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Significant Scots
Sir John Moore


Sir John Moore MOORE, (SIR) JOHN, a distinguished military commander, was born at Glasgow, on the 13th of November, 1761. He was the eldest son of Dr John Moore, the subject of the preceding article, by a daughter of John Simson, professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow. His education commenced at a public school in Glasgow, and, afterwards advanced at the university of that city, was completed under the eye of his father, then acting as travelling tutor to the duke of Hamilton. The subject of this memoir accompanied Dr Moore during five years of continental travel, by which means he acquired a knowledge of most European languages, and a degree of polish and intelligence very uncommon in young men of his rank, either in that or the present age. Having chosen the army as a profession, he obtained, through the Hamilton interest, a commission as ensign in the 51st regiment, which he joined at Minorca in 1776, being then only fifteen years of age. A lieutenancy in the 82nd regiment was his first step of promotion; and he seems to have held that station, without much distinction or any censure, during the several campaigns of the American war, at the end of which, in 1783, his regiment was reduced. In 1788, he was appointed major in the 60th; but this he soon exchanged for a similar post in his original regiment, the 51st: in 1790, he purchased a lieutenant-colonelcy in the same regiment.

Such was the rank of Sir John Moore at the commencement of the French revolutionary war. From Gibraltar, where he was then stationed, he was ordered, in 1794, to accompany the expedition for the reduction of Corsica. The bravery and skill which he displayed on this occasion, especially in storming the Mozello fort, where he received his first wound, introduced him to the favourable notice of general Charles Stuart, whom he succeeded soon after in the capacity of adjutant-general. Returning to England in 1795, he was raised to the rank of brigadier-general, and appointed to serve with Sir Ralph Abercromby, in the expedition against the West Indies. There he assisted in the reduction of Demerara, Essequebo, and Berbice, and afterwards in that of St Lucie; in which last enterprise, he had an important post assigned to him, the duties of which he executed in such a manner, that he was characterized by general Abercromby as "the admiration of the whole army," and afterwards intrusted with the government of the island. This charge, undertaken with reluctance, and rendered full of danger and labour from the hostility of the natives, and the number of Maroon negroes who constantly infested the country, was managed with a decision and activity that overcame every obstacle.

Two successive attacks of the yellow fever, soon compelled general Moore to leave the West Indies; but, in company with Sir Ralph Abercromby, he was destined to reach yet higher distinction. The first scene in which they again acted together, was the Irish rebellion of 1798. The victory gained over the rebels at Wexford, mainly owing to the talents of general Moore, was the prelude to the suppression of that luckless movement of an irritated people. This field of exertion was not that in which a soldier of good feelings can be anxious to gain distinction; nor was there much scope for military talent in the enterprise. It is, therefore, highly creditable to general Moore, that he acquitted himself of all the duties intrusted to him on the occasion, with universal approbation.

In 1799, the subject of our memoir, promoted to the rank of major-general, served under Sir Ralph Abercromby in the unfortunate expedition to the Helder, where he displayed his wonted bravery, and was slightly wounded. In the subsequent campaign in Egypt, under the same commander, he found a wider and more favourable theatre for the display of his military talents. In the landing at Aboukir, he led the way, and carried by assault the batteries with which the French endeavoured to prevent that movement. In the subsequent battle of Aboukir, March 21, 1801, he conducted himself with signal gallantry, and was severely wounded.

At the end of the campaign, he returned to England, and received the honour of knighthood, with the order of the Bath. For some time after this, he held an important command in Kent, and afterwards succeeded general Fox in the command of the army in Sicily, whence he was recalled in the end of the year 1807. In the month of May, 1808, he was sent to the Baltic, with an armament of ten thousand men, on behalf of the king of Sweden, who was at this time threatened with simultaneous attacks from France, Russia, and Denmark. With this force, Sir John reached Gottenburg on the 17th, but was not permitted to land the troops; he himself however, repaired to Stockholm, to consult with the Swedish cabinet. Here, to his astonishment, he learned that the Swedish monarch, despising the tame idea of defensive operations, was wholly engrossed with dreams of conquest. He proposed that some Swedish regiments should be collected at Gottenburg, with which the British troops should be joined, and that this united force should take possession of Zealand. The British general represented this to be impossible, on account of the number of French and Spanish troops which occupied the island of Funen, and which could not, in present circumstances, be prevented from passing over to Zealand. It was next proposed to land the British alone in Finland, where they would have had the principal part of the whole effective force of the Russian empire to contend with. Sir John having, in reply to this proposal, modestly hinted that ten thousand British troops might not be found equal to such an undertaking, the impatient Gustavus ordered him to be instantly arrested. He had the good fortune, however, to make his escape, and with the troops returned immediately to England. Without being permitted to land, general Moore was ordered to proceed, under the command of Sir Harry Burrard, to Portugal, in order to give the aid of his talents to the expedition already formed in that country, for the assistance of the Spanish patriots, in expelling the French from their territory.

