The Portsmouth Napoleonic Society
'Over The Hills and Far Away'
Back Home

 

Home
Up

PORTSMOUTH NAPOLEONIC SOCIETY

A FEW REMARKS, EXPLANATORY OF THE MOTIVES WHICH GUIDED THE OPERATIONS OF THE BRITISH ARMY,

DURING THE LATE SHORT CAMPAIGN IN SPAIN.

BY

BRIGADIER-GENERAL HENRY CLINTON,

ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO THE ARMY LATE UNDER THE COMMAND OF LIEUTENANT

GENERAL SIR JOHN MOORE, K.B.

LONDON:

PRINTED FOR T. EGERTON, MILITARY LIBRARY, WHITEHALL.

1809.

Henry Clinton’s remarks are readily available to read on Google books. I found that printing out a physical copy which could be laid on the desk whilst working on the computer had its advantages. During which time, however, reformatting of the text took place and a finished development began to emerge and thus the reason for the present form.

I have also included the additional Google version which contains a rebuttal titled ‘A Reply to the Statement Lately published by Brigadier-General Henry Clinton’, written by an outraged anonymous British Officer, and was published by John Murray very shortly after Clinton’s remarks which are dated 11th May 1809. Both are eyewitness participants and rightly amount to an intriguing read for anyone studying Sir John Moore’s retreat during the winter of 1808 – 1809.

A short biography of Henry Clinton can be found in the Royal Military Calendar, Volume ii, page 390. Looking at Henry’s extensive military career, I cannot but help think that the anonymous Officer has been a little harsh and that some of his distance related points are suspect. Nevertheless, both parties were writing to justify Sir John Moore’s Retreat.

For those wishing further analysis of Moore’s difficulties can read; D.W.Davies. Sir John Moore’s Peninsular Campaign. Published by Martinus Nijhoff in 1974.  Notes on the Campaign of 1808-1809, in North Spain by Lieut-Col.T.S.Sorell. Published by John Murray. 1828.

Colin Jones. Portsmouth Napoleonic Society.2020.

E-Mail: pns1814@hotmail.com

REMARKS, &c; &c;

The public appear to have received so erroneous an opinion, and to be still so imperfectly informed, in regard to circumstances which may be considered as having led to the unfortunate termination of the late campaign in Spain; and as the light which may be thrown upon the measures pursued by the late Sir John Moore, during that part of the campaign which immediately preceded the retreat, will serve to justify his conduct, and to clear his reputation from that shade which by some has been cast over it ; I feel myself called upon by motives of duty, and the high respect which I owe to the memory of that great Soldier, to publish the following short statement.

The first occurrence to which I think it necessary to advert, is that of the change of plan from the retreat upon Portugal, to the forward move and junction with Sir David Baird. It is well known that long before Sir John Moore could assemble at Salamanca even that column of the army which marched by the direct road from Lisbon, two of the Spanish armies upon the existence of which he had counted for covering the formation of the British army in the North of Spain, had been defeated and dispersed; these events put it in the power of the Enemy to interrupt the communication between the British corps coming from Lisbon and Corunna, and to prevent their junction; either of these corps might have been attacked by a force as superior as the Enemy might think necessary to ensure its defeat whenever he should be disposed to strike such a blow. Under these circumstances it was, that Sir John Moore, finding himself to be placed in a situation which afforded so little prospect of his being able to render any service to the Spanish cause, and in one of considerable danger to the several corps of the British army, felt it his first duty to provide for the safety of that army; and as he judged that this object might be best secured by a retreat on the several points from which those corps had penetrated into Spain, however mortifying to his hopes, however opposite to the interest of his fame it might be to lead an army back through the same country by which it had exultingly advanced, without even seeing the Enemy, he did not hesitate to adopt this painful measure, and directed preparations to be made for its execution. From the correspondence between Sir John Moore and Mr. Frere, it has certainly, with seeming probability, been assumed that Sir John Moore yielded his own judgment to the opinion of the British minister, and that he was induced to form the junction with Sir David Baird, and to make the move towards Valladolid, entirely at the instigation of Mr. Frere.

But those who entertain this opinion do not recollect what were the considerations which determined Sir John Moore to retreat upon Portugal, and how completely the situation of the Enemy's force had been changed since that determination had been formed. The whole of the Enemy's force which, after the defeat of the Spaniards at Burgos and Reynosa, might have been employed against the separated British corps, had been carried into Catalonia or against Madrid ; * by this move on the part of the enemy Sir John Moore found himself at liberty to make the junction with Sir David Baird, and the column under the command of Lieut. General Hope which had entered Spain by Badajos had by this time arrived within a day's march of Salamanca ; accounts were received from various other channels, as well as from Mr Frere, that the Spaniards were resolutely defending themselves in Madrid ; and although none of that enthusiasm, of which so much had been said, was apparent in any part of Spain through which Sir John Moore had passed, it was represented to him by British Officers, upon whose judgment he knew he could rely, that the spirit which had manifested itself at Saragossa, and in other parts of Spain, was by no means extinct.

 * It was not until after the British Army had marched from Salamanca, as will be seen by the sequel, that Sir John Moore was informed of the presence of the corps under Marshal Soult upon the upper part of the Carrion.

