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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 18


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Sir John Moore was left in a most critical situation. All those fine armies, which were to have enfranchised Spain without his assistance, were scattered as so much mist; but this he only knew partly. He knew enough, however, to induce him to determine on a retreat into Portugal, and there to endeavour to make a stand against the French. He wrote to Sir David Baird and Sir John Hope - both of them still at a great distance - to retreat too: Sir David, with his division, to fall back on Corunna, and then sail to Lisbon to meet him; Sir John to await him at Ciudad Rodrigo. Had Sir John carried out this plan, whilst Buonaparte and his troops were engaged with the army of Castanos, and with Madrid, his fate might have been very different. But here again he was the victim of false information. Mr. Frere, who seems to have really known nothing of what was going on, and to have believed anything, wrote to him from Aranjuez, on the 30th of November, protesting against his retreat, and assuring him that he had nothing to do but to advance to Madrid, and save Spain. He expressed his most unbounded faith in the valour and success of the Spaniards. 1 le talked to Moore of repulsing the French before they collected their reinforcements. And when was this letter written by the British ambassador to the British commander- in-chief? A week after the destruction of Castanos' army at Tudela! - at the very time that Buonaparte himself was within a few leagues of Madrid! - at the time when all the French reinforcements had not only arrived, but had concentrated themselves in the very line of Moore's march, and when they had beaten and dispersed every Spanish force! Two days only after this extraordinary letter Buonaparte was at Madrid! In two more days he was in possession of the city, and Frere himself was flying with the junta towards Badajoz. And did this extraordinary British minister make any exertion to undeceive Sir John - to prevent the mischief that his dispatch must have done? On the contrary, even in this fugitive situation, he did his best to precipitate the British army upon the whole French force, some twenty thousand men upon a hundred thousand! On the very day, the 2nd of December, that Buonaparte arrived, the traitor Morla, who had already planned his treason, wrote to Sir John, encouraging him to come on. He also sent after Frere a colonel Charmilly, a reputed French royalist, and enemy of Buonaparte, who overtook the flying minister at Talavera, and requested a letter from him to Sir John, entreating him to make haste to the succour of Madrid. He assured him that the people of Madrid were resolved on a determined resistance, and only wanted the presence of the British army to drive away the French. And what did Frere? Though he knew that, by this time, the French were in possession of the capital, and though he and the junta were in flight, he fully endorsed these statements of the traitor Morla, and gave Charmilly a letter to Sir John Moore to that effect.

If ever there was a man who laboured to destroy the army of his own country, it was Frere on this occasion: in ignorance, undoubtedly, but in ignorance, under the circumstances, almost as guilty as direct treason. By this time Morla had openly avowed his treason, and had received his reward, or the promise of it, from the French. It is supposed, too, that he had enriched himself enormously with the money sent from England, and which Frere had so carelessly handed over to the junta. Morla became a high functionary in the court of king Joseph, and the British commander, undeceived at the last moment, had to retreat in all haste, to save his army from being surrounded. No 1 sooner, however, did he see and hear Morla and Frere's French emissary, than he suspected him, and received him very coldly. But the man returned the next morning with a second letter from Frere, written, apparently, to be given as a last incentive. In this letter Frere urged Sir John still more earnestly to march on Madrid; but that, should ha yet think of retreat, he requested that Charmilly should tirst be heard before a council of war. As this was, in fact, an attempt to take away Sir John's command of his army, he at once ordered the emissary to quit the camp. Yet, on reflecting on the statements of Mr. Frere, Sir John concluded finally that Madrid was still holding out, and thought it his duty to proceed to its rescue. He was joined, on the 6th, by Sir John Hope and the artillery, and he wrote again to Sir David Baird to countermand his retreat, and order him to come up with dispatch. Thus precious time was lost, and it was not till the 9th that he was undeceived.