Sir John did not arrive in Portugal till after the signing of the convention of Cintra, and thus escaped all participation in the odium which was attached to that transaction. Disgusted with the manner in which the affairs of Portugal were conducted, Sir Arthur Wellesley, now duke of Wellington, applied for leave of absence, which was granted. Sir Hew Dalrymple was recalled, and Sir Harry Burrard having resigned, Sir John Moore was left commander-in-chief of the army. In this command he was formally confirmed by a letter from lord Castlereagh, dated September 25, 1808, which informed him, that an army under his orders, of not less than thirty-five thousand men, five thousand of them cavalry, was to be employed in the north of Spain, for assisting the Spanish government. Fifteen thousand troops, it was stated, were to be sent to join him by the way of Corunna; and he was to make immediate preparations for carrying the plan into effect, it being left to his own judgment to march for some point in Galicia, or on the borders of Leon, by land; or to transport his troops by sea, from Lisbon to Corunna, whither the re-inforcements for his army were to be sent. Sir John Moore lost no time in entering upon the duties of his important charge, though he seems to have done so under a melancholy foreboding, sufficiently warranted by the miserable condition of his army, of what would be the result. "At this instant," he says, writing to lord Castlereagh on the receipt of his commission, "the army is without equipments of any kind, either for the carriage of the light baggage of regiments, military stores, commissariat stores, or other appendages of an army, and not a magazine is formed in any of the routes (for he had determined on the expedition by land) by which we are to march." By a subsequent letter, written ten days after the above, we find that the army was also in a great measure destitute of money, and, amongst other necessaries, particularly in want of shoes. On the 27th of October, he left Lisbon, the greater part of the army being already on the route for Burgos, which had been assigned by the Spanish government as the point where the British forces were to be concentrated; Madrid and Valladolid were the places appointed for magazines: and Sir John Moore was officially informed, that he would find sixty or seventy thousand men, assembled under Blake and Romana, in the Astunias and Galicia, ready to act along with him. These were stated to be independent of the armies in the front and on the left flank of the French position; the latter of which, under the command of the marquis De Castanos, was supposed to be numerous, and well appointed. The enthusiasm of the Spaniards in defence of their national independence, was also stated to be such, that it would be utterly impossible for a French army to enter the defiles of the Asturias, without being cut off by the armed peasants alone.

All these flattering representations the British general soon found to be utterly destitute of foundation. In marching through Portugal, he was hardly treated with civility, and everything furnished to him by the authorities was charged at a high price. Specie, in Britain, was at the time not to be obtained, and not only government bills, but even promissory notes, were refused, which subjected the army to great inconvenience, and much extra expense. The ignorance, too, of the Portuguese, was so extreme, that the state of the roads could not be ascertained, but by sending British officers, stage by stage, a-head of the advancing columns. With all these disadvantages, however, the general and a part of the army reached Almeida on the 8th of November. The weather was exceedingly rainy, but the troops moved on, and hitherto had conducted themselves with a propriety and moderation which surprised the inhabitants. Here, however, it was found that some soldiers had committed several serious crimes, and it being judged necessary that a signal example should be made to prevent their recurrence, one of the most notorious offenders was put to death. The general orders on this occasion, we lay before the reader, as illustrative of the highly dignified and amiable character of Sir John Moore.

"Nothing could be more pleasing to the commander of the forces, than to show mercy to a soldier of good character, who had been led inadvertently to commit a crime; but he should consider himself neglectful of his duty, if, from ill-judged lenity, he pardoned deliberate villany.

"The crime committed by the prisoner now under sentence, is of this nature; and there is nothing in his private character or conduct, which could give the least hope of his amendment, were he pardoned. He must, therefore, suffer the awful punishment to which he has been condemned. The commander of the forces trusts that the troops he commands, will seldom oblige him to resort to punishments of this kind; and such is his opinion of British soldiers, that he is convinced they will not, if the officers do their duty, and pay them proper attention. He, however, takes this opportunity to declare to the army, that he is determined to show no mercy to plunderers and marauders, or, in other words, to thieves and villains. The army is sent by England to aid and support the Spanish nation, not to plunder and rob its inhabitants; and soldiers, who so far forget what is due to their own honour, and the honour of their country, as to commit such acts, shall be delivered over to justice. The military law must take its course, and the punishment it awards shall be inflicted."

On the 11th of November, the advanced guard crossed a rivulet, which divides Portugal from Spain, and marched to Ciudad Rodrigo, the governor of which met the British general two miles from the city. A salute was fired from the ramparts, and the general was afterwards hospitably entertained in the principal house in the town. The state of the country, and the manners of the people, they found here to be remarkably changed, and the change highly to the advantage of Spain. At Ciudad Rodrigo they were received by the people with shouts of "Viva los Ingleses." On the 13th, Sir John Moore arrived at Salamanca, where he halted to concentrate his forces; Burgos, the place appointed for that purpose, being already occupied by the French. On his arrival at Salamanca, Sir John Moore addressed a long letter to lord William Bentinck, a few extracts from which will put the reader in possession of the knowledge of Sir John’s feelings and views, and of the state of the country at this period. "I am sorry to say," he writes, "from Sir David Baird I hear nothing but complaints of the Junta of Corunna, who offered him no assistance. They promise every thing, but give nothing; and, after waiting day after day for carts which they had promised to procure for the carriage of stores, his commissary was at last obliged to contract for them at an exorbitant price, and then got them. This is really a sort of conduct quite intolerable to troops that the Spanish government have asked for, and for whose advance they are daily pressing. On my arrival here, and telling colonel O’Lowlar that I wished to have supplies immediately provided on the road from Astorga to this place, for the march of the troops from Corunna, he began by telling me, that a power which he should have got, and which it was promised should be sent after him from Madrid, had not been sent; that he had thus no authority, and had hitherto been acting upon his own credit, &c. I run over all this to you, though perhaps it should properly be addressed to Mr Frere, but to you I can state it with more ease; and I shall thank you to speak to Frere upon it, when I hope he will have some serious communication with the Spanish ministers, and plainly tell them, if they expect the advance of the British army, they must pay somewhat more attention to its wants. Proper officers must be sent to me, vested with full powers to call forth the resources of the country when they are wanted, and without delay, the same as is done, I presume, for the Spanish armies. We shall pay, but they are not to allow us to be imposed upon, but to tell us what is paid by the Spanish government in such cases. We find no difficulty with the people; they receive us everywhere well, but the authorities are backward, and not like those of a country who wish our assistance. With respect to magazines, it is impossible for me to say where they ought to be made. With respect to those at Madrid, it is very likely to be a proper place for Spain to collect a considerable depot of various kinds. It is their capital, and they know best; but it does not seem to me to be a place where the British could be called upon to make any collection. We shall establish small magazines, for consumption, in the neighbourhood where we are acting. Those great resources which a country makes for general supply, should be made by Spain, that when we approach them, we may draw from them, and pay for what we get: but Spain should make them, and be at the expense and trouble of their conservation. As I believe we are giving money to Spain, part of it may be applied by them in this manner; but it is they that should do it, not we. I have no objection to you or Mr Frere representing the necessity of as many more British troops, as you think proper. It is certain that the agents which our government have hitherto employed, have deceived them; for affairs here are by no means in the flourishing state they are represented and believed to be in England, and the sooner the truth is known there, the better. But you must observe, my lord, that whatever is critical, must now be decided by the troops which are here. The French, I suspect, are ready, and will not wait. I differ with you in one point,—when you say the chief and great obstacle and resistance to the French, will be afforded by the English army: if that be so, Spain is lost. The English army, I hope, will do all which can be expected from their numbers; but the safety of Spain depends upon the union of its inhabitants, their enthusiasm in their cause, and their firm determination to die rather than submit to the French. Nothing short of this, will enable them to resist the formidable attack about to be made upon them. If they will adhere, our aid can be of the greatest use to them; but if not, we shall soon be out-numbered, were our force quadrupled. I am, therefore, much more anxious to see exertion and energy in the government, and enthusiasm in their armies, than to have my force augmented. The moment is a critical one,--my own situation is peculiarly so,—I have never seen it otherwise; but I have pushed into Spain at all hazards. This was the order of my government, and it was the will of the people of England. I shall endeavour to do my best, hoping that all the bad that may happen, will not happen, but that with a share of bad, we shall also have a portion of good fortune."