In this state of affairs Sir John Moore saw that by making a forward move, and joining Sir David Baird, he should be able to menace the communication of the Enemy, and by so doing that he might create a diversion in favour of those Spaniards  who still remained in arms ; but Sir John Moore never lost sight of the consideration, that so soon as the Enemy should direct his attention seriously to the advance of the British army, he must immediately commence his retreat, and therefore he determined not to commit himself so far, as not to be able to reach either the point of Astorga or the frontier of Portugal, according to the direction in which he should ultimately chuse to retreat, before the Enemy could come up with him.

It has been asserted that at Sahagun the British army was exposed to such imminent danger, that if it had halted for a few hours longer, its retreat would have been inevitably intercepted by a superior force. If such had been the situation of the army, it would be difficult to rescue even Sir John Moore from the charge of imprudence; but those who have been misled by vague reports, or by erroneous opinions, will, I trust, acquit Sir John Moore of this charge, when they have been informed what was really the situation of the armies at the period when he was induced to begin his retreat.

Sir John Moore marched from Salamanca on the 12th of December; his intention was to move upon Valladolid, in that neighbourhood to assemble his force, and then to effect the diversion in favour of the Spaniards. In execution of this project he had proceeded as far as Alaejos, when on the 14th Brigadier-General Stewart sent in the intercepted letter from Marshal Berthier to Marshal Soult, which letter contained such information of the strength and situation of Soult's corps, as served to determine Sir John Moore to make an attempt upon him. The column of Sir David Baird joined the army at Mayorga on the 20th; on the 22d the several corps were disposed for the attack, and the whole was in march on the evening of the 23d.

Information had now been received from various sources that the Enemy was advancing, but by intercepted reports it appeared that there would be sufficient time to engage the corps of Marshal Soult upon the Carrion, before those reinforcements could join him; and, had he fallen back beyond that position, Sir John Moore had determined not to follow him. Just as the several columns were put in march, intelligence was received from the Marquis Romana that the Enemy was marching with a considerable corps from the side of Madrid; and the object of his forward move being thus accomplished, Sir John Moore immediately halted the army, and ordered the retreat.

The distance of the army from Astorga, at this period, was that of three days march; so that, had Sir John Moore been able to move by the shortest road, he would have reached that place by the 26th; and that he did not do so, is ascribable to a cause which he could not control. There are over the river Esla, which runs between Sahagun and Astorga, only two bridges; one at Mancilla, the other near Benevente ; the direct road from Sahagun to Astorga crosses the Esla by a ford near Valencia de St.  Juan; during the night before the retreat commenced, a rapid thaw took place, after a frost, and a fall of snow of several days; the sudden melting of the snows in the mountains of the Asturias, in which the river Esla has its source, would, according to every information which could be obtained, render the ford across that river impassable; the road which led by Mancilla, which was the next shortest to Astorga, was occupied and embarrassed by a great part of the Marquis Romana's Army, which was also retiring from the Banks of the Cea. In a country which affords no means for bivouacing, and at a season when the state of the weather required that the troops should be as little as possible, exposed to sleep on the wet ground, the clashing of two armies in a retreat, was a case most carefully to be avoided. Sir John Moore then had no choice of roads, he sent the division of Lieutenant General Sir David Baird by St. Juan, this he intended should cross the river at a ferry near the ford above-mentioned, but there were not boats sufficient for the passage of a large body of troops, nor the means for speedily constructing a bridge. With the rest of the army, therefore, he proceeded by Benevente; the divisions of Lieutenant Generals Hope and Fraser marched on the 24th to Mayorga, the 25th to Valderas, and the following day to Benevente.

Sir John Moore marched with the reserve on the 25th, and followed the route of Generals Hope and Fraser; the cavalry fell back upon the same day and covered the retreat; the almost constant rain which fell during the march rendered the roads, (for the most part through meadows and along the banks of rivers), extremely fatiguing to the troops. A large convoy of artillery stores, which was marching to join the army, upon the retreat fell back upon the ford, but this was no longer passable, and the officer who conducted the convoy found himself obliged to proceed at last by Benevente, It was not before the 28th that this convoy was able to continue its march, and anxious to cover those valuable stores, Sir John did not march with the reserve before the 29th, It will probably be asked, why Sir John Moore did not at this time abandon stores, which were afterwards destroyed to prevent their falling into the Enemy's hands, rather than lose a single day; but those who ask this question must be reminded that Sir John Moore looked forward to giving battle near Astorga, he could not foresee what occasion he might have for ammunition, and had circumstances been as favourable to him as they were adverse, this ammunition would have been saved; but the bad weather continued, the roads as far as La Baneza were hardly passable for bullock-carts, and much of the ammunition was therefore of necessity destroyed. The reserve however performed the march to Astorga in two days, so. that no time was lost by the protection which Sir John Moore afforded to the artillery stores; the cavalry halted until the evening of the 29th to cover the retreat, and arrived in the morning of the 31st at Astoria. Had Sir John Moore not been prevented from marching by the direct road from Sahagun to Astorga, I have before shewn that he might have arrived there some days sooner, and he would therefore have had time to concert measures with the Marquis Romana, and to chuse and prepare a position, in which he might, with a probability of success, have waited the attack of a superior force; or, if the retreat into Gallicia had been determined upon, to have put in execution that plan before the Enemy could have been at hand, to impede it.

