The fatiguing retreat was continued through part of the night of January 9-10, and on the following morning all the regiments reached Betanzos, on the sea-coast. The indefatigable Reserve 长沙桑拿会所哪里最好玩 division took up a position on a low range of heights outside the town, to cover the incoming of the thousands of stragglers who were still to the rear. From this vantage-ground they had the opportunity of witnessing a curious incident which few of the narrators of the retreat have failed to record. Franceschi’s cavalry had resumed the pursuit, and after sweeping up some hundreds of prisoners from 长沙桑拿可以选 isolated parties, came to the village at the foot of the hills where the stragglers had gathered most thickly. At the noise of their approach, a good number of the more able-bodied men ran together, hastily formed up in a solid mass across the road, and beat off the French horsemen by a rolling fire. This had been done more by instinct than by design: but a sergeant of the 43rd, who assumed command over the assembly, skilfully brought 长沙夜网论坛注册 order out of the danger. He divided the men into two parties, which retired alternately down the road, the one facing the French while the other pushed on. The chasseurs charged them several times, but could never break in, and the whole body escaped to the English lines. They had covered the retreat of[p. 580] many other stragglers, who ran in from all sides while the combat was going 长沙桑拿全套论坛 on. Yet in spite of this irregular
exploit, the army lost many men: on this day and the preceding ninth, more than 1000 were left behind—some had died of cold and fatigue, some had been cut down by the French. But the majority had been captured as they straggled along, too dazed and worn out even to leave the road and take to the hillside when the cavalry got among them.
Soult had as yet no infantry to the front, and Moore remained for a day at Betanzos, observed by Franceschi’s and Lahoussaye’s cavalry, which dared not molest him. On January 11 he resumed his march to Corunna, with his army in a far better condition than might have been expected. The weather had turned mild and dry, and the climate of the coastland was a pleasant change from that of the mountains. The men had been well fed at Betanzos with food 长沙桑拿休闲场所推荐 sent on from Corunna, and, marching along the friendly sea with their goal in sight,
recovered themselves in a surprising manner. Their general was not so cheerful: he had heard that the fleet from Vigo had failed to double Cape Finisterre, and was still beating about in the Atlantic. He had hoped to find it already in harbour, and was much concerned to think that he might have to stand at bay for some days in order to allow it time to arrive.
At Betanzos more sacrifices of war-material were made by the retiring army. Moore found there a large quantity of stores intended for La Romana, and had to spike and throw into the river five guns and some thousands of muskets. A considerable amount of food was imperfectly destroyed, but enough remained to give a welcome supply to the famishing French. It had been intended to blow up Betanzos bridge, but the mines were only partially successful, and the 28th Regiment from Paget’s Reserve division had to stay
behind and to guard the half-ruined structure against Franceschi’s cavalry, till the main body had nearly reached Corunna, and the French infantry had begun to appear.
On the night of the eleventh, the divisions of Hope, Baird, and Fraser reached Corunna, while that of Paget halted at El Burgo, four miles outside the town, where the chaussée crosses the tidal river Mero. Here the bridge was successfully blown up: it was only the second operation of the kind which had been carried out with efficiency during the whole retreat. Another bridge at Cambria, a few miles further up the stream, was also destroyed. Thus the French were for the moment brought to a stand. On the twelfth their leading infantry column came up, and bickered with Paget’s troops, across the impassable water, for the whole day. But it was not till the thirteenth that Franceschi discovered a third passage at Celas, seven miles inland, across which he conducted his division. Moore then ordered the Reserve to draw back to the heights in front of Corunna. The French instantly came down to the river, and began to reconstruct the broken bridge. On the night of the thirteenth infantry could cross: on the fourteenth the artillery also began to pass over. But Soult advanced with great caution: here, as at Lugo, he was dismayed to see how much the fatigues of the march had diminished his army: Delaborde’s division was not yet up: those of Merle and Mermet were so thinned by straggling that the Marshal resolved not to put his fortune to the test till the ranks were again full.