The despondency here expressed by the general was not lessened by the information he received in two days afterwards, that the French were not only in possession of Burgos, but also of Valladolid, within twenty leagues of Salamanca, where he now lay with only three brigades of infantry, and without a single gun; and, though the remainder of his army was coming up as fast as possible, he was aware that the whole could not arrive in less than ten days. Instead of the Spanish army of seventy thousand men that was to have joined him here, there was not so much as a single Spanish piquet to cover his front, or to act as guides in the country, of every portion of which the British army, both officers and men, were perfectly ignorant. Sir John Moore immediately communicated the intelligence to the Junta of Salamanca; telling them that he must have the use of all the carts and mules in the country to transport his magazines to Ciudad Rodrigo should it become requisite, and that the troops with three days’ provisions should be kept in readiness; but he added, that as he had not yet stopped the advance of the rest of the army from Portugal, he was desirous of assembling it there, and would not retire without an absolute necessity. All this was listened to with calm acquiescence. The general in the mean time found, that though a patrol of horse had neared Valladolid, none of the French infantry had yet passed Burgos, and he gave orders to generals Baird and Hope, to advance upon Salamanca with all speed, but to be upon their guard on the march. The junta of Ciudad Rodrigo about this time ordered twenty thousand dollars to be placed at his disposal, and a letter from lord Castlereagh brought him intelligence that two millions of dollars had been despatched for him on the 2nd of the month, and were already on the way to Corunna. His lordship at the same time told him, that the scarcity of money in England was such, that he must not look for any further supply for some months, and recommended it to him to procure as much money on the spot as possible. Encouraged so far by these advices, Sir John Moore continued to concentrate his forces at Salamanca, though upon what principle does not appear; for he seems to have been filled with the most dismal anticipations. "Every effort," he says, writing to lord Castlereagh on the 24th of November, "shall be exerted on my part, and that of the officers with me, to unite the army; but your lordship must be prepared to hear that we have failed; for, situated as we are, success cannot be commanded by any efforts we can make, if the enemy are prepared to oppose us." To add to all his other grounds of despondency, he considered Portugal as utterly indefensible by any force England could send thither. "If the French succeed in Spain, it will be in vain," he says, in another letter to lord Castlereagh, "to attempt to resist them in Portugal. The Portuguese are without a military force, and from the experience of their conduct under Sir Arthur Wellesley, no dependence is to be placed on any aid they can give. The British must in that event, I conceive, immediately take steps to evacuate the country. Lisbon is the only port, and therefore the only place whence the army with its stores can embark. Elvas and Almeida are the only fortresses on the frontiers. The first is, I am told, a respectable work. Almeida is defective, and could not hold out beyond ten days against a regular attack. I have ordered a depot of provisions for a short consumption to be formed there, in case this army should be obliged to fall back; perhaps the same should be done at Elvas. In this case, we might check the progress of the enemy whilst the stores were embarking, and arrangements were made for taking off the army. Beyond this, the defence of Lisbon, or of Portugal, should not be thought of."