On the 30th Sir John Moore met the Marquis Romana; the latter proposed to defend Astorga, but had not the means of feeding even his own army for two days; the occupation of the open country by the Enemy, who was at this time greatly superior in cavalry, rendered it impossible to draw any supplies from the province of Castille, and the Marquis Romana's army having been stationary between Leon and this place, during the last six weeks, the resources of this part of the country were completely exhausted. The retreat into Gallicia therefore became a measure of necessity.

The divisions of Lieutenant Generals Hope and Fraser marched on the 30th, Sir David Baird on the 31st, and Sir JohnMoore with the reserve marched in the afternoon of the same day. Sir John Moore having been forced to make the circuitous march by Benevente, the Enemy was enabled to reach Astorga the day after that, on which the last division of the British Army had left it, viz. on the 1st of January, so that had there not been the impediment arising from the total want of provisions, the immediate approach of the Enemy, so superior in force, was in itself a sufficient cause to induce Sir John Moore not to wait for him in the unprepared position of Astorga, It has been observed that the retreat through Gallicia was conducted with  unnecessary haste, and upon this has been founded a sort of charge against Sir John Moore, as it is alleged that the loss which the army sustained on the retreat is solely to be ascribed to its precipitancy. It is undoubtedly true that the length of the marches and the severe fatigue to which the troops were exposed, did occasion a great number to fall out, and there was neither time nor means for carrying on those whose strength failed them. Had this expedition been used, without sufficient cause, it might be difficult to defend it, but no such blame is imputable to Sir John Moore.

When he had ascertained that Buonaparte had brought so large a force against him, he naturally expected that every effort of which his energetic mind was capable, would be employed for the destruction of the British Army; I know that the possibility of corps of the Enemy marching by roads on the right and left of that by which the British Army was retiring, was repeatedly and strongly urged to Sir John Moore at Astorga. He had not the means of ascertaining whether or not the Enemy had actually detached corps upon those roads, and impressed, as I believe him to have been, with the probability of such an attempt, he felt it incumbent upon him to gain, as expeditiously as possible, that point in the road of his retreat where he would no longer be exposed to the danger of such a manoeuvre. Judging that he might be reduced to the necessity of embarking, Sir John Moore determined to march upon Vigo where the transports were assembled, and to ease the retreat, the two flank brigades were sent from Celada near Astorga, by the Orensee Road.

On the 2d of January the reserve of the army reached Cacabellos, and, believing that the Enemy had only sent a small body of cavalry to follow the British Army, Sir John Moore came to the resolution of halting for one day at Villa Franca, to give more time to stragglers, and if possible to procure bread for the reserve, for the disorders committed by the stragglers at Villa Franca, and indeed all along the road, were such, that the people were flying in consternation from their habitations. At Villa Franca the ovens, which had been hired by the British Commissary for the use of the army, were broke open and plundered, and the reserve with, which Sir John Moore covered the retreat, was reduced to the greatest distress by the want of provisions.

These disorders are, as I conceive, to be ascribed to the following circumstance; during the night-marches several men fell out, others pushed on ahead, their numbers became more and more considerable, and not being with their regiments no arrangement could be made for issuing to them the provisions which were procured by the Commissary; necessity impelled them to obtain provisions by any means; one act of depredation led to another, and as there was no pause, during which it might be possible to re-establish order, the mischief continued to increase, until the arrival of the army at Corunna, and four fifths of the loss which the army sustained, may be justly attributed to this cause.

In the afternoon of the 3d it was reported that the Enemy was advancing in considerable force; Sir John Moore went immediately forward, and from the appearance of the Enemy, as well as from the intelligence he had received, judging that it was his determination to follow with a sufficient force to engage the British Army, he withdrew the reserve into Villa Franca, from whence the retreat might be continued without the immediate knowledge of the Enemy. Sir John Moore halted that night for a few hours at Herreas, and from thence dispatched an aide de camp with orders for the three divisions of Lieut.-Generals Sir David Baird, Hope, and Frazer, to halt at Lugo, at which place, expecting to find a sufficiency of provisions, which the Commissariat had directed to be sent from Corunna, he proposed to assemble the Army. The dragoon charged with forwarding the order for the halt of the leading divisions of the army missed his way, and in consequence of this accident Lieut-Gen. Frazer did not receive the order until the evening of the 5th, when his division had already proceeded as far as Sobrado on the road to Vigo. He gave immediate orders for its return to Lugo, but it was not before the 7th that this division was able to complete its march, and then, owing to the length of the march, through bad roads, and the great fatigue of the officers and soldiers, it arrived in a most reduced and debilitated state.

The infantry of the Enemy began to arrive within a short distance of the British advanced posts in the course of the 7th; and hoping that he would be induced to attack on the following day, Sir John Moore drew out his army to meet him. At this time the resources of the Commissariat had totally failed; with every exertion they were only able to procure a sufficiency to issue bread and meat for two days on the morning of the 8th; and from the want of means of conveying the provisions to the troops, many corps received but a partial supply. Delay under these circumstances would have been as ruinous as a defeat; and finding that the Enemy declined the combat on the 8th, Sir John Moore was of opinion, that the most advantageous step was to attack. But, though an attack had been attended with as complete success as could have been expected, considering the superiority in numbers, of the Enemy's cavalry, still it would have occasioned at least another day's delay, and provisions were only to be obtained by the army's marching to its magazine, for the commissariat department no longer possessed any means of transport. The continuation of the retreat was therefore ordered, and executed on the night of the 8th.

