to get it. The commissary must procure everything, and actually hold the food to his own and his horse’s mouth. Even the officers do not give the commissary, the slightest help, and grumble when they have to hand him over a few men even as an escort. From the colonel downwards, all they can do is find fault with the forage, and every day they repeat the remark: ‘I shall report it’.”

S P G Ward in The Peninsula Commissary, an article in issue 304 of The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, had counted 410 commissaries who served in Spain or Portugal, a number he knew to be incomplete. Under Wellesley there was one commissary for each division, one for each cavalry or infantry brigade and one for each cavalry regiment. In addition there were around 25 at Commissariat Headquarters, 50 at bases in Lisbon and Oporto, 10 with the pontoon train, and one commissary at least at each supply depot. As the army advanced further into Spain and later France, the supply chain grew longer the number of depots increased. By 1814 there were 64 commissaries employed at depots. The officers – all that the authorities were concerned about – had five ranks: Commissary General (equivalent in everything except social status to a Brigadier), Deputy Commissary General (Major), Assistant Commissary General (Captain), Deputy Assistant Commissary General (Lieutenant), Commissariat Clerk (Ensign). Workers were hired and paid as needed by the commissary officers. Schaumann had much to do with muleteers who were usually divided into sections under their own capatrasses.

In 1807 a French corps under Jean Junot supported by Spanish troops occupied Portugal. In 1808 France invaded and occupied Spain. On 2nd May 1808 the people of Madrid rose in rebellion. This was followed by widespread uprisings which the French endeavoured to counter by forming flying columns. In July 20,000 men under General Dupont were obliged to surrender to General Francisco Castanos at Bailen, the first defeat of a French corps since Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor. By August, with the exception of Junot’s corps cut off in Portugal, the French were penned against the Pyrenees. However Napoleon himself was preparing to reconquer Iberia at the head of the Grande Armee. It was at this point that a British army was sent to Portugal.

Schaumann arrived on 28th August 1808 with some of the last British troops to land at Maceira Bay in Portugal. A week earlier, Major General Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) had decisively defeated Jean Junot at Vimeiro (called Vimeria by Schaumann). Occupying a strong position covering the bay, Wellesley thwarted repeated attempts by the French to drive him from it. Schaumann’s water colour above is an imaginative representation of the moment that converted the French defeat into a rout. It shows Colonel Taylor leading out the 20th Dragoons to fall on the flank of the retreating French. Good stuff. But Schaumann wasn’t actually there. Nor was he at Waterloo, described at length in the German edition of his book, omitted by Ludovici.

What followed Vimeiro was the Convention of Cintra in which Sir Hew Dalrymple, senior to Wellesley and now in command, allowed the French to evacuate Portugal by means of British ships that took them to Rochefort. Schaumann was outraged. “The stupidest owl in the army saw how badly Sir Hugh Dalrymple had allowed himself to be diddled by the French generals.” It was a view shared by Lord Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could, for shame.
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow-nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their fame,
By foes in fight o'erthrown, yet victors here,
Where Scorn her finger points, through many a coming year?

There were in fact good reasons for allowing the French to leave. The British army was barely mobile. However all three generals in Portugal were summoned back to London to face a public inquiry. Sir John Moore took command. His mission was somehow to save the Spanish armies which were about to be engulfed by the French Grande Armee.

On 26th September 1808 the War Department sent Moore the sort of advice generals in the field can do without. “It will be necessary to concert with the Commissary General, W Erskine, who will be attached to your army, the best means of assembling an adequate supply of horses and mules for rendering your army mobile.” Moore hardly needed telling. More than a month earlier, on 11th August, Wellesley had told Burrard, “As for mules for carriage, I believe you will find none, for I believe my Corps has swept the country very handsomely of this animal.” Even in the royal stables there were no mules to be had. Schaumann had to make do with a “huge mule stallion…with a broken hoof.” In the absence of mules, Schaumann was set to finding and paying for bullock carts.

Napoleon’s campaign in Spain was a brilliantly conceived double envelopment of the Spanish armies. Somehow Moore got his army moving. His advance into Spain had the effect of drawing off French forces northwards, meaning that Napoleon’s pincers never fully closed on the Spanish armies. Moore’s problems with supply got steadily worse, especially as he began to retreat towards Corunna over roads that were bad even by Spanish standards. Schaumann was regimental commissary to the 32nd Foot before being transferred to help Commissary Kearney at the depot in Zamora. During the retreat he had little enough to do amidst an absence of supplies. “I saw one bullock cart, belonging to the Paymaster-General’s department, loaded with six barrels full of Spanish dollars, standing on the side of the road, with its back resting against a rock. The bullocks were lying on the ground, under their yokes, utterly exhausted. A soldier with bayonet fixed stood guard over the treasure, and with a desperate air implored every officer that passed to relieve him of this duty. But of course no one dared to do so! If only those dollars had been bread!” Below is another “incident on the retreat.”

Schaumann was evacuated with the rest of the army from Corunna. He returned to the Peninsula in April 1809 still as a deputy assistant commissary general on a pay of 7s 6d a day. Soon after landing he was promoted to ensign in the 5th Line Battalion of the King’s German Legion and in 1812 to lieutenant in the 7th Line Battalion. He remained a lieutenant until 21st July 1812 when he resigned because he was worried – needlessly as it happened – that he might not be eligible for half pay as an officer of the King’s German Legion. For the rest of the Peninsular War he reverted to his old civilian rank as a deputy assistant commissary general.