The news of Castanos being defeated having reached him on the 28th of November, he determined to fall back upon Portugal, and sent orders for general Hope to join him by forced marches, and for Sir David Baird to retreat upon Corunna; desiring the latter, however, to send back his stores, and keep his design, and the fact of his retreat, as much out of view as possible. He wrote to lord Castlereagh on the 29th, that he had so done, and requesting that transports might be sent to the Tagus to receive the troops, as he was still of opinion that Portugal was not defensible by a British army. On the 5th of December, he wrote again to his lordship, that the junction of general Hope had been secured, and that Bonaparte had directed his whole force upon Madrid, in consequence of which he hoped to reach Portugal unmolested. The idea of a retreat, however, was exceedingly disagreeable to the army, and in this letter Sir John Moore gives his reasons for adopting such a measure at considerable length, and seems extremely anxious to justify it. He did not propose, however, wholly to desert the Spaniards; but he thought they might be aided upon some other point, and for this cause had ordered Sir David Baird to tail with his troops to meet the remainder of the army at the mouth of the Tagus, if he did not receive other orders from England. He had also written a long letter of the same kind, on the 1st of December, to Sir Charles Stuart at Madrid, in which he also requests that some money might be sent him from that place. "Such," says he "is our want of it, that if it can be got at a hundred per cent., we must have it; do, therefore, if possible, send me some at any rate." To this letter Sir John Moore received an answer, softening down the defeat of Castanos, which was followed by a requisition on the part of the Junta, military and civil, of all the united authorities of the kingdom, that he would move forward to the defence of Madrid, which was threatened by the enemy, and preparing to make the most determined defence. This was seconded by Mr Frere, the British resident, and by another person who had been an eye-witness of the extraordinary effervescence at Madrid. Sir John Moore, in consequence of this, on the 5th of December, the same day that he had written to lord Castlereagh, ordered Sir David Baird to suspend his march, and determined to wait in the position he occupied till he should see further into the matter, and afterwards to be guided by circumstances. Sir David luckily had proceeded but a little way back, so that little time was lost. General Hope had brought up his division close to Salamanca, which made the little army complete, having both cavalry and artillery; and by a single movement to the left, Sir John Moore could make his junction with Sir David Baird a matter of certainty. Madrid, however, had capitulated on the third of the month, and was in the hands of the enemy two days before Sir John Moore had resolved to countermand the retreat. The intelligence upon which he had acted was, in fact, void of any real foundation; and the prince of Castlefranco, and his excellency, Don Thomas Morla, had already commenced a treaty for delivering up Madrid to the French, when they signed the pressing requisition of the Junta to him to hasten to its relief. Mr Frere, too, the dupe of his own warm fancy, or of the interested representations of the feeble but sanguine spirits who at this time held the government of Spain, was weak enough to assist this imposture, and to take the most unwarrantable liberties. He sent to Sir John Moore a flippant Frenchman, named Charmilly, with a demand, that before he commenced his proposed retreat, the said Frenchman should be examined before a council of war. To mark the opinion he entertained of Charmilly, Sir John Moore ordered the adjutant of the army to give him a written order to retire, and he requested Mr Frere, when he had such messages to deliver, to employ some other person, as he entertained a strong prejudice against all such characters; otherwise be treated Mr Frere with the usual deference. Anxious to be useful to the cause of Spain, the British general wrote to the marquis de la Romana, to suggest measures for their acting in concert, that they might, if possible, support Madrid. On the 7th, Sir John Moore was favoured with a most patriotic address from the Junta of Toledo, which declared that the members of the Junta were determined to die in defence of their country. Pleased with this manifestation of public spirit, though it was only on paper, Sir John sent one of his officers to form with them a plan of defence for the city; but, as the French approached, the Junta prudently retired, and the duke of Belluno took peaceable possession of the place. Nothing could be more hopeless than the condition of the Spaniards at this time. Bessieres was driving the wretched remains of the centre army, as it was called, on the road to Valencia; Toledo was occupied by Belluno; the duke of Dantzic, with a strong division was on the road for Badajos, with the design of seizing upon Lisbon or Cadiz. The duke of Treviso was proceeding against Saragossa. The duke of Dalmatia was preparing to enter Leon, and Bonaparte at Madrid was ready to second all their movements, together or separately, as events should require. It was in circumstances of which he was totally unaware, that Sir John Moore found himself called upon to commence active operations. He was necessarily prevented from advancing upon Madrid by the knowledge that the passes of Somosierra and Guadarama were in the hands of the French; but, having ordered Sir David Baird to advance, he himself moved forward to Toro, intending to unite with Sir David Baird at Valladolid. The object of this movement was to favour Madrid and Saragossa, by threatening to intercept the communication with France. On the 12th, lord Paget, with the principal part of the cavalry, marched from Toro to Tordesillas; while brigadier-general Stuart, commanding the 18th and king’s German dragoons, was moving from Arevolo. In his march, general Stuart, with a party of the 18th dragoons, surprised a party of French cavalry and infantry in the village of Reveda, and killed or made prisoners the whole detachment. This was the first encounter of the French and British in Spain, an earnest of what was yet to be there achieved by British skill and British valour. On the 14th, the head quarters of the army were at Aloejos, when, by an intercepted despatch, Sir John Moore was put in possession of the real state of affairs, with the objects which Bonaparte had in view, by despatching after him the duke of Dalmatia, with whom he was already almost in contact. This intelligence determined the general, instead of going on to Valladolid, as was intended, to face about, and hasten to unite himself with the part of his army which was under Sir David Baird, and, if possible, to surprise the duke of Dalmatia at Saldanha before he should be further reinforced. Writing of his intended junction with Sir David Baird, to lord Castlereagh on the 16th, he adds, "If then marshal Soult is so good as to approach us, we shall be much obliged to him; but if not we shall march towards him. It will be very agreeable to give a wipe to such a corps although, with respect to the cause generally, it will probably have no effect, Spain being in the state described in Berthier’s letter. She has made no efforts for herself; ours came too late, and cannot, at any rate, be sufficient."