 It is now time to explain why Corunna, as the point from whence to re-embark the army, was preferred to Vigo, where the transports were assembled. In the first place, such was the state of the army, that it was an object of the very first importance, to shorten its march as much as possible; the distance from Lugo to Vigo is just double that from Lugo to Corunna; and, secondly, had Sir John Moore marched by the direct road to Vigo, ie. by Mellid, he must have resolved to abandon the whole of his artillery, as that road was not practicable for guns or carriages of any sort. - He always looked to the probability of having to fight a battle before he could re-embark; and in that view, he probably would not, even under more pressing circumstances, have been reconciled to abandon his artillery; he therefore gave the preference to Corunna with all its disadvantages, and sent an express for the removal of the transports.

When the arrival of the transports at Corunna afforded the opportunity of embarking the army without fighting, Sir John Moore gave orders for its embarkation, not hesitating to sacrifice his own glory to the safety of the army, which he hoped might still be usefully employed, in the cause of Spain. The imprudence of the French, in attempting to interrupt the execution of this measure, though it brought on them the disgrace of a complete repulse, was unfortunately attended by the heaviest loss which the British army could sustain, in the death of its heroic and able Commander. It was not my object, indeed I have carefully avoided, to enter into the other circumstances of the Campaign; they will probably be given to the public in detail by a more able hand.

London,  11th May, 1809. 

OBSERVATIONS

ON

THE MOVEMENTS

OF THE

BRITISH ARMY IN SPAIN:

IN REPLY

TO

THE STATEMENT

LATELY PUBLISHED

BY BRIGADIER-GENERAL HENRY CLINTON.

BY A BRITISH OFFICER.

SECOND EDITION.

LONDON:

PRINTED FOR JOHN MURRAY.,

32, Fleet-Street.

1809.

Harding and Wright, Printers, St. John's Square, London.

PREFATORY REMARKS.

As Brigadier-General Clinton acted in the capacity of Adjutant-General, with the army under the orders of the late Sir JohnMoore, any observations, avowedly the production of that officer, must naturally excite no small degree of interest and curiosity. After the perusal of the Pamphlet before us, I am free, however, to confess that I was egregiously disappointe ; and shall ever think that General Clinton would have better served the friends of Sir John Moore, and have acted with greater tenderness to his memory, had he wholly suppressed the publication. In these remarks, explanatory of the motives, which guided the operations of the British army, in Spain, I eagerly sought for, and expected to find, some hidden causes, some secret springs of action, which were known only to the headquarters of the army. I hoped, with anxiety, to discover a full and satisfactory explanation of the extraordinary movements of the army. I looked, but searched in vain, for this great consolation; because the military character of Sir John Moore, was once the object- of my warmest admiration; and I hailed, with a heart-felt joy, whatever I imagined would tend to place it in a brilliant and honourable light before the eyes of the public.

Great, indeed, was my disappointment. I discovered, nothing which was not known to almost every individual of the army: I perceived that some facts were misrepresented, many circumstances suppressed, and the whole so strangely distorted, that the most ordinary occurrence is sometimes unintelligible, even to the best informed reader. I am yet to learn more substantial reasons, though I strongly fear they do not exist, which shall satisfy my mind, and remove the sad impressions, occasioned by our strange and unaccountable conduct.

General Clinton has voluntarily stepped forward, with a view to direct the opinion of the public, by laying before them the motives, which  actuated our Commander-in-Chief. His name and office carry with them a high stamp of authority; and, unless his opinions be examined, and his assertions contradicted, the cause of truth must suffer; and the world will be deceived. That the members of the Houses of Parliament should expatiate on the ability and foresight, with which the retreat of the British army through Galicia was conducted, does not at all surprise me.

These men have spoken, as best suited their political opinions; for they seem to have been wholly ignorant of the subject; but when we find General Clinton, a man of rank and experience in the army, endeavouring to impress upon the public the idea that our melancholy and disastrous retreat, was the result of consummate skill and prudence, I certainly feel that I may do some service by a candid explanation of facts.

I should, indeed, have preferred to have drawn the veil of silence over the whole of these transactions, from motives of the respect which every one, who had personal knowledge of Sir John Moore, must entertain for his memory; my admiration of the high temper of his courage, and the amiable qualities of his heart have hitherto restrained me from adverting to his conduct.

I shall, like the author of the Remarks, not enter into the general history of the campaign, nor attempt to repel the illiberal and unfounded accusations, with which the Spanish nation has been charged :— As if we could palliate our own misconduct, by adopting a vulgar style of calumny and abuse towards our allies :—by such language we only betray our ignorance and folly, and add insult to injustice: Arrogant and contemptuous in our manner, because the officers of the Spanish army did not possess such extraordinary military talents as ourselves; instead of exerting our influence to prevent, we did not even seem to pity their misfortunes.

The brave high-spirited Romana was treated as a dotard; without sense or feeling: while inconsequence of our flight through Galicia, he was compelled to destroy the whole of his artillery, and effect his retreat, as well as he was able, without any sort of  co-operation or assistance from ourselves: —I shall omit to explain what might have been done, if we had felt a cordial interest in the cause; neither shall I dwell upon the baneful effects, which our operations have produced throughout the whole peninsula.

Many, indeed, have compared our retreat to that of Xenophon; and have dilated on the able and masterly manner in which it was conducted. Let me ask, however, any military man, of the slightest observation, in what consisted this highly applauded conduct?

