Monday, January 16, 2012

Sir John Moore at Corunna

‘…The French, having declined the proffered engagement, Sir John Moore continued his retreat under the same disadvantageous circumstances, until he arrived at Corunna, the original object of his destination.  He was preparing to embark his forces in the transports, which lay prepared for their reception, when his pursuer, Soult, now pressing boldly forward, made it evident that this could not be accomplished unless either by a convention with him, or by the event of battle, which might disqualify him from opposing the embarcation.  Sir John Moore, with the dignity becoming his character, chose the latter alternative, and occupied a position of no great strength in front of the town, to protect the embarcation.  The attack was made by the French on the 16th January, in heavy columns, and with their usual vivacity; but it was sustained and repelled on all hands.  The gallant general was mortally wounded in the action, just as he called on the 42nd Highland regiment to “remember Egypt”, and reminded the same brave mountaineers, that though ammunition was scarce, they had their bayonets. 

Thus died on the field of victory, which atoned for previous misfortunes, one of the bravest and best officers of the British army.  His body was wrapped in his military cloak, instead of the usual vestments of the tomb; it was deposited in a grave hastily dug on the ramparts of Corunna; and the army, completing its embarkation upon the subsequent day, their late general was left with his glory…’

Sir John Moore died at the Battle of Corunna, on January 16, 1809.  Sir Walter Scott’s treatment (above) comes from his “Life of Napoleon Buonaparte”.  Poet Charles Wolfe wrote the following concerning Moore’s burial:

The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna

  Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,
    As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
    O'er the grave where our hero we buried.

  We buried him darkly at dead of night,
    The sods with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light
    And the lanthorn dimly burning.

   No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
    Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
    With his martial cloak around him.

  Few and short were the prayers we said,
    And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
    And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

  We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed
    And smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head,
    And we far away on the billow!

  Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone
    And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him,--
But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on
    In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

  But half of our heavy task was done
    When the clock struck the hour for retiring:
And we heard the distant and random gun
    That the foe was sullenly firing.

  Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
    From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
    But left him alone with his glory.

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