The armies were now near one another. The patrols of the cavalry reached as far as Valladolid, and had frequent and successful skirmishes with the enemy. On the 20th, Sir John Moore formed a junction with Sir David Baird; the head-quarters of the army being at Majorga, but the cavalry and horse artillery were at Monastero Milgar Abaxo, three leagues from Sahagun, where a division of the enemy’s cavalry were posted. The weather was extremely cold, and the ground covered with snow, yet lord Paget set out at two o’clock of the morning to surprise the French position. General Slade, with the 10th hussars, approached the town along the Cea, while his lordship, with the 15th dragoons and some horse artillery, approached from another direction. Reaching the town by the dawn, they surprised a piquet; but one or two escaping, gave the alarm, and enabled the enemy to form outside the town. The ground was at first unfavourable to the British, but the superior skill of lord Paget overcame the difficulty. The French having wheeled into line, to receive the shock of the British charge, were overthrown in a moment, and dispersed in all directions. The 15th hussars, only four hundred strong, encountered seven hundred French, and completely routed them. Many of the French were killed, and one hundred and fifty-seven, including two lieutenant-colonels, were taken prisoners. Sir John Moore reached Sahagun on the 21st, where the troops were halted for a day, to recover the fatigue of the forced marches they had made. On the 23d, every arrangement was completed for attacking the duke of Dalmatia, who, after the defeat of his cavalry at Sahagun, had concentrated his troops, to the amount of eighteen thousand, behind the river Carrion; seven thousand being posted at Saldanha, and five thousand in the town of Carrion. Detachments were also placed to guard the fords and the bridges. The corps of Junot, Sir John Moore was aware, had also its advanced posts between Vittoria and Burgos. The spirit and the feeling under which he was now acting, were not at all enviable. "The movement I am making," he writes, " is of the most dangerous kind. I not only risk to be surrounded every moment by superior forces, but to have my communication intercepted with the Galicias. I wish it to be apparent to the whole world, as it is to every individual of the army, that we have done everything in our power in support of the Spanish cause, and that we do not abandon it until long after the Spaniards had abandoned us." As already said, however, the preparations, for attacking the duke of Dalmatia, were completed. The generals received their instructions, and the army, burning with impatience, was to march to the attack at eight o’clock in the evening. Unfavourable reports through the day, and a letter from the marquis de la Romana, confirming these reports, led to an opposite line of conduct. The march to the Carrion was countermanded, and immediate steps taken for retreating upon Astorga. The duke of Dalmatia had been daily receiving strong reinforcements for some time, and his army was already greatly superior to the British. The duke of Abrantes had advanced from Burgos to Valencia, and threatened the right flank of the British. Bonaparte himself had left Madrid on the 18th, with thirty-two thousand infantry, and eight thousand cavalry, part of which had reached Tordesillas on the 24th, and before the British had begun to retreat from Sahagun, they were moving with all haste upon the same point with the latter on Benevente. The duke of Dantzic, too, was recalled from his march towards Badajos, and ordered for Salamanca; and even the duke of Treviso, sent to take vengeance on Saragossa, was ordered to join in the pursuit of the British. Every preparation having been made, general Fraser, followed by general Hope, marched with their divisions on the 24th of December to Valdinas and Majorga, and Sir David Baird to Valencia. This movement was concealed by lord Paget, who pushed strong patrols of cavalry up to the advanced posts of the enemy. The reserve followed from Sahagun on the morning of the 25th; and lord Paget, in company with Sir John Moore, with the cavalry, followed in the evening. On the 24th of December, the advanced guard of Bonaparte marched from Tordesillas, which is a hundred and twenty miles from Madrid, and fifty from Benevente. Strong detachments of artillery had been pushed forward on the road to Villalpando and Majorga, one of which lord Paget encountered at the latter place, on the 26th. Colonel Leigh, with two squadrons of the 10th hussars, was ordered to charge this corps, which he did, and completely routed it, taking more than one hundred prisoners. Nothing could exceed the coolness and gallantry displayed by the British cavalry on this occasion. The 10th dragoons had already signalized their valour, and been victors in six several attacks, At Valencia, captain Jones, with only twenty men, charged a hundred French dragoons, killed fourteen of them, and made six prisoners. Generals Hope and Frazer reached Benevente on the night of the 26th. On the 27th, the rear-guard crossed the Eslar, blew up the bridge, and followed the same route. After resting a short time at Benevente, and publishing general orders to the troops, whose conduct, since the commencement of the retreat, had assumed a disgraceful character, the army moved for Astorga on the 28th. Lord Paget, being left with the cavalry to bring up the rear, observed some of the enemy’s horse attempting a ford below the bridge which had been blown up, and between five and six hundred of Bonaparte’s imperial guards dashed into the river, and passed over. The piquets, who had been divided to watch the ford, amounting only to two hundred and twenty men, retired slowly before such superior numbers, disputing every inch of ground, till lord Paget, with the 10th hussars, coming up, they wheeled round, and plunged into the water, leaving behind them fifty-five men killed and wounded, and seventy prisoners, among whom was general Le Febvre, the commander of the imperial guard. Some doubt, it would appear, hung upon the general’s mind, whether Vigo or Corunna was the most eligible place for the embarkation of the troops; and wishing to have either of them still in his choice, he sent general Crawford, with three thousand men, lightly equipped, on the road to Orange, so far on the way to Vigo. With the rest of the troops he proceeded to Astorga. The marquis de la Romana had been left to destroy the bridge of Mansilla; and after having performed that duty, had been desired to turn to Asturias, in the fortresses of which he might find safety, and at the same time make some small diversion in favour of the British army: but he had left the bridge in charge of a small guard, which delivered it up to the cavalry of Soult; and he possessed himself here of a great part of the accommodations which were intended for the British troops. His half naked troops carried away a part of the stores which had been collected at this place, a great part of which had to be destroyed for want of means to remove them. At Astorga, another general order was issued, respecting the moral conduct of the troops, which had not improved since they left Benevente. The advanced guard, and the main body of the British army, marched on the 30th for Villa Franca; Sir John Moore, with general Paget, and the reserve, followed on the 31st. The cavalry reached Camberas at midnight, when