Where shall we look for either enterprise or judgment? We depended, for our safety, on the rapidity of our flight; not on the vigour of our arms. We fled with precipitation, through the strong and very defensible passes of Galicia, and sacrificed, without remorse, our men and our reputation. I shall say no more on our blasted hopes and expectations; the subject is truly painful. I must, however, take leave to add, that the author of the following; observations accompanied the army, as well as the Adjutant-General; and, though not in so high a situation, he had the opportunity to gain a knowledge of the facts which he intends to produce; and which, he believes, General Clinton himself will not attempt to disprove.

Nam quis nescit, primam esse historias legem, nequid

falsi dicere audeat. Deindt rteq uid veri non audeat.

Nequa susjjicio gratice sit in scribendo? Nequa si

Tnullalis.

Cicero de Oratorc. Lib. II.

General Clinton confines his remarks to that period, which elapsed  between the beginning of December and the middle of January; that is, from the time of the junction of General Hope's column with the corps already arrived at Salamanca, until our final evacuation of the country. To this interval shall I also limit my observations. The Brigadier-General first alludes to the determination of the Commander-in Chief to effect his retreat upon Portugal; but his statement is rather confused, and certainly requires explanation. He would seem to insinuate, that it was decided to retire upon Portugal, before General Hope's division arrived at Salamanca; and that the safety of the army was to be provided for by a retreat on the several points from which those corps had  penetrated into Spain.

Sir John Moore, says the Brigadier, did not hesitate to adopt this painful measure, and directed preparations to be made for its execution. He was induced to make this movement, be cause Blake's army had been defeated in Biscay, and the army of Estremadura at Burgos ; so that the junction of the British corps might have been prevented by the enemy. General Hope, while at the Escorial, or Villa Castin, might have been directed to-secure the safety of his corps by retiring towards the Tagus, if he thought his junction with Sir J. Moore at Salamanca impracticable; but he never received positive orders on that head. He was recommended to act with caution; and I am disposed to think, that had he seen affairs in the same gloomy light as the headquarters of the army at Salamanca, instead of marching by way of Abila, through a mountainous district, in order to avoid coming in contact with the enemy's cavalry, he would have retreated towards the Tagus; as, according to General Clinton's information, was the intention of the Commander in Chief.

It appears to me, however, that the fears so prevalent at Salamanca, relative to the junction of General Hope's column, were wholly without foundation. The defeat of the Spanish army at Burgos, took place about the middle of November; and the enemy, from this moment, directed his, whole attention towards Castauos, and the army on the Ebro. On the 24th or 23th of November, head-quarters must, or at least ought to have known, that there was no French force of any magnitude in front of General Hope, and that the French divisions from Burgos were in full march to their left, upon Tudela, by way of Soria and Burgo de Osma. General Hope, with the infantry of his division, arrived at Villa Castin, and the neighbourhood, on the 27th November; so that General Hope's communication with Sir John Moore was never seriously threatened by the enemy. It is true that three hundred or four hundred cavalry had entered Valladolid, and even pushed patroles as far as Olmedo and Arevalo; their grand operations, however, were confined to the defeat of Castanos, and to the dispersion of San Juan's force in the pass of Somosierra, previous to the attack on the capital.

Neither was the junction of the corps under Sir David Baird with the troops at Salamanca ever really menaced by the enemy; though it is a fact that towards the end of November, that General actually commenced his retreat, because the French had practised a very common stratagem, and had ordered rations of provisions for fourteen thousand men to be collected in the villages of Leon. The enemy, at this moment were in full march, in a contrary direction. I do not believe the British army, in any part of Spain, ever occupied the serious attention of the enemy, until Sir John Moore moved forward, first upon Valladolid, and then,  suddenly changing his direction, towards Burgos, because we accidentally heard of the existence of a French corps, under Marshal Soult, at Carrion and Saldanha. I must be allowed to remind General Clinton, that no definitive arrangements were made for the retreat of the army upon Portugal, until after the junction of General Hope's  column with the troops at Salamanca; it was then, and not till then, that serious preparations were made for this retrograde movement.

General Hope's division arrived at Alba de Tormes on the 4th December; on that day Sir John Moore held a conference with General Hope at Alba; and it was resolved to retire without delay upon Ciudad Rodrigo: on the 5th December the artillery actually began their retreat, and it was understood that the infantry would immediately follow: thus then it would appear, that Sir John Moore did not direct the retreat upon Portugal to take place, before the arrival of General Hope's corps at St. Alba, according to the statement of General Clinton: no, he waited, and I believe with great anxiety, for the arrival of that corps, and immediately after its arrival made dispositions for the retreat. Here, however, General Clinton palpably misleads the public—he states that the junction of General Hope's corps with the troops at Salamanca was one of the reasons, which induced the Commander in Chief to move towards Valladolid: a most extraordinary assertion, when it is a known fact, that preparations for immediate retreat were made on the very day, the 4th December, when that corps arrived at Alba de Tormes.