Schaumann’s notional service in the King’s German Legion had no bearing on his work (though a lot on his pay). He continued as a commissary. After a brief spell of office life in Lisbon he was appointed commissary to the 14th Light Dragoons. For the rest of the war his business was to look after the physical needs of cavalry men and cavalry horses.

Looking after the men was rather easier than looking after the horses. Wellesley, who had returned to command the army in Portugal after being exonerated at the Cintra Inquiry, recognised the need to supply his army from overseas. Already in 1808, writing to Burrard in August, he had noted “you cannot depend upon the country for bread,” adding that even if grain could be found, “mills are generally turned by water and there is now no water in the mill ponds.” By the end of 1809 there were supplies coming in from the United States, Canada, Brazil and other countries not subject to Napoleon’s Continental System. This steady flow of supplies enabled Wellesley to concentrate his army when and where he chose. It was the principal cause of his victories over French marshals who had to live off the land. They found it difficult to concentrate their forces, and were in a hurry to bring on battles when they had done so. Thus in March and April 1811, when the army was chasing Marshal Massena out of Portugal, Schaumann extols his achievements feeding his regiment in lands stripped bare by the French and self-confessedly devastated by them. Then, on the very same page, with typical inconsistency, he writes, “My exertions on these marches had been enormous; for owing to the fact that the pack mules, the bullocks for slaughtering and the carts could not proceed as quickly as the main body, I was obliged to cover the same distance like a dog as many as ten times….”

Feeding his regiment’s horses was trickier. A cavalry horse ate 14 pounds of hay or 10 pounds of barley or maize per day. Hay couldn’t be imported. When it gets too hot, its chemical composition changes and it becomes both less nutritious and also sourer. In the Peninsula, in the summer months, moist hay also over-heats when stored. On one occasion, when bran had to be ordered as an alternative, Schaumann discovered that the troopers were exchanging the corn they’d drawn for bottles of brandy. He galloped off to General Payne in command of the cavalry. “A furious general order was immediately issued and circulated, according to which, when the trumpet blew for feeding time, officers were to be present to superintend, and were not to go away until the horses had devoured the last grain of corn in their presence.”

Collecting corn involved much unpleasantness. In June 1809 a peasant fired at him while he was taking forage. “What a horrible thing war is! Often, when I am thus engaged, my eyes are streaming with tears; but I cannot help it. It is part of my duty to supervise the cutting down and the loading of the corn, and to compensate the poor people for their loss by giving them a requisition receipt on headquarters, based upon a valuation of what I have taken from them. As a rule they assure me that they either fear the magistrate will keep their money – a not uncommon occurrence in this country – or that they prefer their own corn to our cash….” Here he hints at one of his own sources of profit because surely it is better to exchange the receipt with Schaumann than with the wicked magistrate. All in all, Schaumann gives almost as much space to his problems with corn as he does to his love affairs.

Commissaries had other sources of profit. Most obviously, they were ideally placed for insider dealing – not in any way illegal – since they knew both what the army required and what it was prepared to pay. Closer to the bone was fleecing the locals. During the Corunna campaign, Schaumann gets rid of his mule with the cloven hoof to a miller. “The cleft in the hoof was now hastily stopped up with cobbler’s wax and smeared over with blacking, while the other hoof was made very glossy and clean. He rode it to and fro for a little while, and we settled the bargain for 100 Spanish dollars. It was so unusually strong and large that if it had not had that cloven hoof it would have been worth 300 dollars. The man looked as if he thought he had gulled an Englishman. How he will open his eyes, however, when one day at the smithy the cloven hoof is disclosed!” Caveat emptor. Except, of course, the risk was strictly one-way. Billeting, too, could be a source of profit. Basil Seal in Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags is a fictional master of the art. All we get in Schaumann is his revenge on a landlady who has failed to provide him with free sausages: he billets a whole company of grenadiers on her.

I’ve failed to mention our gallant Spanish allies. So on the whole does Schaumann.

I’ve also managed to write this blog without mentioning the numerous assistants Schaumann employed. They were famously faceless. Wellesley’s Standing Order 52 states, “Whenever any of the inferior persons of the Commissariat department may require admission into any field or general hospitals, application for that purpose must be made by the commissariat officer (who) will send the sick person to the hospital with a ticket, specifying his name, trade and date of birth.” On page 230, after meeting his “old companion and interpreter of the Corunna campaign, Senhor Antonio Falludo” Schaumann “recommends him in the warmest terms to the Commissary General.” Falludo? Who he? I thought. Fortunately my failure to recognise the name wasn’t a sign of incipient Alzheimers. Senhor Falludo is mentioned just once in the hundred odd pages on Corunna and then only for his inability to speak French or German. I can find only one description of Schaumann’s staff that has the immediacy of his drawings. “In Mangoalde I found Mr Hughes, my second clerk. He, too, was leading a fine life, and not only kept a girl, but also two horses, two hunting dogs and a groom. He wore a huge Portuguese hat with a large flat brim, He was a good fellow, but exceedingly sensual and lazy at his work, and I often had to reprimand his most severely.”

Here finally is one of Schaumann’s picture admired by Ludovici, the author of Personal Reminiscences of Auguste Rodin, whose secretary he had been for six months in 1906.

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