Sir John Moore

Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (1761-1809) was born in Glasgow, the son of the noted novelist and surgeon Dr.John Moore. He joined the army as an Ensign in the 51st Foot (1776) and saw his first action during the American Revolution. During the descent on Corsica he was wounded at the capture of Calvi (1794) and in the West Indies he distinguished himself at the taking of the Vigie and Morne Fortuné (1796). Two years later he was engaged at quelling the Irish Insurrection and in 1799, during the Dutch campaign, he was wounded at the engagement of Egmont-op-Zee. He was again disabled at the battle of Alexandria (1801).

At the camp at Shorncliffe in England, where a memorial to him now stands, Moore (at the instigation of the Duke of York) evolved a system of training for light infantry, as an answer to the French use of Tirailleurs. When war broke out again in 1803, the Experimental Corps of Riflemen was retitled the 95th (Rifle) Regiment (later, The Rifle Brigade) and brigaded with the 43rd and 52nd Foot (later, 1st and 2nd battalions, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry), under Moore’s command at Shorncliffe to form the famous Light Brigade1. Moore built on Coote Manningham’ philosophy, instituting command by bugle, which would carry further than voice, and adopting a new style of marching designed ‘to bring down the feet easily with out shaking the upper part of the body‘. Fieldcraft and skirmishing through fire and movement were also emphasised as an important element of the Brigade’s training. From this nucleus developed the famous Light Division, which would take a prominent part in Wellington’s later campaigns in Spain.

In October 1808 Moore took command of the British forces in Portugal. He left Lisbon, advanced over the border, and arrived at Salamanca on 13th of November where he learned of Napoleons victories over the Spanish forces at Gamenal and Tudela, near the Ebro, and, fearing attack by greatly superior forces, determined to withdraw. On the 3rd of December, however, he learned that Napoleon was in fact marching southwards towards Madrid and not westward against his British Army. Seizing the opportunity to strike at Napoleon’s line of communication in Old Castile, and thus distract them from their intended objective. This would also assist the hard pressed Spanish and give them a breathing space to reform.

Moore knew the dangers he faced, and also that a rapid retreat to Corunna would be inevitable as soon as Napoleon turned northward in response to the threat in his rear. Moore also hoped to fall on the isolated French body of Marshal Soult’s II Corps (just three Divisions strong), but on the 23rd received the expected news that Napoleon had indeed turned against him and immediately ordered his Army to retire towards Corunna on the coast (Thus drawing the French Emperor away from the Spanish Capital). The pursuit was pressed through the wilderness of Galicia, with great suffering to the British troops and a noticeable deterioration in discipline, for both of which Moore’s refusal to stand and fight, though probably correct, was largely responsible. Arriving at Corunna Moore found the transports delayed and turned to give battle. He was killed at the height of the action. Although errors of detail were committed, the campaign as a whole was a sound strategic concept, disrupting Napoleon’s plans, and giving a much needed respite to the hard pressed Spaniards.

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