I am unwilling to discuss the movement towards Valladolid ; Sir David Baird's marches and countermarches through Galicia; his intended retreat upon Vigo, and the almost daily changes in the plan of the campaign; I shall leave to the sober judgment of military and thinking men,  whether or not, after the events, which had occurred in Biscay, at Burgos, and on the Ebro; the British army was justified in engaging in offensive operations; and if defensive war ought to have been our object, whether we should not have contributed more to the cause, which our countrymen at home had so warmly espoused, by retiring to the Southern part of the Peninsula: why, did not Sir John Moore, instead of remaining at Salamanca, move towards General Hope, and then fall back upon Madrid, or to the other side of the Tagus; where our army would have  acted in a country fertile in resources, and well adapted for defensive operations? In the meantime, Sir David Baird might either have retired upon Corunna, and have re-landed on some other part of the Peninsula; or, what I conceive very practicable, notwithstanding our flight through Galicia, and our abandonment of that strong country, he might have carried on an intelligent system of defensive warfare; and in those difficult and almost impracticable mountains have defied a very superior force of the enemy.

Thus should we have spread a fresh confidence throughout the country; while the dispersed armies of Blake and Romana might have been rallied and re-organised under our protection; at the same time, the presence of Sir David Baird in Galicia would have created an important diversion in favour of the united armies in the southern part of the Peninsula. Unfortunately, there was never any fixed plan of operations: we were the creatures of accident: we were led by circumstances from one corner of the country to the other: instead of endeavouring to command events, we hesitated—we delayed — we had no confidence in the Spaniards, and, I believe, very little confidence in ourselves: our movements were generally the result of intercepted dispatches: what we should have done, if these dispatches had not been intercepted, I am at a loss to conjecture.

On the 23d of December, the whole army was collected at Sahugun and Vilada; and every disposition made for the march of the different columns during the night, with the view to attack Marshal Soult's corps at Carrion and Saldanha on the following morning: the troops were in motion about eight in the evening ; at ten o'clock an order arrived for the advanced guard to halt ; and that the whole army should return to their former cantonments. The cause of this unexpected change in the resolution of the Commander in Chief must doubtless be attributed to the information communicated to our head-quarters, by the Marques de la Romana, that the enemy, under the immediate orders of Bonaparte, were in full march from Madrid, with a view to cut off our retreat upon Portugal or Galicia; so that, had we not accidentally received this intelligence from the Spaniards, it appears that the safety of the army would have been committed; because there was not sufficient time for engaging the French corps at Carrion, without exposing ourselves to be surrounded, and that consequently we were placed in a dilemma, from which we were only extricated by a most sudden and precipitate movement. On the 24th of December the army began to retire towards the frontier of Galicia. Sir David Baird's column moved upon Astorga, crossing the river Esla at Valencia de Don Juan. General Hope's and General Frazer's corps, with the headquarters, marched upon Benevente, and there fell into the high road between Madrid and Corunna.

General Hope was first directed to proceed by way of Villalon, which place he had before passed through, on his march from Toro: the route was afterwards changed, and he marched by Mayorga and Valderas to Benevente. At first it was, I really believe, the intention of our Commander in Chief to occupy the mountains, and defend the passes of Galicia : with this view, the country in the neighbourhood of Monbuey, which is on the road from Benevente to Orense, was reconnoitred ; and it was confidently asserted, in the higher ranks of the army, that Sir John Moore intended only to withdraw' his troops from the plains of Castile and Leon; and then make a decided stand in the almost impenetrable country of Galicia. After reaching Astorga, the face of the country assumes a very different appearance from that, to which we had hitherto been accustomed: the grand communication leading to Corunna, crosses the summits of mountains, which were at that time covered with snow; then perhaps suddenly descends into a deep and narrow valley, watered by a shallow torrent, and confined on either side by lofty precipices; the road is often formed along the slope of a mountain, and generally from forty to fifty feet in width, and is, in almost every part from Astorga to Corunna, an extent of 180 miles, worthy of the most improved ages of society ; though at this season of the year, on account of the snow or rain, and continual communication, it was in many parts very indifferent. The descent from the * Puerto de Manzanal, a difficult pass, over the summits of a lofty mountain, about four leagues from Astorga, is a surprizing instance of the labour and ingenuity of the people.

* A pass in a mountainous district is always termed by the Spaniards Puerto.

In some instances, in the elevated plain on the right bank of the Minho, between Lugo and Betanzos, and in the neighbourhood of the former, the ground is rather favourable for the operations of cavalry; but in general, from the continued enclosures, the woods, the mountainous nature of the country, and its rocky soil, the movements of cavalry were impracticable; and their operations were confined on most occasions during the retreat, to the breadth of the road, upon which the enemy advanced, and our army retired. It should be also observed, that the mountains of Galicia were intersected by numerous torrents and deep ravines, over which solid bridges of masonry have been constructed. From this description of the country, and of the road upon which the British army retreated, it will not, I think,—it cannot, be denied, that we made our retrograde movement under the most favourable circumstances; though I am yet to learn the necessity of such a movement; when almost every part of the road offered a strong and difficult pass, and every inch of ground might have been successfully disputed. 

By a judicious arrangement, it would indeed have been almost impossible, at that season of the year, for the enemy to have gained our rear by turning either of our flanks; in such a country we had ample means in the numbers and gallantry of our troops for a stout and effectual resistance against any army far more numerous than ourselves; but as we did decide to abandon Galicia, why so much precipitation?  We were never compelled to shew a large front to the enemy, unless we ourselves were desirous to engage them; and the French cavalry, which in point of number so far exceeded our own, was, from the nature of the country, rendered almost entirely useless ; we had also the opportunity of checking the pursuit of our adversary, by a well-timed destruction of the bridges and artificial causeways, which so frequently occur in the road between Astorga and Corunna. Before, however, leaving the former, all stores, which were deemed unnecessary, were destroyed, and every preparation was made for a rapid retreat, on account of the near approach of the enemy; ammunition waggons were burned; an entire depot of intrenching tools was abandoned; and thus were we deprived of the most effectual means of seriously impeding his progress.