This delay gave the British general ample time to arrange for his departure. On the thirteenth, he blew up the great stores of powder which the Junta of Galicia had left stowed away in a magazine three miles outside the town. The quantity was not much less than 4,000 barrels, and the explosion was so powerful that wellnigh every window in Corunna was shattered.
On the afternoon of the fourteenth the long-expected transports at last ran into the harbour, and Moore began to get on board his sick and wounded, his cavalry, and his guns. The horses were in such a deplorable state that very few of them were worth reshipping: only about 250 cavalry chargers and 700 artillery draught-cattle were considered too good to be left behind. The remainder of the poor beasts, more than 2,000 in number, were shot or stabbed and flung into the sea. Only enough were left to draw nine guns, which the general intended to use if he was forced to give battle before the embarkation was finished. The rest of the cannon, over fifty in number, were safely got on board the fleet. The personnel of the cavalry and artillery went on shipboard very little reduced by their casualties in the retreat. The former was only short of 200 men, the latter of 250: they had come off so easily because they had been sent to the rear since Cacabellos, and had retreated to Corunna without any check or molestation. Along with the hussars and the gunners some 2,500 or 3,000 invalids were sent on board. A few hundred more, too sick to face a voyage, were left behind in the hospitals of Corunna. Something like 5,000 men had perished or been taken during the retreat; 3,500 had embarked at Vigo, so that about 15,000 men, all infantry save some 200 gunners, remained behind to oppose Soult. Considering all that they had gone through, they were now in very good trim: all the sick and weakly men had been sent off, those who remained in the ranks were all war-hardened veterans. Before the battle they had enjoyed four days of rest and good feeding in Corunna. Moreover, they had repaired their armament: there were in the arsenal many thousand stand of arms, newly arrived from England for the use of the Galician army. Moore made his men change their rusty and battered muskets for new ones, before ordering the store to be destroyed. He also distributed new cartridges, from an enormous stock found in the place. The town was, in fact, crammed with munitions of all sorts. Seeing that there would be no time to re-embark them, Moore utilized what he could, and destroyed the rest.
SECTION VIII: CHAPTER VI
THE BATTLE OF CORUNNA
When Sir John Moore found that the transports were not ready on the twelfth, he had recognized that he might very probably have to fight a defensive action in order to cover his retreat, for two days would allow Soult to bring up his main-body. He refused to listen to the timid proposal of certain of his officers that he should negotiate for a quiet embarkation, in return for giving up Corunna and its fortifications unharmed. This would have been indeed a tame line of conduct for a general and an army which had never been beaten in the field. Instead he sought for a good position in which to hold back the enemy till all his impedimenta were on shipboard. There were no less than three lines of heights on which the army might range itself to resist an enemy who had crossed the Mero. But the first two ranges, the Monte Loureiro just above the river, and the plateaux of Palavea and Pe?asquedo two miles further north, were too extensive to be held by an army of 15,000 men. Moore accordingly chose as his fighting-ground the Monte Moro, a shorter and lower ridge, only two miles outside the walls of Corunna. It is an excellent position, about 2,500 yards long, but has two defects: its western and lower end is commanded at long cannon-range by the heights of Pe?asquedo. Moreover, beyond this extreme point of the hill, there is open ground extending as far as the gates of Corunna, by which the whole position can be turned. Fully aware of this fact, Moore told off more than a third of his army to serve as a flank-guard on this wing, and to prevent the enemy from pushing in between the Monte Moro and the narrow neck of the peninsula on which Corunna stands.
Soult, even after he had passed the Mero and repaired the bridges, was very circumspect in his advances. He had too much[p. 584] respect for the fighting power of the English army to attack before he had rallied his whole force. When Delaborde’s division and a multitude of stragglers had joined him on the fifteenth, he at last moved forward and seized the heights of Palavea and Pe?asquedo, overlooking the British position. There was some slight skirmishing with the outposts which had been left on these positions, and when the French brought down two guns to the lower slopes by Palavea, and began to cannonade the opposite hill, Colonel McKenzie, of the 5th Regiment, made an attempt to drive them off, which failed with loss, and cost him his life.
Map of battle of Corunna
Enlarge Battle of Corunna. January 16, 1809.
