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OBSERVATIONS ON THE [1809. Government might deem it proper to send. I do not think much difficulty would be experienced for a few months, from a want of provisions. The country abounds with cattle : bread indeed would be required; but flour might be obtained from England; and, in the meantime, Gallicia would have an opportunity of arming under our protection, and our presence in Spain would furnish a rallying point, and act as a stimulus to the Spaniards, &c.
To the project, thus enforced by Sir David Baird, Sir John Moore stated no objection. His reply was as follows:
“I am much obliged to you, for your opinion on the Gallicias and Vigo, and it is that which now probably I shall follow, should such a measure become necessary. I am, therefore, most anxious that magazines should be formed on that communication. I have written home to direct that all transports, &c. should call at Corunna, and go to Vigo, unless otherwise directed. Corunna must be the place for all supplies from England. The communication through Portugal is difficult and tardy.”
Unfortunately, Sir John Moore seems to have regarded the assumption of a defensive position on the Gallician frontier, and the permanent defence of that province, as a sort of dernier resort, to be adopted only when the more perilous experiment of advancing on Valladolid or Saldanha should have been tried. The experiment was tried, and failed. The British army retreated, not to defend Gallicia, but to their ships. No minute and accurate knowledge was acquired of the localities of the country; no positions had been fortified; no depots established ; and, indefatigably pursued by a powerful enemy, the contemplated project of defending Gallicia-if seriously contemplated it ever was—at once vanished into thin air.
But Gallicia did not afford the only sphere of operation, in which the army might have been em
Jan.] CAMPAIGN OF SIR JOHN MOORE.
73 ployed with comparative benefit and safety. Sir John Moore might have retired across the Tagus, where, in a country of great strength his army might have served as a rallying point, and protection to the Spaniards in the southern provinces, to which the enemy had not yet penetrated. There it was that he was most dreaded by Napoleon, and there he would have created a diversion at least
'S Rocca. as efficacious as that of the advance on
Victoires et Saldanha, without incurring the inordi
Conquestes. nate risks by which that operation was attended. It is no objection to the policy of this measure to assert, that the opportunity thus afforded to the people of rallying round the standard of their country, would probably have been neglected. This may be so, and Sir John Moore was professedly a nullifidian in Spanish energy and patriotism ; but the true question is, would not the army, if thus employed, have afforded a greater quantum of protection to our allies, with a smaller quantum of risk than was incurred by the advance to Sahagun, consequent on the concentration of the army.
Of that operation we would now speak. That it was one of extreme temerity is scarcely to be denied ; that it was productive of the most calamitous consequences we unfortunately know.
Sir John Moore had proceeded to Alaejos, with the intention of concentrating his forces in the neighbourhood of Valladolid, when the information derived from an intercepted despatch, induced him to change his plans, and advance against Soult at Saldanha, in hope of bringing him to action before the arrival of reinforcements. Never surely was an offensive operation undertaken on the chance of a more im probable contingency. Sir John Moore could scarcely calculate on the blunders of an opponent so skilful and experienced in the game of war. Yet, by some gross and inconceivable blunder alone, could Marshal Soult have suffered himself, in the circumVOL. II.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE (1809. stances of his army, to be drawn into a battle. Soult's policy manifestly was to retreat, not to fight; to induce his enemy to advance, and thereby give time for the coming up of forces, already on the march, by which his retreat would be cut off. On the advance of the British, Soult, as a matter of course, would have fallen back on Burgos, where his corps would have effected a junction with that of Junot. Nothing, therefore, could be more visionary than the prospect of defeating Soult, while nothing could be more imminent than the danger which the British were certain to incur in the attempt of bringing him to action.
Indeed it was to the Spanish General alone that the British army was indebted for its safety. Had Romana not communicated the information that the enemy, under Napoleon, were in full march from Madrid, the advance on Carrion and Saldanha would have taken place, and the retreat of the army would, in all probability, have been cut off. As it was, Sir John Moore was barely able to extricate himself from the danger he had so imprudently courted, by a rapid and precipitate movement. But the very letters of the General afford abundant proof, that, even in his own opinion, the advance on Saldanha could be productive of no beneficial result. . Why then was it undertaken? Why was a gallant army thus ingloriously perilled, and subsequently compelled to seek safety in one of the most calamitous retreats of which history bears record ? Not with the hope of animating and invigorating the spirit of the Spanish nation, because that spirit was believed by Sir John Moore to have been utterly broken and subdued, but because it was considered “necessary to risk the army, to convince the people of England, as well as the rest of Europe, that the Spaniards had neither the power nor the inclination to make any efforts for themselves !!
Such was the object, for the attainment of which
Jan.] CAMPAIGN OF SIR JOHN MOORE.
75 alone, the misfortunes attendant on the retreat to Corunna were inflicted on the British army and nation. Thank God that object was not attained. Had it been so, history would have been deprived of one of its most memorable lessons, and the brightest records of British glory would have been excluded from her annals.
Having said thus much on the previous operations of the army, we would say little of the retreat. That it was conducted with unnecessary rapidity, and that to this circumstance is attributable the greater part of its concomitant misfortunes, are points, we believe, on which the great majority of military authorities are agreed. Had the information of the General, with regard to the country traversed by his army, been more accurate and extensive, he would have known that there was no road leading to Betanzos and Corunna, by which the enemy could at any season have advanced with rapidity sufficient to have endangered his communications. In fact, the roads on the right and left of that occupied by the British, most difficult at any season, must, at the period in question, when covered with deep snow, and intersected by swollen torrents from the moun tains, have been utterly impracticable. At all events, no measures were taken to ascertain whether these roads were occupied by detachments of the enemy or not. Sir John Moore relied only for safety on the celerity of his marches; no attempt was made to impede the progress of the pursuers, by destroying the bridges which led across the numerous ravines; the soldiers, worn by incessant privation and fatigue to the lowest pitch of exhaustion compatible with life, became utterly demoralized; and all the proud attributes of a British army, save that of innate and indefeasible courage, were unnecessarily sacrificed.
We feel it to be superfluous to enter on more detailed criticisms on the minuter features of the retreat. Whatever may have been the errors of Sir John
OBSERVATIONS ON THE CAMPAIGN. [1809. Moore, it must be admitted that fortune also was against him. The elements were his opponents; and those most deeply conversant in warlike operations, will be the first to acknowledge how easily the wisest calculations may be overthrown by the occurrence of contingencies which
human prudence could neither foresee nor avert. During his retreat, Sir John Moore lost no trophy in fight. He led his army to their ships. He declined to sacrifice the honour of his country by proposing a convention. He closed a life of honourable and distinguished service on the field of battle; and his reward was the shout of victory which met his dying ear.
From the moment he entered Spain, Sir John Moore was surrounded by difficulties. He saw at once that the British Government were deceived with regard to the state of the peninsula. He was directed to co-operate with armies which seemed to melt at a breath, and retain nothing of material existence. He was thwarted in his schemes by those on whose opinion he had injudiciously been made dependent. He received no support from the authorities of the country. He felt it to be impossible to realize the expectations of the British Government and nation. His spirit, almost morbidly sensitive, shrank from the breath of censure which even blame less failure, for a time, might draw on his fair fame. Unfortunately, such feelings—the feelings of a generous and proud soul-gathered force as the prospect darkened around him, and disposed his mind to despondency. Something perhaps he wanted of fitting confidence in his own great powers; something too of that elastic buoyancy of spirit, which danger and difficulty tend rather to stimulate than depress.
But enough. Such as Moore was, England is proud of him; and the moral perceptions of her people must indeed be blunted, when they shall cease to regard his memory with love and honour.