We are first told by General Clinton, that Sir J. Moore intended to give battle near Astorga, and with this view he waited at Benevente, for the arrival of his artillery stores, rather longer than he intended: the Commander in Chief, however, when he arrives at Astorga, suddenly discovers, that the resources of the country were completely exhausted; because, forsooth, the Marques de la Romana's army had been stationary during the last six weeks between that city and Leon: gracious Heavens! was not this known at Benevente, and even at Sahugun, before our army began their retreat; or were head-quarters informed of the circumstance by accident as they entered Astorga ?

With regard to provisions, the army-was never really in want of them; the detachments from different corps might occasionally have not received their regular rations; though this circumstance must be wholly imputed to the rapidity of our movements. There were cattle in the country; and if the necessity of our retreat must be ascribed to the want of provisions, such a necessity arose entirely from our own defective system in the subsistence of our troops, and a want of an improved organization in the commissariat. The retreat, says the Adjutant-General, became a measure of necessity; because the army was without supplies. In reply to this assertion, I shall only state, that the immense force of the enemy, said to be in pursuit of us, must have found ample means of subsistence; they never halted; they did not cease to follow us on that account: notwithstanding the swiftness of our flight, they were always at our heels, and could not therefore have met with any sort of difficulty, because the resources of the country had been exhausted. I am not, however, of opinion that Astorga was the point most favourable for opposing the enemy; I only desire to shew, that there could not have been, as General Clinton states, a total want of provisions; and that this circumstance made the retreat indispensible.

It has been observed, remarks the General, that the retreat through Galicia was conducted with unnecessary haste, and that the loss, which the army sustained, is solely to be ascribed to its precipitancy. The partiality which General Clinton entertains for his departed friend, has induced him to defend and apparently approve a measure, which his better judgment would have led him to condemn. Let any military man coolly and dispassionately contemplate the events, which have recently taken place in the North of Spain: let him consider the theatre of those transactions, and every circumstance that attended them: let him forget, that Sir John Moore, once so idolized by the nation, was the Commander in Chief of the army; let him, I say, after mature reflection, pronounce his judgment upon those lamentable occurrences: if he be an honest, upright character, neither the friend nor the enemy of Sir John Moore; neither warped by partiality in his favour, nor by prejudice against him: he will, I am persuaded, declare, that our retreat through Galicia was a disgraceful flight; and at the same time deplore the circumstance, that, if the Commander in Chief of that fine and gallant army did resolve to abandon the defence of Galicia, he did not at least attempt to earn a reputation by able and judicious arrangements during our retreat, powerfully aided as he was by the nature of the country.

The only reason, stated by General Clinton, as the cause of our rapid marches, consists in this; that corps of the enemy might have marched to the right and left of the high road, leading to Corunna, and thus have intercepted our communication. Sir John. Moore, therefore, wished to gain, as expeditiously as possible, that point on the road of his retreat, where he should no longer be exposed to the danger of such a manoeuvre. The General says, that the Commander in Chief had not the means of ascertaining, whether or not the enemy had actually detached corps upon those roads: how can this be affirmed?

He did possess the means in the numerous staff officers of the army. But I deny the fact, that it was practicable for the enemy to have penetrated the country on either of our flanks, if we had exerted the most moderate degree of intelligence in the disposition of our army. I know that country as well as General Clinton ; and from the repeated enquiries I have been able to make of others, far better acquainted with Galicia than either General Clinton or myself, I am satisfied that, after leaving Villafranca, there is no road passable for artillery, at least during the winter, which leads towards Betanzos and Corunna, except the road which the army occupied during the retreat. At Lugo the army halted three days, and this I conceive to be the place alluded to by General Clinton, when he speaks of that point in the road, where the army would be no longer exposed to the danger of being turned. Even after arriving at Lugo, there was still an anxiety at headquarters with regard to the road by Mondonedo; as if the enemy, at that season of the year, could have penetrated the snowy barrier of mountain, which separates the Asturias from the province of Leon, and thus have arrived at Betanzos, between Lugo and Corunna, before ourselves.

The unnecessary celerity of our marches, was doubtless the cause of all the disorder, and all the losses which the British army sustained. We were, in fact, during our flight, no longer an army; we lost the advantage of being; a single and efficient machine. The colours of a regiment frequently arrived at the halting-place, while the greater part of the men which composed that regiment, were still straggling on the road, equally exhausted in mind and body. I cannot, however, here omit to pay a just tribute to the innate courage, to the noble spirit of our soldiers. Notwithstanding their extraordinary fatigue, and the unhappy effects produced upon the minds of the men, by the rapidity of our movements, they were always prepared, unless absolutely exhausted, to oppose the desultory attacks of the enemy; and I do not. believe, that an individual soldier fell into their hands, except in those instances where, overcome by fatigue, or hunger, he was utterly incapable of resistance.

