Moore’s heroic stand at Corunna delayed Napoleon’s Spanish conquest

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 28 March 2012

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This edited article about Corunna originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 678 published on 11 January 1975.

Defence of Corunna, picture, image, illustration

Sir John Moore orders his Highlanders to advance at the Defence of Corunna by C L Doughty

Napoleon was already master of most of Europe, and now he was trying to conquer Spain, whose untrained and ill-equipped army was being swept before the French like so many leaves before a broom. Her only hope, it seemed, lay in a British force that was now slogging its way across the mountains through the wet clogging mud of the autumn rains. It was, however, a pitiful force, a mere 35,000 men, that was vastly outnumbered by the French Army. It did, nevertheless, have as its leader, Sir John Moore, the greatest trainer of troops the British Army has ever known.

But despite Sir John’s leadership, this gallant force fared badly, so much so that by the end of the year it was in danger of being trapped and completely annihilated. Sir John ordered a retreat.

The hard pressed army came at length to the small port of Corunna, where it prepared to make its last stand against the French who were already at their heels. The French artillery began the battle by bouncing roundshot on the ridge on which stood the main British line. Men fell, and gaps began to appear in the ranks. The French troops then began to advance, only to be driven back. It was during this moment of confusion among the French troops that Sir John saw his chance. Riding forward, he ordered his Highlanders to advance.

They poured down the slope after the retreating army.

The battle went on through the whole of that day, with the French retreating and then advancing, until late in the evening when the British army finally had to admit defeat. Sadly, the remnants of the army boarded the ships for a stormy voyage home to England.

Sir John Moore did not sail with them. In the middle of the battle he had fallen mortally wounded from his horse. “I hope my country will do me justice,” he had said, before dying. In actual fact, he was severely criticised for the way he had handled the campaign. But history was to be on his side. Although the campaign had been an unsuccessful one, it had delayed the conquest of Spain for a year, and had bought valuable time for Wellington to prepare for the battles that were to be fought in Portugal.

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