the reserve proceeded, and arrived next morning, January 1, remaining at Bembilene, as the preceding divisions were marching off to Villa Franca. Here an unparalleled scene of debauchery presented itself. The stragglers from the preceding divisions so crowded the houses, that there was not accommodation for the reserve, while groups of the half naked wretches belonging to the marquis of Romana, completed the confusion. The French were following so close, that their patrols during the night fell in with the cavalry piquets. When Sir John Moore with the reserve and the cavalry, marched for Villa Franca, on the 2d of January, he left colonel Ross, with the 20th regiment, and a detachment of cavalry, to cover the town; while parties were sent to warn the stragglers, amounting to one thousand men, of their danger, and to drive them, if possible, out of the houses. Some few were persuaded to move on, but the far greater number, in despite of threats, and regardless of the approaching enemy, persisted in remaining, and were therefore left to their fate. The cavalry, however, only quitted the town on the approach of the enemy, and then, from the sense of immediate danger, was the road filled with stragglers, armed and unarmed, mules, carts, women and children, in the utmost confusion. The patrol of hussars which had remained to protect them, was now closely pursued for several miles by five squadrons of French cavalry, who, as they galloped through the long line of stragglers, slashed them with their swords, right and left, without mercy, while, overcome with liquor, they could neither make resistance, nor get out of the way. At Villa Franca, the general heard, with deep regret, of the irregularities which had been committed by the preceding divisions. Magazines had been plundered, stores of wine broken open, and large quantities of forage and provisions destroyed. One man who had been detected in these atrocities, was immediately shot; and a number of the stragglers, who had been miserably wounded by the French cavalry, were carried through the ranks, to show the melancholy consequences of inebriety, and the imprudence of quitting their companions. Failing of his aim of intercepting the British at Astorga, Bonaparte did not proceed farther, but he ordered Soult, with an overwhelming force, to pursue, and drive them into the sea; and on the 3d of January, they pressed so hard upon the rear of the retreating army, that Sir John Moore resolved upon a night march from Villa Franca to Herrerias. From the latter place he proceeded to Lugo, where he determined to offer the enemy battle; and for this purpose he sent forward despatches to Sir David Baird, who was in front, to halt. He also enclosed the same orders for generals Hope and Fraser, who commanded the advanced divisions. These he forwarded to Sir David Baird, by his aid-de-camp, captain Napier, accompanied by an orderly dragoon. Sir David again forwarded them to the respective officers; but the orderly dragoon, having got intoxicated, lost them: in consequence of which general Fraser marched on a day’s journey on the road to Vigo, which he had to countermarch next day, in dreadful weather, by which he lost a number of his men. It was now determined to march upon Corunna, as being nearer than Vigo; and an express was sent off to Sir Samuel Hood, to order the transports round to that place. On the road to Nagles, the reserve fell in with forty waggons with stores, sent from England for the marquis of Romana’s army. As there were no means of carrying them back, shoes, and such things as could be made use of, were distributed to the troops as they passed, and the rest destroyed. On the 5th, the rifle corps, which covered the reserve, was engaged with the enemy nearly the whole day, while everything that retarded the march was destroyed. Two carts of dollars, amounting to twenty-five thousand pounds, were rolled down a precipice on the side of the road, which the advanced guard of the French passed in less than five minutes thereafter. It was afterwards ascertained that this money fell into the hands of the Spanish peasants. At Lugo, another severe general order was issued, and a position taken up for battle. The French made an attack on part of this position on the 7th, but were repulsed with ease. On the 8th, everything was disposed for a general engagement; Soult, however, did not think fit to make the attack, and the British army not being now in a state to undergo a protracted warfare, it was resolved to continue the retreat. The different brigades accordingly quitted the ground about ten o’clock at night, leaving their fires burning to deceive the enemy. Great disorders still reigned among the troops, who were suffering dreadfully from the severity of the weather, and from long marches on bad roads; yet, at Bitanzos, it was judged preferable to keep the troops exposed to the cold and rain rather than to the irresistible temptations of the wine houses in the town. Here a new order was issued, and particular duties demanded to be performed by the officers. The last day’s march, on the 11th, was conducted with more propriety than any that had preceded it; yet eight or nine stragglers were detected, who had preceded their column, and taken possession of a wine house, and all that was in it. They were seized, and brought before the general, who halted the army, and sent for the officers of the regiments to which they belonged. The culprits’ haversacks were then searched, when the general declared that, had he found any plunder in them, their owners would have been hanged; but that he would have considered their guilt in a great measure attributable to the negligence of their officers. On finishing this inquiry, Sir John Moore rode on to Corunna, and examined every position in its neighbourhood. The troops were quartered, partly in the town, and partly in the suburbs; General Paget, with the reserve, at El-Burgo, near the bridge of the Moro, and in the villages on the St Jago road. Adverse winds had detained the transports, otherwise the whole army would have been embarked before the enemy could have come up. Only a few ships lay in the harbour, in which some sick men, and some stragglers who had preceded the army, and represented themselves sick, had embarked. The army, though much fatigued, arrived at its destined position unbroken, and in good spirits. Bonaparte, with seventy thousand men, had in vain attempted to impede its progress; and its rear-guard, though often engaged, had never been thrown into confusion. But the greatest danger was still to be incurred. The situation of Corunna was found to be unfavourable; the transports had not arrived; the enemy was already appearing on the heights, and might soon be expected in overwhelming force. Several of his officers, recollecting, perhaps, the convention of Cintra, gave it as their advice, that Sir John Moore should apply to the Duke of Dalmatia for permission to embark his troops unmolested. This, however, he positively rejected. The officers, in the first place, were busied in attempting to restore some degree of discipline among the troops, and in providing such refreshments for them as the place would afford. The ground, in the mean time, was carefully examined, and the best dispositions that could be thought of made for defence. On the 13th, Sir John Moore was on horseback by the break of day, making arrangements for battle. He returned about eleven, worn