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John Moore (British Army officer)

Sir John Moore

Born 1761.—Died 1809.—George II.—George III.

The son of a Dr. Moore, born at Glasgow, became a brave general.  He was at the taking of St. Lucia with Abercrombie, was employed in the Irish rising, and fought in Egypt and Holland.  While commanding an English army in Spain during the Peninsular war, he made his famous retreat on and was killed at Corunna.

Death of Sir John Moore

From Mr. Southey's History of the Peninsular War, a work of sterling merit.

Marshal Soult's intention was to force the right of the British, and thus to interpose between Corunna and the army, and cut it off from the place of embarkation. Failing in this attempt, he was now endeavouring to outflank it. Half of the 4th regiment was therefore ordered to fall back, forming an obtuse angle with the other half. This manoeuvre was excellently performed, and they commenced a heavy flanking fire: Sir John Moore called out to them, that this was exactly what he wanted to be done, and rode on to the 50th, commanded by Majors Napier and Stanhope. They got over an inclosure in their front, charged the enemy most gallantly, and drove them out of the village of Elvina; but Major Napier, advancing too far in the pursuit, received several wounds, and was made prisoner, and Major Stanhope was killed.

The General now proceeded to the 42nd. "Highlanders," said he, "remember Egypt!" They rushed on, and drove the French before them, till they were stopped by a wall. Sir John accompanied them in this charge. He now sent Captain Hardinge to order up a battalion of Guards to the left flank of the 42nd. The officer commanding the light infantry conceived at this that they were to be relieved by the Guards, because their ammunition was nearly expended, and he began to fall back. The General, discovering the mistake, said to them, "My brave 42nd, join your comrades: ammunition is coming, and you have your bayonets!" Upon this, they instantly moved forward. Captain Hardinge returned, and pointed out to the General where the Guards were advancing. The enemy kept up a hot fire, and their artillery played incessantly on the spot where they were standing. A cannon-shot struck Sir John, and carried away his left shoulder, and part of the collar-bone, leaving the arm hanging by the flesh. He fell from his horse on his back; his countenance did not change, neither did he betray the least sensation of pain. Captain Hardinge, who dismounted, and took him by the hand, observed him anxiously watching the 42nd, which was warmly engaged, and told him they were advancing; and upon that intelligence his countenance brightened. Colonel Graham, who now came up to assist him, seeing the composure of his features, began to hope that he was not wounded, till he perceived the dreadful laceration. From the size of the wound, it was in vain to make any attempt at stopping the blood; and Sir John consented to be removed in a blanket to the rear. In raising him up, his sword, hanging on the wounded side, touched his arm, and became entangled between his legs. Captain Hardinge began to unbuckle it; but the General said, in his usual tone and manner, and in a distinct voice, "It is as well as it is; I had rather it should go out of the field with me." Six soldiers of the 42nd and the Guards bore him. Hardinge, observing his composure, began to hope that the wound might not be mortal, and said to him, he trusted he might be spared to the army, and recover. Moore turned his head, and looking stedfastly at the wound for a few seconds, replied, "No, Hardinge, I feel that to be impossible."

As the soldiers were carrying him slowly along, he made them frequently turn round, that he might see the field of battle, and listen to the firing; and he was well pleased when the sound grew fainter. A spring-wagon came up, bearing Colonel Wynch, who was wounded: the Colonel asked who was in the blanket, and being told it was Sir John Moore, wished him to be placed in the wagon. Sir John asked one of the Highlanders whether he thought the wagon or the blanket was best? and the man said the blanket would not shake him so much, as he and the other soldiers would keep the step, and carry him easy. So they proceeded with him to his quarters at Corunna, weeping as they went....

The General lived to hear that the battle was won. "Are the French beaten?" was the question which he repeated to every one who came into his apartment; and he expressed how great a satisfaction it was to him to know that they were defeated. "I hope," he said, "the people of England will be satisfied! I hope my country will do me justice," Then, addressing Colonel Anderson, who had been his friend and companion in arms for one-and-twenty years, he said to him, "Anderson, you know that I have always wished to die this way--You will see my friends as soon as you can:--tell them everything--Say to my mother"--But here his voice failed, he became excessively agitated, and did not again venture to name her. Sometimes he asked to be placed in an easier posture. "I feel myself so strong," he said, "I fear I shall be long dying. It is great uneasiness--it is great pain." But, after a while, he pressed Anderson's hand close to his body, and, in a few minutes, died without a struggle. He fell, as it had ever been his wish to do, in battle and in victory. No man was more beloved in private life, nor was there any general in the British army so universally respected. All men had thought him worthy of the chief command. Had he been less circumspect,--had he looked more ardently forward, and less anxiously around him, and on all sides, and behind,--had he been more confident in himself and in his army, and impressed with less respect for the French Generals, he would have been more equal to the difficulties of his situation. Despondency was the radical weakness of his mind. Personally he was as brave a man as ever met death in the field; but he wanted faith in British courage: and it is faith by which miracles are wrought in war as well as in religion. But let it ever be remembered with gratitude, that, when some of his general officers advised him to conclude the retreat by a capitulation, Sir John Moore preserved the honour of England.

He had often said that, if he were killed in battle, he wished to be buried where he fell. The body was removed at midnight to the citadel of Corunna. A grave was dug for him on the rampart there, by a party of the 9th regiment, the aides-du-camp attending by turns. No coffin could be procured; and the officers of his staff wrapped the body, dressed as it was, in a military cloak and blankets. The interment was hastened; for, about eight in the morning, some firing was heard, and they feared that, if a serious attack were made, they should be ordered away, and not suffered to pay him their last duty. The officers of his staff bore him to the grave; the funeral service was read by the chaplain; and the corpse was covered with earth.

Thus, with a solemn splendour and a sad glory, closed the career of a gallant but unfortunate commander.

We subjoin the beautiful Ode on the Death of Sir John, written by the Rev. Mr. Wolfe:--


Not a drum was heard, not a funeral-note,
As his corse to the ramparts 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 straggling moonbeam's misty light,
And the lantern dimly burning.

No useless coffin inclosed his breast,
Not in sheet or 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 stedfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hallowed 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 we left him alone with his glory.