He had sent colonel Graham to Madrid with a reply to Morla, and to procure intelligence of the real state of affairs. Graham now came back with the alarming and astonishing- truth that the French were in Madrid; that it had held out only one day. It is strange that Sir John did not instantly commence his retreat; but he was still misled by false accounts of the strength of the French, and actually resolved to proceed to Madrid. On the 11th he sent for- ward his cavalry, under general Stewart, the late lord Londonderry, when they found actually the advanced post of the enemy occupying the village of Rueda. It was but about eighty men, infantry and cavalry. They were quickly surrounded by the English dragoons, and the whole killed or taken prisoners. On the 14th, an intercepted letter of Berthier to Soult fell into his hands, by which he learned that various French divisions were moving down upon him, and that Soult was in advance. Moore thought that he might meet and beat Soult before the other divisions arrived, and he therefore, after sending a dispatch to general Baird to warn him of Soult's approach, crossed the Tordesillas, and continued his march as far as Mayorga, where he was joined by Sir David Baird and Sir John Hope, so that his army now amounted to twenty-three thousand five hundred and eighty on the spot. He had other regiments in Portugal and on the road, making up his total to thirty-five thousand. During this march lie received the most false and delusive letters, both from the Madrid junta, which had now fled as far as Truxillo, and from Frere, who had fled with them. Both the junta and Frere assured him that it was quite feasible for him yet to drive the French out of Madrid; that Romana was ready to join him with fourteen thousand picked men, and that thirty thousand armed peasants were preparing to support them; that the enemy was never so near ruin as then. Now, Romana had himself assured Sir John that he had only seven thousand men, collected from the fugitives of the battle of Burgos, and who, in fact, were in a deplorable condition for arms, clothing, and provisions. He had news most certain, through the intercepted dispatch, of three or four great French armies betwixt himself and Madrid, at the head of one Buonaparte himself. Frere, far away, and utterly ignorant of the real position of the enemy, severely blamed Sir John for retreating, and for having, as he asserted, rejected the co-operation of Romana with his fourteen thousand picked men. This grossly-false and mischievous conduct of this self-confident and altogether incompetent man must have been no little trial to the British general.

On the 23rd Moore was obliged to halt at Sahagun for the coming of his supplies; and, whilst doing so, he received the intelligence, both from Romana and his own confidential agents, that no fewer than one hundred thousand men were in full march after him, or taking a route so as to cut off his rear at Benevento, and that Buonaparte himself headed tins latter division. There was no further thought of advancing, but of retreat, before the army was completely surrounded. He put the greater part of his force en route, the same day, for Astorga, and wrote to Romana to secure the bridge at Mancilla, over the Esla. By the 26th the whole army was beyond that river, but the French were now close behind them. Buonaparte, indeed, hoped to have rushed on by the Guadarrama, and to have cut off his retreat at Tordesillas, but lie was twelve hours too late. After crossing the bridge at Mancilla, Sir John ordered Romana to defend it with three thousand, and with the rest of his force to occupy the neighbouring town of Leon. But the French very soon dislodged Romana, both from the bridge, and drove them out of Leon. By this means, Soult was again pressing on the British rear, and, at Benevento, Moore was obliged to destroy a quantity of his stores, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy.

On the route there had been several skirmishes betwixt the British cavalry and the horse of the French, and on every such occasion the British drove them back in confusion, and with heavy loss - a certain proof of what the result would have been had the English army been in any degree equal in numbers, or had its flanks been protected by those boasted Spanish troops, which now were ail scattered to the winds. On the 29th, the rear of the British army being at Astorga, and the main body having reached Benevente, six hundred of the French cavalry, under general Lefevre - Desnouettes, dashed across the Esla, and attacked the rear protecting the baggage wagons and camp followers. Lord Paget, afterwards marquis of Anglesea, at the head of a strong body of the 10th English and the 3rd German hussars, galloped back, and put them to an instant flight. They killed two or three hundred men before they could get back over the river, and took a quantity of prisoners, with them general Lefevre himself, who was wounded.

At Astorga, Romana appeared with his ragged and famishing five thousand; but it was only to rush upon the stores of the British and consume them. Sir John Moore had particularly desired the marquis to take his way into the Asturias, where he might have been useful by flanking the advancing French troops; but probably the Spaniard saw no mode of supporting his famishing soldiers so well as by joining the British. The consequence was the utmost confusion. The starving men disputed the stores, the lodgings, and everything with the English, to whom they had never brought the slightest co-operation, and what was worse, they were infected with typhus fever, and spread it amongst the British, besides being disgustingly dirty, and devoured with vermin. As the British pursued their retreat, Romana rode away with his cavalry, and left his infantry to shift for themselves. Some of these followed the English troops, others dispersed, or were taken or killed by the French.

