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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch -
Spain, Sir John Moore & Return Home


In May 1802 the, regiment marched to Ash-ford, where they were reviewed by George III., who expressed himself satisfied with its appearance; but although the men had a martial air, they had a diminutive look, and were by no means equal to their predecessors, either in bodily appearance or in complexion.

Shortly after this review the regiment was ordered to Edinburgh. During their march to the north the men were everywhere received with kindness; and, on approaching the northern metropolis, thousands of its inhabitants met them at a distance from the city, and, welcoming them with acclamations, accompanied them to the castle. They remained in their new quarters, giving way too freely to the temptations to which they were exposed, by the hospitality of the inhabitants, till the spring of 1803, when, in consequence of the interruption of peace, they were embarked at Leith for the camp then forming at Weeley, in Essex. The regiment at this time did not exceed 400 men, in consequence chiefly of the discharge of 475 men the preceding year. While in Edinburgh (December 1,1803) new colours, bearing the distinctions granted for its services in Egypt, were formally presented to the regiment.

As a means at once of providing for the internal defence of the kingdom, and recruiting the regular army, an act was passed to raise a body of men by ballot, to be called "The Army of Reserve." Their services were to be confined to Great Britain and Ireland, with liberty to volunteer into the regular army, on a certain bounty. In the first instance, the men thus raised in Scotland were formed into second battalions to regiments of the line. The quota raised in the counties of Perth, Elgin, Nairn, Cromarty, Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Argyle, and Bute, which was to form the second battalion of the 42d, amounted to 1343 men. These embarked in November at Fort George, to join the first battalion in Weeley barracks, about which time upwards of 500 had volunteered into the regular army. In April of this year Captain David Stewart, Garth, was appointed major, and Lieutenants Robert Henry Dick and Charles M’Lean, captains to the second battalion of the 78th regiment. In September following, Colonel Dickson was appointed brigadier-general; and Lieutenant-Colonels James Stewart and Alexander Stewart having retired, they were succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonels Stirling and Lord Blantyre. Captains M’Quarrie and James Grant became majors; Lieutenants Stewart Campbell, Donald Williamson, John M’Diarmid, John Dick, and James Walker, captains; and Captain Lord Saltoun was promoted to the Foot Guards.

In consequence of the removal of a part of the garrison of Gibraltar, the first battalion of the 42d, and the second battalion of the 78th. or Seaforth Highlanders, were marched to Plymouth, where they embarked early in October for Gibraltar, which they reached in November. Nothing worthy of notice occurred during their stay in Gibraltar. Since their former visit, the moral habits of the 42d had improved, and they did not fall into those excesses in drinking in which they had previously indulged. The mortality consequently was not so great as before—31 only out of 850 men having died during the three years they remained at this station.

In 1806 Sir Hector Munro, the colonel of the regiment, died and was succeeded by Major-General the Marquis of Huntly, afterwards Duke of Gordon.

After the battle of Yimiera, which was fought on the 21st of August 1808, the British army was joined by the 42d from Gibraltar, then 624 men strong, and by the Gordon and Cameron Highlanders from England. Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had gained the battle, was superseded the same day by two senior generals, Sir Harry Burrard and Sir John Moore, who were, strange to tell, again superseded by General Sir flew Dalrymple the following morning. Generals Burrard and Dalrymple having been recalled in consequence of the convention of Cintra, the command of the army devolved on Sir John Moore, who, on the 6th of October, received an order to march into Spain. Having made no previous preparations for marching, the advance of the army from Lisbon was retarded; and as he could obtain little assistance from the Portuguese Government, and no correct information of the state of the country, or of the proper route he ought to take, he was obliged to act almost entirely upon conjecture. Conceiving it impossible to convey artillery by the road through the mountains, he resolved to divide his army, and to march into Spain by different routes.