out with fatigue; sent for brigadier-general Stuart, and desired him to proceed to England, to explain to ministers the situation of the army. He was, he said, so tired, that he was incapable of writing; but that he (general Stuart) being a competent judge, did not require any letter. After taking some refreshment, however, and resting two hours, the ship not being quite ready, nor general Stuart gone, he called for paper, and wrote his last despatch. On the 14th, the French commenced a cannonade on the left, which the British returned with such effect, as to make the enemy draw off. On a hill outside the British posts, were found this day five thousand barrels of gunpowder, which had been sent from England, and lay here neglected, though the Spanish armies were in a great measure ineffective for want of ammunition. As many barrels as conveyance could be found for, which was but very few, were carried back to Corunna; the remainder were blown up. The explosion shook the town of Corunna like an earthquake. This evening the transports from Vigo hove in sight. On the 15th, the enemy advanced to the height where the magazine had been blown up; and colonel Mackenzie, of the 5th regiment, in attempting to seize upon two of the enemy’s guns, was killed. The artillery was this day embarked, with the exception of seven six-pounders and one howitzer, which were employed in the lines of defence, and four Spanish guns, kept as a reserve. On this and the preceding day, the sick, the dismounted cavalry, horses, and artillery, were carried on board the ships, and every arrangement was made for embarking the whole army on the following evening. Next morning the enemy remained quiet, and the preparations being completed, it was finally resolved that the embarkation should take place that evening, and all the necessary orders were accordingly issued. About noon, Sir John Moore sent for colonel Anderson, to whom the care of the embarkation was confided, and ordered him to have all the boats disengaged by four o’clock, as, if the enemy did not move, he would embark the reserve at that hour, and would go out himself as soon as it was dark, and send in the troops in the order he wished them to be embarked. At one o’clock, his horse was brought, when he took leave of Anderson, saying, "Remember I depend upon your paying particular attention to everything that concerns the embarkation, and let there be as little confusion as possible." Mounting his horse, he set out to visit the outposts, and to explain his designs to his officers. On his way, he was met by a report from general Hope, that the enemy’s line was getting under arms, at which he expressed the highest satisfaction; but regretted that there would not be daylight enough to reap all the advantages he anticipated. Galloping into the field, he found the piquets already beginning to fire on the enemy’s light troops, which were pouring down the hill. Having carefully examined the position, and the movements of the armies, he sent off almost all his staff officers with orders to the different generals, and hastened himself to the right wing, the position of which was bad, and which, if forced, would have ruined his whole army. This dangerous post was held by the 4th, 42nd, and 50th regiments. As the general anticipated, a furious attack was made on this part of his line, which he saw nobly repelled by the 50th and 42nd, whom he cheered on in person, calling out to them to remember Egypt. Having ordered up a battalion of the guards, captain Hardinge was pointing out to him their position, when he was beat to the ground by a cannon ball, which struck him on the left shoulder, carrying it entirely away, with part of the collarbone. Notwithstanding the severity of the wound, he sat up, with an unaltered countenance, looking intently at the Highlanders, who were warmly engaged; and his countenance brightened, when he was told that they were advancing. With the assistance of a soldier of the 42nd, he was removed a few yards behind the shelter of a wall; colonel Graham of Balgowan and captain Woodford, coming up at the instant, rode off for a surgeon. Captain Hardinge, in the mean time, attempted to stop the blood, which was flowing in a torrent, with his sash; but this, from the size of the wound, was in vain. Having consented to be carried to the rear, he was raised up to be laid in a blanket for that purpose. His sword hanging on the wounded side seemed to annoy him, and captain Hardinge was unbuckling it from his waist, when he said with a distinct voice, "It is as well as it is, I had rather it should go out of the field with me." He was borne out of the field by six soldiers of the 42nd. Captain Hardinge remarking, that he trusted he would yet recover, he looked steadfastly at the wound, and said, "No, Hardinge, I feel that to be impossible." When this officer expressed a wish to accompany him, he said, "You need not go with me. Report to general Hope that I am wounded, and carried to the rear." A sergeant of the 42nd, and two spare files escorted the general to Corunna, while captain Hardinge hastened to carry his orders to general Hope. The following is his friend colonel Anderson’s account of his last moments. "I met the general in the evening of the 16th, bringing in, in a blanket and sashes; he knew me immediately, though it was almost dark; squeezed my hand, and said, ‘Anderson, don’t leave me.’ He spoke to the surgeons while they were examining his wound, but was in such pain, he could say little. After some time he seemed very anxious to speak to me, and at intervals expressed himself as follows: ‘Anderson, you know that I have always wished to die thus way.’ He then asked, ‘Are the French beaten?’ a question which he repeated to every one he knew as they came in. ‘I hope the people of England will be satisfied. I hope my country will do me justice. Anderson, you will see my friends as soon as you can. Tell them everything. My mother’—Here his voice quite failed, and he was excessively agitated. ‘Hope—Hope—I have much to say to him—but—cannot get it out. Are colonel Graham, and all my aids-de-camp well. (A private sign was made by colonel Anderson not to inform him that captain Burrard, one of his aids-de-camp, was wounded.) I have made my will, and remembered my servants. Colborne has my will, and all my papers." Major Colborne then came into the room. He spoke most kindly to him, and then said to me, ‘Anderson, remember you go to * * and tell him it is my request, and that I expect he will give major Colborne a lieutenant-colonelcy. He has been long with me, and I know him most worthy of it.’ He then asked major Colborne if the French were beaten; and on being told that they were, on every point, he said, ‘It is a great satisfaction for me to know we have beaten the French. Is Paget in the room?’ On may telling him that he was not, he said, ‘Remember me to him; it’s general Paget I mean. He is a fine fellow. I feel myself so strong, I fear I shall be long dying. It is great uneasiness—it is great pain. Every thing Francois says is right. I have the greatest confidence in him.’ He thanked the surgeons for their trouble. Captains Percy and Stanley, two of his aids-de-camp, then came into the room. He spoke kindly to both, and asked if all his aids-de-camp were well. After some interval, he said, ‘Stanhope, remember me to your sister.’ He pressed my hand close to his body, and in a few minutes died without a struggle."