As the French pressed westward along these commanding heights, Moore saw that he might very possibly be attacked on the following day, and brought up his troops to their fighting-ground, though he was still not certain that Soult would risk a battle. The divisions of Hope and Baird were ranged along the upper slopes of the Monte Moro: the ten battalions of the former on the eastern half of the ridge, nearest the river, the eight battalions of the latter on its western half, more towards the inland. Each division had two brigades in the first line and a third in reserve. Counting from left to right, the brigades were those of Hill and Leith from Hope’s division, and Manningham and Bentinck from Baird’s. Behind the crest Catlin Crawfurd supported the two former, and Warde’s battalions of Guards the two latter. Down in the hollow behind the Monte Moro lay Paget’s division, close to the village of Eiris. He was invisible to the French, but so placed that he could immediately move out to cover the right wing if the enemy attempted a turning movement. Lastly, Fraser’s division lay under cover in Corunna, ready to march forth to support Paget the moment that fighting should begin. Six of the nine guns (small six-pounders), which Moore had left on shore, were distributed in pairs along the front of Monte Moro: the other three were with Paget’s reserve.
After surveying the British position from the Pe?asquedo heights, Soult had resolved to attempt the man?uvre which Moore had thought most probable—to assault the western end of the line, where the heights are least formidable, and at the same moment to turn the Monte Moro by a movement round its extreme right through the open ground. Nor had it escaped[p. 585] him that the ground occupied by Baird’s division was within cannon-shot of the opposite range. He ordered ten guns to be dragged up to the westernmost crest of the French position, and to be placed above the village of Elvina, facing Bentinck’s brigade. The rest of his artillery was distributed along the front of the Pe?asquedo and Palavea heights, in situations that were less favourable, because they were more remote from the British lines. The hills were steep, no road ran along their summit, and the guns had to be dragged by hand to the places which they were intended to occupy. It was only under cover of the night that those opposite Elvina were finally got to their destination.
Soult’s force was now considerably superior to that which was opposed to him, sufficiently so in his own estimation to compensate for the strength of the defensive positions which he would have to assail. He had three infantry divisions with thirty-nine battalions (Heudelet was still far to the rear), and twelve regiments of cavalry, with about forty guns. The whole, even allowing for stragglers[p. 586] still trailing in the rear, and for men who had perished in the snows of the mountains, must have been over 20,000 strong. The cavalry had 4,500 sabres, and the infantry battalions must still have averaged over 500 men, for in November they had nearly all been up to 700 bayonets, and even the toilsome march in pursuit of Moore cannot have destroyed so much as a third of their numbers: only Merle’s division had done any fighting. It is absurd of some of the French narrators of the battle to pretend that Soult had only 13,000 infantry—a figure which would only give 330 bayonets to each battalion.
Soult’s plan was to contain the British left and centre with two of his divisions—those of Delaborde and Merle—while Mermet and the bulk of the cavalry should attack Moore’s right, seize the western end of Monte Moro, and push in between Baird’s flank and Corunna. If this movement succeeded, the British retreat would be compromised: Delaborde and Merle could then assail Hope and prevent him from going to the rear: if all went right, two-thirds of the British army must be surrounded and captured.
The movement of masses of infantry, and still more of cavalry and guns, along the rugged crest and slopes of the Pe?asquedo heights, was attended with so much difficulty, that noon was long passed before the whole army was in position. It was indeed so late in the day, that Sir John Moore had come to the conclusion that Soult did not intend to attack, and had ordered Paget’s division, who were to be the first troops to embark, to march down to the harbour. The other corps were to retire at dusk, and go on shipboard under cover of the night.
But between 1.30 and 2 o’clock the French suddenly took the offensive: the battery opposite Elvina began to play upon Baird’s division, columns descending from each side of it commenced to pour down into the valley, and the eight cavalry regiments of Lahoussaye[p. 587] and Franceschi, pushing out from behind the Pe?asquedo heights, rode northward along the lower slopes of the hills of San Cristobal, with the obvious design of cutting in between the Monte Moro and Corunna.