One of these divisions, consisting of the brigade of artillery and four regiments of infantry, of which the 42d was one, under the Hon. Lieutenant General Hope, marched upon Madrid and Espinar; another, under General Paget, moved by Elvas and Alcantara; a third by Coimbra and Almeida, under General Beresford; and a fourth, under General Mackenzie Eraser, by Abrantes and Almeida. These divisions, amounting together to 18,000 infantry and 900 cavalry, were to form a junction at Salamanca. General Moore reached Salamanca on the 13th of November, without seeing a single Spanish soldier. Whilst on the march, Lieutenant-General Sir David Baird arrived off Corunna with a body of troops from England, for the purpose of forming a junction with General Moore; but his troops were kept on board from the 13th to the 31st of October, and, when allowed to disembark, no exertions were made by the Spaniards to forward his march.

Whilst waiting the junction of General Baird and the division of General Hope, which, from its circuitous route, was the last of the four in reaching Salamanca, General Moore received intelligence of the defeat and total dispersion of General Blake’s army on the 10th of November, at Espenora de los Monteros, as well as of a similar fate which subsequently befell the army of General Castanos at Tudela. No Spanish army now remained in the field except the corps under the Marquis of Romana, but acting independently, it tended rather to obstruct than forward the plans of the British commander.

It was now the 1st of December. General Baird had reached Astorga, and General Hope’s division was still four days march from Salamanca. Beset by accumulated difficulties, and threatened with an army already amounting to 100,000 men, and about to be increased by additional reinforcements, General Moore resolved on a retreat, though such a measure was opposed to the opinion of many officers of rank. Whilst he himself was to fall back upon Lisbon, he ordered Sir David Baird to retire to Corunna, and embark for the Tagus. He afterwards countermanded the order for retreat, on receiving some favourable accounts from the interior, but having soon ascertained that these were not to be relied on, he resumed his original intention of retiring. Instead of proceeding, however, towards Lisbon, he determined to retreat to the north of Spain, with the view of joining General Baird. This junction he effected at Toro, on the 21st of December. Their united forces amounted to 26,311 infantry, and 2450 cavalry, besides artillery.

The general resolved to attack Marshal Soult at Saldanha; but, after making his dispositions, he gave up his determination, in consequence of information that Soult had received considerable reinforcements; that Buonaparte had marched from Madrid with 40,000 infantry and cavalry; and that Marshals Junot, Mortier, and Leferbe, with their different divisions, were also on their march towards the north of Spain. The retreat was begun on the 24th of December, on which day the advance guard of Buonaparte’s division passed through Tordesillas.

When ordered again to retreat, the greatest disappointment was manifested by the troops, who, enraged at the apathy shown by the people, gratified their feelings of revenge by acts of insubordination and plunder hitherto unheard of in a British army. To such an extent did they carry their ravages, that they obtained the name of "malditos ladrones" or cursed robbers from the unfortunate inhabitants. The following extract of general orders, issued at Benevente, on the 27th of December, shows how acutely the gallant Moore felt the disgrace which the conduct of his British troops brought on the British name:—" The Commander of the Forces has observed, with concern, the extreme bad conduct of the troops, at a moment when they are about to come into contact with the enemy, and when the greatest regularity and the best conduct are most requisite. The misbehaviour of the troops in the column which marched from Valdaras to this place, exceeds what he could have believed of British soldiers. It is disgraceful to the officers, as it strongly marks their negligence and inattention. The Commander of the Forces refers to the general orders of the 15th of October and the 11th of November. He desires that they may be again read at the head of every company in the army. He can add nothing but his determination to execute them to the fullest extent. He can feel no mercy towards officers who neglect, in times like these, essential duties, or towards soldiers who injure the country they are sent to protect. It is impossible for the General to explain to his army his motive for the movements he directs. When it is proper to fight a battle he will do it, and he will choose the time and place he thinks most fit. In the mean time, he begs the officers and soldiers of the army to attend diligently to discharge their part, and leave to him and to the general officers the decision of measures which belong to them alone."

It is quite unnecessary, in a work of this nature, to give the details of this memorable retreat. Suffice it to say, that after a series of brilliant and successful encounters with the enemy, and after enduring the most extraordinary privations, the British army arrived in the neighbourhood of Corunna on the 11th of January 1809. Had the transports been at Corunna, the troops might have embarked without molestation, as the French general did not push forward with vigour from Lago; but, as they had to wait the arrival of transports from Vigo, the enemy had full time to come up. The inhabitants showed the greatest kindness to the troops, and, in conjunction with them, exerted themselves with much assiduity to put the town in a propar state of defence.