General Clinton says, there was no pause, during which it might be possible to re-establish order. Has he so soon forgotten the halt at Lugo? That we should halt in such a situation, has ever excited my surprise. The country near Lugo is far more open than the other parts of Galicia; and it was necessary that the whole army should be exposed to the open air, and to very wet weather, during the three days we occupied that position, though, in the General's own words, this occurred " at a season when the state of the weather required that the troops should be, as little as possible, exposed to sleep on the wet ground."

First, according to General Clinton, the Commander in Chief wished that the enemy should attack him; then to attack the enemy. Afterwards, he suddenly changes his mind, though under the same circumstances, and at length determines to continue his retreat. Upon further reflection, I think I can account for the halt at Lugo, though not in the same way as General Clinton. It was, no doubt, the original intention of the Commander in Chief, that the greater part of the army should be re-embarked at Vigo, where the transports had been assembled. In consequence of this arrangement, the light brigade, under Brigadier General Craufurd, marched for that part of the coast from the neighbourhood of Astorga, byway of Orense. But General Clinton has omitted to state a most important fact, and which can never be reconciled with the latter pages of his pamphlet. The words to which I particularly allude, shall be quoted.

" It is now time to explain why Corunna, as the point from whence to re-embark the army, was preferred to Vigo, where the transports were assembled. In the first place, such was the state of the army, that it was an object of the very first importance, to shorten its march as much as possible. The distance from Lugo to Vigo, is just double that from Lugo to Corunna; and, secondly, had Sir John Moore marched by the direct road to Vigo, i.e. by Mellid, he must have resolved to abandon the whole of his artillery, as that road was not practicable for guns, or carriages of any sort. He always looked to the probability of having to fight a battle, before he could embark; and in that view, he probably would not, even under more pressing circumstances, have been reconciled to abandon his artillery; he therefore gave the preference to Corunna, with all its disadvantages, and sent an express for the removal of the transports."

In the name of common sense, let me ask, whether or not all these facts ought not to have been known, and amply discussed, before the point of re-embarkation was decided upon? Was it not well ascertained, that the route to Vigo was much more circuitous than that to Corunna? The most ignorant peasant in Galicia would have given us the information. With regard to the resolution of Sir John Moore, not to abandon his artillery, I should be wanting in truth, if I did not broadly state this important and extraordinary fact.

When the Commander in Chief ordered the leading columns to march to Santiago, and from thence upon Vigo, it was his intention that the artillery should march direct upon Corunna, while the infantry re-embarked at Vigo : so that we here find, notwithstanding General Clinton's assertion, with regard to the determination not to abandon the artillery, even under more pressing circumstances, that the General in Chief had decided to separate it entirely from the army; and that, in pursuit of this plan, General. Frazer’s column had actually proceeded as far as the Convent of Sobrado, through a most deep and harassing road, when he was suddenly recalled, compelled to measure back his steps, and the whole division, in a most debilitated and exhausted state, to take post in front of Lugo, with Sir David Baird and General Hope. According to the Adjutant-General, it appears that Sir John Moore changed his intention of re-embarking at Vigo, while at Las Herrerias, on the evening of the 3d of January. On the morning of the 4th of January, General Frazer's corps marched from Lugo, according to the first arrangement.

Lugo is about forty miles from Las Herrerias; the road first ascends the side, then traverses the summit of a lofty mountain, at that time deeply covered with snow, and is in other respects  exceedingly difficult ; so that I do not believe it possible, if the order were not forwarded before the evening of the 3d of January, that it should have reached General Frazer before he commenced his march from Lugo. Our delay, therefore, in the position before that town, may be accounted for in the sudden change of the plan of the Commander in Chief. As General Frazer's division was recalled, it became absolutely necessary, unless we intended to sacrifice this column of the army, that the other divisions should wait, until General Frazer returned from Sobrado. The advanced part of his corps had even reached Santiago. Happy, indeed, was it for the reputation of the army, for the interest of the nation, that such a change did take place in the councils of the Commander in Chief!  We should otherwise have infallibly incurred the disgrace of losing, not only our baggage, our military chest, and all our artillery, but, what would have been a grievous loss to the country, all our artillery men, had they been separated from the infantry at Lugo.

General Clinton observes, that when the arrival of the transports at Corunna afforded the opportunity of embarking the army without fighting, Sir J. Moore gave orders for its embarkation. I must remind the Brigadier-General, that the fleet anchored in the Bay of Corunna on the afternoon of the 14th of January; the following day was particularly favourable for our purpose, and yet no steps were taken even for re-embarking horses and baggage, until the morning of the 16th; so that more than thirty hours elapsed before any active measures were taken for the removal of the army. I shall not enter into the motives of this delay, nor am I anxious to discuss the events which took place at Corunna. The few remarks, which I now offer to the public, have been called for by the extraordinary assertions made by the Adjutant-General of the British army in Spain. I do not write with spleen or bitterness; and though it was my intention never to have thus publicly adverted to the subject, I cannot, nor will not endure, that the chief of one of the most important departments of the army should boldly attempt to mislead the judgement of the nation, by an erroneous statement of facts. It has been my object throughout these observations, to avoid giving any offence to the feelings of General Clinton. I can appreciate and admire the motives by by which he has been actuated. I am aware he could have no private interest in concealing or perverting the truth; he has strenuously exerted himself in favour of a friend, who is now no more, and from whom he can receive no further advantage: with what success, I shall leave the world to determine.

THE END.

 

Home Up

Send mail to PNS1814 with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 2005 - 2020 Portsmouth Napoleonic Society