On the last day of December, 1808, Buonaparte was pressing close on the English rear in the vicinity of Astorga, and thus closed the year on the fortunes of the Spaniards and their British allies. The boastful Spanish armies, too proud to think at first that they needed assistance, too unskilful, when they did see the need of it, to co-operate with it, and who had afforded nothing but indifference and false intelligence to their benefactors, were dispersed like so many clouds, and their allies were wing in unsupported necessity from an overwhelming foe.

But the year 1809 opened with one auspicious circumstance. There was no relief from the necessity of continuing the flight; but the proud Corsican, who hoped to annihilate the English and their leopards, was suddenly arrested in his pursuit, and called away to contend with other foes. On the 1st of January he was in Astorga, and from the heights above it could see the straggling rear of the British army. Nothing but the most imperative necessity could prevent him following, and seeking a triumph over the liated English - but that necessity was upon him. Pressing dispatches from France informed him that the north was in ferment, and that Austria was taking the field. The intelligence was too serious to admit of a moment's delay; but he made sure that Soult could now conquer the English, and on the 2nd lie turned his face northward, and travelled to Paris with a speed equal to that with which he had reached Spain.

Soult, indeed, had sixty thousand men and ninety-one guns to deal with the flying, and now greatly disorganised army of the English. At first the retreat had been made with much discipline and order, but the miserable weather, the torrents of rain, and heavy falls of snow, the roads rough with rocks, or deep with mud, tried the patience of the men. So long as they were advancing towards the enemy they could bear ail this with cheerfulness, but the English are never good-humoured or patient under retreat. Sullen and murmuring, they struggled along in the retreat, suffering not only from the weather, but from want of provisions, and the disgraceful indifference of the people to those who had come to fight their battles. Whenever a halt was made, and an order given to turn and charge the enemy, they instantly cheered up, forgot ail their troubles, and were full of life and spirit. But their gloom returned with the retreat; and, not being voluntarily aided by the Spaniards, they broke the ranks, and helped themselves to food and wine wherever they could find them. Such were now the weather and the roads, that many of the sick, and the women and children, who, spite of Orders, had been allowed to follow the army, fell on the road and perished. The French pressed more and more fiercely on the rear of the British, and several times Sir John was compelled to stop and repel them. On one of these occasions the French general, Colbert, was killed, and the six or eight squadrons of horse led by him were, for the most part, cut to pieces. At Lugo, on the 5th of January, the honourable Sir E. Paget beat back a very superior force. Again, on the 7th, Sir John Moore halted, and repulsed the advanced line of Soult, killing four or five hundred of the French. The next morning the armies met again in line of battle, but Soult did not attack; and, as soon as it was dark, Sir J0hn quietly pursued his march, leaving his fires burning to deceive the enemy.

On the 13th of January the army came in sight of Corunna and the sea, but great was their consternation not to see the transports in the bay. They were detained by contrary winds at Vigo, and the last hope of safety seemed cut off. Sir John, however, quartered his troops in Corunna, and determined to defend it manfully till the transports could get up. But great was his chagrin at the proofs of the miserable management of the commissariat department which now stared him in the face. He had seen Romana's detachment nearly destitute of arms and ammunition, and he could well infer that the other Spanish armies, which had been so easily dissipated, had been much in the same condition; yet here were vast stores of arms and ammunition, which had been sent from England, but which no one had taken any trouble to forward. On a hill above the town were four thousand barrels of gunpowder, which had been sent from England, and had been lying there many months, and the town was a great magazine of arms. Sir John replaced the weather-worn muskets of his troops with new ones, supplied them with new, good powder, and, after removing as many barrels of powder into the town as the time would allow, he blew up the rest, producing a concussion that shook the town like an earthquake.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 18

Hall of the council
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Chateau of Fontainebleau
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Napoleon extricating artillery
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General Murat
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Napoleon and Alexander
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General Junot
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Ancona
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Borghese
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Royal shield of Spain
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Ferdinand of Spain resigning his crows
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Dangan Castle
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Sir Arthur Wellesley
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Marshal Soult
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The defiles of Corunna
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Burial of Sir John Moore
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