On the land side Corunna is surrounded by a double range of hills, a higher and a lower. As the outward or higher range was too extensive, the British were formed on the inner or lower range. The French on their arrival took post on the higher range.

Several of the transports having arrived on the 14th, the sick, the cavalry, and part of the artillery were embarked. Next day was spent in skirmishing, with little loss on either side; but on the 16th, affairs assumed a more serious aspect. After mid-day, the enemy were seen getting under arms. The British drew up immediately in line of battle. General Hope’s division occupied the left. It consisted of Major-General Hill’s brigade of the Queen’s, 14th, 32d; and Colonel Crawford’s brigade of the 36th, 71st, and 92d or Gordon Highlanders. On the right of the line was the division of General Baird, consisting of Lord William Bentinck’s brigade of the 4th, 42d or Royal Highlanders, and 50th regiment; and Major-General Manningham’s brigade of the third battalion of the Royals, 26th or Cameronians, and second battalion of the 81st; and Major-General Ward with the first and second battalions of the Foot Guards. The other battalions of Guards were in reserve, in rear of Lord William Bentinck’s brigade. The Rifle corps formed a chain across a valley on the right of Sir David Baird, communicating with Lieutenant-General Fraser’s division, which was drawn up in the rear at a short distance from Corunna. This division was composed of the 6th, 9th, 23d or Welsh Fusileers, and second battalion of the 43d, under Major-General Beresford; and the 36th, 79th or Cameron Highlanders, and 82d, under Brigadier-General Fane. General Paget’s brigade of reserve formed in rear of the left. It consisted of the 20th, 28th, 52d, 9 1st, and Rifle corps. The whole force under arms amounted to nearly 16,000 men.

The battle was begun by the enemy, who, after a discharge of artillery, advanced upon the British in four columns. Two of these moved towards General Baird’s wing, a third advanced upon the centre, and a fourth against the left. The enemy kept a fifth column as a reserve in the rear. On the approach of the French the British advanced to meet them. The 50th regiment, under Majors Napier and Stanhope, two young officers who had been trained up under the general’s own eye, passing over an enclosure in front, charged and drove the enemy out of the village of Elvina, with great loss. General Moore, who was at the post occupied by Lord William Bentinck’s brigade, directing every movement, on observing the brave conduct of the regiment, exclaimed, "Well done the 50th—well done my majors!" Then proceeding to the 42d, he cried out, "Highlanders, remember Egypt." They thereupon rushed forward, accompanied by the general, and drove back the enemy in all directions. He now ordered up a battalion of the Guards to the left flank of the Highlanders. The light company, conceiving, as their ammunition was spent, that the Guards were to relieve them, began to fall back; but Sir John discovering their mistake, said to them, "My brave 42d, join your comrades,— ammunition is coming,—you have your bayonets." This was enough.

Sir David Baird about this time was forced to leave the field, in consequence of his arm being shattered by a musket ball, and immediately thereafter a cannon ball struck Sir John Moore in the left shoulder and beat him to the ground. "He raised himself and sat up with an unaltered countenance, looking intensely at the Highlanders, who were warmly engaged. Captain Hardinge threw himself from his horse and took him by the hand; then observing his anxiety, he told him the 42d were advancing, upon which his countenance immediately brightened up."

