With Moore to Corunna

With Moore to Corunna

Charles J Esdaile
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
The book is written around the previously unpublished diary of Charles Paget who was an ensign in the 52nd Regiment. Paget was present throughout the whole of the Peninsular Campaign. The diary is used as a basis for the editor Charles Esdaile to produce this historical read. Gen Moore’s Divisions were transported to Spain by 22 Naval transports protected by some ‘Man O war, the troops disembarked in Spain in rough ‘Breakers’ and in cold and wet conditions, they went direct into the battle of Vimeiro which was duly won. Then on to Corunna, which featured the arrival of Napoleon and the British withdrawal.

There are many paragraphs quoting what a good soldier, leader and tactician General Sir John Moore was, but no mention of his death during the fighting, which I thought would, or should have had good mention, it is reiterated several times that his Light Infantry Troops adored him and that he was ‘well beloved’ by his Light Infantry regiments. His Regiments were excused the punishment of ‘Flogging’ unlike the remainder of the British army and indeed the Royal Navy at the time.

Throughout the whole of the campaign Gen Moore had a massive logistical problem, his resorting to taking Oxen and mules from his allies the Spanish did not endear him to them, however with few horses available from England, he had no choice.

Much of the British Army’s attitude towards the Spanish and the Portuguese was of John Moore’s doing. He held the view that to be British meant ‘superiority’ in every respect and that all other Races were inferior, this was bred down through the junior officers down to the Rank and File, and openly vented on the foreign populace, civilian and military alike.

The main British Regiments engaged and those that get good mention are the 52nd of Foot and the 97th Regiments, though later in the campaign the 9th, 28th, 43rd and 50th get a lot of published detail. The tactics used by both the British and the French are interesting to read and some nice anecdotes are quoted illustrating this. One is left in no doubt that the good tactics of the French and the British can be admired, while those of the Spanish and the Portuguese are sadly left wanting. The Spanish had previously deserted their allies the French due the news that Napoleon had intended his younger brother to be made ‘King of Spain,' quite rightly this upset the Spanish, and they took the British Side, even though they were apparently really quite ineffective as allies.

Readers will see much in the book that will remind them of their own days of soldiering, for example;

All mail for England should be delivered to the mail tent before noon tomorrow.

The Battalion will move off at 6 am, Order of March, Light company, A, B and C, Grenadier company in the rear. The Rank and file will each carry 60 rounds of Ball ammunition.

Discipline in Billets and on the March is to be good, and civilians and their property is to be respected.

An amusing Anecdote
Battalions in Line and confronting the Enemy were expected to remain firm and steady: One Company commander standing in front of his company saw a man duck down when a shot passed close to his head, this enraged the officer, he called out “Why do you Bob like a girl Sir? When this is over come and see me, I will teach you to Bob in fine style Sir!” (Meaning the lash) Just then a cannon ball passed just over the officer’s head. He bobbed down to his waist level, he then stood upright again, his neck and face more red than his tunic.

There are other stories of soldiers being Hanged in front of the battalion formed up in Hallow Square, one man awarded 700 lashes for throwing a stone at an officer, but as stated previously Sir John Moore forbid any punishments in his coveted Light Infantry.

Some fraternization between the British and French, but much brutality of captured prisoners by both sides. During the British retreat back to Corunna the columns marching in four ranks and so poorly shod that they left a continuous trail of blood from their feet that was four yards wide in the snow.

The embarkation back onto the sea Transports was difficult due to rough seas, however it was managed in an overnight embarkation, a great sadness was that Horses had to be shot due to inability to get them on board. Wives and Children also had to be got back on board, though along with many soldiers, some of the wives and children died on the march.

Soldiers were crammed on board ship and the description of fights and quarrels shows that even those tough and bold warriors also suffered some form of trauma; ‘For most of the nights under sail, some soldiers cried out loudly and with some crying and sobbing in their sleep’

An interesting read, but due to some repetition and a little ‘slow’ in places where too much detail may not appeal to less enthusiastic readers. I also think £20.00 for the book is a little expensive.

I award 4 stars.


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