Thus died Sir John Moore in the forty-seventh year of his age, after having conducted one of the most difficult retreats on record, and secured the safety of the army intrusted to him. Few deaths have excited a greater sensation at the time they took place. The house of commons passed a vote of thanks to his army, and ordered a monument to be erected for him in St Paul’s Cathedral. Glasgow, his native city, erected a bronze statue to his memory, at a cost of upwards of three thousand pounds. The extent of his merits has not failed to be a subject of controversy; but it seems to be now generally allowed by all, except those who are blinded by party zeal, that, in proportion to the means intrusted to him, they were very great.

"Succeeding achievements of a more extensive and important nature," says the author of the Pleasures of Hope [Edin. Encyc. art. Sir John Moore], "have eclipsed the reputation of this commander, but the intrepidity and manly uprightness of his character, manifested at a time when the British army was far from being distinguished in these respects, are qualities far more endearing than military fame. They extorted admiration even from his enemies; and the monument erected by the French officers over his grave at Corunna, attests the worth of both parties."


Got an email in from Sarita Cooke Garner, 10 Hurlingham Club Road, Far Hills, New Jersey, 07931

From Sarita Cooke Garner.  I am, along with my Ramsbotham cousins, the only person remaining with a connection to Sir John Moore.  My father inherited all Sir John Moore's banqueting silver, his dualing pistols, his bust, a telescope signed Watkins, Charing Cross, London, (operating 1799 to 1819) inscribed Major General Moore, in its original leather case.  A lovely watercolour of his burial painted by George Jones. Medals belonging to Lt-General Sir William George Moore, KCB, who was the eldest son of Francis Moore, Under Secretary of War, and Countess Eglinton (daughter of Sir Wm Twyden Bart.).  My father's aunt Mary Moore inherited  two paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence, one of Sir John Moore and the other of his brother Admiral Sir Graham Moore. Great Aunt Mary Moore gave them to the National Portrait Gallery.  We also inherited his diaries, a biography written by Carola Oman and lastly his silver.  With the exception of the silver sadly my mother chose to sell everything. 

A letter was written in the Wall Street Journal mentioning that 'Negro blood by way of the African slave trade of the 15th century often found its way into some of the best Italian noble families.  Names such as Moretti, Negri, Negrillo etc, not only donated a Negro ancestor, but the family coat of arms often portrayed a black person.....Nor,' it continued, 'were the Italians alone in their intermixture with Africans.  In Scotland, the clan Douglas was referred to as Black Douglas because of their dark skin". 

The crest, on the remaining silver my father inherited, is the head of a Saracen in profile: ppr coped at the neck; the turban arg, the cap vert. This description of the family crest comes from Moore's of the Hills, so called from their property of that name in Douglas.  http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/famhist/families/awm1889/moore_h.htm -I had always assumed that Sir John Moore had been given that crest as a result of his triumph, as well as his death, at the battle of Corunna.  But I was wrong; the family crest goes back as far as the 1600's, maybe even earlier. Negro slavery was abolished in 1776, however I don't have any information on when Negro slavery began in Scotland. I did read an article that mentioned that there are portraits in noble Scottish families where it is clear that there was an element of Negro blood.  The only assumption I can come to for the Moor's head on the family silver is that, indeed, there must have been some knowledge of, or connection with, Negroes going far back into the early 1700's.  The Moores also lived on the Isle of Man.

I would be very interested if anyone has any information about the subject of Negroes in Northern Scotland.


Got an email in from Gary Crawford, Laird of Glencairn

As a scotsman and a former soldier I am fascinated by the level of impact that Scots have had on the British armed forces over the years, when I was serving my basic training at Winchester I came upon the name of Sir John Moore there is also a statue of him there just inside the main gate.  At the time I assumed him to be an English man and was very surprised to find that he was born in Glasgow.  I'm not sure if you are aware of these facts but it was Sir John Moore who changed the way the British army fought. It is widely known that back then when we fought we stood in lines or ranks and fired till we fell, which was a pointless waste of life. The General considered this and changed tactics.  He devised the skirmish or what we like to call nowadays "modern warfare". He also came on the idea of changing our uniform.  He created the Light division (the light infantry and the royal green jackets as they are called today) and changed their coats from the distinctive red to green to assist in concealment from the enemy thus effecting what is today known as DPM (Disruptive Pattern Material) the uniform that is worn today by armed forces around the world.


Found a review of this publication about him in the Edinburgh Review which you can read here.

And the two volumes can be downloaded below...

The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore in 2 volumes
Volume 1  |  Volume 2


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