After the general and Sir David Baird had been carried off the field, the command of the army devolved upon Lieutenant-General Hope, who, at the close of the battle, addressed a letter to Sir David, from which the following is an extract:—"The first effort of the enemy was met by the commander of the forces and by yourself, at the head of the 42d regiment, and the brigade under Lord William Bentinck. The village on your right became an object of obstinate contest. I lament to say, that, after the severe wound which deprived the army of your services, Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, who had just directed the most able disposition, fell by a cannon-shot. The troops, though not unacquainted with the irreparable loss they had sustained, were not dismayed, but, by the most determined bravery, not only repelled every attempt of the enemy to gain ground, but actually forced him to retire, although he had brought up fresh troops in support of those originally engaged. The enemy finding himself foiled in every attempt to force the right of the position, endeavoured by numbers to turn it. A judicious and well-timed movement which was made by Major-General Paget with the reserve, which corps had moved out of its cantonments to support the right of the army, by a vigorous attack defeated this intention. The major-general having pushed forward the 95th (Rifle corps) and the first battalion of the 52d regiment, drove the enemy before him, and in his rapid and judicious advance threatened the left of the enemy’s position. This circumstance, with the position of Lieutenant-General Fraser’s division (calculated to give still farther security to the right of the line), induced the enemy to relax his efforts in that quarter. They were, however, more forcibly directed towards the centre, when they were again successfully resisted by the brigade under Major-General Manningham, forming the left of your division, and a part of that under Major-General Leith, forming the right of that under my orders. Upon the left the enemy at first contented himself with an attack upon our piequet, which, however, in general maintained their ground. Finding, however, his efforts unavailing on the right and centre, he seemed determined to render the attack upon the left more serious, and had succeeded in obtaining possession of the village through which the great road to Madrid passes, and which was situated in front of that part of the line. From this post, however, he was soon expelled, with a considerable loss, by a gallant attack of some companies of the second battalion of the 14th regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholls. Before five in the evening, we had not only successfully repelled every attack made upon the position, but had gained ground, in almost all points, and occupied a more forward line than at the commencement of the action; whilst the enemy confined his operations to a cannonade, and the fire of his light troops, with a view to draw off his other corps. At six the firing ceased."

The loss of the British was 800 men killed and wounded. The 42d had 1 sergeant and 36 rank and file killed; and 6 officers, viz., Captains Duncan Campbell, John Fraser, and Maxwell Grant, and Lieutenants Alexander Anderson, William Middleton, and Thomas MacInnes, 1 sergeant, and 104 rank and file wounded. The enemy lost upwards of 3000 men,—a remarkable disproportion, when it is considered that the British troops fought under many disadvantages.

In general orders issued on the 18th of January, Lieutenant-General Hope congratulated the army on the victory, and added,— On no occasion has the undaunted valour of British troops been more manifest. At the termination of a severe and harassing march, rendered necessary by the superiority which the enemy had acquired, and which had materially impaired the efficiency of the troops, many disadvantages were to be encountered.

[Hello from Spain. I have been reading the story of Sir John Moore and the battle of Corunna from your webpage. I simply would like to remark that lots of people here in Corunna admire deeply the brave fight of this brave soldier while defending our city from the French invaders. Here is a picture of Sir John Moore´s burial place. It is placed in the middle of a small and beautiful garden built in 1834 to honour his memory. Maybe you would find it interesting to post it at your page. Best regards,  Susana Barral.]
 

"These have all been surmounted by the conduct of the troops themselves; and the enemy has been taught, that whatever advantages of position or numbers he may employ, there is inherent, in British officers and soldiers, a bravery that knows not how to yield,—that no circumstances can appal,—and that will ensure victory when it is to be obtained by the exertion of any human means.

"The lieutenant-general has the greatest satisfaction in distinguishing such meritorious services as came within his observation, or have been brought to his knowledge.

"His acknowledgments are in a peculiar manner due to Lieutenant-General Lord William Bentinck, and the brigade under his command, consisting of the Fourth, FORTY-SECOND, and Fiftieth Regiments, which sustained the weight of the attack."

Though the victory was gained, General Hope did not consider it advisable, under existing circumstances, to risk another battle, and therefore issued orders for the immediate embarkation of the army. By the great exertions of the naval officers and seamen, the whole, with the exception of the rear guard, were on board before the morning; and the rear guard, with the sick and wounded, were all embarked the following day.

General Moore did not long survive the action. When he fell he was removed, with the assistance of a soldier of the 42d, a few yards behind the shelter of a wall. He was afterwards carried to the rear in a blanket by six soldiers of the 42d and Guards. When borne off the field his aid-de-camp, Captain Hardinge, observing the resolution and composure of his features, expressed his hopes that the wound was not mortal, and that he would still be spared to the army. Turning his head round, and looking steadfastly at the wound for a few seconds, the dying commander said, "No, Hardinge; I feel that to be impossible." A sergeant of the 42d and two spare files, in case of accident, were ordered to conduct their brave general to Corunna. Whilst being carried along slowly, he made the soldiers turn frequently round, that he might view the field of battle and listen to the firing. As the sound grew fainter, an indication that the enemy were retiring, his countenance evinced the satisfaction he felt. In a few hours he was numbered with the dead.

