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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 19

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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.

On the following day, the 14th, the transports, to their great relief, hove in sight, and Sir John hastened to get on board the sick, the horses, and the dismounted cavalry, and to prepare for a fight, for Soult was now close upon the town; the hills were crowded with his troops, and they were already skirmishing with his outposts. In these skirmishes colonel Mackenzie was killed in endeavouring to seize some of the French cannon, planted on the same place where the powder had just been blown up. The morning of the 15th passed without any attack from Soult, and Sir John proceeded with his arrangements for embarkation; but about noon the battle began. Soult had erected a powerful battery on some rocks at the extremity of his left, and commanding the village of Elvina, occupied by our troops. Sir David Baird was posted on the British right, opposite to the battery, and at no great distance from the village. The French made a dash at the village, under cover of the battery, and drove our men from it. The fight then became general. Soult had twenty thousand men, Sir John about fourteen thousand five hundred; but Soult had far more and heavier cannon, for Sir John had shipped all his artillery except twelve light guns. It was soon seen that the French cannon did vastly more execution than ours; and, as the whole line was engaged, Sir John sent Sir E. Paget, with the whole of his reserve, to turn the left of a column that was outflanking Baird on the right, and to silence the battery, if possible. Another division, under general Frazer, was sent to support Paget, and the battle now raged furiously on the right, and about the village of Elvina, which was lost and taken once or twice. In this conflict Sir David Baird had his arm shattered by a cannonball, and was taken off the field. Major Stanhope was killed, and major, afterwards general Sir Charles Napier, who acquired so much fame in India, was wounded. But Paget drew back on the British right, and Sir John, seeing the 42nd Highlanders engaged, rode up to them and shouted, "Highlanders! remember Egypt!" and they rushed forward, driving all before them, till they were stopped by a stone wall. The battle, however, still raging, and the French bringing up reserves, the furious contest was renewed around the village of Elvina. Sir John then dispatched captain, since lord Hardinge, to bring up the guards to support the 42nd Highlanders. Whilst awaiting their arrival, a cannon-ball, which had struck the ground, glanced forward again, and struck Sir John on the right shoulder and breast. He was dashed from his horse, and was supposed to be killed; but the force of the ball having been partly spent, before captain Hardinge could reach him he had raised himself, and was gazing earnestly after the 42nd and the other troops engaged. When he had seen his soldiers driving the French before them, he consented to be borne to the rear. He was carried away, by a Highland sergeant and three soldiers, in a blanket, his wound bleeding very much, and himself satisfied that his hurt was mortal. As he went, however, he repeatedly made the soldiers halt, that he might have another view of the battle. By night the French were beaten back in every direction; but the English general was dead, having lived only to receive the tidings of victory. During the night the troops were, in a great measure, got on board, and, at midnight, Sir John's remains were committed to the ground - as he had always wished them to be, should he be killed in battle - on the ramparts in the old citadel of Corunna. No coffin was to be procured, for coffins were not a Spanish fashion; but he was buried dressed as he was, and wrapt in his military cloak, literally as described in Wolfe's popular poem on his death. The chaplain read the burial service, and there his officers " left him alone in his glory," to make their own embarkment.

In the morning, the French, finding that the British had quitted their lines, advanced to the heights of Santa Lucia, and, dragging up some cannon, fired at the transports, several of which cut their cables to get out of the way; and, in the confusion, four ran aground, and were burnt there, the troops being first removed in the ships' boats. Before the following morning general Beresford, who had held the citadel, followed the rest of the troops, and all cleared out of the harbour. Marshal Soult then entered and took possession of Corunna, and, much to his honour, behaved with great humanity to the few mortally wounded and sick that were left behind. He also ordered a monument to be erected on the grave of the fallen English commander, which, however, never was done, till it was done by general Romana and some Englishmen. The loss to the English in the battle of Corunna was from eight hundred to one thousand; to the French, from two thousand to three thousand.

The news of our expulsion from Spain and Portugal by the French produced a profound disappointment at home. So much had been said of the bravery and enthusiasm of the Spanish armies, so greatly had the idea of the resistant spirit of the Spaniards been raised by the accounts of the siege of Zaragossa, that the complete sweeping away of the Spanish armies, and the rapid retreat and embarkation of our own, excited equal amazement and chagrin. "We shall not enter into the various and long disputes which occupied the journals and reviews of the time, in defence or in condemnation of the conduct of the expedition by Sir -John Moore. It is very probable that, had Sir Arthur Wellesley been sent out, the result might have been very different. With his penetration, caution, and experience, we imagine that he would not have been so far misled by the false information of Mr. Frere; that he would not have advanced so far into the interior without proving how he could rely on the Spanish armies, considering the limited nature of his own, and the vast numerical superiority of the French. When he saw the Spanish troops so quickly dispersed, he would probably have made a more timely retreat to some position where he could have fortified himself against the French. But it is not to be supposed that even Sir Arthur could have made any effectual head against the French without an increase of troops, and vast improvements in his commissariat department. The resources which the English government sent to Spain, through the carelessness and ignorance of its agents, were almost entirely wasted, and, worse, a great part of the arms and ammunition fell into the hands of the enemy; the greater part of the money was embezzled by greedy Spanish officials, into whose power it was too readily put. We shall see how Sir Arthur himself had to contend with all these difficulties - how he, too, had to retreat - how he, too, had to, suffer from the apathy and the jealousies of the Spaniards themselves. Sir John Moore, with all his military experience in the West Indies, in Holland, in Egypt, and with all his excellent and amiable qualities, was by no means a Wellesley; but he was a brave, patriotic, conscientious soldier, who did his duty well as far as he knew it. His misfortune was to have around him nothing but armies of mere chaff, where he naturally expected armies of invincible men; and before him a most indolent, ill-informed, and self-satisfied ambassador continually luring him on to his destruction. When lie saw it necessary to retreat, it was only when that retreat was from the proximity, the activity, and the numbers of his enemies - necessarily converted almost into a flight. He must be fleet, or he must be surrounded. When he could have paused in some strong position on the mountains, and made an effectual stand, he found stay impossible, for want of provisions. His Orders for the conveyance of these along the line of his march, like everything else, had been neglected, and lie was compelled to hurry on. Hence the suffering, the confusion, and the death of worn-out men, women, and children, along the mountain roads; hence the continual flinging away down the ravines of his baggage; and, at last, of his military chest, with its contents. The loss of men in this unfortunate expedition amounted to about four thousand; the loss of arms was two hundred thousand muskets and more; the loss of money some millions. But the fault was not that of Sir John Moore: it was the fault of the Spaniards, whose ignorant pride misled them as to their strength; of Mr. Frere, who was clever in books, but most ignorant and mischievous as an ambassador. Sir John acted like a brave man, who would have done great things, had he had any ordinary support, and who, at the last, gave a brilliant proof of his military talent, and of the unrivalled bravery of his army. No other army but an English one could, under the circumstances, have so severely chastised the victorious French, or have made their own exit from the country in so orderly and complete a manner. The experiences of Moore helped to pave the way for the magnificent achievements of Wellington in the same regions.

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