Thus died, in the prime of life, one of the most accomplished and bravest soldiers that ever adorned the British army. From his youth he embraced the profession with the sentiments and feelings of a soldier. He felt that a perfect knowledge and an exact performance of the humble but important duties of a subaltern officer are the best foundation for subsequent military fame. In the school of regimental duty, he obtained that correct knowledge of his profession, so essential to the proper direction of the gallant spirit of the soldier; and was enabled to establish a characteristic order and regularity of conduct, because the troops found in their leader a striking example of the discipline which he enforced on others. In a military character, obtained amidst the dangers of climate, the privations incident to service, and the sufferings of repeated wounds, it is difficult to select any point as a preferable subject for praise. The life of Sir John Moore was spent among his troops. During the season of repose, his time was devoted to the care and instruction of the officer and soldier; in war, he courted service in every quarter of the globe. Regardless of personal considerations, he esteemed that to which his country called him, the post of honour; and, by his undaunted spirit and unconquerable perseverance, he pointed the way to victory.

General Moore had been often heard to express a wish that he might die in battle like a soldier; and, like a soldier, he was interred in his full uniform in a bastion in the garrison of Corunna.

["it was not without cause that the Highland soldiers shed tears for the sufferings of the kind and partial friend whom they were now about to lose. He always reposed the most entire confidence in them; placing them in the post of danger and honour, and wherever it was expected that the greatest firmness and courage would be required; gazing at them with earnestness in his last moments, and in this extremity taking pleasure in their successful advance gratified at being carried by them, and talking familiarly to them when he had only a few hours to live; and, like a perfect soldier, as he was, dying with his sword by his side. Speaking to me, on one occasion, of the character of the Highland soldiers, "I consider," said he, "the Highlanders, under proper management, and under an officer who understands and values their character, and works on it, among the best of our military materials. Under such an officer, they will conquer or die on the spot, while their action, their hardihood, and abstinence, enable them to bear up against a severity of fatigue under which larger, and apparently stronger, men would sink. But it is the principles of integrity and moral correctness that I admire most in Highland soldiers, and this was the trait that first caught my attention, It is this that makes them trustworthy, and makes their courage sure, and not that kind of flash in the pan, which would scale a bastion today, and tomorrow be alarmed at the fire of a picquet. You highland officers may sleep sound at night, and rise in the morning with the assurance that, with your men, your professional character and honour are safe, unless you yourselves destroy the willing and excellent material entrusted to your direction." Such was the opinion particularly addressed to me, as a kind of farewell advice in 1805, when my regiment left his brigade to embark for the Mediterranean. It was accompanied by many excellent observations on the character of the Highland soldier, and the duties of Highland officers, especially what regards their management of, and behaviour towards their soldiers, and the necessity of paying attention to their feelings. The correctness of his views on this important subject I have seen fully confirmed by many years’ experience."—- Stewart’s Sketches.]

When the embarkation of the army was completed it sailed for England. One division, in which the 42d was, landed at Portsmouth; another disembarked at Plymouth.

The regiment was now brigaded at Shorncliffe with the rifle corps, under the command of Major-General Sir Thomas Graham. As the second battalion, which had been in Ireland since 1805, was about to embark for Portugal, they could obtain no draughts from it to supply the casualties which they had suffered in the late retreat and loss at Corunna but these were speedily made up otherwise.

The 42d was next employed in the disastrous expedition to Walcheren, and returned to Dover in September 1809, having only 204 men fit for duty out of 758, who, about six weeks before, had left the shores of England. The regiment marched to Canterbury on the 11th of September, where it remained till July 1810, when it was removed to Scotland, and quartered in Musselburgh. The men had recovered very slowly from the Walcheren fever, and many of them still suffered under its influence. During their stay at Musselburgh, the men unfortunately indulged themselves to excess in the use of ardent spirits, a practice which would have destroyed their health, had not a change of duty put an end to this baneful practice.


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